Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior (Ch 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior
Chapter 1 - Maka
Monday, March 19
The sound was like a drill, boring deeply and painfully into my ears with an unrelenting and unwelcome buzzing noise, loud enough to not be able to ignore, even when I tried pulling my pillow over my head. Even then the buzzing pierced through the protective padding, giving me no respite from the hated noise. Flinging the pillow away, bleary-eyed, I reached out toward a night-stand beside her bed, swatting away in the general direction of the annoying sound. My flailing hand connected three times, but with the edge of the nightstand first, eliciting a yelp of pain, and next with a book on the stand, and finally with a glass of water I habitually kept near my bed. The splash of the cool water on my arm drew forth a muttered oath as the glass clattered to the floor, and, with the unceasing sound still boring into my brain, I pulled myself up and more methodically reached for the alarm, slapping a snooze button and bringing peaceful silence once more to the room.
"What time is it?" my roommate, Evvie, mumbled. Outside the window, it was still quite dark.
"Five thirty," I said softly, knowing what time I'd set the alarm for.
"Geez," Evvie swore. "What kind of person wakes up this freakin' early?" From the sounds, I guessed that she had tugged her own pillow over her head in an effort to get a few more precious minutes of sleep.
Moving as quietly as I could, I slid from under the nice warm covers, and almost crawled back under them. The room was cool enough to feel unpleasant, and the cold linoleum on the soles of my feet sent a shiver of protest all the way to my brain. I felt guilty for having awakened Evvie early, but it was necessary for me. Draped over the footboard of my bed was my robe, which I slipped on after I took off my nightie, the one that was a gift from Cornflower. It was so much easier falling asleep with that flimsy nightie on, even in a cool room, because I felt comforted, as if she was wrapping me in her caring embrace. I couldn't help the smile that flitted across my face at the thoughts of my 'special girl'.
Quietly, so I wouldn't disturb Evvie more, I slid my feet into my slippers, grabbed my bag of toiletries, and slipped out of our room. A few steps brought me to the girls' bathroom, and as the door opened, I could tell from the sound of running water that someone else had the same idea of showering early. I'd been told that showering early before the hot water was all gone was quite advantageous, but, as I was told, since the Hydroflux hardware had been installed, occasionally one or two of the girls got up especially early for their showers, before the six a.m. Hydroflux cutoff time, to enjoy a long, hot, _soothing_ shower, and thus consuming quite a bit of the hot water supply. One shower stall was open, so I hung up my robe and turned on the water, waiting a moment or two for it to warm up while I glanced nervously around the bathroom. It had only been a couple of days since my meltdown, and I was terrified of that happening again.
The water was warm and comforting, and the spray invigorating. I quickly washed and rinsed, and then grabbed my towels. It wasn't yet habit, but I was getting more comfortable with the 'girl way' of drying my long hair. I was at the sink brushing my teeth when I heard the door open. A quick glance sent a shiver of panic down my spine, and I gasped loud enough that Chou, one of the early risers who was also at the sink brushing her teeth, glanced my way, a concerned look on her face.
I felt hands trembling as Ayla stepped toward the shower, his eyes fixed on me, an uncertain expression on his face. Trembling, I forced a smile through my quivering lips and gave him a very shaky wave. "Morning, Ayla," I muttered through my toothbrush and a mouth half-full of toothpaste.
Ayla nodded uneasily at me. "Good morning, Kayda," he said nervously. I could tell from his reaction that he'd really taken my meltdown seriously, like it was his fault, and he felt guilty about it despite my apology and explanation.
Based on what Vox had said in my room the night before, I strongly suspected that Ayla used the bathroom arrangements to get a free show in the mornings at shower time, and I also surmised that the guilt over my panic attack and fear of inadvertently causing another one was weighing heavily on his mind, sufficiently so that he might not enjoy showering for a few days.
I'd also heard, from several girls, that Ayla was not an early riser, so seeing him in the shower early was suspiciously odd. "You're up early."
Ayla's face momentarily flashed discomfort, but he was good at masking it. "Early team simulation," he explained.
I could tell there was more behind his words. "You're not getting up early to try to avoid ... another ...?" It was uncomfortable to try to talk about, especially since I was fighting panic the whole time.
The expression which flitted across Ayla's face indicated that maybe there was a bit of truth to my speculation, and that Ayla was trying to accommodate me to avoid a repeat of Friday morning. "If it's bothersome, we can work out a shower schedule," he suggested.
"I don't want you to have to change your routine just for me," I countered. Inside, I was trembling and fighting panic, knowing what Ayla was, and knowing my history. I turned back to the task at hand.
I forced myself to take my time, despite a very strong urge to get back to my room to finish my tasks in relative safety. It seemed that brushing my teeth and drying my hair took forever. Finally, that task was done, and as I turned, I saw Nikki stretched out luxuriously on a bench shaving her legs. Absently, I reached down inside my robe and felt the stubble on my own legs. Damn! I was going to have to shave again, and soon.
It occurred to me that maybe Wakan Tanka could help me with a magic spell that would obviate the need for periodic shaving, or at least take the place of it. It would be something to investigate.
"No, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka's voice said in my head immediately, unbidden. "There is such a spell, but it is unfocused, and would cause you to lose _all_ your hair, including that on your head."
"Oh. Not good," I sighed, disappointed. "Really not good."
"There is another reason," Wakan Tanka added. "Such a spell, if you were able to focus it, would be an unnecessary drain on your magic energy. You must learn to save your energy for when it is truly needed, not squander it on fits of convenience or vanity."
"Remember tasnaheca," Tatanka reminded me sharply. I wasn't startled because I'd sensed his approach. I was getting better - slowly.
"Yes, yes," I answered impatiently. "Tasnaheca conserves because he has to in order to survive the winter. He doesn't waste his time or his resources."
"Then practice what he teaches," Tatanka chided me.
I sighed, more audibly than I should have, at the frustrating internal conversation, which had distracted my concentration on what I was doing. As a result, Ceecee ran into me as she zipped into the bathroom, partially dodging so that I got only a glancing blow, not enough to knock me over, but sufficient to dislodge my toiletries from my hand.
"Sorry, Kayda," Ceecee babbled, before turning and speeding to an open shower.
As I squatted down to pick up my toiletries, I realized that my robe hung open, and glancing up and around, I saw that some of the girls were staring at me with what I recognized in guys as an appreciative gaze. It was ironic that Vox was staring a bit, because she'd chewed out Ayla only the night before for gawking at a poster of me. Well, me and Debra, but some tiny recess of my mind was practically screaming that it was _me_ mostly. I glanced around, and saw Ayla uncomfortably doing everything to _not_ look at me.
Vamp stepped carefully around me and looked around the bathroom with a smirk. "I take it from the lack of drama that Ayla managed to behave today," she said sarcastically. If looks could have killed, Vox's glare would have vaporized Vamp on the spot.
Feeling my face flush at the unwelcome attention and the snarky commentary, I pulled my robe closed and scampered out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into my room. My hands were trembling as I closed the door, leaning back against it as my belongings slipped from my hands and clattered to the floor.
Evvie had been tugging her nightie over her head, and she spun to look at me, concerned. "Are you okay, Kayda?"
Slowly, after a few shaky breaths, I nodded. "Yeah. I ... I think so."
"Ayla or Vamp?" Evvie asked knowingly.
I took another deep breath, feeling my chest shudder as I did so. "Ayla. I ... I tried." I forced a smile to my quivering lips. "I even managed to say hi."
I nodded. "Terrified."
"But you made it through without a panic attack, right?" Evvie stated more than she asked, knowing the answer and turning her simple question into words of encouragement.
I found myself smiling - thinly. "Yeah," I acknowledged. Damn, but I was lucky to have a friendly, caring girl like Evvie as a roommate. It was ironic; in my old school, she would have been a girl that I would have chased, because she was cute and carried herself with an air that announced that she was fun to be around, even if she didn't have the same outrageous curves as the cheerleaders. Back then, she wouldn't have been interested in me in the slightest. Now that I was a girl, though, she would be interested in me, something that I would have never considered before. But with Debra so firmly in my heart, I had no romantic interested in her, even though I couldn't ignore how good a friend Evvie was becoming.
"Wait for me to shower, and we'll go get breakfast?"
"Okay," I answered. I could take the time to read the student handbook, something that might be useful if I ever ran into security again. I snorted derisively; I was certain that security and I were going to know each other quite well based on how we'd started - not that I was eager to further our uncomfortable relationship.
I pulled on a uniform and fixed my hair in a French braid, as Wish List and Debra had taught me. I stared in the mirror for a few moments, and then I opened up my makeup case. A very light touch of blush, some eye liner and light eye shadow, and a dab of lipstick, and I was more satisfied with my appearance. It was to be my first day of classes, after registration, and I wanted to look acceptable. With so many beautiful girls, I figured that I'd stand out if I looked too plain - in a bad way. It couldn't have been because I wanted to look pretty, could it? I shook my head. Nah. Couldn't be _that_!"
I sat back down at my desk and continued reading through the handbook. I could have skipped ahead, but I needed to read the entire document, and skipping around would have made it difficult to keep straight which parts I'd read and which I hadn't. Despite the volume of lore I'd been told by the Sioux Falls League, I _needed_ to know anything and everything I could learn about Whateley.
I flipped a page, and found myself in the section on campus organizations, which caused me to involuntarily roll my eyes in disgust. I'd never gotten into the clubs at my old high school, even if I was on the sports teams, and I saw no need to be a 'joiner' here. The list was pretty extensive, and started with the formally-recognized groups, and continued on inserted material for less formal clubs. One could understand the Alphas, who probably considered themselves to be the best of the best and the leaders of the campus. It looked like being some type of leader of a known campus group or something was a requirement to help elect the top alpha. Lord knew what kind of sucking-up and snobbery was required to actually be a member. So what? I never had time for the elite snobbery before, and I doubted I'd have time at Whateley.
There was the Euro-Promotional League, which I gathered, from some talk in Crystal Hall and around the cottage, was also known disparagingly as the Beret Mafia. Though the handbook didn't say as much, what little I'd heard let me know that they were Euro-snobs who thought Americans were beneath them. Great - another group with an excuse to have an attitude.
The Dragons and Tigers were both martial arts clubs. So freakin' what? I wasn't interested in any of that kung-fu Bruce Lee stuff. Just based on the explicit attitude conveyed by the name, The Superior Court of Kings and Queens of the Golden Circle and Platinum Diadem and Silver Crown was some group of rich snobs - great, a third club of snooty attitudes, as if more were needed. Anyone in a club with a name like that had to be old-money snobby, too - the worst of the worst.
There was Venus, Inc., which I already knew about from Debra, and who both Mom and Debra encouraged me to join. Despite promising Debra, I had no desire to join the beauty snobs and resident fashionistas. I still felt nervous about even being a girl, let alone the thought of trying to be one of the 'beautiful' models that all the guys would inevitably try to score with.
Contrary to what Wakan Tanka thought, I was pretty sure that I still had a ton of adjustments to my female status. Dr. Bellows had been right about one thing - my first few weeks as a girl had been so hectic and frightening that I hadn't had time to think about what becoming a girl meant, let alone accept it. I strongly suspected that, as my days became routine, I was going to have a lot of aspects of a girl's life that I wasn't taking time to think about at that moment. It was a new experience to even take time to think about how much I needed to adjust to.
I turned my attention from myself back to the handbook, and the various groups. The Whateley Junior ROTC? Yeah, like _I_ wanted to be in a jack-booted organization so I could work toward a military career. The one formal group that caught my eye was the Gearheads, an auto mechanics club. With what I'd done with Grandpa's '57, I thought I'd fit in there, but then I remembered that the school was full of kids whose official uniform was augmented with lab coats in a variety of colors - the horde of devisors and gadgeteers, and those kids would probably be telling me endlessly what I should do to _my_ car, or how to improve _my_ engine, and so and so on. I'd been a good mechanic; hell, I'd been better than some who worked in Dad's dealership, but the thought of suddenly feeling way below average turned my stomach. Maybe when I graduated, I could find a place and a job that would provide me workspace and money to restore and hop-up the car in my spare time. Until then, the thought of being considered well below average in a shop was really discouraging. One of the disadvantages of being from a small town was becoming evident. A big fish in a little sea was very often a small fish in an ocean. I didn't think that looking at a list of clubs would be depressing, but it was. I had to pause and focus on what Louis and Dr. Bellows had told me about wanting to fit in, and not being overcome by fear. After a few deep breaths to steady myself, I continued reading.
The handbook referred me to an inserted packet of fliers that gave more information on the campus organizations, including many that weren't formally recognized. Curious, I opened the packet and began to look through the 'ad copy' for the clubs. The description of the Lit Chix sounded somewhat interesting, but I suspected that I'd have to develop an unnatural attraction to authors such as Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and JK Rowling. No thanks. Give me Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov any day.
Amazingly to me, some of them seemed to be polar opposites. The Bad Seeds, a social club for the children of supervillains, and the Future Superheroes of America; the Masterminds and the Intelligence Cadet Corps, or Spy Kids as Farm Boy had laughingly called them. There was a group called the Parkour Hooligans. Based on that material and what I knew of parkour, that group might be interesting; I'd have to chat with Wakan Tanka to see if a group like that would be useful for the Native American outdoor traditions and skills she wanted me to learn. There were the Goobers, whose description sounded like some special evil spirit protection force, but sounded more to me like Ghostbuster or Buffy the Vampire Slayer wannabes.
I'd just finished looking over the groups when Evvie came back into the room. She dropped her robe and started dressing, while I tried to not stare at her shapely nude body. While other exemplars had the thin, overly-curvaceous supermodel look down to a T, Evvie looked generally much more fit and wholesome, kind of a renaissance figure like Mom and Aunt Ida, women who knew what hard physical work was and weren't ashamed of doing it or of the more full-figured result that came with it. Years of having been a guy hadn't worn off overnight, and I still had a great appreciation for the female form, and I'd seen plenty of those already in the bathroom. Evvie definitely had the type of body that I could appreciate, or at least, I used to be able to appreciate.
Evvie noticed me staring. "Old habits?" she asked with a wry grin.
I winced. "Yeah. But ... it's weird. It's different."
She paused, swaying her upper torso so her boobs danced back and forth tantalizingly. I found myself hypnotized by her ample, firm breasts that had not the slightest hint of sag. "You mean this doesn't turn you on?" Evvie giggled.
I blushed furiously. "Well, kind of, and kind of not. The part of my brain that's still got guy thoughts thinks you're ..." I stopped, embarrassed even more.
"What?" Evvie demanded, putting her hands on her hips. "Say it."
"You're ... hot," I said with a wince. "You're really attractive. If I was a guy, I'd want to get in your pants," I blurted out suddenly, then clasped my hand over my mouth, my eyes wide with surprise at what I'd actually said.
Evvie giggled at my sudden revelation even as her cheeks flushed from a bit of embarrassment. Given the types of girls around Whateley, I doubted that she was called 'hot' very often, which was grossly unfair. "And the increasingly large fraction of your mind that's female?"
With a groan at her choice of wording, I replied, softly, and with my cheeks still burning. "I ... I kind of compare your body ...."
I wasn't getting out of this. "To Debra," I answered, and then softly added, "and to myself."
Evvie goggled at me, and then chuckled. "I was just joking, but your female mind really _is_ taking over!" She finished pulling on and fastening her bra, and then buttoned her uniform blouse before stepping into her skirt and fastening it around her waist. Finally, she slipped her blazer on. "Let's go eat. I'm starving."
"But ... what about Naomi?" I asked as we descended to the first floor, puzzled that she was ready to rush off to breakfast without her girlfriend.
Rosslyn Dekkard drew the short straw for morning escort, since she didn't have a first-period class. Despite that, she had to go to her 'homeroom' to check in - some kind of attendance roster they took, and so I went to Rosslyn's homeroom. I felt quite out of place, because most of those in her homeroom were juniors, and I knew almost no one. Plus, it seemed that everyone was staring at me, especially the guys. After attendance was taken, I practically towed her out of the room at warp speed to escape the visual scrutiny, and we walked to Schuster to meet with my course counselor.
Rosslyn was an extraordinarily attractive girl, with wavy ravens-black hair cascading down her back to her waist. I could feel her emerald eyes occasionally eyeing me, and given her reputation as an adventurous lesbian, the sense that I was being evaluated as a potential mattress-mambo partner was a little disconcerting. Given that there were few students about campus as most were either still asleep or in class, she obviously didn't feel the need to disguise how she was looking at me.
"I understand you hooked up with Cornflower," Rosslyn finally said, breaking what had been an awkward silence. "Did she tell you that we were ... acquainted ... when she was here?" From the way she spoke, I gathered that she was heavily implying that the acquaintance was far more than just knowing each other's name.
"Oh?" I felt a stab of jealousy, and then found myself fighting _that_ thought. Was I that much into Debra that I was jealous?
Rosslyn's laugh was soft and melodic. "I take it from your expression, that the rumors of you two being an item are true? That you _are_ part of the sisterhood?"
Scarlet would have seemed a pastel shade in comparison to the color burning my cheeks. "Subtly isn't your strong suit, is it?" I asked, trying to deflect the conversation.
Rosslyn grinned. "Sometimes, no. So?"
"Uh, we're ... friends," I muttered, looking down to avoid eye contact.
Rosslyn chuckled. "Uh, huh. _Friends_." We walked a few more steps in silence.
"There's a little problem with our ages," I added defensively, still feeling my cheeks flush with embarrassment as I wondered why I felt the need to defend my relationship with Debra. We walked a bit more.
"You know, there are a lot of girls here who would love to help you get some experience for when you _are_ old enough ...." She let the not-so-subtle invitation hang unfinished.
"Do you _always_ talk like this?" I stammered, amazed at the entire conversation.
"No. Sometimes I'm much more explicit and direct!" She saw my open-mouthed look of disbelief. "You should hear the discussions at our hot-tub parties."
"Uh, no thanks!" I said hastily. The disjointed male and female thought patterns resumed clashing in my head with untold fury. The male part was screaming at me to ask more about the hot-tub parties, so I could go, because seeing some girl-on-girl action was too intriguing a concept to miss. It sounded stereotypical, but the thought of watching girls get it on was a real turn-on, or at least it had been, and from what other guys said in the locker room, it was a pretty common fantasy theme. The thought of losing that male fantasy struck me hard, causing me to almost miss a step. I would never be a spectator, watching lustfully, but now I was a girl that guys would want to see doing it. A brief pang of sadness tore through my mind. Okay, it was more than brief, and it was rather brutal. I wasn't a guy anymore.
The female part was yelling at me, eventually drowning out the self-pitying 'I lost my manhood' morose thinking, and telling me to shut up and change the subject, lest I find myself invited to one of the parties and end up _in_ some of that girl-on-girl action. As the war raged, I stumbled along beside Rosslyn, still blushing, and trying my best - unsuccessfully - to hide the fact that I was totally flustered.
"Why not? Hot tub parties are always a good time. I think you'd enjoy the experience." I think she could sense my indecision and mixed feelings.
I flinched. "Uh, I don't think so."
Rosslyn laughed. "But you're tempted, aren't you? I can tell from your reaction." She smiled at me as my expression confirmed that she _had_ read my emotions correctly. "We have a party scheduled right after Spring Break. I'll get you the information, and you can decide for yourself."
"Uh," I stammered, completely tongue-tied, "maybe." It was all my addled brain could think to say.
"Would it help if I got ahold of Cornflower to get permission for you to go?" Rosslyn chuckled, watching as my red cheeks turned ruby in coloration. Much more of this conversation from her and my cheeks would be visible in the far infra-red part of the spectrum. As it was, I feared that Rudolph's nose had nothing on the bright red glow of my cheeks.
Fortunately, before things could get any more humiliating - if such were even possible, we arrived my counselor's office. Rosslyn winked at me, not so subtly licking her lips, and then told me to call Mrs. Horton when I was finished to have someone to escort me. From the grin on Rosslyn's face, she had really been enjoying causing me a little embarrassment and discomfort.
Mrs. Hawkins was an older woman, probably in her early sixties, and she looked at me with an expression of unhappiness. "You're late," were the first words from her mouth.
"I'm sorry," I stammered, surprised at her tone of voice. "I ... had to wait for my escort to check in at her homeroom."
Mrs. Hawkins' eyes narrowed. "That doesn't excuse tardiness." She looked at her computer monitor. "I've laid out a basic first-year schedule for you. You'll start first period in Algebra 1 - assuming," she looked over the top of her reading glasses at me with a raised eyebrow, "you think you can catch up. Math is usually one of the more difficult ...."
"I've been doing college-level independent study math classes for the last three years. I don't need algebra."
Mrs. Hawkins didn't really listen to me. "Nonsense! Algebra 1 is a required class, and every freshman is required to take it, or remedial pre-algebra." She scowled as I took a breath to reply, silencing me at least for the moment. "Second period, you'll have Basic Martial Arts, followed by Introduction to Magic Arts."
"I don't need, or want, martial arts," I protested, speaking quickly so I could get a word in.
"That's for us to decide," Mrs. Hawkins replied without looking at me. "Based on your history, the administration has put you in this class. Now, after lunch, you have English 1 ...,"
"I _had_ English 1," I protested sternly. "I'm a sophomore, not a freshman!"
Mrs. Hawkins ignored me. "... Power Theory, and Power Theory Lab."
"I _don't_ need English 1," I repeated. "I had that last year." I could have as well spoken to a wall. "And I've taken grad-school level math classes, so I _don't_ need Algebra I!"
"Since your record indicates that you're a gadgeteer, I've signed you up for an independent study late class in electronics, and since you need a language, I have you an evening class in French."
"I already speak a non-English language," I said with a scowl. "I am fluent in Lakota. My spirits made sure I can speak Lakota well, since it's part of my heritage. I am a second-year student, I don't need algebra, and I don't need English 1. I don't need a language class. I need the avatar class!"
If I'd have been an eight-foot-tall, winged, fanged, threatening red demon, I don't think that Mrs. Hawkins would have changed her expression one iota.
"You'll also need costuming class, and there is a class on Saturday mornings, so I enrolled you in that."
"Saturday?" I exclaimed with dismay. "Eight classes during the week, and you're giving me weekend classes, too?"
"Many students take weekend classes, especially when they have deficiencies that need to be made up. And since you missed a lot of classes your first term, you have a lot of make-up to do in a little time."
It took a few seconds for me to pick my jaw off my lap. "Deficiencies? I'm a sophomore! I had English 1 last year! I learned algebra when I was in fourth grade! I've already studied calculus and differential equations, to say nothing of higher-order college level math!"
Mrs. Hawkins was unflappable in her arrogance and condescension toward me. "Your transcripts are incomplete, and they certainly note nothing about advanced math classes, so we have to make sure you take the requisite freshman classes in algebra and English."
"Have you even _seen_ my transcripts?" I asked, feeling like I was debating a tree or a wall. "I'm a sophomore!" I insisted, fighting to contain my rising frustration.
"According to the records," Mrs. Hawkins continued to ignore me, "you're assigned to freshman-level classes. It's standard procedure here at Whateley, and the administration approved this plan."
"Mr. Lodgeman told me that I need to take an Avatar class because of my spirit," I added, knowing it was useless to try to argue with this stubborn bureaucrat. Still, I had to try to talk some sense into her, as she _did_ control my class schedule. And I had to try to be polite, which was difficult under the circumstances.
Mrs. Hawkins frowned. "Miss Franks," she lectured me sternly, "_I_ am the advisor here, and I'm following general guidelines and personalized requirements given by the administration. You are classified as a freshman because you just manifested and have had no mutant-specific classes. Your task is to take the assigned classes and not argue with me.
I clenched my jaw and counted to five, all the while picturing Tatanka knocking this obstinate bureaucrat through a wall. "I'm not trying to be difficult," I replied in clipped tones as I struggled to contain my growing distaste for the woman, "but I've already had two of the assigned classes and I don't want to repeat them for no reason, when there are classes which I've been told _will_ be very useful and _necessary_ for me. Repeating classes that are already on my transcripts is a waste of my time and a waste of the school's resources. And I have no interest in martial arts classes."
"The other thing we'll need to schedule," Mrs. Hawkins continued, ignoring everything I'd said, "is your powers testing."
I sighed heavily at the incredible concentration of incompetence Mrs. Hawkins represented. "I _had_ powers testing. By the Sioux Falls League."
"That's not an excuse. Whateley has the finest powers testing resources in the world, and frequently, other groups make significant errors doing the testing. You'll need the test results for your MID."
I started to reply, but decided it was useless to argue with someone so pig-headed. Instead, I pulled my MID out of my purse and unceremoniously dropped it in front of her. "I _have_ an MID!" I stated bluntly.
Mrs. Hawkins used a pencil to shove the MID back across her desk toward me like it was something particularly odious and disgusting. "I'll notify you of your schedule for powers testing. And then we can get that ... thing ... corrected with your _real_ powers."
"I have another appointment. Good day, Miss Franks. Please see yourself out."
Frustrated didn't come close to describing how I felt; there was a good dose of anger mixed in, too. And Mom and Dad were paying for me to be treated like this! "Per security requirements, can you please call Mrs. Horton so that she can send an escort to meet me?"
Mrs. Hawkins gazed over her reading glasses again. "Oh. You're _that_ one." The audible disdain in her voice made her sound like she was referring to a hardened criminal or a particularly socially offensive bum. She picked up her phone and placed the call, while I felt completely humiliated by her attitude. When she finished the call, her royal pomposity deigned to look upon me again. "You may wait in the hall."
So far, of the women I'd met at Whateley, the school was 2 for 7 or 2 of 8 in terms of even halfway reasonable social behavior. My initial bad impression of the place and of the staff was, it seemed, optimistic. Given how the Sioux Falls League members had talked, there had to be _something_ good about Whateley, but so far, those positive qualities had proven almost completely elusive.
It took a bit of doing to get an escort lined up to take me shopping to the bookstore. Megs declined, nervously, to accompany me, and I understood completely why she did so. Most of the other girls had full class schedules, but Heather, aka Selkie, was free for an hour. Heather was one of the Sidhe, and her exotic elfin appearance made me feel rather plain - which I needed at that moment. I didn't want to attract any attention from any boys; in my few days at Whateley, I'd already gotten more than enough such attention.
Since I'd done serious clothes and supply shopping the day before, all I had to do was get books and supplies. I figured it would be a relatively short trip. Unfortunately for my plans, short trip and Whateley campus bookstore were two phrases that apparently didn't go together well, at least not on the particular day I was trying to hurry. It seemed like everyone not in class was in the bookstore.
As I was wandering aimlessly through the book section, looking to find a way to decode the layout, and map the resulting maze against my classes, a guy in a clerk's vest came up to us. "May I help you?" he asked politely. He was a little shorter than me, rather skinny, and with a disheveled mop of dirty blonde hair surrounding a totally unremarkable face where his thick glasses were the most interesting feature, he looked like an almost comically stereotypical young geek.
I shouldn't have been startled, but I wasn't listening to the spirits, being distracted instead by a minor uproar a few aisles over. "Uh, yeah," I replied as soon as I'd recovered my composure. "I just got registered today, so I need to get my books."
The boy peered through his glasses at me. "Are you that new student, the Buffalo Gal that everyone's talking about," he said, smiling and trying to be pleasant about the whole thing.
I groaned inwardly. The nickname from security was spreading pretty rapidly; it seemed that I'd be fated to spend years as the 'Buffalo Gal'. "My name is _Kayda_," I replied firmly, trying not to be snarky about it, but I wasn't certain that I kept all the ice out of my voice, "not 'Buffalo Gal'." I wanted to make the point that I really disliked that nickname, and wasn't going to put up with it.
"Oh," he apologized quickly. "Sorry. The way people are talking, I thought it was your code name. I'm Delwin," he said with a nervous smile. Based on his physique and bookish appearance, I guessed that he was a devisor or gadgeteer, and thus, as a full-fledged nerd, he probably was a little reclusive socially. Still, I had to give him points for apologizing, and for trying to talk to me. "Um, if you have your schedule, I can help you find your books," he offered.
I sighed, unconsciously looking him in the eye judgmentally as I debated accepting his help. After a moment, I gave him the printout I was holding, and then added, "I don't need algebra or English books. I had English last year before I manifested, and I'm _way_ past algebra."
The boy's eyes lit up. "Oh? Are you in Calc I?" he asked eagerly.
I shook my head. "A couple of years ago. I'm trying to finish Abstract Algebra, and then I'm going to do independent study in Finite Math." I sighed at that. "At least, I _was_ going to do that. Now, I'm fighting the bureaucracy to realize that I finished algebra in grade-school, and to recognize my independent study college classes." Great. Nerd-boy's interest in me probably soared upon learning that I was in advanced math. Just what I needed - a nerd fan-boy. I should have kept my mouth shut.
If anything, the boy was even more intrigued. "College level? How'd you swing that?"
Heather laughed, inserting herself, possibly as a means to protect me from an interested guy, and possibly because she felt left-out of the conversation. "She hasn't - yet. Her advisor apparently didn't read her transcripts correctly."
"Yeah, so I'm stuck in worthless classes, and Mr. Lodgeman thinks I should be in Avatars I instead." The more I talked about it, the more frustrated I got as I followed the clerk through the labyrinth of aisles, where he'd occasionally stop, retrieve a book from a shelf, and hand it to me.
After we picked up my books, or at least the ones for the classes that weren't repeats, Heather and I went to Kane Hall. I paused at the door to catch my breath and still my nerves, because so far, every single time I'd gone to Kane, it had been unpleasant. Heather was surprised by my hesitation, but she let the door close and put her arm around my shoulder.
"It's nothing bad this time, Kayda," she said, guessing the reason for my reluctance.
I felt a shiver ripple up and down my back. "I know," I squeaked in a tiny voice. Steeling myself, I let Heather lead me into the den of oppression and hopelessness, otherwise known as security headquarters. I half expected to see a sign over the entrance reading, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' At least, that's what _I_ thought it should say. Then again, I was already rather jaded by my experiences.
As we stepped toward the door, the duty officer looked up from his computer, and he groaned audibly. "Aw, shit," he muttered loud enough for me, and several others, to hear. "Bad news time - it's the Buffalo Babe!" Even if I hadn't known who he was from one of my previous security encounters, his nameplate tagged his as Officer Andrews. He leaned his face into his palm for a moment, sighed heavily, and then looked up at me. "What can ....?"
"Andrews!" a sharp voice called out from a side office, startling everyone in the room. The man stomping out into the main area was visibly muscled and lean, despite his slightly graying close-cropped haircut. His eyes bored into Officer Andrews, burning with an intense fury that matched the scowl on his rough, angular face. "You just drew extra duty flying cover for Stan and Morrie in the tunnels this weekend!" he snapped with a voice that would have befitted a Marine Corps drill instructor. "We do _not_ address any of the students with anything even remotely resembling a disparaging nickname like that, do we?" He was standing above Andrews, glaring viciously at the officer. "_Do we_?"
"Uh, no," Andrews stammered. He saw the officer inhale in preparation for another dressing down, and Andrews quickly corrected himself. "No, sir!" he barked loudly.
"I'll handle this. You go clean and do a full tactical check of your gear. All of it! I'll be by to do an inspection in twenty minutes. Clear?"
Andrews nodded. "Yes, sir!" He scampered off like a frightened rabbit.
When the newcomer turned to me, I watched his features change from DI-angry to calm and friendly. "How can I help you this morning?" he asked. I got a glimpse of his name tag; it read, 'Lt. S. Conners.'
I gulped; Lieutenant Conners spoke with a distinct British accent, and he was intimidatingly large. "I, er, that is, I need to get, um, my ID card," I managed to stammer.
The lieutenant nodded with a friendly smile. "Of course. Emily?" he asked, turning.
Naturally, I recognized Emily Strong; she'd conducted my interview for the first day's incident. I was grateful the lieutenant turned to her and not to Officer Harris. Harris had been the 'bad cop', and I had the impression that he wasn't play-acting in that role.
"This young lady ...," Lieutenant Conners started to say.
Emily looked up, and her face brightened. "Good morning, Kayda," she said cheerily. "What brings you around today?"
The office seemed less ominous and oppressive with her smiling and being cheerful to me. "Hi, Ms. Strong," I answered. "I just need to get an ID card today."
Emily winced. "Yeah, the Chief said you'd be around for one today. Sorry about the mess last Thursday." She saw my flabbergasted expression. "If it hadn't been for Hartford, I would have gotten your ID while you were here. I understand you've had a little difficulty without it. Sorry." She seemed truly remorseful, which stunned me. My opinion of the security team was rising - at least my view of _some_ of the security team. Emily sprang lightly and gracefully from her chair and led me to a corner desk.
"What's with Lieutenant Conners?" I asked softly as she typed information in a computer terminal. "He seemed pretty pissed at Officer Andrews. Almost as angry as I was for ...."
Emily nodded and smiled sympathetically. "Some of the ... idiots ... around here forget that they're dealing with teenagers, and that nicknames can be hurtful or even vicious. Lieutenant Conners really dislikes that kind of thing."
"He's British, I take it?"
Emily nodded. "Stand over by the wall, in front of the white screen, and I'll get your picture." Her focus was on the picture for a couple of moments. "Conners is retired SAS, the elite of the elite in the British military. Or so he tells us, quite repeatedly in fact," she added with a giggle.
"Is Andrews really in trouble?" I asked softly.
Emily nodded, her expression turning grim for a moment. "Doing cover detail for Stan and Morrie in the deep sewers is hazardous, and from what some say, scary as hell. Yeah, he's in serious trouble." She smiled again. "On the bright side, I'm sure he'll think twice or three times about ever calling you ... that name ... again." Emily pressed a button with a flourish, and a minute later, a card printed out of a special, boxy printer. "Almost done. Let me get it coded with your information." She ran the card through a reader, pressed a button on her computer, and re-ran the card. One more swipe and a look at the data, and she smiled and handed me the card. "Here you go. You're official now."
I couldn't help smiling. After the horrible experience with Ms. Hawkins for class registration, Emily was a saint. "Thanks."
"No problem," Emily replied. She walked me back to where Heather waited. "Feel free to stop by to say 'hi' any time," Emily offered. "Just not on official business, okay?"
I grimaced at the reference to my frequency of visits. "Deal," I answered. Heather put down the magazine she'd been reading and the two of us left Kane, with me not in trouble for once.
Back in Poe, I ditched my books by simply tossing the large, heavy bag on my desk. As I sat down on my bed, Heather eased herself into Evvie's chair, glancing nervously at the clock as she did so.
"Oh, yeah," I said, feeling self-conscious. "You've probably got classes.
"Yeah," Heather replied. "But if you need ...."
"I might as well get this over with and get started in my own classes," I replied, resignation in my voice. "That _is_ what school is about, isn't it?"
Heather laughed. "You're so optimistic, you're so can-do, you've got the attitude, we're so proud of you!" she replied in a sing-songy, ditzy-sounding chant with an equally silly facial expression. "What's your third period class?" she asked.
When I saw her antics, I snickered, and then burst out laughing. At the same time, there was a little pain in my heart, because Julie would have done the same silliness, but maybe with a few goofy, exaggerated cheerleading moves, to put a smile on my face. I couldn't help wondering how she was doing. Perhaps I should call her in the evening - assuming her Humanity First! asshole dad would let her talk to me.
I didn't need to look at my schedule thanks to my much-improved memory. "Introduction to Magic Arts."
"Oh, finger-waggling!" she said with a smirk. Then she looked around conspiratorially. "Just don't you _dare_ tell Nikki that I said that!"
I raised my hand, two fingers upstretched. "Scouts' honor!" I said solemnly, and then giggled. "Like the scouts would let me join."
"Not now, anyway," Heather said with a snerk. "Unless it's the Brownies or Girl Scouts!"
Smiling, I grabbed a few of my new books and notebooks, stuffed them into a backpack, and slung it over my shoulder. "I'd guess, from that finger-waggling comment, you're probably not going to the Kirby building?"
Heather grinned and shook her head. "Nope. I try to stay away from," she feigned a shudder, but her acting was unconvincing, "_that_ place!" The thought forming in her mind was reflected on her features. "I know - let's get over to Schuster. Ayla should be getting out of a class there in a couple of minutes - I think he's in Spanish, and if we catch him, then he can escort you to Kirby, since I'm pretty sure he's in the same Magic Arts class."
Heather and I walked quickly toward the central part of campus, arriving just before a vast horde of students swarmed out of the buildings like angry bees from a disturbed hive. I had to duck and dodge a few of the larger or faster students who didn't seem to care if they ran over anyone. My heart nearly stopped, my eyes popped wide open, and I froze in place, gawking uncomfortably at what apparently was a student walking down the sidewalk. No one but me seemed to notice or think anything was unusual, but I hadn't yet seen a large velociraptor with a backpack on his shoulder strolling casually about as if he belonged at Whateley.
Heather noticed my surprise, and she chuckled. "That's Razorback. He's okay, but be careful. UV, and he's a rager."
I gulped; for years, I'd heard the stories about the rager rampage in eastern South Dakota. One raging mutant had taken down two platoons of the South Dakota Army National Guard, leaving almost every one of them dead or seriously injured. Seeing a rager face to ..., well, muzzle, gave me a bad case of the shakes.
"He's one of the regulars in Outcast Corner in the caf. They're easy to recognize, especially Jericho and his revolting clothing."
"The blind guy whose sense of style should be banned by the Geneva Convention?"
"You've seen him, then," Heather chuckled. "Sometimes, his clothes are _only_ just nauseating."
"Let's just say that in the couple of times I've seen him, I wasn't impressed by what he was wearing," I said with a smile. Hopefully, even in my worst-dressed days as a boy, I had never shown such extremely unsightly and offensive fashion sense.
"Yeah. Some people think he dresses like that on purpose, while others attribute it to his being blind. I think ...." She wasn't looking at me, but instead at the small herd of students teeming about the building. She halted mid-sentence, and started waving her arms above her head. "Ayla!" Heather called out several times.
Ayla turned at the sound of his name being called, and after scanning the crowd, zeroed in on Heather. I was a little surprised, and disturbed, by _how_ Ayla had looked around. It seemed like a professional threat assessment, and his body seemed to tense, ready to react. It wasn't anything blatant, but a lot of little signs that I recognized from the various animal spirits Tatanka was showing me. Even after Ayla's attention focused on us, he was constantly checking around himself as he wove his way through the crowd.
"Hey, Heather," Ayla said casually, but his words conveyed an unspoken question of, 'do you want or need something?'
"Are you going to Kirby for Introductory finger-waggling?" Heather asked with a grin.
Ayla wrinkled his nose, looking like nothing so much as a cute co-ed trying to look miffed. "That would be Introduction to Magic Arts, and yes, I'm on my way there, and yes, I'll tell Fey of your disparaging remarks about her art form."
Heather chuckled. "Good. Can you take over escort duty? I've got to get to PE, but ...." She didn't need to say more; she was stuck escorting me until relieved, and she didn't want to miss or be late for classes.
Ayla nodded. "Sure." Without waiting, he started walking at a quick pace toward Kirby Hall, not really bothering to check whether I was following. He assumed I was, which was a good assumption on his part.
"You've got quite a bit of catching up to do," Ayla said as we walked. "But don't let that frighten you into not asking questions if you're really lost on concepts. Mrs. Grimes is very understanding of students with questions, quite probably because several students still don't understand concepts from the first couple of weeks and need repeated explanations."
"Okay," I answered tentatively.
"There are a couple of 'problem students' in class that you should know about so you can avoid. Mugwump thinks he's Harry Potter, and has an extremely arrogant, condescending attitude. Don't let anything he says bother you - he's not worth worrying about. Next is Caitlin Bardue - she's an artificer. She has inked glyphs over her body, and is pretty powerful at using magic, but she doesn't understand what she's using, and her magic can get a little out-of-control at times if she gets stressed. Belphoebe is one of the Drow collective."
Ayla chuckled. "A form of elf, but dark. Black, in fact. They're the result of Jobe's lab accident with a devisor serum intended to create his dream girlfriend/wife. Think of Fey but with coal-black skin and white hair." He glanced and saw the expression of disbelief on my face. "Yeah. They're quite ... unique. Phebes is really nice, unlike Jobe. But their very existence gets Fey and Aunghadhail's panties in a bunch."
"I can imagine," I replied automatically. Actually, I couldn't imagine, unless the Sidhe were pretty racist.
"Irene, Palantir, is in junior high school, and the youngest one in the class. We've kind of formed an alliance, because she hates Tansy Walcutt as much as I do."
"Tansy?" I was glad I had a good memory, considering all the data I was collecting about other students.
"I knew her a long time ago in private grade school. First-class bitch. Arrogant, snobby, and not above dirty tricks. She's got a wicked temper. Avoid her like the plague. She goes by Solange."
"Okay, Irene is cool, Tansy and Mugwump aren't. Anyone else?"
"Geomancer, Winnie, is a sweet girl. She's shy, especially about her stuttering, but she's really very nice. She's on a training team with my former roommate Chou."
Before I could get any more run-down on students, we arrived at Kirby Hall, and walked into the classroom. Ayla didn't hesitate to take his usual seat, next to a tween girl that I figured was Palantir. The other chairs around Ayla were taken, so I glanced around nervously.
It wasn't too hard to figure out who Mugwump was; he wore an ill-fitting, overly-long robe as if he were Merlin, or a Dumbledore-wannabe, and he had a wand - really a crooked stick that desperately wanted to look like an impressive wand - on his desk, where he sat imperiously as if expecting that others in the class should bow to his bidding. Arrogant wasn't the word I would have used - it was insufficient. I saw his eyes narrow as he stared at me, and a sneer crossed his features when he recognized me as the girl who'd bumped into him in the caf doors the other night. So _he_ was the one who shredded my ghost-walking spell. Based on his attitude that evening, and from what Ayla had told me, I decided to start hating him right then to save time.
Caitlin Bardue was sitting alone; her hair looked like metal wire, and her eyes seemed to be etched in a way that reminded me of the light patterns on everything in the animated movie 'Atlantis'. She looked me over, and then returned her attention to her books, having decided that I wasn't worth further study.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Fey walk in with a dignified woman who had a striking resemblance to Morticia Addams. I scrambled to take a seat, and ended up next to a girl who, as I sat, eyed me critically, seemingly evaluating whether I was worthy of her time or not. Another display of arrogance. She was devastatingly pretty, and when I looked more closely I could see all the trappings of a rich snob. Her fingers had a few bits of expensive jewelry, the bracelet on her wrist didn't look like cheap rhinestones, but from the way the stones glittered and sparkled, real diamonds. Her earrings matched, as did the necklace hanging down into the valley created by her strategically partially-buttoned blouse.
"Hi," I whispered as Fey and the teacher strode to a desk at the front of the room. "I'm Kayda."
This caused the girl to examine me further, but looking down her nose at me. "Yes. So I've heard." She turned her attention back to the front of the room.
When I glanced to my side, I saw Ayla rolling his eyes and smirking. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I'd inadvertently sat next to Tansy, the rich bitch Ayla had warned me about.
Ms. Grimes clearing her throat got the class' attention, and, like everyone else, I turned to the front, only to find that she was staring right at me. Being stared down by Morticia sounds like a creepy thing, but the thought of it is nothing compared to the reality. Her concentrated stare made me think that she was using some mystical trick to measure my potential, or was doing a mental assessment after having heard reports about me. There were many places I'd have rather been at that moment.
"You must be the new student I was informed of," Ms. Grimes said evenly, her face not betraying even the slightest hint of emotion. Fey leaned closer and whispered something to her. "Kayda, is that correct?"
I nodded, dimly aware of the derisive glare I was getting from my inadvertent neighbor, Tansy. "Yes, ma'am."
"Are you here because you have magic ability you need to learn to control, or are you one of the inquisitive type who's here to learn more about the mystic arts?"
I _hated_ being put on the spot. I was the newbie in class, and now I was the center of attention. "Uh, I have magic abilities, but I really don't know how to use them, except for a few spells my spirit taught me. My spirit is certain that I'll learn more, so they put me in here."
Ms. Grimes smiled broadly, and I saw a twinkle in Fey's eyes. "Well, you've come to the right place." Her piercing gaze made me nervous, despite her otherwise-pleasant demeanor. "Since you have magic power, and since you missed our earlier round-table introduction, would you care to introduce yourself and tell us a little about your magic?"
"Uh, not really," I mumbled, aware that the spotlight on me had just turned up to about two million candlepower. I felt the unwelcome stares of all the other students, or at least most of them, on me as I tried to sink lower into my chair.
Silently, gracefully, Fey glided to my side. Beside me, Tansy's evil glare was shooting daggers at Fey, who didn't even acknowledge the rich bitch, but instead gracefully squatted down beside me. "Just try, Kayda," she encouraged me. Her eyes radiated calm and confidence.
From across the room, Ayla simply nodded at me, encouraging me in his own subtle way.
"Er," I winced as I tried to speak. "I'm Kayda Franks." Fey took my elbow and gently urged me to stand, and then led me up to the front of the room, reluctant though I was. "I'm Kayda," I repeated at her urging. "My spirit gives me magic powers."
"Do you know what kind of magic you use?" Ms. Grimes asked.
"I dunno," I replied shyly. "I didn't know there are different kinds of magic."
A few students chuckled and tittered, which elicited an embarrassed frown from me, but a gesture or glance from Ms. Grimes halted the disruption. "Since some of you apparently think it's amusing that Kayda doesn't yet know that which she hasn't yet learned, we'll have a pop quiz at the end of the class period to see how well _you_ all remember." The silence was deafening. "Okay, what can you tell us about your magic?"
"Mr. Lodgeman says it's like what he does," I answered nervously.
"Ah," Ms. Grimes said, smiling. "That would be shamanism. You're Native American?" I nodded silently. I wasn't feeling like saying anything more given the degree of unwanted attention I was getting. "So you probably use some nature-based magic as well. Is your magic all from your spirit, or do you have innate, natural magic ability?"
I shrugged. "I don't know."
Now, according to Mr. Lodgeman, you can do healing magic?"
I nodded. I didn't think it wise to say any more, especially since I was already very embarrassed.
"Can you describe your magic for us?"
I shrugged. "I ... I don't know. I just learn from my spirit, and then I do it. I don't know how to describe it."
"How do you do your spells?"
Great. I was the subject of 'show and tell' that day. I sighed heavily and gave Fey a look that I intended to mean, 'please get me out of this'. Alas, either the look didn't come out right, or Fey chose to ignore it.
"Some spells, like the minor healing spells or ghost-walking, I just chant the spell, but the real big healing spell takes some time to prepare a healing mixture of herbs and stuff - from my medicine bag, and then a ... I guess you'd call it a ritual or something ... to apply and chant to make the magic flow."
"Interesting," Ms. Grimes had one eyebrow cocked upward. "Your spells sound like a mixture of nature magic and shamanism. Does anyone remember what shamanism is, and what the difference between nature magic and natural magic is?" She looked around the room. Ayla sat smugly in his chair, a knowing look on his face, while beside him, Palantir was waving her hand excitedly in the air. "Irene," Ms. Grimes called on her, "what's the difference between nature magic and natural magic?"
"Nature magic uses essence from nature, like plants and stuff?" Irene answered hesitantly, as if she wasn't quite certain, "and natural magic is magic that you can just do without thinking," Irene answered, looking at Fey with what I judged to be serious envy. If I stayed in that class, I was going to have to ask Ayla what was up with that look.
Ms. Grimes nodded, smiling. "Close enough." She looked around the room again. "And what's shamanism?" No hands went up this time. Sighing, she asked, "Ayla, can you remind the class of the definition of shamanism?"
"Shamanism is magic based on rituals and spells that transcend the physical into the astral plane as well. Many of the shamanistic works are based on nature-based magic, infusing herbal medicines with spiritual magic through the rituals. Some of the rituals, such as dream-walking, are ...."
"Thank you, Ayla," Ms. Grimes interrupted, cutting off his explanation. Judging from Ayla's expression, it was not unexpected. I'd heard that Ayla had a perfect memory, so if he'd read it in the book, he was apt to recite the section chapter and verse if asked. No wonder Ms. Grimes called on him after no-one else could answer.
Ms. Grimes nodded to Fey. "We'll review your tests from last week." As Fey began handing out the graded papers, which were met with everything from 'woo-hoo', to sighs of relief, and all the way to groans of displeasure, Ms. Grimes took me lightly by the elbow and escorted me back to my desk. "Do you know if your magic is from your spirit, or from yourself?"
I shook my head. "When they did my powers testing in Sioux Falls, they didn't say."
"I'm sure the administration has scheduled you for a round of powers testing, haven't they?"
"No," I replied, "but Mrs. Hawkins said that they would."
"Good. Once you known how much magic is from your spirit ...."
"Spirits," I corrected her. "Two spirits." I watched her eyes widen. "Tatanka, the white buffalo, and Ptesanwi, the white buffalo calf woman."
"Two spirits, Miss Franks? Impressive!" I could tell from her voice that her words were genuine. "Between the Avatars class and the power testing, you should learn a lot about dealing with your spirits."
I sighed, resigned to the fate bestowed on me by the administration but still quite unhappy about it. "Mrs. Hawkins wouldn't put me in Avatars."
I didn't expect Ms. Grimes to scowl at that news, but she did. "Knowing about your spirit, and more importantly, how to work with your spirit, is important to understanding how to work your magic. In fact, it's _crucial_ to understanding your magic. I'm shocked that you're not in an Avatars class."
I wanted to say, 'no shit!', but I held my tongue. "Mr. Lodgeman told me I should be in that class as well, but someone in the administration screwed up and I got what I got."
"Don't give up trying," Ms. Grimes said. "If there were mistakes made, you might have to fight to get them straightened out. With two spirits, it's imperative that you get an Avatars class as soon as you can, especially since at least some of your magic is from the spirit you host. Do you know anything about your spirits?"
I debated whether I should follow Wicitiglegla, or be truthful. Based on the rather positive feedback I'd gotten from Ms. Grimes, I decided to be honest with her. "One spirit is Tatanka, the _white_ buffalo spirit."
"I see," Ms. Grimes said, sounding a little impressed.
"And the other is Ptesanwi, emissary of Wakan Tanka."
Ms. Grimes' mouth dropped open fractionally, and for just a moment, displaying just _how_ impressed she was. "And they _don't_ have you in an avatar class?" She shook her head, a look of disbelief on her face. "We'll see about that! Because understanding your avatar is so important to your magic, I'm going to write a note to our department head stating that it's imperative for your magical instruction that you be placed in an avatar class _immediately_!" She seemed quite upset.
"Uh, thank you," I stammered, stunned that someone was going to take my side in the battle against unreason.
Seeing that Fey was done handing out papers, she turned toward the front, but then paused. "Find someone in the class you can work with. You should already know the types of magic. We're starting on the spheres and fields of magic this week. When you know those, it'll give you a frame of reference that'll help you understand your own magic better. And we'll often take class time for demonstrations of magic that fits the topic of the day, so if you know any spells, it wouldn't hurt to come to class prepared."
"Yes, ma'am," I answered as courteously as I'd been trained over all my earlier years. She _was_ a teacher, and was due respect. And despite having put me on the spot, overall she'd been respectful and hadn't deliberately humiliated me, unlike others who definitely were _not_ on my Christmas card list. I put her in the 'decent human being' category of my Whateley list. Three out of nine. But the list was still dominated by the 'bitch' category.
The rest of the class mostly went over my head, as I didn't have the foundations that I needed from the class material I'd already missed. I was so bummed and felt so overwhelmed - the first time in my life - that I bumped into Tansy as I got up, drawing a vicious glare and verbal flaying, and then I shuffled out of the classroom, still stinging from the invective she'd hurled at me. I wasn't paying attention to my restrictions, either, because of the distractions, because without realizing it, I wandered out of Kirby Hall unaccompanied.
How had I ever thought that this would be a good idea? What had possessed me into thinking that I had a prayer of succeeding when I was already weeks behind in everything? These werent the normal classes I was used to; it was material that was so alien to me that I felt like I was starting from kindergarten level. And I was a social pariah, or at least that's what I had convinced myself. On top of that, there were minor little psychological issues like unwanted sex change, attempts on my life, and rape. Damn. I should have just stayed home. I wasn't really paying attention to what was around me, just ambling along with the minor crowd of students leaving Kirby Hall.
A massive shove from an unseen force on my side sent me sprawling face-first into a pile of slushy, half-melted snow that still fought an inevitably losing battle against the onset of spring. Behind me, I heard laughter from many of the students who had seen me go flying, and had stopped to mock the helpless little girl who had been pushed into a snowbank. I rolled over, sitting in the slushy mess, feeling the cold half-melted snow soaking into my clothes, while slush dripped out of my hair and off my face.
"Get up, Kayda," I heard a gruff voice from beside me, speaking in Lakota.
Without looking, I knew it to be Tatanka. How had I accidentally manifested him _this_ time? I sighed heavily; maybe Hardass was right, and I should be in Hawthorne and wearing a UV armband if I couldn't control when Tatanka manifested. "Why? So they can knock me down again?" I asked Tatanka bitterly, using Lakota so no-one could understand. After a heavy, resigned sigh, I grasped one of his horns and used it to pull myself to my feet again. Around me, a few students had taken a nervous half-step back away from the massive white buffalo.
"Kayda," another voice called urgently from nearby, a voice I recognized as belonging to Nikki. "Why didn't you wait for us?" She was striding purposefully toward me, with Ayla at her side. Both of them were scowling at me, a silent rebuke for having walked off without them.
Ayla saw the mess on my clothes and in my hair. "What happened?"
"IDFM," I sighed unhappily, and on seeing their puzzled looks, I explained, "It doesn't fucking matter. You couldn't have stopped whoever pushed me." I glanced around, and thought I saw TK strutting quickly down the walk, glancing over his shoulder once, a smirk on his face.
"I don't think they'd have done this if we were here," Nikki replied.
"Great!" I said sarcastically and bitterly. "Now I need to have protection from bullies! This is third grade all over again!" Without waiting for them, I turned and stormed off past Schuster, and turned toward Poe. In a way, I was glad for the snow and slush melting in my hair and running down my face and neck, because it hid my tears.
In seconds, Ayla and Nikki caught up to me again. "Wait up," Nikki said sternly.
I halted abruptly. "What for? I've got to deal with all this stuff myself."
"That's one way to look at it," Ayla commented. "Or you can let friends help you so you don't feel like you have to deal with it all alone."
"If I don't deal with it myself," I spun toward them and replied angrily, "they'll just keep it up. What happens if you or other friends aren't there to 'protect' me, huh?" I returned to sulking. "If they think I can't take care of myself, it'll show weakness, and that'll just put a huge target on my back for _all_ the bullies and pranksters and snobs! You know it and I know it, so don't try to lie and pretend that everything will be sunshine and roses!" Shaking my head, I added, "This really bites!" I turned back toward
"Wow," Nikki exclaimed softly, "you were in a _lot_ better mood this morning. What happened?"
I shook my head angrily. "The same crap that's happened every day since I got to this hell-hole," I said, sulking. "A whole pack of idiots are trying to screw me over."
Ayla glanced nervously at Nikki. "What now?"
"They're making me take first-year algebra. Algebra fucking one! I learned, no, I _mastered_ algebra when I was in fourth and fifth grade, I finished enough undergraduate math classes for a BS degree by the time I was done with eighth grade, and I've been studying graduate-school level topics for the past year and a half, but now my advisor is making me retake a stupid class that I aced more than five years ago!"
"Wow! Someone who's got more ambition in math than you do, Ayles," Nikki kidded Ayla, to which Ayla just raised an eyebrow while trying to appear inscrutable.
I wiped more slush from my face and hair. "And to think that I was looking forward to this place based on what Debra, Vanity Girl, and Wishlist told me," I added with a resigned sigh. "My old school had around a hundred students, so there weren't any cool, advanced classes like here. I wanted to take something interesting and challenging, not have to repeat Algebra fucking one and take boring run-of-the-mill classes I would have taken back home!"
"Who's your advisor?" Ayla asked, his eyes narrowed.
"Mrs. Hawkins. And because she didn't understand my transcripts, or lost them, or something, I have to retake English 1 again, too!"
Ayla had a contemplative look, which gave me pause. "Hawkins? I think I can have a word or two with her to help straighten things out. Or you can talk to Zenith to see if she can help. That's her job as cottage 'fixer'."
Gak! How much influence did Ayla have around here? "Uh, let me try myself." Okay, I was used to being self-sufficient, and I didn't really like to ask others for help. "To top it all off," I continued my story, "I'm in nine classes this term."
Nikki's eyes widened at that news. "That's a lot," she said, wincing. She glanced at Ayla. "Even more than you, Ayles." She looked back at me. "At least you won't have any trouble with algebra and English, so that'll cut down on your homework."
"That's not the point!" I shot back, my frustration level rising even more. "They won't listen to me! They keep trying to mess with me. First it's all the security crap, where they treated _me_ like I was the perp. Then Hartford tried to shove me into Hawthorne. They made it almost impossible, and humiliating to even eat at the caf over the weekend, and then they royally screw up my classes!" I wiped at the slushy gunk running down my face. "And I'm the target of all the bullies, too!"
"I know what that's like," Ayla said, trying to reassure me. It was nice that he felt he could be supportive of me without me freaking out. Okay, that was one good thing for the day. "I got bullied a lot, and still do, because I'm a Goodkind."
"Yeah? Well, you've got the money to buy them off, and from what I've heard, the powers to stop them. I don't," I muttered, sounding like I was mired in self-pity - which I probably was, at least a bit. "All I can do is try to hide, and heal myself up if they don't kill me first." Was I bitter? Hell, yes. I always hated bullies, ever since I was on the receiving end of the abuse in third grade. Now, I was back in that same old game.
"Most battles are won by avoiding them in the first place," Nikki tried to calm me.
"Just what I want - a reputation as a coward!" I snorted. "As if _that_ doesn't invite more harassment and bullying, too!"
"I can't begin to count the number of harassing situations I've run from," Ayla replied. "I wouldn't want to guess."
"Except you wouldn't have to guess, would you, Ayles?" Nikki teased Ayla.
Ayla sighed, rolling his eyes. After Friday, it was really, really hard ... er, difficult ... to _not_ think of him as a 'he', despite the fact that most of his body was an incredibly cute girl. "Thirteen in the first four weeks," Ayla reported after the briefest of pauses. "Most of the idiots have given up, but they haven't all stopped."
Nikki laughed. "But Ayles found a very clever way to deter aggression." I saw Ayla blush a tiny bit, which was probably a huge display of emotions considering how he usually hid his feelings. "He arranged with another student, a high-level regenerator, to stage a little ... injury." She was fighting to not cry from laughing, and struggling to speak through her mirth. "In the middle of the quad, when it was very crowded and busy, Ayla faked ripping the guy's ... thing ... right off his body!" She couldn't continue for a few seconds. "It was ... hilarious! The ... prop he had was so realistic, with fake blood and everything!" she gasped between spasms of laughter. "You should have seen all the guys faces as they shielded their crotches!"
Ayla simply shrugged nonchalantly. "It worked. Almost all of the harassment stopped, although I did have to convince security _and_ Mrs. Carson to go along with the ruse so it would be effective. And that got me a week of detention in Hawthorne."
I didn't know whether to laugh or recoil in horror and cover my crotch. It sounded quite gruesome, and at the same time, funny, since it was a very clever way to let people know Ayla was dead serious about confronting bullies. After gawking at the two, slack-jawed and speechless, for a few seconds, I just shook my head. "Yeah, but you've got powers that let you do that. I don't."
Nikki put her arm around my shoulder. "You have to come up with your own ways," she said. "I know you can, and you will."
"But I've got nothing."
"You've got your bison," Ayla countered.
I snorted derisively, confusing them. "Yeah, he can tear up a PK field, but it drains me physically, and if he gets injured, I feel it, too. So he's only of limited use against bricks, and he's no good against speedsters, energizers, telekinets, warpers, and especially not wizards. Which is most of Whateley students. Besides, if I use Tatanka offensively, Mrs. Carson, Ms. Hartford, and Chief Delarose all said I'd get transferred to Hawthorne - if I'm lucky and they dont expel me." I sighed heavily. "I wish I knew what Debra and Wish List and the rest of the Sioux Falls League found so wonderful about this place, because I sure haven't found it. All I've found is five days of trouble and frustration, and it's five days because I've only been here five days."
Nikki actually had the gall to laugh, which angered me greatly, enough that I wanted to punch her right in her smirking face. "It hasn't been a piece of cake for us, you know. For starters, we got in a fight with ninjas in our first few nights. We broke up a sacrifice to Gothmog, broke up a bunch of crystal wavers, had three fights with supervillains in Boston, each battled at least something bad or nasty on Christmas break ...,"
"Don't forget the voodoo wolves," Ayla reminded Nikki. "Or when Nex tried to maim and scar you, or when the Young Turks ambushed you, or ...."
"And all the times the Alphas ambushed you, and Fireball tried to kill you, too. I think Kayda gets the point," Nikki interrupted him quickly, probably fearing that Ayla would do a day-by-day recitation of every problem they'd had since they started at the academy. "The thing is, this is Whateley, and everyone here has some kind of mutant powers. Because of that, bullies are tougher."
"That sounds _soooo_ encouraging!" I muttered sarcastically. "As if regular bullies aren't bad enough."
"I don't know what you want to hear us say," Nikki said in frustration. "I can't tell you it'll all be somehow peachy. You'll have good days and bad days, like all of us."
"I'd like to have at least _one_ good day!" I said with a heavy sigh. I could feel a sense of depression and hopelessness building in me again. It was hard to look for rays of sunshine when it seemed the sky was completely overcast - and raining.
Ayla cocked his head to one side a bit and changed the subject. "I was reading up on the lore of the Lakota tribes last night ...," he began.
"Any reason?" Nikki teased him.
Ayla blushed. "Well, yes. Since Kayda's spirits are Lakota, it seemed only natural ...."
"To learn what you'll be up against when she inevitably decides to kick your rear end for being a smart-ass know-it-all," Nikki giggled.
The crimson on Ayla's cheeks deepened in color. "According to legend, when the White Buffalo Calf Woman was approached by the evil warrior, she called down ..."
"... a cloud, and when it lifted, all that was left was his bones," I finished. "Yes, the original acid rain. I heard that tale many, many times from my grandmother."
"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka snapped at me sharply as my consciousness was yanked brutally and abruptly into dream-space. Wakan Tanka's voice was harsher and more insistent than I'd ever heard.
"Yes?" I answered, stunned by her tone. I turned toward her, and saw that her glower matched her acerbic voice.
"You must NEVER speak of that spell or ability, do you understand?" Wakan Tanka demanded.
"Uh, yeah," I answered meekly. "Why not?" I couldn't help my curiosity. After all, when a teen is told not to do something, they want to do it even more.
"It is a very, very powerful spell. You are not ready to even attempt that spell, because doing so before you're ready would almost certainly kill you. Even when you are fully trained, it is dangerous to you and to those around you. It could as easily kill your friends as your foes if it isn't done perfectly."
In all the time I'd spent in the dream-world with Wakan Tanka, I'd never seen her, or heard her, this upset or angry. From what she described, the spell was way beyond what I would be able to control. I gulped at the thought of hurting a friend or friends accidentally with that spell. "Yes, Wakan Tanka."
"No-one must know that you have the potential of your legends, do you understand?"
"Wiciteglega," I answered, using the name of the raccoon, the one who uses misdirection and disguise.
Wakan Tanka nodded. "Very good, Wihakayda."
I realized that I'd stopped, and that Nikki and Ayla were giving me strange looks. "What?" I asked.
"You kind of zoned out for a few seconds," Nikki replied slowly and cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I answered with a nod. "Wakan Tanka just had some ... advice ... about, um, dealing with bullies." I knew I wasn't a good liar, and that neither of the two would probably believe me. I resumed walking toward our cottage.
"So _do_ you have the power from the lore about Ptesanwi?" Ayla returned to the topic. "If so, it would be a great deterrent."
I felt a shudder of unease, but decided immediately to follow Wakan Tanka's advice. I forced myself to chuckle as if it were a joke. "You know how legends and lore are often quite different from facts. According to legend, I should be able to turn myself into weird-colored buffalo calves, too." I shrugged, trying to grin. "Sorry. Just another exaggeration, I guess."
Nikki's expression seemed rather telling; she _knew_ more than she was letting on, and didn't seem surprised that I downplayed the legend. Ayla didn't look like he believed me, but dropped the subject, at least temporarily.
Somewhere along the way, Tatanka demanifested, because I could feel him back in my head. The funny thing was that I didn't really know when he'd vanished, because I was busy talking with Ayla and Nikki.
"Do you have your books for the afternoon?" Nikki asked out of the blue.
"Then let's just go straight to the caf," Ayla followed up on Nikki's idea without any prompting from her.
"But," I stammered, realizing the issue, "I'm not sure when Evvie and Naomi ..."
"Not to worry. It's not like there are thousands and thousands of students here. They'll find you," Nikki reassured me. With that, Nikki took my elbow and turned me toward Crystal Hall.
I sighed resignedly. If Nikki and Ayla wanted, they could physically force me to go, but I doubted they'd stoop to that. Instead, Nikki was being sweet, reassuring, and concerned at almost sickeningly-sweet, grandmotherly levels of mother-henning. And Ayla was acting like, well, like Ayla, which was carrying the appearance of an overly self-confident rich person. In reality, as I'd accidentally discovered, Ayla seemed to have a caring side that he didn't to like to expose, perhaps from fear that it made him feel vulnerable. As far as I could see in just a few days, Ayla's supposed forte, his confidence and determination, were also symptoms of not-so-hidden emotional vulnerability.
"What if they're not there? I'm not supposed to be left alone, ever," I protested weakly, the strength of my argument undermined by my hunger.
"You won't be. We'll be there," Ayla assured me.
"Did you get your ID?" Nikki asked, having heard the stories of how the lunch people had humiliated me simply because security hadn't gotten me an ID.
"Yeah. Heather and I picked it up on the way back from the bookstore."
"Good. You won't have to deal with any hassles from the cashiers at the caf then," Ayla offered a ray of hope.
Perhaps, with all the crap I'd had to deal with since my manifestation, my need for something good had turned to desperation, because the thought of a simple thing like getting a meal without a hassle almost overwhelmed me with happiness. "Well, there is that."
Inside the caf, the line was a little longer than I'd experienced, because, unlike the weekends, almost all of the students ate on the same shift, so over six-hundred hungry mouths had to be fed, some of them in enormous quantities.
"And who's this lovely new lady?" a guy's voice rang out loudly. Just his tone of voice made my skin crawl.
I glanced around and saw that he was staring at me. More specifically, he was staring at my chest, and wearing a leering grin that defined a nine-point-five or ten on the creepily-lecherous scale.
Ayla stepped from behind me and glowered at the lech. "Peeper, how would you like your computer to suddenly quit working?"
The intruder's skin paled visibly. "Er, no, Ayla," he stammered, frightened by whatever threat lay in Ayla's words. "I, er, I was just, um, saying 'hi', wasn't I, Greaseball?" He nudged the boy standing next to him in the food service line.
"Uh, yeah, Peeper," the second boy echoed quickly. "He just said 'hi'." The two turned away sharply.
"Why didn't you tell me that Ayla was with her?" Peeper spat angrily at his friend. "You know what that could have cost me?"
"Oh, crap," Nikki cussed softly. "I forgot about getting Kayda a set of beads." The look on her face was one of profound embarrassment, as if she'd missed something vital.
"Beads?" I asked softly.
"Yeah," she whispered. "I enchanted some beads when Peeper's leering got to be a bit too much."
"While there are no official reports," Ayla continued in a hushed, conspiratorial voice, "all of his behaviors suggest that Peeper has mild x-ray vision, which means he can see through clothing."
I couldn't help glancing down, my eyes goggling with shock at what I'd just heard. If true, then Peeper had just gotten an eyeful of my private parts. I looked up at Ayla and Nikki, my eyes pleading.
Nikki nodded her confirmation. "That's what the enchanted beads are for. They give a magical illusion to what Peeper sees, something repulsive to him so that he barely glances, let alone gawks, at girls anymore."
"All the girls in Poe, and many of the girls on campus, have a set that they wear at all times, because one never knows when the Peepster will turn up," Ayla finished.
"I need to start carrying spares," Nikki chided herself. "I'll get you a set after classes."
"So what does he see?"
Nikki glanced at Ayla. "Men's privates," she whispered to me conspiratorially, all the while watching to see how I was going to react.
I gulped at the reminder. "I'm glad I don't have that kind of vision." If I had, I'm sure I'd be bound in a strait-jacket in Doyle, heavily sedated, and drooling due to irrecoverable panic attack. I had a sudden thought push aside my panic. "Can you make a custom set for me?"
Nikki eyed me cautiously. "What did you have in mind?"
I leaned forward and whispered in her ear, and Nikki nodded, grinning. "That's a devious, sneaky, great idea!" she said. "I'll make a set for you tonight."
The rest of the bits of conversation in line were more mundane than an x-ray visioned peeping Tom - more mundane if one considers magical arts class to be 'normal'. Nikki feasted at the salad bar and on vegetables, while Ayla filled his plate with more normal fare, and then some kind of special treat from one of the chefs. Nikki caught me staring at Ayla chatting with the cook as he took the plate.
"Ayles has a deal going with the chefs," she explained. "He's treated them to air-fare for vacations and stuff, and he's always super complimentary and nice to the chefs, and in exchange, they give him something that's not part of the normal fare for us hoi polloi."
With my new ID card, checking out was almost anti-climactic, especially after I noticed several students deliberately avoid the line I was in, joining longer lines because they were certain that my checkout would take forever - again. The joke was on them this time; I waltzed right through.
"Are Evvie and Naomi here yet?" Nikki asked when she'd finished in the cashier's line and she saw me scanning the tables.
"Nope. Not yet."
"You're welcome to come upstairs and join us," Ayla offered.
My eyes must have nearly bulged from their sockets at the offer. First of all, how did a group of freshmen, Team Kimba, rate a table on the top floor, where all the 'in groups' sat? I gulped at the thought that Team Kimba was far more influential or far more powerful than I would have given them credit for. Second of all, after the snarky way the one upperclassman had humiliated me the other day, I couldn't even imagine going upstairs.
"Uh, that's okay. They're in line, so I'll just go to where they usually sit and wait for them," I lied uneasily. Without waiting for them to insist, I weaved my way through the tables and plopped my butt down at the place Evvie, Naomi, and the others had sat the few times I'd actually dined with them, and as others sat at other tables around me, I watched nervously for my friends to arrive. I hoped that the usual weekend table was also the usual weekday table, but I had no way of being certain. I shuddered to think that I might be sitting in the usual weekday spot of some group of bullies or 'in' crowd types.
Picking at my food unenthusiastically, I looked around for my friends and roommate. Near me, conversations raged loudly and with great passion, from friendly arguments to jokes, to comments about classes. Meanwhile, I became aware - belatedly - that by sitting alone, I was calling attention to myself, the very thing I'd hoped to avoid in the first place. And with Ayla and Nikki having accepted my lie and having ascended to their table on one of the exalted upper levels, I didn't have anyone to 'escort' me past the snobs, bitches, in-crowd, and ranking bullies to get to their table. I didn't dare to even try, not after the snobby, condescending response I'd gotten once before.
As I was about to give up on trying to eat because of a lack of appetite, which in turn was brought on by being nervous about an awkward social situation, Evvie plopped her tray opposite me. My sense of relief was palpable, and from her knowing smile, Evvie could tell how gratified I was that she was finally at the table. Scant seconds later, Naomi joined her, and within another two minutes, Laurie and Adrian took seats with us.
"Where's Vasiliy?" I asked, curious.
"Trying to impress Chat Bleu," Laurie scoffed. "Give him a minute to get over being shot down - yet again, and he'll be here."
"You can almost set your watch by it," Naomi added dryly.
As predicted, Vasiliy arrived at the table within two minutes, greeting everyone enthusiastically.
"So what kind of fanciful story were you using to try to impress her today?" Evvie asked just as Vasiliy shoved a bite of meatloaf in his mouth.
"Was telling story of great uncle, who was famous mathematician," Vasiliy replied immediately, speaking through a mouthful of food.
"Couldn't have been from your family," Adrian guffawed, "because I've seen your grades in math. They suck. One of the two of you had to be adopted, because you don't have even the slightest hint of genes from your so-called uncle."
"So, hot-shot," Laurie said mockingly, "if you have a famous uncle, who is he?"
"I might have heard of him," I added to the conversation. "I've studied quite a bit of advanced math."
Laurie snatched my schedule, which I'd had sitting on the table to review while I ate. "So, the wunderkind is so knowledgeable in math, and yet she's in Algebra 1?" she teased.
Mist filled my eyes as I clenched my jaw angrily, taking a deep breath through flared nostrils, before I caught myself and forced my hurt and anger down. It had been an innocent comment, not intentionally hurtful. I sighed, rolling my eyes. "It's a major screw-up by my advisor and the school. I've taken graduate-level math classes - for credit - before I came here. I've done two semesters' worth of differential equations, advanced numerical analysis, advanced statistical analysis, and I'm trying to finish my work in abstract algebra. Yeah, I know my way around math, but the idiots in the administration couldn't, or wouldn't try to, figure out my transcripts so they mindlessly put me in Algebra 1." I glared at the group, daring them to comment. Thankfully, none of them did, because with the mood I was in, I might have launched at a snarky soliloquy.
"Great uncle was Konstantin Sergeiovich Volkov. Studied under Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky," Vasiliy said proudly, thankfully taking the focus off me and my woes.
"I've heard of Lobachevsky, but never Volkov."
"Bozhe Moy! Is very famous! So famous, great American mathematician and singer Tom Lehrer wrote immortal song about dyadya Volkov's contribution and methodology he learned from tutor Lobachevsky! Surely you have heard of song 'Lobachevsky'!"
Everyone I saw rolled their eyes at Vasiliy's claim. Given that he was prone to exaggerate more than a bit, I found it hard to believe. Still, math was a very broad subject, and his uncle might have made a significant contribution in an area I hadn't yet studied.
I shook my head. "I've never heard of it ...,"
Everyone else joined in a chorus of, "... and don't call me Shirley!" which got us giggling a bit. I was actually surprised that the girls keyed on the line immediately, because it was my impression that girls almost universally loathed the movie 'Airplane', from whence that gag came.
The discussion among them about classes picked up, leaving me feeling left out since I'd just started. Besides, they were in more advanced mutant classes, having already taken, in their fall term, the basics that I was just starting now. After a bit, I was playing with my food more than really eating it, and I was feeling excluded from the conversation, and thus the group, which led to a feeling of restlessness and being cooped up. I wanted to get outside. I _needed_ to get outside, even though the caf was more open and airy-feeling than most classrooms.
"I need to go outside some," I interjected at a convenient pause in the conversation. "My ... spirit is kind of restless indoors." With that, I stood up, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and picked up my tray. Without even bothering to check if anyone was coming with me, I bussed my tray and stepped outside.
A few guys noticed me, giving me an appreciative once-over look as they eyed up and down my body, causing me to shudder inwardly. At least now I knew why the thought of guys creeped me out, even though knowing didn't make it feel any less creepy. In fact, in some ways, it felt worse now that I knew.
Compared to the climate-controlled interior of Crystal Hall, outside it was a little brisk, with a light, cool breeze, despite the best efforts of the early-spring sun to warm things up. I knew just where I wanted to go; strewn about the quad were a few a little walled detached patio areas, open to the south, with benches for seating. They were ideal for early spring or late fall sunning or studying, since the waist-high walls were good windbreaks against chilly winds, and facing south, they absorbed the sun's rays into the brick and concrete of the structure.
I opted to sit cross-legged on the concrete, leaning back against the warm brick wall. The contrast in temperatures between the cool patio, still chilly from the cold ground beneath it, and the warm wall, was invigorating.
I'd barely settled into my comfortable position than Evvie and Naomi arrived. "You're going to get yourself in trouble if you keep wandering off without escort," Evvie cautioned me as the duo settled onto a bench.
"Meh," I muttered. "If it gets me out of some of these stupid classes." I saw the looks of utter horror on the girls' faces at my seeming ambivalence.
Unbidden, Tatanka manifested himself, about three-quarters sized and lying on the concrete facing me. "Wihakayda," he said in greeting.
"What do you want?" I demanded, speaking in Lakota because I was aggravated at his habit of appearing when I least expected it and inevitably lecturing me about something or other.
"You must come to the dream-world," Tatanka answered in English.
"Why?" I asked angrily.
"Come." He vanished, and my consciousness was snapped into the dream-world.
"What do you want?" I asked gruffly as I plopped my butt on a nearby rock. I would have preferred the fire ring of the village, but Tatanka preferred more natural settings. "I was comfortable."
"I have someone you must meet."
"I'm kind of busy right now," I protested.
"No, you are resting between your classes, and sulking," Tatanka retorted. "Since you are learning today, a break from your real-world classes is a good time for a lesson here."
"What are you going to nag me about today?"
"Not me. Come. There is a spirit you must meet."
My eyes widened at his words. Meet a spirit, as opposed to just look and listen to one of Tatanka's lectures? "Why now? I want to enjoy some time with my friends."
"Come." Tatanka ambled off toward some nearby trees.
Frustrated, I followed him. Suddenly, I froze. Ahead of me was an animal I had no desire whatsoever to meet. Tatanka, however, walked right up to the skunk. "Greetings, Maka," he said amiably.
Surprisingly, the skunk answered. "Greetings, mighty Tatanka. To what do I owe the honor of your presence?"
"Wakan Tanka's protege behind me is having trouble with authorities," Tatanka explained simply.
"Hey!" I protested. "I am _not_!"
"Are your teachers authorities?" Tatanka asked.
"Well, yeah," I mumbled, stymied in my angry denial.
Maka shook his head, making something of a tsk-tsk sound. "She is but a child," he said to Tatanka. "What do you expect?"
"Even a young child," Tatanka explained patiently to the skunk spirit, "shows respect for elders, and does not deliberately flout rules."
Maka thought a moment, and then he walked over to me. He sniffed my legs and feet for a bit, making me extremely nervous. All I knew of skunks was that they were pests and sprayed their noxious odors on things when startled. "She has the scent of the white man's civilization," he said.
"Yes. So much of the world does. It is no longer the time of the open prairie, of the herds of millions, and the balance of things."
Maka looked up at me. "Sit, young one," he ordered.
Not knowing what else to do, with a worried glance Tatanka's way, I sat cross-legged on the ground.
"Why do you show no respect to authority? What have they done that deserves such a response from you?"
I shook my head slowly. How would I ever explain to a skunk spirit what the administration and security had done to me, how they'd messed up my life? "They don't listen to my needs. They ignore what I have already learned, and place me in classes which I don't need, while preventing me from taking classes I _do_ need, or electives which I really want."
"And you know what is right better than authorities who have done this for years? Leaders who have far more experience than you?" Maka asked sarcastically.
"They treat me like a child!"
"You _are_ a child," Maka countered sharply. "You may have powerful spirits within you, but you are still a child. Your teachers and elders know far more than you, and they use that wisdom to guide you. But they cannot do their jobs if you show them no respect, if you constantly question their decisions."
"How respectful is it to _me_ that they make me repeat that which I learned long ago?"
"So you lash out in anger and frustration?" Maka asked. "What will become of your tantrums? What good will they do?"
I started to open my mouth, but I stopped and thought a moment. "They'll listen to what I'm saying?" I asked hesitantly.
"No," Maka replied. "They will not. All your lack of respect for authorities and the resulting fits will get you is a reputation as a trouble-maker. Do you listen to a baby who's having a fit? Do you reason with a toddler screaming because she didn't get what she wanted?
I lowered my gaze, exhaling slowly. "No."
"Because ... they don't know what's best for them."
"And if they continue to show no respect, but to have tantrums instead, what happens?
I knew where this was going. "They get branded as trouble-makers, and people don't want to be around them."
"And in the end, do they get what they demanded?"
I shook my head. "No," I admitted sheepishly. Maka had a point, even as much as I hated to concede that he was correct.
"But that's what you're doing to yourself, isn't it?" Maka crawled up in my lap, curling up like a cat. A cat with a long, striped tail like those pursued by Pepe Le Pew in the cartoons. "You will get a reputation as a trouble-maker, and others will show you no respect. To earn respect, you must show it to others. To have your elders and authorities listen to you, you must first listen to them."
"So I just knuckle under to things that are stupid and a waste of my time?"
"No!" Maka retorted sternly. "That is not what I said. Let me ask a question - do you know why the authorities made the decisions they made?"
I nodded slowly. "I think so. One person intensely dislikes the shaman who brought me to the school."
"So you fight a high authority? And you hope to win?" Maka shook his head. "You _think_ you know the reason, and you respond accordingly in anger and frustration."
"So what _should_ I do?"
"Ah, now comes the learning. Asking questions and seeking answers instead of just lashing out in anger." He glanced up at Tatanka. "I thought you told me that Wihakayda was too stubborn to learn!" I scowled at the little spirit, but he just looked back at me with a cute little face. Dammit, he was making it hard to stay angry, even if he was a skunk.
"Do other animals respect me? Even the People do they respect me?"
I frowned. "They _fear_ you, and your spray."
"No, Wihakayda, that is where you are wrong. The animal spirits respect me, because I respect them. The People respect me, and I respect them. It is the foolish young ones, who have no respect for themselves, and thus can have no respect for others, who fear me, because I am prepared to defend myself against them. Does that make sense to you?"
I thought a moment, and then nodded. "Yes. It does."
"If you learn the facts, respecting your elders, then you can find a path to get them to respect you and to listen to you and to consider the facts as you see them. If you respect them, they will reciprocate. But if you fight, if you respond in anger, you will earn no respect from them, and you will earn a bad reputation."
I was suddenly yanked out of my dream-world, and I looked around to see why. Evvie and Naomi were staring at me, concern on their faces. "What?"
Naomi shook her head in amazement at how I was acting. "You zoned out there for a few minutes," she replied. "It was starting to get scary."
"What were you doing? Some serious meditation or something?" Evvie asked.
I chuckled. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try us," Naomi urged, as if daring me to tell my tale.
"I was in my dream-world, getting lectured about respect and reputation by a skunk spirit," I replied. I watched their expressions rapidly pass from 'you're kidding' to 'are you serious', and finally settling on 'are you always going to do weird stuff like this?' I chuckled some more. "Yeah, a skunk spirit. You know what? The little guy was kind of cute - once I got past the fear of him spraying me."
As we sat, conversing casually and enjoying the warmth of the little alcove, I was yanked back into my dream-world when I saw an Oriental girl walking across campus, holding hands with an Oriental boy and an Anglo girl.
"Do you see the girl in the middle?" Wakan Tanka asked me.
"The oriental girl?"
"Yes. She is the servant of a very, very powerful force," she explained. "She must be dealt with cautiously, because she is extremely dangerous."
"But ... we are Ptesanwi! And you are Wakan Tanka!"
"And she serves something far more powerful than us. She serves the balance, the spirit that keeps the world in harmony."
"Is this the balance you have referred to? The balance we must restore?"
"It is far more than that, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka explained. "We seek harmony in nature, where man and nature exist together in balance. She serves balance in the universe, in all things. To us, balance is absence of evil spirits. To her, balance includes good and evil spirits which offset one another. She could be a powerful ally, or a most dangerous foe."
I gulped. "How do we know which?"
"We don't know," Wakan Tanka answered grimly. "That is why you must avoid her attention until we _do_ know."
With a bit of attitude adjustment, English was tolerable - barely. To paraphrase Caesar, veni, vidi, extrinsecus est. I came, I saw, I got bored. First, the teacher, Ms. Seever, didn't even want to hear that I was mistakenly in her class. My name was on the new roster, ergo I was in the right class - regardless of what my high school transcripts said. When I respectfully asked that she or the department chair check into my transcripts, she accused me of being uncooperative and having a bad attitude, all the while I was trying to patiently explain that I was technically a sophomore, that I'd had English I the year before, and had been taking English II until I manifested.
Class proceeded like all English classes, which is to say painfully slowly, or worse. Worse because Ms. Seever called on me several times, which was annoying because in theory, I had only started and was two weeks behind. Perhaps she disliked me for some reason, or perhaps my name came up on the 'pick on this student today' lottery. In any event, I got called on frequently enough that it was statistically highly improbable. The first time, I replied quickly and correctly. The second time, I gave a heavy sigh before giving the correct response, as if answering was an unrealistic burden. The third time I was called on, I made sure she heard my derisive snort before I answered. The fourth time I rolled my eyes, before replying 'whatever'. The fifth time, I just ignored her. Five times in a row, in a class of twenty-five students, was a five-sigma event. I _knew_ it couldn't be coincidence.
After dismissal, while all the students were slogging their way wearily toward the exit, she called to me. "Miss Franks." She sounded quite insistent, so I trudged to her desk.
"Yes, Ms. Seever?"
"Class participation is a key element of your grade, but when I called on you today to evaluate your knowledge of what we've already covered, you seemed to be ignoring me."
"Because I had this class last year before I manifested," I explained as patiently as I could - again. "Prior to manifesting, I was a sophomore in English II."
She was not to be dissuaded from her incorrect convictions. "If that was correct, you would have been placed in English II instead of this class."
"My advisor did not have my complete high-school transcripts, so she signed me up for two classes that I've already had. I certainly didn't want to repeat classes, because there are some classes I should take relating to my powers, such as Avatars I."
"I'm sure you'll get the classes you need in your four years here."
"I won't be here for four years, because, as I said, I'm technically a sophomore. I had this last year, and repeating it is keeping me from taking relevant courses that Mr. Lodgeman and others know I should be taking," I said, trying not to clench my jaw in anger, and to put into practice what Maka had told me, to show her respect even if she was way past my tolerance level of pigheadedness. "Repeating classes is keeping me from learning about avatars, which in turn is impeding my learning about the magic that gives me, and taking some classes that my old high school didn't offer. But because of mistakes, I don't get that opportunity. Would you care to see a copy of my transcripts from my old high school? Maybe a copy of my birth certificate to prove that I'm of age to be a sophomore, too?" Okay, I realized that the last comment was over the top and a bit snarky. More than a bit.
Ms. Seever frowned deeply. "I really don't like that attitude, young lady."
'Remember Maka. Remember Maka,' I told myself to try to calm the simmering anger and resentment. "And I really don't like repeating classes I've had and missing classes I need because of mistakes by administration," I replied, trying to keep a calm, diplomatic voice. Unfortunately, I'd had little practice in being diplomatic and tactful, so I probably came across as angry. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to meet my 'escort' to my next class, again thanks to someone in the administration screwing with my life." I stomped out of the classroom, knowing that Ms. Seever was behind me, glaring at my display of disrespect.
Electrode, Jackie Warwick, was waiting for me in the hall, and when she saw my expression - a mixture of anger and frustration - she bounced to my side. "Are you okay, Kayda?" she asked quickly. Jackie was another changeling like me, and she'd been very staunch in her support when I'd revealed my ordeal.
"I'm trying to not be pissy," I replied heavily, "but I'm so frustrated! They put me in English 1 again. I was in English II before I manifested, so this is a complete and total waste of my time."
"Did you talk to your advisor?" Jackie asked as we started walking toward my next class.
"She's the one who put me here, and she wouldn't listen to anything I had to say," I grumbled. I halted and touched her arm, which caused her to stop and turn toward me. "I have a question, and I'd like an honest answer," I said haltingly.
"Okaaaayyyy," Jackie answered nervously, not sure where this was going.
"Am I ...," I began. I didn't quite know how to ask the question. "Am I difficult? To deal with, I mean?"
Jackie winced. "Uh, with what you've been through, I don't think so. I think it's understandable."
"But if you didn't know that story?"
She looked at the floor, afraid of how I was going to react. "Uh, yeah, kind of," she admitted slowly. "You come across as having a 'tude, like you don't trust the whole world, and like you're in a pretty deep funk that you don't seem to want out of, but you want everyone around you to know." She put her hand on my arm. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "You asked me to be honest."
I let my head sag forward. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?"
"And sometimes, you seem like you're a loner, like you don't want anyone around you," Jackie added. "I suppose that comes from being hurt so badly."
"Wow. Maka and Tatanka were right, but I didn't believe them."
Jackie's brow wrinkled. "Maka and Tatanka?"
I gave a half-chuckle, which was an effort, given my emotional state. "Animal spirits that have been trying to get some lessons through this thick head of mine." I sighed (it seemed that I was doing that a lot more often, which might have been a result of my emotional turmoil). "I guess I'm sometimes a little too stubborn for my own good."
"I understand if you feel overwhelmed at times," Jackie offered. "I went through it, too." She realized what she'd said. "Not as bad as you had it, but it was still pretty overwhelming." She paused to see if I was going to take offense. Seeing no reaction from me, she continued, "I had a period where nothing was right, everything was wrong, my life was totally hosed, and nobody listened to what I felt or needed. At least, that's the way it felt to me."
We resumed walking. "Yeah, that's what it feels like. I feel - completely out of control, and overwhelmed." After a long pause, I continue. "How did you do it? How did you cope with feeling like that?"
Jackie smiled. "My motto."
" Illegitimi non carborundum," Jackie's smile turned into a grin. "Don't let the bastards win."
"Yeah, like that's going to help. Hardass hates me, Security is watching me like a hawk, Carson basically told me that she can't be bothered with my problems and that if I messed up again, she might have to expel me. I'm stuck in classes I've already had, with teachers who have bad attitudes ...."
"Whoa," Jackie interrupted cautiously. "Who's got the bad attitude?"
I stopped and stared at her, open-mouthed, for a moment. "Me," I admitted softly when I'd recovered from the shock of her question. "But I'm not the only one. Ms. Seever was really nasty at me, like her attitude was my fault!"
"I bet you two spun each other up. You were starting out frustrated about retaking English I, and I bet she picked up on that, so she pushed you a little bit because you had a bad attitude. That only made your attitude worse, which in turn made her more upset. Am I right?"
Damn, for a high-school sophomore, Jackie was pretty sharp. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Just go along with their stupid little games and try not to let them get to you," Jackie advised further. She halted on the sidewalk outside the classroom building. "I hope you can make it from here to your room," she said cheerfully. "I've got to run so I'm not late for _my_ class." She gave me a quick hug and then walked off.
The hug made me feel a bit better. No wonder girls can get so huggy. I wondered how long it would be before I was a hugger all the time, too. Probably not long, based on recent experiences with the art of the hug. I had to half-chuckle at a rather silly thought; there was an ancient Chinese book by Sun Tzu called "The Art of War'. Perhaps there was a companion volume by his wife called "The Art of the Hug?"
The effects of the embrace wore off the moment a slush-ball hit my neck. I flinched from the blow, and then shivered as the stinging-cold ice crystals and cold water began to slide down my neck into the back of my blouse. I spun instinctively, looking to see who had thrown it at me, even as I tried to wipe the sloppy mess off my neck.
It could have been any one of dozens of students. My usual tormenters, TK, Truck, Nitro, and Cagliostro, weren't in immediate sight, but that wasn't to say that one of them hadn't thrown it and ducked quickly out of sight. TK even could have thrown it from further, using his telekinetic power to hurl the slushy mess at me. Or, what was an even worse thought, the number of people who'd decided to make my life miserable had grown.
"Stay positive?" I asked myself. "Yeah, right! Like that's going to be easy." With wet hair and wetness seeping into my blouse and coat, I walked the rest of the way to class, ignoring all the students around me who were chuckling after seeing me clocked with the slush-ball, and who were pointing at my wet clothing and hair.
The classroom for the Powers Theory class was small, because there weren't many students in this term. Apparently, it was very much in demand in the fall terms, but only had one section in the spring. I glanced around, and then sat in as out-of-the-way place as I could, because first, I didn't recognize anybody in the class and second, the way my day had gone so far, I didn't want to attract any undue attention.
Naturally, Murphy's Law was messing with me even here. I had just opened my book when I saw a shadow loom over me. I looked up, and saw a very large, ornery-looking kid scowling down at me. "You're in my spot," he growled.
"Sorry," I muttered, quickly gathering up my things. "I'm new, so I didn't realize ...."
"Why didn't you just wait until everyone was seated before stealing someone else's chair?" he snarled angrily right back at me.
I stood, torn between angry defiance and meekly slinking off. When I looked up, and up, and even further up at the boy who was well over six and a half feet tall, I decided on the latter course of action. "Sorry," I muttered before slipping off. I went back to the front of the room, glancing around nervously, hearing the titters and guffaws as students made fun of my faux pas. I felt my anger growing at being the butt of the joke, and at feeling like an outsider - again.
"Is there a problem with the seating?"
I spun, and saw that the instructor, Dr. Quintain according to my schedule, was staring at me. Gulp - another screw-up, and more unwanted attention and humiliation in front of my class. Why the hell couldnt I just fade into the woodwork for a class or two and be left alone? "Er, I just started, and I wasn't sure what seats were taken." The soft chuckles let me know how amusing others found my situation.
Dr. Quintain looked at me, and then down at the papers in his hand. After shuffling through them a bit, he pulled one sheet out and read it. "Ah, yes, I see. You would be Kayda Franks, correct?"
"See me after class to make a catch-up plan for your work here." Without another word, he walked to a desk in the front of the classroom, set down his papers, and walked to the board, starting his lecture and summarily dismissing me.
The only chairs open were, surprise, surprise, front-and-center. I slid into one and organized my things, all while Dr. Quintain droned on with his lecture.
Fifth period Powers Theory was even more of a waste of my time than English had been. Dr. Quintain might have been a great researcher and a powers expert, but as a lecturer, he sucked. Really sucked. NASA vacuum-chamber quantity of suck. His delivery was monotone, with not the slightest inflection to arouse even a hint of interest in the students. Half the time he spoke, he was addressing the board he was writing on, so the lecture came out as, "mumble mumble mumble pattern mumble mumble energizing mumble mumble mumble dimensions mumble...." It only took a few minutes, though, to realize that he was essentially reciting the book word-for-word, so following along was suddenly easier. Because my reading speed was so much improved, I read the day's topic in about fifteen minutes, and then was able to go back to the beginning of the book to start catching up.
Once class was over, and the threat of lecture-induced narcolepsy had faded, I walked to the front of the class while everyone else filed past me and out of the nap chamber. "You want to talk to me, Dr. Quintain?" I asked, trying to not sound snippy or rude.
"Yes. Miss Franks, is it?" He looked at some notes in a loose-leaf binder. "Yes, I see." He looked back up. "You have two weeks of lecture material to learn, and two quizzes to take. Additionally, there is a chapter test on Friday, assuming you're prepared. Per policy, I can give you one half day of grace period for every two days of class you missed."
I thought a moment about the lecture and the book from which the lectures came verbatim. "Can I have a couple of days to see how I'm doing for catch-up? I have nine classes that I'm behind on."
"Nine?" Dr. Quintain expressed the closest thing to emotion that I'd seen since I first saw him. "That's an unusually heavy course load."
I nodded. "That's what Mrs. Hawkins gave me. The worst part is that, even though I had been getting college credit in grad-school level math back home, she put me in Algebra 1. And even though I'm technically a sophomore, she put me in English I."
Dr. Quintain seemed lost in thought, scratching his chin for a moment. "Did you say grad-school level math?" I nodded. "By chance, do you have any experience with ten- and twelve-dimensional quasi-hyperbolic projections and isomorphic transformational maps to and from a lower-dimensional Lie space?"
I didn't understand exactly what he'd said, but I had a very good idea. "Is that related higher-dimension hyper-geometric encryption theory?"
Dr. Quintain's eyebrows shot up. "It's considerably more involved, but essentially, it's a very closely related problem. The major challenge in pattern theory is to generate a set of independent basis functions and then try to find one or more isomorphic mapping function that are consistent with observed results in our four-dimensional space. We're trying to decrypt the pattern mapping in a way that's consistent with our current power theories and mutation effects." He looked at me for a moment. "Do you have a work-study assignment yet?"
I shook my head. "With nine courses, when would I have time for work-study?"
"Perhaps something should be done about that," Dr. Quintain said, stroking his chin absently as he stared off into space.
"I have to get to my next class." I hurried out of the room so I wouldn't be late for the power theory lab. Fortunately, it was just down the hall, so hopefully, no-one would think that I needed a babysitter to walk sixty feet. As I walked out, I heard Dr. Quintain muttering to himself in a disgusted tone, "Algebra! What a waste!" I managed to smile that at least two faculty members recognized a gross error in my class schedule. Perhaps he and Ms. Grimes would help me get things straightened out. I could only hope.
I was the last person to enter the room for powers lab, and I winced at the 'stare of authority' I got from the teacher. I scanned the room quickly, and then headed for an open seat.
"Ms. Franks?" the instructor, who my cheat-sheet had informed me was Mrs. Bohn, asked as I tried to slink unnoticed past her desk.
"Yes?" I winced as I spoke, turning to face what I figured would be her incipient wrath.
"I have assigned you to work with Adalie Vitesse for this lab," she said.
There was a low groan in the back of the room, and I turned, already feeling dismay. Whoever this Adalie was, and her name sounded French to me, she wasn't thrilled about having me as a lab partner. Had she heard about me? Had I already, in my first few days, earned a reputation that would make people _not_ want me as a lab partner?
"Yes, ma'am," I said quickly, before scurrying to an open seat near the girl who was face-palming at the prospect of having to deal with me for the rest of the term. I sat down, glanced at her, and muttered under my breath, "Why me?"
Adalie Vitesse, Charge, wasn't a bad looking girl. In fact, if I'd been a guy, I would have found her quite sexy. Her dark hair hung a little below the nape of her neck, parted on the side and swept behind her ears. Her features were classically French, with perfect lips, dainty nose, and eyes that could swallow a person's soul - at least, if that person were male and not blind. And into girls. But she had an expression of genuine scorn, which was difficult to decipher at whom it was directed.
"I'm Kayda," I whispered to introduce myself so I wouldn't cause a disturbance in the class, or at least not a bigger one than I'd already made.
"Oui," Adalie replied, sounding a bit snooty. "I know."
"Pleased, and so on," I whispered before turning my attention to the instructor. The 'rents had taught me to be polite, no matter how difficult or nasty the other person was. All that training must have been preparation for dealing with Whateley and people like Adalie. And Ms. Hartford. And Mrs. Hawkins. And ....
After a brief review of the past week's labs, Mrs. Bohn picked the topic of the week; we broke into small groups, and discussed creative ways to use the power being studied. I was grateful that the power wasn't one of mine; it was speedsters, and it turned out that Adalie had that power. Our assignment for the day - to find creative ways for speedsters to use their powers.
One of the guys in the team chuckled as he said, "You can simply run away from a fight." He paused a moment, and then wrinkled his brow. "Oh, wait. You tried that and it didn't work out so well for you, did it?" He guffawed, thinking he'd been so clever.
Adalie glared at him. "Merde," she replied acerbically. "If all you can do is to 'url insults, then per'aps you should keep your mouth shut."
I knew there was a story in that exchange, and that I'd find it sooner or later.
"Against a flier, you're in trouble," a girl observed. "He can just stay out of reach."
I couldn't resist the temptation to speak up. "Unless you use your speed to quickly get into a place with a low overhead. The flier would lose the advantage of altitude if he pursued you."
Another guy picked up on my train of thought. "I see. Yes, that might work. Without altitude, the flier might have maneuverability problems, which would give you the advantage with the speed."
The others talked about various types to battle. Against ranged attacks, like energizers usually employed, all a speedster could do is duck and weave to avoid being hit, while either getting out of range or getting close enough that the attacker no longer had the edge. Against mages or psychics, the options seemed more limited - get out of range, although a couple of creative ideas were proposed.
"If you were dealing with a powerful psychic who was listening in on your senses, what would happen if you ran really fast in a circle? Could you maybe get them disorientated or dizzy by getting yourself dizzy?" the other girl in our group suggested. It was an interesting concept.
We moved on to dealing with bricks, the supermen who were just plain hard to hurt. No-one was getting any good ideas, until I, once again, opened my mouth. "How about doing a snowspeeder on them?"
I got a lot of looks of, "Huh?" and, "What the hell are you talking about?"
I sighed heavily. So much for common cultural background. "The Empire Strikes Back? When they use the tow cables to wrap up the legs of the Imperial walkers because they can't damage them any other way?"
The light bulbs went on instantly, except for Adalie, who had to mentally cross-reference the cultural ideas.
"Mon Dieu," she exclaimed after she'd worked the mental translation. "But of course! If their legs become tangled, then they cannot walk and will fall over, or at least give the speedster more time! Merveilleuse idee!"
I honestly thought for a moment that she was going to do the French thing of kissing me on both cheeks. Honestly, given her looks, I don't know that I would have minded. Of course, I didn't think Debra would like me kissing another girl.
The group discussed this idea, including possible pitfalls, for several more minutes before moving on. All in all, the class was sort-of fun, but since my powers were magic-based, I didn't see that I was learning anything useful.
A few minutes before class was dismissed, as other groups were finishing their assignments, Adalie turned to me. "Your English, it is very good, and you have almost no accent."
I'm sure the expression on my face said, 'what'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?' I asked for clarification. "Pardon? Why wouldn't I speak good English?"
"Are you not Indian?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Yeah," I answered, "I'm Indian, but we ...." The light flashed on. "Oh, you mean from India, not American Indian!" I chuckled. "No, I'm not from the subcontinent. I'm an American Indian, or Native American as we prefer."
Adalie's cheeks flushed red. "Oh, pardon! I did not mean to be insulting." At the same time, the look in her eyes changed, from what seemed to be grudging acceptance of me to disdain or even scorn.
"No biggie," I replied. She didn't answer, but turned that cute little Gallic nose up just a trifle, enough to let me know what she thought of Americans. All Americans. Either that, or she was embarrassed about having mistaken me for someone from India because of my skin coloration.
Outside the lab, Elaine, Delta Spike, was waiting for me, easily recognizable in her standard devisor uniform, the Whateley lab coat. I wondered how someone had managed to pry her from the devisor labs to take escort duty, because of the stories from the Sioux Falls League made it sound like devisors and gadgeteers had to be forcibly removed from their labs to perform basic functions like eating, sleeping, and sometimes, even using the bathroom. Elaine looked like a classic devisor - long dark hair held up in an unflattering style, unattractive glasses, and the ever-present rumpled lab coat that was the staple of the Whateley labs. I absently wondered for a moment what she'd look like if she let her hair down, lost the professorial specs, and shed the lab coat. I imagined that she'd be pretty hot.
That thought was immediately interrupted by the cold water of reality. I was thinking like a guy again, someone who would have really enjoyed ogling Elaine, but now I was a girl. Confusion reared its ugly head once more. Was I a full-fledged member of the sisterhood, a lesbian who was still driven by years of socialization to look at and think of girls as dating material and potential sexual partners, and thus looking at Elaine with attraction and, dare I say it, lust? Or was I just going through a phase as my thought patterns and feelings transitioned to being fully female, and I would eventually find myself attracted to boys? The latter thought filled me with terror, which wasn't surprising given the events I'd lived through.
Aw, to hell with the over-analyzing things. At the moment, I was really into the female figure in all its splendor, so I might as well enjoy it. If my preferences changed in the future, I'd deal with that then. I stole more than a few sideways glances at her to more properly appreciate what she had to offer, even if it was hidden by her getup.
"How can you smile coming out of Powers Theory and Powers Lab?" Elaine asked, baffled by the slight grin I had.
"The lecture in Power Theory was awful," I admitted, carefully steering away from the subject, which was that my grin had been from staring at her, "but afterward, Dr. Quintain and I were talking, and I told him that I had been doing graduate level math. Maybe, just maybe, he was impressed enough to help me get out of repeating algebra. And the lab was kind of interesting." I was not about to tell her that I was thinking of what she'd look like in the nude.
"Where are you going now?" Elaine asked.
"Intro electronics theory."
"I thought that was fourth period."
I shrugged. "I'm having to do the independent study because my day classes are all full thanks to Mrs. Hawkins."
"Wow! Seven classes a week?"
I shook my head resignedly. "Plus an evening French class, and costume class on Saturday morning. Total of nine classes."
"Someone must really hate you," Elaine said, grimacing. We took an elevator down to the tunnels.
"Yeah, I'm beginning to get that feeling, too. According to Jinn, it's probably Hartford, because Charlie Lodgeman was involved in getting my paperwork approved, and she doesn't like Mr. Lodgeman at all."
Elaine snorted derisively. "She doesn't like _anyone_!"
"That's what I've heard."
"So, what are you going to do?"
I shrugged. "Go to classes, and try to meet with Mrs. Hawkins again to see if she'll actually look at my transcripts and listen."
"You might want to have a talk with Zenith to see if there's anything she can do to help out," she suggested.
"That's what Ayla suggested this morning," I said reluctantly. "But I already owe her a ton for just my first few days. If I have to keep asking favors, I'll owe her my soul or something!"
Elaine chuckled loudly. "Not Zenith. She doesn't deal in souls. But if Sara was our fixer, you might have to worry."
"Yeah, Sara Waite. She used to live in Poe, and hung out with the Kimbas. She's a full-fledged demon."
"A ... demon?" After what I'd dealt with already, the thought of a resident demon at Whateley made me more than a bit nervous.
"Yeah, a lust demon. If _she_ was the fixer ...."
I laughed uneasily, like it was a joke, but inside, I was trembling. I wondered what Wakan Tanka would think of the fact that there was a demon here.
"She is the Kellith," Wakan Tanka interrupted my thoughts. "I sensed her when we first arrived on the school grounds."
"Who, or what, is the Kellith?"
"She is the daughter of Gothmog, the demon of lust and sex."
"Is ... is she a danger to me?" I asked nervously. I wasn't relishing the sudden thought that I'd have to fight another demon.
"No. Gothmog and the Kellith have always been neutral, and they are powerful enough that they cannot be corrupted by demons like Unhcegila and Kigatilik."
"Oh." Something else came to mind. "I thought you weren't going to intrude on my thoughts."
Wakan Tanka smiled. "You _were_ wondering what I would think. If you hadn't intended to call me to speak, then you should have been more careful in controlling your thoughts." She sounded a trifle smug.
I snapped back from the dream-world to reality, and realized that only a second or so had passed. Elaine hadn't even noticed my temporary absence.
"Who'd you get assigned as a lab partner in Powers Lab?"
"Some French girl. Adalie something. She goes by Charge." I frowned. "And Mrs. Bohn had the assignment on a paper that looked like school letterhead. You don't suppose ...."
It was Elaine's turn to shrug. "After a few terms here, Kayda, I quit believing in coincidences."
"What do you know about her?"
"Same as the rest of the Berets. Hates America and Americans. In Charge's case, it's worse than the others for some reason, but nobody knows why. Not even Ayla, and Ayla is kind of an honorary Beret because the Goodkinds have a lot of business dealings in Europe. Charge is also a non-violent, but without the paperwork, so she had to fight in the combat finals, and she got her ass handed to her. It wasn't a pretty sight."
"Um, Debra, I mean Cornflower, told me about the combat finals." I paused, thinking about what Elaine had said. "Was Charge's combat final really that bad?"
"Even with some serious healing magic, she had to spend the night in the hospital. Yeah, it was bad. She got herself on the administration's shit list." Elaine paused beside a door, one that looked like so many other doors they'd passed in the underground maze. "Here's the electronics lab. Have fun." She paused, and I knew why. "Are you ... one of us?" she blurted out.
My eyes bugged out and my mouth was agape at the question she was asking. "Am I ... one of ...?" So she was as blatant as Rosslyn, and was asking if I was a lesbian?
"A gadgeteer or devisor," Elaine added when she saw me looking confused. "Because I heard that you do the magic thing."
I smiled. "My MID lists me as a gadgeteer-4. Yeah, I'm one of the lab-coat crew." I could see Elaine's shock at the nickname. "Debra and the rest of the Sioux Falls League told me lots of stories about Whateley, including about some of the organizations and groups. So I know that the devisors and gadgeteers are sometimes called the 'lab-coat crew', or at least they used to be."
Independent study turned out to be a study-hall type of class in the lab, with Ms. Merenis supervising, while the other four students and I worked through the materials on our own. Ms. Merenis was there as a resource for any questions relating to the course, and to grade the lab-work that was also done in the classroom.
When I first walked in, Ms. Merenis had expressed reservations about me being successful, since it was independent study, and I was starting the term late, and I had a very large class load. To make matters worse, I was wearing a uniform and _no_ lab coat, unlike the other students. She wasn't sure that I belonged in the class. When I explained that I'd been doing independent study in math for the past six years, and demonstrated knowledge of differential equations, she relaxed significantly.
Electronics was all straight-forward math. Well, once the principles and formulas were known, it was all math. Okay, so it wasn't all math. By the end of the first class study session, I had completed the first three and a half days' worth of study and homework, and I was ready to do my first lab on characterizing a diode's I-V curve experimentally. It would be a tedious process measure voltage and current, plot the point, and increase the voltage by a small increment, repeating until the diode's breakdown voltage was reached. Personally, I would have preferred to gather six to eight data points and do a curve fit, which I could probably do in my head, but I wasn't allowed that easier option.
While the electronics students were doing our classwork, every so often a student in a lab coat would peek in, look around, and then go to Ms. Merenis. At one point, one of the class went to ask Ms. Merenis a question while a non-class student was talking with her about something devise-related. She immediately switched mental gears, and the non-class devisor stepped back to allow the class student to speak with her. Once that discussion was completed, the devisor resumed his very quiet but animated conversation. I had to admire her for the way she multi-tasked, and the way the non-class students knew that they were lower priority than us electronics students.
When class was over, nobody from Poe was at the lab to provide the required escort. I waited patiently, and noticed that Ms. Merenis was getting more and more impatient as time marched forward. Finally, with a heavy sigh, she bluntly asked, "Are you going to leave the classroom? I need to lock it up and get back to supervising my lab."
I flinched. "Uh, I can't leave. Not yet, anyway."
"Um, security rules. I have to have an escort, because I can't be left alone."
"Oh? Is it something about your mutation?"
I lowered my gaze. "No. I'm on a ... suicide watch," I said softly, almost inaudibly.
"I see." She sounded a lot more understanding at that.
"After I manifested, I ... had some very bad experiences. Dr. Bellows says I have PTSD, so ...."
"Oh. Okay. I understand." Thankfully, she didn't press the issue any further; I wasn't about to start telling anyone and everyone about the rape and beatings. Even though she was a faculty member, news, discussions, and gossip among the teachers was occasionally overheard by other students. At least it had been in my old school, and I'd seen nothing that convinced me that the same wouldn't be true here as well.
I turned my attention back to my class work, since I had an indeterminate wait ahead of me. A few minutes later, a girl poked her head into the room. "Kayda?" she asked.
Her face was a familiar one from upstairs in Poe but I didn't know her well. She was short, with Oriental features and straight, blue-black hair. She moved with cat-like grace, as if her entire body was a well-honed weapon. "Yeah. You're ... Cascade?"
The girl smiled and nodded. "I'm your escort."
"Great." I glanced up, and saw that Ms. Merenis nodded to me. Grabbing my backpack, I quick-stepped out of the class, following Cascade into the tunnels. "Can we hustle it? I have a ton of homework to catch up, and I've got a late French class after dinner."
"Sure," Cascade said, and she started walking even quicker, causing me to trot to try catch up to her.
After several turns in the tunnels, which weren't familiar from the trip _to_ class, I paused. "Are you sure this is the right way?"
Cascade turned to me, smiled ... and vanished!
I looked around myself, and when I didn't see her, I began to feel a strong sense of panic. Was this another ambush? Were there attackers waiting around the corner? What the hell was going on? And not only was I now alone in the tunnels and vulnerable, but I was also was lost.
After several long moments of waiting for some type of ambush attack, I managed to calm myself enough to walk back to the classroom, but I wasn't quite certain of directions, and I took a few wrong turns. By the time I found the electronics classroom, the door was shut and locked, and no-one was around. "Damn!" I cursed.
For twenty-five minutes, I wandered around in the tunnels, trying one tunnel after another, and as my sense of desperation rose, my sense of direction faltered. I'd find a dead-end, or a restricted lab, and turn around, only to feel like I had taken yet another wrong turn, because nothing looked familiar. I found an elevator, but when I pressed the button to rise to a tunnel closer to the surface, the movement felt very disorientating, like the car was moving a different direction from what I'd expected. I stumbled out of the elevator car feeling nauseated from motion sickness. It was weird; I'd never gotten motion-sick before.
I heard something ahead of me, down a side tunnel, so with relief, I gratefully moved to the sound. Surely someone could give me directions.
A big sign on the wall read, 'Restricted Lab Area - Clearance Required'. Right next to the sign was a security officer, sitting on a stool, a book open in his lap.
"Can you give me directions to get back to Schuster?" I pleaded, halting a couple of feet from him.
He was on his feet, and his hand was lowered toward his sidearm, while he eyed me cautiously. "Do you have clearance for this area?" he asked, his eyes narrowed into menacing slits.
"No, and I don't _want_ to get in here. I got lost, and I just want to get directions back to Schuster Hall," I replied, emphasizing that I was merely looking for some assistance.
The slow motion of his hand toward his sidearm halted, but didn't reverse itself. I briefly wondered what in the world was down in these restricted labs that would require an armed guard. "Go back to the main tunnel, turn to your right, and then ...." His eyes narrowed again. "Hey, aren't you the Buffalo Gal?" he asked, frowning.
"My name is Kayda, not Buffalo Gal," I protested sternly, fighting my rising anger. "And ...."
He nodded, his expression never changing. "I thought so." He reached for his radio.
"Honest, Chief," I protested strongly, feeling my emotional control starting to slip, "I was waiting in class, and then Cascade came to escort me back. Then she vanished, and everything started to get really weird."
"We reviewed the footage from the security cameras. None of the cameras show anyone with you. Further, we received a report from Cascade that you were missing from your rendezvous point in the electronics lab." The Chief was leaning forward, elbows on his desk and an intent expression on his face.
"I swear, Chief, I was following Cascade right up until she vanished!" I was angry and confused, but not distraught. Not yet, anyway. I was trying my best to fight those damned tears that seemed to always come when I was dealing with security.
Chief Delarose stared at me in silence for a few awkward moments, before lowering his forehead into his upturned palm, while shaking his head slowly back and forth, his gaze fixed on his desk. "What am I going to do with you, Kayda?" he asked rhetorically.
One of the security officers poked her head into Delarose's office. "We double-checked the security footage. She was alone."
I glanced up, and recoiled from the woman's appearance. Her face was heavily scarred, as if parts of it had been through a meat grinder, and one eye was covered with a patch. Jagged, ugly lines broke up her features; I got the impression that, before whatever accident or assault had befallen her, she had been attractive. I felt a stab of pity, which I think she recognized in my face, because her frown hardened as if to say, 'How dare you pity me!'
Delarose looked up at her for a moment. "Thanks, McGraw." He turned his gaze back to me as Officer McGraw withdrew from his office. "Kayda, over the past few days, you've displayed a bad habit of ignoring restrictions and rules, and wandering off by yourself. This morning, you left Fey and Phase in Kirby Hall instead of walking with them."
"Chief, honest! I swear that Cascade came to get me!"
"If it's not showing up on the tape, then how do you explain it?"
"I don't know," I answered, starting to lose my composure. "Some kind of magic or something? Someone who could teleport away pretending to be her?"
"And somehow, the elevators took you down instead of up, so you were in the fourth level restricted biolab area?"
"I guess. I don't really know how I ended up where I was." Nervous didn't begin to describe how I felt. This was more than a little scary. "I was sure I was following Cascade, but somehow, I ... I don't know. Maybe someone is trying to get me in trouble?"
"I hate to have to ask this again, Kayda," Delarose said, looking a bit embarrassed, "but would you consent to a psychic check to determine the veracity of your story?"
"Like I have any secrets from Fubar, as often as he's in my head." I sighed heavily. "Maybe I should start charging rent."
Louis Geintz appeared in a chair beside me, startling me, but not as much as the first time he'd appeared. "I'm a lousy tenant," he said with a smile.
"Let's get this over with."
Chief Delarose pressed a button on his phone. "Emily, can you come here for a few minutes?" With Kayda in the Chief's office, Emily must have been waiting to be called in.
"I see you missed us," Emily said, winking at me.
I groaned. "I'm trying to stay away, but stuff keeps happening."
Emily focused on Mr. Geintz. "Another possible psychic incident?"
Louis shook his head. "With Kayda's defenses against psychic attacks, it's doubtful. Her story, however, indicates that _something_ unusual happened."
"Standard procedure to have a second witness," Delarose explained tersely.
In moments, Mr. Geintz had gone through my memories with me, replaying the entire event three times as he examined my thoughts and feelings. It was just as disorientating on the replays as the original event had been. The biggest problem, which I hadn't noted at the time, was that the walls, landmarks, and other features seemed to keep changing. I'd go down a blind corridor, but when I returned to the intersection I'd left, it looked different, making it almost impossible for me to retrace my steps.
Mr. Geintz withdrew from my consciousness. "Kayda _thought_ she was following Cascade. She wasn't ignoring the rules. There is no evidence of psychic tampering or memory alteration."
"Like Tatanka would permit that anyway," I added.
The wrinkles in Chief Delarose's forehead didn't lessen; if anything, they deepened. "Okay, Kayda. I've got enough information for the report. And no," he added quickly when he noticed me stiffen in my seat, "you're not in trouble. This time." I rose with Emily, and we started out the door. "Oh, and let Emily copy your MID for our records while you're here."
Chief Delarose gave me a smile when I left his office, but there was something behind that smile, some look in his eyes that bespoke some serious concern. The hair on my neck seemed to be at attention, trying to give me warning that there was a lot more to this than some confusion.
It only took Emily a few moments to copy my MID, after which she escorted me back to Poe. I got a lot of strange looks from the residents when she brought me there.
"What did you do this time, Kayda," Mrs. Horton asked as soon as Emily was out of earshot. "Cascade reported that you were nowhere to be found after your class, and then security drags you in."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Horton," I said with a sigh, feeling exhausted. "I _thought_ I was following Cascade back here." I quickly recounted the tale to her. "And then Emily brought me here."
She just shook her head. "You seem to be a magnet for trouble. Try not to worry us at least for the rest of the day?" she teased.
"I'll try," I replied, feeling a little ashamed of the trouble I was causing her. I trudged upstairs to my room, and sat down, pulling out my books. Despite a little misadventure, I still had homework to do - two weeks of catch-up in all my classes. Plus there was the crap with my schedule. At least I didn't have to worry about Algebra I or English, even if being in those classes was insulting.
I was emotionally exhausted, and a bit tired physically as well. Wandering around the tunnels, feeling more frantic by the minute, burned a lot of mental and emotional energy. Yawning, I opened my Powers Theory book to start the laborious process of catching up.
"Okay, Foob," Delarose continued once the door had shut behind Kayda and Emily, "what's on your mind?"
"What makes you think that there's something on my mind?"
Delarose shook his head. "Enough games, Foob. I've had a long day."
"Okay, Chief," Louis Geintz said. "If there was psychic influence, it was very, very subtle, at a level that Tatanka and I couldn't detect it. The only other possibility is a series of illusions cast by a very skilled magic user."
"Which one do you think it was?"
The Chief's eyes widened in surprise. "Both?"
Louis nodded grimly. "She didn't realize it, but when I searched her memories, I saw that each time she went through an intersection or junction in the tunnels, it was slightly different, so it would disorient her. Someone was trying to get her away from her escort and get her lost."
Delarose frowned. "Why?"
"I don't know. There are two possibilities that I'm worried about. First, and the less serious, is that someone or something really wants to get Kayda out of here, and by getting her in trouble with security and with the administration, she'll be expelled."
"Why? She's no threat to anyone here."
"No, but she has two very important Native American spirits. Some might fear her, because her presence might upset tribal politics and shamans. Some might want to control her, to get her to the reservation and under their thumb."
"And the general bullying? Is that tied in?"
"I'm not sure. It might be normal hazing, but it might be part of the intimidation, too." He shook his head, even though it wasn't necessary. "I can't tell."
"And the second possibility?" Chief Delarose sounded worried about having to ask a question to which he was certain he already knew the answer.
"Did you read the reports from her trip here? The psychic attack by the snake demon was by a high-level Native American demon, and it was intended to be fatal. The attack by the water panther, the Mishibijiw, was also intended to be fatal."
"Yes, I read them. And you think the deception could have been intended to isolate Kayda to kill her?"
Fubar nodded. "It is possible."
Delarose let his head droop as he shook it side-to-side slowly. "Great. So we've got a student who has issues with authority figures, who my security team actively dislikes because of her buffalo, who is on a suicide watch but tends to run off by herself, and who someone or something is either trying to push out of Whateley, or kill her, or both, is that it?" He shook his head again. "I thought _I_ had it rough as a teenager. Damn. So what do we do, besides file a report with Carson?"
"There's not much we can do, except to watch for any signs of psychic influence on her. Ill have a talk with Dr. Bellows, too. Until we have some answers, I don't want him taking her off suicide watch even if he thinks she can handle it, because that would make her more vulnerable if she moves about campus alone."