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A Whateley Academy Tale

Insanity Prerequsite

Part 2: Destabilization


By Dr. Bender

Chapter 2 –Infection

Tuesday, 17th October 2006,18:04

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, KICKED OUT?”Tennyo shouted.

Jade pulled the spiky-haired girl back into her seat before she made an even bigger scene.

It was dusk, the orange light marred by gathering storm clouds over the dark forest that surrounded Whateley, the resulting skyline resembled a great rift of molten lava standing on its head. The light suffused Crystal Hall, casting the scene in a hellish red.

Sara nodded blankly, crushing her third hamster to ash in her fist. The cute little rodent squeaked its death cry like a dog’s chew toy.

“After two weeks of study, they allowed me to take the basic entrance exams as a consideration for my inexperience in the topic. In all four fields, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology, I aced the tests at 100% for each subject. Which is impossible.”

“How can you set an impossible test?” Chaka picked daintily at a bit of steak caught between her teeth, “you ask a question, there has to be an answer, right?”

“Well,” Sara sighed, “you see, according to examination theory, a teacher should design tests that separate students into bands of skill level by percentages. Below 50 percent means that the student has not completed the course outlines, 50-60 is average and on up to 90-100 percent for the best, brightest and, theoretically, the smartest students. Here at Whateley, however, they have the M-factor question, short for the Maxwell factor, which pits the student against a question that top-level researchers have yet to find the answer for. They said that this is designed to find those students that have an instinctive grasp of the subject so profound that they can solve a problem without the basis of established scientific knowledge…”

Chaka’s jaw dropped, “And you got 100 percent?!? That means that you solved it! Heck, you solved it four times!”

Sara nodded glumly, “Only my answers upset a few of the researchers. The cornerstone of my physics answer was a new variable I named D for Daoloth. They started to argue with me and one thing led to another and…”

“And what?” Jade lent forward as Sara trailed off.

“And, after Dr. Johnson suffered a mental breakdown, Dr. Matthews accused me of making the entire thing up,” Sara sighed, “and that I read all the answers out of his brain using my psi abilities. Apparently, they have another girl who can do the same sort of thing and it’s been driving them crazy. Naturally, in all the confusion, my test papers went missing…”

“Hold up,” Tennyo interrupted, her mouth full of ramen noodles, “what do you mean, naturally?”

Sara squinted, her teeth growing more pointed. “Sorry, I keep forgetting that none of you have been to University before. There’s this strange phenomenon around lecturers and advanced students that seems to invoke a sort of natural law. The better the paper you hand to a teacher, the greater the likelihood that it will mysteriously migrate into one of their research documents. My test papers are headed south for the winter,” after the momentary bout of rage, Sara deflated slightly, “I shouldn’t have cursed Matthews, though. That was the end of me.”

“WHAT!” Fey’s eyes popped open, scandalized, “Youhexed a teacher!”

“Not that way,” Sara shook her head, blushing furiously, “I told him… er, well, maybe it’s not a fitting thing to say at the dinner table.”

Lancer looked delighted, “What? What was it?”

“Come on, Hank, leave her alone.” Chaka admonished, though her eyes sparkled with no little interest herself.

“No way, if it’s bad enough to get you kicked out of an entire department rather than just your class, I’ve got to hear it! Come on, Sara, lay it on me.”

Sara’s cheeks were a dark shade of purple as she lent over and whispered into Lancer’s ear. He just stared at his plate for a moment, a pale shade of green creeping up his neck, “I never thought I’d be saying this, but that’s not the sort of thing you expect to hear out of a girl’s mouth.”

“I thought you were an army brat,” Sara chuckled, “didn’t you ever listen to the drill instructors chewing out the men?”

Hank pushed his plate away. It was a historic moment that raised a few eyebrows, and not just at the Kimba table. “Yeah, but by all that’s holy, girl, there are some lines that you just don’t cross!”

“Well, well, welcome back to your latest and greatest source of news, gossip and all things Whateley! Yes, it’s Peeper and Greasy back for more with a scandalous news flash!” The speakers set high in the corners of the cafeteria belted out the words, their noise drowning out the voices of the antagonists themselves as they jumped out from behind the partition behind Lancer, catching the team by surprise.

“Hello, Peeper, who is it this time?” Sara moaned, rubbing her eyes, “Me or Fey?”

“Why BOTH, naturally,” Peeper breathed in, preparing to rhapsodize dramatically, “such lovely and dangerous ladies as yourselves deserve far more than your fair share of the lime light, not that the rest of the Negligee Nightingales…”

“That’s Team Kimba, knucklehead.” Chaka growled.

Peeper gasped, “Not any more! The poles are in! The official Whateley Academy Radio Station, or WARS, competition is over and your team now bares the official moniker of Negligee Nightingales! We’re even printing t-shirts that can be obtained, naturally, from whateley.wars.com NOW for only $39.95! And on that note, I would like to turn to more serious matters. Sara…”

Sara groaned.

Peeper pulled a small notepad out of his pocket, “…Dr. Matthews gave us a statement at lunchtime earlier today that you were dumped not just from your physics course, but from the entire science strand for cheating in an exam, swearing, disobedience and behaviour unbecoming a Whateley student. It is also rumoured that you hexed the teacher responsible for your predicament, making, and I quote, his ears turn into expletive deleted and that they then expletive deleted over his shoulders…”

Tennyo started to choke on a chicken bone, her snort of mirth causing her to inhale it rather than swallow.

“…proving that the Nasty Girl of Poe is still in full flight…”

“But I didn’t…” Sara tried to interrupt, but Peeper just steamrolled over her.

“…leading to the runners up for our latest competition! Interested parties have been sending in their suggestions for your ultimate code name thick and fast! From the one thousand and twenty seven entries…”

“I-I d-d-didn’t think there were that many st-st-students at W-Whateley, P-P-P-Peeper!” Greasy interrupted, speaking in a nervous monotone from a scrap of paper.

“Indeed there aren’t, minion, but in our generosity…”

“Assholes use the royal we now?” Chaka snarled.

“…we have allowed multiple entries for one contestant! However, from so many entries we have culled the top ten for voting over the next week. Remember, guys out in Whateleyland, you can vote on our website whateley.wars.com and buy our great new merchandise! But the runners up are: Draculette, The Lost Girl, The Bride, Countess Orlock, Fangoria, Suckmistress, Suckula, Anytime, Elvira 2 and my personal favourite, Bitch! Now, Sara, which selection do you currently endorse?”

Sara calmly set aside her cage of hamsters, smiled thankfully as she reached over to borrow Tennyo’s spoon, then took a deep breath before answering.

“I’m going to kill him.”

It took the combined might of Hank, Tennyo and Chaka to pin the crazed adolescent girl and all her tentacles to the floor, still trying to piton herself forward with the spoon, driving it into the cracks between tiles for leverage. Her screams of hatred were unintelligible.

Peeper grinned, ignoring the ruckus and shoving the microphone under Fey’s nose, “Now, for the flame-haired elf maiden who’s beauty makes Galadriel and Arwen green as the leaves with envy, to who’s radiant picture Legolas services his mighty arrow every night, FEY! Welcome to the program.”

“Get out of my face you snot-nosed little…”

“Now, speaking of whacking off to pictures, it is with great pleasure that WARS has to inform you that your posters are currently the best selling item from whateley.wars.com’s online store, with positively huge orders for the equally huge ten by four poster featuring ‘Nikki Reilly: Nature, beautiful but fierce!’ And most prominently your own sizeable measurements clothed in as little as possible. With more than 150 already sold at $60 a piece to hormonal teens across campus, what is your reaction to the fact that most of them will be flogging the dolphin to the sight of your angelic face before bed tonight?”

Peeper let off a squeak not unlike the hamster’s death cry as Fey wrapped her hands around his throat and began to squeeze, the deadly gaze of Aunghadhail superseding her usually pleasant expression, “Know thee, foul worm, that tonight you have brought upon yourself my displeasure!”

Peeper started to turn blue, a wet spot spreading down the leg of his pants.

“Ah, Fey?” Jade patted the older-looking girl on the back, “You’re killing him, let go.”

Fey looked down her nose at the little girl for a moment before her face softened, dropping the slimy reporter onto the floor, his knees giving out. After a moment of staring at the girls in abject terror, he and Greasy bolted out the door, running back towards Twain as fast as their legs could carry them.

“NO FAIR!” Sara screeched from her position under Tennyo, “I HAD DIBS!”

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“Come on, guys, things aren’t that bad,” Chaka grinned at Fey and Sara, who stared at the ground dejectedly as they walked back to Poe, “you both taught the little bastards a lesson they won’t soon forget. It’ll be another two weeks before they bother us again.”

“Speak for yourself,” Sara sighed, her blazer wrapped around her waist now that the sun had set, busy trying to undo the top two buttons of her blouse without cutting them off with her claws, “they’ve been hounding everyone for the story behind the sacrifice debacle, and the more they don’t hear the more they’re making up as they go along. They’ve even got a discussion thread in the WARS forums dedicated to it.”

Jade scowled, “Isn’t that old news by now? Can’t they move onto someone else?”

“I don’t think Peeper wants to move on. He’s too busy trying to sell merchandise.”

“Hey, forget about those deadbeats,” Chaka’s grin widened, her optimism relentless, “Fey scared ‘em so bad, they’ll circumnavigate the world twice before they realize they’re back at Twain. What was with that spoon, anyway?”

Sara grinned back, “An old bit of movie wisdom I remembered, and I quote: ‘It’s dull, you twit. It’ll hurt more’.”

“Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves,” Hank smiled, “good film.”

“Oh!” Fey gasped, covering her mouth with one hand, “I just realized! What’s happened to your timetable with all of this?”

“Dr. Bellows is recommending that I go into the extended Psi and Magic course like you. I don’t know what’ll happen. I’ve got to see the Headmistress tomorrow.” Sara blinked, coming a sudden realization of her own, “You know, it’s almost 10 days until the one month anniversary of my transformation.”

They all glanced at each other.

“Uh, did you say one month?” Tennyo asked innocently.

Sara nodded.

Tennyo cleared her throat, trying to sound casual, glancing up and down the path to see if anyone was around, “So, how do you feel? Been a little cranky lately? Any pain?”

Chaka slapped her in the stomach, “Subtle, genius.”

“What was that about?” Sara asked, puzzled.

Phase was wringing her hands behind her back, trying not to look nervous, “Uh, you see, we’re all a bit worried about… well, you know how Fey gets at that time of the month…”

“Hey!” Fey objected.

Sara stared at them all incredulously, then laughed, “Oh, don’t worry, I don… er, I’m not ovulating yet…”

“But it could start at any time,” Tennyo preached, “you’re the right age and today’s behaviour has beenvery unusualfor you to say the least. Cursing at teachers, threatening to kill students in the most painful way available… maybe we should check you out as soon as we get back.”

“I’ll get the painkillers.” Chaka crossed her arms, inviting no resistance.

“She can borrow some of my tampons…” Fey offered.

“OK! Time out!” Sara crossed her hands over each other, “I don’t need checking out and I don’t need medicineand I don’t need tampons. The truth is… uh, well… I don’t menstruate. I never will.”

“You’re sterile?” Tennyo sighed.

Jade looked up at Sara with large watery eyes, taking hold of her hand, “Poor dear.”

“NO. Uhgh! Don’t be so dense!” Sara lowered her voice to a whisper, “I mean that I. Don’t. Menstruate. I am 100% fertile, all day every day, apparently it’s a fringe benefit of being a Regen 6… er, guys?”

The entire group had stopped, glaring at Sara, with the exceptions of Hank and Jade who stepped fearfully back out of the line of fire. Tennyo’s eyes had turned that fiery red that was usually a prelude to ultra-violence, “Are you trying to tell us that you won’t get the curse? Ever?”

Sara nodded sheepishly.

“And you were going to let us know this… when?” Chaka stepped forward.

“Umm, let me see…never.”

“So, we’ve been watching you for the last two weeks,” Phase scowled, “for nothing?”

Sara began to edge away from the four girls as they loomed over her.

Fey’s hands twitched, “I say we simulate it for her with a coat hanger.”

“YOU BIG DUMMIES!” Jade ran as fast as she could towards Poe, tears streaming down her face.

They all stood there for a moment, stunned. Tennyo recovered first, “Oh, dear. I think we went a little overboard, guys.”

“You… you don’t think she’s even jealous of our… you know, the curse, do you?” Fey stammered.

Hank sighed, “I think that’s a pretty safe assumption.”

Tennyo shook her head, “Come on, we better go find her.”

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They found Jade, not in her dorm room like they thought, but in Sara’s room in the basement. “I-I didn’t feel like running up the stairs, to tell the truth.” Jade laughed through the catch in her voice. Tennyo hugged the little girl tightly, rocking slightly. Fey rubbed her back, sitting on the bed, Chaka held her hand while Hank gripped her shoulder. Ayla sat cross legged on the floor, squeezing one knee.

Sara sat across from the group, feeling uncomfortable. Jade cried in a perfect circle of protection and love, it seemed crass to intrude. Even Jinn was wrapped over her shoulders, charged into Sara’s blanket.

“Are you OK now?” Tennyo asked.

Jade nodded, wiping away her tears, “Yeah. I’m OK. I’m sorry, I just... its been an emotional night, I think.”

“Coming up to bed? I’ve got ballroom in a bit but I’ll skip if you want.”

“No! Don’t do that! I’ll stay and talk to Sara for a while, then I might go to bed. I’ll be OK.”

A few of them gave Jade a kiss on the cheek or forehead as they filed out, except for Ayla who grinned malevolently as she scuffed up Jade’s hair, the little girl giggling in protest.

Finally, they were alone. Sara felt like she was on the stage of an old western, two antagonists sitting across from each other in a saloon, cards and dice scattered over the table that sat between them, guns drawn underneath. “So, what was it you wanted to talk about?” Sara asked hesitantly.

Jade hopped off the bed and skipped over to Sara, wrapping her arms around the demon girl’s shoulders. The Demon Princess jumped slightly, unused to being touched.

“What’s up, huh? Aside from the other stuff today.Tennyo was right, usually you get the better of those baka radio guys. Something’s bothering you, so spill it!” Jade demanded jokingly.

Sara shifted uncomfortably in her chair, “Well, to be honest, I… I haven’t had real friends for a long time. A very long time. So I don’t know how to behave, you know, I just… don’t.”

Jade grinned, “When you get right down to it, neither do I. I just go with what feels good at the time.”

“What feels good?”

“Hey,” Jade squeezed Sara in her arms, a devilish glint in her eyes, “we’re about the same size you know. Mind if I try on a few of your clothes?”

Sara blinked, but caught on in a moment, returning Jade’s smile with her own wicked grin, “Only if you don’t mind if I get changed as well.”

Like co-conspirators sealing a blood oath, the two girls slapped their palms together, grasping the other’s hand, “LETS DO IT!”

Jinn swooped down behind them as they raced over to the wardrobe, shrinking down to her more girlish, 14 year old, form, “Me too! Me too!”

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“I am so jealous of your legs, Sara.” Jade pouted, examining her own in the mirror, “mine look like two sticks.”

Sara shifted the hem of the pleated miniskirt to get a better view, “Well, they’re not that good, Jade…”

Jinn slapped her on the back, “Don’t be modest. It really doesn’t suit you.”

“Yeah,” Jade whined, “look, you’ve got the whole curvy thigh thing going for you leading into the sexy calves, even without heels. Heck, the only thing that looks like it’ll touch if you hold your legs together is your knees! I can’t believe you’re only thirteen!”

Sara scoffed, “Oh, come on!”

“Try it! I dare you!” Jade thrust her hands onto her hips.

It took Sara five minutes to admit they were right, “Ok, you got me, but don’t sell yourself short. Jinn has lovely legs.”

“Not that good,” Jinn smoothed out a few of the wrinkles the bodysuit she’d borrowed, sticking her leg out for comparison, “see? I’m a little thicker in the thighs and ankles.”

Sara rolled her eyes. She might not fully realize it, but Jinn had a body more like Nikki or Tennyo than Sara’s now, “Yeah, but you’ve got bigger hips and chest than I do, so it works. Stop being so paranoid.”

Jade sighed again, “Sure. Jinn’s fine, but what about me?”

“Well, you’ll grow up into her, won’t you?” Sara smiled.

“I hope so.” Jade lowered her head, letting her hair fall over her face.

Sara lifted her chin up with two fingers, “You will, one day. We’ll just have to figure out how.”

“We?” Jade asked, slightly stunned.

“Of course, you didn’t really think I’d pass up the opportunity to help my best friend, did you?”

Jade threw herself into Sara’s arms with such force that the two girls overbalanced, tumbling to floor. Jinn sighed theatrically as they giggled at each other, “Girls, must be the hormones.”

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By 9:20, Jade staggered off to bed with Tennyo, still wearing one of Sara’s black skirts, yawning, “See you in the morning, Sara.”

“See you, Jade. ‘Night Tennyo. Nice dress, by the way.”

Tennyo grinned, performing a floating curtsey before leading Jade off by the hand, still in her ball dress.

“Belle was right, we are all showboats aren’t we?” Jinn chuckled.

Sara shrugged, still giggling like the schoolgirl she appeared to be, “You’re young, you’ll get over it.”

Jinn cocked her head to the side curiously, “Don’t you mean we?”

Sara winked, “Nope. I’m older than I look, remember?”

“I keep forgetting.” Jinn chuckled, “What’s it like being grown up?”

Sara shrugged, “It happens so fast you don’t really notice it. I never thought about it much. I just powered on through school as fast as I could, then got a scholarship to study in England when I was 16. I didn’t bat an eye, I just went. I supported myself while I was over there, then I started writing and hit it straight off with a publisher. No time to look back and wonder what I’d missed.”

“Ever have any girlfriends?”

“Uh,” Sara blushed, “well… you see…”

“You did!” Jinn sat up straight, like a wolf that’s caught the scent of blood.

“Ok, all right, yes I had some girlfriends. I was a world famous writer, for god’s sake…”

“Girlfriends? More than one? How many are we talking about here?”

“Er,” Sara started counting them out on her fingers, “sixteen, give or take.”

“SIXTEEN!”

“Not so loud!” Sara shushed her.

“Oh, forget about that, did you ever… you know?”

Sara sighed, it was going to be a long night, “Yes, of course I did.”

“What was it like?”

“Huh? Is this that death thing again?” Sara teased, trying not to smirk.

“No, I mean sex.” Jinn curled in on herself. Sara was sure the girl would be bright red if she had a body.

“It was good. It is good, usually, but it’s not always great. If you want my advice, wait for someone special to share yourself with. Without that, sex is meaningless and…” Sara groped for the right word, “…hollow.”

“Did you ever have anyone special?” Jinn asked, moving to the edge of the bed.

Sara shook her head, trying not to think of Erin, “No, not really. There were one or two that I thought were right, but I couldn’t offer them what they wanted. Children, a home, someone to grow old with, a life in the sun. Then there were the ones that were after my money, they were all too happy that I couldn’t give them all that. So I sort of gave up after a while and just took love where I could find it.”

“Sounds lonely.”

“It is,” Sara confirmed, “how about you?”

“Er… I dunno yet, to be honest. I mean the kissing thing with Theresa was… interesting. Yeah, interesting. But I don’t think I’m ready. I mean, just thinking about waking up next to the Don gives me chills. And it’s not like I can actually feel anything like this.” Jinn hugged herself tightly as if to ward off a sudden gust of wind.

Sara tucked her legs underneath her on the bed, turning to face her friend, “That was just a bad experience. From what you’ve told us, the Don is a grade A+ selfish bastard. Those sort of guys are the ones that give the rest of us a bad name.”

Jinn eyed off Sara’s willowy body, “Us?”

Sara slapped herself on the side of the head, “Ok, former us. Look, selfish guys have sex for one thing: themselves. So they bang away, blast off and hit the pillow a second later. The old ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ stuff women have complained about forever. That is really disgusting because it makes a lot of girls feel used, and rightly so. BUT, then there are the other guys who take the time to learn a few things, try to be a little sympathetic and take things slower, worshipping at the altar rather than treating their girl like a dirty dishrag. Those sort of guys are the ones girls like because they care. Smart girls, at least.”

“Rip and Bunny don’t like guys at all.”

“Yeah, but they’re prejudiced,” Sara grinned, “hey, don’t get me wrong, my motto is whatever floats your boat. Heck, I’ve never made any bones about being bi, have I? Rip and Bunny are attracted to girls, and I’m the first person to cheer them on (preferably from on top of them) but don’t let those two drill into your head that all guys are bad lovers. One or two actually know what they’re doing. It’s finding them that’s the problem, or teaching the one you’ve got.”

Jinn guffawed, “So, you like Rip and Bunny, eh? Anyone else you’d like to sink your teeth into, metaphorically speaking?”

Sara groaned, “Any more of that and I’ll call the pun police. Well, Fey’s nice, naturally…”

“You were saying something about pun police?”

“Touché. Ok, I’ll rephrase that. Fey is pretty much the perfect specimen of girl kind and those pointy ears are so darnedcute I just want to nibble on them for hours,” Sara flopped over on the bed, lying on her stomach so that she could wave her petite bare feet in the air, “Chaka Sempai’s nice too, but I don’t know, I think she wants to explore the other side of the street a bit. At least, that’s the vibe I’ve been getting from her. You’re roomie’s hetero, not like it really matters if I put my mind to it, but I don’t like messing with people so it’s look but no touch.”

Jinn whistled, “You really put a lot of thought into this stuff, don’t you? What about Jade?”

“Errrr…” Sara glanced about evasively, “That’s you.”

“Why, I do believe you’re right! I’ve never noticed that before, what a revelation! You must be psychic…”

“OK, ok,” Sara interrupted, “you don’t have to hit me over the head with it. To be perfectly candid, I like you a lot, but Jade is prepubescent. Get back to me after we figure out how to make you grow up a little.”

“Hey!” Jinn posed on the bed, thrusting her chest out to draw attention to her not-so-small attributes, “I’m all grown up in case you haven’t noticed…”

Suddenly, Sara grabbed her from behind, pressing her breasts against the ghost-girl’s back, “Oh, don’t worry, I have noticed.”

Jinn jumped up so high she hit the roof, babbling, “Wha… but… erg… me… na…”

The demon-girl grinned mischievously, horns and a tentacle-tail emerging from under her skin, “Just kidding!”

“Why you,” Jinn deflated slightly, floating back down onto the bed, “you were just teasing!”

“Yep! You don’t have to worry, I mean it’s not like you can feel anything like this, right?” Sara chuckled, “Besides, you’re the only person in this entire place that isn’t affected by my aura. I find that a lot more valuable. If you’ll pardon the pun, sex can really screw things up sometimes.”

They lay next to each other for a while, allowing the awkward moment to pass. Sara was quite pleased with herself, at least she’d gotten away from the subject of Erin. Just the thought of the shapeshifter’s deep, savage, kisses was making her warm on the inside.

Jinn was the first to talk again, “Decided on a code name yet?”

“You’re just going to badger me about it until I do aren’t you?” Sara gave the ‘ghost’ her best mock scowl.

“Of course!” Jinn poked Sara’s ‘kidney’, “Besides, you know if you don’t one of Peeper’s silly competition ones will stick. With your luck, you’ll be called Suckula for the rest of your life.”

Sara grimaced, “It’s better than ‘Anytime’ at least.”

“Not by much. What was up with some of those other ones though? I mean, The Lost Girl? Countess Orlock? The Bride had something to do with Kill Bill, right?”

“At least they didn’t think of Barbra Collins,” Sara muttered darkly, “The Lost Boys is an old vampire flick from the 80’s, before you were born. Count Orlock was the villain in the original black and white vampire film Nosferatu and I’d guess The Bride is a reference to the brides of Dracula which is more than a little demeaning when I think about it.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t have anything of your own yet,” Jinn admonished, “I thought you did this stuff for a living?”

“I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking,” Sara glared.

“There have to be a million vampire code names out there…”

“That’s the problem,” Sara sighed, “I checked the registry. There are 136 variations on the code name Vampire copyrighted already. That’s more people than live in Poe, and they all suck blood on some level.”

“You’ll have to come up with something else then…”

“I KNOW! I know. At first I thought about using Cancer, it’s my sign and I am pretty much a living tumor, but it just has too many negative connotations. I might as well call myself melanoma, the terminal wart from hell.”

“What about Vamp? It suits you.”

“Taken,” Sara interrupted, “by that albino-girl who’s ass I kicked back in Boston, remember?”

“Really?”

“Yup,” Sara nodded, “she even registered it, would you believe? Turns out that super-villains have the same rights to their codenames as heroes do. So I moved on to the variations on Demon or Devil. Would you believe that there are 1567 variations copyrighted? Red Devil, Green Devil, Succubus, Balor, Erinyes… I even looked up more obscure names like Arachne and Morrigan. The ancient legends all have modern analogues among the superhero cliques. Heck, there’s a Greek team based around the Olympian theme. That avenue’s no good anyway, some cult picked up on the link between vampires and Hermes and registered 167 names based on that.”

“There’s a cult of 167 vampire mutants?” Jinn gasped.

“No, they’re selling the rights to the names to new vampire heroes. It’s a conservative capitalist business cult. From there I moved on to blood. Would you believe that Heme is registered? One guy even runs around calling himself White Cell, yelling ‘beware foul germs of crime’!”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope,” Sara shook her head, smirking ironically, “so I’m looking for something that I can use without sounding like a dork, costing me a years pay or getting me sued…”

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Some time later, Sara was still grinning as she packed the bodysuit back into her wardrobe. The room was a complete mess, books scattered across the floor, the dirty laundry had tumbled out of the hamper in the corner during a particularly vicious wrestling match. But that’s what happens when two practically invulnerable mutants decide to wrestle, things get out of hand. Sara shrugged to herself,Whocares, it was fun. Still, she felt compelled to neaten her room up a bit, picking her way through the disaster zone.

Finally, everything was returned to its original state and Sara felt she could relax, assuming a full lotus position in the middle of the carpet. Her unconscious breathing had slowed to a point where she sometimes found herself having to remember to take a breath so she could talk, it felt more and more like a chore that she had to put up with rather than one of the last vestiges of her humanity to cling to. Like her pulse. She didn’t have one of those either, just a steady rush of fluids as her cells squeezed and expanded minutely to circulate the life force to her limbs. Along with her pulse, her body temperature had lowered to a point where she was fairly chilly to the touch, though she herself felt nothing unusual. Occasional hot flushes reminded her, however, that her new body needed things the old one hadn’t.

She cleared her mind and tried to relax, letting go of her consciousness. Her room melted into liquid impressions of shapes before dissolving into darkness, all that remained were the glowing red runes that surrounded her on all sides, hemming her into a cage of magical energy that strained and buckled under the pressure of her mind. Then the cage ruptured, spinning off into space.

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Sara walked barefoot and naked through dark granite hallways made of cyclopean blocks of stone carved from the core of the world itself. What world, she wasn’t sure. Shifting runes lined the passageways, strange undulating script that she could read easily though she had never studied the language before in her life. There was a warmth about the place, a welcome, homey feeling that pervaded the air.

She came to an open doorway, though there was apparently no door to shut it felt wrong to call the portal an arch somehow. Beyond the door was a pleasant field of grass that led to a beach. The sound of the waves reached the doorway but no further, as if cut off at the threshold. Sara stepped through, unafraid of the bright sunlight that pervaded the area, despite her nakedness.

The beach was long and broad, the sand perfectly soft as it ran between Sara’s talons. In the distance on the shoreline appeared a pagoda of sorts, the roof a perfect pyramid made from more dark basalt, supported by thick columns of the same material. Basking in the sunlight before the pagoda was a beautiful elfin woman with flowing red hair. She wore an ice blue bikini top that set off her striking red hair and creamy skin perfectly as she sunbathed on the pure yellow sand. A tall, well muscled, teenager stood behind her wearing only a set of briefs, showing off his well oiled torso and holding a tray with a single exotic fruit cocktail perched on top.

Sara blinked and found herself wearing a black bikini of her own as she moved towards the girl, crossing miles with a single step. She recognized the girl as Fey, her simply beautiful form unmistakable at such close proximity. The handsome boy took no notice, looking straight out to sea like a lifeguard, jaw set and stoic in his duty. She knelt down next to Fey as the wind brushed her skin, the knotted string that tied the bikini in place tapping her back rhythmically.

“Fey?”

The elf moaned pleasantly, opening her eyes and stretching out languidly, caressing Sara’s cheek, “Mmmm, you’re finally here.”

“What are you…ERK!”

Sara was cut off as Fey thrust her lips upward to meet the demon girl’s, parting her mouth in an open invitation as she pulled the smaller girl down. Sara’s body responded without her consent, her tongue plunging deep into Fey’s throat as she fell on top of the elfin girl’s curvaceous body. Fey moaned with delight around her lover’s tongue as Sara’s tendrils began to explore every inch of her body. Strings snapped as cloth was torn away, a thick tentacle slid between Fey’s legs, poised at the edge of her lower lips.

Thrusting…

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Fey lurched forward, bathed in sweat, breathing labored. The room was dark and still, the only movement the rise and fall of her roommate’s chest. She hugged herself tightly as the chill air attacked her sweaty pajamas, her body still tingling from the half remembered dream. She moaned quietly, allowing herself to fall back onto her pillow and snuggle under the blankets, drawing them up under her chin.

As the afterglow subsided, she became aware of the wet feeling between her legs but tried to ignore it, too tired to care. “First I become a girl,” she mumbled, barely coherent, “then I get my period, now I have wet dreams. What did I do to deserve this?”

A moment later, she was asleep again, having an entirely different dream.

 

Chapter 3 –Incubation

Wednesday, 18th October 2006, 06:07

WHAM!

Sara was slowly awakened from her meditation by a low rumble that shook the walls, several books toppling sideways on her shelf. It was early, the sun just rising over the horizon. The rumble continued, rhythmically pumping up and down, up and down. She ignored it, concentrating on the mental exercise. “Sympathetic magic uses the link between two identical patterns as a conduit for magical power,” she whispered to herself, the words only a balm to fool her conscious mind into focusing elsewhere, “such as identical strings of DNA or…”

WHAM!

Sara jumped, the vibration knocking a book off her shelves and bouncing from her knee. Sara looked about, unsure if this were some sort of practical joke. Her room looked odd, well even odder that it had last night, but she couldn’t quite place it. She decided to centre herself once more and get back to the exercise. “Sympathetic magic,” she repeated, the rumble slowly building again, “uses the link between two identical patterns as a conduit for magical power…”

WHAM!

Sara jumped to her feet and stormed outside. There was nothing, the hallway was dark and quiet. Not to be stalled in her vengeance, she marched down the hall towards the lobby hoping to catch the prankster in the act when a giant burst through a side door, straight into her path.

Sara hit the solid wall of flesh and bounced, her nose buried in almost mountainous abs. She looked up at the golden Amazon in awe for a moment. The woman towered over her at about six-and-a-half feet tall, her smooth Arabic skin tone complimenting her shimmering golden hair (real gold, not blonde but honest to goodness gold) and iridescent eyes perfectly. She was buff without overdoing it, ripped without losing her sleek femininity and graceful curves. Her chin and jaw were broad and angular without being in any way masculine.

Sara decided to make up for her lack of height with her best death-stare, “Were you the one rocking the whole house just now?”

The bigger girl stood blinking for a few moments as if dazed. Sara stared back. After a moment, Sara had to reappraise her, realizing that she was not so much a woman as a girl, probably not much over 16, just BIG.

“Well? Was it you? Did you see anyone?” Sara snapped.

The girl jumped slightly, “Uh… No, I didn’t see anyone. I was just doing a few reps.”

Sara sighed, “Damn, they must have legged it. Say, if you remember anything let me know, OK? My room’s just down the hall.”

Sara left the girl nodding behind her, a vague purple haze smoking off the bodybuilder in waves. She sighed as she shut the door, looking at the room again, looking closely for differences. First, the curtains were open and the window slightly ajar, definitely not where she’d had it last night. Second, the runes on the walls looked different. Rougher, stranger, more… familiar than they had looked before. Last, but not least, there was a shadowy lump underneath her desk, wedged in the corner between it and the wall.

She crept over to the desk and knelt down, trying to get a closer look. It was black, whatever it was, and fuzzy. Against her better judgment, she reached out, grasping the ball by the hair and wrenching it out, holding it firmly in her hands and turning it over, feeling something soft and smooth underneath. She gasped in shock as the hair fell away, parting to reveal the object’s terrible form.

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Hippolyta shook herself as the door closed behind the little Goth girl, slapping herself in the head, muttering as she headed up towards the 3rd floor showers. “Stupid, stupid.”

She set the cold water on full bore, allowing the rush of water the pummel her skin, cooling her off. Who on earth was that girl? Or, better yet, what was that girl? So tiny and delicate, like a twig, yet so… so… fierce! Those burning red eyes…

But what was that thing sticking out of her back?

“Hey, Hippolyta, try not to use all the water, huh? Leave some for the rest of us.” Beltaine threw her towel down over her shower door before stepping inside, quickly twisting the taps to her preferred settings.

Hippolyta grunted in agreement, closing the tap slightly. She considered her options. Belle was worthy of respect, but relations between the two of them had been strained to say the least. Still, the witch knew practically everyone in the dorm, so it was worth a shot. “Belle.”

Beltaine jumped slightly, not used to the angry Amazon starting a conversation, “Uh, yeah?”

“Who’s the kid living in the basement?”

Belle picked up the shampoo and started to work the suds into her hair, “You mean Sara? What, you’ve been living in a cave again, Hippie?”

Hippolyta dismissed the barb with a low growl, that was just how Belle was, “You know I don’t pay much attention to the Froshes.”

Belle shrugged, slightly perplexed that she was showing an interest now, “Well, you must have heard of the vampire chick. Eats babies, sucks out your soul? The whole WARS thing a while back?”

Hippolyta shrugged, “Heard something about baby eating mutants. I just thought it was another stupid rumour.”

“Well, yes and no,” Belle vacillated, “Sara’s a psychic vampire. She sucks the life out of things, turns cute little puppies to ash every morning for breakfast. First day here she took out the Martial Cheering Squad with a bit of help from Jade.”

Hippolyta nodded respectfully, impressed, “That why Patty’s on detention? Serves the little bitch right for messing with a Poe girl.”

Belle bit her tongue. Hippie was actually showing respect?!?! “Well, no not for that. The same night she ambushed Sara in her room…”

“WHAT!” Hippolyta punched the wall so hard that a tile popped loose, clattering to the floor ten feet away. A moment later she regretted it, but was glad that the cold water was there to hide the blush in her cheeks.

“Uh, Hippie, is something wrong?”

Hippolyta yanked the tap closed and stalked out of the cubical, drying herself off as she went.

Belle looked over the shower door just in time to see Hippolyta leave, still dripping water from under her bathrobe, pushing past a small group of rubbernecking sophomores on her way.

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Sara made her way slowly up the stairs and into the hallway on level 2, the freshman dorms. Despite her small stature, even the larger bricks gave the vampire girl a wide berth. No-one seemed to be able to get used to watching her eat breakfast. In the girl’s shower, things were a bit more friendly, most of her fellow students giving her a polite wave as she entered. Sara stepped up to her locker while ‘Bugs’ Bunny peeled off her shirt in the next cubicle, busy talking with Jade.

“…Just wait till I finish those egg bombs,” Bunny enthused, bursting into a maniacal little chuckle, “then we’ll see how seriously they’ll take, hey Sara!”

Sara tried to smile, opening her locker and hanging up her dark red bathrobe before starting to undress. Bugs had a habit of changing direction right in the middle of a sentence, “Hey. More gadgets, Jade?”

The little girl giggled with pure homicidal glee, “The more the merrier. Bugs is just working on some missiles based on the non-lethal rounds I’ve got for my Cobra. You should see the Tazer Egg! I’ll be able to zap everyone within ten feet.”

“Tesla induction coil?” Sara queried the inventor, fiddling with her singlet that just did not want to slip through her arm.

“Yep,” Bugs nodded, “with an electromagnetic focus field.”

“Ah, Bunny,” Sara began her request, still tugging absently at her singlet, “I really need to talk to you about a team project I’ve been working on, sometime soon, about phased Tesla induction and subspace transference...”

“Uh,” Jade interrupted, “I don’t think you’ll be able to get that off with that thing on your back.”

Sara yanked at the singlet, “What thing?”

Jade got up and turned the older girl around, “Hold still. It looks like a pole sticking out of the singlet. Where’d you get it?” She grabbed at the strange object and tugged lightly. Sara felt it, but not where she was expecting. “Jade, let go.”

“I’ve almost got it…”

“No, honey, please let go,” Sara reached around and grabbed Jade’s slender wrist, pulling her hand away. Everyone was watching now as Sara tried to get a firm grip on the shaft, her elbows bending backward to get a proper hold. She closed her eyes and pulled.

There was a long, sickening, sucking sound as Sara’s blood clung to the intruding object, the demon girl could feel the point slowly exit her rib cage. Finally the whole thing jerked loose with a POP that echoed through the tiled bathroom. Sara held up the stake, still dripping with her purplish black ichor. The wound in her back snapped shut, spitting out several splinters before disappearing completely.

At that point someone decided to scream. Later, no one could actually agree on who screamed first, or who was also the first to sprint naked and dripping out the door. In fact, the only three people not to do so were too stunned to think of it. Sara stared at the wooden stake critically. It was a smoothly lathed wooden stake, light brown in tone. Silver rings bound the haft while the point arced in a graceful parabolic curve to the tip. The wood was polished and lacquered, the obvious care of craftsmanship marred by the inscription ‘Mr. Pointy’ on the handle by some rough tool like a pocketknife.

“Well this is just the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” Sara snorted.

Bugs seemed to be stuck in a recursive loop, staring first at ‘Mr. Pointy’ then up at Sara, then back to the stake.

“Is that all you can say?” Jade shouted, “Someone just tried to kill you, you know!”

“Yeah, but they didn’t do much research. First, this thing is regular pine wood. Vampire hunting stakes should be oak, ash, aspen, juniper or hawthorn. Second, it’s lacquered. The wood should be raw to touch the heart directly. Thirdly, even if I did still have a heart, the stake was driven through my spine and would have missed it completely. Fourth, I’m not really a vampire, so this thing is totally useless against me. And fifth, what sort of uncultured oaf calls their stake ‘Mr. Pointy’?”

Jade coughed, “You don’t watch TV much do you?”

At that point, Fey and Tennyo burst into the room, still in their bathrobes. Tennyo dragged Hank’s unconscious form behind her. “OK, what the hell is going on here? And what on earth is that thing?”

Sara took a deep breath, buying time to figure out how to begin to explain it when the chanting started. It was a soft drone of monosyllabic words in Chinese, a wall of sound and prayer that rose from outside the front entrance. The stake forgotten for a moment, Jade and Bugs hastily pulled on their own robes as the group followed the sound out to the front balcony. Most of the girls were standing in their doorways, peeking around the frame.

Chaka was standing fully dressed in the lobby, grinning in half good humor and half disbelief, “Oh, you have GOT to see this!”

They walked past her and out into the cold morning air where Phase waited, wearing more torn clothes than usual to ward off the cold. Grey clouds covered the sky, a distant shade of blue threatening rain and storms. The diffuse light allowed no shadows, casting the scene in flat tones. Several crowds of students had gathered, one directly below made up of those from Poe and another in the direction of the cafeteria. They had stopped to gawk at the orange-robed Buddhists that sat in neat cross-legged rows, fiddling with necklaces of beads. A team of Rabbis (if the true name for a group of Rabbis was a ‘team’) prayed in Hebrew, their arms raised into the air in solemn praise of God. Lastly, a grey haired catholic priest in a black suit with white dog collar preached from a podium, a purple scarf with gold embroidered crucifixes draped over his shoulders.

“And a great plague of locusts will descend upon this house!” The Father bellowed, clutching at the air with fingers curled into claws. “There shall be famine and plague and fire, mingled with blood! The servant of Beelzebub shall descend upon your body and infest it with her evil spawwwwwn!”

Gee, I wonderwho he could be talking about?” Sara muttered sarcastically, starting to get annoyed.

The priest continued to rant, forcing Fey to raise her voice over the din, rubbing her arms to keep them warm, “What do you think?”

“I think that if this keeps up, I’m going to run out of clothes by next month. This is my third set ruined in so many weeks.”

“Excuse me?”

A cough from behind interrupted them. They turned to see Mrs. Horton standing in the darkness of the lobby next to Chaka, “What is all this about, girls? And what on earth happened to Mr. Declan?”

Tennyo blushed, “Ah, well, Lancer here was in the hallway when the girls dashed out of the showers. I panicked a little and bonked him on the head a bit too hard, I think…”

The housemistress sighed, covering her eyes with her hands, “OK, girls, you can take him to the infirmary. Ms. Waite, the Principal just sent an urgent message for you to see her immediately. I suggest you change and grab a potplant from the café on the way through.”

Sara nodded, handing ‘Mr. Pointy’ to Jade, “Could you hold onto this for a while? Thanks, I hope I’m not too long. What’s the flag today?”

“Red,” Chaka supplied, leaning out over the railing.

“Shit.”

“Manners, young lady.” Ms. Horton tisked as she followed Sara downstairs, leaving Team Kimba to watch the show from the balcony. Sara rushed out of the cottage a minute later, still fiddling with a new hooded blazer. Unfortunately, the priest spotted her, “There’s the WITCH! Hellspawn of the Ninth Circle! Cannibal! Betrayer! Monster! Follow the DEMON, we must hound her from these walls!”

The priests of every faith, united for the first time that any could remember, were all amazed to find that they were running in the same direction, hot on the pale girl’s trail.

Fey looked worried, “Is she going to be all right? All by herself?”

Chaka spread her hands helplessly. Tennyo sighed, her shoulders slumped. Jade looked worried. Hank’s snore reminded them that they had somewhere to be, so they propped him up on a couch and got back to the serious business of showering, dressing and the million other things girls had to do before they could start the day.

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Senior Lieutenant Forsythe surveyed the melted iron bars, “Can you tell where it went?”

The Esper shook his bald head, “No, nothing at all. It’s as if someone or something wiped all psychic traces from the cave.”

Stan and Morrie stood several feet away, fingering their laser rifles nervously. Forsythe nodded, they knew better than anyone what was down in that hole, and if they were scared…

“OK, Stan, seal it up. Sergeant, I want squads 1, 2 and 3 out on patrol NOW and get ten of the chair warmers into combat fatigues and out there with them. Tell Simeon to double time it.”

Sergeant Harris grinned, “Reynolds not invited to the party, Sir?”

“Cut the crap, Sergeant.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The two maintenance engineers seemed all too happy to bolt the adamantium hatch into the stonework, the new doorway inlayed with orichalcum runes. Since hardened steel had failed to do the job this time, Carson had approved the upgrade. Whatever had come out of that cave wasn’t something that amateurs could handle, Reynolds would be out of his depth. Besides, someone had to keep the peace.

Forsythe took one last look as the darkness was sealed away once more, “I want all our men on alert, keep the red flag flying for the rest of the day and let the faculty know that a Class X threat may be on the loose. God help us all.”

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Sara slammed the door to admin just in time, ramming a heavy chair under the handle to brace against the assault of the religious mob outside. The administrators stared at her, frozen where they stood. She smiled at them ingratiatingly and sauntered over to the front desk as if everything in the world was well and good.

“Hi. I’m Sara Waite, the Headmistress asked me to stop by this morning?”

The secretary nodded, “Go right on through to the waiting room. She should call for you presently. There are some people in with her at the moment. I’ll tell her you’re here.”

Sara wound her way through the desks, still ignoring the continuing stares and the banging on the front door, taking a seat on the bench outside the Headmistress’s office across from the empty desk of Ms. Hartford, or Hardass as she was known by the students of Whateley. Through the frosted glass that separated the waiting area from the office, she could see two figures, one dark and gesticulating wildly, his voice raised but muffled by the soundproof wall. The other was a red and gold blob, though obviously humanoid, no other details could be discerned, he seemed to be much calmer than the other however. A woman’s voice often cut through the black blob’s shouting.

Finally, the shouting stopped. A piercing buzz from the front desk interrupted Sara’s musings. A secretary pressed a button as she walked past with an arm load of paper, “Yes?”

“Send her in,” The Headmistress’ voice ordered.

The secretary waved Sara in, too busy to let the girl in herself. Sara opened the door slowly, revealing a strange scene. The Headmistress sat fuming behind her desk, glaring at the man to her right clad in a priest’s uniform like the Father outside. He was tall and gaunt, looking much like a cross between Christopher Lee and Max Von Sydow only stockier, his glaring eyes hard as ice. The other figure was a short, ancient-looking, Asian man wearing rich red and gold silks girded with gold jewellery. He stopped playing with his thin white moustache the moment Sara entered the room, then promptly dropped to one knee, “Iä! IäKellith! Dakeit-cthoagna’nachahazoiz’wlli! Iä!”

Sara froze. The blood drained from the gaunt priest’s already pale face, his eyes bugging out of his head, “D-DON’T SAY THAT HERE!”

The Asian man remained kneeling, waiting. Sara closed the door and licked her lips, trying to remember the words. She didn’t have to, they came unbidden into her mind, “Mifruzli ‘ognakotht’egnanyulzhor ‘sal.”

The sorcerer smiled gratefully as he raised himself to his feet, “Thank you, mistress, my bones are not as strong as they used to be.”

Headmistress Carson cleared her throat pointedly, “Sara, I would like you to meet the Most Righteous Reverend Darren Englund from Whately’s Board of Trustees. It appears that you already know High Sorcerer Mifruzli of the Cult of Gothmog.”

Sara blinked, absently rubbing the stylized inverted triangle rune on her forehead, “Uh, no, not at all. Dad blessed me with my mark back during the Cthul debacle, but he seems to have passed on a lot more than I thought.”

“BLESSED!” The Reverend barked, outraged, “Your very existence is a curse! You are a blight on this school and its reputation! The Board demands this… this… THING’S immediate expulsion from both the classroom and the grounds!”

Mifruzli smiled benignly, folding his hands underneath the sleeves of his volumous robe, “As I said before, this excellent school’s charter does not permit the expulsion of a student on the basis of religious or political views. The letters of support I have brought with me clearly state the situation if Sara is not allowed to continue her studies. Not to mention my organization’s generous offer as well.”

Englund snarled, about to start into another tirade before Carson leapt to her feet. “SILENCE! Please maintain your decorum, Reverend. Now.” She pulled a piece of paper out from under the stack on her desk. It was yellowed and fine, written in a flowing hand with a coat of arms sealed in wax at the bottom of the page, “See this? This is a letter from the Wallachian Embassy. It came via diplomatic pouch directly from the Prince’s palace and has been written by his own hand. Do you want to know what it says?”

The Reverend crossed his arms over his chest and nodded, his lips pressed thin against each other.

The Headmistress placed the letter carefully in front of her, clearing her throat, “To Headmistress Carson, Principal of Whateley Academy, New Hampshire. We are distressed at the current news from our American Embassy that certain elements in the Board of Trustees are threatening the continuation of a singularly promising student’s tenure at Whateley. We are most upset at this sorry state of affairs and, in keeping with the bylaws and charter of the Academy, we urge the administration not to give in to slanderous political and religious pressure. Our own influence will be brought to bear on the Board, though I would like to state to you our intention to not only discontinue our contributions if the expulsion of Sara Waite succeeds, but that legal proceedings will begin in order to recuperate previous contributions as well. We apologize that the situation has devolved so far that we feel these measures must be taken in order to uphold the integrity and purpose of such a fine and noble institution. We hope and pray that Sara Waite will not be inconvenienced in any way over this petty matter. Yours sincerely, Lord Paramount, Prince of Wallachia.”

The silence lay thickly over the room, not even a fly dared break the mood. The Reverend started to mutter under his breath, rubbing his temples, “I don’t see that this is any of Paramount’s business, this is strictly a matter for the Board and the Administration.”

“I beg to differ,” Carson disagreed, “Lord Paramount is but ONE of the contributors that have sent me letters or called in person over this matter. They all feel that Whateley’s notorious and much lauded impartiality and neutrality is under threat. If I so much as move her over to Hawthorne, I will have more than a dozen lawsuits on my desk the same afternoon. Not that I would anyway, Darren, this goes far beyond your vendetta.”

“She is EVIL, Elizabeth. I put to you that this goes far beyond the neutrality of Whateley. It is a matter of principle.”

Mifruzli coughed, “Pardon me, but I object to your judgment of our sect. Who are you to determine good and evil? Some of what you see as good, I see as evil. Casting my mistress out of your school for no good reason is only the first.”

“She is a Class X entity,” Englund pointed accusingly, “the methods and motives of the Outer Gods are undoubtedly evil. Her guilt is therefore mandated by her existence.”

“Guilt and innocence,” Mifruzli retorted, “is a matter of choice. Though she stands accused of existence, I have yet to hear accusations of a criminal nature. You might as well accuse the bees as guilty of buzzing or fish guilty of swimming than to accuse the Outer Gods for being what they are. Your own existence may offend me, but I do not wish to become your executioner for such a petty reason.”

Englund scowled, “She’s already been banned from the science department, quite a feat for a freshman who has only been here for a matter of weeks. She is also a murderer, three times over if her profile is accurate!”

“So are approximately 20% of the student body, Darren,” Carson chuckled, “Sara’s one of the quiet ones. Security reports say she hasn’t harmed a soul since her arrival, even when her friends were involved in a brawl with the Alphas. Say, aren’t you a wanted man yourself over in Europe?”

“Those charges are complete fabrications and gross distortions of the truth.”

“With all due respect,” Mifruzli interrupted again with a sardonic smile, “they cannot be both.”

Englund dismissed him with a wave, “You know what I mean.”

“Not that it matters either way,” the Headmistress gathered the papers into a stack and dropped them all into her out tray, “I am lifting the ban on Sara from the science department this morning and I will accept the donation from the Cult of Gothmog. I will also be keeping Sara here at Whateley. She WILL stay at Poe and I will be replying to all the concerned parents and contributors stating that under no condition will she be expelled unless, like other students, she proves to be an actual danger to the student body. Now, if you would be so kind, Reverend?”

He stood defiantly, not budging an inch, “What about my men?”

“As I said before, a security detail will accompany them at all times to ensure that they do not approach within fifty feet of the buildings or interfere in any way with any student’s activities. Now, please leave.”

Reverend Englund didn’t even bother to look at Sara as he stormed out the door, slamming it behind him. Sara gulped, taking a seat across the desk from the Headmistress, “Ah, Headmistress, what is all this?”

Carson sighed and sat down, Mifruzli taking his own seat, “Reverend Englund is the self appointed protector of the students here at Whateley, and the world at large, from the threat of supernatural beings. Usually he and I work hand in hand but on the issue of your student participation, we are of completely different opinions.”

“Your father,” Mifruzli added, “tries to undermine the mainstream churches, particularly on social issues such as sex and women’s rights. We view many of the constraints placed on humanity by Christian ideals as anathema, a method of political control rather than for truly beneficial social reform.”

“Please save the preaching for later, Mifruzli,” the Headmistress rebuked, “personally, I disagree with your Cult on a great many issues and I also question your intent. However, my beliefs are strictly personal and will never conflict with my professional duties. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly,” Mifruzli smiled benignly.

“Good. Now, Sara, I want to assure you that there is no real threat that you will be expelled by the administration. The Academy exists solely because of our strict neutrality. Without it we wouldn’t last out the rest of this year. But that’s neither here nor there, I called you here for two reasons, so lets get the unpleasant one out of the way first.”

The Headmistress opened the top draw of her desk, pulled out a stapled sheaf of paper and dropped in front of Sara, “This is the complaint filed against you by Dr. Matthews, supported by the head of the science department and administration. It lists a string of several disturbing events that unfolded over the course of the last few days. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Sara looked at the floor in shame, “I-I’m sorry.”

“At least nothing further came of it,” Carson sighed, “Dr. Matthews is livid and the research branch is backing him up. I can lift the ban on you entering Kane Hall, but the science department is adamant. Half the faculty want you expelled, the other half refuse to teach you. The more moderate and understanding teachers feel that they can’t actually teach you anything you don’t already know in the basic courses, and the advanced courses are really only for those designated as devisors or gadgeteers, with very few exceptions. Aside from that, the advanced science courses conflict with the magical strand in your timetable. I am recommending, along with Dr. Bellows, that you drop the majority of your courses and take up the accelerated magical learning thread, which will leave you with powers lab, hacking theory, principles of magic, music and martial arts as tertiary choices alongside at least a half day of work with a mentor. How do you feel about that?”

It only took a moment for Sara to consider, “You’re right. I think it’s for the best.”

“Very good. It will take some time to reschedule your classes and find an appropriate mentor for your rather unique talents, however both ARC and the Cult of Gothmog have pledged their own resources to the task. I have faith that between the two groups they will discover a pre-eminent candidate.”

Mifruzli bowed his head slightly in Sara’s direction.

“Now, the second reason,” Carson continued, “your father has asked the highest ranking member of his cult to deliver to you a few items, which I have approved for your use. Normally, I wouldn’t allow this, but your father’s Cult has been very accommodating and candid in this matter.”

Sara nodded, glancing at the strange old man across from her. His understanding smile never seemed to waver even when he spoke, “It is a pleasure to work with you, Headmistress.”

“Yes, yes, you can save the pleasantries,” Carson dismissed him with an airy wave, “Due to your current hiatus and the injustices done to you in this matter, I am also taking you off detention. If you could do us both a very big favour and lie low for the next week or two, I am sure everyone would appreciate it. Now, you two have a lot to discuss. We’ll talk later.”

Mifruzli rose before Sara had a chance to move, opening the door and picking up a heavy gold coffer from the floor with his other hand, “Allow me, mistress.”

Sara blushed as she stepped through, the ancient High Priest bowing humbly as she passed.

“Oh, Sara?”

Sara turned back to the Headmistress.

“Be careful.”

The demon girl nodded uncertainly before continuing on her way. Mifruzli thanked the Headmistress once again before closing the door firmly shut behind them.

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The Most Reverend Darren Englund motioned for the much younger Very Reverend Zachariah Moon to follow him as he strode swiftly across the grounds back towards his office, “Call everyone. I want the Goobers to track her day and night. Give Nightbane the official green light. Contact Marion and tell her what she needs to do. Open negotiations with Hartford. I will speak to Totem again, hopefully he’ll listen to reason this time.”

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Hank rubbed his jaw while Tennyo slurped down her second glass of orange juice, “I cannot believe you sucker punched me.”

Chaka chuckled as Jade bopped him over the head with a chicken drumstick. “Serves you right for peeping,” the little girl admonished, “but I wanna knowhow she sucker punched you, aren’t you supposed to be invulnerable?”

Hank look suspiciously at Tennyo, who shrugged, accidentally setting even her restrained breasts to wobbling pleasantly, “Don’t look at me, I don’t know.”

“Seriously guys, what’s up?” Chaka broke in, “Who could sneak in and ram a stake through Sara, then slip outside without being detected?”

Phase stirred her coffee absently, “Someone at once very skillful, yet really dumb.”

Fey and Phase looked at each other. “Tansy Walcutt,” they nodded in unison.

Jade shook her head, “No way, not Tansy’s style at all.”

“She could be working through an intermediary again, y’know?” Chaka mused, “Trying to get back in with the Alphas.”

“Like they’d ever take her back.” Jade snorted in disgust.

“Jade’s right, you know,” Ayla agreed, “word is that Tansy’s this close to worm food herself, she’s been lying low trying not to give Hekate an excuse to voodoo her into oblivion.”

“Nah,” Tennyo disagreed, “Tansy’s folks will pull her out of Whateley before she gets whacked… hang on, Gumby approaching at 10 o’clock.”

He looked fourteen but his expression made him seem older, with immaculately combed brown hair that resembled a 50’s style g-man. With the dawn light behind him, his silhouette did indeed resemble the green plasticine doll as Tennyo suggested.

“Hi. You’re Team Kimba, right? Mind if I sit here a moment?” He sat without waiting for anyone’s ascent, “Things were a real mess out there this morning, hey?”

Chaka shifted in her seat, “Who the hell are you?”

The boy smiled, “My friends call me Nobody. Weird codename, hey? Where’s Sara? Usually she sits with you for breakfast.”

“Maybe I better rephrase the question,” Chaka bared her teeth, “What the hell are you?”

“The question you should be asking is ‘what the hell is Sara?’ Do you have any idea what she’s capable of? Have you been having any weird dreams lately? Do you know what she’s doing at night?”

Fey squirmed in her seat. Jade glared, “She’s our friend. That’s all I need to know.”

“Oh, I see, a friend. Are you sure about that? Don’t you think it’s a little strange how easily she made friends with you the first day she was here at Whateley? Have any of you been getting any headaches or unusual nosebleeds?”

Tennyo stopped eating. Hank stood, grabbing the kid by the back of his neck hard enough to make him flinch, “Jade why don’t you go sit next to Chaka. Nobody, come over here at sit between me and Tennyo.”

“Tannyo and I,” Nobody wheezed. Hank did his best to look friendly while they switched seats. He noticed a group of Goths eyeing them from a table on the other side of the hall, a reptile-boy flicked his forked tongue in and out several times, tasting the air. Tennyo draped an arm over Nobody’s shoulder while Hank kept hold of his hand discreetly under the table, “Now, why don’t you tell us what all this is about?”

“I just thought you ought to know that’s all,” Nobody sweated.

“Know what?”

“Your new friend is a demon princess. She’s come to earth to drive you all insane and drag you back to her world.”

“Why would you think that?” Jade snorted.

“Hey, hello, she’s ademon! Case closed. No-one can know what those things think or why. They don’t need what or why. They just do. Sara is the direct descendent of Shub-Niggurath.”

Chaka grabbed the kid by his collar, “Shrub What? What was that second word?”

“Shub-Niggurath,” Fey calmed her friend, “one of the three Outer Gods of the Mythos, equal only to Azathoth the Daemon Sultan and Yog-sothoth.”

Nobody nodded, “The Cult of Gothmog have been looking for her for years because she’s the one that’s supposed to give rise to the new race that will supplant humans, like the Shoggoths supplanted the Elder Race before us.”

It was Fey’s turn to be incredulous, “You’ve got to be kidding. The Old Ones were stopped once in their conquest of Earth. We can do it again.”

Nobody grinned, “Oh really? Haven’t you wondered why she chose your little group out of so many? Can you honestly say that none of you have felt the slightest twinge of lust in her presence? She’ll start her campaign slowly at first, of course, you probably haven’t felt her influence yet. But one of these nights you’ll start dreaming about her doing things to you and it will feel so good that you won’t want her to stop. Then the sleepwalking will start and one morning you’ll wake up in her bed, belly swollen with her unholy seed…”

Tennyo punched him surreptitiously in the stomach, but her hand simply passed through Nobody as if he were a mere illusion. Fey fought to keep her breathing steady, setting her face in a defiant mask. The boy grinned, standing up through the chair and out of their grasp, “Maybe that’s enough for today. If you ever decide to come to your senses, try to find me. Just ask for my name around campus, people usually know where I am.”

He started to walk off, leaving his tray behind, but paused, turning back to their table. “Oh, you might want to ask Sara where she’s been all morning. Her answer could prove illuminating. I’d watch her as well,” he pointed at Jade, “I think she’s already under the demon bitch’s spell. Toodleoo.”

With that, he disappeared into the crowd, even the tray and notebook were gone from where they’d been left on the table.

“Astral projection,” Fey identified with a scowl, “Nobody indeed. We’ve just been talking to thin air for the last five minutes.”

Hank flexed his hand, “Hang on, I touched him…”

Fey and Chaka shook their heads. “He made you think you did.” Fey explained.

“Could there be anything to what he said?” Phase returned to stirring her coffee thoughtfully.

“No way.” Jade shook her head, “Sara’s not the type to… to… well, ok, she is the type, but her Dadis a demon of lust.”

“Exactly, and so is she,” Phase pointed out with her plastic spoon, “how much do we really know Sara? She locks herself in her room day and night. What is she doing down there when we’re not around?”

“Studying. She’s only just caught up. She did miss two weeks of school, you know,” Jade defended her friend.

Hank scratched his chin, “Fey, how much do you know about this Mythos stuff?”

Fey shivered, “A bit more than most people. I’d rather not talk about it, and believe me you’d rather not know. Mythos creatures are unknowable by mortals, you simply don’t have the correct wiring to understand their motives, thought patterns or even to communicate with them on a similar level.”

“Is it possible that Sara’s one of them?” Hank asked, getting back to the point.

“Who knows?” Fey shrugged, “Anything is possible as far as the Outer Gods are concerned.”

“I don’t believe it!” Jade crossed her arms over her chest, “Sara’s been nothing but a good friend to all of us!”

“If what Nobody said is true, that would make sense,” Ayla muttered, “You heard her as well as we all did back at the altar: Hands off, they’re mine. Did any of that sacrifice stuff seem a bit too coincidental to you guys?”

They looked at each other.

“This coming from the only person who wasn’t there,” Jade reminded them, “I say we should all stop worrying about Sara and concentrate on our real enemies. I bet you all a hundred to one that she’s in the Headmistress’ office right now sorting out the problem with her timetable and the fact that she’s a Demon Princess has nothing to do with it!”

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“Of course, the fact that you are a Demon Princess will inevitably complicate your affairs here at Whateley,” Mifruzli eased himself into a plush chair, “the Most Righteous Reverend Darren Englund and his society will be only one of the groups opposing you, supported by conservative religious interests.”

Sara gulped again, trying to remind her body each time that she didn’t really need saliva anymore, “Er… yes, I imagine so.”

They sat in a conference room on the lower level of the admin building, surrounded by dark, polished, hardwood furniture and red leather chairs. Silver surmounted the mantelpiece of the bricked up fireplace, replaced by ducted air conditioning in recent years that emitted a constant low hum.

The High Priest regarded Sara for a moment, pausing to reflect, “I can’t believe that you are finally here in front of me.”

“I-I don’t…” Sara avoided his gaze, feeling uncomfortable. The gold box resting on the table between them looked normal to a cursory examination, but up close the carvings and embossed figures etched into the gold were moderately disturbing yet strangely attractive. Mifruzli caught the direction of her glance, “Ah, yes. You can feel the box, can’t you? It is very special, your father placed it in my possession soon after your birth. It is magically keyed to the very fibre of your being, body and spirit. You can read the inscription?”

“Iä! IäKellith! Dakeit-cthoagna’nachahazoiz’wlli! Iä!” Sara whispered, “Roughly translated: Hail Kellith, Daughter of the Eternal Void.”

Midruzli smiled, “Your father always knew that you existed but we could never find his precious daughter. Despite his own fecundity, in the thousands of years since his birth he could never bring himself to impregnate any of his lovers until he met your mother. Now, he cannot still because of the very memory of her. You will be his only child until the end of eternity.”

“He does seem the sentimental type,” Sara chuckled shyly, rubbing her fingers over the engravings of tentacles that entwined themselves around the lid.

“Gothmog is lust tempered by love,” Mifruzli explained, “a union of the inhuman with the human. You must realize that you are closer to the Outer Gods than even it appears.”

Sara blinked, “What do you mean? My cells… my body is relatively human. My mother was human…”

“That is where you are wrong,” Mifruzli interrupted, “She was not completely. Ephraim Waite was in the process of becoming something other than human when your Great Grandmother was born and his wife was not of the human world. Did you ever notice your mother’s slightly protuberant eyes? The blood of Cthulhu’s children also runs in your veins. You may look fairly human but you will eventually come to understand that you are not like us at all.”

The sorcerer paused, pointing out his wrinkles, “Age will never be a boundary to you, the children of the Old Ones are immortal. The powers you have gained at the present will be nothing compared to those that you will develop. You can bend or break a mortal’s sanity at will. You already control their base desires. Your rule over the psychic realm will be uncontested by all but the most powerful of creatures.”

Sara closed her eyes, “A month ago, I wrote stories like this.”

“The boundary between fact and fiction is thin,” Mifruzli sighed, “merely a step away beyond the boarder of dreams and the lost land of Kadath. But enough of such things. Your father ordered me to take your holdings in hand, but unfortunately I was unable to secure your house and most of its contents. I did, however, rescue this…”

He pulled several photographs out of his robe, illustrating a pile of old books more than six feet high.

“The Waite Collection!” Sara gasped.

Mifruzli smiled, “Yes, a most extensive selection of tomes. They are being kept in trust by the Cult in a private vault in Switzerland, they are yours as soon as you are ready to claim them.”

“I-I don’t know what to say. Thank you, I’ve been worried sick. Like losing a member of the family.” Sara stroked the photograph, remembering nights long ago curled up with his mother in front of the fireplace as she read to his favourite bedtime stories from the Necronomicon, or whispered to him the strangely comedic King in Yellow as he drifted off to sleep.

Mifruzli reached over to pat the golden box, “I have another present for you, as well, from your father.”

He unlatched the lid and pried the gold coffer open, revealing a thick, heavy, tome bound with some sort of leather. Sara lifted it out easily, a warm, sympathetic, feeling tingling up her arms. She opened the featureless cover to the title page. “The Tablets of Gothmog,” she translated the Egyptian runes.

“Yes, the oldest and most precious text of our faith. One of my predecessors transcribed this in 1471. Half of it is in Egyptian and there is an Old English translation of those sections, however,” the sorcerer turned a few pages, revealing sections written in other runes that seemed to twist and writhe on the page, “the truly interesting sections had to be inscribed by your father’s own hand.”

Sara was fascinated. Her eyes widened, unblinking, as the runes unfolded their meanings across space and time. Her mind tingled as complete understanding wormed its way into her consciousness. She turned the page, hungry for more.

Mifruzli smiled benignly as his mistress devoured the book.

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Things had not gone well for the Whateley Martial Arts Cheering Squad in the weeks after the ‘sacrifice’. Patricia considered washing the football team’s laundry for a whole month as a simply unfair punishment. It may have been alright if the players had all been human, but squeezing the jam that accumulated in Rotgrub’s gym socks was one of those indignities that she felt did not befit the Yellow Queen at all.

Which was why she left the job to Bee.

“URGH!” Kelly grimaced, making sure the peg on her nose was tight, “Skid marks!”

“Don’t worry,” Patricia gritted her teeth as she scrubbed at a bloodstain on the jacket of number 94, “one of these days, I swear we’ll get that bitch!”

Little Bee grimaced, the petite blonde wincing at the squelching sound that Rotgrub’s lime green toe jam made between her heavy rubber gloves, “Oh, come on sis. Why don’t we just leave well enough alone.”

Pat flicked her sister with water from the scrubber, “And just how do you think we’ll ever get accepted by the Alphas with that attitude, huh?”

Ginger chuckled, “You won’t anyway, you know. Not even if the two of you double team Don Sebastiano.”

“Oh, shut up!” Pat scowled while her subordinates snickered behind their hands.

“I’d listen to them if I were you.”

Pat turned slowly to face the Amazon freak from Poe. Hippolyta stood blocking the sunlight in the doorway, filling the frame with her bulk.

“Ah, ha… ha… Hippie,” Pat stammered, trying to give her a friendly chuckle, “what brings you down here?”

Hippolyta stalked over to the blonde, grabbing an empty tin can in one hand on her way past the sink. “I heard that you’ve been annoying a friend of mine. And my name is Hippolyta,” the golden haired girl crushed the can into her fist, “remember?”

Pat chuckled stupidly, sweating profusely, “Um, OK, Hippolyta! Not that I would ever even think of hurting a friend of yours.”

Hippolyta grabbed the girl by her apron and turned her upside down, holding her over the dirty water, “Why don’t I believe you?”

“I-I… I…”

“Maybe its because you’re a dirty little liar? What do you think?”

“I-I I’m not lying, Hippolyta! Anything you want! Anything! Just let me go!”

Hippolyta smiled, “OK. I believe you.” She then dropped the prissy cheerleader into the dirty water and walked back out the door.

Bee and Kelly pulled Pat up to the surface, sopping wet, “Why that ugly, no good, muscle-bound, brainless, stupid, ugly, she-male!”

Unfortunately, Hippolyta was still standing just outside. The Amazon stepped back in.

The sycophants parted ranks from around their whimpering leader as Hippolyta idly picked up one of Rotgrub’s as yet unsqueezed gym socks between her thumb and forefinger, holding it in front of her as she approached. Pat trembled as a desperate feeling of dread washed over her, the sock coming ever closer, the harbinger of her doom.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOmrph.” Her scream echoed across the fields, cut off before it could reach its peak.

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Sara grinned as she leant back from the table, feeling a little light headed. Mifruzli closed the lid of the golden box, still smiling. “It is nice to see that you are pleased, mistress.”

“I… woah,” Sara rubbed her eyes, “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”

“Nothing, mistress,” Mifruzli reassured her, “you were just reading. Disorientation is natural for the first time one views the script of the Outer Gods, it takes time for the mind to adjust. Don’t worry, your father told me that you may need a little while to assimilate, everything will become clear, eventually.” Sara noticed absently that the High Sorcerer’s speech had a strange lilt to it, as if his mouth were unused to shaping words. “Your father has ordered us to see to your needs. A small sum of money will be placed in your account and will be replenished to that amount at the end of each month. For the time being, I will be staying in Dunwich. If you need anything, call me on this number.”

He handed her a card, a long series of symbols scrawled across one side, “It’s an encrypted channel, so it should be safe from eavesdroppers. Please be careful, mistress.”

The symbols blurred for a moment as Sara peered at them intently, then suddenly she could understand their meaning perfectly. It was a simple algorithmic substitution code, the symbols representing letters and numbers across several different languages. Her mind simply filled in the gaps.

Surprised, Sara kissed him on the cheek, lifting the heavy golden box easily in one hand as they stood, “Thank-you, I will.”

“Oh, by the way,” the old man scratched his white goatee, “some of the faithful may try to… contact you themselves. I hesitate to mention this, but I must beg your forbearance and patience. I personally dislike fanatics of any stripe, but when one is the focus of a religion…”

Sara blinked, “Hold on, back up. I don’t have a Cult yet, hell I don’t know if I want one…”

“But you already do,” Mifruzli interrupted, “your father has been putting a good word in for you in the family business for the last 25 years. It surprises even I just how popular the Cult of Kellith is, considering that we didn’t even know where you were.”

Sara turned to face the Sorcerer straight on, “How many cultists are we talking about here?”

He made some show of counting them out on his fingers, “Approximately… 100,000 known members. Give or take a few thousand.”

“One… hundred…” Sara gasped, suddenly feeling a little ill.

“This is to be expected, as a Demon Princess of Lust and considering your illustrious bloodline of sorts… maybe that should be ichorline? Anyhow, considering your parentage there was already an existing base of worshippers. Quite a few already think of you as the antithesis of Cthulhu, holding you as the High Priest of Shub-Niggurath.”

“WHAT!?!”

He shrugged, “Religious minds like to order their pantheons. When a new element is introduced, a place must be found for it in the established hierarchy.”

“What I want to know,” Sara snarled, “is why I’m a member of the pantheon in the first place. I’m only part demon.”

“Perhaps the answer to that question can wait,” Mifruzli fidgeted with the sleeves of his robe, “Can you at least promise me to humour any supplicants that may seek your blessing in the days ahead?”

Sara sighed and nodded. What else could she do?

Mifruzli kissed the rune on Sara’s forehead reverently before watching her walk back towards administration, still smiling despite their disagreement. She pulled her mask up over her mouth before turning the corner and out of sight, his strangely comforting aura dissipating like fog under a quick breeze.

Sara glanced at the clock on the wall as she passed. The Demon Princess stopped and looked again.

11:45.

She shut her eyes for a minute and looked once more.

11:46.

She broke into a run, sprinting across the grounds towards Crystal Hall and the cafeteria, the religious mob shouting at her from across the picket line Security had formed exactly 50 feet away.

Skidding to a halt before collecting herself enough to coolly open the door and enter, Sara tried to contain both her excitement and hunger. The woman behind the counter took one look at her and heaved a caged Dalmatian up onto the bench, “Missed breakfast, didn’t ya?”

Sara nodded absently, wondering where exactly they were getting these dogs as she grasped the cage in her other hand, giving a polite thanks to the woman as she swept past.

Team Kimba had assembled at their regular table, Toni laughing with her usual gusto. The demon-girl sauntered over and dropped her baggage onto the floor, sliding into the last seat, “What a morning! You guys won’t believe this.”

The conversation stopped dead.

Sara looked at them all, but they couldn’t meet her gaze, “Uh, guys? Is everything OK?”

Toni shook herself, “Yeah, we’re alright. We just… er… we just…” The black girl took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts, “Look someone was asking about you this morning at breakfast. Trying to warn us off from getting close to you.”

Sara glanced at the rest of the group, who looked down at their plates. Tennyo just kept on eating while Jade glared angrily at her food, “I see. Student or teacher?”

“Student,” Toni confirmed.

Sara didn’t bother opening the cage, she just thrust her hand through the wire and plunged her claws into the Dalmatian’s chest, killing and draining it instantly. Fey winced and tried to block her ears. Sara was getting good at draining things, though, after a month of practice. The dog didn’t even have time to feel any pain. “I almost got expelled this morning.”

There was a collective double take from everyone at the table. Even Tennyo stopped eating with half a rasher of bacon lolling out of her mouth. Sara told them a story, not the whole story obviously, starting with her arrival at the Headmistress’ office to leaving with Mifruzli. She left out the gold box, the cult and most importantly the… thing back in her room. All that could wait.

“Englund again,” Fey scowled.

“What’s this?” Sara glanced at the rest of the group, trying to read their expressions.

“We met while you had your head stuck in a book a week or so ago,” Toni chuckled, “he’s got some cajones to take on Carson in her own office.”

“It starts to explain that guy at breakfast," Jade added, “he obviously has it in for you, Sara. Trying to tell us that all you wanted was to… er, well.”

The little girl stopped, blushing furiously.

“To what?” Sara scratched her head, perplexed.

“To impregnate us,” Hank bulled through, saying the words fast enough that he didn’t have time to think about them, “with the intention of replacing humanity with your own spawn.”

Fey coughed uncomfortably. Sara looked at them all for a moment then broke out into hysterical laughter, “You didn’t honestly believe that, did you?”

They weren’t laughing. Jade glared at them all, Ayla looked a bit sheepish.

“They’ve been talking about nothing else all morning,” Jade scowled, “I was happy to get to Bio and away from it all.”

Sara rested her head in the palm of her hand, “You know, if I ever do decide to have children, I wonder if everyone will be calling them my ‘spawn’. Can you imagine dropping them off to preschool? Hi Betty, hey Dave, just dropping my spawn off, how are yours? Oh good. Watch out for Spot, Nathan, don’t let him get too close. Oh, and kids, no tentacles today or I’ll put you to bed without Mr. Kittles for supper.”

Toni snorted, “Mine would be running up the walls, leaving muddy footprints on the paint. Drive the janitor crazy.”

“I don’t think it will be a problem,” Hank grinned, “there won’t be any preschool left after Fey and Tennyo’s children enrol.”

The two inhumanly powerful girls gave him death stares of equal intensity.

“Oh, yeah, Mr. smart-aleck,” Tennyo growled, “just what about your kids, punching holes in the walls for fun? One of Toni’s kids could trip over the potholes, you know!”

“At least my kids would be sensible enough to go invulnerable every day before class,” Ayla chuckled, “they’d break their chairs every time they sat down, but at least they’d be safe from the other rowdies.”

Things devolved from there, but the feeling of guilt was well and truly broken by the time lunch started to wind down. Most students tried to get a ten minute head start on the rush to class. Team Kimba was no exception. Sara hung back while Jade pulled Jinn’s costume out of her backpack, the jocularity hadn’t spread to the little girl at all. “Are you OK?”

Jade sighed, “I don’t know if I’ll ever have kids of my own. I-I just don’t know.”

Sara slid over into the chair next to her, “I’m sure you will, one day.”

Jade looked up slightly at her, tears starting to well up under her eyelids. Sara could see the dirty brown of fear swirling through her aura, conflicting with the warm yellow of hope, “You think so?”

“I know so,” Sara grinned, “Turquoise and Amber could haunt the whole neighborhood as Handkerchief and Doily, the miniature ghosts.”

Jade giggled, her tears forgotten, “Oh, you’re just being silly. Hey, are you OK? You look a little purple in the face.”

Sara patted her cheeks in surprise. She did feel a little hot…

“It’s nothing, I’m just a little out of sorts after this morning, is all. Come on,” Sara patted the golden box, “If Jinn and I run, we can make it to my room and Jinn’ll get back to Powers Lab in a jiff. What do you say?”

“Deal!” Jade recharged Jinn into her Shroud costume in a moment, and the two tireless girls were off.

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“See what I mean?” Ayla whispered.

“What?” Fey asked, not understanding.

The she-male rolled her eyes, “She may have made fun of it, but she didn’t really deny it, did she?”

Toni shook her head, “Sure she did, what do you think ‘you’re not serious’ means?”

“Oldest trick in the book,” Ayla retorted, “politics 101, how to say something without actually saying it. She was putting our suspicions back on us, changing the subject.”

“Come on, we got to get to class. Try not to be so paranoid.”

We’ve got to get to class, Toni,” Fey corrected as they started off again.

“Someone’s got to be,” Ayla mumbled behind their backs.

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“…Can’t we put that aside for a moment, Charlie?” Darren Englund begged desperately into the telephone on his office desk.

He listened to his old friend’s answer.

“She’s one of THEM, Charlie, one of the ones that took her.”

The voice on the other end started to yell.

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT US! Please, I’m begging you, help me cast her back to the abyss that spawned her.”

There was a pause, a final rebuke, then Charlie hung up.

Reverend Englund sighed, lowering the phone back onto the hook. He buried his face in his hands, “Why don’t they see? Can’t they tell whatit is? How can they be so blind?”

Moon gingerly knocked on the inside of the door, poking his head into the office, “Reverend? Nightbane is here to see you now.”

Englund gathered himself together and nodded, “Very well, send her in.”

Zachariah opened the door fully, holding it for a honey blonde 16 year old schoolgirl with a short haircut and a brisk attitude. Her uniform, however, was immaculate, the sword slung across her back wrapped in black cloth for safety and protection.

“Has Zachariah given you your mission?” Englund questioned.

“Ah, yeah,” she pouted, “but, well, the funny thing is that I’ve already had a crack at it.”

“You what?” Englund groaned, too depressed to yell.

“Well, I’d been hearing all about this vampire on campus and I haven’t actually killed a vampire yet and I sorta got excited and I started stalking her and this morning I took my shot,” The young ‘slayer’ spoke nervously.

“What happened?”

“Er… nothing. The little so-and-so just wouldn’t die. I stabbed her through the heart with Mr. Pointy and left it in like you said. Nada. So I took a leaf from Dracula and cut off her head and it just kept growing back. She didn’t even twitch a muscle, so I couldn’t even fight her a bit.”

Englund held his head in his hands, “Oh, Lord, why me? What were you able to learn from her metabolism? Any weaknesses?”

Nightbane considered, “Well, she has this really weird body. I couldn’t make out half of her biorhythms, but her blood has this strange yellow-y stuff in it that seems to carry the life force she drains. I also felt that she had a bit of a vulnerability to blessed objects, but my sword was useless.”

“Hmmmm…” Englund considered, “All right, I’m still going to give you a shot. I want a full turnout, Code X, all Goobers are to support you however they can. I am relying on you, do not fail me.”

Nightbane nodded.

“Now,” Englund continued, “What word from the esteemed Ms. Hartford?”

Zachariah unfolded a small note from his pocket, “Hartford is streamlining several inconvenient documents and making sure that the Science department tows the line. I have an appointment with Matthews this afternoon, by the way. She has also fabricated an anomaly in the Library system that will help Marion complete her mission and assures Alpha support, though with the provision that they not take an active participation in any pitched battles.”

Englund nodded, “Accepted. What will it cost me?”

“Nothing,” Moon smiled, “she’s eager to settle a few old grudges.”

“What about backup? Do we have any outside contacts we can trust with this?”

Zachariah lowered his head in thought, “The Vatican is still disgruntled over the incident in Munich. The MCO would take measures far too… drastic for our purposes. I could contact the Syndicate. They have been probing the region around Whateley since the summoning, maybe they would be interested in helping us for a small fee.”

Englund considered his options for a minute. The idea was against his better judgment.

“Do it.”

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“HOLY SWEET LORD OF MERCY!” Jinn yelled at her highest volume.

“Shhhhhh!” Sara slapped her hand over what she thought was the spirit’s mouth. Instead, she slapped some sort of metal plate.

Jinn had just enough time for a shocked, “Oh dear,” before the bear trap snapped shut on the demon girl’s hand, severing it at the wrist.

The hand fell through Jinn’s cape and bounced once before coming to rest on the floor of Sara’s room. Things had changed a bit more since the morning, the runes on the wall starting to resemble the writing on Sara’s golden box, except they writhed and undulated as if written on the ocean rather than solid brick. The storm had arrived outside, dark clouds covered the sun while icy raindrops pounded the grounds.

“I’m sorry, are you OK?” Jinn grabbed Sara’s stump, watching the hand grow back in seconds.

“Yeah, I’m fine, but check that out,” Sara pointed to the hand that lay on the floor. It was still there.

“Hang on!” Jinn waved, trying not to look at the other thing on the desk behind her, “Didn’t you say that when you lose pieces of yourself, they disintegrate into black ash?”

Sara nodded, “That’s what I thought. Obviously, the rules have changed, I have no idea what’s going on.”

Jinn grabbed Sara’s shoulders, “Sara. I hate to be the one to tell you this but that’s your severed head sitting on the table there. I would have thought you’d be a little more FREAKED OUT!”

Sara grabbed Jinn’s ‘face’, “Jinn, that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Now, if you think that’s weird, watch this.”

The severed head’s eyes snapped open, giving Jinn a friendly nod, “I can see and talk out of this thing too.”

Jinn started to shake slightly, Sara guided the construct onto the bed, “I’d offer you something to drink, but…”

The ghost girl smiled weakly, “I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again. Oh my God, how can I recombine with Jade, knowing this? Why didn’t you TELL SOMEONE?”

Sara’s severed head looked at Jinn, then down at the hand. After a moment, the hand twitched, hopping up onto the tips of its claws, and scuttled over to Sara. She picked it up and examined it, looking down the stump and tweaking the fingers, “I don’t know, really. Funny isn’t it, how the mind works sometimes?”

“NO! You have to tell someone, we have to get help, right now!”

“Jinn,” Sara smiled reassuringly, “I’m OK. In fact, I feel better than ever. Think about it, you and Jade are one and the same person, yet you can be in two different places at the same time. That’s pretty freaky too, you know.”

“But… well… you see… it’s… ARGH! OK! You’re right, but still…”

“Aren’t you going to be late for Lab?” Sara suggested hopefully.

Fortunately, it worked, Jinn wheeled around to check the alarm clock on Sara’s desk, “AH! But, are you sure you’re all right? Positive?”

Sara nodded patiently, “Positive. You go right ahead, I’m just going to meditate this afternoon. If I feel bad, I’ll get straight up to Dr. Bellows. How’s that sound?”

“Ok,” Jinn didn’t sound so sure. The wards on the walls were giving her the creeps, “We’ll talk more tonight when I outnumber you. See ya!”

Sara waved goodbye as the clothes ghost flitted out the window and disappeared into the storm. The Demon Princess sat heavily on her bed, the weight of the world seemed to rest on her shoulders. The heat inside her seemed to pulse with the writhing runes, her blood rushed through her temples in time with the beat. The combined sensation was pleasant, soothing the angry buzz that echoed in the back of her head.

Lying down, the strangeness of her new body started to hit home. The swell of her buttocks pressed against the mattress. The weight of her breasts, small as they were, shifting as she leant back. The ripple of tendril upon tendril underneath her skin rather than hard muscle and tendon. She absently probed the tip of her fangs with her tongue, cutting and healing, cutting and healing, over and over.

Turning onto her side, her hips provided another reminder of how things had changed, not to mention the smooth motion of her hairless thighs gliding over one another without the presence of her old manhood to obstruct their passage. Even with the dim light from the open window the room was dark, yet she could see every detail perfectly.

The last two weeks hadn’t given her much time for thought. If it hadn’t been schoolwork and study, it was those damn Alphas or that sexy new girl, Chou, or Dr. Bellows trying to stick his big nose into her business or Dr. Otto and his research team or Matthews and those gods blasted tests or Donna…

She shook herself, forcing the memories away. But as she did, new faces took her guardian’s place, the faces of Joe Mullins and Bob Thomas. And Gary, spitting blood into her face, lying in the mud. Bloodworm scuffling over the edge of the pit, falling into the Maw of Hell, reaching for her. A pang of guilt stabbed her through the heart, a sympathetic pain she realized must be purely psychological considering that she had regurgitated all her original organs some time ago. She remembered her heart skipping across the tiles of the morgue way back in Sydney.

The city where she had spent most of her youth seemed so shadowy and distant, another lifetime ago when she had been a he. She remembered taking walks through the streets of the CBD, CenterpointTower looming above as he toured the arcades. At this time of year, the stores would be gearing up for Christmas, even though it was almost three months away the spending hype would have already begun.

Trying not to think about Joe Mullins was hard. Of all the deaths caused by her hand, she regretted his the most. He was an innocent, caught in the crossfire between two factions he would never have heard of before in his life. If destiny didn’t exist, then the blame for that death fell squarely on her own shoulders. His pistol couldn’t have hurt her in a million years, with an unlimited supply of bullets. Of course, how could she have known that?

It begged the question, however, why had Joe Mullins died? Where was the sense in a boy dying in a battle he could barely comprehend? What was the meaning of it? Jade’s morbid curiosity still haunted her. What had happened when she’d died? Had she died? Was she still dead, just a shambling corpse animated by pure will? Or something else…

Dr. Otto had assured her that it was something else. “The soul,” she remembered the lecture the balding man had given after one of his weekly ‘visits’, “has been proven to exist by thurmaturgical equations and formulae, but it’s like the old Superstring debate. The math works but we can’t see it, so how can we know for sure it’s there? On the plus side, unlike superstrings, we can perform experiments, but Necromancy is still a controlled area of study under the Mutant Morality Guidelines Act, so progress is slow. But I can say for certain that you are not one of the Undead, despite your need for life force, because your biorhythms have not ceased. Your blood still circulates, pumped by tiny contractions on the cellular level.”

Sara grinned, remembering all the pains the research team had first taken to try to preserve a severed finger for analysis. Maybe now, they’d have more success…

She stopped herself from considering her other head any further. Just thinking about it made her see the darkness behind her second set of eyelids. Things were certainly getting strange these last few days and for some reason she knew that it was only going to get worse.

But that is for the future, Sara thought as she relaxed her muscles one by one, beginning to drop into her meditative trance,there are more important matters that must be solved now.

“What is in a name?” She whispered, counting herself down into the trance, “What is in a name?”

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Kane Hall was a hotbed of activity. Gadgeteers and Devisors cranked, welded and clicked together a googleplex of insane machinery. Sparks routinely showered down from skywalks above, necessitating hardhats and flame retardant overalls. The Very Reverend Zachariah Moon strode confidently across the floor with only his faith to protect him. He stopped in front of a small group of students huddled over the target of his search, who was busy assembling a small, remote controlled, drag racer out of miscellaneous Lego parts while a friend scrutinized his stopwatch.

“DONE!”

“One minute and seven seconds! We have a winner and new champeen!” The boy with the stopwatch held up the target’s arm while money changed hands among the crowd, grins and groans shared alike by winners and losers.

“Ecto-tek,” Moon interrupted.

The boy stood, dusting his grey overalls off with some fanfare, “Sorry, guys, that’s it for today. Duty calls and all that.”

There were several more groans, but the crowd dispersed without incident. Moon beckoned for the boy to follow, handing him a dossier, “The team is on full alert status. The current details of the target are inside, but additional information should be collated by tonight.”

“A good thing too,” Ecto-tek snickered, “these school files are woefully inadequate.”

“The target has proven difficult to trace,” Moon coughed, “however, I have several guarantees that information will be forthcoming. Ostensibly, the team will be doing field research with myself and Reverend Englund on the properties of various spirit forms. As always, Nightbane will be field commander. You are second in command and I will be overseeing the operation. She can give you a better briefing as soon as you arrive at HQ.”

“You’re not coming with me?”

“I’ll be back later, there are some people I have to meet first.”

Moon considered the boy as they parted ways. Ecto-tek was a first class Gadgeteer, with specializations in energy fluctuation, physics and pattern theory, a ‘brain’ type if there ever were one, yet he retained a firm grounding in common sense that all too often his colleagues left behind. In other words, a perfect addition to the team.

The priest drew some attention as he wandered through the labyrinthine passages, slowly descending into the bowels of the building where the research division did their ungodly work. But today, he was not here to judge, so he kept his hands clasped behind his back and his lips firmly shut as he passed the labs and offices, approaching his goal.

Arriving, after a long search down a dull grey hallway lacking numbers or notices of any kind, the Very Reverend Zachariah knocked on the third door to his left as instructed. A moment later, he was ushered into the room by a spotty gentleman in a rumpled blue shirt with no tie, tucked into tweed trousers that were all the rage back in the seventies. Matthews didn’t bother to speak, he just handed over a brown cardboard postal box.

“This everything?” Zachariah flipped through the contents.

“Bellows’ medical reports, R&D’s top secret assessments and evaluations, her test results and a complete psychological profile. The specimen case holds a very rare substance that may just come in handy for your slayers. Oh, and Hartford also sent over a few of ARC’s confidential files, some recorded interviews on DVD and a partial transcript of their TS analysis.”

“TS?”

“Tachion Spectrum. It’s a devise, but it’s the most accurate picture of her physiology that has been produced yet. Does your man know much biology?”

“He is fully qualified in genetics and paragenetics,” Moon dismissed the question, keeping his eyes firmly averted from the aging scientist. Matthews was a conundrum in many respects, it was always hard to figure out exactly what he was thinking at any one moment, even with Zachariah’s powers of empathy.

“Tell me,” Moon continued absently, flicking through mountains of incomprehensible data, “why exactly are you helping us? As high as you are in the ranks of the science department…”

“We may lock horns from time to time, Zach, but we have more in common than you may think,” Matthews eased himself onto a packing crate labeled ‘Do not open under any circumstances’, resting his hands comfortably on his knees, “Both of us are dedicated to the search for God. You may look to your books and philosophy to find him in yourself and I may look to atoms and particles to find him outside of myself, but our goal remains the same.”

“Really? I thought all you scientists got a perverse kick out of playing God.”

“Spare me,” Matthews shook his head, “sure, we play in his sandbox and occasionally one of us pisses in his pool, but it’s still his house. Our disagreements lie in attitude and interpretation, not the substance of our belief. Sara Waite is a blight on the face of God’s universe, a paradox in the natural order of things. She has to be eliminated.”

“Very well. Thank-you for this information, I am sure it will prove invaluable. Are you a church going man, Doctor?”

He nodded, “Every Sunday.”

“Why don’t you come down to the chapel service sometime? I am sure the Most Reverend Englund would be happy to discuss your philosophy with you at great length.”

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Don Sebastiano wrote diligently every word Mr. Randwick droned from behind his desk, copying every letter in perfectly precise shorthand. It wasn’t that Mr. Randwick and his lecture on Alexander the Great was particularly interesting. The Don concentrated on the task simply to avoid thinking about Tansy Walcutt and her utter failure to put Team Kimba in their proper place. All three targets were still alive. That made him, personally, look bad in front of the others, which was intolerable! The only reason that upstart blonde bitch still had her neck…

The Don blinked as the snap from the tip of his pen broke him out of his inner tirade. Scowling at himself, he thrust the useless Monte Blank back into his pencilcase, replacing it with a fresh one.

“A little out of sorts, My Liege?” Bluejay whispered into his ear from the back of the room. Quite a feat, considering that The Don was in the front row. The King of the Alphas was slowly getting used to the unusually coloured boy and his eccentricities, however much they balked him.

“Nothing I can’t handle, thank-you.” Sebastiano whispered back, knowing that the vexing boy’s spell would be far from expired.

A knock on the door interrupted the whole class, jolting some of the drowsier students wide awake. Even if it hadn’t, the very appearance of the woman that strutted through the door could have woken the dead. Ms. Hartford was dressed in a severe grey suit that matched her permanently sour expression perfectly.

“Excuse me, Mr. Randwick, I need to borrow Sebastiano for a little while,” the officious old lady demanded.

Sebastiano was out of his seat before Randwick could stutter, “Yes, of course.”

The Don noticed that Hartford was wearing her Alpha pin, a reminder of her seniority no doubt. As if the bitch didn’t already treat the group like her personal doormat. She stepped back from the door as Sabastiano stepped through, never exposing her back to him. He was never sure whether this was a sign of respect or an acknowledgement of his hatred. Or both.

They walked a little way down the empty hall side by side before Hartford began, “An acquaintance of mine has made me aware of an opportunity to clear a certain debt that I believe we are both owed.”

His curiosity was piqued, “Team Kimba?”

“Precisely. I have pledged Alpha support.”

“How presumptuous of you,” The Don answered snidely.

“Remember who you’re talking to,” Hartford snapped, “I’ve given you a lot of concessions in your tenure here. I can take all of them away in a heartbeat. We’ll see how long you last at the top of the tree then…”

“As an Alpha, you should understand. I make all decisions directly affecting the group as I see fit. I will not allow us to be drawn into reckless schemes at such a critical juncture. Security has eyes on all of us now, precipitate action could have disastrous consequences.”

“Then hear me out before you jump to conclusions, Junior Sebastiano. The Alphas need not sully their hands themselves. Our needs can be served by lending support to the group my contact represents.”

“Who?”

“The Goobers.”

Sebastiano broke out into a short, ugly, burst of laughter, “The wannabe ghostbusters? You’ve got to be joking…”

“The majority of Goobers are a smokescreen for a core elite of real demon hunters,” Hartford interrupted, “very similar to the structure of the Alphas, really. How many hangers on and puppets do you keep on the shortlist, holding that temping little string of full membership over their heads?”

“Point taken. And the objective of their little game?”

“The termination of Sara Waite with extreme prejudice.”

An evil grin spread across the Don’s lips, “I like it already. What do they need me to do?”

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Jade caught up with herself in the halls after Word Processing, determined to get some answers. “Share,” she demanded.

Jinn remained steadfast, “Charge.”

“Look,” Jade dropped their shared language, “I just ran all the way from Processing, to here. I’ve been worried sick all through class. I gave in last time, but if you don’t explain it to me right now, I’m not going to recharge you.” Jade put her hands on her hips, tapping her foot imperiously.

“That’s not fair!”

The two girls growled at each other with identically annoyed expressions on their faces, but Jinn had a slight advantage being much taller, “I never knew I was so stubborn!”

“I didn’t think I was this obstinate!” Jade huffed.

“Oh, don’t kid yourself, we always knew that!”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“Have you considered that I might have a very good reason for not wanting to re-combine just yet?”

“Like what? What’s happened to Sara?” Jade’s voice strained with worry.

Jinn sighed, “OK, you really want to know? Someone chopped off Sara’s head and it grew back, only the old one didn’t die and now she’s acting all strange and stuff.”

There was a long, pregnant, pause as she mulled it over.

Jade scowled, “I know I’m a bit of a joker, but really, Jinn, that wasn’t funny…”

“OK! You really want to share? Fine. We’ll share.” Jinn promptly collapsed into a heap on the floor.

“HOLY CRAP ON A POPSICLE STICK!” Jade swore at the top of her lungs.

The hallway traffic stopped dead, frozen in place by the horror of her scream.

She glanced around a moment, trying to think of an excuse, fast. “Sorry,” Jade apologized meekly, holding out and rubbing the tip of her finger, “paper cut.”

A few of the students winced, but most nodded sympathetically and returned to their business, allowing Jade to breathe a sigh of relief. Hesitantly, she recharged Jinn into her costume. The two girls pointed at each other accusingly. “Never do that to me again,” they whispered in unison, before snubbing their noses at themselves and heading off to class in a huff.

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“Hey, get this: Security Threat Minimal. Minimal?!? Three lines up they admit that they have NO idea what she is…”

“Uh-huh,” Nightbane yanked the file from Ecto-tek’s hands, “forget the details, forget the jibes and forget your techno-babble. What does it mean?”

Ecto-tek grumbled something about impatience as he turned back to the computer monitor. Goober HQ was a dark, dingy, water-logged basement somewhere underneath Crystal Hall, secretly built by the first Goobers back during the Most Reverend Englund’s very first year at Whateley. Unlike other ‘clubhouses’ or ‘secret bases’ scattered about campus, Goober HQ was sparsely furnished in military surplus gear, Reverend Moon being a firm believer in maintaining discipline. Only Nightbane, leader of the team and the most promising slayer Englund had ever trained, was allowed to keep a poster of her idol, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on the inside of her locker. The lights were dim, bathing the bare concrete and brick in sickly yellow while the light from the monitor etched their faces in blue.

“Ok, when you get past the bureaucratic doubletalk,” the brain began, “it literally means that the school does not know what to make of Sara Waite. ARC supplied their Xavier Test results which classify her as a Shifter 2, Exemplar 3, Esper 1, Regen 4. However, in the conclusion a paragraph later the examiner, one Dr. Tanaka, states that due to ‘extenuating circumstances’ the tests taken were ‘inadequate’ and ‘subject to rapid change’. Of course, he doesn’t state his reasons here. Wereally need to wait for Moon’s extra intelligence before we start planning an attack strategy.”

“I understand, but we can get a head start at least.” Nightbane picked up the hard copy to flip through while Ecto-tek sifted through the DVD-ROM that came with it, “What does the Xavier test tell us, aside from the conclusion?”

Ecto-tek scratched his chin, checking for stubble. “For starters, Sara is highly intelligent. I’m talking real brain material. Look here,” he pointed to a chart, the red line lowering quickly in almost a parabolic tangent, “this is her Dis-chess results. First game lasts 10 minutes before she loses. Second, she wins in 6. Third, she loses in 7. After that, 7 straight wins in less than 5. 8 wins out of 10, and this is the first time she’s ever played Dis-chess before. Notice they set the difficulty higher and higher after game 6? And the time still goes down! Fucking fantastic, I don’t get a 8 over 10 average, heck there are masters who don’t get 8 out of 10…”

“Hold up, I get it. She’s really smart. What else?”

“Well, she’s really fast, quite strong for her size… not a brick or speedster by any means but still, a 13 year old girl who can lift 600 pounds with effort. Notes say she’s a wallcrawler and she can create tentacles from any part of her body. Oh, and she can regenerate severe wounds, even severed extremities.”

“I noticed,” Nighbane muttered bitterly, “so what about weapons? What can hurt her?”

“Weeelll, assuming that Regen 4 is her correct designation, the key will be finding her core. For vamps, that’s usually the heart…”

“Been there. Done that.”

He tisked her, wiggling his finger back and fourth, “You tried it with the stake. Maybe she’s like an evolved Chiang Shith, stakes don’t work on them. In which case, what you’ll need is that sword of yours, or something with spiritual power that will burn it. Load out with phosphorous shells for your shotty or grab one of the flame throwers. Cremation always works against Vamps, across every culture. Don’t rely on garlic or any of that crap, whether it works or not can be a hit or miss.”

Nightbane drew her shining silver holy sword from its sheath. There was still dried purple blood on it, “It didn’t work last time. I need an upgrade.”

“Hmmm…” Ecto-tek examined the blade, running his hands down the Latin inscriptions along the centre of the blade. “Maybe we can get you a quick fix. Ever seen a girl called Silver running around campus?”

“No.”

“Lets just say that she has a special talent for this sort of work. Silvermoon will be interested in her, I’ll have to introduce them sometime. It may take a few days, and more than a little cash, but if we can wait…”

“No problem. We’ll skip Wednesday/Thursday, finish the devil-bitch Friday night and party down all weekend.”

“Amen, sister,” Ecto-tek enthused, “A-frikin’-men.”

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Fey’s eyes popped out of her head as Gypsy sashayed through the door. With the thick sweater entirely gone and her blazer tied around her waist the diviner’s ample bosom and hips were accentuated by her shirt. The long sleeves were rolled halfway up her forearms to reveal the slender gold bands circling her wrist, while several buttons were left undone to expose a hint of skin between her breasts. From the back, the blazer hid the fact that she was wearing a summer skirt with thick black stockings to ward off the chill.

Most of the boys noticed the change as well, more than a few pairs of eyes following the sway of her hips as she walked past the from rows. As she got closer, Fey noticed the light make-up on her face, her nose catching a hint of perfume as she stopped in front of her desk, grinning from ear to ear, “Hi, you must be Chaka and Fey.”

Fey smiled back, “Uh, yes, that’s us.”

She glanced at the empty seats behind them, “Where’s Sara? I sort of wanted to apologize.”

“She’s changing timetables,” Chaka answered, keeping her voice low, “she got thrown out of the science department.”

Gypsy bit her full lower lip, worry creasing her face, “Oh, no. Um, is it ok if I sit behind you, Chaka? It’s sorta lonely up the back.”

Fey nodded while Chaka shrugged, not sure what to make of the new girl in front of them. Though the room did fill quite easily, the seat next to Sara’s had always been vacant. The Demon Princess usually struck a nerve with the overimaginative fledgling mages, not to mention that psychic vampires were low on the list of suitable companions. Most of the sensitives couldn’t stand being near her for more than a few minutes, much less a whole period.

“Oh, Fey, could you do me a favour?”

Fey turned around to look the usually timid girl straight in the face, “What is it?”

“Could you tell Sara I’m sorry, and give her my thanks? I’ll have to catch up with her later, if she ever wants to talk to me I’m in Whitman, just ask at the door.”

“Sure,” Fey nodded, “I’ll pass that on.”

“Thanks.”

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“Greasy, you’ve got to think me up a new way of getting a camera into the Poe dorms,” Peeper regaled his minion as he stormed down the hallway towards their dorm room, “I know I may talk it up, but more than half our profits from Fey’s posters are going to the rightful owners of the copyright. It’s intolerable!”

Greasy was busy sketching some ideas, “I’m working on it, sir. In the meantime, I have an interim design for self-cleaning trousers that may come in handy the next time you want to pester the Negligee Nightingales.”

“ARE YOU MOCKING ME, MINION?”

“No, sir, it’s not necessary.”

“Good! I’ll remind you to keep a civil tongue in your head.”

“I’d rather have it in yours,” Greasy mumbled under his breath.

“What?”

“Nothing, sir, it was a passing breeze.”

“Then take some Alka-Seltzer. At least you didn’t do it in our room,” Peeper tapped his foot impatiently as Greasy fumbled his sweaty hands on the keys, “What’s worse is the onset of this gods-blasted cold weather! Our main source of income is going to decline as the girls conduct a massive cover up for winter. With the womenfolk wrapped up in frumpy quilted jackets, scarves and, urgh, long pants, the boys will be in even more desperate need for relief facilitation material. A desperate market with no supply.”

“Not to worry, sir,” Greasy shrugged as he fiddled with the keys, “I’m sure that Nikki will find a way to look delectable. Sort of like a Christmas present in a box, the wrapping may look awful, but the surprise inside…”

“What is taking you so bloody long, minion?” Peeper snapped.

“These gloves, sir.”

“Well, take them off, imbecile! Honestly, I swear that I’m the only one with a neurone to rub together here!”

“Everybody would agree with you, sir,” Greasy mumbled as Peeper barged past him and on into their room, straight into a six foot wall of muscle that lost no time in clamping a gigantic, sinewy, hand around their necks and lifting both the troublemakers off the ground.

Their room was a shambles, drawers pulled out, the contents dumped unceremoniously on the floor. Beds were overturned, sheets and pillows slashed. A thin girl, attractive and lithe, closed the door behind them as they were thrown to the feet of a violet-eyed seventeen year old Latino in an immaculate school uniform, the gold Alpha pin on his lapel winking at them in the lamplight from Peeper’s desk. He read from a small black notebook, the title clearly visible from their position on the floor.

“Peeper’s Secret Plans for Taking Over The World and Ruling It With An Iron Fist,” he quoted from memory as he flipped through the pages, “how quaint. Also, how utterly stupid to hide such a condemning document underneath your own mattress.” The large, muscular, boy kicked Peeper’s knees out from under him as he tried to stand while the Latino continued, “Do you know who I am?”

“No.” Peeper snorted.

Greasy cowered, burying his head in the carpet.

“I think your friend does. Cavalier, do some violence to him.” The Latino pointed lazily at the larger boy.

A glowing blade of light erupted in the big bruiser’s hand, lashing Peeper several times across the back after kicking the wind out of his lungs with a swift right leg to the ribs.

“I am Don Sebastiano of the Alphas. You have heard my name at least, haven’t you?”

Peeper groaned and nodded, curled up into a knot on the floor.

“Good, keep that up and my visit will be a lot more pleasant. Now, I know your pitiful little mind may have a problem processing this information, so let me spell it out for you. I am Don Sebastiano, King of the Alphas. You are pond scum. From now on, you will do everything I say, exactly as I say it without hesitation, questions, queries or any form of delay. Otherwise, I will have Cavalier cut off your gonads and feed them to Skybolt here. You like the taste of spotted dick, don’t you my dear?”

“Oh, yesss, my love. Anything you like,” Skybolt cooed, nibbling the tip of her finger.

The Don smiled with smug self-satisfaction, “Do you understand?”

Greasy nodded so quickly that he banged his forehead on the floor, several times. Peeper groaned and nodded, still gasping for breath.

“Excellent. Now, your sole project for the next week is Team Kimba. Harass them. I want to hear their dulcet tones at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I want publicity and I want all of it to be bad. Focus on their negative points, find bad things to say, remind everyone what a bunch of brainless bimbos they really are. Like you usually do, only ten times worse. I will expect results at breakfast tomorrow, don’t disappoint me.”

The three intruders left through the front door, oblivious to the danger of wandering through Twain without proper escort, as if the Don’s aura of power were enough that they could walk wherever they wished. Once the door was closed, Greasy pulled his master to his feet.

“Sir? Sir, are you all right?”

Greasy took several deep breaths, leaning forward and bracing his arms on his knees. “Of course,” he gasped, “in a moment.”

The gadgeteer grabbed a glass and filled it with water from the cold tap in the corner, handing it to his only friend in the whole school. Peeper gulped the water down greedily, a malevolent light glistening in his eyes, a low growl rumbling deep in his chest. Casting the glass aside, the maniacal teen slapped the smaller boy across the face with staggering force, “HOW DARE YOU LET HIM DO THAT TO ME!”

“But…” Greasy’s meek protest was cut off by a blow to the stomach. The weedy boy folded in two over Peeper’s meaty fist.

Peeper was beyond words, kicking and stomping on his room mate’s prone body until his whimpers were sufficiently apologetic. It took some time.

“Now,” Peeper pulled Greasy’s head up by his matted hair, “You will clean this place up while I think about how we can make Team Kimba’s life a living hell. And if you ever even breathe one word of tonight to anyone, I’ll cut off your gonads and feed them to Skybolt myself. Do you understand me?”

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“So,” the Very Reverend Moon sat down in the corner chair of the very ordinary Melville dorm room, “You would be the one known as Hazard, correct?”

The curvy, dark skinned, Asian girl eased back into her chair, careful not to disturb the various contusions scattered over her body. “Yes, that would be I,” she replied in an upper class British accent, much like she was holding a plum in her mouth, “what is it that you want?”

“Your services,” Moon stated succinctly.

The sixteen year old sophomore clicked her nails together as she considered the older man, “My comrades and I do not come cheap.”

“I did not expect them to. First, a package must be delivered to one AylaGoodkind at Poe cottage, and the package cannot be traced back to anyone involved. The contents, of course, must remain a secret. Secondly, I believe that one of your members can place me in contact with the Syndicate. I wish to talk with one of their representatives as soon as possible.”

“In the case of the first, doable,” Hazard responded, “however, the second is tricky. If personal contact is necessary, our member will lose their exclusive status here at Whateley…”

Moon held his hand up, silencing her, “Not necessary. If your member can negotiate the terms of our contract without revealing any secrets to anyone.”

“No problem. Anonymity is part of the price,” Hazard smiled, writing a quote hastily on a piece of paper and sliding it towards the Reverend. He glanced at it and nodded, pulling a thin, square, package wrapped in brown paper out of his pocket, placing it on the desk with a business card on top, “Acceptable. Naturally, this package contains an electronic storage device. Quite fragile, if you take my meaning. Contact me on that number, it is an encrypted channel. We can discuss payment details then.”

“No problem. Enjoy the rest of your evening,” Hazard cheerfully dismissed him.

The Reverend picked up his other package and tucked it under his arm and rejoined the strange troupe waiting for him outside. One was a huge plant-thing that stomped along wearing heavy boots and not much else. The other two were fairly normal-looking teens, one a boy with blonde hair and a perpetual smirk on his face. The other, in complete contrast to the cocky boy, was a fairly athletic brunette with an intense gaze, which was directed downward as of she were contemplating her navel.

In a moment, they were gone, allowing Hazard went back to her homework with a nonchalant shrug. The strange and unusual were all too common at Whateley and besides, she had been well paid to keep her nose out of such things. Still, a mental note slipped into the file in the back of her brain, just in case a better offer was made some time in the future.

A half-hour later and she was finished. Positive that any casual observer of the quintet leaving Melville would fail to make the connection, Hazard walked casually downstairs to the bank of payphones at the back of the lobby, eschewing the use of her mobile for the relative safety of a landline. Using one of the private booths, surrounded by frosted glass, she quickly unscrewed the receiver and clipped a tiny device over the two connecting wires, made by a gadgetter friend in return for a special favor some time ago.

The receiver clicked several times as the gadget did its work. A quick bleep confirmed that the line wasn’t bugged. Another series of bleeps later informed her that she had unlimited credit on the line, so she dialed the number. A third series of bleeps indicated that the phone at the other end of the line wasn’t bugged, and finally the call connected, ringing only once before being answered.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Jello, its me.”

“Oh, hi Hazard,” the voice trembled slightly, “what’s up?”

“I have a job for you.”

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Fey sighed as she walked down the deserted hallway towards her dorm room, fiddling with the handles of the white plastic bag hanging from her fingertips. She didn’t really know why she suddenly needed to do a little shopping tonight, maybe it was just nerves or… something else.

She hadn’t felt right all day. Her thoughts had wandered back to her dream during classes. Her skin was constantly flushed, a dull warmth seethed underneath, driving her mad. She could feel her underwear rubbing against her, her body tingling in sympathy with each step. Despite a nice, hot, baked dinner at the cafeteria, she felt empty, her nether reaches begging to be filled.

What was worse was that everyone in her local vicinity seemed to feel her inner frustration as well, today she had proven that she was probably the only pedestrian on earth who could cause a ten person pile-up just by walking past. A part of her found it intensely amusing, but at the moment, with her muscles tying themselves into knots, she just wished they’d get over it and just talk to her. For a moment tonight, she’d even wished that Stalwart was a little more aggressive. As it was, her last resort had been to go shopping at the grocery store.

“Hey, Chaka, I…” Fey froze as she opened the door to the room she shared with the super-martial artist. Chaka’s bed was not only empty, but neatly tucked in and spotless. Across the other side of the room, her own bed had the sheets and blanket thrown back but something else seemed content to keep the bed warm.

Bunny unfurled, stretching out her long, glossy, tanned legs. Smooth, hairless, skin glided over freshly washed hot purple cotton, hips clad in matching purple silk briefs that slipped smoothly across the surface as she arched her back. The movement caused the blonde’s silk shirt to ride up over her bellybutton, exposing the generous curve of her hips as her shapely breasts tugged upwards on the fabric as she moved, two tiny nubs at the apex indicating that she was not only naked underneath but very glad to see Fey come through the door.

“Hi,” Bunny greeted, softly purring the syllable deep in her throat, slender hands throwing back her long, golden, locks, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Fey stumbled in her haste to close the door, her own nipples painfully erect under her bra, whispering, “What are you doing here?”

“Rip, er… convinced Chaka to swap beds with me for the night,” the blonde inventor beckoned Fey over, gently smoothing a bare space of bedclothes, “and I missed you, so…”

Fey smiled, her heart melting as she slipped off her school shoes and eased herself onto the bed, sighing as hot blood rushed into her toes, forgetting about the plastic bag in her hand. Bunny helped the elf-queen out of her heavy winter blazer then took her station behind the elf, squeezing her shoulders and massaging the tension out of her muscles. The elf-queen sighed in pure delight as Bunny showered warm, soft, kisses across her shoulder and up her neck, her tongue finally stroking the tip of her ear, causing a shiver of ecstasy that was echoed back from the tips of her breasts and deep in her sex.

She turned to thank her lover with a deep, passionate, kiss, pushing the blonde gently onto her back, golden hair framing her body as the force of her lips pressed her head into the pillow. One perfect, slender, hand slipped up under Bunny’s tight silken nightshirt, sandwiched between heaven and earth. The minute white hairs on the back of Fey’s hand squealed their delight down her nerves as they rubbed against the silk, her palm luxuriating in the soft curve of smooth skin, running over the ridge of the ribcage and conquering the peak of the mountain beyond.

Fey was so absorbed in her work, each tender ministration echoing feeling in her own body, that her mind failed to register Bunny’s soft purr or the feint rustle of plastic. She did, however, yelp when something hard and smooth, yet quite cold, pressed against her inner thigh, jumping up, breaking the kiss.

Bunny chuckled as she rubbed a large, succulent, cucumber up and down, teasing her by riding it higher each time, flashing her a knowing smile, “Now, Nikki, what ever would have possessed you to buy such a big bag full of cucumbers?”

The flush of her embarrassment spread from Fey’s cheeks into the whole of her body, joining with the heat of her lust, the red ache burning her body from the inside out. Her jaw dropped as Bunny slid the tip of the cucumber down to where their thighs touched, then slowly drew it upward past her chest, licking the green skin and circling her full lips.

In the next moment, Fey was yanked forward by her half-open shirt, too stunned to resist.

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Sara roused from her meditation slowly, practically crawling off the bed. Something was wrong, her bones felt as if they were vibrating inside, her vision was slightly blurred and the buzzing in the back of her head was getting worse. Somewhere above people were kissing, tongues rolling against hot, wet, folds of flesh. A moment later, it felt like something hard had forced its way inside her, penetrating her from below.

The Demon Princess growled, slowly opening her eyes, “Damn, they’re at it again.”

It was darker out than it had been, night slowly approaching, her alarm clock proclaimed that it was 19:53. She reached out to her desk, intending to help herself onto her feet, but the table top seemed to move away from her hand as she groped.

Blinking a few times to try to clear the haze that obscured her vision, she noticed something strange about her room on the whole. Either the furniture had gotten smaller or the room had gotten bigger. Considering that her bed was still as large as she remembered, while several feet of free space had popped into being between it and her desk, she decided to hope for the best and assume that the room had grown.

It seemed to take forever for Sara to move unsteadily to her door. She opened it and peered outside. The hallway was the same as it had always been, the door to the janitor’s closet still only four or five feet away on the same side as hers. Standing under the doorframe, she closed one eye, then opened the other. It was clear that the Janitor’s closet should now open into her room, but there was no other door where it should be, only blank space.

Sara looked back at her dorm room, now a cavernous 16 by 32 foot square. The walls twisted and writhed as she watched, her desk rolled and rocked as the very space it occupied shifted and boiled in time with the pulse of her headache. Hallways and cul-de-sacs formed and closed, stretching off where none had been before then disappearing a moment later of their own accord.

“Great,” she whispered sarcastically, “I have a non-Euclidean dorm room. God, why are you doing this to me?”

She held her head in her hands for a few minutes, trying to straighten out her thoughts, but the steady pulse of pain that reverberated through her skull drove rational thought out of her mind before she could latch on to it. Everything she had been taught about space and time had a perfectly rational explanation, even quantum mechanics was bound by a handful of elegantly simple equations.

But something about those equations now seemed to be out of kilter, relying on the single tether of observation and experimentation. To a scientist, seeing was the only way to believe. Space was space. Time was time. We live it, we see it, it is, it can be proved. And that was the fatal flaw, human science relied on senses so finite that the whole universe could never be observed, the sum total of what a human could never experience first hand outweighed what they could by an untold order of magnitude. As Lovecraft had tried to express in a language too primitive and inelegant to truly convey: The Unnamable.

Biting off a scream, she fled, slamming the door shut as she burst outside.

The hallway, solid and unmoving, was only a temporary balm to her panic. Her skin prickled, a strange feeling as if her flesh were turning itself inside out in wave that rolled over her body. Walls faded into blurred mist, clothing ripped as tentacles wormed their way out of her skin, reaching, groping, pulling. Then, darkness reigned.

And suddenly, she knew that God had nothing to do with her.

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She growled, scrunching the paper up into a ball and hurling it into the bin, where it bounced off the mound of paper that already filled it to overflowing. Hippolyta sighed and pulled fresh sheet from her drawer, pink this time, and dipped her pen into the purple ink well. Not for the first time, she was glad to have a room of her own.

Dear Sara, she began again,It has already been a day since I first saw you and my mind is filled with…

 

Hippolyta scratched her head. What was the best word? Love? Too strong. The memory of you? Too sappy. The thought of nibbling on your sexy earlobes…

The Amazon smiled, adding the line to the page. Then she lent back and read it, her smiled turned into a scowl. A moment later the page joined the others nesting around the bin. She sighed and looked at her original letter, the only one that seemed to express her true feelings.

Dear Sara, it read,I want to throw you down and make love to you until daybreak in the middle of Crystal Hall. Please RSVP immediately, Hippolyta.

She sighed again. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for this love letter stuff.

Chapter 4 –Complication

Jade gasped, launching herself forward into a sitting position.

She was in a room hewn from black rock. Automatically, she flicked her eyes around, looking for exits the way she had been training herself for weeks. But there were none. The room was huge, yet seemed to be carved out of a single piece of incredibly enormous rock. High above, stars winked down at her as the walls opened out to the sky. She was sitting on a soft bed between silky black sheets. Hazy, silken, blood red drapes hung from the posts of the bed at each corner which looked as if they should reach up to hold a canopy in place, yet for some artistic reason the manufacturer did not. The wooden bed was itself dark, almost black, and carved with shapes half suggestive of demonic forms entwined with each other.

“Something is very wrong in the state of Denmark,” She said to herself, drawing her hands up to her chin. But, before she succeeded, she literally put her finger on it.

She squeezed her eyes shut immediately. “It can’t be true, it can’t be true, it can’t be true…” she repeated.

Her heart fluttered inside her chest as she ever so slowly opened her eyes, peeking downwards through the crack between her eyelids. And there, sticking out of her chest, were two perfectly formed, pleasantly rounded, female breasts.

Her hands jerked upward reflexively, grasping mounds the shape of poached eggs. Gasping in pain, she immediately regretted it, the new protrusions were painfully sensitive, the skin tight around her nipples. More tentatively, she poked and prodded herself lightly. She found the orbs soft and a little bit jiggly, the swaying sensation quite strange to her.

Touching her aching nipples made her wince, but in pleasure rather than pain. Scrunching her eyes shut, she grasped the edge of the red silk sheet that covered her lower regions like a wounded child preparing to rip off a band-aid. She counted down from three before yanking off the covers and looking at the same time.

The body hanging down from her neck wasn’t like her old self. First and most gloriously, it was female all the way. Round hips, slender waist, long curvy legs, supple shoulders, moderate size breasts and a simple little slit between her legs rather than her annoying male member. The mere memory of IT made her shudder.

Her slender fingers paused in indecision, trying to decide whether or not she should have a look ‘down there’ to make sure. She glanced around the empty room as her legs parted slightly, worried that there may be someone lurking in the shadows. As her thighs spread, she felt something wrong. The absence in her crotch was tender and red, as if she’d been sunburnt only on that portion of her body.

Deciding not to have a closer look or touch anything, half afraid it would fall off if she messed with it, Jade eased her legs over the bed and stood slowly. The ache in her breasts intensified as she moved upward, gravity tugging downwards.

She cautiously limped over to the mirror, almost bow legged, trying not to let anything touch or agitate her newfound maidenhood. The girl that looked back at her from the mirror was a beautiful young Asian girl, no more than 14, though quite well developed for her age. Her round hips and soft skin reminded her of being Jinn back before she had grown up into a 17 year old. Only her breasts were slightly bigger for some reason, maybe in hypnotizing Jinn she’d done something to her BIT?

Little else, however, looked different from her Jinn form when all she had worn was a thin layer of chalk over empty air, except that her skin was smooth, the colour reminiscent of dark orange peaches. Running her hands down her sides, she felt the swell of her hips, the movement of the muscles in her curvaceous legs entrancing her.

Clawed hands reached around her shoulders, pale white arms encircled her. Despite the fact that Jade couldn’t see her friend in the mirror, she felt Sara’s warm, friendly, presence as the vampire girl rested her chin on Jade’s shoulder.

“Sara! I’m… I’m…”

“Yes,” Sara smiled, her body moulding perfectly with her friend’s back, “I know. And a very pretty young girl you do make, love.”

Jade was hardly paying any attention to her words, entranced by her own looks and the feel of her perfect new body, it was like she’d always imagined, always dreamed…

“Come on, dear, you should lie down. It could start any moment,” Sara urged, pulling Jade gently back away from the mirror.

Sara’s statement penetrated Jade’s dazed mind. She blinked, “What could start?”

“Don’t you remember?” Sara smiled, her voice a husky whisper. Jade suddenly became very aware of the Goth’s nipples pressed hard into her back. Clawed hands ran down supple skin to her hips, caressing her flat stomach while the other slid up to gently squeeze her chest, cupping the breast in her palm.

Jade bit her lip as a warm, white, droplet oozed from her teat, rolling down her breast and merging with the Goth’s bone white flesh.

Bile welled up Jade’s throat, Sara’s strong arms the only thing stopping her from doubling over as her innards collapsed into themselves, stinging sweat drooling down her brow and onto her face as a hard lump pushed its way into existence deep inside her belly, slowly, inexorably expanding with every moment.

The mirror was swept away as Sara dragged her back to the bed, lowering Jade gently onto the soft silken sheets, taking a lover’s place pressed against her side, one leg wrapped around hers.

“No, I don’t want this…” Jade whimpered, petrified and shaking with fear, feeling the child inside as it suckled on her guts.

“Shhhhh, Jade-chan,” Sara soothed, “you wanted this, remember? You asked me to make you right, to fix the accident of your birth. The curse you have suffered all your life due to one tiny mishap at your conception is cured forever. Be calm, my love, our children won’t be long.”

Sweat poured from every pore of Jade’s skin as the pressure inside her increased, a slight bulge squeezing upward, distorting her flat abdomen as Sara caressed it lovingly.

“Oh, I can feel… wait,” Sara smiled, her eyes widening, “it seems you’re working on twins, love. Turquoise and Amber, just like you wished for.”

Jade gripped the bedsheets as the foetuses fed on her, draining her. Her lips and mouth dried up after her stomach emptied, her muscles burning as the children grew steadily, her belly rapidly expanding with their bulk. “Please,” Jade gasped, “food…”

Sara grinned, lowering her head until Jade could smell her sweet breath as it dusted over her face, “No problem, my chickadee. Just remember to swallow…”

Confusion ruled Jade’s mind for a moment as Sara’s lips locked with hers. Then something filled her mouth, warm liquid like coffee, only with a pungent metallic taste like iron…

Jade tried to squirm as the blood gushed down her throat, quickly filling her stomach to overflowing. The children seemed to sing, wriggling in her bloated womb as they gulped and sucked at this new source of nourishment. Her babies’ contentment quieted Jade as the hunger subsided. Her stomach was huge as the foetuses pulsed in time with her heartbeat, easily two feet across, the weight pinning the little girl to the bed.

“Any time now…”

Sara’s words were prophetic as cramps shot through her, muscles pulsing in an effort to force the parasitic invaders out. Jade’s whole body clenched, pushing downward. Pushing, pushing, pushing…

Falling.

Jade tumbled out of bed, startling Jann who was busy scribbling out their homework while Tennyo snored, a bubble of something that Jade really didn’t want to think about inflating and deflating from one nostril. Shuddering, Jade reached up unconsciously to feel her chest. For one elated moment, she felt the press of flesh back against her palm. Then she realized that she’d fallen asleep with her bra still on.

She sighed. The treatment had failed. Again. Any more failures like this and she might be in danger of becoming jaded…

Though she chuckled on the inside, tears were streaming down her face. She cursed the discovery channel for the afternoon documentary on bird’s nesting habits. The last few days, all anyone ever seemed to talk about was sex, sex, sex, everywhere, all around her, taunting her. Now she couldn’t even escape in her dreams.

“You ok?” Jann asked softly, knowing the answer before she asked.

Jade shook her head, looking at the floor with her hair in her eyes.

“Come on,” Jann cupped her gloves over her own shoulders, picking her other self up and guiding herself over to Tennyo’s bed (absently popping the snot bubble with the tip of her pencil), “Tennyo? Tennyo?”

Groggily, the spiky-haired girl squirmed under the blanket before jarring her sleep-crusted eyes open.

“Hurh?” She asked, intelligently.

“Jade had a nightmare, can she sleep with you tonight?”

Tennyo came fully awake, opening her catlike yellow eyes completely. Without saying a word, she lifted the blanket and shifted her body over to make room. Jade entered the protection her roommate offered silently, holding back her sniffles. Fresh waves of fear welled up from the back of her mind as her well-endowed friend pulled her close, hugging her tightly.

As consciousness faded once more, Jade absently noted that Jinn hadn’t been able to find Sara all night. She hoped the vampire girl was ok, she really needed to talk to her again…

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Sara shot up like a dervish, “JADE! NO!”

“Bad dreams?”

Sara turned towards the speaker. The golden-haired girl from the morning, yesterday morning if the bedside clock was accurate. The moon shone in a crescent shape outside the window, the stars invisible behind it. Though the only light came from the small desk lamp next to the door, the room looked like one of the upstairs dorm rooms at Poe, much like Nikki and Chaka’s only slightly larger and only had a single bed. She was sitting on the oversized steel bed, the neck of her blouse open and her jacket draped over a spare chair against the wall.

The other girl wore a singlet and track pants as she straddled the chair backwards, her large feet bare, toes scrunching and uncurling in the lush leopard pattern throw rug underneath. The singlet left her wide shoulders bare, muscles pleasantly rippling down her relatively slender arms. A pile of paper, ranging in colour from blue and pink pastels through orange, black and red lay piled in and around the round file on the floor.

“Writer’s block?” Sara smiled, hoping that she hadn’t just been kidnapped by some sort of psychopath.

She blushed, rather sweetly despite her size and build, “Ah, yeah, sort of. I was just going to try to work it off in the gym when I found you lying in the middle of the hallway. I… didn’t want to intrude in your room without being invited, so I snuck you up here.”

Sara silently thanked whatever benevolent deity that had diverted the girl from calling an ambulance.

“Who’s Jade?”

The Demon Princess shook herself, still dazed from the nightmare, “Sorry?”

“Who’s Jade? Your lover?”

“WH-HACK!” Sara coughed and spluttered, her tongue tripping over itself, “No, no, nothing like that. She’s just a friend. Just a friend. Ah… I’m sorry,  I don’t think I caught your name?”

Looking at the girl steadily, Sara would have emptied her stomach if she had to stare at the colours that eddied and swirled around the girl for long. The aura was the sort of light brown that one expects to obtain from the mixture of cream custard with a hot Indian curry, percolated alongside digestive juices in the bowels of an itinerant Russian sailor before being expelled ahead of schedule the morning after an all-night drinking binge.

“Oh, ah, sorry,” the huge Arabic girl blushed again, quite daintily, “I’m Hippolyta.”

Sara blinked, astounded, “You’re Hippolyta?!?!?”

She scowled, her blush spreading as her face went red with sudden anger, “What doesthat mean?”

“I-I just didn’t expect you to be so pretty.” Sara stuttered.

The blood drained out of Hippolyta’s face immediately, leaving her pasty white, staring bug-eyed at her guest. “Oh.”

There was a painful silence for several heartbeats. Then a drop of blood crept out from hiding under the Amazon’s left nostril. Sara hopped up onto her feet, long leopard fur scrunching up between her toes with each step as she lightly skipped over to the big girl’s side, “Don’t rub it, you’ll just spread the stain. Here, lean forward and put one of these tissues under your nose, that’ll catch the blood. You need to blow your nose?”

Hippolyta shook her head, slightly stunned at the young woman’s take-charge manner.

“Good. Believe it or not, snot will draw out the blood, which doesn’t allow it to clot and help the wound heal properly. Now, don’t try to get up for a while, depending on the blood loss, you’ll be a little light headed for a minute or two.”

She launched herself to her feet, “I am not… ooh…”

Sara pushed the wavering warrior back down into the chair, “There’s a big difference between courage and stupidity. The real problem is learning not to mistake the latter for the former.”

The Amazon growled, “Stop mothering me. I can take care of myself.”

“I can see that, but…”

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear it,” Hippolyta snarled. She kept her voice low, trying not to wake her neighbours, “Get out.”

It took a minute for the demand to sink into the Goth girl. Then, without at word, she left, gently shutting the door behind her.

After a while the blood ebbed. “Stupid, stupid, stupid…” Hippolyta muttered, slapping herself on the head. The jolt shook something loose again, a fresh gout of blood spattering her shirt before she could bring another tissue up to catch it. Sighing, her shoulders slumped as she stared at the ground waiting for the flow to cease again, “Really, really, stupid.”

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Sara crept down the hall towards Erin’s room, keeping to the shadows and moving as silently as possible. Fortunately, her room was only a few doors down, the young girl finally stuck in with the Sophomores due to lack of space on the Freshman level. Still, she was lucky in a way.

The demon tapped on the door quietly, no light peeking out from under the door, “Pssst. Erin? It’s me, Sara. Open up.”

It took a moment for the door to slide silently open, the shapeshifter ushering her in quickly and quietly. They hugged for a moment before a voice interrupted them from under some covers, “Do youmind? Some of us want some sleep, you know.”

Erin scowled, “Sara, Electrode. Electrode, Sara. Don’t be put off, she’s really quite nice during the day. Come on, we can head outside…”

Sara almost stopped the spritely young girl in preference for cuddling under the covers to while the night through. Then, the moonlight caught her long football shirt, highlighting her sleek curves underneath as she pushed open the window, stretching as she raised her arms above her head.

“You follow me, I know just the place…”

The Demon Princess smiled with delight as she morphed into a giant spider, a bird-eater easily two feet across, scuttling quickly out the window. Sara smiled as she followed, crawling on all fours out the window into the light rain, easing it closed behind her before continuing down to where her lover licked her paws in the guise of a Panther, blending into the shadows.

They ran together across the grounds into the forest. They ducked, dodged and weaved between trees, giggling in sheer delight once they were away from the compound. Finally, the two collapsed inside a shallow cave far from the treeline, wrestling on the cold stone floor.

Sara finally gained the upper hand, pinning the Panther on it’s back, “Do you yield?”

She gave Sara a long, wet, lick before turning back into Erin, still wearing her football nightshirt. They continued to lick and kiss each other’s faces for some time until Erin began to shiver uncontrollably, her heat leeched away from above and below.

She grabbed the demon before she could pull back, “No, don’t go…”

“It’s all right,” Sara caressed her streaked hair, “there’s some dry wood further in. I can start a fire to keep us warm.”

Keep her warm, at least, Sara noted to herself as she eased up onto her feet, scanning the cave for debris. There’s always scattered debris in these caves. The wind, rain, natural movements tended to collect things in even the most sheltered formations. The cave was fairly shallow, though, so the best she could gather was a bundle of sticks. Still, she thought,better than nothing.

Igniting a small pile with her psychic abilities (leaving the rest of the sticks to feed the fire later), Erin sat up, stretching her supple legs out to maximize the heat while Sara stoked the blaze, “That’s nice. Is it just me or were you cold too?”

“I’m always cold,” Sara shrugged, “my body temperature only averages 42 degrees F. Cold as a corpse.”

Sara stretched out behind Erin, keeping at least two inches of space between them, reaching out to stroke a single digit down her neck and across the line of her collarbone. The girl jumped at the cool touch.

“See?”

“You’re not always so cold,” Erin smiled, shifting herself backwards to press her body against Sara’s, spooning easily against her slender form.

Sara smiled mysteriously and began to nuzzle the base of her neck, sending delightful chills down her partner’s spine, “I think I owe you something from the other night.”

Giggling, Erin turned over onto her back, “Oh? What might that be?”

Still smiling, Sara kissed her on the lips, pressing her against the hard stone as she reached down to her knees, then slid her hands up the smooth, clammy, skin of her thighs, hooking her fingers underneath the shirt and pushing it up her body as she followed the sweet, lush, curves, exposing her nubile, athletic figure.

Smirking lecherously, the Goth shifted her ministrations down her lover’s body, first teasing each nipple with a kiss, then massaging the hardened points with her tongue. Erin squirmed and gasped as Sara’s hands caressed her sides, hips and legs, roaming and exploring her as she moved ever downward with a painful slowness that lanced through her gut. Finally, Sara’s kiss reached her sex, panties simply cut away by the creature’s claws, her legs pulled wide to expose her completely…

Then it entered her and all that mattered was bliss.

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The next morning, Erin was staggering as they walked back to Poe, giggling incessantly with a silly grin and glazed expression on her face. She was so bad that she had to lean against Sara for support, though this led to further difficulties as she was in a kissing mood. This was a definite after their fourth encounter under a tree.

Not that Sara would have minded, Erin’s lips tasted like peaches and cream, except that it was nearly breakfast time andboth of them needed a shower, desperately. Grinning like a schoolgirl, Sara ushered the endorphin-blasted mutant through the forest, “Come on, dopey. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”

“Mmmmmm,” Erin wobbled, squeezing her legs together and looking up into Sara’s eyes, staring wistfully, “I love you.”

Her grin drooping for a second, Sara broke out into a warm smile and kissed her half-dazed charge on the temple, “I love you too. Come on, a cold shower will snap you right out of this…”

They snuck in through the window of Sara’s room, the Demon Princess thankful that it seemed to have corrected itself from last night, as if nothing had ever happened. The severed head was still there, but Erin was too drugged to notice. By the time they stumbled into the Freshman showers, the place was empty so they were able to shower together.

Which was fortunate since Sara practically had to prop the girl up on one wall.

A blast of cold water did wonders for Erin’s condition, sending her squeaking and spluttering as she washed herself as quickly as possible. One last peck on the lips and they both scampered back to their rooms to don uniforms (or in Sara’s case, practically mummify herself), then were on their way to a well-deserved breakfast at last.

Rounding the corner along the footpath to Crystal Hall, Sara stopped dead in her tracks.

It took two steps for Erin to realize she was walking alone, turning to stare at her lover curiously, “What’s up?”

It was a hundred thousand little things. The stillness of nature. The ebb and flow of the breeze. The unusually smug look of the Catholic Priest that jeered at her from fifty yards out as he dialled a number into his mobile phone. The security detail slouched on duty. The crowd gathered around the entrance to the hall was strange, their backs turned to them, gawking at something inside, “I have a bad feeling…”

Erin snorted, grabbing Sara’s elbow to pull her along, “Oh, come on Luke Skywalker, you need some grub.”

Confused, Sara let herself be pulled. As they approached, they could hear someone addressing the crowd. The voice was distinct in its irritatingly smug superiority and unshakable confidence.

“GOOOOOOOOD MORNING, WHATELEY! Yes, this is the FIRST WARS SPECIAL MORNING BREAKFAST SHOW!” Peeper stood in front of a curtained pavilion in the centre of the cafeteria, yelling at the top of his lungs.

Sara grabbed Erin’s sleeve, “It’s an ambush, back away before he…”

“SARA WAITE! Just the person I wanted to see! I mean WE, yes, we wanted to see,” Peeper bounded towards her, the crowd parting as he barrelled on through, afraid of being bowled over, “I know it’s only been about… 12 hours since we’ve last seen each other, but as a special treat for all of Whateley land, I’ve prepared a special treat for everyone today. COME ON UP HERE!”

Peeper tried to grab her hand, but Sara whipped it out of the way, whispering through her teeth so no-one else could hear, “What the fuck are you up to, Peeper? Your dialogue sucks.”

He grinned, covering his mic, “I was a little rushed. Come onto the stage now, or I do this to your friend, Fey. One way or the other, I’ll get what I want.”

As he tried to turn, Sara grabbed his arm and span the wannabe agony art around, “You’ll pay for this, Peeper. One day, you’ll pay.”

“That’s what they all say,” Peeper smiled smugly, bringing the subspace mic back up to his mouth, “it seems that Sara has agreed to participate, come on my little lady, step up here…”

Sara followed the insufferable lout up onto the miniature stage, just in front of the black curtain. Everyone was staring at them, even Team Kimba at the far end of the hall. Chaka stood up on the table, waving her arms in the air. Sara shook her head, waving the excitable girl off.

“And now, I have two very special guests here today! I would now like to introduce them to you all, and in particular, Sara here…”

Sara glared at the little man, trying to channel all her spite through her eyes and into his brain, hopefully causing it to explode. Unfortunately, either she wasn’t good enough or Peeper’s brain was far too small to be effected. All she caught was a word echoing through his conscious mind. Then, with terrifying clarity, she knew what it meant.

“…YES! GREASY! Throw open to curtains so I can introduce… Richard and Ethel… DARLING!”

Yanking the rope, Greasy couldn’t look at Sara as the black cloth fell open, lowering his head. In the moment that Sara saw his face, she took in the bruises and black eye he was sporting. That moment was all it took for her not to notice the hand whip out to slap her across the face. Suddenly, someone was on top of her, scratching, clawing, pummeling, yelling.

“HOW COULD YOU? CECIL WAS A GOOD BOY! A DECENT BOY! A NICE BOY! YOU KILLED HIM! HOW? HOW COULD YOU?”

Someone pulled her off.

Sara blinked as she sat up, people were gathered around, lots of yelling, screaming. Colours floated around and through their bodies, thousands of blinking lights and swirling vapours conflicting and eddying through the air. Jade was yelling into her ear but the din was overpowering everything. Ethel Darling, an emaciated middle-aged woman, was still yelling at her. She was held back by her husband, his own face was contorted with mixed emotions of hatred and stoic pride. Chaka was snarling at Peeper, who’s smug grin was wide, white teeth peeking from between his lips, a masticated wad of brown cereal stuck between his teeth.

She stood up, reaching up to feel her wounds close. Harry and Hank were holding Tennyo back, Harry whispering calmly to the girl while Hank provided the brute force. Every now again, Harry glanced back over his shoulder, eyes burning, ears laid back against his scalp.

“FREAK! MUTANT, KILLER, FREAK!”

Ethel and Richard Darling looked amazingly ordinary. Mr. Darling was a tall, well built, white man, obviously a professional of some type. Mrs. Darling wore a suit with shoulder pads that made her look like a star quarterback.

All at once, everything went quiet. Sara stood, her gaze never leaving the couple in front of her. Ethel was out of breath, gasping, tears running down her face. She felt nothing for the weeping woman, everything was dead inside as she stepped forward.

“Yes, I killed your son. He tried to kill me, then he tried to kill my friends, so I pushed him off the edge of a cliff. His accomplices were given detention or were suspended. They got off light on a technicality of law. I have no regrets. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to eat.”

She shoved Peeper’smic out of her face as she stepped down from the makeshift podium.

“IT’S A LIE!” Mrs. Darling screeched, “IT’S A LIE!”

Sara didn’t spare her a glance, leaving them to grieve on the podium, “Believe what you want.”

Peeper twirled his mic around on it’s aerial, surreptitiously slithering around the crowd towards Tennyo while they all stared at Sara’s back. Everyone was startled by the new noise from the speakers as he stepped forward, “And the entertainment’s NOT OVER! I would like to present to you the walking disaster of Poe, the mistress of destruction, the ugly monster that sews destruction and disorder wherever she treads, who’s likeness, by the way, graces the all new Dutch Wives available on order from whateley.wars.com’s store, TENNYO! Now, despite the rumours and questions assaulting the WARS forums of late concerning your eligibility for the Amateur Baseball Team, there is a question that I, personally, have been dying for months now to ask, do you mind if I ask it now?”

“You son of a…”

Hank grabbed her waist, “Forget him, Ten, he’s not worth it!”

“Great, thanks. The question is: Have you ever seen the movie ‘There’s Something about Mary’ and is that the reason behind your unusual hairstyle?”

Tennyo’s scream of rage drowned out the snap of cartilage, Peeper’s blood spraying out of his nose.

“PEEPER!” Greasy was at the felled boy’s side immediately, “Are you OK? Are you all right? Come on, we’ll get you to sick bay…”

Nobody moved as Greasy dragged Peeper out the doors, unwilling to even lift a finger for the delusional megalomaniac.

The same was not true of Harry, who was shaking his hand trying to get the blood back into his fingers, “SHIT! That hurt…”

Tennyo was all over him, however, which was probably the best balm for his wound imaginable. As much as she wanted to, Sara couldn’t smile as she shook the blue dust from her meal off her fingers. Glancing around the room, ignoring the explosion of cheering from the crowd and the quiet exit of the Darlings as they were accompanied by some security guards, her gaze found the Alpha table, conspicuously full while the tables around were empty. The Don was staring at her in return, a smirk plain across his face. He turned and whispered something to Hekate, the witch sitting next to him sipping her tea, before raising his glass to his opponent and downing the contents. Jade and Ayla’s nemesis, Tansy Walcutt, was missing from the group.

Pulling her eyes away from such an unpleasant sight, Sara noticed Mr. Lodgeman leaning against the doorway. With a nod to her, he departed, stepping into the sunlight.

“Are you all right?”

Sara blinked and looked down towards the voice. Jade’s huge, wide, eyes stared up at her, brimming with worry. Fey and Erin stood behind her, the Queen’s eyes strangely empty as if studying her rather than judging.

“Yes, Jade. I’m fine, just a little light-headed. I better go… I… I don’t think I should stay here now. I’ll be in the library if you need me, in case… if anything else happens. I’ll see you at lunch, and be careful,” Sara glanced towards the Alpha’s table, “we’re not through this yet.”

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“My Queen, you are a marvel,” The Don smiled as Sara strode out the door, half walking, half running from the scene.

Hekate smiled and sipped her tea, a habit acquired from her wealthy, conservative, European parents, “I know.”

Reveling in his attention, Hekate absently brushed her high ponytail away from her neck, stretching to give him a good view of her sleek, Mediterranean, femininity. The Don was the sort of man who needed to be constantly reminded of what he had, so that his mind wouldn’t wander into considering the wonders of unconquered territory. His intermittent lust over that bitch Mindbird, for example, was a constant source of annoyance.

Secretly glaring at the King of the Alphas from the corner of her eye, Hekate tuned out the buzzing of the gnats around her. As competitors, Mindbird and Solange were one thing. Nikki Reilly and Sara Waite, however, were in another league, with powers and beauty perhaps equal to or greater than hers. At least, maybe in the future.

Fey was one thing, though. Beautiful, intelligent, wealthy… with time and the right adjustments, she may one day make an acceptable Alpha, or at the very least a suitable fucktoy to hold over the Don’s nose. Waite, however, could never fit in. Her Gothic deformities and weird powers made her nothing more than a freak, a mere twist of luck keeping her from a nice solitary cell in Hawthorne.

Yes, she would certainly be the last to morn Sara Waite’s untimely demise, indeed.

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“I’m sorry, dear, but your Library privileges have been revoked.” Miss. Henderson looked down her nose and over her gold-rimmed reading glasses, the disapproving glare directed solely at Sara.

“That can’t be right, I’ve returned every book I’ve ever borrowed,” Sara shook her head.

“Young lady, it states right here that you have yet to return ‘The Salem Incantations’ by Theodora Wiggins, and it is, in fact, a week overdue,” the officious old lady turned the flatscreen monitor around so that Sara could view the blinking red warning in her file, “your Library privileges were rescinded this morning and a fine equal to the cost of the book is being sent to your mailbox directly.”

“TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!” Sara shouted, staring at the screen in disbelief.

“Shhh! This is a library!”

“What sort of book is it?”

Scowling while tapping the keys, Henderson cycled through the notes, “It’s a book from the restricted section, almost one hundred years old. Though it is only a sixth edition, it was a limited print run and still quite valuable.”

For the second time that day, Sara found herself gritting her teeth together, “But you know as well as I do that I don’t have access to the restricted section. This is a mistake.”

“Funny, because this says right here that Mr. Matthews gave you a special dispensation for the book specifically…”

“It’s a lie.” Sara interrupted.

“Computers don’t lie, Freshman Waite. If this is all a cover-up for the fact that you’ve lost it, I suggest that youun-lose it within the week. Otherwise you aren’t eligible for a refund. Now, get out of my Library and don’t come back without that priceless book in your hands.”

Sara stormed out the door, shoving it aside with enough force to bend the hinges out of alignment. She ignored the place she had first met Bloodworm and his cronies. The place, the people, meant nothing to her. She survived. He hadn’t.

Wandering off into the grounds, Sara found a secluded spot with a bench in the shade, not another person in sight. The sky was still dark and grey with cloud, the soft blanket above impenetrable. It was still early, classes had only just started for most. Being held in this limbo was starting to get on her nerves.

It was obvious that someone was hounding her. Ticking off the events of the last few days in her mind, the number of aborted attempts on her status and her life were growing substantially. First Bloodworm and the Cheerleaders. Then Reverend Englund and ‘Mr. Pointy’. Now Sebastiano and the Alphas.

Absently, she wondered if the ‘Feuds List’ in Security included those between teachers and students.

Shaking her head, Sara chastised herself. The attempts on her life had started long before her admittance to Whateley. How had she forgotten good old Uncle Darrow and the MCO? Not to mention Mr. X, the man who had borne witness to her first murder… and whoever was behind him.

The cold chill of fear and anger shuddered through her. She had made a terrible, terrible, mistake. In trying to forget about the deaths, pushing them out of the way, she’d forgotten that she had enemies outside of Whateley, enemies with access to mind control at the very least. Now they knew she was a Demon Princess, she’d have a whole lot more than just the Most Righteous Reverend out for her blood. Cthulhu and Hastur… their cults would be gunning for her now. Competition in the world of the demon-gods was cutthroat.

As she mentally made up her new list of enemies, her chances for survival became slimmer and slimmer by the second.

“Excuse me, can I sit here?”

Sara didn’t bother to look, she had felt his aura drawing closer even before he slid onto the bench next to her, “Thuban, I presume?”

“In the flesh, or close enough. She told you about me, then?”

“If you’re talking about Jade, then the answer is no. I’ve heard the rumours, I see the signs. And Jade knows an awful lot that she probably shouldn’t know without resorting to… draconian methods.”

“Ouch, you cut me to the quick, highness. My spies are correct then, you are far more observant than is decidedly healthy for any one individual.”

“Was that a threat?”

“No, not yet.”

Sara smiled, “Ah. Then one has yet to meet the proper criteria?”

“Actually,” Thuban ignored the redundant question, “it is your intentions that I seek to discover.”

“Oh? It seems that I have a lot of people worried lately,” Sara glanced at the lithe boy next to her, “nice uniform by the way. Cecilia’s work?”

The half-chinese boy loosened his collar, squinting his lizard-like eyes, “I’ll never get used to these things again. Clothes are so inconvenient, don’t you think?”

“If I thought that was a pick-up line, I’d be tempted to say yes,” Sara grinned.

“I was being serious.”

“I know. You were about to ask me something. Get on with it.”

“Testy today. What is your objective here at Whateley?”

“To learn to master my powers. Just like everyone else.”

The charismatic boy shifted in his seat to face her directly, “Not, as my sources have indicated, to corrupt and brainwash the other students? In particular your friends in Team Kimba?”

Sara snorted, “My dear Thuban. You of all people should know what sort of forces are aligning against me, even of those I do not. Do you really think that I would make enemies of my friends at such a time? I befriended Team Kimba for two reasons. The first was that I love them all, despite the fact that some of us should be enemies by rights. The second, and more selfish, reason is that I need them. I ran to Whateley for protection, truth be known. This school is a haven for both the good and the bad, a place where both sides are tolerated to an extent.”

He nodded, “My own interest in your case is not entirely philanthropic either, our precious Jade has made a rather persuasive argument. However, you of all of Team Kimba seem to be in a position to offer me some competition in my own affairs. I find myself caught between my promise and my instincts.”

“Instincts bite,” Sara nodded, “but control is the measure of sentience.”

“My thoughts exactly. However, you continue to make things difficult for me. I ask myself often, particularly of late, wether I would be better serving my word from the opposite side.”

Sara straightened in her seat, turning to look at the boy. Despite his Asian heritage, he would have been an excellent double for Elrond in Lord of the Rings, maybe something about the nose or his easy air of power. “Choose as you see fit. Nothing I can say could ever convince you that my intentions are honourable. But I will tell you what I intend to do. I intend to win. I will neither run nor hide.”

“You really have no idea of what you’re getting yourself into,” Thuban grunted, “things would be much simpler for all involved if you just disappeared. Jade may be hurt, but she’ll get over it. Your friends would be out of danger, or at least any they couldn’t handle on their own. Your cult gets its goddess, your father gets his daughter and the peace of Whateley remains undisturbed for the foreseeable future. Everyone wins.”

Wind rustled the leaves above while Sara considered the proposal. Several minutes later, she started to laugh, “Why is it that people consider forgetting to be an amiable solution? Never confront a problem and it will just go away, like a man covering his eyes and ears while the freight train bares down on him. If he can’t see it and can’t hear it, it can’t hurt him, can it? Really, I expected much more from you, Thuban, than the logic of stupidity. If it isn’t me, who will it be? Maybe the Alphas would start hunting the Hawthorne residents for sport. Maybe the Don will make all of Team Kimba his mind sluts like Sky and Cav. Maybe even you. How about it, Thuban? Are you willing to bend over and take one for the team?”

“He wouldn’t dare.”

“Yes he would. Yes he would, the moment he thought he could get away with it. I’ve seen this before, Thuban, I saw it the last time I went to school, I saw it as I walked around town, I see it every time I turn on the news. Different place, same rules. I’ve done this running shit before and I’ll tell you now that it only makes things worse. Besides, there’s something else that you haven’t considered.”

“Oh?”

“Do I have any right to make that decision for Team Kimba? If they were to be handed the option, would they tell me to go? Somehow I doubt it, Jade in particular. No I am not running, Thuban. Not from Team Kimba, not from the Alphas, not from the Faculty and not from you. Are my intentions now clear to you?”

“Crystal,” he mumbled.

Sara stood, “I’m glad we had this little chat, Thuban. Always a pleasure, please feel free to drop in at any time.”

And with that, she walked off.

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Though the Lovecraft Room looked almost back to normal now, the small discrepancies made her sick to the stomach. The undulating runes looked little like they once did, twisting and writhing on the solid walls, singing the praises of its sole inhabitant. Sara could read them now, phrases from the Scripture of Gothmog, words that foretold and exalted her own existence.

Kellith lounged in the chair by her desk, looking at herself through her other set of eyes, “He was right you know, it would be much simpler if you just went away. Turn the other cheek.”

“The only thing any of us really has is self respect,” she replied to herself, “even that is so fragile if we examine the futility and stupidity of our existence. All I want is to live, I could care less about these power games.”

“There are two types of people in this world,” her head observed, “players and pawns. The choice to run, the choice to sit and the choice to fight are all your own now. You have a cult, you have pawns, this combination puts you on the playing field. Play now or die.”

Sara nodded sagely, “The first step…”

“…is identifying the enemy,” her head finished the sentence, “we need to weed them out the way you would uproot a tree.”

“Cut down the trunk, then poison the roots, leave no room for regrowth. But who is the target? The Don? Englund? Or is there someone else behind the scenes?”

“Current information is inconclusive. I think that my current priority should be to protect myself and my friends. My reputation and credibility has been damaged, the logical move is to keep the pressure on myself and my friends… BAH! What am I doing? I’m no strategist! I’m a writer, for God’s sake! What do I know about tactics?”

“Time to learn, girly. I don’t have time for theatrics.”

Both heads nodded, speaking in unison, “You’re right.”

“So what’s my first move?” Sara asked her head.

“Lay a trap,” it answered, “use yourself as bait to flush them out. The more contact and opportunity you give your enemies to expose themselves, the better the case you can build.”

Tiring of the game, Sara picked up her second head and stuffed it into her cupboard, her extra claw scuttling in as well. Thinking for a moment, she closed and locked the basement window, the most likely point of entry for an attacker, and drew the blind before making sure her door was secure. Reopening the golden box was a snap, the tentacles untwisting easily from the seam around the lid. Drawing fourth the huge tome it contained, Sara blinked with surprise when a scrap of parchment was revealed underneath, covered in writhing runes of the same script.

Dear Daughter,

I hope that this letter finds you in good health. I am so sorry for not contacting you earlier, but as a Demon King I am greatly constrained as to my modes of contact. The box you now hold is more precious than anything it contains as it provides the two of us a link between worlds. Be troubled not at guarding it, you will find that it has its own ways of remaining in your possession.

Mifruzli has told me of your reluctance to foster your own cult, but I must advise you in the strongest possible terms to begin your recruitment as soon as possible. Your very presence, and that of your friends, is shifting the balance of power not only in Whateley but across the world. I only wish that you did not have the burdens placed on you that you do now, or I once did before you.
I have so many things to tell you that must now wait for their proper time. As it is, I do not want to clutter your head with irrelevant information that could destroy your focus.
At this moment the most important thing for you to do is survive. Your body and mind will be undergoing many changes, changes far more drastic than those you have already experienced. You must understand that, despite all appearances, you have not yet stopped changing. Indeed, you may never stop changing, but pushing yourself at this point in your cycle could have disastrous consequences. I am in no way exaggerating when I say that you could place reality itself in danger.
You will find, inside my Scriptures, the basics of Demonology and those aspects particularly suited to my cult and beliefs, including summoning spells, some sex magic and my contact spell details. You’ll also find in the back the cult’s website and Mifruzli’s e-mail address, for now the Cult of Kellith website is an annex of the Cult of Gothmog website, just until you get your own up and running. But no pressure. Please try one of the spells as soon as you are comfortable… don’t worry, I won’t take your soul if something goes wrong.
Ha-ha! Sorry, dear, dads get to make these little jokes.
I know that people are after you now, in fact some have been since before your conception. Please know that I am watching you and that I love you, always.

The Demon Princess stared at the rather squiggly rune that represented her father’s personal mark. Beyond the mark, however, there was more.

P.S. I noticed that red-haired bit of stuff that you were with, she looks divine. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Glad to know my daughter is a chip off the old block. Your Mother would be so proud. Hugs and kisses, Dad.

“I am so screwed.”

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Team Kimba sat around their table as usual for lunch. They were all unusually silent after the morning’s events, concerns for Sara wearing on them all. Fey tapped her fingernails on the bench, staring off into space. Last night’s romp with Bunny had scratched the itch, but the itch itself refused to go away. Her blonde bedmate was everything a boy or girl could hope for, but somehow her mind kept wandering back to the dream, swept away by a sea of writhing members. She didn’t know if the dream was real or not, or a bit of both.

There was something about Sara, though, that excited her. The dark eyes. Graceful, fluid, movement. Her freedom. Sara was uninhibited, particularly when the sun was below the horizon. The Goth would bloom at night, casting off her clothes just to lounge around in a tight, spandex, bodysuit or even just her underwear. Nikki couldn’t understand how she did it, how she could expose herself like that. And yet, at the same time…

“Is it just me, or are we missing something here?” Chaka murmured, propping her chin up with her slender hand.

“Missing what?” Ayla asked between mouthfuls.

“I’ve been thinking about Peeper,” Chaka sat up straight, getting to the point, “this morning’s ‘prank’, if you can believe the bulletin board, was completely out of character. It went way beyond annoying to downright hostile. Peeper just doesn’t have the guts or the moxy to pull something like that off.”

“What happened to them?” Jade snarled, picking at her chicken breast.

“Detained indefinitely for questioning by security, last I heard,” Ayla growled.

“Not by himself,” Fey mused, “Sara thought the Alphas were behind this one. Is it just me, or is anyone else disturbed by the coincidental nature of these attacks?”

Ayla nodded, “Once, is an isolated event. Twice is co-incidence. Three times is a conspiracy. I’m sure Sara’s thinking the same thing. I’m just not so sure wether we’re on the right side.”

“How can you say stuff like that?” Jade glared, “Sara saved me from a beating, in case you’ve forgotten. She’s got a good heart, no matter how down on herself she is.”

“That’s true, she is melodramatic,” Hank rolled his eyes.

“And rude,” Tennyo added.

“She swares far too much,” Chaka acknowledged, “and has a vocabulary that would make a pirate blush.”

“She’s a nymphomaniac,” Bunny snorted, “and an exhibitionist.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Hank and Rip protested in unison.

“The point is,” Jade interrupted, “that we’ve all got our little querks. I don’t care if Tennyo’s a bit moody. I don’t care about Ayla’s family. I don’t care about Fey’s hobgoblins. I don’t care about how eccentric Bunny is or how fast Rip talks. I don’t care if a whole legion of demons is hunting Chou and I don’t care if Chaka can’t pass Remedial English. And I don’t care if Sara eats a little differently to the rest of us. I just hope when I’m gone, none of you snipe at me the same way behind my back.”

With that, she hoisted her backpack over her shoulder and left. The remaining members looked at each other sheepishly, as if Carson had just given them a four hour lecture.

“How is it,” Bunny grimaced, “that she’s the only one who can do that to us and get away with it?”

“Jade’s special, no doubt about that,” Fey tried to smile, but it wasn’t working too well.

“She didn’t say anything about her own problems, though,” Rip grumbled.

“She didn’t have to,” Tennyo sighed, “out of everyone here, she’s got it the worst of all of us.”

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It wasn’t the most brilliant plan in the world, but it was a plan and she was going to stick to it. The next best thing to hiding in a public place, waiting for the attack, was hiding in a familiar, empty, place with two methods of escape and wait for the attack. If she was lucky, ‘they’ would all attack through the door and she could escape through the window.

No, wait, they could appear to attack through the main door and then a second group could out-flank her as she tried to escape through the window and catch her by surprise. Or, they could just rush her from both directions at once, making escape impossible. Either way, she had no means of communication with the rest of the group. In effect, if they just rushed her now, her only chance would be to back up against the wall and hope they were worse fighters than her.

Or, they could just use the old knock on the door trick and ambush her when she answered.

As if her thoughts were prophetic, there was a series of knocks on her door, the rap of a small hand against the wood, “Hey, Sara? Open up, it’s me! Jade!”

Sara blinked, “Jade? Whatcha you doing here this early?”

“Early? It’s four o’clock, dummy, you didn’t turn up for lunch!”

Shaking her head, Sara turned to check her bedside clock. Sure enough, the face read 4:03. Dropping down from the ceiling and scampering over to the door, Sara still hesitated, “Are you alone?”

“Yup.”

“How do I know you’re really Jade?”

There was a long pause on the other side, “WHAT?”

“I asked, how do I know that you are really Jade? You could be a shapeshifter… or something!”

“Sara, are you all right?”

“Answer the question!”

There was another long pause, “Look, either you let me in now, or I’ll just charge Jann into the door and she’ll open the lock! I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, I’ve been worried sick, I had an argument with myself, I’ve covered up for you, I think that I deserve some common courtesy and not have to talk to you through a freekin’ door!”

Sighing, Sara opened the door to find Jade and Jinn standing in the hallway, the dark ‘Shroud’ figure giving her a moment’s pause, “I thought you were alone.”

The two girls smiled in unison, “We are.”

Shaking her head, Sara stepped aside to allow them entry and closed the door behind them, “At least you didn’t go yelling out about my fourteen girlfriends.”

Jade cocked her head to one side, “Wasn’t it sixteen?”

Smiling, Sara nodded, “Sorry, just testing. Congratulations, you’re the real Jade.”

“You are really getting paranoid,” Jinn shook her head, floating over to the bed.

As if to prove her point, Sara re-locked the door, pulling the bolt across, “Attempted assassinations and a global smear campaign does that to people. I’ve been hiding out here all day, waiting for the next attempt. It makes sense, they tried to go after you, Fey and Tennyo… Ok, maybe going after Tennyo doesn’t show that much common sense, but you and Fey are obvious targets to the combat-minded because of your relative inexperience. Either I was next on the list or…”

“You think it’s the Alphas? Tansy again?” Sara noted the deadly growl that entered her friend’s voice at the thought of Tansy Walcutt.

“No,” Sara shook her head, “Doesn’t feel like her MO. Besides, she’s out of the loop with the Alphas now and she couldn’t have gotten to the Librarian. That’s the link I’m trying to understand.”

“The Librarian? Was she in the drawing room with the candlestick?”

Despite the joking around, Sara told her about her visit to the library after breakfast, omitting the conversation with Thuban.

“I made a list,” the demon continued, “of people I know are involved and then I tried to backtrack possible connections.”

“Don’t discount Tansy yet, she’s got all the money in the world. If she couldn’t get to the Librarian sexually (which she wouldn’t), she’d pay her off or hire someone to do it for her.”

“Hmmmm, true,” Sara added her to the list, “but it doesn’t feel right. It would be monumentally stupid of Tansy to provoke us now, without the full support of the Alphas. Besides, Peeper took an awful risk this morning in that confrontation. He would have had to smuggle Mr. and Mrs. Darling into the school. Both of these facts point me towards two people which I know are after my blood and had the means and methods to subvert the Librarian and Security. Ms. Hartford and the Reverend Englund. I went and had a look at the Dillon Chapel over near Admin on my way around campus today. There are wards over that building that rival the boundary of the school. My most likely scenario has them co-operating in a joint campaign to get me expelled, one way or the other. The Alphas can’t attack us directly for a while because Security will be watching and I suspect none of them are too keen on another week’s detention. Using Peeper and Greasy, however, was a masterstroke for the Don, those two are simultaneously the most ineffectual and dangerous pair in all the school. The perfect patsies. That’s the Don’s style, Tansy would have hired more assassins, then relied on her charm and money to get her out of trouble.”

“Why are Fey and Chou on this list?” Jade pointed to the names accusingly.

“My most remote possibilities,” Sara sighed, “I wanted the list to be as complete as possible when I was starting out. They were the first names I crossed out. My only problem right now is, who was it that tried to assassinate me yesterday? In that, the whole campus is suspect, my only clue is ‘Mr. Pointy’. The person that used that stake is a wannabe ‘Blade’ character, someone who knows just enough to be dangerous to him or herself but only a moderate danger to a real vampire. That says to me ‘student’, which probably indicates a hired thug acting on their own without support or intelligence, considering the methods that were used to try to kill me. I just hope that they don’t learn their lesson and send a larger group after me next time. I’ve been stupid and careless, it’s time to pick up my game.”

Jade hopped up onto Sara’s chair, taking some time to mull things over. After a minute, she opened her mouth to speak, “I think you’re right, but… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be asking this now…”

Sara knelt down in front of the chair, lifting up the little girl’s chin with the side of her finger, “No need to be like that. Come on, what did you want to ask me?”

“I… I…” she glanced over to Jinn, “Did you want to do this?”

Jinn shook her head, “This is your job.”

Jade grimaced, curling in on herself slightly, “I hate it when I’m right. Look, Sara, I… it’s like this, I’ve been thinking about what Nobody said at breakfast the other day and… and I’ve been having these dreams and… and if it’s true and you can turn me into a girl, I’ll do it! I’ll do anything!”

“Jade you’re not making any sense…”

“Yes I am! If you can make me a girl, I’ll have your children…”

Sara shot up, staggering backwards, straight into Jinn’s waiting embrace.

“Maybe not right away,” Jinn picked up where her original self left off, “if you could give me some time to get used to it… in a few years Jade will look like I do…”

“If you can do it,” Jade stood back up, her eyes glistening with tears, “if you’ll do that for me, I’m willing. Demons like to make deals, right? I… I think you’re a nice person, Sara, I think I could love you, and I’d love our children. Please.”

“Jade,” Sara slipped out from under Jinn’s arms, backing further away, “you don’t know what you’re asking me, you really have no idea what you’re getting involved with…”

“I know you’re a demon, Sara, I know that. I don’t care, I want to be a real girl, I HAVE to be a real girl. Can you do it? Please tell me you can do it!”

“Now, don’t be hasty, we don’t know if the regular treatments are working…”

“They aren’t! All this time and I’m still flat-chested! Can you do it or can’t you? Don’t lie to me…”

“It’s not as simple as that…”

The girls were backing Sara into a corner, “Yes or no?”

“… there are other treatments…”

“YES or NO?”

Sara felt her hands shaking. Jinn was looking down on her, nose to nose, while Jade had grabbed her skirt in desperation. “YES! All right? Yes I could change you into a girl.”

The statement hit the two girls like a bombshell, “Y-you can? DO IT! RIGHT NOW, I’m ready!” Jade took a step back, closing her eyes and spreading out her arms.

Gulping was an involuntary reflex, a habit that Sara had yet to break out of now that she didn’t need saliva, “No.”

There was a moment of stunned silence. Sara sank to her knees on the ground, folding up with the hopelessness of the situation.

Jade exploded into action, grabbing her friend by the collar, “We have a deal. You turn me into a girl, I’ll bear your children. You invaded my dreams, you showed me what it’s like, I thought about this long and hard and this is what I want. If you can make me a girl, I’ll give you my soul, my love, ANYTHING! Heck, you can have it all if you’ll do this for me. It’s a deal, it’s done, now do it!”

“I don’t accept your deal,” Sara whispered, “Jade, you’re like the little sister I never had. I’d do anything for you, but not this, not the way I’d have to do it. It’s not your gender that’s the problem, it’s your BIT that’s messed up, I could fix it… I think, but I… I’d have to call on forces that should, no, MUST remain sealed.”

“Are you a Demon Princess or aren’t you?” Jinn snapped, “What is this? Some sort of code of honour? A game? You’re a demon! Hang the rules! We want out of this hell, and quite frankly, we want a part in yours. No matter what happens to us, we will be happy just to finally have our wish, I don’t care about the consequences.”

“You don’t understand. If I did this, if the change didn’t kill you or drive you utterly insane, there’s a chance that my offspring would. Everyone I know who has been touched by the Mythos either died horribly or became something beyond human, a blight to the world and all that’s in it. Terrible monsters bent on destruction…”

“Not all of them,” Jade hugged Sara, “you’re not like that. Please, you said in my dream that you could correct the accident of my birth. Please, I want it so bad, it hurts so much every day being this. Please.”

If only she knew, Sara thought,if only she knew what was underneath. “I can’t hurt you, Jade. I won’t hurt you, even if you beg me to, I won’t fix one wound just to tear open another. You can hit me, you can cry, you can hug and kiss me into insensibility, but I will not make this deal with you. Not now, not this way.”

“YOU ARE EVIL!”

Jade thrust herself away from the Goth girl and ran out the door, charging the lock before flinging it open in the same second. Jinn glowered at Sara, “I’ll collect her for dinner, you better go and get something to eat. I hope you’re happy now.”

With that, the fake genie flitted out the door after herself in a huff.

Sara cried for a while. Tears one of the few remaining human luxuries left to her.

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Though the days were getting noticeably shorter as winter equinox approached, Crystal Hall was always a riot of colour, particularly around meal times and even more so to a psychic with aura sight.

She didn’t need telepathy to hear the whispers of her peers behind her back as she picked her way through the crowd to find a lone table where she could think away from Jade and the others, the morning’s events being blown all out of proportion as usual.

She stared at the watery-eyed, old brown dog that she had been given as a meal. Tentatively, she opened the cage and reached inside, surprised that her victim chose to lick her hand, lying as still as possible. Reaching out with her feelings, Sara could sense its pain, the weariness of age. A picture of a little boy long gone from it’s life somewhere in the background.

It’s a paradox, Sara realized,I am a paradox. I was born of lust and procreation incarnate, yet I must destroy to live. You would think that my energy would come from the creation of life, yet all I seem to be able to do is ruin all around me.

Now, the dog in her cage wanted nothing more than to die and she didn’t have the heart to kill him.

“Mind if we sit here?”

Sara looked up to find Fey and Chou, trays in hand, hovering over her.

“I wouldn’t want to ruin your meal,” Sara shrugged.

“No problem,” Fey sat next to her while Chou sat opposite, “we are friends, after all.”

“Are we?”

Chou glanced at Fey before answering, “What’s up with you?”

“My world is a stinking pile of rat’s vomit.”

“Uh-oh,” Fey rolled her eyes, “Goth attack.”

“You try being a walking vacuum cleaner for all life on the planet, Miss Perfect, and see how long you last. Flowers die easy, weeds take a lot more killing.”

“I thought you were over this suicide crap,” Fey snapped.

“Oh, I am. I’m not going down easy, but I’ll be damned if I let you all go down with me. Oh, oops, too late. I’m damned already, aren’t I? Oh, well, how about it, Chou? Nikki? Why don’t you just put D.W. through my chest, I’m sure Hungledingy would be happy to cheer you on.”

Fey’s face went cold for a second before returning to its usual depthless expression, glancing at Sara’s hand as it stroked the dog, “Did you have lunch today?”

The Demon Princess shook her head, “Not hungry.”

“Don’t lie to me, I know how much you have to… consume. Stop toying with the poor thing and let it go on, it wants to leave us.”

“That’s why I can’t eat it. It… it deserves better than me. You all deserve better than me,” Sara took a deep, shuddering breath, holding back more tears, “when I was a kid, all I wanted in the whole world was to make a difference. I thought if I could tell people some stories that, maybe, they could forget how bad life was for a little while… I always thought that was the best thing anyone could do for another in the whole world. But the life of a writer is so hollow, it all happens in another space, another time, none of it is real. It was all in my head, but now it’s here. It’s real and I still can’t help anyone.”

The dog started to lick her face, using what little energy that remained to it to move.

Chou gulped, her eyes watering slightly, “You can help the dog now. Destiny’s Wave told me once that killing is an action, neither good or evil. Maybe, this time, sometimes, death is a good thing. You have to eat.”

She hugged the dog close as she pulled it’s life free from the flesh, the blue dust covering her from head to toe. She chuckled as she pulled herself to her feet, giddy from the rush of power that accompanied her feeding, “I need some air. Go and look after Jade for me, please, she’s had a rough night.”

Staring at the girl’s back as she staggered out the door, Fey pushed her own tray away and stood, “I’m going after her, you probably should help the rest with Jade. If anything happens, I’ll get her to sick bay. If not, we’ll meet you outside Hawthorne. I’m not letting her out of my sight tonight.”

Chou nodded as the redhead swished off, “Good luck.”

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Stepping into the night alone was part sheer stupidity, part calculated risk, part death wish. The rational side of her brain was screaming at her to stay with the group, not to tempt fate, the other half was yelling at her about slipping away easy, going down fighting and drawing out the attackers. In fact, she knew she just needed to walk forward, to do something, to feel as if she had a goal.

Whateley campus seemed oppressive in the dark, Sara’s vision blurred and shifted as she stumbled along the path. Trees writhed like tangles of snakes in the shadows, leaves waving as stunted pseudopods in her fanciful delusion. The grass recoiled from her, her footsteps leaving blackened, desolate, patches where her bare feet touched organic matter. For a moment, she wondered exactly where her shoes had gone.

The filthy, dishevelled, man who burst from the bushes interrupted her thoughts, however, hurling himself at the ground near her feet, “MISTRESS! IÄ KELLITH! I am your humble servant! Mistress of Flesh! Daughter of the Eternal Void! Please look upon my sacrifice with favour!”

From underneath his voluminous beard he produced a polished sacrificial dagger, the silver shining in the orange light of the outdoor lamps scattered through the grounds. In the other, he held aloft a small kitten, the tiny ball of fur biting and clawing ineffectually at the bum’s calloused hand.

“By this blood, I do…”

“NO! NO HURT THE KITTY!” Sara screeched, grabbing her wannabe worshipper’s hand, trying to pry the kitten out of his grasp as he waved the dagger about threateningly.

“Hey, this is my sacrifice…”

“GIVE IT HERE!” Sara managed to pry the kitten away, pulling it up over her head, out of the way of the kneeling itinerant, “Now, what’s this all abou…”

She was cut off by a heavy object slamming into her chest, bowling her over onto her back, the kitten slipping from her grasp and rolling away. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the footpath with a prepubescent boy on top of her, fondling her breasts with his eyes closed.

"Ah, look, kid,” Sara raised one eyebrow, “could you either get off me or keep squirming, please?"

His eyes snapped open, glancing around, searching for the cat, "She was trying to get away, da... damn you! Look at her, she... is... ahh... grooming herself?"

Sure enough, a short distance away, the ball of fur sat licking it’s paw, meowing and purring contentedly.

The cultist was busy grovelling, face down in the mud, “Oh mighty Kellith! I am distressed in the extreme to have interrupted you and your concubine’s secret rendezvous!”

The kid scrambled up off her, backing away VERY fast, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment, “No concubinage, nope-nope.”

"That your cat?" Sara groaned as she picked herself up, more out of habit than any real need.

"I... you were going to kill her," he snatched the kitten into his arms, "Uhhh... yes. I... what happened?"

"Actually, this guy was about to sacrifice her to me, I WAS in the process of saving her."

He gave the cultist a hate filled glance, shielding the kitten with his arms, "But... I saw her. You were holding her and everyone knows you... that you suck... you eat souls."

"Well, sure I do, but I'm not a fanatic," Sara sighed, rolling her eyes, "You. No more sacrificing kitties, let the others know that. I'm busy right now, so get lost. If you're lucky, we'll talk tomorrow. Understood?"

The kid looked confused, cradling the tortoiseshell kitten against his chest, "Why... I guess I should apologize." It was a grudging admission, however.

"I guess you should. I like cats," Sara smiled, bending over to look at the cat in his arms.

"I..." He trailed off, still confused, "You... err.... sorry, then."

He pulled the kitten tighter to his chest, obviously resisting the impulse to run away.

Sara stood up and looked over her shoulder, still feeling the cultist’s presence in the back of her mind, "You still here, David? Yes, David, I know your name already. Get lost. Now, before I decide to change your appointment."

He ran, howling into the night.

Sara turned back to the boy, her smile back on her face, "Where you headed? Not good to be wandering out here alone."

Duh, girl, not like you should be out here alone either, the sarcastic part of her mind moaned at her.

The look on the boy’s face was one of disbelief or surprise, "Em... I... I don’t get bothered much. People don’t like being near me."

He glanced pointedly down to the bare foot of ground between the two of them, maybe less. The kitten squirmed out of his arms, scaling his shirt like a net, needle-like claws dimpling the black fabric.

Sara reached out, holding her hand palm downwards. The tortoiseshell cat hopped off the shirt and onto her hand before James could stop it, digging its claws into the flesh. Walking happily up the arm with it's tail in the air, it left rows of claw marks like purple footprints behind. He stared, bug-eyed, as the marks sealed over, disappearing in moments. "Well, if it has to do with your power, then I'm not feeling it," Sara smiled warmly, "I'm a regenerator, you see..."

"I... I guess. But...  we have to go," he brought his hands up, then hesitated, unwilling to let his own flesh approach hers. The kitten flirted her tail as it looked back over her shoulder at her master.

"Why don't I take you then? It's dark already and I could use some company."

The boy looked like he might prefer to decline, but the kitten seemed to have no such qualms, advancing to perch on Sara’s shoulder. Finally, he shrugged, "I... guess. She..." He trailed off again, shaking his head. After a moment, he waved absently to one side, towards the boy's cottages, "I’m in Emerson."

Sara stroked the kitten under the chin as they walked. The kitten purred happily at all the attention, "You're a brave kid to come all this way out here for your cat."

He shrugged again, his reply terse, "I am not a kid. You’re classified PSI as well as Regen?"

"Among other things."

"Oh... okay."

"Why do you ask?"

"...no reason. Come on, Whiskers, we’re almost there."

"So, what's your power, then, if it makes you so unpopular?"

"It... it just makes people uncomfortable to be around me, it doesn’t do anything," He replied guardedly.

Sara smirked, "If it makes people uncomfortable, it has to do something. Take me for example, usually people either find me really sexy or they can feel my soul tugging on their aura. Admittedly, it's weak, but it's there. Disintegrating puppies doesn't make me popular, you know."

The cat meowed a few times, rubbing her cheek against Sara’s before threading her way sinuously along the Goth girl's neck to her other shoulder.

"Really? Interesting..." He trailed off, looking around as if for a means of escape, nodding to the kitten.

Sara held out her hand. The kitten licked her once before jumping down onto the hand, springboarding back onto James' shirt.

"Thank you," he took a moment to pet his kitten before continuing, "Sorry about... ahh... tackling you."

There was a light flush to his cheeks as he admitted his embarrassment, but no answering surge of purple haze to Sara's aura sight. In fact there was nothing at all for Sara's sixth sense, the boy appeared to be as dead and black as the stones nearby. "Hmmm, you don't have an aura do you? Most interesting. Oh, don't worry, I'm almost getting used to strange people jumping on me. Perhaps sometime we can have a longer chat."

"Uhhh... yeah. Well, we are here," the tone of his reply belied the statement, however. He ducked his head, shrugging to settle a backpack on his shoulder and bringing his frost-tipped (obviously dyed) hair forward to conceal his face as he quickened his step towards the cottage, "...nice to meet you."

Turning away from her, he stopped, blinking. Again, Sara stood in front of him where a moment ago she was far behind, still smiling, "Of course, if you'd like to talk now..."

He jumped back reflexively, eyes widening before he caught himself, moving to skirt her while keeping his eyes on hers, "No, no thank you."

"Why so skittish? If I wanted your soul, I could have taken it back in the bushes, you know. Why hide from me?"

Now that’s reassuring. Way to win him over, girl.

The boy started to panic, "Just... just leave me alone! And her, too!"

"I'm afraid I can't do that. You’re a boy who jumps out and runs me over for a mere cat, you knew who I was and what I could do from the start. Now, for some reason, you're lying to me, a complete turn around from your otherwise moral behaviour. Do you know how bad you are at lying, little boy?"

He had started to look away, but his glare returned at full force in response to her taunts, "She is NOT a "mere cat", you… you… this has nothing to do with you. I already apologized for that but you did have her in your hands. And it is not lying, just telling someone horrible it was nice to meet them. It’s called POLITENESS. Please... just.. go away."

"I have been accused of many things, but this is the first time I've even been condemned for saving a cat. You're just like everyone else here, aren't you? All too ready believe the worst of someone by simple reputation. How does it feel to be on the other side of the social equation, Warlocke?"

The boy winced at the use of his name. Sara had known from the moment she had looked down while he was on top of her, the boy who sat quietly next to Greasy in Hacking Theory, Warlocke, the class non-entity.

"I... had hoped you would not remember. Despite what you say, your reputation’s not that simple. You admit that you have to... to do that. Everyone saw it."

"All I want to know is, what power could be so vile that it places you on my level?" Sara cocked her head to one side, like a cat looking down upon a mouse, "And yes, I eat souls every morning, midday and evening. Tell me, what did you and your cat eat today? Cats have a fondness for meat, you know, particularly live prey. Why do you think she has claws and fangs? What makes you both so different from me?"

He tensed for a moment before answering with his own question, "I... would you like to talk about such things? If you did not have to, if you could just never bring it up… would you talk about having to kill those poor things like that?"

"Yes. Deny that and I deny what I am. Lie to yourself about what you are and you are a simple hypocrite, just like everyone else."

He sighed, starting to move towards the cottage again, "There is a difference between denying what you are and not shoving it in people's faces. Jinn probably told you already, anyway. You want to know what we ate today? She nibbled on some celery and some baked fish from the cafeteria and I..." his breath caught in his throat for a moment, chewing over the distasteful words, "I stopped eating when I was 8... about 7 years ago. I’m just a little less blatant than you. Leave us alone now?"

Sara stared at the boy a moment. As her surprise thawed, she let loose a growing chuckle, "After all that... that's your problem? That's your big, bad, secret? How amusing. No, Jinn told me absolutely nothing. And in the end, you're the same as me, just more dishonest."

He paused, but then moved on rather than respond, choosing to ignore her rather than face his own inner demons.

Sara called after him as he walked through the door, "Come on, kid. Yell at me. Hit me. Tell me I'm wrong. Don't lose your fire now, or you'll die here one day. I don't mind being yelled at, and you are very right, I am a horrible person. But you might want to ask yourself why you're still alive, it's not like I'm stopping you from leaving, am I?"

She felt sick to the stomach, which should have been impossible, her stomach was the third thing to have forcibly exited her body through her mouth… well fourth if you count BOTH lungs. For the last month, she had considered herself to be alone, even at Whateley. Nobody else should know what eating life itself is like, nobody, particularly not an eleven year old boy, and not one so much like Gary…

Turning away from the cottage, she took two faltering steps before collapsing into the muddy pool at the side of the path. Fetid slush wormed it’s way up her nostrils and into her mouth, yet failed to be sucked in further due to her lack of breath. Sara hardly noticed, all she felt was the heat inside her, rising up from the pit of her stomach and spreading out into her limbs.

“Sara? Sara, are you hurt?”

The voice was distorted, she couldn’t tell who it was. She was floating in a world of pink tentacles with tortoiseshell kitten heads, their whiskers tickling her skin. Somewhere in the bubbly haze, someone was trying to talk to her.

“SARA!”

The world came back all at once, she was being half dragged along the ground, one arm over someone’s shoulders. Slender, supple shoulders covered in sopping wet fabric. It was raining again and they were wet, though Sara could see the steam rising off her body. She couldn’t see her savior’s face, but the red hair that hung over her face, so close to hers, was unmistakeable.

“Are we there yet?” Sara grinned weakly.

There was a growl from under the sodden mop (that caught the moonlight perfectly, somehow), “When did you become such a smart ass?”

“I’ve been taking night lessons off Jinn. Tell me, if you’re supposed to be the hot one, why the hell am I steaming?”

“I was hoping you had an idea. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re really very attractive yourself, for your age.”

“From you, that’s quite a compliment.” Sara would have blushed, except her cheeks were already burning.

That didn’t stop Fey, however, “Er… I saw Gypsy, she’s fine. She said to say sorry and to thank you. Once you’re better, I think the two of you really need to have a talk.”

Sara grunted, “I’d like that.”

“Think you can stand?”

Sara tried to move her legs. “Nope,” Sara croaked, “jello.”

“That’s ok,” Fey strained, “the infirmary’s just up ahead.”

“Oh. I guess it’s ok if I pass out then.”

And she did.

Chapter 4 –Escalation

Friday, 20th October, 2006 01:38am

The hospital was cold and dark at night. Fey warmed herself in front of a heater while two orderlies packed and repacked the ice around Sara, frantically trying to cool her down. The demon’s moaning was unintelligible to most but Fey knew exactly what the words meant. Pain, hurt, sorrow, pleading. Mere weeks ago, Nikki would have scoffed at the idea of feeling sympathy for a demon.

“Coffee? It might warm you up a bit.”

Fey looked up at the strange old Chinese man and his offering. Though thin and frail in the face, his ornate robe lent his body a volume that it could not otherwise possess. She took the steaming mug and cradled it in her hands, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Majesty.” He sat, his own hands wrapped around a cup of tea, “Is that your friend?”

Fey tried to take the old man in stride, “Yes… I think. Do I know you?”

“No. Tell me, how does one think that one has a friend? I always thought that was fairly cut and dried.”

“It should be, but life isn’t like that.”

“Ah. How wise of one so young. But then, maybe in your case there’s a precedent. When one lives to our age, there always are, aren’t there?”

Nikki turned to face the old man, “How did you…”

She trailed off. He was gone. Fey looked back down at the warm coffee in her hands as if it might possess the answer, but it didn’t.

A few minutes later, Team Kimba came running down the hallway. Tennyo held Jade back as she struggled to get to Sara’s side. Chaka took the seat beside her, watching the steam wafting out of the doorway, “How’s she doing?”

“They’re trying to keep her cool,” Fey sighed, not caring about the obviousness of the statement.

“It’s MY FAULT! I didn’t mean it, Sara! I didn’t!” Jade was crying into Tennyo’s shoulder, Jinn was nowhere to be seen.

Ayla took the bench on the other side, “This is hitting her hard. They had a row about something before dinner. Look, er, I don’t know how to say this, but I have something I think we all should see. Someone put a DVD in my mailbox sometime this afternoon. It’s a video of one of Sara’s sessions at ARC, apparently.”

“Did you look at it?” Fey asked.

“No. Not yet.”

“It can wait, then.”

“You know that some day we’re going to have to have a talk with her about what she is, don’t you?” Chaka mused, “No matter what happens, she’ll always be a demon. I know you knowmuch better than us what that means, and it isn’t good.”

“Chaka,” Fey took a deep drought of her coffee, “Chou and I have had this debate over and over and over. It just doesn’t get us anywhere. Aunghadhail wants to kill her. Destiny’s Wave wants to kill her. Hell, ninety percent of the planet wants to kill her, but I just can’t do it. I can’t look at the hurt in her eyes day after day and put her out of her misery. You know what she went through to get here and, despite everything, she’s still here. She’s in there now, still fighting her own body and you want me to even think about expelling her from Team Kimba?”

The black girl shook her head, “No, that’s not what I meant. I don’t really know what I do mean, all I know is that one day she might turn on us for no other reason than it’s in her nature to. I’ve been talking to Ayla and she makes a lot of sense. For one, exactly how did Gothmog know to come to Cauldron Hill? You have to admit, out of all the infinities in the universe, isn’t it strange that a random spell happened to connect to him? The whole thing was stage managed, maybe not by Sara, but it is a possibility.”

“Why on Earth would she WANT to be our friends? Chou and I are sworn enemies of things like her, if she were smart, she’d be as far away from us as possible.”

“For the same reason that you and Chou are friends with her,” Ayla retorted, “to learn about you, get to know your weaknesses, attack you when you are vulnerable.”

Fey glared at the she-male, “That is not why I’m friends with her.”

“Oh? I hate to tell you this, but whenever you two are together, you’re at each other like cats and dogs. Same goes with her and Chou.”

“I had to pull those two apart after martial arts the other day,” Chaka added, “they go together like oil and water. It doesn’t help that in terms of sheer power, Sara tops the class right behind Hank and Tennyo. Skill’s another thing, though.”

Ayla put her hand on Fey’s shoulder, “All we’re saying is that Sara’s problems need to be contained or corrected, preferably the easy way rather than the hard way. I don’t like the idea of killing her either and I don’t like the idea of locking her up, but I’m not sure that keeping her entirely free is the best course of action.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Fey scowled, her headache put her in no mood for games.

“What do you know about binding spells?” Chaka answered.

“More than some, less than others. I can see where you’re going with this, but I won’t do it.”

They tried to protest, but Nikki’s glare stilled them, “What you’re asking me to do is put her in a cage. The cage might not have bars, but it would still be a prison.”

“All I would like you to do,” Chaka lowered her voice, “is be ready. If she turns, if this isn’t a burnout and it’s something else, we need you to be ready in case she snaps. If it comes to that, will you do it?”

Fey just didn’t know how to reply, still staring into the room after the screaming demon, “Come on, let’s have a look at that disk.”

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Friday, 20th October, 2006 02:13am

“Nightbane, wake up.”

She opened her eyes and blinked, the yellow glare from the lights far too bright to her sensitive eyes. Sitting up, she pushed aside the blankets, thankful that she had thought to change into her pink, long sleeved, PJs with the capri-style pants so she wasn’t thoroughly exposed in the predominantly male environment.

Reverend Moon handed her a dossier, “We have a window of opportunity. Sara Waite is recovering in the Lee Infirmary from what appears to be a mild case of burnout. She is currently stable and unconscious, but surrounded by her friends in Team Kimba who seem set upon an all-night vigil. Unless a relapse does the job for us, you’ll be going in tomorrow night when her friends are less concerned.”

“And if they aren’t?” She asked as she looked over the doctor’s report.

“SOP for Burnout cases is to confine a mutant to a hospital bed for seven days under observation. They have to get bored sooner or later. By the way, I have acquired some extra support for the team.”

“Who?”

“A young boy, codename ‘Nobody’. One of Ecto-tek’s friends, he’s our man in the Dream Team, I thought you could use some astral support.”

“Nice. I’m sure he’ll come in handy. Combat experience?”

“Minimal. But he’s the best we can do on short notice.”

Nightbane nodded, throwing the dossier casually aside, the numbers meaning little to her, “Very well, then. Any word on my sword?”

He nodded, “Beacon’s picking it up now. Ecto-tek’s working on a delivery system for that faerie blood Matthews gave us. If it’s as deadly to these things as he suggests, it should be quite a show.”

The Reverend’s vicious smile was anything but saintly. Nightbane chuckled in return, reaching over to adjust her alarm clock, “Fine, tell them all to get some rest. We’ll convene for briefing at 4:00pm, head out by 11, be back by one at the latest.”

He nodded, turning the light off on his way out, “Sleep well, Slayer. Sleep well.”

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Friday, 20th October, 2006 06:03am

Slowly, Sara became aware of the silence. It was a welcome change from the chaos of her dreams. Or were they nightmares? For the first time since her transformation, she couldn’t remember. It felt good.

Opening her eyes, she felt the sticky encrustation of slime that covered her face, then slowly awakened to the feeling all over her body. Wiping the annoying stuff away, she sat up in the bed, covered by plastic sheets. There was a stillness in the cool blue room, lit evenly by the fluorescent lights overhead.

Nothing moved, as if the air itself was breathless with anticipation.

It was a hospital, that much was obvious from the gown that was practically glued to her with her own green excretion.

“No pores, my ass. Where did this shit come from?” Sara swore under her breath, trying to break the interminable nothingness. It was as if the whole room had been scrubbed free of emotion and life, all the little background noises that one would usually hear scraped away by steel wool.

Pulling her legs around and sliding off the bed, Sara tested the floor with her bare feet before sliding off gingerly. Her legs were numb, but they held, the slick surface of her soles squeaking against the seamless linoleum while her talons clicked against the floor.

Pushing sudden thoughts of cats from her mind, she creaked and stumbled towards the door, finally rocking forward to lean against the frame while she tested the handle. Locked. Looking back over her shoulder, she noticed that the windows had been covered with plywood and duct-taped thoroughly, probably to prevent sunlight leaking through.

Gritting her teeth, she half-walked, half-slid back to the bed, sitting back down in the coagulating pool of slime, she considered the big red button next to the bedhead. “I really shouldn’t,” she shrugged, debating with herself, “on the other hand, it’s really too quiet around here. And I am a demon, it’s not like I’m going to get any medals for playing by the rules. But then again, I really shouldn’t cry wolf. On the other hand, they did lock me in here…”

Raising her fist, she slammed it down on the big red button, “I can resist everything except temptation. Mark Twain.”

Her internal clock timed the duty nurse’s response at 43 seconds, which was woeful if she was in an emergency ward. Sara hadn’t expected the seasoned nurse to slip on one of her footprints, however, or the orderly to trip over her body as he barrelled through behind her. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Sara couldn’t help bursting into a fit of giggles as the clumsy humans tried to scramble to their feet. A moment later, a black shadow flitted through the opening, over the prostrate nurses, and wrapped Sara inside a tight hug.

Jinn was followed through the door by Jade and Tennyo, the two avoiding the slime trail. The nurse finally got to her feet, her voice and aura a mixture of embarrassment and bitterness, “Well, at least it seems that you’re feeling better. I’ll call Dr. Bellows. Not too much, you kids, your friend’s still recovering.”

With that, she stormed out, leaving the orderly to keep an eye on them. Jade approached the bed, looking at the floor, “I… I’m sorry. I won’t do anything like that again.”

Smiling, Sara slipped off the bed and hugged the little girl, her gown making a slight squelching noise, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Pulling back, several strings of goo stretched between them. Jade stared at the slime down her front, mouth gaping with revulsion, “Ewwww…”

Tennyo doubled over, clutching her stomach from laughter.

“Consider that my revenge,” Sara grinned, tweaking the little girl’s nose.

Several expressions crossed Jade’s face as if she were searching for the most appropriate emotion in her head, finally she settled on amused exasperation, chuckling, “Oh, you’re impossible!”

“I know,” Sara looked out the door beyond Tennyo, “Where are the others?”

Tennyo avoided her eyes for a moment, sitting in one of the visitor’s chairs, “Sent back to Poe. Only two visitors per guest and Jade wanted to be here, so I agreed to look out for the two of you.”

Jade was busy trying to wipe the slime off herself, while Jinn watched, chirping happily, “Dry clean.”

“Good for you,” Jade sniped back, scowling.

“Why don’t you go and find a sink, Jade?” Tennyo suggested.

“Good idea, I’ll be right back,” the two slime-covered girls wandered out of the room, Jade holding her arms out as if afraid of touching them to her body and spreading their contagion.

“What happened?” Sara glared back at Tennyo, suspicious.

The buxom girl frowned, smoothing back her spiky hair, “Someone sent Ayla a copy of a DVD from ARC yesterday.”

“Which one?” Sara demanded, feeling the world tilt on it’s axis slightly, “Which one?”

“Sunday before last. We watched it on Ayla’s laptop in secret, we didn’t want to disturb Jade yet, so she doesn’t know.”

Sara collapsed back on the bed, “Who the fuck is doing this to me?”

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Sunday, 8th October, 2006 09:45am

“Ok, Sara, if you could lie down and try to relax,” Dr. Otto smiled his usual fatherly smile as Sara squirmed in the leather seat, “Don’t worry about the restraints, they’re only a precaution.”

“Yeah, right,” Sara gulped as Otto fastened and locked the cuffs around her wrists and ankles, “I’d ask for a stiff drink, but…”

Otto chuckled, though it seemed a bit strained, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Sara gulped again and nodded.

Steeling himself, Otto sat back in his chair, looking over his shoulder at his assistant, a young sandy-haired man with glasses in the ubiquitous labcoat, “Are we ready?”

The boy nodded, “All recording devices operational, wards tested to full strength.”

It looked like any other room in the place, white plastic and lush carpeting, with a two-way mirror across one wall and a single, steel, door with a keypad lock. The only objects occupying the room apart from themselves were three chairs, Sara’s gracing the centre of the small chamber.

The lights dimmed and Otto’s voice began to drone on and on. Things became blurry, then faded into nothingness. When she came to, she was staring into the eyes of a terrified sandy-haired assistant, holding him by the neck six feet off the floor while she clung to the roof like a spider. To his credit, he hadn’t soiled himself, though he was going blue in the face.

“Kellith? Put him down, gently does it,” Dr. Otto suggested calmly, reaching out to guide the boy down.

Sara lowered him carefully by the armpits rather than the neck, the assistant collapsing into Otto’s chair, trying to regain his breath. The restraints were torn apart along with the chair, ripped from it’s bolts, the metal torn apart.

Back in the offices, she watched the recording with disbelief, watched herself turn into a ravenous, lecherous, beast as her defences collapsed one by one while the doctors described the metamorphosis in excruciating detail, second by second.

“Change in height, approximately one and a half feet, full development of sexual characteristics, both primary and secondary. Do we have a count of the number of tentacles there?”

“No, the scanner overloaded. I can safely say that the number of tentacles produced was practically infinite, which bucks her up to a Shifter 6, R-A-W-G on the new scale.”

“Hang on, if that were true, she’d be able to do much more than form tentacles, doesn’t that make her a T rather than an R?”

“That comes up in a second… here, pause that. See the claws and teeth? Not to mention the eyes and mouths on the tentacles. It’s entirely possible that the limit on her abilities is psychosomatic.”

“Yowza! Way to go, Johnny!”

“Do I have to remind you, Professor, that the patient is in the room?”

“Oh, er, yes, uh, sorry miss.”

Sara didn’t even acknowledge him. She was too busy watching herself play tonsil hocky with the cute lab assistant, one hand down his pants. Otto was having enough problems keeping her tentacles at bay with a Spell of Forbiddance to try to stop her. There were bleeding cuts across his chest…

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Friday, 20th October, 2006 06:05am

“It was a mistake. A stupid, foolhardy, mistake,” Sara admitted to Tennyo, keeping her eyes glued to the ceiling, “we were looking at why my powers are so limited. I suggested to Dr. Otto that I be placed under hypnosis to see if my subconscious had any answers. Despite the dangers, the opportunity was deemed too beneficial to pass up. In actuality, what we unleashed was my true self, the one I’ve apparently been subconsciously suppressing since my transformation.”

There was a long pause, neither knew what to say.

“What did the others say?” Sara asked, dreading the answer.

Tennyo shrugged, “I think we’re all still trying to come to terms. How’s the lab assistant?”

“Full recovery,” Sara breathed a sigh of relief, “not even a scar.”

“Can you remember any of it?”

“No,” Sara shook her head, “not even when I meditate. Since then, the whole world seems to have gone… screwy. I think I had a peek into the abyss and brought some of it back with me.”

Tennyo looked disturbed, as if she wanted to say something but was holding back. Finally, she spoke, “But, you’re saying that’s the real you on the tape. Or what you’ll become.”

“Maybe. I… I don’t know.”

“If it were just me, I wouldn’t mind,” Tennyo sighed, “but Jade? I can’t speak for the others, but I can only give you the benefit of the doubt for so long. Jade likes you a lot, and that says something about you for now. My problem is, can I let Jade hang around you when I know you could go rogue on us at any moment? But then, would anyone else say the same about me?”

“I wouldn’t,” Sara shook her head, “you’d never hurt Jade knowingly, not even when you get angry. I’ve seen it, and not just Jade, Harry and the others too. I guess the real question is can Sara and Tennyo trust Kellith, Daughter of the Eternal Void?”

Just then, Jade came back through the door, Jinn’s costume folded in her arms, looking quite wet and scraggily, “Ergh, do you have any idea how hard slime is to get off polyester?”

Visiting hours ended with the start of breakfast and Sara was forced to trade her friends with Dr. Bellows and Dr. Otto, who swept into the room so fast his labcoat was whipped up by the breeze. The aging psychic stopped at the door a moment as two roommates tried to shuffle out, “One second girls, would you be Jade and Tennyo?”

“Er, yeah…” Tennyo blinked, not sure what to make of the older man.

He smiled, “Sara’s told me a lot about you both, here, let me give you my business card…”

“No poaching, Otto!” Bellows grinned from Sara’s bedside.

“Hogwash, my boy. These fine young girls won’t be students forever, you know. ARC needs all the young blood it can get its hands on. Here, study hard, girls.”

They both took the cards and quickly scampered out of the room, slightly embarrassed. Otto turned back to Sara, taking the chair Tennyo had just occupied, “How do you feel?”

“Like someone put me on a rack and stretched me out, then rolled me up so they could play basketball with me, then hung me out to dry after dipping me in mud,” Sara smiled, wiping her hand on the plastic sheets for emphasis, “I thought you said that I couldn’t sweat?”

Otto shook his head, “You aren’t sweating, not like you used to at least. The substance coating you is chemically neutral, with excellent heat absorbing properties. We think it’s a protective coating of some sort, or a waste product your regenerative processes are producing in order to remove unwanted biological material. It might be a type of ectoplasm, but we won’t be sure until the tests get in.”

“Either that or it’s a natural byproduct of your… species.” Dr Bellows added.

“Great. Now, can one of you tell me what happened to me?”

Bellows looked to Otto, but the balding man just waved for him to take the floor. Sighing, he adjusted his tie, “As far as we can tell, you had a mild burnout attack.”

There was a long pause.

“That’s it?” Sara asked incredulously.

Otto shook his head, “No, that’s not it. Burnouts are serious, no matter how ‘mild’ this one was, there is no telling what side effects you will experience, like exuding slime. It’s not coming out of your non-existent pores, you know, your cells are generating it from their own mass.”

“So,” Bellows continued, “I’m afraid that we have to keep you here under 24 hour observation for at least a week, limit the number of visitors you receive and make sure you get plenty of rest. Burnouts can and do put great stress, not just on the body, but on the mind. You were delirious for several hours and your body temperature reached the boiling point of water. If you were human, it would have killed you.”

Sara lay back in the bed, “Ok, what sort of side effects are we talking about?”

Clearing this throat uncomfortably, Otto answered, “There are many possible recorded side effects. Sometimes, burnouts of this sort reduce powers, sometimes they strengthen them. Sometimes whole new abilities are discovered and sometimes nothing at all. Whatever has happened to you, your body has been weakened for an undetermined time. It is imperative that you recover before we try to work out what has happened to you. That means all-new rounds of testing, from scratch.”

If Sara hadn’t already flopped back across the bed, she would have. As it was, she gave a heartfelt groan. For some reason, the two older men found that funny.

“I’m sorry, Sara,” Bellows grinned, “but it really is necessary.”

“So,” Sara summarised out loud, “basically, I’m re-entering school in a week or two, with a new timetable, a new paradigm and new problems. Great.”

“Now, now,” Otto tutted, “it’s not that bad. In recorded history, no mutant has ever completely changed classifications as a result of a burnout. Though I will admit that stranger things have happened. Look on the bright side, at least you won’t have to eat hospital food.”

“Please don’t remind me.”

“Problems?” Dr. Bellows sat in the other visitor’s chair, pulling it over to be closer to her.

Sara bit her lip thoughtfully, “The others. They don’t understand me. I even met a boy who has to eat like me the other night and even he doesn’t like me.”

“Understand you or like you?” Bellows queried, “There’s a big difference there.”

“Both,” Sara sighed, holding back the tears, “even my friends treat me like a live snake. Except for Jade, she’s the only one who stays around me for longer than she absolutely has to.”

“What can you tell us about this missing library book business?” Otto inquired.

Sara sat up again, “SHIT! I’d almost forgotten…”

Both men reached out, imploring her not to make any sudden movement. Sara blinked a few times before she continued, “…well, er, I honestly don’t know. I’ve never read that book, it must be a mistake. I don’t have access to the restricted section.”

“But Mr. Matthews gave you a note of approval for research purposes. He says that he remembers that distinctly and has the slip to back it up.”

Sara considered her answer carefully, “That’s because Mr. Matthews is a lying, pompous, supercilious ass. And, for that statement, I must apologize to all life in the universe that possesses buttocks.”

Snorting with mirth, Otto glanced at Bellows, “Trouble in the house?”

Bellows shook his head, “No, it can’t be. Matthews is one of the senior lecturers, he’s got no reason to do something like that.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Sara asked sweetly.

“No, Sara, no. All I’m saying is that your assumption is unlikely. A shapeshifter could have tricked him into thinking it was you, or some form of coercion could have been used. Matthews isn’t gifted.”

Sara chuckled, “Gifted. Heh, that’s a polite way of saying you’re not a mutant freak.”

Otto’s eyebrows furrowed, “Sara, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Sara shivered, turning away, “I’m just sick of this place. I’m starting to get sick of you all. All these humans around me all the time, scuttling across the face of the Earth like bacteria on a billiard ball. The norms reject the mutants, now the mutants are rejecting me. The hypocrisy makes me want to vomit.”

“Are we rejecting you, Sara?” Otto asked slyly.

She shook her head, “No, not you. The Library thing’s not the only incident this week, doctor, a few days ago, someone tried to kill me by shoving a stake through my heart. Reverend Englund tried to get me expelled and the local radio station introduced me to the parents of the boy who died when he tried to sacrifice me to my father. Now, someone’s given my friends the DVD of my hypnosis session at ARC…”

“WHAT?” Otto leapt to his feet, his rage palpable.

The overwhelming force dissipated in a moment, Otto calming himself immediately, “When and how did they find it?”

“It was mailed, or at least put in Ayla’s mailbox. She’s the suspicious type, she has to be in her position, so she showed the rest of them except Jade. I found out about it just then.”

Otto turned on his companion, “Bellows, I need to talk to Headmistress Carson.”

“She’ll be in her office, I’ll take you over.”

“Sara, stay in this room. I’ll have security over here in a few hours at the most, if anything happens don’t fight. Run and try to raise the alarm. You can’t afford to use your powers yet, do you understand me?”

Sara nodded. With that, the two Doctors half ran out of the room like the hounds were at their heels. The door clicked shut behind them, locked once more.

“Exciteable lot, these doctors.”

“Hello, Mifruzli,” Sara grimaced, picking her teeth. The wizened old Chinaman stepped out as if from nothingness, “It is gratifying to know that your senses are unaffected by your recent illness, Mistress Kellith.”

“Spare me,” Sara growled, turning to face the newcomer, “you know something. What does Dad want from me? Where is he? What’s happening to me?”

“Your father,” Mifruzli tucked his hands into his sleeves, “cannot come to see you on a whim. At least, not yet. First of all, the dimensional barrier prohibits his return, for second he is very busy and for third, his presence would attract unwanted attention to you. There are other beings outside the walls of this reality that are taking considerable interest in you and would like nothing more than to devour you just to annoy him. Thus the box. Have you tried sending him a message?”

Sara shook her head, “I don’t know how to use that box! It’s not like artefacts come with an instruction manual.”

“Hmmmm… interesting. What about the spells in the Scriptures?”

“Haven’t touched them. I haven’t had the time! Besides, it’s not like I have a teacher, I really don’t want to be doing that stuff wrong, you know what could happen if I get even one little syllable wrong,” Sara scowled.

Mifruzli rubbed his temples, “I don’t understand this. The program should have run its course by now.”

“What?” Sara blinked.

He coughed for a moment, looking sheepish, “I’m sorry, Mistress. I really didn’t mean to alarm you. I guess I better come clean. You see, your copy of the Scriptures of Gothmog is a very special copy that your father did indeed entrust me to give you. Unlike the rest, however, the untranslated text in the script of the Old Ones is actually a vast and complex spell meant for you. It’s pages form a sort of… magical program for your body to assimilate. It contains the sum total of Gothmog’s magical and demonic knowledge, including reflexes and the exact intonations necessary to reproduce the effects. Of course, it also should be changing your personality along with your body into a form and function more suitable to your position as a Demon Princess.”

Sara wanted to yell ‘WHAT?’ like Otto had minutes before, but the word caught in her throat.

“Something, however, is disrupting my spells,” he continued, hardly aware of her presence, “I’ve been visiting you every night for weeks trying to fix the damage that bitchfriend of yours has caused. She might not know me anymore, but I’ve seen her, yes I have. I watched her scream as we broke her into a thousand shards along with her ilk, we ripped reality itself apart! I cannot tell you, Princess, how disturbing it is to see the two of you rubbing shoulders. Somehow you are resisting our program and this is just unacceptable. Oh, I am very sorry, I’ve been rambling again.”

She tried to scream for help, but nothing would come out of her throat.

“Oh, don’t bother trying to move, you can’t lift your hand against me, I made sure of that,” his voice shifted tone, as if he were addressing an infant, “I know how distressing it must be for you. So many influences, aren’t there? So much confusion for a baby like you. I just want to make things clear for you, show you the way. Now, I am so sorry, but it seems that I have just enough time for us to have another session together. Of course, I’ll also be taking away your memories of this talk. I am so sorry, Princess, but at least I can guarantee that you’ll find it a pleasurable experience.”

As he lifted his hand, Sara felt a wave of lust wash over her. She gasped and groaned as the hand came closer. Lying back on the bed, running her hands up underneath her gown along her thighs as the memories were ripped from her skin one by one, forgetting in that one moment that she’d ever even had them.

“See? Once I’m finished, even the small amount of harm I’ve done here will be erased, as if it never had been. In a while, you’ll be a fully fledged Demon Princess with more power than you could ever imagine. And when you’re done, that redheaded bitch will be nothing but a bad memory.”

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“I would have thought that the Lady Astarte that I once knew would have more guts than this,” Otto scowled at the Headmistress.

“DOCTOR, I will not be lectured by a visitor in my own office. What happened to Sara Waite is regrettable, but her behaviour on that night and Dr. Johnson’s mental collapse forced me into a corner. Matthews has sealed her test papers in the Vault underneath Kane Hall and refuses to let anyone see them. The whole department is backing him up. I can argue with Matthews, Otto, but I can’t argue with an entire department. Johnson was the only mathematician on our staff who even had a chance of understanding her formulae anyway and now you’re keeping him in Black Complex! I can’t say I blame them.”

“This isn’t Sara’s fault, however, I fail to see why she should be punished in any way. If those papers are so dangerous, why aren’t they in Black Complex along with Johnson? This whole situation is a farce. Now I have a little girl on my hands who has NO idea where to turn, she doesn’t trust us anymore, her friends are abandoning her. The whole world is against this one little girl and only PROVING to her that she needs to give in to what she is.”

There was a light rap on the door. Turning, they discovered a smugly grinning Reverend standing at the door, “I’m sorry, Headmistress, did I come at a bad time? Only I couldn’t help overhearing...”

“Yes, thank-you Englund, this is a bad time.”

“I’m sorry, but if we are discussing Sara Waite I do believe that an alternative point of view is in order,” Englund smiled at Otto, “Doctor, I don’t believe we’ve met?”

“No, but we know of each other, Most Righeous Reverend Darren Englund,” Otto was careful to keep his face neutral as he extended his hand, “Doctor Otto, Director of Research, ArkhamSanitorium.”

Englund took the offered hand, his smile just as plastic as Otto’s, “A pleasure to finally meet the illustrious Director of Red and Black Complex.”

“Likewise. Now, if you will excuse us?”

“I’m sorry, but if you are discussing Sara Waite, then I am afraid that I must butt in. Sara is a danger to the whole of the student body, her actions are becoming more and more rebellious. Tell me, how long do you think it will be before she dines on one of her peers? It is only a matter of time. I for one would hate for anything to happen to such a promising young student as… say… Nikki Reilly? Or even Antonia Chandler. Truly unfortunate, her continued relationship with the fireball Tennyo, but at least she is still human.”

“She still has a choice, Englund. Even they have free will.”

“That is where you all are wrong,” Englund shook his head ruefully, “Demons don’t have free will or choice. They are what they are, they do what they do. Their existence is a test for all mankind, a test of faith and will. Only one of us can survive, there is no co-existence with them. Destroy them or be destroyed. Sara will grow, and once she does, this school, no, this PLANET could be in jeopardy. To defeat them, we must have Faith.”

Otto considered the man for a while before answering, “I do have faith, Reverend. I have faith in Sara. I think I can see where the difficulties you are describing come from, Headmistress, and you have my deepest sympathies. If you could please assign a security detail to Sara’s room within the hour, I would be much obliged.”

“You have it.”

“Thank-you, Headmistress,” Otto nodded in her direction before walking out, Englund right behind.

“Excuse me, Doctor, but there is much more I think we need to discuss.”

Otto turned on the gaunt man like a charging bull, “No, I think we know each other well enough, Englund. Have you ever considered that Sara Waite and Aunghadhail are tests of your faith, and you are failing both them and God? Go and pray on that question for a while, if you can find some time between preying on children.”

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Friday, 20th October, 2006 12:35pm

Fey gingerly opened the door to Sara’s room, peering through the darkness, “Hello? Sara?”

The security guard held the door open for her, giving her a friendly nod and smile while tipping his helmet, “Ma’am.”

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Fey smiled back before stepping all the way in, moving cautiously up to the bed, a cage of hamsters in one hand.

Sara was lying prostrate on the bed, her chest still. Fey placed the cage on the floor and moved up to the girl, reaching across to feel for a pulse in her neck. Nothing. No beat, no rush of air, no heat. She was cold as a corpse.

The elfin Queen didn’t see her move. One moment, she was still, the next her hand was slapped away, “Don’t do that. Please.”

Fey breathed out, she hadn’t realised she’d been holding her breath, “You scared me for a second there, I thought you were dead.”

“I am. Is that hamsters I smell?”

“Er… ok, yeah. I brought them up from the kitchen. You want them now?”

Sara shook her head, sitting up, “Nah. I’ll wait until you leave. No need to make you suffer… watch any good movies lately?”

Fey sighed, sitting down in the chair where Bellows had left it, “No, just a horror flick last night.”

“Your opinion?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your decisiveness is astounding.”

Fey glared, “Why are you being such a bitch lately? To me in particular?”

Sara glared back, then stopped, blinking, “I hate to say this, but I don’t know.”

“You’re not yourself. That thing I saw on the video yesterday wasn’t you either. That wasn’t the girl who couldn’t put an old dog out of it’s misery.”

“No, that was Kellith. I’m Kellith… I guess you could call it one of those circular arguments. I am Sara, I am Kellith, I guess the difference is that Sara rejects what Kellith accepts. The problem is that in all likelihood, Kellith is my future, like Aunghadhail is yours. Would you like to know something interesting, Fey? I’m rather jealous of you.”

Fey blushed, “Ah, what?”

“Beauty, power and a good heart. Do you think that I wouldn’t give up eating the way I do in a microsecond if I could? If I could walk in the sunlight without wrapping myself up like a mummy? I wish I could be young again like you girls are…”

“But you are young again,” Fey grabbed her hand, holding it in hers, “you’re still a member of Team Kimba, none of us will take that away from you.”

Sara reached out to touch the girl’s face, “You’re all too kind, Fey. You should go, leave me alone, it’ll be better for all of you if I just went away.”

“And what about you? You can’t just send us away, you know. You’re part of Team Kimba now and we stick together. I don’t care what happens to you, I’ll be standing right next to you when it does.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Just then, the door was pushed open by a large woman with a bouquet of flowers, “SUR…prise?”

Hippolyta blinked once, her face falling as she stared at the scene, Sara and Fey hand in hand. After a moment of silence, she went red in the face, avoiding looking at Sara as she continued, “Er, ah, these are for you, from the girls at Poe. A few of them should be around after they finish lunch, you might want to hurry up.”

She put the flowers down on a table before departing, storming out the door. Fey and Sara looked at their hands, their faces close. After a second’s pause, they parted, embarrassed. Fey glanced after Hippie, “You don’t think she thought that you… and me… I mean, we…”

“Considering where we live,” Sara sighed, flopping back onto the pillows, “it’s a very real possibility. I think you better have a little talk with Bunny before the rumours get completely out of hand.”

Fey’s hand shot up to her mouth, looking aghast at Sara, then back at the door, “OH MY GOD!”

With that, she bolted out the door. A moment later she was back, “I’m sorry, get well, ok? No matter what, you’re still a Kimba. Nurse says sorry, but we can’t stay with you tonight, but Jade and I will check in on you first thing, ok?”

Sara nodded and gave her a thumbs up before the redhead left, feeling much better as she reached down to pick up the cage of hamsters, ready to be eaten. No matter what she said to Fey there was something about the girl that was… nice to be near. And whenever she felt that, she just couldn’t hate her anymore.

Feeling vaguely bloated after her meal, Sara lay back in the bed again. Quietly, as if some unseen force were willing her to comply, she thought again about her codename, counting herself down into the trance. “What’s in a name? What is in a name…”

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Nightbane pulled the string of her track pants tight around her hips, considering the bag in front of her carefully. She whipped her head back to flip an errant lock of hair out of her face before her first punch slammed into the bag, bending it ninty degrees in the centre. The blinding series of punches that followed kept it bouncing away from her, the chain squealing overhead. Easily a few hundred pounds of sand, the level 3 bag in Goober HQ was slightly too light for her to really get it working, but the exercise was a good warm-up for a mission. After a while, she let the bag drop, switching from punches to kicks, trying to stay light on her feet to avoid the unfettered pendulum.

Her style, so far, mixed various features of Tae Kwando and MuayThai.Muay Thai gave her the basis of powerful attacks alongside rigorous strength and stamina training, as well as the ability to use any part of her body aggressively. She practiced Tae Kwando for flexibility and style, the art distinctly focussed on delivering powerful blows to the opponent’s head. Both Arts taught the practitioner to channel their aggressive feelings into their strikes, the emotion tying the two styles together.

She had chosen both styles because she viewed them as honest. Martial arts taught the user to injure and kill, a warrior did so to fight for what they believed in. All that truly mattered was the end, as long as her cause was served, everything else fell into place. Buffy had taught her that there was real evil in the world, evil that had to be fought honestly and to the best of her ability.

After working up a good sweat, she hit the showers. Hot water loosened and massaged tight muscles in her back after the warm up, making her more comfortable and alert. One by one, the others joined her. By silent agreement, no-one talked before a battle. They all knew what was expected. Nothing less than the best made you a member of the Core Elite.

They showered and dressed in separate cubicles, no fraternizing allowed. Despite her building excitement, she refrained from the pleasures of the flesh as she dressed. She always did, no matter the temptation. Her body and soul must remain pure if she was to do battle with the supernatural. Finally, she kissed the cross on her necklace before fastening it around her neck and tucking it under her black fatigues.

Back in the briefing room, Nightbane surveyed her team. Ecto-tek to her right, decked out in his Devises. Beacon dressed in a skintight, bullet proof, black costume for this night mission, the light-wielder ready to illuminate the darkness. Silvermoon, the werewolf, was busy checking the sharpness of her blades, wearing as little as possible to accommodate the change and Oak, the tree-thing, his bulk barely fitting in his reinforced, over-sized, chair, his metal boots sheathed in rubber inserts to muffle their tread.

Behind them, Reverend Moon and Englund watched the screen along with a man dressed in a security uniform and a Frosh in what looked like a 50’s grey suit with a haircut that screamed FBI. This was the final, untested, member of the Goobers Core Elite, Nobody the astral mage.

“Very well, ladies and gentlemen, this is the plan,” Nightbane clicked over the powerpoint presentation, projecting the plans for the Lee Infirmary onto the screen, “First, we infiltrate the building through the basement from this room, it’s only a short walk through the sewers via some maintenance tunnels. From there, I will tranq the duty nurse. The guards at the door should not be an issue when we arrive, however, should it prove necessary, we will tranq both from a distance before moving in. Sara’s room is soundproof, but our reports say that her hearing is remarkable, so I want a minimum of noise at any time. Understand?”

There were assorted nods and agreement.

“Good, now. Oak will lock and guard the main doors. Beacon, you’re point, I want you to flood that room with sunlight, keep her pinned down. She’ll be hurting bad, but keep the pressure on. Silvermoon in next, try to get on her flank and back her into a corner. Then I’ll come in and finish the job. Ecto-tek and Nobody will wait outside in the hallway just in case she slips past us. Any questions?”

There was a general murmuring of assent and a few shakes of the head.

“Yes,” Nobody put his hand up, “what will be the method of execution?”

“Good question,” Nightbane nodded, “I have two weapons that should finish off the beast, particularly if it is wounded by beacon’s sunlight. My own sword is plated in mithril and blessed by our own Reverend Englund. We also have a vial of Faerie blood, a potent toxin to the damned by all tests. Ecto-tek has rigged up an injector for speedy delivery into her system, either one of these should be fatal, but the blood is only one shot, so we have to make it count. Good enough?”

He nodded.

“All right then, just enough time for the benediction from the Reverend before we get moving. Remember, if the mission goes bust, scatter and make your way back here through the tunnels as best you can. If you are caught, all knowledge of this mission will be disavowed by everyone here. Just keep your mouths shut, ask for your lawyer and Reverend Englund will vouch for you. Now, please kneel for the benediction, God be with us all.”

linebreak shadow

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” Chaka scowled, digging into her mashed potatoes with her fork, “One of us should be there to watch over her at all times, and we should have communicators.”

Hank glared, “If the Faculty won’t let us…”

“Hang the Faculty,” Fey swore, “all she’s got are two desk jockeys on her door.”

“Can’t you do something?” Jade wiggled her fingers at the sorceress.

Fey shook her head, “I don’t know where to begin, yet.”

“If they catch any of us spying on her after dark, particularly since we have detention already, the consequences could be severe,” Hank pointed out, “I don’t like it either, but we’re just going to have to trust Sara this time. Maybe tomorrow, we can see the Headmistress about expanding the detail on her door. Also remember that she’s in a hospital. I doubt there are many safer places on campus she could be, I certainly think she’s much better off there than back in her room at Poe.”

“What I hate is that she was right,” Chaka grumbled, “and now we’re paying for it. Communications, people. We need solutions and we need them fast. I for one will sleep better knowing that I can call for real help at any time. What about it, Bunny?”

The blonde squinted, concentrating, “Well, things like radios and cell phones are easy enough, but tapping in a place like Whateley is a piece of cake. If we had an unlimited budget, I probably could cook up some hand-held subspace comms like the League or the Seattle Knights use. A little extra time, I could even rig a panicbutton with a multidirectional phase locator. Heh, if I could pull that off, it’d be major course credit time.”

“How much?” Chaka asked, curious.

“Oh… parts? One, maybe two hundred bucks total. It’s the rest that makes the things so darn expensive, I can make the dimensional transmitter/receiver from bits and bobs from Kane Hall’s storage cabinets, no problem. Unfortunately, I’d need to buy a copy of Brutager’s Equations to calibrate the darn things properly. I could do it myself, but it’d take me… oh, three months to solve. Dimensional physics isreally hard.”

“And how much do these Equations cost?”

“Hmmm… about five million dollars. There are only two companies that make the darn things in bulk, just enough to satisfy the market diversity laws. Heck, while we’re dreaming, why don’t we add in gigabyte encryption. That’s only a few extra million.”

Someone started laughing at the end of the table. Turning to look, they saw Chou trying to stop her rice from coming through her nose.

“What’s up with youse?” Chaka drawled, smirking.

“Aren’t we forgetting that we have on our side perhaps the only being who understands enough physics and math to solve equations that our best minds haven’t even thought of yet?”

They all blinked, coming to full understanding.

Chou smiled like the Cheshire cat, “And I’m sure that at least one of us could get her to agree to do it for free. I don’t know about you guys, but seven or eight million dollars for a radio is a little out of my league.”

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Saturday, 21st October, 2006 01:00am

Sara’s eyes snapped open. It was dark, but she could see as if the room was bathed in moonlight. A sense of urgency, somewhere, something coming, creeping forward. She slid quietly off the bed, her arms and legs aching slightly as her warm flesh hit the freezing cold floor. Her joints were creaking as she moved, as if her bones were slightly out of alignment.

Ignoring the sensations, she scuttled across the floor on all fours, kneeling beside the door away from the hinges, pressing her back flush with the wall as she stood slowly. As close to the door as she was, she could hear something being dragged off to one side. Slowly, trying not to let her gown rustle, she crept up the wall, coming to rest over the doorway.

Anticipation built, the air itself heavy, waiting in expectation. Seconds dragged on, her body counting the unwanted seconds automatically. As time trickled past, Sara could feel the danger through the wall, very close…

Closer…

Now.

Nothing happened.

She wilted slightly, doubting. Maybe she was just being paranoid.

The door slammed inward, bright light, the light of the sun, streaming through the door. Sara shielded her face from the glare, reflected light from the walls charring exposed skin, white turning red, peeling off in layers.

A man jumped through quickly after, the light washing through the room projected from his fingertips, followed by a hulking werewolf-woman who charged the bed, sliding over the sheets to savage the pillow at the head, rolling off with her own momentum. Sara was too stunned to react immediately, the light searing her eyes.

“THERE SHE IS!” The wolf pointed, howling out the syllables clumsily, it’s muzzle not meant for speech.

Time slowed as the light-wielder span, as if his motion was winding down. Sara pounced, digging her claws into his back like a cat as he span, the light from his hands illuminating two more figures in black outside the door alongside a started, dark-haired, boy in a grey suit.

Sara used the spinning motion, planting one foot on the ground and twisting with her arms. Putting all the force she could into the motion, Light-boy went tumbling over the hospital bed directly at his companion, the two collapsing into a heap of arms and legs.

A third opponent stepped through the door brandishing a silver sword. The benedictions on the blade making it hard to even look at, the crackling white energy that surrounded it anathema to Sara’s own aura. The girl was dressed like some sort of ninja, a bandoleer of stakes slung over her shoulder.

“Oh,” Sara cocked her head to the side, “if you’d sent word, I’d have brought Mr. Pointy along. I didn’t think you’d be idiot enough to try something here.”

The girl shrugged, “Who dares, wins.”

Sara twisted to one side to avoid the quick upwards slash aimed at her head, continuing the motion by rolling over the bed to avoid the downward chop of the sword. As Light-boy made it to his elbows, Sara picked him up by the throat and slammed him into the wall, letting his unconscious weight fall back down on the prone werewolf, tangling them up again and putting their ace in the hole out of the fight.

It cost her, however, the next slash of the sword catching her across the chest as she turned back to her opponent, burning through skin and bone like butter. The pain made Sara stumble for a second, open to a double-kick to the head as the ninja-girl vaulted over the bed. The demon rolled with the blow, launching herself out the door, shouldering past the devisor who was trying to aim some sort of weird raygun.

For one moment, it looked like she had a clear exit. Then the gumby in the suit popped into existence before her, barring the road, “I don’t think so.”

Gumby’s glance over her shoulder was enough warning for Sara, both diving to one side just before a bolt of green energy lanced through the air where their heads had been a second ago, the devisor taking aim for another shot.

Sara was still in mid air when she whipped the tentacle out of her palm, snaring the gun and yanking the wielder onto his stomach, one twist and the gun was free, skittering across the linoleum. Another heave and the boy was whipped into the air over her head, his impact with the floor accompanied by a scream of agony. For a few seconds, it was all he could do just to twist himself into knots, trying to fight the pain that lanced through his back.

Another hesitation cost Sara, though it was a fraction of a second, the Gumby grabbed her from behind in a classic sleeper hold. Strong, merciless, hands clamping down on her neck.

“NIGHTBANE! NOW!”

With strength that belied his frame, the Gumby whipped Sara around just in time to watch herself be impaled by the Ninja’s crackling blade. The point slid through her stomach and out her back effortlessly, it’s blessing coursing through her as she was run through. Gumby still held her in his unbreakable grip, ignoring the blade.

Sara screamed. The pain was enormous, her body tearing itself apart from the inside, black blood leaking from the wound. But she felt it lessening, bit by bit, her innards grasping the blade in a death grip, picking at it minutely. Slowly, her blood solidified, whipping up off her skin to wrap around the blade even as tendrils erupted from the wound, crawling along the silvery metal Sara knew all too well. Her smile caused something of a panic, Nightbane tugging on the hilt, pulling with all her might.

“It’s weakening! Get it out! She’s corrupting it!” Gumby shouted, tightening his grip on her neck unconsciously.

“I’m trying! I’m trying! SHIT!” Nightbane’s gloved hands slipped, causing her to tumble backwards. Both combatants watched with horror as the blade was snapped in half somewhere inside Sara’s abdomen.

The Ninja pulled something from her belt as she leapt to her feet, rolling her body Kung Fu style to whip herself into the air.

Sara felt whatever it was pierce her ribcage, the contents erupting into the cavity behind her breastbone. The pain whipped her body back so hard that her neck broke in Gumby’s grip. Veins of pure fire and ice shot through her, red clouded her vision as she turned on the enemy holding her, her limp neck no longer constrained by solid bone.

She grabbed the sides of his head and forced him to his knees, squeezing with all her might. A tentacle casually ripped through the back of her gown, slapping Nightbane aside like a rag doll. More tentacles erupted from her stomach and hands, crawling into the form before her as if it wasn’t there. The Gumby, for his part, stared into her eyes in disbelief.

“Im…possible…”

Sara felt her insides inverting, the pain of the poison in her chest arcing through her tentacles, infecting every cell one by one. In the haze, nothing mattered, there was only pain and torment all around her, all through her. Memory shunted to one side, she was running on instinct. And she was hungry.

As the world faded into a red haze, Sara pulled him in with her.

Comments   

0 # DocSavage 2016-06-17 16:00
"while the freight train bares down on him." The freight trains is getting naked at him? This is actually a pet peeve of mine. Bare = unadorned, nude, without embellishment. Bears is the spelling you want here.
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+2 # Kristin Darken 2016-06-17 21:15
Pet peeve of mine? Readers demanding typo/spelling fixes on stories that have been released for 11 years (Yes, this story was originally published in 2005). In open comments. And then not even a thank you or a nice job to balance it out...
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