Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior (Ch 3)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior
Chapter 3 - Ptan na Ithunkasan
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I woke up a bit before the alarm clock, when it felt like Tatanka head-butted my brain.
"What the hell?" I snapped.
Tatanka lay on the ground, a smug smile on his face. "It was time for you to awaken, Kayda."
"Yeah, I know!" I protested. "That's why I set my alarm clock, so I'd wake up."
"When your alarm sounds, it wakens your roommate early. That's rude to Evvie."
"You could have nudged me before you knocked my brain halfway down the hall, you big oaf!"
Tatanka chuckled. "I tried. Several times. So I had to give you a harder nudge."
I crawled out of bed wearily, turned off my alarm clock, picked up my things, and slogged toward the showers. As soon as I opened the door, I heard Ayla's and Fey's voices, and I felt my shoulders tense.
Ayla was standing at the mirror flossing, but from where I stood, and from knowledge from my past life, I could see that he was using the mirrors to ogle the girls. I realized that I would have done the same, and I sighed in disgust before I noticed that his robe was tented. I was already halfway in the room, and girls had seen me, so even though I'd started shaking visibly at Ayla's little display, I swallowed hard and forced myself to join the line for the showers, clutching my robe closed in front to ensure that I wasn't giving Ayla - or anyone else, for that matter - a free show, and to hold my hands onto something to try to control the trembling.
Verdant emerged from one shower and started toweling off, so I slipped off my robe and, careful to keep my back to Ayla, I turned on the water and closed the shower door. As the water cascaded over my body, I saw Fey looking at me with an expression that I couldn't read. I scowled back, and then, after catching Ayla's eyes in the mirror, I my ghost-walking spell. A silver shimmer appeared around everyone else in the room, and I smiled to myself. Let Ayla try to gawk at me, or Fey try to sneer at me; they couldn't see me, and my modesty was protected. I looked down, and saw the rivulets of water running down the form of my hips and legs like a second skin of clear fluid. I looked up again, and saw Ayla focused into my shower, one eyebrow cocked curiously. I had to fight to keep from laughing aloud at how I'd foiled his roving eyes, even though I felt quite intimidated by thought that he might see an outline of water that wasn't touching me, and thus visible. I realized that I'd have to experiment with Evvie or someone else I trusted to see what it looked like when I ghost-walked in a shower. It wouldn't do much good for my privacy if everyone could see a shimmering, watery skin that outlined every curve of my body.
I felt a chill run down my spine when I saw Fey staring at my shower, frowning as she watched the effect of my ghost-walking in the shower. With a shiver coursing up and down my back from her puzzled expression, I finished, having to stop once to tell someone that my shower _was_ occupied, instead of just a shower running in an empty stall. I startled Sharisha pretty badly when I spoke, and a couple of girls giggled, obviously finding my trick cute, but I thought that Fey was still staring unhappily at me.
As soon as I stepped out and took my towel, Fey's eyes narrowed, and she stared at where I had been. When I clutched it, I knew from Wakan Tanka's instruction that the towel joined me in the ghost-walk, and it just 'disappeared' to outside observers. I moved to one side of the short lines, out of traffic flow, but her gaze stayed fixed on my last known spot. She wiggled her fingers a little bit, incanting some of her magic, and as she released the spell, I staggered as if slapped hard on my chest. Around me, the silver auras had vanished, and girls - and Ayla - were turning to me, surprised by my sudden appearance as my entire ghost-walking spell collapsed.
Rage erupted at her interference with my privacy. "What the fuck is your problem?" I screamed at Fey, who looked a bit surprised at what had happened.
"I didn't mean to ..." she stammered.
"Why can't you leave me alone?" I angrily snatched my toiletries from where I'd set them on a bench, and ran from the bathroom, leaving behind a room full of stunned girls asking themselves what _that_ was all about.
Behind me, as the door shut, I heard Fey and Ayla calling out after me, but I ignored them. I closed the room door a little hard, loud enough to finish awakening Evvie, who was already stirring, and cutting off something that Ayla was trying to say to me in the hallway.
"Morning," she mumbled, her eyes half-open as she fought off residual sleep. "What's going on?"
I was still scowling. "Fucking bitch!" I snarled angrily. "Can't she leave me alone?"
"Who?" Evvie asked, yawning as she stretched sexily.
"The elf bitch!" I snapped back. "Who else?"
Evvie sighed heavily. "What now?"
I flopped down on my chair to finish patting my hair dry. "I used my ghost-walking spell so the pervert couldn't ogle me, but Fey decided it was her right to wipe out my spell - probably just so Ayla could get an eyeful!"
"Kayda, that's not a fair accusation," Evvie said, frowning.
"Oh? So why did she cancel my spell?"
"Maybe it was accidental. Could it be that she was trying to understand what you'd done, because she thought it was a neat trick?"
"Or she doesn't like me and likes endangering and humiliating me!" I retorted angrily.
"Kayda, you're overreacting again," Evvie said cautiously as she wiggled out of her nightie. "You don't know _why_ she did, or even _what_, do you?"
"No, but ...."
"So don't get yourself all worked up before you ask. It might have been a simple mistake on her part," Evvie answered, pulling on her robe. "Since I'm going to shower, I'll see if anyone is talking about what happened, especially Ayla and Fey."
"Don't you dare talk to _her_ about this!" I demanded.
Evvie shook her head. "Kayda, you need to give her a chance and find out what was really going on before you accuse her of malice." She half-closed her eyes, shaking her head sadly. "Let me finish my shower, and then we'll go get some breakfast." With that, she closed the door behind her, leaving me alone to finish my morning routine.
I hadn't yet brushed my teeth - not surprising given my need to make a sudden exit, and I had to blow-dry my hair. I decided to wear it the way I'd seen Wakan Tanka wear her hair so often - parted and gathered and tied in bunches on either side of my face, loose enough that hair draped down in front of my ears almost to the corners of my eyes, accentuating my eyes and cheeks and making my face look more diamond-shaped. Wakan Tanka had to use leather ties, but I had it easier since I could use hair elastics. I'd gotten a few Lakota-themed hair accessories, so I tied in a pair of leather thongs with small feathers and dangling beads.
I didn't want to wear my uniform, so I pulled on my buckskin dress and my knee-high buckskin boots, lacing them up with leather thongs which criss-crossed around my calves, hugging them tightly. Debra had loved how they looked when I'd first worn them; I smiled to myself at the pleasant memory.
A knock on the door interrupted my application of makeup. I started, wondering who it could be.
"Kayda?" Ayla's muffled voice came through the door. "Can we talk?"
I fought down an unexpected surge of panic. Was that feeling because I'd seen Ayla's ... arousal in the bathroom? Was it too much of a reminder? Or was he delivering some message from Fey? In either case, I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him or her at that moment. I stood still, trying to be perfectly silent, while inwardly, my paranoia had me believing that my pounding heart could be heard like a beating bass drum.
"Kayda?" Ayla called again, knocking just a little harder. "I'd like to talk with you please."
I stood still, and he knocked once more. Finally, I felt, through the earth and air spirits, that he was moving down the hall again. I finished my makeup, and after looking at my reflection in the mirror, I impulsively took the makeup which the Lakota store in Sioux Falls had sold me as a decent substitute for Lakota face paint, and applied two short vertical rust-colored stripes on each cheek, with a narrow white stripe between them. I wished that I had a camera; I though it looked nice, and that Debra would have liked a picture. Shrugging 'what the hell', I took a quick selfie, and then reached out once more to the air spirit. Sensing no-one in the hallway, I scampered out of my room, letting the door close with a thunk as I scurried down the stairs. The _last_ thing I wanted was another confrontation in the hallway with Fey or with his royal snobiness, Ayla.
There were a few Poesies meandering toward the caf, so, with a worried glance over my shoulder, I walked quickly toward Shuster to put as much distance between the 'terrible two' and myself as I could, and as quickly as I could.
I was approaching Shuster when I realized that Stormwolf, Adam Ironknife, was on an intercept course toward me, a scowl on his face. I sighed; I was in for another ass-chewing about being alone. It was no big deal; I could deal with a little bullying. I _had_ to deal with the bullying and harassment, or they'd think I was an easy target and escalate. "What do you want?" I asked, pre-empting whatever it was he was about to say.
"You aren't supposed to go anywhere without escort," he said, frowning. "You know that." He fell in step beside me for the last twenty meters to the doors into the caf.
"I'm an early riser, and my room-mate wasn't ready. I hate sitting around doing nothing," I said in a half-hearted defense. I knew it wouldn't fly with Stormwolf; I'd learned that he was mister straight-arrow, by-the-book, following every rule precisely. "Especially when I have nine classes," I added, "and don't have time to sit around doing nothing."
Adam shook his head. "That's not an excuse. I have to report you for this."
"As if that's something new," I muttered. "Go figure - let's make it seven out of seven for having security incidents."
"That's not exactly something to be proud of," Adam said, sounding like he was delivering a warning.
I felt a little mischievous. "Wanna bet that I'm nine for nine by the weekend?"
Adam's frown deepened. "Not funny."
"I think it's a riot," I deadpanned. "Think of it as me doing my part to ensure that security keeps on their toes." We joined the serving line. "Besides, technically I wasn't alone. There were several other Poesies walking over here, too."
"You weren't exactly in a group, so I wouldn't call that being escorted," Adam countered.
"I thought it was good enough," I countered.
"Are you meeting someone here?"
"Eventually," I replied, enjoying that I was skirting the edge of the rules enough to keep him uncomfortable.
"You're going to get in serious trouble, Kayda," he said as we took trays.
"Eventually," I grinned and changed the subject. "Are you Tilamook? My spirit thinks that you are, because you have the face and height of the Tilamook."
Adam was taken aback by my change of topic. "No," he said cautiously. "I'm ... Ute."
I shrugged. "I guess my spirit was wrong." I couldn't help but grin at that thought. "That'd be a first - and I'll have to remind her about it sometime." I piled some eggs and bacon onto a plate, and added a slice of ham. "Although, I can understand why she thought so. You're tall for a Ute. More like the Pacific northwest tribes."
Adam seemed surprised at my comment. "You seem to know a bit about Native Americans," he observed, careful to keep his expression as neutral as he could.
"Not as much as my spirit," I chuckled. "Of course, she's a bit prejudiced toward the plains tribes." I glanced at his plate; compared to mine, he had a mountain of food. "I suppose you're going to sit with me until my friends arrive, right?"
"You know people are going to talk, don't you?" I said in a hushed voice, eliciting a startled look. As soon as I checked through the register, I strode easily to the group's table and sat down, and was joined moments later by Adam. He'd managed, in the intervening moments, to regain a bit of composure after my teasing.
"Are you planning on joining Mr. Lodgeman's Native American group?" he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I was thinking about it. What all does the group do?"
"Drumming, dancing. Some of the members are really into making costumes of their nations. Some have a lot of fun with stories and lore - it's kind of a contest to see who can be most dramatic with a legend." From his tone, he obviously wasn't into that aspect of things. "Every once in a while, there's a 'most outrageous legend contest'."
Tatanka snorted derisively. "Made-up stories and tales! Bah! Ask him if they learn things of importance, like warrior skills."
Wakan Tanka sighed, shaking her head. "There's more to life than being a warrior. You should see if the group teaches anything about native foods and medicines, and the shaman practices."
"Hunting skills are important, too," Tatanka added.
"You're assuming that I _want_ to learn such things." Both Tatanka and Wakan Tanka recoiled in horror at my words, which made me laugh. "Got you," I chuckled.
"Anything else? Foods? Medicines or magic? Hunting and fighting skills?" I asked.
Adam looked a little sheepish. "I'm not sure. Probably."
"Probably? Either they do or they don't."
"To be honest," he explained, "with my security duties, I don't go to all of the meetings."
"When are the meetings?" I asked. "Then again," I added quickly, "with my insane class schedule, I probably won't be able to go to the meetings either." I saw his puzzled expression. "They have me in nine classes, including a late evening class in French."
"That _is_ a rather heavy load."
"Yeah. Someone in the administration is trying to screw me over and make sure I don't have time for a social life," I complained, but without as much bitterness as I'd had the preceding two days. I couldn't help but wonder if I was getting used to the insanity, or was just too tired to bitch about it. "When are the meetings?"
"Thursday evenings after dinner. Do you want to come?"
"Can I? I mean, it's not some kind of closed fraternity thing, is it?"
Adam nodded. "It's not like a secret society or anything. Anyone who's registered with a tribe is welcome."
I winced at that. "I don't know if my mom ever registered me. I know Grandmother is enrolled, and by ancestry, I know I'm eligible."
"Based on your appearance," Adam said cautiously, "you're qualified, and you could certainly come as a guest, but you _should_ get registered with your tribe."
I tensed when I saw Team Kimba enter the dining hall, and like most students, they looked around a bit, although for Jade, it was difficult for her to see much since she was so short. Ayla raised an eyebrow when he saw me, and he turned to whisper something to Fey, who also turned to look at me. I could see some unknown expression on her face, but I was too far away to tell if it was annoyance, anger, or something else.
Adam saw where I was looking, and he turned. "Oh, the Kimbas." He shook his head. "They're completely nuts. Oh, and speaking of them, has anyone explained to you about Tennyo and Section 33?"
"Yeah. Mrs. Carson went over that when I got here."
"Good." He saw how Ayla and Fey were looking at me. "What's with them? Did you manage to piss them off somehow?"
"I don't know," I said, continuing to watch as they turned to get something to eat. Evidently, they'd tired of glaring at me, except Jade, who smiled and waved enthusiastically. I turned back to Stormwolf. "You seem pretty proud of your heritage."
I chuckled. "Yes. But until a bit ago, I was only a quarter Lakota."
"You changed to a full-blooded Lakota?"
"Yeah. The Sioux Falls League testing people think it's because of the spirit I have. Since she's Lakota, they figure that she helped _nudge_ my form to something more suitable to her."
"That's a pretty drastic change, isn't it?"
I gave a quick glance toward a table of kids with GSD. "Not as bad as it could have been. You know, the group might have more fun with things like hunting and fighting, and native foods and stuff like that."
"Maybe," Adam said unenthusiastically.
"What would _you_ rather do? Tell stories, or that other stuff?"
"I suppose more variety," Adam admitted. His eyes tracked up, to somewhere over my left shoulder.
"Excuse me," I heard from behind me, and I instantly recognized Ayla's voice.
I didn't bother to even acknowledge Ayla. "I'd like to come to the meeting. It'll depend on whether I can work around my class schedule."
Adam frowned that I was ignoring Ayla. "Yes, Ayla?" he asked.
"Kayda," Ayla began, talking to me, "you were a bit upset this morning. Is everything okay?"
I didn't bother to look at him. "Everything's fine," I said tersely. "Now if you don't mind, I'm talking with Adam about the Native American group." By watching Adam's eyes, I could tell when Ayla had left.
"That was ... different," Adam observed cautiously. He had to know that something was going on, but he didn't say anything.
Fortunately, Evvie showed up right then. "You didn't wait for me, Kayda," she complained as she plopped down beside me, across from Adam, who raised an eyebrow at her comment.
"Yeah, well, things happened." I turned to Adam. "I'm not alone now, so you can go back to your security stuff," I said with a smile, trying not to be snippy or rude. I didn't like him being there, but at least he was more polite than the paid security officers.
Adam rose, taking his tray. "You know the rules, Kayda. Try not to break them so often. And in case you wondered, I have to file a security report." With that, he left, toward the stairs and an upper level, where the rest of his group usually sat.
Moments later, Adrian and Laurie joined us, followed by Vasiliy and finally Naomi. Adrian looked like he was in a pretty foul mood, one that even beat my own grumpiness. "What's up?" Evvie asked him.
Adrian scowled. "My training team broke up," he complained. "So now I'll probably get assigned with a bunch of other random people. Either that, or I won't be doing any training until next term.
"What's with a training team?" I asked, curious but not sure I wanted to know. I realized that Team Kimba must have been one.
"Simple. By the end of your sophomore year, you pretty much have to be on a team, or they assign you to one, so you can get more survival and combat training experience," Adrian said. "And now without a team, I'll get assigned to one at the end of the term." He sighed. "The random teams almost _never_ work out well."
"Debra didn't say anything about that," I scowled. I was having enough problems just going to BMA; some kind of training team requirement would be too much for me, especially with my impossible schedule.
"Yeah, well they don't really advertise it," Naomi grumbled. "It's always kind of a rude surprise, like when they pull the MID briefing and requirement on new students just before Thanksgiving."
"At least I won't have to go through _that_," I snorted, "because I've already got one."
"Since you're technically a sophomore based on classes you said you had," Adrian started, and I knew - and dreaded - where he was going, "maybe we could ...."
"No," I answered firmly, frowning. "No way."
"But you've got more real-world combat experience than the rest of us," Adrian protested.
"And I got my ass kicked twice - and they almost killed me. No!"
Billie Wilson drew the short straw to escort me to math class. She tried to draw me out in conversation, probably at Ayla's orders, since she was on his team, but I really didn't want to talk to _anyone_ from Team Kimba. I was still very upset with Fey for what she'd done, and the haughty way she acted like she hadn't done anything wrong. And Ayla had really annoyed me by being so nosy and acting like I was the one who'd goofed; he certainly didn't seem to think that Fey might have crossed any lines. So it was with no regrets that I bade her farewell at the classroom door.
"Um, Kayda?" she asked before leaving, and in a meek, almost embarrassed voice.
"What?" I asked back, a little more tersely than was called for.
"Um," she seemed to recoil from my nasty mood. "Nothing, I guess," she said. "It's just that .... Um, forget it."
"No, what?" I asked her again. If I was somehow intimidating a Section 33, then maybe I was in too foul a mood. I thought of what Jackie had told me the day before. I needed to do some attitude adjustment. "Is there something you want to ask me?" I tried hard to make it sound polite and sincere.
"Someone said that you're kind of a math whiz," she said softly. "Like you're doing college-level math."
I nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you think that maybe you could help me?" she blurted out. "Math is my weakest subject, and sometimes, I just don't understand things."
"Oh. Um, yeah. I can try to help. But I have a very full class load," I cautioned her. "So we'll probably have to schedule something. Let me know, or leave a note on my door."
"Okay," she said, smiling again. "Thanks." She floated off toward her own class, leaving me shaking my head.
Damn, I swore to myself. I'd been such an ass, so focused on my own issues that I'd nearly scared her away from asking for help in my favorite subject -and I'd always loved helping people in math. At least when I tried, I was more cordial and polite, and she felt able to ask for help. I turned and went into the classroom, slogging into my seat and trying to ignore all those around me.
I wasn't surprised when Ms. Bell handed out a test; she'd warned the class the day before. I was surprised, though, when she didn't give me one. Instead, after the other students began, she came to me with a test and told me to do what I could. I groaned, thinking that I was getting babied because I was late, and the other students, who _had_ noticed would be merciless in their teasing. As I looked at the test, though, my eyes widened. I looked up to her, and she gave me a sort-of smile.
I zipped through the Calc 1 problems like I was reciting the alphabet, and had no problems with the trigonometry or matrices problems either. With more than half the class period left, I handed the test to the teacher. "What ...?" I started to ask in a hushed voice.
"Dr. Quintain suggested, very strongly, I might add, that we do an evaluation of your math skills. Given what you said yesterday, I agreed. If you pass this, we'll look at options for math classes and electives. There's no sense in wasting your time taking algebra if you can do calculus and other advanced math."
"I'll pass," I said confidently. "Thanks." I practically floated out of the classroom, a huge grin on my face. I called Poe, and had to wait for an escort, but I didn't mind.
When Rosslyn showed up, I was still on cloud nine. She looked at me, and smiled. "You're in a good mood."
"I had a test in math," I answered.
"And you're happy?" She shook her head. "You're weird."
"It seemed like a placement test. It's probably too early to celebrate, but maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that I _do_ know algebra, and I'll get out of that class, and get to reduce my class load."
"And then you'll want to celebrate, right?" Rosslyn said hopefully, wiggling her eyebrows in a suggestive way. "Like maybe coming to our hot tub party?"
"You're never going to give up, are you?" I groaned.
Rosslyn smiled. "Nope. I'm going to call Debra," she threatened.
I felt a smug smile creep across my features. "Go ahead," I dared her. "Last night, I told her about your nefarious plot."
"Oohhh," Rosslyn said, completely unflustered. "I bet she fondly remembers her hot tub parties, and encouraged you to go."
I goggled at her, absolutely flabbergasted at how unfazed she was. "She ... did mention that they were ... fun."
Rosslyn laughed. "That's one way to describe them. So how about it? Are you interested?"
I rolled my eyes. "Sorry, but I'm a one-woman woman, and my woman is Debra."
"You haven't had any ... experience yet, though," Rosslyn continued without pausing. "You might want to do a little comparison shopping."
"Not going to happen," I replied smugly.
"From what you said, you haven't had a chance to experience ... the joys and delights of the sisterhood. The offer for remedial class is open. With a little instruction, you can always ... surprise her."
I had to chuckle as I shook my head. "You're bad."
"Sometimes. And sometimes I'm really, really good," she said, licking her lips seductively.
"Tell you what," I offered. "If I do decide I need _more_ experience, I'll let you know."
"It's a deal. Er, wait. _More_ experience?" Rosslyn's jaw dropped. "But you said ... you hadn't ... um ...."
It was my turn to have a laugh. "Oh, didn't I tell you? We've been ... very close lately."
"But ... you're here, and she's there!" Rosslyn jawed. "You're kidding me, right?"
"Did I ever tell you about the Native American talent for dream walking? We've dream-walked together a lot. Including ...." I couldn't help but blush.
Rosslyn was so stunned that she halted mid-stride, her mouth agape and her eyes wide open. "You've ...?"
I grinned. "So you're a little late with your offer. Thanks anyway."
"But ... that was just a dream!" she stammered, trying to figure out how she'd been bested in our little verbal jousting.
"Yeah," I purred. "And more. Much, much more."
Mrs. Hawkins looked as inflexible and inscrutable as she'd been the last time, but she seemed a lot less snooty. "Why would you like to withdraw from Basic Martial Arts?" she asked bluntly.
"Um," I winced inwardly, hoping it didn't show to her, "I ... I don't know anything, and I'm too far behind. I ... I don't think I can catch up."
"Nonsense," Mrs. Hawkins rebutted. "We have students come much later than you, and they have no difficulties."
"I ... I don't know how to fight," I continued softly. "It's ... it's useless to try."
She lifted a file and examined it. "Um, hmm," she muttered to herself before putting the folder back on her desk. "I see. Miss Franks," she began, "your file indicates that you were the subject of two rather ... brutal attacks."
"Yes, ma'am," I answered, shaken that such information was in my file.
"As a result of those attacks, your parents indicated that you were to be instructed in the arts of self-defense. Their desire is noted in your file."
I frowned, not liking what she'd just told me. "I'll talk to them about this."
Mrs. Hawkins pushed her desk phone across to me. "Please do. I would hate to have any misunderstandings continue for even a moment longer than necessary."
I looked at her for a few long seconds, trying to read her poker face. Was she hoping to intimidate me into continuing the class? I picked up the phone, deciding to call her bluff, and I dialed my home. As it rang, Mrs. Hawkins reached over and pressed the 'speaker' button, so she could hear the conversation as well.
On the third ring, Mom answered it. "Good morning," she sang cheerily, as she always did. "Franks residence."
"Hi, Mom," I replied.
"Oh, hi, sweetie," she cooed. "There's nothing wrong, is there? Aren't you supposed to be in classes now?" Typical of Mom to immediately worry.
"No, Mom," I said to reassure her, "there's nothing wrong. Well, except a little problem with my classes."
"Oh? Is there anything I can do to help? Do you need me to speak to someone?"
"I'm in my advisor's office, on speakerphone, Mom," I explained quickly. "There's a little misunderstanding that I need you to clear up."
"What's that, sweetie?"
I hated her calling me sweetie, but I knew I'd never stop her from doing that. "Um, they put me in a martial arts class ...."
"Oh, that's good. Your father and I worried so much about you. We were hoping that there would be a good class to teach you self-defense, and ...."
"Mom, I don't want to _be_ in the class!" I interrupted her.
"Why, dear? Is there a problem?"
"Yeah, there's a problem," I said, scowling. "The instructors are ... not very nice!" I grumbled. "They humiliated me, for no reason. And then they shoved me to one side so I can't participate, like I totally don't belong!" I fought to control a mix of tears from how I'd been embarrassed and anger at the two senseis. "I have a lot of other classes that I _have_ to take, and that class is interfering. It's ...."
"Is that the class that Debra told us about? That's the one I was hoping they'd put you in."
"Yes, Mom," I sighed, "but Debra didn't mention that the instructors were so ... nasty!"
"Well, dear," Mom said after a brief pause, "we talked with Debra, and we really want you in the best class they have. Debra speaks so highly of that Mister Ito that I was really, really hoping you'd have him as an instructor."
"Mom, I don't want to take that class!" I argued.
"Honey, I know you might not like it, but we have to do what's best for you, and that's what both Debra and that nice Mrs. Carson recommended."
"You're paying for me to be treated like ..." I caught myself, "like crap?"
"We want you to give the class a chance, dear," Mom continued, unfazed by my entreaties. "If you don't like it this term, you can take something else next term."
"I ... I could take survival," I protested. "That teaches how to get out of bad situations.
"Kayda," Mom said sternly, "you have to learn something to protect yourself. You know what your Dad says."
"It's best to avoid a fight, but sometimes, when you can't avoid it, you need to know how to fight to win," I repeated Dad's philosophy.
"We couldn't live with ourselves if we let you slide by, and then something happened to you."
Damn. My one weakness - Mom pulled out the guilt. "No, Mom," I mumbled.
"Okay. Now is there anything else?" she asked cheerfully. "It _is_ class-time there, so you probably can't talk long."
I saw Mrs. Hawkins reaching out toward the phone to end the call, a knowing smile on her face. "No, I can't. But while I've got you here, can you have Grandma Little Doe get me more medicinal herbs? Especially the ones for the tea she knows I like? A lot, too."
"And can you send me a jar or two of chokecherry jelly? I really, really miss it."
"I'll get it in the mail tomorrow."
"We're sorry to have disturbed you, Mrs. Franks," Mrs. Hawkins said. "We have to get Kayda to her next class now."
"Okay. Take care of yourself, dear. Goodbye," she said before hanging up.
Mrs. Hawkins slid the phone back to its proper place, taking an extra moment to ensure that it was very precisely positioned, and then she looked back at me. "Now that we have _that_ issue clarified," she said pleasantly, "is there anything else I can help you with today?"
"No," I mumbled, my good mood from math now completely ruined. "Since you won't listen to me about math and English," I added under my breath softly so she wouldn't hear.
"Very well. Miss Franks, the martial arts class _is_ in your best interest, even if you dont understand it. All of your classes have been selected based on the transcripts the administration gave me, and with Ms. Hartford's help, I selected a curriculum that will help you catch up to the other students, especially in the areas relating to your mutant powers. Now, if you have no further questions, Miss Franks," she said, "I have other work I must attend to. You know where my office is if you have any further difficulties."
The locker room was noisy, as expected, as all the girls changed for martial arts. I sat as far to one side as I could, elbows on my knees, looking down at the floor. Beside me on the bench was my gi, still in its package. Occasionally, one of the girls would glance my way, and I heard some hushed voices during lulls in the otherwise jocular and boisterous conversation, probably talking about me. For the most part, though, they ignored me, which was fine with me. After yesterday's little ... event, I really didn't want to go out in that class, if only because I knew that my fit had been way over the top. Even if Ito and Tolman had been rude, my own behavior was nothing to be proud of. Maka had been right, and I'd ignored his lesson. Now I had my shame to show for it.
I hated the situation I'd gotten myself into. Even without being lectured by Tatanka or Wakan Tanka, I knew that I'd brought it on myself. I could have retreated into my dream-world, safe from students and instructors, but my two spirits would have nagged at me for what I'd done, and told me to go face the consequences. Great - Pinnochio had only Jiminy Cricket as a conscience. I had my own, plus the two spirits in my head, so when I messed up, I was going to get no peace of mind - which was exactly the situation I found myself in.
I sensed a girl coming toward me. Even my senses were nagging me, it seemed.
"Hah," the girl said in probably the thickest Southern accent I'd ever heard, almost stereotypically so.
I looked up at the girl, who was tall and slender, with long brown hair held back in a ponytail. Her gi was a bit baggy, probably too big for her, but she didn't seem to notice or care.
"Y'all better get dressed and out on the mat so ya don't get in trouble."
"I'd rather not," I said morosely. "Not after yesterday."
"We all have our days," she said, grinning. "Even if it ain't true, just claim y'all are havin' PMS. All the girls'll understand, and there ain't a guy alive who'd dare say a word about it!" She stuck out her hand towards me. "Ah'm Alicia. Alicia Thacker. Ah'm from Loosiana."
I took her hand. "Kayda Franks." I almost chuckled at the carefree way she'd offered me an out. At least the frown vanished - a little bit.
"Are y'all that gal with the buffalo?" she asked bluntly as she picked up my gi off the bench and handed it to me.
"Yeah, that's me," I groaned. "Some people started calling me Buffalo Gal."
"Ah take it ya don't like that," Alicia said.
"Not particularly, no." I just sat, staring at my gi.
"If y'all don't like martial arts, what are ya doin' in this class?" Alicia asked the obvious.
"My parents are making me take this, 'cause I got beat up pretty badly - twice. They think I should know how to defend myself."
"Sounds reasonable, if ya ask me."
"Except when your instructors treat you like shit," I muttered. "Chewing me out without even asking my name? Pushing me to one side and ignoring me for the rest of class?" I shook my head, staring at the floor. "I don't see how I can learn anything if they treat me like that. And I don't see why I should have to put up with that crap."
"Ya'll learn more watchin' than y'all will just sittin' in here," Alicia observed. "Ah gotta get mahself out t' the mat so Ah don't get in trouble. Nice meetin' ya." She turned and quick-stepped out of the locker room, leaving me all alone, sitting on the bench, with my gi in hand.
I could just sit here for the rest of the term, not bothering to attend class. So I'd get an F. Better than being humiliated every day.
Not more than two minutes later, Sensei Tolman charged into the locker room, paused to look around, and then made a beeline for me. "Get dressed and get out to the mat."
I looked back down at the floor, shaking my head. "I don't want this stupid class," I mumbled.
Sensei Tolman sat down beside me. "I talked with Dr. Bellows and with your advisor. You aren't going to be allowed to drop, so put on your gi and go out to the mat."
"No," I said curtly. "There's no law that says I can't sit out the class."
"Except that you'll fail," Tolman countered. "Or you'll get to have a chat with the administration about disciplinary detention. Or both. Or even expulsion. It's your choice."
Seeing that she wasn't budging, but was serious about me going to either detention or to the mat, I grumbled as I pulled off my dress and put on my gi, then followed Sensei Tolman out to the gym.
I could almost feel the stares directed my way from the other students, and despite the fact that Sensei Ito was watching two students sparring, I could hear the murmurs of the other students talking about me. I felt like I was on display, and not favorably so, which didn't help my mood at all.
Sensei Tolman picked another student, who I'd seen with the advanced group the previous day, and took me to one side. "I want you to try to defend yourself, and to attack - slowly, so I can see what you know and how you move."
"I don't know anything about fighting," I countered.
"Do your best," Tolman told me. "The round ends when you can't fight, in which case you slap the mat to indicate that you were defeated, or when you are thrown from the ring. Bow to your opponent," she said, and I followed instructions. "Hajime. Begin."
My opponent was in some kind of fighting stance, but I didn't move. I didn't see any point. He moved warily, closing on me, looking cautious but confident. I raised my hands in what I thought was a defensive position, but in a blur of motion, he turned, bending at the waist, and shot his right foot into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me and sending me flying from the ring to land awkwardly and painfully.
Surprisingly, he looked disappointed that he'd so easily won the round; I suspected that he was fond of fighting and wanted a challenge. Well, it was too bad for him, because I had no fighting skills, and was so outclassed that it wasn't even funny.
"Again," Tolman said curtly. She showed me a stance that would help my balance, and would have my body positioned to ward off an attack. It didn't help at all; I was thrown violently to the mat again, this time landing painfully on my shoulder.
"This time, attack him, Kayda."
I levered myself off the mat and walked back to the ring, only too aware that many of the students were watching me instead of watching Ito. That made me even more self-conscious, and I really regretted coming out to the mat.
Once more, Sensei Tolman had us bow, but this time, she admonished me to not take my eyes off my opponent when bowing. When she said begin, my opponent moved into his stance and then began to close on me. I clumsily imitated how he was standing and moved toward the center of the mat, if for no other reason than it would be a tiny bit more difficult for him to force me out of the ring. When I was close enough, I threw a punch as hard as I could, straight for his chin.
The next few milliseconds were a blur because everything happened so fast. He blocked my punch easily, elbowing me painfully in the ribs as my momentum carried me past him, and then, somehow, still turning, he delivered a high round kick to the side of my head. The world exploded in a brilliant cascade of stars and colors to go with the pain.
A fist slammed into my ribs, and another one hit my cheek. Blow after blow smashed into my body as I was held, helpless against the brutal onslaught. I could hear a rib crack as one fist slammed into my side, and my kidney ached terribly. Someone sounding far off was screaming in pain, interspersed with pleas for the attackers to stop.
"Hey, Brandon's turned into a girl! Let's screw her!" I heard a voice laughing lustfully at me as hands pawed at my body.
More fists and feet smashed into me, even as hands tore at my clothing. Someone kicked me in the side - hard - and I nearly retched. I was surprised to find that I was the one crying and whimpering under the non-stop rain of blows.
"Don't kill her yet. Let's have some fun with her first," one of the guys laughed. Through it all, no matter how I cried or pleaded, the blows continued to pummel my already battered body.
"Kayda?" I heard Sensei Tolman's voice calling to me, pulling me back from my recurring nightmare. "Kayda, can you hear me?"
I tried to roll over, but that just pointed out another part of my body that hurt. "Uhnnn," I groaned. My cheeks were wet, and I was trembling. I felt hands helping me sit up, and I fought another surge of panic as I tried desperately to push them away.
"Kayda, it's me, Alicia. Let me help ya sit up."
It took a second for her name to register. "Uh huh," I said, wincing. My ribs hurt badly, and my head was throbbing with pain.
"Back to your places on the mat," I heard Ito bark. "You aren't excused from instruction." The small cluster of students who'd gathered around me went grudgingly back to the edge of the mat into their seiza positions, and he moved to keep their attention away from me.
Sensei Tolman squatted down beside me. "Are you okay?" she asked. Despite my thoughts that she was a complete bitch, I noticed concern in her voice.
"Uh, yeah, I think so. What happened? Why ... why were they all around me?" I was afraid that I knew the answer, but I had to confirm my suspicions.
"You tell me," Sensei said. "You hit pretty hard, and then you curled up in a fetal position and were crying and screaming 'no'. For a few minutes, you weren't responsive at all."
"Uh," I stammered, "I ... I don't know," I lied. I didn't want even more people knowing the ugly truth.
"You didn't even try to fight the first two rounds," she said, her voice a little cautious. "Why not?"
"There's no point," I grumbled in a resigned voice. "Didn't you see?"
"That's what we're here to teach you," she countered. "To defend yourself."
"It's not worth it." I shook my head, wincing at the pain that accompanied even that small motion. "All it does is piss them off, and makes the beatings and other stuff worse." I let my voice trail off; I'd said far more than I should have.
Sensei frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing." I decided to clam up.
"I can look in your file if I need to," she cautioned me, "and it looks like I need to, unless you tell me what happened."
"My ... former friends tried to kill me after I manifested," I spat bitterly. "Twice. They beat the crap out of me. They almost killed me."
"Then you need to learn to defend yourself."
"It wouldn't help. There are always more of them, and they'll just keep on ...."
"What do you mean by 'and other stuff'?" she continued to question me.
"Nothing," I lied again. I didn't want to be interrogated. "Dr. Bellows says I have PTSD from ... that," I continued, hoping to give her a reason to let me drop, or to at least stop questioning me.
Tolman looked at me evenly for several seconds before she stood. "Charge, Headrush, Murphy, Rip, Flex!" she called out. Immediately five girls around Ito sprang to their feet and ran to where Tolman and I were, including Alicia, who'd introduced herself in the locker room, and Riptide, who I recognized from Poe.
"Yes, Sensei?" Alicia asked, a little too eagerly.
"When you girls are working with basic instruction, I want you to group with Kayda. Since she's totally inexperienced, she'll need help with the basics. When we're practicing basics, you'll team up in teams of two, so one of you can help instruct Kayda, while the other two pairs work together. You'll rotate partners every four or five minutes, so you will all get time to work on current stuff, and time to help Kayda catch up. Got it?"
"Yes, Sensei!" the girls replied sharply.
"Okay, go back to Ito Soke for the rest of today's instruction." As the girls hurried off, Tolman stretched out her hand and tugged me to my feet. "We'll work on some basics, like falling so you don't hurt yourself."
"I suppose," I agreed reluctantly. "But it's a waste of time. I don't have any powers that are useful for fighting."
"You don't need powers to fight effectively," Tolman countered. "Ito Soke is a baseline, but he routinely takes out two or three students using their powers. It's not about fighting with power, but about fighting smart."
"But ... you saw. I'm small, and I don't have the strength ...." I tailed off on that; as an exemplar, I _did_ have strength. I'd forgotten about that. But compared to the other students, I was a weakling.
"Why are you so negative about learning to defend yourself?" she asked me bluntly.
I inadvertently glanced at the other students, to see who might be listening in. Sensei noticed.
"You took a couple of hard falls. I think you're done for the day. Let me take you to the locker room so you can change." Once we were inside, behind a closed door, Sensei Tolman sat down on a bench and gestured for me to do the same on a bench opposite her. "Okay, let's talk. Why are you so negative about martial arts?"
"I don't see how it could help," I answered softly, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, my hands together, and staring at my hands.
"You were severely beaten twice. You could have fought back and possibly stopped it."
I shook my head, snorting derisively. "You don't know my hometown. All that would have happened is that the corrupt police would have arrested _me_ for assault, and then let the Humanity First! fanatics or the MCO have me. It would have ended the same, or worse. If I'd have fought back, they wouldn't have stopped until they were _sure_ that I was dead."
"Perhaps. We'll never know. But you can be prepared for the future," she suggested.
"I could have gotten along with survival instead of this."
"After watching you go nearly catatonic for a few minutes, and thinking about what you said, the 'other stuff', I have to ask if you were ... sexually assaulted?"
I bit my lip, fighting to not slip back into an episode and to not cry. I shook my head in denial.
"Kayda," Sensei Tolman said, lifting my chin so I was looking her eye-to-eye. "Were you ... assaulted?"
Slowly, unsure of whether I could keep emotion out of my voice if I spoke, I nodded, dropping my gaze back to the floor.
"I ... have to see Dr. Bellows daily, because I've got PTSD. And ... I'm on a watch."
"Yeah." I sighed. "It won't help. Martial arts, I mean. I'll just have flashbacks, and freak out, and ... I won't be able to fight."
Tatanka shambled up to where I sat in the mountain meadow, my knees drawn up and my arms crossed atop them. "You have questions, Wihakayda," he said, certain that he knew what I was thinking.
"I ... I don't want to take this class, Tatanka," I said softly.
I sighed, not looking at the big lug. "The instructors aren't very nice, and I don't know anything about fighting."
"It would help if you didn't have a negative attitude when you went to class," Tatanka said. He started across the meadow. "Come, Wihakayda." He started off into the woods without waiting for me.
"Who this time?" I asked as I followed the white buffalo. He didn't answer, but led me deeper into the woods. He stopped by a tree, so I stopped beside him.
"That's Pahi, the porcupine," Tatanka said.
"Why are you introducing me to him?"
"I'm just showing you Pahi now. All you need to do is to look at him and understand his nature."
I frowned. "What's that, besides the fact that he's got a back full of quills?" I asked sarcastically.
"Kayda, you need to calm yourself. Pahi is good at defending himself. He's equipped to keep himself safe. Notice that he's not aggressive, but pretty shy, and he doesn't start fights. But if an enemy decides to attack him, he is prepared."
I glared at the white bison. "I think you're trying to give me a message."
"And what message do you think that might be?" he asked, trying to sound innocent.
"That I need to be prepared to defend myself," I grumbled.
"Very good, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said as she came up behind me. "You have an opportunity to learn, so you must take it."
"Or would you rather have to defend yourself and Cornflower without knowing how?" Tatanka asked rhetorically. He _knew_ the answer - I'd fight to the death to defend her. I already almost had.
"Kayda," Sensei Tolman said again, concerned that I'd spaced out for a few moments. "Kayda," she said again to get my attention.
"Sorry," I answered softly. "My ... spirits ... wanted to talk to me."
She waited until I looked up at her. "I suspected what you just admitted. You've got a lot to deal with. Nobody can change the past, but we can help you _avoid_ such situations in the future. You have to _want_ to learn."
I wasn't sure if I believed her. "But ... my PTSD episodes ...."
"Why do you think I have you working with a group of girls for now?"
"But ... one against twelve? Eight of them from the football team?" I shook my head in disbelief that basic martial arts could have helped.
"It's not the number of opponents," Sensei Tolman said with a wry smile. "It's the skill of the fighters. If they're unskilled, and you know martial arts well and you want to survive the fight, you'll come out on top. The question is whether you want to try?"
"But ... when I have to fight ... boys ...." I said, shuddering involuntarily at the thought.
"We'll work up to that, with advice from Dr. Bellows," Tolman assured me.
I looked at her for several seconds before I nodded. "Okay."
She stood up. "Are you feeling good enough to start learning, or do you need to recuperate a bit from your sparring today? There's still twenty minutes of class time."
I looked at her, considering. "I might as well use the time," I answered softly.
I beat Ayla and Fey to magic class, so I sat down away from them, deliberately sitting next to Tansy's seat. When she came in, she eyed me critically, all but verbally asking what the hell I was doing next to her spot. "Morning," I said.
Tansy sat down, still eyeing me and not sure how to reply. She ended up saying nothing, but continued to watch me warily, with a thoroughly unpleasant expression.
When Ayla walked in with Fey, the two paused in the doorway to look around, and when they spotted me, they both frowned deeply. Fey's look of disapproval was almost to the point of an evil glare, and I returned a sneer, so she'd know what I thought of her haughty airs and her rude actions.
Tansy watched the entire silent exchange, one eyebrow raised. "Interesting," she muttered to herself. I heard, but chose to ignore her observation. "Good morning," she then said to me sweetly. "Nice day, isn't it?" Her attempt at small talk was forced, but my very blatant disagreement with Ayla and Fey had piqued her interest
"Only when people aren't stabbing you in the back," I replied without emotion.
Tansy's eyebrows rose. "I thought all you crazy Poe residents stuck together."
I snorted."Yeah, that's what I heard, too. Turns out it's not true."
I had her attention; besides Ayla's warning that Tansy was a bitch, there was more to their interactions and relationships, and my annoyance at the two TK members was of great interest to Tansy. I'd have to ask around to find out the background. At the very least, there was someone who was _not_ a Kimba that I might be able to talk with.
Ms. Grimes entered the room, and we began our magic lesson. Through it all, though, Fey just glowered at me, and between Ayla's sideways glances, Fey's stare of displeasure, and Tansy's occasional peeks at me with obvious delight that there was friction amongst us, I was distracted from the lesson. I wasn't very participatory, and when a student did a demonstration, I completely missed it.
"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said urgently to me, "you aren't paying attention to your teacher."
"Yes, I am," I protested immediately. "I read what the lesson is about."
"Do you have any idea of what spell the other student just did?"
"Uh," I stammered, "no," I admitted. "But I was distracted by Fey and Ayla!"
Wakan Tanka shook her head. "That's not an excuse. Your task when you are with an instructor is to learn, not to fixate on disputes with other students."
Chastened, I focused on the rest of the class. Once class ended, I hurried out of the building, looking for Irene for another 'escort' to the caf. Unfortunately, Irene came out with Ayla and Fey, all of them looking a little upset - probably with me. I sighed and turned down the walkway, ignoring once again the orders for not being alone.
As Tatanka had instructed me, I took time to listen to the air and earth spirits, to help me be more aware of my surroundings. When something disturbed the air spirit, I hastily incanted my shield spell. A few seconds later, there was a whoosh of something running past me, and a large slushy, muddy mess splattered on the shield. I sighed, and, ignoring the entire incident, continued walking. Moments later, though, almost as expected, Thunderfox jogged to my side, while another member of the Wild Pack, one I hadn't yet met, dropped from the sky in front of me.
"Are you okay?" Thunderfox asked in a commanding voice. Around us, students walked while watching us with amusement and interest.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said with a shrug. "I had my shield spell active, so it didn't even hit."
"Where's your escort?" the unknown guy asked bluntly. He struck me as being as much of a rules-facist as Adam.
I shrugged again. "They didn't show, so I just used my shield spell to protect me." I frowned. "Who are you?"
"Firecat," the guy said simply.
"Sounds like a damned cartoon character," I muttered.
Thunderfox ignored my comment, narrowing her eyes, and looking down the path. I followed her gaze, and saw Fey and Ayla walking toward us. "Oh?" she asked. "Are you sure about that?"
"Yeah. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to the caf, to meet my friends for lunch."
"Sorry," the guy said. "We have to file a report on this because you had an incident and you're unescorted."
I sighed with frustration. "Nope," I replied. "Nothing happened to me, and I'm hungry."
"That's twice today you've been without your escort," Thunderfox said, frowning, "that we know of. Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"Not deliberately," I said with a shrug, "but some people here seem to have other ideas. So it really doesn't matter, does it?"
"It _does_ matter," Firecat said sternly. "You've got to follow the rules for your own safety."
"Will you stop by security after lunch to fill out the report?" Thunderfox asked, trying to get to a workable compromise.
"I suppose," I replied. "Now can I go get some lunch?"
Thunderfox fell in at my side. "Now you can. Unless you want to wait for your friends from Poe."
I frowned. "Let's go," I said, starting to walk quickly. I had no desire to wait for Ayla and Fey.
I was just about to make tea to go with my lunch when Irene came to the table with two young girls, one on either side. "Hi," she said cheerfully. "You promised you'd show me how to make your magic tea."
I glanced around the table at my friends. Laurie and Naomi were chuckling, and Evvie was just shaking her head. Vasiliy was a bit confused, and Adrian just shrugged. "I suppose I can do that now."
"Ahem." We all turned to see Mindbird staring unhappily at me and the three girls. "Are these three bothering you?" She gestured at the three girls.
I shook my head, smiling. "No. I _did_ promise Irene ...."
"Palantir," Irene interrupted. "That's my code name. It's pretty cool, isn't it?"
"And I'm Clover," one of Irene's buddies said. "Pally, you said it would be easy to get the essence!"
"Yeah, Pally," the other whined. "You didn't tell us that security would be here."
"Don't call me that!" Irene said with a huge frown. She looked back at me, then at Mindbird, before looking back at me, doing her best sad puppy-dog eyes. "You did promise," she whined.
Mindbird sighed. "Is this more of your magic tea?"
I nodded, and pulled Ms. Grimes' note from my backpack, anticipating her next question. "Here."
Mindbird read it quickly. "I see. Okay, I guess it's up to you to deal with any crowds you draw, then."
I put the letter back in my bag, and then took out supplies. "Who wants some?" The guys didn't care for any, but the girls naturally wanted some. I glanced up at Mindbird. "Would you like some, now that you know it's safe?"
"No thanks," she replied.
"You _do_ look kind of tense. It'll help you relax a bit," I suggested. When she didn't answer, I sent Palantir and her friends for some cups of water while I began to prepare. It didn't take long for me to chant, completely from memory now since I'd cast the spell so frequently, and within a couple of minutes, I had four cups of hot herbal tea.
Naomi, Evvie, and Laurie knew what to expect, but Mindbird seemed hesitant. She let the aroma waft across her nose, and she seemed enticed by the smell. When she took a sip, her expression changed from cautious to looking quite content. "Mmm," she said, exhaling slowly. "This is good. And it feels like someone massaged my neck and shoulders."
"Told you so," Evvie said with a grin, sipping her own tea.
As the others chatted away over tea and their lunches, the three middle-school girls returned and sat down at the table. Both of the newcomers were complaining that I wasn't going to teach _them_ how to make tea, or to make some for them. I didn't change my mind, though; I'd been warned about how overly-enthusiastic and reckless the three little witches, as they'd been called, could get. I was actually starting to have second thoughts about teaching Irene, but a promise was a promise.
"Okay, you should take notes, or have one of your friends take notes," I told Irene. First, I went through the ingredients, making sure that the one that the two little witches called Abracadabra wrote down the list, and then I instructed her in how to assemble the tea, including going over the ritualistic chants a few times so she had them straight. Finally, I demonstrated by making my own tea, and the girls ooh'd and aah'd when the spell was complete and there was a small flash in the cup. I took a sip of the now-hot liquid, feeling the soothing effect flow through my body, easing tensions that I wasn't aware of.
"Your turn," I said with a smile to Irene.
Showing her uncertainty, she focused on the cup, picked up the first ingredient, crushed in between her fingers over the cup while she awkwardly chanted the first few lines. She repeated the process for all six ingredients, and at the end, when she finished the final chant, there was a small twinkle within the fluid.
"It didn't flash like it did in your cup," Irene complained. She picked up the cup. "And it's only a little warm."
"That was the natural magic infusing the tea," I explained to her.
"But ... it's cold! Not like yours."
"Because you need a little bit of what Ms. Grimes calls essence to make it work all the way."
Irene frowned. "Well, that stinks."
"Try it," I urged her.
She glared at the tea for a few seconds, but then picked it up and took a sip. "It tastes funny," she said with a frown, but then her expression eased. "It feels ... warm inside a little bit." Her eyes widened some. "And ... there's a little bit of essence!" she said with a grin. "I feel a little magic from it!" She was practically giddy, almost jumping up and down with excitement. "I want some more. Can you get me the ingredients? Please, please, please?"
"Let me try," Clover said, trying to take the tea. Abracadabra reached for it as well, but Clover took a drink. She frowned a moment later. "I don't feel anything," she complained. "Are you sure there was something there, Pally?" she asked skeptically.
"I felt it. I know I felt some essence," Irene countered sharply, "and don't call me that."
"You have a list of the ingredients," I told Irene. "If they don't have them in the bookstore, you can order them."
"Can you give me some? Please?" she begged, trying puppy-dog eyes on me once more.
Fortunately for me, she wasn't very good at puppy-dog eyes. "No, because I'm getting low."
"If you get some more ...?" she started to ask.
I chuckled. She might be a little operator, but I had the upper hand, at least right now. "Depends. Maybe we can help each other out."
The three little witches scurried off, probably heading to the bookstore to see if they could buy the supplies.
"It's probably not a good idea to help her get any more magic than she already has," a voice sounded from behind me.
I stiffened at recognizing Ayla's voice. "I made a promise," I said, trying to keep even the faintest trace of emotion out of my voice, despite the fact that his presence had ruined the calm I'd had from my tea.
"Those three could create a lot of mischief if you give them essence," Ayla said cautiously.
"I didn't give her any," I countered. "Anything she got came from the natural magic of the ingredients, and the chants focused her own magic into the brew."
Ayla glanced at the seat opposite me. "May I?"
I shrugged noncommittally. "I don't see anyone sitting there."
Ayla sat down. "I have the distinct impression that something is bothering you," he began.
Evvie gave me a strange look, probably unseen by Ayla. I think she was trying to send me a signal that I should talk to find out what was going on and quit over-reacting.
I shrugged. "Nothing more than normal," I answered in as neutral a tone as I could manage.
Ayla frowned. "It seems like you're avoiding Fey and me."
I just shrugged and took a sip of my tea, wishing that it had more magic to help restore the calmness that Ayla's presence had stolen away. "Ya think?" I asked sarcastically.
"Did something happen between you and Fey?"
"Why don't you ask _her_?" I replied, not completely successful at keeping emotion out of my voice despite my best efforts. "If something happened, it was her doing, not mine, not that she'd recognize it or even, dare I say, apologize."
"And sitting with Tansy in magic class?" Ayla continued with a raised eyebrow.
"There weren't any other free desks."
Ayla frowned at that; he knew that was a lie, since I'd arrived early enough to get any of the desks that weren't regularly taken. "Why don't you come upstairs so you and I and Fey can discuss whatever happened? I know she's a little puzzled."
"Oh? Is that why she glares at me like I'm evil incarnate and need to be eliminated?" I said through clenched teeth. This discussion was getting very annoying. "Now if you'll excuse me," I said, standing, "I need to go outdoors where my spirits are more comfortable. They don't like being cooped up indoors all day." I bused my tray, and then walked out of the cafeteria. It was only when I got outside that I realized that I'd been so occupied, first with the tea, and then with Ayla, that I hadn't eaten. Crap. Ayla had upset me a lot more than I'd realized.
"Hey, Kayda," I heard from behind me. I stopped, and saw Sharisha running to catch up. "Wait up." I paused, and she was quickly at my side. "Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"I need to get away from ... that," I said, shuddering involuntarily. "I start feeling cooped up indoors. Besides, it's nice outside."
"Yeah, but you're supposed to wait for one of us," Sharisha reminded me.
"Yeah, I know. But talking with Ayla just pisses me off."
Sharisha snorted. "Ayla's a sick fuck. A total pervert." I knew she disliked Ayla, but her tone spoke of a hatred that went through her very core. "Worse is my roommate playing kissy-huggy with ... it!" We walked toward one of the sitting areas. "What did the Goodkind do to you?"
I shrugged. "I'm sick of him playing diplomat and acting like all of Fey's fuckups are my fault. He's acting like she can do no wrong, and then she has the audacity to get mad at me for what she's done. I suppose it's to be expected, though, since Ayla's covering for his teammate."
"What did the faerie queen do to you?"
I should have expected that question. "To start with she intruded in my dream-world."
"Yeah. It's like hyper-realistic dreams, and you remember every little detail, including taste, touch ... everything. Everyone has their own dream-world. Fey came traipsing into mine, with her Sidhe magic tearing up all the barriers so demons could have attacked me. And then she accused _me_ of messing with _her_ dreams!"
"Wait, you mean that you can get attacked in your dream world thing?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I was once already by a Lakota snake demon. What was worse is that it attacked ...." I glanced around to make sure we had some privacy, "... my girlfriend, and I had to rescue her."
"But that was just a dream, right?"
I shook my head solemnly. "Nope. If it had harmed her in the dream world, it would have harmed her in the real world, too. And the queen came waltzing into my dream world, shredding the magic barriers, so the demon spirit could have attacked me, or Debra. And after I pointed out that it was _her_ spirit that had invaded my dream space, she didn't even apologize."
"She's been hanging around the perv so long that she's picking up Ayla's sense of entitlement and bad manners," Sharisha snarled. Clearly, she had hate on for Ayla, but that was no secret in Poe. In fact, she had a real hate thing going for all the changelings; I was guessing that she figured I was merely a lesbian because I wasn't rooming with another changeling, and I wasn't about to disabuse her of that notion.
"Do you know what happened to me this morning?"
"That sick bastard didn't ...."
"No, nothing like that," I quickly interrupted for fear she'd go try to neuter Ayla. I realized that she'd been the one cheering against men a few nights earlier. Either her or Hippolyta. "I had a ghost-walking spell to be invisible, so Ayla wouldn't be able to ogle me. Fey saw me cast it and vanish, so she used her magic, and it tore my spell all apart so everyone, including Ayla, _could_ see me."
"No wonder you're upset with her. I would be too." She and pulled a book out of her backpack. "Do you mind if I study instead of talking? I've got a butt-load of history to read in case we have a quiz today."
I laughed. "Not at all. It'll give me a chance to visit my spirits in my dream world. I get the feeling that they want to talk to me anyway."
The high mountain forest was nowhere in sight, but I was in a lightly wooded area of elms, oaks, ash, and a few towering cottonwoods. I glanced around, wondering where Tatanka had brought me. I found a fallen tree to sit on while I waited for the white one to arrive.
It didn't take him long to show up. He seemed to be having fun running full-out; perhaps I'd have to spend time in outings with him so he could run more. Did spirits get restless for running?
"Greetings, Tatanka," I said as he slowed and halted beside me.
"Wihakayda," he acknowledged. "I have someone special for you to talk to today.
"Not Pahi again?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No." He ambled deeper into the cluster of trees, watching as a shadow darted from tree to tree around us. Finally, Tatanka stopped. "Enough with the games, Ithunkasan," he called out. "I have someone who needs to learn from you."
A weasel peeked from behind a tree trunk. "Of course, Tatanka," the small, sleek animal said as he darted to me. I felt a little nervous as he sniffed around my legs. He disappeared behind a tree trunk, only to emerge a split-second later from behind a neighboring tree. "What's your name?" he asked as he zipped in front of me.
"Kayda," I answered, trying to follow the hyperactive weasel as he dashed about.
Ithunkasan sat in front of me, and gestured for me to sit as well. "What important lessons should I teach her, Tatanka? Bravery? Stealth? Cunning? Agility?"
"How about hyperactivity?" I shot back. "Not that I really want to learn that."
Ithunkasan frowned at me. "What do you _think_ you need to learn?"
I thought a moment. "I don't know."
Tatanka lay down. "Kayda has problems fighting. She doesn't think she needs to know how to fight."
"Everyone needs to know how to fight," the weasel declared with a snort. "The world is a great struggle, and only those who know how to stand for themselves thrive."
"That sounds a little harsh," I commented, frowning. "The world isn't like that."
"Oh? How do you eat?" Before I could answer, he continued. "You find your prey and hunt it. Isn't hunting the same as fighting? And what if something attacks your lodge or tepee? What do you do then?"
I frowned; the clever little animal had cornered me with a carefully crafted, logical argument. "I ... I'd defend them."
"Which is fighting. So you _would_ fight. Good." He darted around behind me, scrambled up my back, and peered over my shoulder. "But that's not enough," he whispered in my ear.
I turned to look at him, but he'd darted off my shoulder back in front of me. "What do you mean, it's not enough?"
"To fight, you must fight to win. You must fight fiercely, as though your life depended on every claw and bite, because it _does_ depend on them." He smiled. "I live alone, and yet, even large predators leave me alone. And do you know why?" Before I could answer, he continued. "Because I am fierce! I fight with everything I have, and I am feared even by the bear and the wolf!" he said proudly.
I thought for a few moments. It sounded very much like what Sensei Tolman had been telling me only hours earlier. "But ... if you're outnumbered, or ..."
The weasel shook his head. "It doesn't matter. You fight fiercely, and even many enemies will respect you and run like frightened rabbits."
"But you talked of other gifts, like stealth and grace and agility."
The weasel smiled smugly. "In battle, one must be agile, to be able to move where your foes don't expect. You must be graceful and not clumsy. I am both, and it serves me well in combat, and so I thrive."
"And ... stealth?"
"Sometimes, there is prey which is quicker, and so one must be cunning to outwit them, and silent enough to sneak upon them to strike the first blow." He laughed. "You have much to learn about stealth," he said. "You lumber about like a great noisy cow."
"I'm not a cow!" I protested angrily.
The weasel laughed again. "Your motions are obvious. As you are now, you couldn't sneak up on a blade of grass!" I heard Tatanka chuckle softly at the weasel's comment, so I shot him a quick dirty look.
"So I must learn to be sneaky?"
"Stealthy. Sneaky implies devious or deceitful intentions. In all you do, you must use cunning. Did you use cunning when working with your teachers? No, you lumbered about like a cow. They knew what you were going to do even before you did, because your paths were obvious and poorly disguised." He darted back behind me and came up on my other shoulder. "If you knew what a foe was planning, would it surprise you?"
"No," I answered.
"And would you prepare to outwit his plan?" He ran down my front, rolled, and ended up sitting as he had been. "If you didn't know of his plan, outwitting the foe would be much more difficult."
"But ... I'm not battling against my teachers."
The weasel smiled. "No, but you match wits with the teachers, right? And so you must outwit them. And to do that, you must trust your instincts to guide you."
I frowned. It seemed so different from what Sensei had told me that morning, what Maka had told me the day before, and what I'd grown up learning.
"No time for further questions," he snapped. "I must run. I have to catch lunch, and there is a rabbit nearby." He scurried off, leaving me with Tatanka.
I started to rise, but Tatanka motioned for me to remain seated and silent.
The earth spirit showed us where Ithunkasan was sneaking up on a rabbit, which was distracted because it, in turn, was trying to elude a wolf. As we watched, the weasel leaped upon the rabbit, digging its teeth into the rabbit's neck, which resulted in the startled and now wounded rabbit thrashing about to try to dislodge the attacker. The commotion attracted the wolf, which savagely attacked the duo, focusing first on Ithunkasan, because it sensed the serious wound on the rabbit.
Ithunkasan may be been fierce, but the wolf was fighting to feed its pack, and so it overpowered Ithunkasan, who ended up retreating, licking its wounds.
Tatanka looked at me. "What did you learn from Ithunkasan's words?"
"That ... I must be fierce in attack? And outwit my opponents?"
"But what did you learn from his actions?"
I thought a moment. "He was rash and reckless, attacking when he shouldn't have."
"He was overconfident in his abilities, and that got him into trouble. Is own sense of how good he was and his instincts blinded him to thinking and being truly clever. He only thinks he was being clever. And all his stealth and grace and agility didn't help him win. They only helped him to escape with his life."
"Did you notice that Ithunkasan was alone?"
"Yes. I wondered about that."
"It's because he's so overconfident and reckless that he puts himself in danger, and thus puts those around him in danger, too, so that none want to be around him." He let me think a moment. "Is that what _you_ want, Wihakayda? To be alone because you are reckless?"
"No, of course not."
"Then you must think of your actions and act rationally rather than acting on instinct." He lumbered out of the woods back onto the open prairie, and, trotting, I followed and caught up to him.
"You have been rash with your teachers. You have been Ithukasan."
I stopped suddenly as his words hit me like a hammer. I _had_ been reckless in dealing with many others - not just my teachers, but my cottage-mates as well.
English was tolerable, mostly because Ms. Seever ignored me, and I tried to paste on a smile, no matter how fake, and feign interest when she looked my way. I don't think I fooled her, but at least I didn't get another lecture. She asked me one question, which I answered, hopefully without any snark, and when class was over, she didn't bother glaring at me like she had the previous day. And maybe Fey had been right - having an easy class that I already knew cut down on my evening homework.
It still bothered me that I was stuck in English instead of being able to take a cool class like I'd wanted, but based on what I'd heard, the system seemed to be designed to keep _all_ students around for a full four years, mostly because their skill sets required additional time for them to learn to control and utilize. If the same applied to me, then I'd graduate with the Kimbas as well, even though I should graduate a year earlier. The one positive I found in that otherwise depressing thought was that I'd have opportunity to take some of the cool classes in engineering and mechanics.
Dr. Quintain's lecture was the usual afternoon sedative; since I was still catching up, I had plenty to read, so I avoided the nap that was a refuge from boredom for so many other students. Once class was over, I packed up my books to go to powers lab.
"Kayda," Dr. Quintain called to me as I was passing his desk on my way out of the classroom.
I stopped and turned to him. "Yes, sir?"
"Have you had any luck with your math difficulties?" He had a pleasant smile, as if he knew precisely what was going on.
I couldn't help but grin. "I took a math proficiency test this morning, for matrices, calculus, and trig."
"Good. I took the liberty of talking with Ms. Bell, and we called your high school and the School of Mines to get your actual transcripts faxed to us. Based on what we saw, you have as much need to be in high school math as Rembrandt would need to be in a kindergarten finger-painting class.
My cheeks felt a little warm as I blushed at the compliment. "I'd like a little free time, so I can finish Abstract Algebra and start on Finite Math."
"Ah, well, there's the rub. If you test as well as your informal transcripts say you should, then the math department will want you for a TA, but if you've got half the classwork and knowledge that you transcripts show, I really want you to work on our pattern mapping research project as a work-study job."
My eyes nearly bugged out at that; two departments recognized my math potential? That was far more than I'd expected.
"Think about it, okay?" Dr. Quintain asked.
"Yes, sir, I will!" I replied enthusiastically. "Thank you!" I was probably so exuberant that some of the other kids leaving the classroom were looking at me like I was maniacally insane.
When I walked into Power Lab, many of the students' conversations seemed to ebb, and I had the feeling that a lot of them were looking at me, but given my good mood, I didn't care.
"You look particularly 'appy today," Charge noticed when I sat down.
"Yeah," I practically sang happily. "Someone paid attention to my math transcripts, so it looks pretty certain that I'll get out of having to retake Algebra One."
"Oh? You 'ave taken algebra before?" She seemed both interested and envious at the same time.
I couldn't help smiling. "When I was in fourth grade. I've been taking college-level math as independent study for a few years."
Charge - Adalie - actually frowned at that comment. "It must be nice to 'ave math come to you so easily."
I winced at that; it was pretty clear from her tone that she didn't have an easy time in math. "Well, there are other classes that are hard, like magic and French," I countered.
"Non," she said, shaking her head. "Frangais is very easy. It is not confusing and difficult like English! Bah! I don't understand why English is so emphasized in the world!"
I really had a snappy comeback, about how _we_ won World War 2 against the Germans and Japanese, whereas France lost in the first round. I bit my tongue, though - for once. I didn't want to annoy someone who would hopefully be helping me learn aikido. "The teacher is late, isn't she?"
"Oui," Adalie agreed. "I have a question, if you don't mind me asking."
I was a bit confused. Yesterday, she had acted like I was a typical American that she held in contempt. Today, though, she was being at least cordial. "It depends on the question."
"What 'appened today when you were sparring?" She wasn't exactly subtle or tactful.
I sighed; I hoped to avoid those types of questions, because knowledge of my PTSD and how it could cripple me in a fight was a threat to me. If someone with ill intent triggered an episode, I would be totally helpless, and quite possibly dead. Still, if I was going to deal with Charge in martial arts, power theory, and power lab, I was probably going to have to learn to trust her, and others. That brought a quick scowl; Fey and Ayla were apparently among those not to be trusted. I erased that thought so Adalie didn't think I was angry at her question, though.
"Just after I manifested," I explained carefully, fighting back the emotional distress that always seemed to be just below the surface, "my friends tried to kill me. Twice." I felt my hands trembling at the disturbing memories. "I was pretty badly beaten both times, almost to death."
"Mon dieu!" Adalie said softly. "I thought it was bad that my friends just rejected me. My ... best friend ... she hates me just because I am a mutant," she said bitterly. "Even after I saved her life."
The teacher chose that moment to enter, interrupting our conversation. I puzzled through the rest of the lab; Adalie had been a total snob, but now she seemed to be cordial. I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps she'd reacted negatively to my own emotional state, and since I was pretty happy, she felt like she could converse without fear of me being nasty.
After class, Bunny came by to escort me to electronics lab. She was eyeing me cautiously as we walked; Evvie had informed me that Fey and Bunny were ... close. Very close. And she was an associate member (if there were such a thing) of Team Kimba, being well-known for supplying them with devises and gadgets.
Once we got in the tunnels, Bunny asked, "What's going on, Kayda?"
I'd expected such a question. If she was the equipment supplier to TK, then she was on Ayla's payroll as well. "What do you mean?" I asked, feigning innocence.
"Fey and Ayla seem kind of upset, and your name has come up a few time," she explained, a frown wrinkling her otherwise perfect face. With her blonde hair in long pigtails, and her curves and perky disposition, she could have easily been mistaken for an air-head.
I shrugged. "Nothing really." I decided to turn the tables. "Why? What has Fey said about me?"
"Is it true that your spirit and hers know each other?" Bunny wasn't so easily tricked into revealing information about Fey and Ayla.
"How about if we just drop it, huh?" I asked when I realized I wasn't going to get any information from her, just like she wasn't getting anything from me.
"There _is_ something going on, isn't there?"
"Just drop it, okay?" I said, a lot more tersely than I should have. I was getting more than a little upset that Fey and Ayla were snooping to try to figure out what was bothering me; all they had to do was look in mirrors.
The rest of the walk to class was pretty quiet; I didn't want to be grilled about why I was upset at Fey's actions, and Bunny, who was very close to Fey, didn't want to tell me anything that she wasn't sure if Fey or Ayla would approve of me knowing. The last thing she said to me, warily, I might add, was that Delta Spike would be by to escort me back to Poe after class.
Class was good; I was rapidly getting caught up, to the point that I figured that within two more class periods, I'd be doing current work - assuming, of course, that I got my labs done. The labs themselves weren't difficult, just tedious. Despite that, I got data collected from two labs, and I just had to do the formal write-up to be done with them. I could do that back in my room.
One thing that bugged me was that we were doing very simple circuits the old-fashioned way with a lot of discrete components, including transistors, when most integrated circuits had millions and millions of circuits crammed into them. When one student complained, Ms. Merenis patiently interrupted everyone's independent study to repeat and then answer the question - how were we going to design integrated circuits if we didn't understand what components were required for each circuit? I smiled to myself; that was exactly what Dad had taught me about everything on the farm - if I didn't understand the simple things, how would I ever understand the complex things made from them?
After class, I could tell that Delwin was hoping to escort me back to Poe, but he was also very nervous about what had happened the previous day. He chatted away about class to help me pass the time while I waited for Delta Spike; I think he thought that he was being subtle, but it was painfully evident that he was just hanging around to talk to me, wondering if he'd have to escort me again, and a little terrified of that possibility.
Delta Spike was a few minutes late, for which she was apologetic, because she'd been working in her lab. Since Delwin was a devisor and gadgeteer, that led to them starting to talk, with her talking about galvanomorphs, while Delwin prattled on about building integrated circuits with multistate logic that were more like neural networks than traditional computer chips. I seemed a little forgotten as the two delved deeply into their own respective areas of interest, each trying to convince the other that their ideas were superior and would be the next great breakthrough. It was only when I interrupted Delta Spike to let her know that my destination was Schuster Hall instead of Poe that she even seemed to recall that I was there.
Dr. Bellows asked, of course, how my day went; I was guessing that he could read my expression enough to know that I was much happier than I'd been the day before. So I explained the math test, and Dr. Quintain's interest in me doing work-study for him. He was pleased that my attitude was much improved, and so was I.
"How was martial arts?" he asked. Based on his expression, he probably already knew the answer.
"Oh? Why was it bad?"
"Mrs. Hawkins called Mom when I stopped by her office, and Mom was pretty adamant that I was going to take martial arts, even if I don't want to." I snorted at that. "Debra told her that Ito was a great instructor, and she wants me in his class."
"I take it you don't agree?"
"Not if your definition of greatness includes insulting and demeaning students, making them feel like crap, and then excluding them from everything," I answered, my good mood having vanished at the reminder of my martial arts classes. "The other girls in the locker room were all talking about me, and I didn't want to go out to class."
"But you decided to?" he asked.
"Tolman or Ito probably told you, didn't they?"
"I asked Sensei Tolman to keep me informed," Dr. Bellows admitted.
"Great. Now my teachers are all spying on me, too," I huffed, crossing my arms angrily and slumping back onto the couch.
"Kayda," Dr. Bellows chided me softly, "you've had three PTSD events, one of which was in martial arts this morning. It's _very_ important that I know so I can help you overcome whatever triggers the events. But I assure you that I do _not_ tell anyone what you and I discuss."
I shook my head, lowering my gaze. "I'm such a fucking mess," I muttered unhappily.
"Kayda, you're making progress. I never promised that it would be fast or easy, only that I'd help you overcome those events."
"Yeah, I suppose," I muttered.
"What happened today in martial arts?"
"Ms. Tolman made me go out to the mats, and then I had to spar so she could evaluate what I knew and didn't know. I ... I had to fight ... and ... and I got beat up ... pretty badly." I was shaking again, and my eyes were moist.
"And that's when you collapsed?"
I simply nodded. "Ms. Tolman talked with me in the locker room to see what happened."
"But you went back out to keep trying?"
I simply nodded.
"As far as Senseis Ito and Tolman are concerned, you're kind of a 'special needs' student in their class. They know of your background and your PTSD, so they'll try to help you."
I nodded. "Okay."
"But you _will_ have to fight. That's the whole point of martial arts - learning to fight and to defend yourself. I'll work with your instructors to help you learn to cope so you can stay focused while you're fighting." He scratched his chin for a moment, looking thoughtful. "You didn't have any problems with PTSD when you were fighting the snake demon, did you? Or the water panther?"
"Uh, no," I said, realizing that he was right - I hadn't panicked in those battles. "But ... I had to save Debra," I said about the first fight, "and I didn't have time ...."
Dr. Bellows smiled. "I'm just pointing out that you _can_ fight if you have to."
"Is there anything else on your mind, or do you need to get to your homework?"
"Uh, I ... I don't think so," I stammered unconvincingly.
"You don't sound sure of yourself."
I looked down. "Uh, maybe. I'm ... having some troubles ... with some people in my cottage."
"And what are the problems?"
"Um, one girl's magic and her spirit are messing with my privacy and stuff."
"Would that be Fey?" he interrupted.
I nodded, and then told him about Aunghadhail's dream intrusion, followed by Nikki's reaction and how she didn't even care, and about my ghost-walking spell that Nikki tore apart, allowing Ayla to see me nude. And I pointed out that Nikki didn't even act like she'd done something wrong. The more I talked, the more I recalled how Ayla and Nikki had acted toward me since the first incident, and the more upset I got.
"Have you talked to either of them?" Dr. Bellows asked.
I frowned. "After the way they were acting like they weren't wrong, I don't want anything to do with them."
"So you didn't give either of them a chance to apologize, did you?"
"Are you saying that it's my fault?" I asked, suddenly defensive.
"No, I'm not saying that," Dr. Bellows countered very quickly. "But is it possible that you're so upset that you're not giving them a chance to apologize, and because they can't, you end up assuming that they don't want to apologize, or don't care if they do?"
I started to answer, but hesitated. Ayla had tried to talk to me in the caf, and had invited me upstairs to talk with him and Fey, and both had tried knocking on my door in Poe. "Um, maybe," I answered, feeling a little uncertain. Maybe they _had_ wanted to apologize. On the other hand, though, they might have wanted to further blame me for what they'd done.
"Is it possible that Fey was too surprised and embarrassed to apologize at first?" Dr. Bellows asked. I couldn't answer, because I hadn't considered that angle.
On my way from the bathroom back to my room, I saw Fey going into her room. Immediately, I thought of what Dr. Bellows had said; she might have been embarrassed and not known how to apologize. I tried to force myself to call out to her, or to walk to her door to knock, but I couldn't. I was too frightened that she wouldn't recognize that she'd done something wrong, or wouldn't apologize.
I walked back to my room, leaning against the door after closing it. I should give her a chance, I knew, but I just couldn't forget the danger she'd brought to Debra and the humiliation she'd caused me in the bathroom.
The fire in the fire pit was comforting, as was the tea that I was drinking with Wakan Tanka. My dream-world was my refuge, and I really needed the peace I found there. "Wakan Tanka," I began after a sip, "am I wrong to fear the Sidhe queen?"
"No, Wihakayda," my spirit answered me quickly. No doubt she'd been thinking of that very subject. "You are right to be cautious. I cannot tell which of her actions are from an impetuous girl and which are from the Sidhe."
"Aren't they the same?" I asked, puzzled by her statement. "Like you and I?"
Wakan Tanka shook her head, a thin smile on her lips. "She and the queen are more like you and I than you and Ptesanwi," she said.
"I don't understand."
"You and Ptesanwi are one. She is a part of you. But you and I are not, except when you merge with me into the manifestation of Ptesanwi. The difference is that the Sidhe queen is independent of the girl, whereas I cannot act without your knowledge and permission," she explained.
"So ... maybe Nikki isn't to blame for the dream walk?"
"No. But she _is_ responsible for shattering your spell." She took a long, slow sip of her tea. "You should listen to the counselor," she continued. "You haven't given either of them a chance to apologize, have you?"
"So you think I'm wrong, too?" That was all I needed - a spirit in my head that was blaming me for things like what had happened.
"You should talk to her. If she does regret what happened, you have to give her a chance to apologize."
I snapped myself out of my dream world, back to reality. Having Wakan Tanka ask the same question as Dr. Bellows was sapping my determination. _Was_ I shutting them out? Maybe I was being too reactionary because I'd been hurt so badly in the past by people who'd been friends, that I didn't want to give Ayla and Fey a chance to hurt me. I just knew, at that moment, that more emotional pain wasn't something I could handle.
Hearing no-one in the hall, I walked down the hall and down the staircase. One place that was mostly unused was the cottage library, so I slipped in and found a corner to sit and think.
Tatanka nudged my shoulder to get my attention, sitting as I was on a prairie hill, looking out over a seemingly-endless ocean of waving grass. "Wihakayda?" he asked, curious why I had allowed him to get so close without reacting.
"Yes, Tatanka?" I said without turning to him.
"You have something on your mind."
"No kidding!" I drew in a deep breath of the clean, cool early spring air.
"Perhaps instead of sitting here, it would be better to complete your lesson. Some of what Ptan has to teach might help you with your current problem."
I turned and stared at the big white spirit. "Maybe." I clambered to my feet.
Instantly, we were at a river bank. "What do you see?" Tatanka asked me.
I looked over the river, and immediately saw an animal floating playfully in the river on its back. As soon as it saw Tatanka, it did a graceful flip and disappeared under the water, surfacing in a powerful leap out of the water onto the riverbank. I was puzzled, but only for a moment; river otters had long since vanished from South Dakota lands, but had once been very common.
"Greetings, mighty Tatanka," the otter said as it darted among Tatanka's legs like they were an obstacle course or maze. The otter stopped in front of me, rose on its hind legs to peer at me, and then darted around me, pausing to take quick sniffs before circling again. I could have gotten dizzy trying to watch the critter.
"How is the fishing today, Ptan?" Tatanka asked him.
"I was fishing this morning," the otter answered. "Now is my time to relax." She looked at me from head to toe and back. "Who is this young maiden? Have you brought her here so I would have someone to frolic and play with?"
Tatanka smiled. "This is Wihakayda, the emissary of Wakan Tanka. And that _might_ not be a bad idea."
The name of my benefactor was not lost on Ptan; her eyes widened, and then she bowed deeply. "It is an honor, Wihakayda. What can I do for you?"
Tatanka spoke before I could. "Wihakayda is young, and she is still learning much. I am introducing her to animal spirits to teach her about the world."
Ptan looked at me again. "As usual, Tatanka, you are wise. But what can I teach the Ptesanwi? I am just a humble little otter." She winked to me, suggesting that she was pulling Tatanka's leg. She seemed a lot less serious than some of the other spirits that I'd met.
"Kayda talked with your cousin Ithunkasan this morning," Tatanka said, "and as usual, he was overly dramatic."
Ptan rolled her eyes. "And what trouble was that little imp creating?"
I chuckled. "He got cocky trying to steal prey from a wolf, and he got his butt kicked."
"He is always so serious, looking for fights when he doesn't need to," Ptan said, shaking her head. "And what did you learn from him?"
"He told me that I had to be fierce, as well as agile and stealthy, to survive in the constant battle that is life," I answered, hesitating because she seemed to have a low opinion of her cousin.
"My brother Ithunkasan has no time to play, and so he cannot relax," Ptan said with a sad expression.
Suddenly, Ptan perked up, tilting her head from side to side. "Just a moment," she said before sliding back into the water with a splash. A few seconds later she surfaced, and then a much smaller head surfaced beside her. She climbed gracefully back up the river bank, followed by the other otter. "Forgive the interruption, Ptesanwi," Ptan apologized. "My pup was getting himself into trouble by being a little too curious." She shook her head. "It seems that the job of a mother is never done."
I looked at Tatanka. "Why have you brought me to Ptan? There's something you're not telling me," I added with mock menace in my voice.
"What makes you think I'm hiding something from you?"
Ptan shook her head, making an odd grunting whistle that sounded like disapproval. "So serious," she observed. She indicated that I should sit, which I did, and then she practically pushed her pup into my lap.
The little otter, though wet, was quite affectionate - right up until he stuck his nose inquisitively down the front of my dress. "Hey!" I shouted angrily, pulling him from my cleavage.
"He is a pup, and he is curious," Ptan said. I thought I saw Tatanka smirking.
"Well, I guess ...." I gave him a hug, and he wiggled out of my arms and ran over my shoulder and down my back, then circled me to plop in my lap, looking up at me with innocent eyes, as if he'd done nothing.
"You see - already my pup has learned balance. He plays, but he also works when he needs to." She shook her head. "I think that you have no balance. You seem too serious, like Ithunkasan."
"I'm not that bad," I protested, and on hearing a snort from Tatanka, I paused. "Am I?"
"When was the last time you laughed?" Ptan asked.
"I ...." I had to stop, because I honestly couldn't remember the last time that I'd had a good, playful time with laughter and relaxation. "I guess it's been a while," I admitted.
"Because of all the serious things that are happening to me!" I countered. "I changed, got my spirits, was assaulted, had to flee my home ...." I shook my head. "Many, many things."
"The last time I saw you laugh was with Debra," Tatanka stated.
"You have no balance. That is why you aren't enjoying life," Ptan said. "And when you talk of others, you seem wary, instead of caring and nurturing of friendships and relationships." Ptan sat in front of me as her pup played ring-around-the-rosie with my torso, tugging on my long braids as if they were ropes to swing from. "Why do your problems take all your focus?"
I glanced at Tatanka, as if I thought Ptan was nuts. "I ... I have to solve them."
Ptan nodded. "This is true. But sometimes, when you worry too much and don't relax, you lose perspective of the problems. Some problems can be ignored for a while, and some will solve themselves if you do nothing. Sometimes, taking time to play gives your mind a rest, and the solutions appear more easily."
"That ... that's hard to do - to ignore problems."
Ptan laughed. "There's a difference between ignoring a problem and keeping a problem in perspective. Look at my pup and me. When we swim, do we allow the waves and currents to carry us where _they_ go?"
"The way you phrased that, I'm going to guess the answer is no."
"Do we fight the waves and currents to get to where we seek to go?"
"Uh, yeah," I answered hesitantly.
Ptan shook her head. "No. We balance things. We use the currents and waves to help us get to where _we_ want to go, and we enjoy the journey more than if we fought them. By doing this, the journey can even be fun, a time to play and relax a little. And even if there is no time to play on the journey, by not fighting the water constantly, we arrive with time and energy so that we can _then_ play."
"But ... I don't have time to play!" I protested.
"Nonsense!" Ptan countered immediately. "Everyone has time to play - if they keep their lives in balance." She stood and grasped the hem of my dress. "Come. If you have forgotten how to play, my pup and I will remind you."
I allowed Ptan and her pup to tug me to the river bank, where the pup used a muddy slide to slip down and splash playfully in the water. He dove, and came up, rolling over and over in the water before clambering back up the bank. "Come on," the pup said eagerly.
I looked at Tatanka, horror-stricken. These two animal spirit wanted me to play with them? In the water?
"Go on, Wihakayda," Tatanka said. "Let Ptan remind you how to play. I will stand guard."
I eventually allowed the three animals to convince me, and after stripping from my buckskin dress and mocs, I sat down on the muddy slope and slid into the cool water with a big splash. The pup was right behind me, and as I sputtered to clear the water from my face, he swam in front of me playfully, tagging my cheek before diving away, only to surface a few feet away and looking like he was laughing at me.
We played water tag. We slid down the bank over and over. I was so distracted by the fun of swimming with Ptan and her pup that I even forgot that I was skinny-dipping. Eventually, though, Tatanka told me that I had to go back to my real world.
As the white buffalo and I walked away from the river bank, water dripping from my hair, Tatanka smiled at me. "Did you enjoy yourself?"
"Yes," I answered without thinking. "Ptan is fun to be with."
Tatanka chuckled. "It wasn't Ptan that was making the fun. It was you letting go of your concerns long enough to relax. Who would you rather be like - Ithunkasan, or Ptan?"
"Ptan," I answered without thinking. "Ithunkasan is too serious, and too arrogant."
"Did you notice how caring and nurturing Ptan was to her pup?"
I nodded. "She was a lot nicer to be around than Ithunkasan."
"You need to learn to be caring and nurturing like Ptan, Wihakayda."
I stopped mid-stride at the implication of his words, a look of horror on my face. "You're not trying to say that ... that I ...."
It took Tatanka a second to realize what I was thinking. "Oh, no, Wihakayda!" he said, shocked at how I'd misinterpreted his words. "No, no, no! You have too much to learn before you can have your own to nurture and care for!"
I sighed with relief. "Good. Because I'm not ready to be a mother. Not for a long time. If ever!"
"But if you learn the lesson of Ptan," Tatanka added softly, "you'll eventually be a good one."
Dinner was much better, mostly because I think the play had helped my attitude. French was even tolerable, and several people made note of my smile and friendlier disposition. I was quick to use the bathroom, because even though I was in a better mood, I still didn't know how to deal with Ayla or Fey. And after I got back from French, Jade came by to see Tatanka again - and to lobby me to join Wondercute.
I spent over an hour on the phone with Debra, and she was quite pleased that I was actually trying in martial arts instead of sulking about how much the class sucked. She was also very happy for me that I'd had a placement test for math, and might be getting out of having to retake algebra one. With her cheery disposition, and the things that had happened during the day, I went to bed feeling like maybe Whateley could be a tolerable place, perhaps even enjoyable - if my classes got straightened out and if my cottage-mates quit being stuck-up bitches.
Debra added to what Dr. Bellows and Wakan Tanka had said - that maybe I was over-reacting to innocent mistakes, and that I wasn't giving them a chance to apologize. Debra was a lot more subtle about it, though, because she knew from dream-walking with me just how much I was upset by what Fey had done and how Ayla was acting.
One point Debra suggested was that Fey and possibly Aunghadhail hadn't realized just how dangerous a spirit attack could be, because they might have their own natural defenses and had never been subject to an attack. Once again, I had to derail that train of conversation, because it seemed to imply that I was at fault.
Debra was as curious as I was about Jade and Wondercute, especially the intensely-fearful reaction it got from others when it was even mentioned. I mentioned the two animal spirits I'd met, and Debra asked if sometime she could meet Ptan, because she thought otters were cute and playful creatures, and because I think she was also a little jealous that I'd been skinny-dipping without her. Naturally that led to dream-walking with Debra, where we went to the river and played in the water and muddy slide with Ptan and her pup. After a few hours of play, still giggling from our frolicking, we went back to the tepee village to rest and cuddle.
The second son of Unhcegila waited for twilight. Like his brother, he'd shed his stone outer shell, and now was vulnerable to sunlight, so he had to move at night to avoid the burning rays. Unlike his brother, he kept his instincts in check and maintained stealth, moving carefully and slowly, pausing to feed only when he could avoid detection. He had many miles to travel to find the object of his quest, the sacred sphere which his father had directed that he find and bring to him.
It should be easy, he reasoned - he would follow the vast herds of bison, because where the bison were found, the People would be hunting them. On his first day, he had found a herd, but it was a tiny group of animals, and try as he might, he could find none of the People or their dwellings in the area. Surely the People wouldn't bother hunting this small of a herd; there weren't enough buffalo to support a tribe for more than a few weeks. The snake-demon had no way of knowing that he was searching Custer State Park for Lakota people who hadn't lived on those lands for well over a century.
Puzzled, the snake demon traveled through Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, to the edge of the prairie, to where the buffalo roamed more freely, and in larger numbers. Still, he could detect none of the herds, finding instead only some clusters of scrawny, distant relatives of the great bison. Surely these animals would be useful to the People, even if not as useful as the mighty Tatankas.
Hunger was overtaking the snake-demon, so he crept upon one of the cattle, who seemed to sense the evil presence. A quick strike felled one of the beasts, and the demon feasted. The instinct to feed overwhelmed his rational, thinking self, and he attacked another, and then a third cow, leaving behind piles of bones where the cattle had stood.
Sated, the snake demon crept toward a strange dwelling, a structure made of wood instead of buffalo hides, and set permanently in place. The creature paused, considering. Eons ago, when the creature's father, Unhcegila, had come on his great migration to Paha Sapa, he had passed People who dwelt in fixed structures, longhouses made of poles and planks of trees, in which many, many families dwelt. Was this one of those dwellings? If so, that would mean that the People had been displaced by those tribes from the East. That would seem reasonable; if the buffalo had moved from the prairie, the People would have followed them, leaving empty space for the eastern tribes to move in. But if that had happened, finding the sacred sphere was going to be much more difficult than the father had assumed.
The snake creature thought as it hid in a larger mostly-empty outbuilding. It sensed only a few humans, not the dozens which should have lived in the building if this _was_ an eastern tribe. And the scents and odors of the place bore no resemblance to any of the tools and clothing of any of the People, Lakota or not.
As dusk arrived, the snake decided to move to find more clues. It found a hard path that retained the heat of the day, feeding energy to the creature so it moved more quickly. It would circle Paha Sapa, looking for anyone who smelled like any of the People, and it would feed on their knowledge so that it could gather clues as to the whereabouts of the Lakota, and thus, the sacred sphere that was supposed to be in their possession.
Well after midnight, a rancher and his wife, an older couple whose children had grown, drove in an older pickup truck northward along highway 79, near the edge of the Black Hills. It was far later than they'd have preferred to travel, but problems with some machinery at their ranch had taken far longer to repair than they'd anticipated, and with their children waiting in Rapid City so the extended family could catch an early-morning flight, the couple had no choice but to drive well into the night.
As the pickup crested a small hill, the man driving frowned, looking down. He saw something ahead, but it made no sense to him. All of the light from the truck's headlights seemed to be swallowed up in a coal-black something on the road. Too late, the man slammed on the brakes. The pickup's tires screeched on the asphalt, until the pickup impacted the inky body of the snake demon.
The snake demon roared in agony from the crushing impact as the front-end of the truck crumpled into a twisted mass of sheet metal. Since the passenger's side impacted first due to the way the snake had been moving on the road, the truck was thrown into a wild skid to the left, and when the tires bit into the grass of the soft shoulder, the momentum of the careening pickup caused it to flip and roll.
The man was fortunate; he was killed when the cab of the pickup caved in and crushed his shoulder and skull. His wife, though, was spared death because the cab over her head was far less mangled. Battered and bruised, she fought waves of pain, nausea, and unconsciousness. In a short fit of lucidness, she tried to find her purse, to get her cell phone to call for help; at that late hour, there would be few travelers on the road, and help might take hours. Alas, the purse had been tossed randomly in the cab at the impact, and injured as she was, hanging from straps since the pickup lay on its left side, she had no chance of locating or reaching the purse, even if there had been enough light to see it.
The woman sensed something, a presence that didn't seem right. She looked around from trying to see through the shattered, nearly opaque remains of the windshield, held together only by a plastic film that all safety glass had. She saw nothing, but the presence seemed closer. Dangling from her seat belt and shoulder harness, she looked up toward the sky, toward something that had caught her attention, something which had blotted out even the faint moonlight that had been streaming through the passenger window. The scream which escaped her lips was the last sane sound the woman would ever make.
The creature paused to consider the mind he'd consumed and the knowledge it contained. The times of the tribes in vast tepee villages, roaming the plains after the innumerable bison, those times were done. Though she hadn't excelled in history, the old woman's mind contained enough facts to cause bewilderment to the snake demon. The People lived on things called reservations, no longer chasing the herds? Had they forgotten all their ways, and now dwelt like sheep, passive, heartless, lacking in the skills and courage that had once defined them as a mighty People? And if that were true, had they forgotten or lost the precious artifacts - the sacred bundle of the white buffalo calf woman, the texts painted on the pelts, and most importantly, the sacred sphere, the rough, oblong ball that the father creature desired?
The more he thought, the more troubled the snake demon became. He had to know more. To do that, he had to find one of the People, who would hopefully know more about the location of the tribes. The snake demon began to move north, because the woman's knowledge said that there was a vast village to the north, someplace called Rapid City, and where there were human beings, surely some of the People could be found. Even luckier, the village was near. He might be able to get some answers before he had to hide from the light.
Cecilia Running Waters woke when her dog, fenced in the backyard of the duplex in which she lived, began to bark furiously. She was about to open a window to yell at her dog, to tell it to be quiet, when its barking quit in an agonizing howl, followed by silence broken only by the distant sound of cars driving along St. Patrick street. Concerned for her beloved dog, Cecilia pulled on a robe and slid her feet into her slippers, then darted to the back door, unchaining and unlocking it swiftly. Pausing to grab a flashlight that she kept near the back door, she opened the door, shining the light into the darkness of her yard.
She screamed when her flashlight illuminated a few pieces of her dog, bloodied and rent as if by a chainsaw. She didn't see the creature until it was too late.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I'd hoped to avoid bumping into Ayla or Fey this morning, but the fates conspired against me. No sooner had I wrapped my robe around myself than Ayla walked into the bathroom. "Morning, Kayda," he said cautiously.
"Uhnnn," I grumbled, at least acknowledging his presence and greeting, even if I didn't want to reply.
"Are you having any luck with your classes?" Ayla asked, trying to force some kind of conversation. "Mrs. Hawkins owes me a few favors ...."
"No thank you," I said flatly.
"It wouldn't be any trouble," Ayla continued trying to be civil.
That's all I needed - to owe Ayla and his kind favors. "I said, no thank you," I repeated, a little more forcefully. With that, I stomped out of the bathroom, knowing that Bunny, Rip, Pilar, and a few others were gawking at me, slack-jawed and confused. I didn't particularly care if Ayla's friends and flunkies didn't like me.
When I came into our room, Evvie was getting slipping into her robe so she could shower. She read my facial expression pretty clearly. "Ayla again? Or Fey?"
"Ayla." I plopped my butt down on my bed. "He's _offering_ to help with my class schedule," I said angrily.
"What's wrong with that?" Evvie asked, pausing and not realizing that her robe was hanging open. Damn, but she was a very nice looking girl. I didn't know if I'd ever tire of seeing the girls in Poe.
"Like I want to end up owing him favors! That's all I'd need - having him call in favors to protect his sorry ass by being on his training team!"
Evvie stared at me a moment, and then she laughed aloud, which made me frown. "You don't know much about Team Kimba, do you?" she chuckled.
"No. All I need to know is that it's Ayla's team, and he probably coerced the others onto the team to protect himself."
"Hardly," Evvie said, smiling. "Last fall, there were seven changelings like you who showed up on the first day. Jade, Nikki, Toni, Hank, Ayla, Billie, and Jinn. Well, technically Jinn is Jade's dead sister, so only six showed up, but, well, since they were all changelings, they kind of bonded socially to look out for each other, and they decided to make a training team. It's no more Ayla's team than anyone else's." She chuckled. "As if a Goodkind would have a team named Team Kimba!"
"Oh." I wasn't quite sure I believed the story, but I wasn't going to argue too much.
"Now, promise me you'll wait this time?" Evvie said with a 'stern mother' look.
"Okay, I'll wait." That didn't assuage her; she still had the frown and crossed arms. "I promise," I added quickly, raising my arm up in a Boy Scout sign, which made her laugh.
I used the time to work on catching up in my classes. At least I didn't have algebra any longer, which left me a free first period. I would have worried what I was going to do with my free time, especially since Rosslyn would probably find me and use the opportunity to tease me and try to persuade me to go to the hot-tub party, but I'd had a note in my mailbox the previous evening which said that instead of going to math, I should go to see Dr. Bellows first thing. I was more than a little concerned about that, because I'd been caught by security without an escort twice the day before. And despite working things out with Sensei Tolman, I had been an ass at the start of BMA, and not exactly friendly or outgoing in either magic or English. And I knew that my teachers were reporting my ... conduct ... to Dr. B.
Breakfast went mostly okay, except that I noticed a few guys staring at me with what I knew were lustful, or at least very appreciative, looks. I shuddered inwardly, and found myself fighting my demons as I tried not to over-react. Evvie and Laurie must have noticed, because they both hugged me tightly until I'd calmed down enough that I didn't fear another PTSD episode.
For the third morning in a row, Rosslyn was my 'escort'. "You again?" I asked warily. "Are you stalking me?"
"Maybe," Rosslyn said, smiling coyly. "Or maybe I'm haunting you."
"No, I'm not coming to the hot-tub party."
"Even if I have a surprise for you?" she asked, grinning broadly.
"Especially not if you have a surprise," I countered strongly. "Knowing you, it'd be some kind of Roman orgy or something."
"Nah," she giggled, "but that's not a bad idea! You don't mind if we use it, do you?"
"Ooohhh! You're impossible!"
Rosslyn grasped my hand, which made me a touch uncomfortable. "No, I'm _very_ possible," she purred seductively. "All you have to do is say 'yes' to find that out." She laughed at my discomfort.
"I'm tempted to let you dream-walk with me, just so you can see that I know what I'm doing, and that your tutorials aren't needed!"
"Oooh, some girl-on-girl action! That sounds like one of my fondest dreams! The only thing better would be a three-way." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
I sighed, shaking my head. "I see that I'm going to have to play matchmaker and find you a steady girlfriend so you leave me alone."
Rosslyn giggled. "You're assuming that one girl can keep me satisfied."
Fortunately, we arrived at Dr. Bellows' office, and I escaped her teasing. As I watched her walk off, pausing to blow a kiss over her shoulder, and then swaying her hips in an exaggerated, sexy manner, I couldn't help but wonder, at least for a moment, what it would be like to accept her rather blatant invitation. But Debra would be disappointed, so I banished the thought.
"Good morning, Kayda," Dr. Bellows said, sounding friendly and not at all upset as I'd feared. "Have a seat." He gestured to a chair in front of his desk, which was a huge change from his normal counseling sessions where we sat in the casual, overstuffed furniture.
"Um, okay," I said as I sat warily, wondering what was going on.
Dr. Bellows must have read my anxiety in my voice. "Oh, don't worry. You aren't in trouble. We just have a few details to work out, and I'll need to use my computer." He looked at the screen. "Now, technically Charlie Lodgeman should be doing this, since he's been assigned as your academic advisor. But since he's still on travel, he asked me to get some changes made pronto, and he'll meet with you when he gets back, hopefully this afternoon."
"Uh, who made the request for me to change advisors?" I asked cautiously. Heaven forbid that it was the Goodkind using his connections. I didn't want to owe him squat.
"That's an administrative matter," he said, "so you don't need to worry. Now, according to Ms. Bell, you will no longer be taking Algebra 1, so that frees up your first period. And I've got your transcripts into the system, so you will not be in English I in fourth period."
I could hardly believe my ears. I sat, dumbfounded, my jaw hanging open. "But ... what happened?" I stammered.
"Errors tend to get worked out - eventually. So we can move you to fourth period electronics, and ...."
"No, I like having independent study for electronics. Can we move French?"
"I can put you in French in first period."
"What about Avatars?" I asked. "Mr. Lodgeman and Ms. Grimes both think it's important for me to take Avatars."
Dr. Bellows fiddled with his keyboard. "Hmmm," he muttered to himself. "The only way to work this is to put you in Avatars in first period, but the only French is in fifth period." He fiddled some more. "Since you're in the magic track, you don't really need power theory or power lab, so if we drop those ...."
"Power lab is kind of cool," I found myself saying, much to my surprise. "If ... if I'm going to have to do the combat stuff and martial arts, then probably the lab would be helpful to know how the other ... powers ... can be used for fighting."
Dr. Bellows looked at me, surprised, and then a smile crept over his features. "That makes sense. I'll check with Dr. Quintain to see if you can keep power lab without power theory."
"He'll probably make me do work-study for him in exchange," I said glumly. "As if I have time for that."
"Dropping two classes would get you back to seven, so it might be possible to move your costume class to ...." He looked at the schedules. "We can do French in fifth period, but there's no costume class in fourth, and the only Avatars section this term is first." He shook his head. "Martial Arts is stuck in second period, and intro to magic is stuck in third period, so it looks like you'll have to keep the costume class on Saturdays."
"That's better than what I had," I said. Inwardly, I was feeling elated that something was going right with my schedule, but there was a nagging fear that something was going to screw up all these plans, and at the last minute. "That's ... that sounds good."
Dr. Bellows laughed. "But?"
I gave a half-hearted chuckle. "Every time it seems like something is going right, something gets messed up at the end. I ... I don't want to get my hopes up."
With a smile, Dr. Bellows hit a key on his keyboard. "There. It's final, assuming, of course, that Dr. Quintain will let you do power theory as independent study. No-one can screw it up now without approval from Mrs. Carson." He turned back to face me. "Now, since your power lab is only two days a week, let's talk about Ms. Bell and Dr. Quintain's requests for your work-study time."
Oh, oh. Here came the bad part.
"After seeing your transcripts, Ms. Bell was pretty adamant that you work as a teaching assistant in the math department. At the same time, Dr. Quintain really wants you to work with his team on the pattern problem. He's even offered to set up a college credit independent study class with you for this work."
I let my head loll back until I was staring at the ceiling. "Oh, crap! First, I had bad classes. Now I've got a good class schedule, but the instructors who helped make this happen are both hoping to take away any spare time I might have gained!"
Dr. Bellows laughed. "Do you like teaching?"
"Do you like teaching and tutoring?" he repeated.
"Well, yeah," I said.
"You could try both, you know."
"What?" I was dumbfounded. "I ... I just got a sane schedule, and now you're suggesting that I do two jobs as well? That'll be crazier than ... than what I _had_!"
"Maybe not. Powers lab is only two days a week, right? And your fourth period is now free, which means that you have time to work with Dr. Quintain, and to also spend time as a TA in fourth period or after your electronics class. You'll get college credit working with Dr. Quintain, too."
"I guess," I answered only somewhat enthusiastically.
"The head of the math department would like to see you as soon as we get done. So if you don't have any more questions about your new and improved class schedule, we're done - for now. Of course, you realize that this isn't a substitute for your after-class sessions, don't you?"
"I was afraid you were going to say that," I grumbled, or at least pretended to. The smile gave me away.
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
"I'm coming," the old, weary chief grumbled, limping to the phone. "Hello," he said gruffly.
"What the hell are you trying to do?" the voice on the other end demanded without waiting for pleasantries.
"What ...?" Dan Bear Claws had to clear the cobwebs from his brain; it was still early. "What do you mean, what am I trying to do? You _know_ I'm trying to scare her out of that school."
"Well, your operative screwed up and tried to kill her!" the angry voice chided.
"What? Tried to _kill_ her?" Dan Bear frowned, puzzled. "That ... that can't be! He told me precisely what he was going to do, and I was very clear that there was to be no harm to her!"
"Well, he must have misunderstood, because she got hit near her spine with a very large ice ball that almost killed or paralyzed her."
"That ... that couldn't have been my guy!" Dan protested.
The other voice had no patience. "You better confirm that, and you better make sure it doesn't happen again! She's supposed to come home, but not in a pine box!"
"It _had_ to be someone else!"
There was a long, sharp breath audible on the phone. "Then I suggest that you use whatever contacts you have with other tribes to see if one of _them_ would prefer that she not come back. And you probably should start with the Cheyenne River tribes!"
"I don't have a lot of contacts ..."
"You better find some!" The voice was not in the slightest bit friendly, nor tolerant. "You _do_ know that I'm a shaman, don't you?"
Dan gulped; he hadn't realized how important the woman was. "Now I do."
"I don't need to remind you what will happen to you if anything happens to the Ptesanwi, do I?"
Dan shuddered inwardly. That was no idle threat. "No, of course not."
"And since you can't think of any other strategies, you will do the following." The voice gave a detailed list, and Dan Bear Claws nodded as he scribbled down his instructions.
"That'll be expensive!" he protested.
"Don't worry about the money. Just do it!" The line went dead.
The old, former chief shuddered. The demands were impossible, and yet he was expected to make sure everything happened precisely as he'd been instructed. He didn't dare make any mistakes; one did not lightly cross a shaman.
Crystal Hall, Whateley
The rest of the day had gone wonderfully. Well, not completely wonderfully, but much better than the previous days. I sat at the dinner table, with my friends glancing at me warily, as if they were worried about me.
Finally, Laurie could take no more of the mystery. "Okay, Kayda," she began sternly, "what's up?"
"What do you mean, 'what's up'?" I asked innocently.
"You're not grumbling, pouting, sulking, griping, moaning, groaning, glaring, or frowning, and you don't look like you're ready to tear someone's head off," Evvie replied. "So what's up?"
That made me frown. "I'm not _that_ bad!" I didn't see anything that looked like support for my argument among the girls, so I looked to Adrian and Vasiliy.
The two realized they were being put on the spot, so they looked away - Adrian to his food, and Vasiliy in the general direction of the Berets, to avoid having to answer.
"C'mon," I continued plaintively, "I'm not that bad."
"Not all the time," Laurie chuckled, "but we were starting to wonder if _anything_ could pull you out of your funk."
"Besides the subject of your poster," Naomi added cryptically, winking at me.
It was Laurie's turn to frown. "Poster? What poster?"
"Nothing," I said quickly. While Evvie and Naomi knew of my relationship with Debra, and our rather intimate poster, Laurie and the others didn't, and I intended to keep it that way.
"Did you get a pass to skip martial arts? Is that why you're so happy?" Adrian plopped right back into the conversation.
"No," I frowned, absently rubbing my shoulder where I'd landed in a very limited sparring session. "Sensei Tolman worked my butt off,"
Vasiliy leaned back in his seat and looked at my rear. "Nope. Is still there. Cute, too."
I didn't have to slap him; Laurie did - and not very playfully.
"I had to spar a little, too." I winced at that memory. "I had to spar Charge."
"Isn't she a speedster?"
"Tell me about it," I snorted. "She hit me like five or six times before I could even react to the first smack! Then I got in trouble because Tatanka manifested, and I used my shield spell, when I was supposed to fight without powers."
"Oh, crap!" Laurie and Adrian said together. "Did he hurt her?" Adrian continued.
I chuckled a bit. "No. He stood across the ring, blocking me, so she couldn't get near me. And he glared at her a lot. I think she was a little intimidated." The group laughed at the mental image. "I had to make him go away, and then Charge hit me a few _more_ times, before I got frustrated and used my shield spell." I shook my head. "I couldn't get _near_ her, she's so fast, and she hit me and threw me like I was a rag doll."
"You didn't have any ... troubles ... like yesterday, did you?" Evvie asked, her voice echoing her concern.
"No. Sensei Tolman has me sparring and practicing with a group of girls so that doesn't happen again. But Ito told me that I was going to have to start sparring with boys eventually." I couldn't suppress a nervous shudder. "I don't think I can handle that."
"Okay, so you didn't freak in martial arts," Naomi said. "That's a plus."
"How about magic arts? Was that okay?"
I shook my head. "I got pretty frustrated, because the way Wakan Tanka is teaching me is completely different from how Ms. Grimes teaches, and I got completely confused. And the ... two ... were still being ... rude."
"Where were you at lunchtime?" Adrian asked the obvious question. "You weren't at security again, were you?" he continued warily. "Or did you have to stay after class in magic arts?"
I laughed at that. "No, I had to meet with a few teachers and Dr. Bellows."
Evvie and Naomi shared a knowing look. "You got in trouble again, didn't you?" Evvie said with certainty.
"No, it was about my class schedule," I beamed, unable to contain my glee any longer. "I've got Avatars in first period, and instead of English in fourth period, Dr. Quintain and Ms. Bell both want me doing work-study for them. And instead of fifth period Power Theory, Dr. Quintain said he'd let me self-study if I helped his research, so I'm in French in fifth period, which means I don't have super-late night classes, and I've got avatars, and I don't have English or Algebra!"
"Work study? For the math department? Doing what?" Adrian asked.
"They want to try an experiment. There are a few students who are really pushing to take math a lot faster than the curriculum allows, and that's really a burden on the faculty, so they want me to be a TA and tutor to see if I can help self-study and tutor to get the, quote, pains in the rear, unquote, moving faster without adding work to the faculty." I chuckled. "Considering I have more college math credit than most of the faculty, they must think I can handle that."
"So it's like a real teaching job?"
"Yeah," I grinned. "I used to tutor ... my friend," I caught myself before I slipped and revealed my gender change, "back in high school, so they want me to try. In fact, the deal hinges on whether the students want to try an accelerated program. They're supposed to get a hold of me before next week if they want to try, and then I'll have to work with Ms. Bell to have lesson and homework plans approved."
"Ugh," Naomi said with a grimace. "And that makes you happy?"
I chuckled aloud. "It's fun. And while I'm working with Dr. Quintain, he's sponsoring me for college credit for some serious graduate level classes."
Laurie shook her head, sighing. "You really _are_ a math nerd, aren't you?"
I smiled smugly at her. "Yes, I am, aren't I?"
"So, with no classes tonight, I suppose you'll sequester yourself in your room to study," Naomi suggested, chuckling.
"Not the whole night. Mr. Lodgeman's Native American group meets tonight, so I'm going to see what that's about."
Evvie leaned back suddenly, clutching her hand across her chest as if having a heart attack. "What? Kayda ... is going out?"
"Oh, knock it off."
"Kayda getting a social life is a sign of the apocalypse," Adrian joked. "We better listen for the sounds of the four horsemen!"
That set the tone for the rest of dinner - the others teased me because I was happy and was getting a social life. All in all, it was a good evening.