Ill Winds Part IV
Franklin Delarose's office, Whately Security
Monday December 4th, 2006
Delarose sat back in his chair and breathed what was obviously a curse, then returned his attention to the girl sitting on the other side of his desk. “Is that everything?”
“Yes, sir.” Nikki Reilly answered quietly, with no hint of apology for not telling him sooner.
Closing his eyes for a moment and doing that figurative count to ten, the Security Chief of Whateley nodded. “So just how many students have you gotten involved in this mess?”
“Chou Lee, Chaka, Sara, Jericho, and Jack – Razorback.”
“Well, that is a fairly formidable bunch.” Frank admitted with a sigh. “You aren't planning on pulling more students into this insanity are you?”
“Sir, I didn't plan on dragging in the ones who are involved now.” The redhead answered simply. “It just kind of happened. Jack – Razorback was in the forest and found the creatures who were supposed to ambush me before they could do that. Chou just followed us one day, and no one can shake her when she's on a trail. Toni wouldn't take no for an answer, Sara is already tangled up with the Weres, and Jericho tagged along because Razorback was part of it. I couldn't have shaken, or dissuaded any of them no matter how much I might have tried.”
“Granted.” Delarose shook his head. “But you do realize the position this puts me in, don't you? I can't simply allow students here to put themselves at risk without doing something.”
“I understand that, Chief.” Nikki nodded. “But one thing to keep in mind here, everyone involved is quite capable of killing these creatures, and Jericho has a 'cure' for their venom on top of that. If Gaia decides someone is needed, it doesn't matter who or where they are. Events move them into place and demand action once they get there.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Frank nodded. “I've got to make a phone call here. Wait until I've finished that.”
Delarose punched a key on his phone and waited for a few seconds before someone answered. “Elizabeth, Frank here. We've got ourselves a real situation.”
“Yes, it's worse than that entity that broke out of the wards five years ago.” He told the woman on the other end of the line.
Nikki listened to a one sided take on the conversation and gathered enough information to know the person on the other end was not happy at all with what Delarose was telling her.
“Well.” Delarose finished with a visible shrug that actually came through in his voice. “We aren't going to keep them out of the forest regardless of what we try, other than putting each of them in heavily warded cells. They are effective against this threat, so I think we need to second them to my office.”
“That's right.” He answered quietly. “If the damned things show up on campus again, we can at least call the kids to help handle them, which my sources tell me they are quite capable of doing now.”
“Right.” The man answered. “Fey, Chou Lee, Chaka, Sara, Jericho, and Razorback so far. I'll caution Ms. Reilly about recruiting any more 'help' in this.”
Yes, they are.” Delarose actually grinned as he answered that question. “So what is your take on this?”
“I'll do that, and thanks.”
Hanging up the phone, he gave Nikki a long looking over and shook his head. “I'm afraid your modeling days are over, dear. From now on you work for Security. So do your friends.”
“Well, it could be worse.” Nikki responded with a little moue of disgust.
“Yes it could.” Delarose nodded. “But I have been in touch with the local Weres. Their Chief, tells me that you five are very good at fighting these creatures. All right, I believe that.”
“I know we couldn't hope to keep you kids from going into the forest. You and Sara Waite would probably just teleport in. The others could quite likely evade anything we set up to keep them out, plus the Grove seems to want you all there. Am I wrong in any of that?”
“Good. Here's the deal then, straight from Headmistress Carson.” Delarose told her. “Security won't even try to keep you all from going in there, but if these things get onto campus, you're all on call, and better answer. Or have a really good reason for not doing so. Got it?”
“Got it, sir.” The girl nodded without a trace of expression on her face.
“Plus. If you drag any other students into this morass, you personally, are to let me know the day that happens. Clear?”
“Of course, sir.” Nikki nodded.
“You'll receive the stipend that student members of security get.” Delarose told her. “And full security pay when you're called. Okay? That way none of you lose any of the income that you're making now, well, there aren't royalties like with those posters of you making the rounds here, but you kids won't do without money. Security pays very well here at Whateley.”
“Those damned posters.” The girl muttered, then shrugged with a grin. “I don't suppose security will ever raid Peeper and Greasy? If so I want to be in on it.”
“You and every female member of the student body and staff.” Delarose chuckled.
“All right, I think all of us can live with those conditions.” She grinned. “And actually be kind of pleased with them. Jack working for security. I'll bet he falls on the floor laughing when he hears this.”
“Oh, Razorback has been working really hard to get rid of that red armband.” He answered with a grin of his own. “I don't think he'll consider this a hardship at all, do you?”
“Probably not.” Nikki laughed. “Actually, I think he'll be delighted.”
“Just make sure your wild bunch knows what the ground rules are, all right?”
“Soon as I can find each one, I will.” The girl nodded.
“Good enough.” Delarose stood up and gestured at the door. “That's it for now.”
“See you later, boss.”
“Yeah, just don't go getting yourselves killed out there, all right?”
“Why change something that's worked so far?” Nikki gave him a serious look, then flashed an infectious grin. “We're adaptable, but if it works, it works. Staying alive is high on our priorities list, trust me.”
“I've noticed.” Delarose shook his head then gestured at the door. “Go on, get out of here now.”
“Damn.” He sighed once she was gone. “How in Hell am I going to deal with another five loose cannons in security? Oh, well, I'll just spread the joy around is all. Sam Everhart should be willing to take on a lot of that.”
Monday December 4th
Medawihla Tribal Lands 4:00 PM
“Well, it seems that this new 'Queen' has come through on her predecessor's promises.” Mrs. Donner told Eloise and Ben. “And from all you and the others involved so far say, quite effective in honoring the ancient pact.”
“Yes, she and her companions were a pleasant surprise in one way, and very troubling in another.” Eloise nodded. “Pleasant in that they can clearly hold their own against the Bastard's minions, which does give us another resource to call on when things get dicey there.”
“But troubling?” Mrs. Donner questioned with a lift of an eyebrow while helping herself to another cup of coffee. “In that our newest allies are basically children, even if very gifted ones?”
“Exactly so.” Eloise agreed with a sigh. “I got a call from Whateley Security, their Chief no less, about an hour ago. He isn't happy, but agrees that keeping those teenagers out of the forest would likely be impossible.”
“Frank Delarose is no fool.” Ben entered the conversation. “What were his conditions for not trying to keep them out? I gather there were at least a few of those from the way you mentioned him.”
“Just to do our best to keep any of the kids from getting injured too badly, or killed.” She sighed, then snorted. “I didn't know how to tell him we have our own hands full with this mess right now to the point of being close to getting overwhelmed by these attacks.”
“So that's an even better reason to work hard at keeping our new allies alive and well.” Ben moved to give his wife a tight hug. “We need them to be out here.”
“True.” Eloise snuggled into the hug and sighed. “I've given orders for those of us on the Whateley staff, mostly groundskeepers, to keep an eye on the kids as they can while they're on Campus grounds. As for out here... What do we do? We can't watch every bit of the forest all the time.”
“Charlie Lodgeman thinks he can set up a sort of alarm tied into the 'Watcher's Square' and is working on it now. That way whenever any of those kids do enter the forest, at least we'll know, and know where they are, and if they're in trouble or not.”
“Okay, but we can't count on that, either.” Eloise answered quietly. “We don't have enough qualified watchers to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the thing.”
“No. We don't.” Ben let out a sigh then grinned. “But we do have some pretty sophisticated surveillance gear at our disposal in addition to that. I've had crews setting more of that up on our border with the Academy. We do have enough qualified people to watch those twenty-four seven.”
“Which would, hopefully, give us warning when anyone enters the forest from Whateley.” Mrs. Donner added with a grin as she looked at the couple. “Daughter, I always felt your choice in mates was good. I'm glad to see that feeling is justified.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Ben grinned. “I'm glad you don't think I'm a total loss except for the babies your daughter isn't ready to give us yet.”
“You aren't too old, or too big for me to take a well chosen switch to, young man.” Mrs. Donner chuckled while making beating gestures with one hand and arm. “Don't push me here.”
“Perish the thought.” The were bear laughed.
“I can keep this one in line, Mom.” Eloise gave her mate a mock glare, then grinned at him.
“I know that, dear.” The older woman shook her head. “Just beat him about the head and shoulders as needed. It did wonders for your father, after all.”
Monday, December 4th
Somewhere in the Sierra Madres
The being universally called the Bastard considered what had gone on recently with his incursions into the heart of the Were tribes and the attempt to get some of his cats paws into Whateley. Both had ended in disaster, or so it appeared on the surface.
No survivors had returned, which was just as well. In one of his rages at being thwarted, he would have likely killed any such himself. But no survivors didn't necessarily mean no information. His links with his minions had given him a wealth of that, not much of it good, but informative.
He would need to concentrate some force on that Old One's damned school. The number of very powerful entities there was disturbing to say the least. Especially when the present incarnation of his ancient enemy was there. But he had defeated Aunghadhail once. All he required was a larger number of gifted minions to accomplish it. Not an easy thing; finding beings capable of channeling the sheer destructive force of a spell like the Sundering was a matter of careful watching, choosing, then recruitment.
The lives that would be required as a blood sacrifice to make the magic work would be easy. Suitable victims, and their souls, for that were just waiting to be scooped up in the throngs of the detestable humans that infested the world now.
Me? Working for Security? And getting paid for it? Razorback signed then gave a series of chirps that equated into a chuckle for him. Who'd have thunk it?
“Oh this just gets better and better.” Jericho muttered. “First Ophelia Tennant, The Caduceus comes personally to get samples of my hard work – the antidote, and now I've been drafted into Security. Does our new boss have any idea of what he's turning loose on this campus?”
“What do you mean?” Nikki gave him an innocent look, then giggled. “I would think he does. He has files on each of us that are already looking to be novel length from how thick they are. I think he's just covering his own butt on this one, and getting The Wild Bunch, that's what he called us, into a position where he could exercise a little bit more control on some of our more drastic tendencies.”
“Security?” Toni chirped with a wide grin. “Wow! Do we get badges, too?”
“We don't need no steenking baaadches.” Sara smirked. As all the others gave her puzzled looks she shrugged, never mind. A line from an old movie.”
“Treasure of the Sierra Madres.” Nikki chuckled. “My dad loves that movie.”
“Ahh, good to know at least one of you brats has some culture in your background.” Sara grinned.
The others threw bits of food at her for that one.
“Should have known better than pull that one out in the dining room.” The Daemon grinned ruefully while plucking pieces of vegetable and other food off her clothes and out of her hair. “One of you could have at least shared desert.”
December 5, Tuesday 7:00 AM
Nikki was waiting for Tennyo as the blue haired girl emerged from her room. She’d been observing her friend ever since Chief Delarose had brought what happened while she and the others were off fighting the voodoo weres. She found herself worrying for her friend even though Sara had laughed outright at the idea the Bastard might have corrupted her. Still, Billie was acting strange. Something had happened there that was really bothering her friend and she wasn’t about to sit around and do nothing.
“Hi Billie, how's things?”
“About like usual.” The other girl answered with an evasive shrug.
“That bad, huh?”
Billie dropped her head. “Yeah.”
“I just want you to know something here.” Nikki gave her friend a long, searching look. Disturbed by the way the usually straightforward Billie tended to avoid eye contact. “No matter what you've gone through, or think the consequences of that might be, you have friends who will listen if you need to talk. I hope you know that.”
Billie stopped for a moment as if thinking and then countered. “But do all of you talk to me about other things? You, Toni, Chou, and two of the outcasts are involved in something, but no one is willing to tell me what it is. This talking thing is a two way street, you know. We're supposed to be a team here.”
“Yeah, about that.” Nikki let out a sigh. “Delarose himself has told me to try and not to involve anyone else and you don't argue with the Chief of Security at Whateley. I'm sorry about that, but I’ll tell you what's going on if you're interested enough to listen.”
“Oh, I'm not going anywhere but breakfast.” Billie shrugged, then gave the Sidhe girl a hard look. “What kind of things are you and the others involved in that has Security ordering you not to involve anyone else?”
“I think you already know.” Billie managed to look surprised and guilty for some reason at that answer. Nikki let out a breath and gave a searching look of her own. “I know you ran into some of it the other day on the north perimeter. But I'll give you the details here and now about what I'm facing. If you decide to talk about what happened out there once I'm finished, I'll listen, if not, that's all right, too. I won't try to force it out of you.”
“People will think I'm more nuts than I am.” Billie grimaced, then nodded, a look of relief flashed across her face. “Okay, tell me what you have to say. I know I won't be able to shake you until you do.”
“Let's sit down for a while here.” Nikki waved to a wooden bench that was away from the path leading to other parts of the campus. “It'll take a while.”
“And you can shield our conversation there.” Billie grinned as she nodded. “All right.”
Once they had seated themselves, neither girl at all conscious of the early December cold or snow other than to brush it off the bench before they sat down, Nikki took a breath and started. “Well, it started last Friday night with that nightmare I had.”
“So you've been fighting these things for real since Friday night?” Billie asked once the Sidhe had finished her tale. “Sheesh, and they want to kill you specifically?”
“Not just me.” The redhead frowned, and started to spit in the snow but stopped herself, recalling that girls didn't do that kind of thing. “They're going after the local weres, and now I'm pretty sure they're coming for Whateley, too. We can't let them insinuate themselves into anything involved with this school, Billie. They can be subtle about doing that kind of thing, but we can't allow it. I think the weres around here and the kids and staff at this school are probably the best hope humanity has of successfully fighting these things.”
“Hell of a note.” Billie sighed. “Half of humanity ignores our existence, collectively, and a good part of the other half actively tries to kill us.”
“But we – all of us – owe our existence to that humanity.” Nikki countered. “You, me, none of us would be here if we hadn't first come from humans. No matter how some of them treat us, they deserve to be protected.”
“I'm not going to argue that.” Billie grimaced, then grinned. “Though my family are all mutants, too, I see what you're saying here.”
“So, what happened out there the other day?” Nikki asked point blank. “You know I'm not going to judge you, I just need to know.”
“All right.” Billie closed her eyes and suppressed a shudder. “I was... antsy. You, Toni, Chou and those two from the outcasts had gone off on some business that it was obvious no one else was welcome in, so I was just kind of wandering around when I saw this security guy headed for the perimeter and suddenly decided to follow him and see what was going on.”
“The cameras and scanners were fouled.” Nikki put in. “Someone used cold magic to coat things with ice, opaque ice.”
“If you know all this, why am I telling you?” Billie questioned acidly.
“Sorry. Go on with your story.”
“Well, the guy was talking to someone through his communicator for a while, then just stopped as he walked towards the forest.” Billie went on with a short nod. “But all of a sudden, he put the communicator in his belt, got this dazed look on his face and just kept walking towards the trees.”
“He was under a compulsion spell.” Nikki provided.
“I thought it was something like that.” The other girl nodded. “So I followed to see what was happening.”
“And?” Nikki prompted as Billie seemed reluctant to go on for a second or two.
“This thing came out of the woods.” Billie went on softly, almost rushing to get something out. “I... I've been hungry for months, Nikki. Nothing I can get at Crystal Hall seems to really satisfy that hunger. But this thing just pulled at me instinctively. I reached out and ate it.” An odd predatory smile flitted across Billie’s face. “I don't how else to describe what happened, but it was sooo good.” She was waving her hands for emphasis. “Better than a rare steak, or a pile of hamburgers. It just satisfied me in a way nothing else has since I changed. And I loved it.”
For a moment Billie just sat there in a reverie of remembrance. Nikki prodded her out of it. “Go on, please.”
“Oh. Ummm. After that one, I sensed more of them in the area, and hunted them.” Billie ran a hand through her spiky hair. “So I just kind of reached out and took them too. Gods, it was the best meal I'd had in months. Then, after that, I turned to the security guy and almost did the same thing to him, but something in me knew, just knew, that he wouldn't taste good, so I didn't.”
“You restrained yourself.” Nikki nodded with a smile and reaching out to hug the other girl who’d dropped her head again. “Sara tells me your not quite like the others. She thinks you and the Old Ones are connected somehow, but not in a friendly way. I think I’m starting to see now. If that makes any sense at all. A human just wasn't on your menu.”
“But you did control yourself.” Nikki countered with another smile.
“Yeah.” Billie nodded.
Nikki shifted the subject again. “So do you think you can feel these things when they're close?”
“The way I reacted to them the other day?” Billie thought for a moment and nodded with that predatory look again. “Yeah. One of them gets within a mile of the place, I'll know it.”
“Good enough.” The redhead nodded, all business in that gesture. “Would you be willing to let security know when something like that happens? Like immediately?”
“Sure, but what are they going to think when I do?” Billie questioned with a worried expression. “I'm already on the short list for shipment to a containment cell at ARC. I know that. Won't something like this just get me there a whole lot faster than the normal disasters I have to deal with?”
“Not once I talk to Delarose.” Nikki assured the other girl. “Just agree to alert security whenever you sense one of these things close to the campus. I'm pretty sure that they won't keep you from going after them once you do that, but they do need to know. Okay?”
“Deal.” Billie sighed, then tilted her head. “But I want proof of that from Delarose himself.”
“No problem.” The Sidhe girl chuckled. “I'll pass this info to him right now, and you can call him to confirm it, or I'll have him tell you himself. Will that work?”
“Yeah.” Billed closed her eyes and nodded. “You don't know how worried I've been about going insane here. Have him contact me, please.”
“You aren't any more insane than the rest of us on Team Kimba.” Nikki grinned, then shrugged. “But since that ninja incident, none of us are really candidates for being called exactly sane, you know. Don't worry, I'll get this information passed to Delarose for you, and trust me. He'll get in touch with you.”
“You're sure of that?”
“Billie, I spent three very uncomfortable hours with the man yesterday.” Nikki retorted. “Believe me, I'm sure.”
Billie nodded with an obvious look of relief. “Okay. Good enough for me.”
Nikki gave the girl a gentle push off the bench. “Now go get your breakfast and stop worrying, my friend.”
“Good plan.” Billie grinned. “I'm always hungry these days.”
“I have the feeling that hunger is going to get eased in the immediate future.” Nikki's violet eyes narrowed and took on a very dangerous look as she said that. “This mess isn't near over with.”
“You guys need backup, holler.” Billie told the other girl.
“No problem. You know I will.”
“You've hung with me through all the trouble so far.” Billie told her. “I'll hang with you, even if I'm not supposed to get involved actively.”
“That's all I need to hear.” Nikki let loose a dazzling smile. “Now go get some breakfast. I have to go do my forms.”
“Okay, see you later.”
“Count on it.”
Kane Hall: Security Offices
“Hi Nikki greeted the officer at the front desk with a smile as she entered the security offices. “Is the Chief available?”
“He's with someone right now, Miss Reilly.” The man replied as he returned her smile. “Is it important? I'll let him know you're here if it is. Otherwise it could be a while.”
“I have a break between classes just now.” Nikki grimaced slightly then nodded. “It's important enough, but I can wait for a while.”
“Have a seat then, oh, welcome to the team. I'm Eddie Franks, I think your security ID is ready, too. Give me a minute and I'll have someone bring it out.”
“It's already done?” Nikki shook her head. “Isn't that kind of fast, even for around here?”
“It's one of those 'special cases', you know.” Eddie grinned. “You'd be surprised just how fast things can get done if they're really needed around here.”
A young woman entered from an adjacent office and walked to the desk. “You called, Eddie?”
“Yup, I did, gorgeous.” The guy grinned and faked ducking from an equally faked punch aimed at his head. “Emily, this is Nikki Reilly, one of our new auxiliaries, Miss Reilly, this lovely lady is Emily Strong, our documentation wizard.”
“Call me Em.” The woman grinned as she produced a laminated card the size of a standard driver's license and handed it to Nikki. “Here you go, now I don't have to tell you to be careful with this, it will give you access to a lot of places most students aren't allowed to go, but don't overuse it. If you do you'll be doing a LOT of explaining to the boss. Okay?”
“Sure, Em.” Nikki looked at the card, with a very good photo of her on the right hand side and a list of information on the other. “What kind of places?”
“Weapons lockers, armor depots, and some short cuts between places on campus that are restricted to staff. Anything with a red border won't let you pass, but this card will give you access to anything else.”
“Okay.” The girl nodded, giving the card a careful looking over before pulling out her wallet placing the card in it, then replacing it in her purse. “What happens if I do manage to lose it somehow?”
“It's specifically keyed to you, so won't work for anyone else.” Em shrugged, then frowned. “But they're a bitch to replace, so please don't do that if you can avoid it, Miss Reilly.”
“You may as well call me Nikki.” The redhead nodded with a little grin. “I think I'll be seeing a lot of this office in the next few years, only not quite like I'd first thought I would.”
“Yeah.” Eddie chuckled. “You and your friends do seem to be regular trouble magnets, don't you?”
“Tell me about it.” Nikki grumbled. “We don't even need to go looking for it. Trouble just treats us like the idiots who made the mistake of feeding a stray puppy, if you know what I mean.”
“We've noticed, Nikki.” Emily laughed and shook her head. “Though things have been really interesting around here this last semester, not only because of Team Kimba, though your bunch has been a major contributer at times.”
“I guess some people just aren't destined for nice quiet lives.” Nikki grimaced then shrugged. “My friends and I seem to be among those, unfortunately.”
“Welcome to Security, Kiddo.” Emily smiled and winked. “Quiet lives aren't on the menu here, I'm afraid, so you'll fit right in.”
Nikki just shook her head and let out a long sigh, much to the amusement of the others in the outer office.
A few minutes later the door to Delarose's office opened and the security Chief escorted, of all people, Eloise Donner out. Nikki rose from her seat and greeted the woman. “Hi Eli, what brings you to Whateley? Not that I'm fussing, it's nice to see you.”
“And you, La – Nikki.” Eloise responded with a wide smile. “Don't worry, we weren't discussing you in there, I promise.”
“That's good news.” The girl grinned a little sheepishly. “I get the idea I've already been discussed, in distressing depth, over the past few days by a lot of people.”
“Oh, probably.” Eloise chuckled. “It happens at times, you know.”
“More often than just at times with me. I think.”
“Some people just demand that kind of thing, dear.” Eloise nodded sympathetically. “I'd advise you to get used to it now. That way it's easier to ignore when it happens too often for your comfort.”
“So, did you get your ID?” Delarose redirected the conversation with a small grin of his own.
“Yup.” Nikki nodded. “Along with instructions for it's care and feeding.”
“Good.” The Chief nodded with a look to both Emily and Eddie. “I hope these two didn't tell you to check out the sewers, they usually do that to new recruits.”
“We wouldn't do that to her, boss!” Eddie gave them all an innocent look, then grinned. “Besides, you came out your office before the subject came up.”
“Good thing.” Eloise laughed. “This girl is a handful, and I don't think she'd let you get away clean from a prank like that.”
“Probably not.” Emily nodded judiciously, then flashed a mischievous grin. “But sometimes the payback is as much fun as the prank.”
“Yeah.” Eddie added his own nod and grin to the proceedings. “It helps us figure out how well the newbies will fit in and work with the rest of us, too.”
“Watch these two very carefully.” Delarose told Nikki with a chuckle. “They're security's resident pranksters, and are quite notorious for it on the force.”
“I'm beginning to see that.” Nikki answered with a twinkle in her violet eyes. “I felt them having fun to the point of almost being gleeful just before you showed up.”
“Oh, yes, I did forget to mention that Nikki here is a class 5 empath, didn't I?” Delarose innocently put in.
“It's in her records, boss.” Emily shrugged. “Just makes things more of a challenge is all. At least she isn't a telepath.”
“I haf vays of mekking you talk.” Nikki narrowed her eyes then laughed.
“Oh, yes.” Emily grinned. “This one is going fit right in.”
“Well, I have to be going here.” Eloise smiled and offered her hand to Delarose. “Thanks for the help, Frank. I do appreciate it.”
“Part of the deal around here.” Delarose took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “The accords not entering into it here, when friends ask for help from me, they get it.”
“Well, thanks again.” The woman nodded then turned to Nikki. “Good seeing you again, dear. Take care of yourself.”
“You too.” The redhead responded with a nod of her own followed with a dazzling smile. “See you later, Eli.”
“Well, I know I hadn't sent out calls for you kids to come get your ID cards.” Delarose looked at Nikki thoughtfully. “So what brings you here during class time, young lady?”
“Business.” Nikki answered, then grinned. “I have a pass from class this morning, got to go see a couple of doctors a little later on.”
“Nothing serious, I hope?”
“Just routine checkups, mostly.” Nikki answered with a shrug. “And a visit with Dr. Bellows after that.”
“Oh, I won't pry.” Delarose moved towards his office. “Come on in.”
Once she was seated in the man's office with the door closed, Nikki let out a little sigh. “Well, I talked with Billie a little while ago. She told me what happened on the north perimeter.”
“Just like that?”
“Umm, no.” The girl shook her head. “I had to tell her what was going on before she'd open up to me about things. There wasn't any other way to get it done, Chief. That's the truth. Billie would never have even let a hint drop to anyone if I hadn't done that.”
“Understandable.” Delarose nodded. “So just what did happen out there?”
“Billie did save your man's life.” Nikki started. “She also discovered something else that greatly disturbs her. She can detect these 'Voodoo Wolves', as Jericho has labeled them, from a fair distance, and tells me that she just kind of ate the four that had tried to get to Corwell.”
“Kind of ate.” Delarose closed his eyes for moment wondering if things could get any weirder and decided that it was Whateley, so the probability was pretty high. “How could she kind of eat something?”
“I'm not all that clear on the mechanics of the thing.” The girl shrugged. “But it seems that she can reach out with some kind of energy she hasn't used before. When it touches things they just dissolve into some other kind of energy that nourishes her like nothing else she's ever found. She said they taste good, for crying out loud.”
“This just gets better and better, doesn't it?”
“Uh huh.” Nikki nodded slowly. “She didn't eat Corwell that way, even in the state she was in at the time Billie knew that was wrong and refrained from doing it, but the man did see what she did to the creatures, and her hesitation when she finally looked at him. I think that's why he's so terrified of her right now.”
“The thought scares me.” Delarose answered slowly. “And I didn't personally witness what happened. So how is Billie handling it?”
“She's worried that if word gets out she'll be judged totally insane, and get shipped off to a special holding cell at ARC.” Nikki answered quietly. “I tried pointing out to her that she saved the guy's life, and resisted the urge to – feed on him that way. I don't know if it helped any, but I did tell her that much, and that I'd let you know what happened. You aren't going to have her shipped off are you?”
“No.” Delarose shook his head. “Security owes the girl, and if she can detect these things at a distance, and eliminate them so easily, we need her right here, don't we?”
“Yes.” Nikki answered with relief in her posture and voice. “She has agreed to alert security if she feels any more of them in the vicinity.”
“Good enough for me.” Delarose sat back and chuckled briefly. “I'll let the right people know to be on the alert for warnings from her on this. Is there anything else?”
“One thing.” Nikki gave him a very direct look. “She wants some reassurance, more like needs it right now, actually. Could you get in contact with her for that? Please?”
“You bet.” Delarose returned her gaze levelly. “I have never run into a bunch of freshmen who are so potentially dangerous and fascinating at the same time. Life isn't ever dull around here, but lately...”
“Yeah, I know, sir.” The girl said quietly. “None of us planned on coming through the change like we did, you know. We're all still getting things worked out so we won't be such a danger to people. I know I sure wish I'd never gone through my mutation at times.”
“You aren't alone in that. The wishing you could have stayed normal, I mean.”
“I know.” Nikki gave him a slow, almost sad smile. “I also know that I'm a lot better off than some of the other kids here. Just feeling a little sorry for myself and my friends right now is all. I'll be fine in a few minutes.”
“You're still going over to Hawthorne on a regular basis, aren't you?” Delarose asked, though he knew the answer.
“Oh, yeah.” Nikki's wan smile brightened a bit. “I help out there where and when I can. So does the rest of TK.”
“I know.” Delarose nodded. “You're all doing a good thing there.”
“Those kids at Hawthorne crave contact with more normal people who won't ridicule, despise, or just ignore them.” Delarose smiled. “You and your friends are providing a lot of that and don't think it goes unnoticed. Or is unappreciated.”
“All any of them want is to be treated like regular people.” Nikki nodded, then grinned at Delarose. “Oh, I got it. Point taken, sir, and thanks.”
“No problem.” Delarose smiled cheerfully. “It's part of what I do around here. But you're welcome. Is there anything else?”
“Then I believe you have some appointments you need to get to?”
“That I do.” The girl arose from her seat with an unconscious grace that was nearly breathtaking even once a person got used to seeing it. “Thanks again, boss.”
“Get going.” Delarose mock growled as he shooed her out of the office. “I'll get in touch with Miss Wilson at her next break in classes, by the way.”
“Great.” Nikki waved through the closing door with a wide grin.
“These kids.” Frank shook his head. “They're always teaching you something you didn't expect.”
Medawihla Tribal Lands
“So how are the girls doing in their new digs?” Ben asked once Eloise had gotten inside, settled and was contemplating the lunch he'd prepared for them in her absence.
“Fine so far.” She answered with a little quirk of her mouth. “Paige seems to have made a friend already – A Jimmy T. Nice kid but he has some problems of his own, so she won't be feeling like she's the only one who deals with that kind of thing. I also heard that our redheaded queen and her friends are pretty active about working with, and just being there for the kids in Hawthorne. Elizabeth and Frank both speak very highly of those kids, by the way.”
“If what I've seen so far is any indication.” Ben nodded, I can see that. Though one wouldn't really expect a bunch of kids who look like this Team Kimba does would go out of their way to be friendly with the GSD kids there, would you?”
“Not on the surface.” Eloise nodded, then chuckled. “It seems they all had to do some detention working with the kids in Hawthorne and just kept going back once that was finished. By all accounts they actually like a lot of the kids in that dorm and the feeling is returned. But the upshot here is that Paige will be seeing Nikki and others on a regular basis, so I think that's a good thing.”
“I think so too. Mostly.” Ben agreed, then shrugged. “Cubs and kits from any race are always a handful, dear. The kids we know at all well at Whateley are no exception to that rule, are they? It's good that Paige is going to have contacts outside her dorm in my opinion.”
“Mine too, love.” Eloise smiled. “Even if they all, including ours, tend to be trouble magnets.”
“Like I said, like I said.” The were bear chuckled then gestured to the steaming roast on the table. “Now let's eat, it's been six hours since breakfast, you know.”
“You don't need to save up fat for hibernation, you know.” Eli teased while helping herself to a large piece of the meat.
“Nope, but what I eat, I manage to work off.” Ben laughed. “Especially being married to you. I need all the energy I can get my paws on.”
“I'll take that as a compliment, dear.”
“Oh, it was. Believe me it was.” Ben nodded with a grin.
“Never tease a lady with a fork in her hand, dear.”
“I promise not to grab for your food, my love, getting stuck with a fork hurts.”
Whateley: Dr. Bellows' Office
Nikki stood in front of the psychiatrist's door for a few seconds, thinking about what she was getting into by entering this office. Issues she'd never really discussed with anyone would have to be dredged up and grasped, squirming and nasty as a bloated leech, while she and the doctor looked at them. Then they'd be dissected like a frog in biology lab. Not a pleasant prospect. Not at all.
But even so, it was something she needed to do, badly. The past few days had driven that home with far more force than she let anyone else know.
The appointment with Dr. Tennant had taken awhile, been involved, but was only a physical examination, bad as some of that was at times. This appointment, though, promised to unravel parts of her psyche she wasn't all that certain she wanted to really know anything about, let alone share with someone else.
Sighing, she opened the door and entered the waiting room, to find Bellows already there, and obviously waiting for her. The man gave her a reassuring smile and waved her towards the inner office. “Hello, Nikki. Come on in, I'll be with you in a minute here.”
“Please hold my calls unless it's a real emergency, Natalie.” He told the young woman seated at the front desk.
The smile the woman, rather unremarkable if pretty, gave Bellows and Nikki transformed her face into a thing of rare beauty. “Sure, Doc. I'll hold off the barbarians until you're ready to face them down.”
“I know you will.” Bellows chuckled then followed Nikki into his office.
Once the door was closed, the man gestured to a comfortable easy chair. “Have a seat, please.”
After Nikki had done so, he settled himself into another that was set at ninety degrees from the one she was in. “How are you, Nikki? It's been awhile since I've really had the chance to talk with you.”
“In general, okay.” The girl responded slowly.
“Yeah, just okay.” She nodded with a sigh. “I'm having some problems with things lately is all.”
“Would you like to talk about them?” Bellows quietly asked.
“No, but I will.” Nikki sighed. “I need to get some of this out or it's really going to make me crazy as some people around here think I am.”
“All right.” Bellows nodded. “Start wherever you think you need to, I'm listening.”
“Well, I'm pretty well adjusted to this 'being a girl' thing, even enjoy it most of the time these days.” She started with a small grin. “Though it still kind of jolts me off and on, especially when I wake up in the mornings. That isn't what I came in for, though. Like I said it just surprises me off and on by still feeling off, for a few seconds.”
“Normal enough for someone in your position.” Bellows nodded with an encouraging smile. “So if that isn't the problem, what is?”
“All the other things that came with this mutation.” Nikki sighed. “Do you know, I hardly ever got into a fight before I changed. But since I've been here at Whateley I've been in more of those than I was my whole life before.”
“Unfortunate, yes.” Bellows leaned forward a little, then settled back into his chair. “But answer this for me. Did you specifically start any of those fights since you've been here?”
“No.” The girl rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Well, maybe one, if you count me being involved with that mess over at Crystal Hall with the Alphas, and the Ninja thing could make two. Otherwise, no.”
“Well let me ask you this.” The man looked at her for a moment as if gathering his thoughts. “Did you set out in either of these two cases to actively hurt anyone? Were you actually planning mayhem in either of those incidents.”
“Not the first time.” Nikki shook her head. “I was just helping my friends stop those Ninjas from stealing something from our cottage. With the Alphas, I'd have to say yes and I'm not really sorry about it either. One of them had kidnapped a friend, and we just trying to get her back.”
“Then you'd call those both justifiable?”
“I suppose, if that kind of thing can ever be really justified.” She nodded uncertainly. “Ever since I changed, I've worried that my powers are going to hurt someone, or kill them. Especially some innocent bystanders.”
“That's a commendable concern, Nikki.” Bellows nodded with a smile of his own. “One that shows a lot of maturity, and an awareness of what you could do if you aren't careful.”
“Well, the other day it happened.” She whispered, obviously in more than a little emotional turmoil and pain. “I killed innocents who'd just had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Accidents do happen.”
“It wasn't an accident!” She nearly came up out of the chair as her voice rose. “I deliberately killed them!”
“Why?” Bellows asked gently. “I know you well enough to know there had to have been a reason for something like that to happen.”
They – They were contaminated with something awful.” She answered, with tears running down her cheeks. “There was no way to cure them, so I just – just killed them.”
“They would have spread this 'contamination' if you hadn't done that, I take it? Or were suffering a lot?”
“Buh-- both.” Nikki responded. “But they weren't fighting me, they were helpless. And I just wiped them out of existence as if they bugs that needed stepped on, or didn't matter to anyone or anything. I destroyed them, dammit!”
“If it's any help, I don't know the particulars of the incident, but Frank Delarose did give me a call a while ago.” Bellows moved forward to give her shoulder a light squeeze. “All he told me was that you'd done a necessary thing, one that anyone decent would have had a hard time with, but you took the responsibility and did what needed to be done. Even when others offered to do it instead.”
“It was my fault.” The girl stared at the floor. “Those things wouldn't be around here now if they hadn't come for me in the first place. I caused those two to be contaminated, it wasn't fair to put the burden on someone else. I had to do it.”
“Nikki, listen to me here.” The doctor remained in his forward leaning position “Did you infect either one of these people with the disease? Or draw them into the area so they could get contaminated?”
“No!” The girl looked horrified by the idea. “I wouldn't do something like that if I could avoid it.”
“But I've involved friends in the mess now, too.” She miserably went on. “People I love, to be honest, and if they die because of this I'll never forgive myself.”
“I think I understand that.” He nodded, then gave her a compassionate look. “The thing you need to forgive yourself for at the moment is the two patrolmen who died last Sunday, isn't it?”
“Yeah.” With a sob, she nodded, then shook her head. “But I can't do that, not just yet. And I know more people are going to die over this thing. Worse, I'm stuck right in the middle of it and there isn't any way out but to fight, and watch others -- innocents and friends -- go down before it's over.”
“You're defending some things you believe in, and hold dear, aren't you?”
“Yes.” She said in a voice half strangled by tears. “But that doesn't make it any easier.”
“It never does, honey.” Bellows swallowed before he went on. “One thing to keep in mind here is that the friends and others fighting with you against these things know what they've gotten into. They do, don't they?”
“Oh, yeah. They know.”
“They're willingly putting themselves into harms way alongside you, right?”
“Then don't blame yourself for things you can't control, that's all I can tell you here.”
“But everyone, the weres, my friends, all of them are looking to me – ME – for leadership here, and I'm afraid I'm going to get all of us killed. I'm no general or tactical genius. I'm not ready for the responsibility!”
“But you can't step away from it, either, I gather?”
“No. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without hating what I see if I even tried doing that.”
“Kind of sounds like you're stuck with the job, then.”
“That's for sure.” She bitterly answered, then gave an apologetic little smile. “I'm kind of stuck all the way around here, aren't I?”
“Sounds that way.” Bellows nodded sympathetically then added. “But there is this to consider. If those looking to you for leadership are still of the same mind, I'd say they have a lot of confidence in you.”
“Yeah, right.” Nikki sighed. “Little school yard brawls, I can handle. I don't know Jack about leading people into a real battle.”
“I can't handle this for you, Nikki.” Bellows let out a long sigh. “But I would think there are people around you that are also involved who do know Jack about what's really worrying you here. Learn from them, ask for opinions, weigh options, and trust the people with you. The more you learn the less you'll worry about your ability to handle the position you've been put into.”
“I doubt that.” Nikki sighed but nodded. “Okay, hopefully I'll at least get better at doing this kind of thing, but I don't think I'll ever not worry about it.”
“”You'll be in good company, Nikki.” Bellows shrugged. “Any leader worthy of being followed has worried about thing like that at one time or another, and probably felt just as inadequate for the job as you do right now.”
“Like that makes me feel any better.” She grimaced, but did manage a smile that didn't look pained.
“I'll be around anytime you need to talk things out.” He answered. “Twenty-four hours a day. I'll get you a cared with my cell number on it before you leave.”
“I also have a suggestion here.” He went on. “Go talk with Gunny Bardue, Sergent Wilson and Chief Delarose. Between them those three have forgotten more about tactics than most people ever learn.”
“I will, thanks.”
“Now, is there something else you need to talk about or do you want to stay on this particular subject?”
Wednesday December 6
Medical Labs: Research wing
Ophelia Tennant entered the lab area and simply watched the activity for a few minutes before approaching the small group gathered around one particular project. Seeing that the techs and doctor engrossed in the job weren't going to look up any time soon she shook her head and walked forward to join them. “Not that I'm complaining here, but you folks are really geeking out on whatever you're working on, aren't you?”
“We're still breaking down that anti-toxin you brought us in the other day.” Dr. Ted Rascomb, chief of medical research answered without looking up from the image on the electron microscope.
“I'm fine, Ted, thanks for asking.” Ophelia chuckled. “So how's it going?”
“The kids here come up with some really amazing things.” Rascomb responded without acknowledging her teasing dig. “This stuff is so complex it took our computer hours to break it down into components.”
“So what have you found out?”
“Evidently.” Rascomb straightened to give Ophelia a quick smile as he looked at her. “This stuff is designed to eat some kind of retrovirus. Literally. I've never seen anything like it before. Just think of the possibilities here! A cure for the common cold, and any other illness caused by viruses! The suffering we could alleviate if we can get this thing to work on other viruses.”
“That's good.” Ophelia nodded with a grin at his exuberance. “But can you duplicate it as is?”
“Oh that.” Rascomb waved to a mass of tubing, retorts, and burners in the isolation area of the lab. “On it already. We should have the first batch ready in a few hours, though the sample of the toxin itself is a very stubborn little critter. It seems to actively fight any attempt to break it down.”
“So I've heard.” Ophelia nodded grimly. “Have you tried duplicating the toxin?”
“Oh, good lord no!” Rascomb shook his head emphatically. “Even if we could do that at this point, I wouldn't allow it. It spreads into any organic material it touches. After out first series of tests to see how it worked, we have more of it on hand than I'm comfortable with having around. Once we finish the testing of the anti-toxin, I'll be sure we've destroyed most of that nasty little bug we have here.”
“Most of it?”
“Well, a small sample, frozen and in isolation would simply be a precaution against needing to work with it again.”
“I'll trust you to be very careful with it, Teddy.” Ophelia gave the man's shoulder a squeeze. “I know you and your staff are good at what you do. I'm just a general practitioner here. So forgive my worries about this stuff.”
“Nothing to forgive, Ophelia.” Rascomb smiled then shook his head. “If all you are is a general practitioner, I'm a kid with cheap chemistry set.”
“Flatterer.” Ophelia grinned. “Don't forget about dinner Saturday.”
“What? And miss out on your Cordon Bleu?” Rascomb put on an appalled expression. “Ruby would kill me.”
“See you two then.” Ophelia grinned. “Ask Ruby to do some of that cherry dream if she has time, I adore that stuff.”
“I'll do that, Ophelia.”
“Well, back to work now.” Tennant sighed. “See you later, Teddy. Do let me know if anything else comes up with this stuff, would you?”
“Of course, dear lady, of course.” Rascomb waved distractedly as he returned his attention to the microscope screen.
Wednesday December 6 - The Forest Bordering Whateley
Nikki ducked a set of slashing claws, while putting a quick shield up to protect Chou's back when two of the 'Voodoo Wolves' tried hitting her from behind while the girl was busy with three in front of her.
“Damn! And this was such a nice quiet day up to now.”
Chaka, wielding her mithril Kukri, got time to give the Sidhe girl a roll of her eyes. “Those are the ones that sneak up and grab you, Nikki!”
“Tell me about it.” The redhead grumped as she put up a spell that dissolved another group of the enemy.
“Could you maybe point that this way?” Jericho requested while pointing to a large group of the infected weres bearing down on him. “I've used up the magazines I brought with me. In other words... HELP!”
Sara reached with a few tentacles and grabbed a few of that bunch, smashing them into each other and convenient trees while she worked at permanently taking them apart.
“Got 'em.” Nikki answered as she renewed the spell and aimed it at the remaining creatures attacking the blind boy. “Just promise me that you'll let someone with taste chose you next outfit, okay? That lime green and hot pink combo makes me want to puke.”
“Thanks.” Jericho called out, loading a magazine he'd forgotten about because it was in his back pocket. “And what's wrong with my coordination, anyway?”
“You're BLIND!” Nikki countered while taking the head off another the Bastard's minions with Melachim's Feather. “Please, please, get someone with real eyes to vet your outfits.”
“Everyone's a critic.” Jericho complained, aiming and firing as he complained. The targets, dissolved under the anti-toxin he'd developed against the Bastard's minions. “Now that's interesting.”
“Quit analyzing.” Chou shouted while Destiny's Wave cut a swath through the attackers. “Kill the suckers!”
“Yeah, I can analyze the bits and pieces later.” The blind boy tossed his dreadlocks with a grin and pointed his weapon at a concentration of the monsters. You guys will let me pick up the pieces, right?”
“YES!” The group chorused.
Whateley: Firing Range 4
Mule and Bunker grinned as they finished all of the necessary paperwork to check out their ammunition for the range. Even though no teachers were present they meticulously ensured everything was in order before carefully drawing a thousand rounds of 7.62 millimeter linked ammunition and two thermobaric rocket loads for Bunker's Quad. Each load carried four rockets, and most of the Grunts' ammunition allotment was paid for by Uncle Sam, so they were doubly meticulous, drilled by Range Four's former teacher in the fine art of covering one's own ass.
"Oh my God I can't believe we got authorization to do an unsupervised night fire out here!" Bunker was ecstatic. She had just gotten the paperwork pushed through and now had her very own Class C firearms license, which allowed her to get hold of some fairly terrifying hardware.
"I told ya before Bunker, toe the line and don't fuck up and you get trusted here. You been doing good even if you are a hothead." Mule grinned as he put on his best 'wiser than thou face.' "And even if you ARE just a girl."
Bunker scowled at him. "You know, one of these days I'm gonna whup your ass Dom. You're just too damned smug for your own good."
"Ok Andy, whatever you say." He went back to hauling his ammo cans as she hefted the rockets, only mildly showing effort. For such a tiny girl she could give some professional boxers a run for their money in the raw strength department.
The two kids in their digital-camouflage fatigues happily began weapons checks and loaded the ammunition into the weapons and grinned. Besides Slapdash they were the Grunts' heavy firepower. As they finished Bunker looked up. "Who the hell are they?"
Mule looked over and saw the four men and three women walking up the range from the direction of the utility huts, blithely acting as if they belonged there. What he saw didn't mesh well with his understanding of normal GSD kids, or teenagers. These people didn't LOOK right. They obviously didn't belong here, and the open sores and odd gait didn't suit their bodies. He was also fairly sure that he'd have heard about a girl with more than the normal set of breasts. When he saw something wriggling under the blonde's blouse he and Bunker hissed and drew weapons, locked and stood their ground.
"All right that's far enough you lot!" Bunker crouched partially covered by Mule's wall-like bulk as the six continued forward. "Mule, do these assholes remind you of anything?" She couldn't see his wide-eyed look of disbelief at the things coming towards them.
"Yeah looks an awful lot like that crazy Demon-bitch Bardue plugged at us!"
Bunker didn't wait, reaching out telekinetically as the lead woman grew wicked, barbed claws at her fingertips and started morphing into something part human, part snake and part something else. Her mind started crawling until she slammed her mental shields up and grabbed the lead two psychically and lobbed them straight to the sky. They crashed down amidst their friends and the lot of them started shifting into that odd mix of human, beast and other.
The monsters charged, Mule opened fire at the cyclic rate, tearing the lead three nearly in half as one leapt over them straight at Mule. bunker backed up as Mule caught the thing that writhed and slashed at him ineffectually against his TK field by the throat and slammed it to the ground one-handed. A short burst to the skull from Baby later and the thing stopped moving.
Bunker had grabbed one of the things with her telekinetic powers and was hanging it by the throat, choking the life from it as the other four pulled themselves together and bolted off towards the woods. She looked around for a moment to make sure there were no witnesses and twisted her power into a flat plane and constricted the TK force, slicing the were-thing's head off neatly. She didn't want anyone finding out about THAT trick that wasn't on her team.
"Grab your banger and go shorty! These sonzabitches ain't getting outta here on our watch!" Mule roared and charged on an intercept course straight through the range impact area as Bunker lined up a shot with her launcher and fired a single round at the fleeing monsters.
The thermobaric rocket exploded with a bright flash of fiery light, filling the air with burning particles that seared the flesh off of three of the beasts, and killed them where they had been running. The fourth was on fire and screaming as it darted into the woods, trying to put itself out. She didn't follow Mule, opting to go airborne and fly using her own telekinetic power to carry her over the landscape littered with burned-out hulks and unexploded ordinance that he could tromp over with near-impunity.
The Forest Bordering Whately
The cleanup was finished, Jericho had gathered his specimens and was examining the remnants of their former attackers with interest when the sound of automatic weapons fire, a lot of it, and the dull boom of explosives reached them.
“What the..?” Toni looked in the direction of the noise with a concerned, curious expression. Oh, one of the firing ranges is off that way, isn't it?.”
“Yup.” Jericho confirmed, then listened to the cacophony of shots and booms for a few seconds and shook his head. “But those shots and explosions are moving away from the range if I remember the setup right.”
Looking into the distance, Nikki nodded. “Yes, the sound is moving, and towards us. Something's going on over there and I don't think it's good.”
Razorback snorted as he caught a familiar, and nasty scent then signed in clear agitation. Voodo Wolves!
Eloise and Ben approached the group of kids, both looking into the distance as they did. Eloise shook her head, muttering about the noise from the ranges then spoke. “Well, that takes care of this lot of them. We had casualties of our own, but they're being taken care of. What's with the evening fireworks over there?”
“We think some more of the bad guys wandered into one of the firing ranges.” Nikki answered as she began to move towards the sounds of a pitched battle. “And ran into someone getting ready to do some practice, but now all the shooting is off the range and headed this way.”
“Lovely.” Eloise sighed. “I'll get the troops together and we'll follow you.”
Sara scanned the horizon and nodded. “Yeah, we need to get over there. I can feel a lot of the monsters over that way.”
The two groups, students and weres, assembled and headed in the direction of the sounds, hearing screams, roars, and shouts mixed with the firing and explosions as they neared the source. What they saw when they arrived momentarily stopped all of them in something like amazed awe.
Mule and Bunker were in the Zone. The fleeing monstrosity had led them right into an ambush, or it would have been an ambush had the great pack of nasties not been intent on going somewhere. The two fought side-by-side, using the teamwork and sheer violence that had been taught to them by Bardue, Wilson and Mahren. When small groups rushed, Mule gunned them down so Bunker could burn the lot with her rockets. When they clustered up, both Grunts let fly. The ensuing havoc and destruction was insane as the two seeming children began the dance of death that rapidly left their weapons dry of ammunition, punctuated by burning brush and melting snow.
The trees in the area had been savaged, whole swathes of vegetation leveled and shattered as the pair of them stuck to the Grunts' tactical philosophy: Training and ingenuity trump power. Collateral damage wasn't to be worried about as the remaining eight of the demonic beasts charged at the seemingly helpless children, only to find that the boy and girl before them weren't so helpless.
Nikki burst through the trees to see the destruction and charred bodies right behind Razorback. The others arrived shortly thereafter with Jericho huffing and wheezing behind. They saw the two Grunts, covered in blood, ichor and scorch marks back-to-back as six of the beasts circled. Two shattered bodies lay at their feet, as well as a rather large machine gun and boxy rocket launcher. Weapons abandoned as useless in the face of the onslaught. Both of them had a long kukhri in hand, and were watching their enemies with a wary eye.
Toni started to shoot forward when Jericho grabbed her shoulder. "Wait Chaka. Watch. I know those two. These Voodoo-Wolves don't stand a chance."
Razorback nodded, though he was antsy to join the fight. Diving in on the Grunts, any Grunts, when they're in kill-mode was about the dumbest thing to do.
"We need to help them." Nikki hissed as Eloise and her pack arrived on-scene.
"Wait for it, Fey." Jericho said. "Those two are Grunts. Which means they're doing what they're trained for. If we dive in we jack up their mojo because they're not expecting us. They don't take well to surprises, even happy ones in a fight."
As Jericho spoke the six monsters surged forward. The watchers saw Mule roar in defiance and take two of them head-on while Bunker shrieked a war cry and threw three of the things back with her mind. The last one she jerked forward as it dove to bite her, pulling it's head in so she could hack it's head open with her kukhri. Two strokes later and a head rolled while Mule wrestled with his two. he buried his knife in one's chest and slammed the other down at Bunker's feet and the girl drew a sidearm and blew three rapid-fire shots into the back of the voodoo-wolf's skull, silencing it forever. Mule retrieved his knife and wrapped the last one in a headlock and twisted. A sick cracking noise sounded as it's neck broke and the TK brick boy brought his own blade down and took another head.
The two grunts were again back-to-back as the three remaining voodoos circled, and everyone heard Bunker start humming to herself.
Mule spotted the group out of the corner of his eye. "We got bogeys in the tree line now, chicka, Fog of War!"
Jericho groaned as the world seemingly upended itself around the Kimbas and their allies. Shouting and confusion reigned as everyone, including Nikki, the weres and the voodoo-wolves had trouble seeing, hearing or reacting to anything rational. Jericho threw up his personal forcefield and Razorback shrieked in dismay. Nikki vomited as the world itself seemed to undulate and rearrange itself around her and her sense of balance flew out the window. Chou ALMOST managed to hold it together, as did Toni, but the sudden, unexpected warping of perception caught everyone off-guard, surprised and left them briefly defenseless. Only Razorback and Jericho had experienced this before and they stood very still, closed their eyes and started counting.
Only Sara remained awake and cognizant to see Mule and Bunker hit the remaining three Voodoo-wolves like a jackhammer. Mule crashed into one and smashed as many bones as he could, leaving Bunker to finish off the wounded animal. As easy as one-two-three, the two grunts used their most effective weapons to grind down the last of the opposition: their minds and each other.
Once the voodoos were down, the pair were inside the newcomer group's perimeter in seconds, slamming people to the ground, were or Whateley student alike. After a second, the throbbing, mental haze lifted, and Mule grinned at Jericho. "Hey asshole, where you been? We coulda used your insanity about ten minutes ago."
Jericho smiled weakly. "I had a prior engagement." He turned to a very pissed off group of weres and Poesies, and Razorback, who was still barfing against a tree. "Weres, Poesies... Meet the Grunts, also known as the guys I plan on smearing in the sims again very soon."
Bunker laughed. "Like hell." The short, cute girl grimaced. "What were those things? And why do I feel so..."
Jericho and Nikki bolted forward as Andrea Elsner, AKA Bunker started to topple as the venom in the multiple cuts and scrapes she'd picked up started to make her extremely sick.
“Andy!” Mule started moving towards the girl as the the other two did, distress clear on his face.
Razorback moved to stop him, gently placing a clawed hand on the boy's shoulder and shaking his head as he signed. Jericho and Nikki can take care of her, she really has a better chance with them than anyone else. Trust me.
“She's my friend.” Mule shrugged off Razorback's hand and nodded to the GSD kid. I'll trust you on this but I still need to be there, too.”
Noting the other grunt moving to join them around Bunker's unconscious form, Nikki shook her head. “Give us a minute or so here, please? I promise your friend is going to be okay if we can get this done now.”
Jericho readied a syringe with the anti-venom and plunged it into the girl's upper arm. “She's taken a lot of hits, and probably a huge amount of the venom.”
“I'm on it.” Nikki assured the devisor, and the hovering Mule with a tight smile as she carefully closed her eyes and began searching for the venom. After a few minutes, she leaned back, opened her eyes, and gave the two with her, then Bunker a tired look.
“I got most of the stuff, she was saturated and even starting to change there for a second. I had to fight that off to begin with, then started working on getting the venom out. What's left of the nasty stuff, your anti-venom will take care of, Jericho. You'll have to bandage and treat the cuts, I've done all I can for now.”
Mule gave the girl a long look, noting her wan, almost exhausted appearance with a little concern. “You going to be all right?”
“Yeah, nothing a little sleep won't fix.” The redhead nodded wearily as she watched Jericho cleaning and bandaging Bunker's wounds then gave Mule a sharp look. “Did you get cut, scraped, or anything that broke the skin during that little fracas? Or get any of their blood on you?”
“No.” Mule shook his head. “These things were nothing to handle, believe me. Bloodwolf and his bunch give me a harder time in the sims. Now tell, me. Just what exactly did you do here?”
“Saved your friend's life, probably.” Nikki tiredly replied. “Or from something worse than dying. Just to be safe, let Jericho give you a dose of his anti-venom when he finishes with your friend, would you? The venom those things have is nasty, and it doesn't take much of it at all to kill or transform someone.”
“You said she was starting to change.” Mule spared a glance at the still unconscious Bunker. “Changing into what?”
“One of those things you were fighting.” The girl responded with a grim look at the scene around them. “Before you ask, they're some kind of cross between Human, were, and Great Old One's essence. They pass that last in their venom, and it changes whoever is infected if the anti-venom isn't used, or someone who can fight the stuff magically, like me, is around. Even then it's a close thing at times.”
“Nikki.” Jericho called. “Got a claw tip in this one I can't quite get to.”
“Be right back.” She told Mule and moved towards Bunker and Jericho. “Show me where it is.”
The wound was on the injured girl's neck, ugly, oozing blood and other fluids. Steadying herself, the Sidhe girl actually dug into the wound with a fingertip, a look of intense concentration on her face, then added her thumb. Pulling those out, she gave the blood covered fragment held gingerly between them a distasteful look before gingerly handing it to the devisor. “Got it. Here, another specimen.”
Noting the girl looked even paler than she had a minute before, Mule rose and ended up helping her sit down with her back against a tree. “That really takes it out of you, doesn't it?”
“Yeah.” Nikki gave him a grimace that was meant to be a smile. “Already fought a bunch of these things further into the forest a little while ago. I've about reached the limit of my reserves here and I don't normally do healing magics, they're really draining for me to use. I have to take the energy from myself instead of the Lines to do it at all.”
“I can see that it costs you to do it. Thanks.” Mule nodded towards Bunker then offered a hand to the girl beside him. “Name's Dom, but most people call me Mule. She's Andrea, Andy, and we call her Bunker.”
“Nikki Reilly.” She grinned, taking his offered hand and giving it a light squeeze. “Also known as Fey. Forgive me if I don't make introductions all around just now. I”m kind of out of it here.”
“Has anyone called Delarose?” She called out to the group. “He needs to know about this -- now.”
“Done, Nikki.” Toni assured the other girl while giving her a critical looking over. “You look like crap, hon.”
“Thanks a lot.” Nikki managed a grin, then her violet eyes closed as she went limp against the tree and her breathing fell into the even rhythms of sleep.
“Elves.” Toni muttered, shaking her head while taking a blanket from Jericho's supplies and carefully covering the sleeping form of her roommate. “Anyone else would take days to recover from that kind of exhaustion, a little nap and she'll be wide awake and ready to go. Grumpy, but ready. She isn't little miss sunshine when she first wakes up, let me tell you.”
“You're Chaka, the martial arts whiz that took Montana, aren't you?” Mule asked while giving the sleeping redhead a thoughtful look. And some of you are part of the bunch that took on those ninjas right at the first of the semester.”
“Yeah.” Toni nodded, almost flopping to the ground with a tired grin. “I am, and some of us are. I'm Toni.”
“Dom, but most people call me Mule.” The boy responded with a little grin that vanished almost a quickly as it appeared. “So you guys have been fighting these things already, huh?”
“Nikki and Razor there, since Saturday.” Toni nodded. “The rest of us since Sunday. The weres have been fighting them a lot longer than that.”
Mule nodded, then straightened abruptly. “Nuts, security is going to be all over this mess! We are in soo much trouble here!”
“Yeah, but it's okay.” The black girl gave a little laugh. “We're security. I called Delarose, told him what happened, and that we have it under control. Not to worry about being in trouble.”
“Who's security?” Mule gave her a dubious look then shook his head. “All of you? Even the demon girl?”
“Sara.” Toni nodded absently. “And yeah. That's a kick isn't it? Us in security. Guess Delarose got tired of giving us detention all the time. He kind of drafted us all the other day.”
“You know?” Mule looked at the group of students and really grinned that time. “It makes a weird kind of sense at that.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Toni laughed, then stood up. “Come on, sleeping beauty here is going to fine and you really don't want to be close by when she first wakes up, she's a real grouch. I'll introduce you to the others here.”
Mule gave Bunker a quick look, decided she was doing okay, and answered. “Okay.”
Somewhere In the Dreamscape
Nikki became aware of her surroundings with a small start of shock. Grey clouds shot with multi-colored sparks and lightning bolts that sent out waves of emotion filled the place but nothing was solid enough to be thought of as real. Even so, she had firm footing, and a sense that there was a place here that she needed to reach.
After a careful examination of the area around her, she started walking towards that vague, compelling goal.
The creatures trying to impede her progress were mere annoyances that she brushed aside without effort. She was here to find a being that was much more than an annoyance, so would not allow simple nightmares to distract her.
It was then she realized that here form in this place was not the one she normally wore. It was the one she'd briefly shown the weres the first time she'd really had anything to do with those beings.
The tall, slender Sidhe, radiating power and indescribable beauty shrugged while moving towards her goal.
The creature she found was a writhing mass of familiar creature's bodies, tentacles, and unspeakable foulness. The nightmares which usually delighted in plaguing visitors to this plane avoided the thing, shied from even approaching it.
It spoke in a voice that aroused ancient terrors. “So. You are back in the world, my old enemy.”
Nikki regarded the thing for a few moments, feeling the urge to run before an internal warmth and sense of strength quelled the incipient horror and terror at seeing the thing in front of her. Aunghadhail didn't speak for her, but let the ancient, powerful presence she was be felt. Comfort for the girl, threat to the monstrosity she faced.
“Yes.” Nikki answered quietly, with a confidence she hadn't felt only moments earlier. “Abominations like you call to those like me. We can't, won't, allow you to exist without fighting you.”
The creature let out a rumbling laugh that had the flitting nightmares in the area fleeing. “You can't stop me, Sidhe. You and your kind didn't in the past, and there are far fewer of you now. Bow to the inevitable, bitch. You are outmatched here. Again.”
“Am I?” Nikki surprised herself by answering that way, and so calmly. “If that is so, why are you wasting time, resources, and followers trying to get rid of me? Your pawns are having no luck there, you know. Keep sending them and we'll keep killing them. Eventually, we'll come for you.”
“You can't win, bitch.” The creature known as the Bastard on another plane loomed over her. “Give yourself to me now and I might allow you to avoid the pain that will be yours in the near future. I destroyed your kind once, I will do it again, along with these vermin infesting the world that call themselves humans.”
Tendrils of thought, coercion, dark promises of power, teased at the edges of her mind while other things battered at her senses. Nikki strengthened her mental shields, threw back the insinuating probes, shredded the subtle attacks those masked and actually managed to chuckle. “What, you think you can overwhelm me with parlor tricks like that, Monster? I am not what I was before The Sundering.”
“No, little Shidhe Queen, you are not.” The being disdainfully regarded her. “You are still arrogant, but you are less than you were. You will be mine in time, and my masters will delight in tormenting you for eternity once they return.”
Waves of fear, insanity, terror beyond mere human imagination rolled over her in sheer overwhelming surges of power. Nikki endured those, deflected them, and shook her head. “Less than I was? Possibly. But more than that, too. I mean to fight you, Abomination. Once you were one of us, but even the darkest of my kind abhor what you are now. Don't try to overawe me or batter me into submission here. It didn't work before, it won't work now.”
“Then I will destroy you completely this time.” The Bastard laughed. “You can't win, or survive this coming conflict. Give up now and at least your soul will live through what is to come.”
“I'd tell you to go to Hell.” Nikki shook her head. “But the worst Hell on Earth wouldn't have you. So I'll send you back to your masters, and let them deal with the failure you are.”
“Then die now.” The creature roared, letting his hatred for the life on the world he sought to conquer emerge in a storm of power.
“I think not.” Nikki/Aunghadhail responded with a belling laugh that held contempt for the creature in front of her and drove the dark miasma of his hatred and longing back. “Not that easily, monster.”
He countered with another blast of power and a scream of rage.
The Bastard sneered at Nikki as the greyness around them roiled in rebellion to his presence. “I nearly destroyed your kind once before. This time I will not fail in that task, and I will send the noisome mass that is Humanity with you pathetic Sidhe to provide entertainment and snacks for my masters.”
“You failed the first time, monster.” Nikki/Aunghadhail answered with a shrug. “You will fail again. This time I will personally make certain that you are not simply imprisoned, but find the dissolution that all this world clamors for you to have. Do not discount the Humans so readily, either, they are far more resilient than my own people and have a nasty habit of not only surviving, but triumphing in the face of terrible odds.”
“Empty words and meaningless threats, queenling.” The creature reached towards her. “I think I'll end you here and now.”
His claws met a glittering, sparking barrier and his hand was snatched back with a hiss of pain. Nikki, shaken but not touched by the attack recovered first and shook her head with a derisive grin. “Is that the best you can do, Destroyer of Civilizations? I have no time to play with juvenile temper tantrums.”
“You will die, queenling, and this time it will be the final death.”
“This realm abhors you as much as I do. It is of Earth and all the living souls in it.” Nikki answered flatly. “Fight it. I will find you later. When that happens I will destroy you, monster. My word on it.”
Grey fog reached tendrils to wrap around the creature, who screamed his rage and ripped those into drifting smoke. “Weak. As always. This world is pathetic and will fall.”
“Oh?” Nikki questioned as a solid lance of grey hit the Bastard in the chest and penetrated with a sickening crunch. Ichor sprayed and the creature screamed in pain while yanking the suddenly solid shadow from his chest.
“You can't destroy me that easily.” The thing snarled, gathering force and hurling a wave of darkness at his adversary.
“And you think to destroy humanity, let alone me with these parlor tricks?” Nikki sneered as she waved the dark wall into mist before it reached her. “You and I will meet physically, I promise you. Then we shall see who is stronger. You refused to face me in the past, but you won't be able to avoid it in the present.”
“So be it.” The Bastard growled. “You will find I am no puling weakling, to your regret.”
“Weaklings don't involve themselves in this war, monster.” Nikki said while sending an exploratory bolt of magic towards him. “I swear by the ancient gods of Earth that you will die the real death at my hands.”
The thing shrugged that attack off with a nasty chuckle. “Then I'll look forward to seeing you in the flesh, queenling.”
“Count on it.” Nikki answered without a trace of anger in her voice. “Oh, count on it. You and I have a meeting in the future, and one of us will not survive it. I don't intend that it be me.”
“Nor do I, child.” The Bastard responded. “Come to me anytime you like. I will subdue and subjugate you before your world falls into chaos and ruin. And glory in your agony as you watch the destruction.”
His laughter faded as the grey realm gave way to sharp reality.