Ill Winds (Part 3)
With help from the other Whateley Maniacs
Sunday December 3, 2006
“Just what exactly is that thing?” The elf questioned while eying the weapon the devisor had produced out of seeming nowhere with clear suspicion in her regard.
“Oh, this?” He grinned and gave the strange looking devise a little paternal bounce.
“No, that stuff you just stepped in.” Nikki responded with clear sarcasm. “Yes, that thing
in your hands.”
“Didn't step in anything, did I?” Jericho innocently questioned then relented at her glower. “Okay, okay, it's a rifle.”
“Sure.” Toni put in with a smirk as she gestured at Chou and her sword. “Like Destiny's Wave over there is a butter knife.”
“A rifle for what?” Nikki shook her head while examining the two inch bore dubiously. “To use on bricks? Or to blow holes in tanks?”
“Well, to keep it simple.” Jericho nodded. “Yeah, something like that. This coil around the barrel is a magnet that propels the round, a two inch projectile, either a solid slug or hollow and filled with something useful. The initial firing charge for the round is compressed air to get it moving and the magnets accelerate the thing once it's started going.”
“Those aren't solid slugs you've loaded into it, are they?” Nikki carefully asked, accepting his explanation with surprising calm.
“Nope.” Jericho grinned. “They’re hollow points that disintegrate on impact filled with a mix of silver and magnesium.”
“Silver for the were parts of the bad guys, I got that.” Nikki nodded. “Magnesium to burn what the silver doesn't get?”
“From the inside.” Jericho confirmed proudly.
“Uh, Nikki?” Toni gave Jericho a careful looking over. “Is it a good idea to let the blind guy play with guns?”
“Oh, I'm pretty sure he has a targeting system he can use effectively, right Jericho?”
“Yeah. It's got this really neat LCD monitor targeting screen... uh oh.” The devisor sighed theatrically. “Anyone got ideas on how I can read an LCD screen here?”
At the silence following that question, interrupted only by Razorback's snort of amusement, Jericho shrugged. “Okay guess not. I'll just shoot and hope for the best then. Yeah, that sounds good.”
Don't worry, the jokester has a cortical tie-in to the targeting system on the weapon. The other boy signed. He's playing you three just to hear you complain.
“Got it, Razor, Nikki chuckled. “I had that one figured out, more or less, but thanks.”
“Jack, my friend.” Jericho sighed again. “You can really be a wet blanket at times, you know that? Scaly, covered with spines, but very wet.”
Tony sighed, gave Razorback a long suffering look then addressed Jericho. “Ya know, ya get a good joke started and someone always has to mess it up.”
“There will be other times.” The devisor grinned back remembering the time that the martial arts whiz had first discovered that his blindness wasn’t all that much of a handicap in a fight.
“Yeah, but we could have really had everyone worried for a while with this one.” Toni opined.
Chou shrugged and decided to leave that one alone.
“All right, everyone.” Nikki turned serious. “We're headed into something really nasty here, so listen up. No one, and I mean no one charges into the thick of these things when we sight them, all right?”
Razorback snorted, and then nodded even if it was reluctantly. The others simply shook their heads wearing expressions indicating they weren't totally nuts.
“I mean that Jack, and you too, Toni.” Nikki firmly reinforced her caveat. “Jack, I know the things make you crazy, but let those of us with distance weapons thin their numbers a little before we have to get close in, okay? I have the awful feeling that no one is going to lack dance partners up ahead even after that.”
“Who made you boss here?” Toni questioned with a grin. “Your queenship or whatever you're supposed to be called.”
“Aunghadhail says to tell you that she was commanding armies and leading troops before the founders of our present civilization were even glimmers in time's eye.” Nikki responded with a distant expression. “And that she knows both what she's doing and the enemy here.”
“The Warrior Queen.” Chou nodded agreement. “She would know about these things.”
“So what's the strategy today?” Toni asked.
“No strategy.” Nikki shook her head. “More like what they call an Ops Plan these days. Tactics are more important here.
“I'm listening, O genius of military doctrine.”
“Toni, get serious here for once.” Nikki shot back. “This isn't going up against some punk ninjas or self important Alphas. If this goes bad, you'd be lucky if you died.”
“Yeah, losing your soul and stuff like that. You told me.”
“Believe it, my friend.” Nikki nodded grimly. “Now we go in fast, but quiet. I don't think these
creatures can actually sense me, and with the prevailing winds in our faces, they won't pick up our
scents either. When we do catch sight of them, don't engage them right away. Let me and Jericho
take at least some out from a distance before they spot us. That should shift the odds in our favor at
least a little and every bit of help we can get here is a plus.”
No one disagreed with that assessment.
“All right, we move in formation.” Nikki told them. “Jack, you take point, Chou on the left flank, Toni on the right. You two stay off the trail and in the trees. Check everything around us, we don't need surprises from our flanks. I'll take center about ten to twenty yards behind Jack. Jericho, you take the rear, I think they call that drag position these days. Your job is to make sure no nasty surprises come at us from behind without warning.”
“Does that mean I need to walk backwards?”
“Can you see behind you?” Nikki questioned acidly.
“Well, now that you mention it.” Jericho nodded. “Yes I can.”
“Whatever.” The elf girl rolled her eyes. “Just give us some warning if anything, anything at all, comes up behind us.”
“How should I do that? Do I scream in terror or what?”
“Only if you have to.” Nikki grinned, reaching over her back while the others widened their eyes as her hand vanished to the wrist then returned holding five packages. Distributing one each to the others and keeping one for herself she went on. “These are receivers that plug into your ear and button mics to talk. They're powered by body heat and a person's natural electrical flux. I could keep us in communication with each by using magic, but this is easier.”
“Uh, Jack?” Jericho questioned once all of them had the comm gear in place and functioning. “Do you think you could maybe keep the growls, whistles, and grunts down some? They're kind of distracting.”
Razorback cheerfully gave the one fingered salute with an unnervingly toothy grin, removed his mic and moved forward with a silence that was unnerving for something of his bulk.
“Let's go, people.” Nikki ordered. No one even thought to dispute her leadership in this as each took their ordered position and began to move out of the Grove.
Eloise looked at the small gathering her mate had summoned and nodded. Each were there was a veteran fighter and could be trusted to handle him or herself in most situations. With what they were going up against she could only hope they were all up to the task.
“All right people.” She announced as the twelve weres and Ben gave her expectant looks. “You all have heard about the Bastard's minions, or slaves, or whatever they might be. Ben here actually fought some, with help, right here in our forest.” A chorus of low, angry growls answered that, but she only nodded in acknowledgment before going on. “Now more of the damned things have come. I don't know how many, but I do know roughly where they are. Our job today is to make sure none of them get out of our forest alive. Got that? No survivors, no prisoners, no mercy. These things are at best insane and at worst something out of our really ancient lore. If any of you feel that confronting the Original Enemy is more than you could handle, back out now. No one will think less of you for being wise enough to know that. But if any of you cave in and panic once we've found them, I'll kill you myself. Understood?”
Everyone nodded in agreement, but none seemed inclined to withdraw.
“Good enough.” The panther woman flexed claws that had suddenly emerged from her fingertips. “If it helps any, in the old tales, one of us was worth four or five of the Great Old One's puppets. Oh, there are also some kids from Whateley out there. Don't attack them by mistake. They may be kids in appearance, but trust me on this one. Attacking any of them would be a fatal mistake. So be aware of everything once we go in.”
The group, fourteen weres in all, changed into their middle forms, crosses between human and the animals they became in full transformations. Having two legs was a disadvantage, but the dexterity of two hands outweighed that.
“Let's move.” Eloise ordered with a growl as her fangs showed in a murderous grin. “We have a lot of killing to do today.”
Using the venom she had ingested as a guide, Sara was studying. Not at the library, but in her room, from tomes that not even Whateley's library would have tolerated. These books, ancient beyond reckoning and written in a script that few living could recognize, let alone decipher, made the Necronomicon seem like a Dick and Jane book for kiddies just learning to read.
Sensing that her blood sister and the spirit that rode with her were preparing for a battle, she paused in her reading then let out a sigh while keeping a close watch on that connection. Nikki/Aunghadhail could handle herself far better than most at Whateley, students or teachers, understood. There was time for more reading. When the battle started, she could either port to it using Nikki's emotions as a guide, or Nikki herself would open a portal.
Until then all she could do was wait. And learn more about their enemy. Tentacles sprouted from odd places to show her agitation, but nothing else disturbed the stillness of her room.
Nikki noted Razorback's agitation and she scented the bad guys at about the same time. Sub-vocalizing for the button mike on a choker-like strap around her neck, she soothed the boy with words and her empathic powers. “It's okay Jack. Stay calm for now. They're still a ways off, so don't give us away yet.”
“Is that Nasty smell the bad guys?” Toni's voice came over the comm.
“Yes.” Nikki confirmed then admonished. “No unnecessary chatter, please. This setup is for tactical info and reports.”
No one commented, so she decided they'd gotten the message. “Be ready. We're close. Remember, no grandstanding when we find them. Let Jericho and me take some out quietly first.”
As she pulled a recurved longbow and quiver of arrows from the same non-existent place she'd gotten the comm array, Toni made a mental note to ask just exactly how she did that.
The chosen were restive. They all knew their primary target, the new Sidhe queen was close, but their senses failed to tell them where she was. Their numbers should insure victory, but they had all heard tales about the terrible warrior queen and her unimaginable power. Rumors held that this new incarnation was even more powerful and dangerous than the original queen that The Sundering had been meant to get rid of forever.
Three of their number flopped backwards as if they had received physical blows, and screaming in agony, burned where they fell. Four others were hit by arrows that caused them to shimmer and lose coherency before they too vanished with wails of agonized terror.
The pack's leader shouted as he gestured to the direction the attacks had come from. “She is out there! We can overwhelm her! Move you maggot ridden bastards!”
Five more of their number fell before the failed ambush could organize into movement towards the attacks.
“Your antidote works as poison on them.” Nikki announced to Jericho who was still sighting and firing his odd weapon.
“I noticed.” The devisor answered between shots. “Why'd you stop?”
“Ran out of arrows.” Nikki answered. “I'll bring more next time.”
“Do that.” Jericho grunted. “You can have as much of the antidote you want, now come down out of that tree. It makes me nervous when our fearless leader is staying out of sight.”
“Done.” Nikki grinned evilly as she drew a scimitar pulsing with odd lights from the not-a-place she had gotten the other things. The blade gleamed, spat bluish flames, and looked far more eager for the fight than Jericho felt. “Drop back now, Jericho. You're more valuable as a sniper and healer. Let the rest of us mix it up with these things.”
“Don't have to tell me twice.” The devisor answered, moving to a position covered by thick tree trunks.
“Go Razor!” Nikki spoke into the mic at her throat. “Chou, Toni, stay in the trees until they reach us. Hit them from the sides then!”
Not waiting for acknowledgments, Nikki set up the kind of shield that had disintegrated the first of these things she'd encountered. It was limited in scope and range, but would account for some of the enemy.
Jericho continued taking shots while Razorback bowled into the one concentration of their opponents that was visible.
Four of the things ran afoul of Nikki's spell and dissolved. Two others reached her only to be taken out by a skillfully wielded scimitar. In a clear space momentarily, she started another spell.
Razor was in the middle of ten of the creatures. He was hurting them, but wondering about the wisdom of charging right into the mass when the overwhelming attacks let up. Toni brandishing what looked suspiciously like a rolled up newspaper, and Chou with Destiny's Wave had hit the bad guys from both sides at the same time. The resulting chaos suited Razor just fine.
“Holy shit!” One of the weres breathed when the group Eloise led reached the battle.
“Like I said.” Eloise answered. “It isn't a good idea to hit one of those kids by mistake. Now get the sumbitches!”
Fourteen very angry and motivated weres hit the abominations from behind.
Chou danced aside from attacks, and responded with Destiny's Wave. The results of hits were gratifying. The monsters writhed in pain and melted if she got in a good strike.
Toni wielding, of all things, a rolled up newspaper was chasing a were thing that roughly resembled a wolf While gleefully shouting. “Bad Puppy! Bad Puppy!”
The creature howled and collapsed when she hit its nose, and Toni cheerfully continued hitting it until it dissolved.
Nikki stood in a circle of rather nasty goo that was all that remained of the creatures attacking her. “Yuck!”
Razorback gave a satisfied shriek of triumph as the last opponent around him fell in a welter of guts, brains, and blood.
Jericho emerged from behind his tree with a weak grin. “Anyone need the antidote?”
Eloise and the rest of the weres took care of the survivors. Not that there were many of those. Ben grinned at her and shook his head. “I told you these kids were dangerous, didn't I?”
“I never doubted you.” The panther woman answered as she disemboweled one of the creatures. “But the fact that so many powerful young ones have suddenly shown up at Whateley is kind of disturbing in a way.”
“You thinking it's Gaia's answer to a threat?” Ben questioned as one of his massive paws beheaded another monster.
“Yes.” Eloise responded as she ended another creature's flight from the students with claws and a deep throated growl.
“Well, comforting or not.” Ben told her after a swipe that cut another nasty thing in two. “We aren't standing alone any longer.”
“No, Eloise said with a toothy grin then gave the direction the creatures had come from a worried look. “But I sure hope they know more of the things are out here.”
“If they don't.” Ben growled while taking the legs out from another monster. “They'll find out really soon.”
“Heads up people!” Nikki called over the comm. “This was an ambush to soften us up. There's lots more of these damned things out here! The real weres are fighting them too, so be careful about what you try to kill.”
“Do the real weres have scales, tentacles, and stink to high heaven?” Toni asked while brandishing her rolled up newspaper. Seeing the others watching her with disbelief, she defended herself. “Hey! I got a rod of steel covered in silver here and my bracelet takes care of what that misses! Besides, I've been wanting to smack a were of some kind on the nose since I found out about them, just to see what happens! ”
“Thanks for the info, Toni.” Nikki dryly answered. “Now be ready, we got the advance force here, but there are others that the weres won't intercept.”
“We need to reach them.” Ben told Eloise as even more of the corrupted weres appeared. “They'll be overwhelmed.”
“All we can do is handle what we find just now.” Eloise answered whirling as her claws took out another one of the enemy. “I'm afraid the kids are on their own for a while yet.”
“Still.” Ben paused to roar and take out the chest of another creature. “They are kids.”
“Not the usual kids that need defending.” She countered as she took the face off a boar with scales and a tentacle for a tail.
Chou was almost up to her knees in dismembered monsters. “All this to get Nikki?”
So it appears. Destiny's Wave answered. Our task today is to keep them from succeeding.
“What happens if the Tao decides she has to die?”
Then we have a task worthy of a true Handmaiden. The sword answered. And it won't be easy to do.
“I kind of noticed.” Chou retorted as Nikki blasted another group of attackers into a mass of undifferentiated tissue and blood.
Sara? I think it's time. Nikki sent through the link. The Bastard sent a damned army!
Sara put the book she had been reading down, and moved towards the circle of distortion in the air that had appeared in her room.
On my way! She sent back as she moved into the portal.
Sara emerged into a mass of corrupted weres that stank of evil and insanity. Her response was simple enough. She launched clawed tentacles at them and tore into the things with an abandon that actually stopped the initial group of nasties for a few moments. A hesitation she took shameless advantage of by shooting out more tentacles to literally consume several others.
Malachim's Feather was taking its toll on the attackers as Nikki displayed skill that no one at Whateley had seen. As the scimitar ate through the attackers she gathered lines to prepare a new spell.
Toni had given up on the newspaper even if it had been fun. Now, surrounded by corrupted weres, she was making more use of her Chi abilities than she ever had before. The pile of dead enemies and body parts around her was starting to make reaching her difficult for the bad guys. But more kept coming.
“How many of these things are there?” Chou panted as Destiny's Wave bisected yet another attacker.
It doesn't matter. The sword responded, its jade blade glittering with internal lights. We kill them as they come as long as we are able.
Jericho had given up on shooting the things, now was time to administer the antidote he had come up with. His armor pretty well disdained most attacks, but had defenses of its own that were automatic. He moved into the thick of the battle to find anyone not taken over by the infection but poisoned by the venom. Ignoring the maelstrom of battle around him, he used the antidote he had and bandaged those who needed it.
Razorback was in a full blown rage. He was surrounded by enemies and bleeding from more places than he would care to think about had he been even a little sane at that point. Ignoring the pain, he roared and launched himself at more of the things.
“How many of these damned things are there?” Ben grunted rhetorically as he sent another of the monsters tumbling away in a welter of blood, intestines, and ichor.
“Doesn't matter right now.” Eloise answered shortly, ripping the stomach out of another. “Each one we kill is that number less that we have to deal with later.”
“No arguments there.” The were bear replied as he took the head off a creature that was trying to get to his mate from behind.
Their original fourteen had diminished to ten, and Eloise felt a pang for the four that had fallen. But at least she was sure those were dead and not infected themselves. “Where are the kids?”
“Over that way.” Ben pointed to a swirling knot of the beasts in the distance before he roared his defiance and killed another pair of the things.
“Jack!” Nikki almost screamed as she fought her way to where the boy was starting to flag under the numbers of attackers he was fighting. “Hang on! Help's on the way!”
Jericho glanced up from giving a wounded were his last dose of antidote and the defensive field that his armor gave broke a handful of wicked looking claws meant to take his head off. The attacking creature howled in pain as the effects of that field spread up its arm Taking his rifle from the ground next to him, the devisor stood up with the injured were as safe as she could be between his spread feet. “Okay, you bastards, I can't cure anyone else right now but I sure as hell can defend the ones I've cured.”
Choosing his shots, and conscious of his dwindling supply of ammunition, the boy grimly stood his ground.
Toni and Chou followed Nikki as the elf slammed into the knot of creatures around Razorback with an impressive mix of spells, footwork, and skill with the blazing scimitar she was using. A well placed shot from where Jericho was holding his ground shattered the skull of a beast intent on gutting the redhead from behind.
“Remind me.” Toni struck out at another monster while shouting to Chou. “To NOT dis the blind guy again.”
“Less talk, more action here.” Chou responded while cutting her way through a pair of attackers.
“Right.” Toni grunted while taking the head off, literally, of another creature with an edge of hand strike she hadn't shown before.
Nikki let Aunghadhail take over. This was her element, not the girl's, and the Warrior Queen responded with a ululating battle cry that filled the forest with ringing echoes. The trees answered, joining the battle in her defense.
Root, branch, and twig tore at the alien things defiling the forest.
Aunghadhail literally carved a path through the bastard's troops to reach Razorback's side and gave the boy a nod and wicked grin as she took a position at his back.
Chou and Toni took advantage of the gap in the enemy to join that pair, adding their own skills to the deadly weave of magic, blade, and claw that the reptilian boy and Sidhe were making.
Sara was too far away from Nikki and the other students to be much help there, but the embattled weres were much closer. Ignoring the slashes from her confused allies, she bowled into the mass of wrongness that was attacking them.
“Not that one!” Eloise shouted as an explosive group of writhing, sharp toothed tentacles slammed into the mass of creatures attacking the weres and a pair of her followers moved to attack the being responsible for them. “She's on our side!
Sara fought her way to stand beside Eloise and Ben, giving the pair a nod as she set herself to help repel yet another attack.
“Good to see you.” Eloise panted during the brief respite. Ben grunted his agreement.
“Told you I'd protect you.” Sara answered with a nasty grin at the beasts gathering for yet another attack. “I keep my promises.”
“Are the trees actually fighting the things, too?” Ben managed to ask between breaths.
“Oh, probably.” Sara told him with a shrug. “Nikki's here and no one is ever quite sure what that one is really capable of doing until she does it.”
“I've kind of noticed that.” Eloise actually chuckled in response
Nikki finished healing Razorback with a weary sigh then turned to look at the carnage filling the surrounding forest with a grim expression on her face.
“Why the thunderclouds?” Toni questioned as she sat down on a nearby log. “It was really touch and go there for a while, but it's over now.”
“It isn't over.” The redhead spat out as she started moving towards a clear spot in the trees. “Not by a long shot, even if we did win this encounter.”
The others followed her, curious about what she'd seen, and tiredly going into defensive modes. Jericho had caught up with them, his normally dark complexion was chalky but he gamely kept pace.
“Are you hurt, Jericho?” Nikki spared a look back at the devisor and there was concern on her face.
“No.” Shoving his dreadlocks out of his sweat streaked face with a shudder he shook his head. “But after actually seeing these 'Voodoo Wolves' up close, I don't think I'll ever be quite all right again.”
Sara, Eloise, Ben, and the other weres joined them at the edge of the trees as Nikki swore and looked even sicker than Jericho appeared to be. “This just keeps getting worse at is goes, doesn't it? Jericho, you got any of that antidote left?”
“No.” The devisor answered, staring at what the girl had seen and closing his eyes. “I used the last I had with me on one of the weres.”
“Damn.” Sara closed her eyes at the sight that waited.
The patrol car was angled across the narrow dirt road, its lights gone dead and the front doors hanging open. Toni gave the vehicle a look and asked. “What was the Highway Patrol doing here?”
“Probably doing a routine check on the area.” Eloise answered quietly. “Local Law enforcement agencies are allowed to come on the reservation providing they don't really try and interfere with tribal business.”
“Are those the officers?” Jericho asked, pointing to a pair of torn up uniforms still around the writhing forms on the ground in front of the car.
“I'm afraid so.” Nikki let out a sigh as she moved forward and knelt beside the pair.
No one had to ask what had happened after a glance to the misshapen, still morphing bodies the Sidhe girl was looking at. Chou retched then managed. “Were they mutants?”
“I don't think so.” Nikki replied, carefully resting a hand on the one closest to her and getting a look of intense concentration on her face. With a shuddering sigh, she withdrew her hand and shook her head. “And I can't heal them on my own here.”
With a thoughtful look at Malachim's feather, still in her right hand, she carefully drew the edge over an almost arm on the patrolman nearest her. “Not enough left on the blade to do much good either. Can you do anything, Sara?”
Extending a tentacle from one arm, Sara touched the one Nikki had just cut, kept the flexible member in contact for a few moments, then regretfully withdrew it. “No. Evidently, the venom works a lot faster on normal humans than on weres or mutants. These are more Other than human already.”
Eyes snapped open in the irregular knob of a head that remained, staring wildly for a moment then gaining a little lucidity. A harsh, gargling voice whispered. “Help us.”
“We can't.” Nikki whispered. “We want to, but there's nothing any of us here can do for you. At least to get you back to normal. I'm sorry.”
Those eyes, one virulent green, the other a smoldering red fixed on the girl, blinked then closed as the inhuman voice rasped out in agony. “Ahhh, Gaahhd!”
“I can end it for you.” Nikki heavily told the creature than had been a man. “That's all I can do now.”
“Dooo iiiit.” The rasping voice answered as a still morphing hand reached out imploringly. “Puhleeese.”
With a nod, Nikki stood up, grief and rage both showing in her eyes as she nodded. “Peace. At least I can give you both that much here.”
“Nikki, someone else can do this.” Eloise rested a hand gently on the girl's tense shoulder.
“No.” Red hair swirled as the girl shook her head. “I have to do this. It's my place to take care of this kind of thing.”
Before anyone could protest, the girl raised her arms and brought up the spell creating the force that dissolved the things Jericho had christened Voodoo Wolves then ran it over both the prone figures of the former patrolmen with a whispered apology and tears streaming from her large violet eyes. “I'm sorry this is all I can do for either of you.”
There wasn't a lot left once that had been done, but at least the remains were human. Turning away from that, Nikki closed her eyes tightly and fought to hold her gorge down. She managed, barely, turning to see the others watching her with compassionate expressions on their faces.
“You had to do it, dear.” Eloise quietly told the girl. “It was mercy, not murder.”
“Then why do I feel so damned filthy right now?” Nikki managed to get out between sobs. “These two went through more agony than anyone should, but all they got for that was death at my hands. And it's my fault!”
“How can you think that?” Toni questioned as she moved to place a comforting hand on her roomie's shaking shoulder.
“Because these damned things were sent to get me!” The redhead yelled as she shrugged off the comforting hand. “If I hadn't been around here those officers wouldn't have been attacked, and I wouldn't have had to kill them.”
“That's nonsense.” Eloise retorted. “If they hadn't come for you they would have come for us This tribe is the oldest Were enclave in the world. The Bastard couldn't allow us to stand as we are and hope to achieve whatever his goals are. These things would have come, Nikki, whether you were here or not. You can't blame yourself for what happened when they did. They just came earlier than they might have, which may well be to our advantage.”
“Advantage?” Nikki screamed. “Two uninvolved innocents got caught up in this mess today, and I couldn't help them. All I could do was kill them because I couldn't cure them.”
“It isn't your fault, Nikki.” Chou spoke softly as she moved forward. “The two patrolmen were meant to die today. If it hadn't been here it would have been by some psycho robbing a gas station. Their time on Earth in their present forms was over. You did what was necessary for them, I know that isn't an easy thing, believe me, but you did what was needed.”
“ I had to kill them!” Nikki shouted. “It wasn't some strung out junkie or an escapee from some insane asylum. It was me! I didn't just kill them either, I had to obliterate them!”
“It was a necessary thing, honey.” Eloise was going all motherly with the Sidhe. “You saved them a lot of suffering, and saved others from sharing their fate. Think about that for a while. What you did with them was a kindness, not cruelty.”
“Right. Maybe I'll believe that in a year or two, when I get callous about collateral damage to people and things.” With a snarl worthy of Razorback she turned away from the road, the clearing, and the gathering of her friends then sobbed.
“I need to be alone for a while.” She got out through gritted teeth as tears slid down her cheeks. Without saying another word, the girl turned and stumbled back into the forest.
“Nikki!” Toni shouted and was getting ready to follow when Sara set herself between the martial arts whiz and the path that had opened up for the departed girl. “Get out of my way! There could be more of those things out there waiting for her!”
“Then it won't go well for them.” Sara answered evenly. “Chasing after her right now would be a mistake, though. Nikki isn't feeling like having anyone around at the moment.”
“She's right, Toni.” Chou put in while giving a sympathetic look towards the forest. “Nikki needs to work a few things out right now. What she just did wasn't an easy thing.”
“We, and the forest will watch out for her.” Ben quietly put in. “She's fought before, but today she had to kill innocents. And a good part of her innocence died with them. Give her time then just be there for her. She's going to need friends when she gets back.”
Nikki wandered aimlessly for a time, specifically not thinking about what she had just done. It was too much to bear at the moment. Intellectually she knew innocents would get caught up in whatever conflict she was involved in, now or in the future. Emotionally, she couldn't accept that she had deliberately killed two such only a few minutes earlier.
Those men were suffering more than most humans are capable of imagining, young one. Aunghadhail softly interrupted her thoughts. Worse, they would have spread that suffering to their loved ones, friends, and others once they were able to shift back to a semblance of their original forms. You not only performed an act of compassion and mercy, you saved countless others from going through what they did.
“It doesn't help all that much right now.” Nikki countered with a heavy sigh. “I'm fifteen years old, no matter what your experience lends me right now. No one should be forced to make a choice like the one I just did, especially not a teenager.”
Such choices are never easy, dear. The ancient spirit responded wearily. I know that all too well, but there are times when you must take the path that is less evil even when the other seems easier. I have done it more times than I care to think about, but all those choices weigh on me yet. It speaks well for your personality and future that this one weighs so heavily on you.
“What, that I'm eaten up by guilt?” The girl responded bitterly. “That even though I am, I know, know that I'd do the same thing again if it was needed? What does that say about me? That I'll calmly kill innocents to preserve the things I care for?”
It says that you will do what is necessary, that is all. Aunghadhail quietly answered. And if you believe you are the only being that guilt rides like a reluctant mount, you're a fool I hadn’t thought you were, girl.
“Are you telling me that you, the mighty Queen of the West experiences guilt about things?”
Yes. The spirit told her simply. Far more of it than you can comprehend just now, dear. More than I hope you ever have to understand.
“That isn't as comforting as it might be under other circumstances, you know.” The girl shook her head. “Now please be quiet, I need to think.”
Brood, you mean. But get it worked through in a way that eases you. Aunghadhail said nothing more but Nikki felt a warm, supporting presence remaining with her thoughts and had the irrational sense of a hand gently resting on her shoulder though none was really there.
Everyone watched the girl enter the woods and fade into the forest as if she'd never been there.
“It's unnerving to watch her walk away like that into those trees.” Jericho observed quietly then added. “I hope she'll be okay.”
“The forest will shield her.” Eloise repeated what her mate had said then added. “So will my people.”
A young woman approached Jericho with a hesitant smile on her face. Her clothing was more than a bit worse for wear with rips and whole sections missing but her unselfconscious bearing would have held dignity even had she been nude in front of these strangers. “I'm Leila, thanks for what you did earlier.”
“You're welcome.” Jericho nodded with a sigh. “I'm more of a healer than a fighter, anyway.”
“But you stood over me, defended me, while I regenerated.” The woman held out her hand. “You didn't even know me, yet did that when doing so was more than dangerous. I'd know your name, if you wouldn't mind giving it to me?”
“It's Jericho.” The devisor supplied with a shrug. “Sorry, I should have introduced myself after you did. As for defending you, I was out of antidote, and there was nothing else I could have done. Abandoning you and the others I'd worked on just went against the grain, if you know what I mean.”
“Yes I do, Jericho.” Leila grasped his hand in a strong, firm grip. “You've made a friend of me, if you'll have it.”
“Friends are always welcome.” The boy gave her a tired grin. “If you can stand my smart mouth and cocky attitude after a while, I accept.”
“Oh, you'll fit right in with us then.” Leila raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Weres aren't well known for being self effacing either.”
Taking in her matted red-gold hair and startling green eyes, Jericho grinned back. “Just as well, but I warn you, I have experience with another redhead.”
Glancing towards the forest with an almost reverent expression, the woman nodded. “Yes, I do believe that you do, Jericho.”
“Ahh, I really only got started to know Nikki yesterday.” He admitted with a smirk. “But she has a rep around school that isn't something sane people want to test. I see now that her rep isn't close to what she could do if someone really pissed her off.”
“It's good to know that the new Queen can practice restraint.” Leila actually laughed, filling the clearing with her full throated, infectious good cheer.
“Tell me about it.” Jericho, finally relaxing a bit, joined in her laughter.
It never occurred to either of them that they were still holding hands.
“I think your friend has made a conquest.” Ben told Razorback while watching the devisor and one of his pack talking, holding hands and then sharing something that had both of them laughing.
That isn't a bad thing is it? Razor signed with a snorted chuckle.
“Nope.” Ben shook his head and grinned. “The kid is good, by the way. I watched him working on the wounded, while he was fighting. This pack would be happy to have him around, I'm sure.”
You haven't seen his wardrobe yet. Razor responded with another snort. It can be literally blinding at times. I've seen his choice in clothing actually make people ill, so be warned.
“I think we can make allowances.” Ben shrugged then moved towards the were female and healer. “Come on, I need to meet this kid. You can make the introductions. Coming dear?”
Eloise rolled her eyes and joined her mate and the rager without a word.
Toni was staring at the forest where Nikki had just vanished with worry clear to see on her face. Sara joined her and gave her a hug. “Don't worry about her, Toni. She can take care of herself, the forest will help her if she calls, and she has some things to work out on her own just now. Following her would only get you lost. She's in her element out there. When she wants to be either found or come back, then it will happen. Until then, even I couldn't find her and I'm linked to her by blood.”
“She didn't handle what happened out on the road well at all.” Toni countered.
“Having the death of an innocent on your hands, and conscience, is something that no one worth knowing handles well, my friend.” Sara answered slowly. I know that all too well myself. She'll work through it she has several very old spirits to help her do that.”
“But stubborn as she is.” The black girl sighed. “I wonder how long that's going to take is all.”
“As long as she needs.” Sara shrugged.
“That isn't comforting, you know.” Toni grumbled.
“No, but it's all the comfort I can give under the circumstances.”
Chou had been quietly talking with some of the weres since Nikki had gone into the forest.
“These people are well worth knowing.” Destiny's Wave told her once she had headed for where Jericho, Razorback, and three of the weres talked.
“Yes, I think they are.” Chou sighed. “But what does the Tao feel about them?”
“The race is ancient.” The sword gave a good approximation of a mental shrug. “and is tied into the currents of the Earth far more deeply than most. They are nature mixed with intelligence, but are also creatures of The Balance. More so than they know. Let yourself feel them through the Tao.”
She opened herself to the perceptions and attitude she had taken recently and felt the rightness of the beings around her. They killed when necessary, without remorse or even a second thought. These people worked with, and fit, with nature in a way that pure humans had yet to discover or at least acknowledge. “Yes, I see what you're saying.”
“I knew you would once you actually looked.” Destiny's Wave answered with something like smugness in her voice.
“Leading me by the nose again?” Chou chuckled.
“Teaching.” The sword replied.
Welcome young Queen. Nikki started out of her reveries to discover that she had wandered back into the Grove. The spirit of that ancient place continued before she could even form a reply. You and your companions did well today. But you especially learned a valuable lesson.
“What?” Nikki almost snarled. “That I can kill innocents as easily as I do the bad guys?”
Exactly so. The trees moved in answer. Power of any kind comes with responsibility, child. The strength, the power you possess is something that requires moderation, but also is something that must be used when needed. You feel that you had to take two innocent lives today, but that is not the case.
“Then what the Hell was it?” The girl shouted, tears running down her cheeks. “I had to kill, obliterate, two people who had nothing to do with what was going on! They were in the wrong place at the wrong time is all! How is that a lesson?”
In nature there are no innocents. The Grove answered softly. The ones you killed today were tied to nature whether they wished to admit it or not. Allowing them to live, even by easing the agonies they were experiencing, would have unleashed a terrible plague on humanity. You showed them a great mercy, and saved many others from the same kind of agony by what you did. They both understood, and blessed you for that.
Yes, blessed you. The trees nodded towards the center of the clearing. Would you like to speak with their spirits? They are waiting if you choose to do so.
“Sure.” The girl nodded, not without trepidation in her face and posture. “Bring them on.”
Introductions had been made all around. The weres approved of the kids, and the group that Nikki had gathered felt their welcome. Eloise looked at each one of them and smiled. “You are four very remarkable people, and we are in your debt.”
Chou, Toni, Jericho, and Razorback just watched and accepted as Eloise and the other weres, male and female moved forward to hug each one of them.
“Not only have you proven yourselves to us today.” Eloise formally told them. “You have earned the right to come to us at any time for anything. I officially adopt each of you into the tribe as of now, and our annals will record that All of you are welcome in our homes, our village, and our way of life. You are all part of our pack now.”
Leila gave Jericho a wide smile, and the devisor returned it, wondering what he'd just gotten himself into, but not all that worried in spite of the small niggling voice at the back of his mind.
Chou nodded, accepting the pronouncement with joy she didn't show outwardly. The Tao had moved and she had moved with it. To be considered part of these beings was a compliment like she'd never received before.
Razorback simply accepted the acceptance. Something he had seen little of since his mutation kicked in and promised himself that he would never let these people down if he could help it.
Toni took it all in, grinned, and uncharacteristically appeared a little subdued. “Wow. I think we've made the big time girls.”
Once the spirits had departed, Nikki sat down on a fallen log and shook her head. “Don't say anything, either one of you. I have a lot to digest here.”
Neither the Grove or Aunghadhail argued with her, or uttered a word. But the girl felt their approval and support as she considered what had happened recently.
“This isn't a village, it's a town.” Toni observed as the weres led them to where they lived.
“Yes is is.” Chou answered with a smile. “Never make the mistake of thinking these people are uncivilized, no matter what they are at the full moon, or when the blood rises in them. They have had civilization of one form or another far longer than our cultures have.”
“After listening to Nikki.” Toni let out a sigh. “I won't doubt that at all. I'm just glad they consider us friends.”
“You and me both.” Chou grinned. “It would be hard on us if they thought we were enemies.”
“Yeah.” Toni nodded with a laugh. “We'd be a LOT busier than we needed to be, wouldn't we?”
“That we would.”
Nikki took a breath then looked up at the trees surrounding her. “Okay, I see what you've both been saying here. I can't blame myself for things that just happen. I have no control over that kind of thing even if it does hurt at times.”
It is a hard learned lesson. Aunghadhail answered softly. Yet it is one that you needed to learn.
“Will you stop sounding like my mother?” Nikki grumped, but smiled once she'd said that.
In more ways than one I am your mother, child. Aunghadhail retorted. You are more my daughter than any who sprang from my physical loins.
“So do I call you Mom, now?” Nikki questioned acidly.
You could. Aunghadhail answered with a chuckle.
“Great.” Nikki groused. “Now I have two moms to bitch at me about things.”
As it has been since I found you, dear.
“I noticed already.”
Just accept the love that comes with it, darling girl.
“Yeah, yeah.” Nikki sighed then stood up. “I suppose I should go find the others now to let them know I'm okay.”
Good idea. The ancient spirit chuckled.
“Enough of the Mom stuff, okay?”
As you wish, beloved daughter.
“I think I'm going to throw up here.” Nikki grumbled as she left the clearing to find her friends.
Just more nourishment for the woodlands. Aunghadhail answered with a grin that only Nikki saw.
“Oh, shut up.” The girl growled, even though she was laughing as she said it.
Nikki emerged from the forest into the were settlement with a thoughtful expression on her face, and an easy stride that contrasted sharply with her stumble away from the scene of the small battle.
Eloise, Ben, and the Whateley kids all watched her carefully as the girl walked slowly towards them.
“She doesn't look so upset anymore.” Jericho commented then asked. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Good, I think.” Toni responded with a little shrug. “But with my roommate the elf, you can never be real sure. At times she doesn't think, or react like a normal person.”
“As if any of us are even close to normal.” Chou snorted, but was carefully watching Nikki's approach. “The Tao feels nothing but the normal ripples when she appears.”
“Is that supposed to be reassuring?” Toni questioned. “Normal Ripples. Ask the Tao to speak English this once, could you?”
“It means.” Jericho put in after watching Razorback sign to the group in general. “That she isn't beating herself up over what happened to those highway patrolmen.”
Are you alright? Razor signed to Nikki. Your aura and scent say so, but those can be deceptive.
Nikki answered with a light chuckle. “You mean... My Sidhe nature makes it tough to read me. But I'm all right now. Not good, but I understand that what I did with those two was something that not only needed to be done, it freed those two spirits. So I can live with that. I'm not happy about innocents dying at my hand but there are times when that is needed to set some things right. What I did accomplished that.”
“Then you are at ease with yourself?” Eloise questioned.
“Yes.” Nikki nodded with a little laugh that held nothing of humor in it. “I know what I did wasn't a bad thing now. But it was still hard once I stopped and thought about it.”
“It is that.” Ben agreed.
“It doesn't get any easier, either, does it?” The girl asked quietly.
“You get a little numb, but no.” Ben answered slowly. “It never becomes easy, unless you're the kind of person who glories in bloodlust. We weres cull those out early and I don't think you're one of that kind.”
“No.” Nikki said with a little shudder. “I'm not. If I become that way, I hope someone does manage to kill me.”
“With that said.” Eloise inclined her head. “We here know that you have grown from the unpleasant experience, Lady.”
“Do I really deserve that title? I still don't think so.” The girl gave Eloise, Ben and the other weres a slow, careful looking over. The other weres also bowed their heads or actually bowed to her.
“Yes, dear Lady.” Eloise smiled. “You have earned it. Call and my whole tribe will come to your aid. We aren't exactly yours but any of us here would defend you to the death.”
“It's good to have friends.”
“Allies, though.” Nikki insisted. “Not thralls.”
“Allies, my lady.” Ben answered with a smile. “But allies who would give their lives for you, as we know you would for us.”
“ My name is Nikki.”
“So you just proved that you deserve what we will give.” Eloise chuckled, giving the girl a hug. “Now come along. You can clean up and have dinner with us, can't you?”
“A bath, or shower, would be wonderful.” Nikki returned the woman's hug. “Thank you.”
“No thanks are needed, dear.”
“So show me the bathtub or shower stall.” Nikki grinned.
“She's okay.” Toni announced to the group with a wide grin.
The assembled weres watched the girl enter Eloise's house with a reverence and love that would have greatly embarrassed the girl.
“Something is happening out in those woods.” Sam told Delarose, who had come at her call. “Something bad. I've seen more anomalies show up in our scans today than generally show up in a year judging from the records I've accessed.”
“Are they still showing on the scopes?” The security chief questioned.
“No, they're gone now, no energy signatures to show them leaving like I caught when they showed up, but some of the kids were right in that area when the things came onto the scope.”
“The weres police their own areas, Sam.” Delarose let out a sigh and set a hand to the girl's shoulder. “Evidently they took care of the problem. If they want help they'll ask for it. Otherwise, the reservation is out of our jurisdiction. Are the kids okay?”
“I think so.” Sam answered quietly. “It's kind of hard to tell, but they're all in the were village now and I'm not getting signs of distress from any of them.”
“Good enough for me right now.” Delarose shook his head. “Got ID on any of them?”
“Yeah.” Sam responded. “Nikki Reilly, Toni Chandler, Chou Lee, Razorback, Jericho and Sara Waite.”
“Hmm. That's a bunch I'd hesitate to tackle with a whole battalion, even with the high tech gear we have here.” The security chief grinned. “It's pretty clear that they took care of themselves with whatever happened out there. I'll pull a few of them in and ask some questions once they get back, but I don't think we'll be able to keep any of them from entering that part of the forest even if we don't like what we find out.”
“Tell me about it.” Sam answered slowly as she recalled what Nikki had told her when she was waiting at the forest's edge the last time. “I know if the forest welcomes them, along with the weres, there's not much we can do to keep them out of there. But it still worries me.”
“I know.” Delarose nodded with an unhappy expression on his face. “But we can't just move onto the reservation without an invite to do so. Whateley is dependent on the tribe's goodwill as much as the school is on contributions from alumni.”
“Yeah.” Sam accepted that with more than a little rancor but didn't argue. “I know. Oh, got a message from the County Sheriff's office too. A couple of patrolmen are out of contact on reservation lands. They were doing a routine patrol, but aren't answering any calls.”
“Not much we can do to help with that.” Delarose shrugged. “Other than trust the weres to handle it.”
“Damn it!” Sam slammed a palm to the console she was watching. “I HATE being this helpless.”
“Don't we all.” Her boss quietly answered. “Don't we all.”
“How you doing?” Eloise questioned as she entered the steam filled room where Nikki was bathing.
“Like I'll never get clean again.” The girl retorted then softened her voice. “But I'll be okay. Eventually.”
“Yes.” The were chief nodded. “You will. Make no mistake about this, dear we are at war here, and no matter how much one may regret it, innocents pay for that too.”
“War.” The girl shook her head while using her magic to dry off. “My other self knows about that all too well, but it's something new to me. I hate it.”
“Sane people do, milady.” Eloise answered with a sad smile. “But the alternatives are equally unpalatable.”
“I know.” Nikki gave her a weak smile. “But right now, that doesn't help a lot. I'll get through this.”
“Yes.” Eloise gave the girl a hug then fiercely finished. “But that cubs must lose their innocence with that is something that galls badly.”
“At least the cubs you're talking about right now can hold their own in the mess.” The Sidhe girl quietly responded. “We aren't going to be victims here, Eloise.”
“No, you aren't.”
“But that doesn't make things any easier, does it?”
“Loss of innocence is never easy.” The woman agreed. “No matter how necessary it is.”
“I noticed.” Nikki sighed then grinned. “Now you were talking about dinner? I am kind of hungry now.”
“Then get dressed and come to the dining room. There is a meal waiting.”
Monday, December 4th, 7:00 AM
Outside of Poe Cottage
Frank Delarose watched the three girls warm up then go through their katas. He had to admit to himself that Tai-Chi was like watching a very fine symphony given form, and was duly impressed.
One of the girls, uninvolved with what he was there for, finished and headed for Cyrstal Hall and breakfast probably while Nikki Reilly and Chou Lee both produced swords, or what looked like a scimitar in the redhead's case, and began going through even more forms with those.
Nikki faced Chou and nodded. Chou nodded in her turn and the pair began to spar with their blades.
Their movements became too fast for the security chief to follow for a few minutes, and the clash of the blades rang through the cold morning air like martial bells chiming a melody that was both beautiful and frightening.
The girls stopped, bowed to each other, checked their weapons then put them away. Delarose approached them clapping softly. “Very impressive, ladies. You have registered that weapon with security haven't you Miss Reilly?”
“Oh, hello, chief Delarose.” Nikki greeted him with a slight flush on her cheeks then nodded. “Yes, sir. Malachim's Feather has been registered with your office. Last month, actually, the day I got it.”
“Good enough.” He answered with a grin. “You two got a few minutes? I'd like to talk with you both if you do.” Chou had put Destiny's Wave in the round case she carried it in, and Nikki had just pushed her weapon -- Malachim' s Feather he corrected himself, into the air over her shoulder. Magic users, he thought with an internal sigh. You never could really know for certain what they were carrying around.
With a glance to Chou, Nikki shrugged. “Sure. What did you want to talk about?”
“You two, along with a few others seem to have made friends with the local weres, and I know both of you have permission from whatever it is in the forest that makes things so difficult for most people.”
“Yes.” Nikki nodded. “The Grove accepts us, and a few others. The weres are good people, worth getting to know if they allow you to do that.”
“I have gone to the Grove in the past.” Chou added with a little smile. “I find I think better about certain things there, and am more comfortable doing so within that place. The weres, as Nikki says, are fine people, well worth the effort of getting to know.”
“Right.” Delarose gave them a nod and a crooked smile. “I can see going the roundabout route isn't going to work here, is it?”
Both girls looked at each other like young females sharing a secret anywhere in the world, tilted their heads, and grinned at him. Nikki gave him a direct look and asked. “So why don't you just ask? You never know, we might give you the answers you're fishing for, sir.”
Franklin Delarose felt a small chill having nothing to do with December morning temperatures as he noted these two girls possessed a self control rare in much older people, while seeing a look in their eyes that hinted at things far older than mortal man managed to reach. Shaking himself mentally, he smiled. “All right. That bush is probably really sick of being beaten around anyway. Miss, Reilly, I think you've been gathering a group of very talented, and dangerous, peers because of something that's going on out in the forest, especially on the reservation. Sam Everhart has told me about what you said that day she was waiting at the border when you came out with Razorback. I have to tell you both, that I find that very disturbing. I'm here to make sure you kids are safe and can get through school without fighting for your lives while you get an education. Which is what I'm doing now. What's going on out there? And don't try telling me nothing, I know better. Our surveillance gear can cover the reservation, and does. Some of the things we've picked up recently are – unnerving, to say the least.”
“I can understand that.” Nikki answered soberly. “But what's going on involves the weres, not Whateley. At least the school isn't directly threatened, or involved right now. I'm sure that if the weres decide you need to know, they'll tell you. I really can't go against their wishes on that right now.”
“I understand that.” Delarose nodded then sighed. “But let me make my position very clear on this. The weres don't have to deal with distraught parents when a student gets injured, or worse. I do. Think about that, both of you. If one of you kids does get hurt out there, then that forest is in my jurisdiction and I'll take steps to intervene. I can't keep you from going out there right now, but that could change with different circumstances. Got that?”
“Yes, sir!” Both girls answered, almost in chorus.
“See that you remember that, then.” Delarose gave each of them a long, searching look. “My job is seeing to your well being, that you aren't subjected to unnecessary dangers while you're at school here. I'm very good at my job. Don't force me to get heavy handed with you and your friends, all right?”
“All right.” Nikki nodded without the usual teenager's mockery when an adult sets a limit to things. “If you do decide to get involved, with the reasons you've laid out, I'm sure the weres will cooperate. I know I will.”
Chou nodded her agreement.
Delarose tipped his hat to both of them. “Good enough, ladies, and again, that was quite a show you two put on earlier. Thank you for letting me watch.”
“Anytime, Chief.” Nikki actually blushed, and gave him the brilliant, dazzling smile he was used to her using. “But those were only exercises, even when we were sparring. Some things you just can't do alone, you know.”
“I know.” Frank answered with a smile of his own. “That applies to more than just practice, too. Please keep that in mind.”
“We will, sir.”
“Have a good morning, ladies.” Delarose waved as he turned away from the disturbingly adult pair of teen aged girls. Both of them had seemed far older than mere adults, and their eyes... Both girls' eyes had expressions through that talk that were positively ancient. Watchful, wise, and very weary.
Those eyes. One pair vivid violet, the other pair a deep brown, would haunt him for a long time to come.
Whateley Academy, Kane Hall
“You've been using your magic a lot lately, haven't you?” Sir Wallace Westmont wasn't really questioning, he knew, but was working to get his student to open up.
“Well, yeah.” Nikki answered, a little nervous because Susannah Haggarty was present as well.
“You've been using Malachim's Feather, too.” The woman told her. “And not simply in practice with Chou Lee.”
“Things are happening.” Nikki carefully skirted around the obvious questions both her mentors had asked without asking. “And how did you know that?”
“For one.” Westmont told her. “Your control has gotten better, and you're more able to channel power without losing control of it. Running through that last exercise told me that.”
“For another.” Haggarty put in. “I still have a connection to Malachim's Feather even if I gave it to you. I've felt it fighting, hard. Now are you going to tell us what's going on?”
“It's were business.” Nikki sighed.
“Not when the finest student I've ever had is involved.” Westmont tapped the top of his desk for emphasis. “When you got tangled in whatever this 'were business' is, you involved me.”
“And me.” Susannah put in. “I've been training you to fight without your magic, and here you are doing exactly that, before I really think you're ready. Now either tell us what's going on, or we'll have to follow you the next time you go into the forest. And we will, whether the Grove wants us to or not.”
Nikki didn't doubt them. Aunghadhail, what do I do here?
Tell them the truth, child. The Sidhe spirit responded. These two would discover the truth regardless. Better to tell them now than face them after dissimulating or outright lying to them.
“ All right.” Nikki sighed and sat down. “Just promise that you won't crawl all over me once I've told you. This is something I have todo. I really haven't got a choice.”
“Good gods.” Westmont breathed once she'd finished telling them the whole story. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since last Friday night.” The girl replied with a grimace. “It started with a nightmare that turned out to be Aunghadhail's memories of The Sundering. Saturday was a fight, yesterday was closer to a pitched battle. These things are very serious trouble, Sir Wallace. And because of a pledge Aunghadhail made long ago, I'm pretty much compelled to help the weres. Not to mention the fact that this Bastard, whoever it is, seems determined to kill me. I didn't have a choice! I had to join in combating these things.”
“Blood oaths are like that.” Westmont sighed. “And it's clear that there was shared blood between Aunghadhail and that ancient were leader. I know you had no choice but to answer the call when this danger arose. But it still disturbs me. You're just a child. You shouldn't be subjected to this kind of thing until you mature a little more.”
“ This child is no child.” Aunghadhail answered, as Nikki's bearing became even more regal, even a touch arrogant. “She is my daughter, mage, even if she did not come from my physical loins. She shares my memories, my experience, and my knowledge. She may be young in years, but she is not a mere child.”
“I'm well aware of that.” Westmont dryly responded. “I've been teaching her for months now, and most of that has been how to control what she knows how to do already. But something like this may be too much for her, powerful as she is. Emotionally, she is still only fifteen years old.”
“ You didn't see her in combat, mage.” The ancient spirit answered with a wicked little grin. “I did. She did not hesitate, or worry about what to do. She simply did. And she did well.”
“That I don't doubt, great queen.” Westmont shot back. “But the point is she is still emotionally far from being adult, it's as much a physical thing with her hormones as anything else, but be that as it may, she isn't ready for something like this.”
“ No one, regardless of their age.” Aunghadhail retorted. “Is ever ready for something of this nature, mage. No one. Not even me. All any of us can do is meet the challenge as best we can. Nichole has done that admirably up to this point.”
“Even to killing innocents?”
“Innocents they may have been, once.” Aunghadhail gave a mirthless chuckle. “But they would have spread a plague worse than any humankind has ever known had she not killed them when she did. I too, regret what was necessary in that instance. It is never easy, having the death of innocents on one's hands. Believe me I know this all too well.”
“I've read about your record with innocents, Lady.” Westmont answered with a sigh. “You were never known for sparing any of them.”
“ History is written by those who win.” The Sidhe queen quietly answered. “It should be clear enough to any human with sense that the Sidhe in times long past did not win The Sundering made certain of that.”
“Point taken, Lady, with apologies.” Westmont nodded. “But you can't deny that you and your kind weren't all that careful about collateral damage in your battles.”
“ There was no time to move innocents out of harm's way.” Aunghadhail let out a heavy sigh. “The forces we made use of in battle extended beyond the battle field, I will admit. But we saved what we could when there was time.”
“Nichole seems to have the recklessness the old Sidhe were reputed to have.” Westmont countered. “She just does things without consideration for what damage that may do elsewhere.”
“ So it is good she has a teacher as wise as you.” The more than ancient Sidhe smiled. “Moderation in things like that and consideration of consequences elsewhere is something that many of my kind never learned. I pray to our gods that you are able to teach this child how to do that.”
“I'm doing my best.”
“Yes, and it is having an effect.”
“I just hope it's enough.” Westmont shook his head. “Without restraint, this girl could disrupt the very currents of the world.”
“ Gaia is aware of her existence.” Aunghadhail answered soberly. “There will be opposition to anything of that nature, trust me.”
“I know she is working to practice restraint with her powers.” Westmont nodded. “But this thing with the Bastard and his minions is disturbing.”
“It is. But so far she is up to the challenge.”
“Will she stay up to it, though?”
“She is far stronger than many think.”
“I pray to the gods that you're right.”
“I am. I know this 'child' quite intimately, better than she knows herself just now.”
“This time.” Westmont stared at Nikki who wasn't presently Nikki. “I'll trust you.”
“I am more trustworthy than you believe.” Aunghadhail answered quietly. “The bargain I have with Nichole is one that I cannot abrogate. She is my child, mage. And my magic. I dare not do a thing to endanger her without good cause.”
“I know, damn it.” Westmont spat out. “Let her come back now, I need to talk with her, not you, Lady.”
“A pleasure, as always, mage.” Aunghadhail's presence faded to be replaced by Nikki's marginally less regal posture.
“Well.” She questioned. “Did my rider make you feel any better? Probably not, but I have to ask.”
“As teacher to student,” Westmont admitted. “Yes, you are learning the lessons I'm pounding into your thick head. But as someone charged with your well being, no. You're mixed up in something here that could not just kill you, but destroy you.”
“Don't I know it.” The girl sighed. “But like I said, and Aunghadhail told you, I can't ignore it. I'd be drawn into this even if I was kicking a screaming and being dragged in by my heels. I can't help it.”
“I know.” Sir Wallace gave her a consoling smile that changed to a serious expression. “But if you get in over your head and need help, don't hesitate to call me, and Susannah. We'll be there in a heartbeat when you do.”
“Oh, don't worry.” Nikki grimaced then grinned. “If I need help that I don't have they'll hear me hollering all the way to Dunwich.”
What's up, Jericho? Razorback signed when he found the devisor in his lab.
“ I'm making more of that antidote.” The blind boy answered distractedly. “Lots more of it. Yesterday showed me that a handful of doses isn't going to be near enough.”
“ Have you eaten today?” The raptor-like boy asked.
“No time.” The devisor answered. “I have to get this stuff ready, and there isn't near enough yet. It takes a lot of time to distill it.”
Well slow down long enough to eat this. Razor signed while holding out a styrofoam container. I brought you something from the cafeteria.
“I haven't got time for food just now.”
Do I have to scream in your ear? The other boy signed with a snort. That should get your attention. I'll do it, too. Eat.
“All right, all right.” Jericho grumbled, opening the container and pulling out the cheeseburger. “As he started to bite into it, he grumbled. “Thanks.”
What are friends for?
Sara was back into her books. The ones that not even the Whateley or Miskatonic libraries had.
What she was reading was not pleasant at all.
The Bastard was a creature who had been alive before the Sundering that had shattered the Sidhe, and was more than likely well versed with the terrible spell that had accomplished that.
The good news was he/she needed more than one being to attempt something like that again.
The bad news was that the creature was obviously working to pull in enough thralls with power to repeat that terrible spell.
For the sake of everything living, that had to be stopped.
Destiny's Wave told Chou. This Bastard is a danger to the balance, more so than anything else that has existed since The Sundering of the Sidhe.
“So what can I do about it, other than what I already am doing?” Chou asked.
Be ready. If the Sidhe Queen is not able to destroy this one, it is up to you. Not only the balance, but life as we know it demands that.
“This one I won't even argue about.” Chou muttered.
Continued in Ill Winds part IV