Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior (Ch 4)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior
Chapter 4 - Itukala na Suka
Thursday, March 22, 2007
After dinner, Laurie, Adrian, and I went to one of the little sitting areas in the quad, where the two of them cuddled a bit while I met with Tatanka in my dream space. It was a little cool, which was fine with me; I was comfortable with weather like that, while Adrian and Laurie cuddled to keep themselves warm - and distracted.
I frowned when the bison led me toward the camp. "I thought you said that I was going to meet another spirit."
"You are," Tatanka said as he meandered between tepees toward the fire ring.
"Here? In the village?" I was confused.
"We could find Itukala anywhere, because he is so adaptable, but it is easy to find him here," Tatanka answered, lying down by the logs surrounding the fire pit.
"Itukala?" I asked, perplexed. "Okay, where is he?"
"Sit by the fire," Tatanka directed me.
Perplexed, I did so. I looked at Tatanka, who was sitting serenely, and at Wakan Tanka, who was meditating across the fire pit from me. When I frowned, Tatanka just smiled at me.
I felt something lightly tugging at my dress, and looking down, I saw a small brown rodent climbing up toward my shoulder. I did what anyone would do when confronted with an unexpected mouse climbing on his or her clothes - I practically jumped off my seat. The other thing I did was _not_ something that I was proud of; I screamed like a girl, which caused Tatanka to laugh uproariously.
The mouse dropped off my shoulder and scurried behind the log on which I sat. After a moment, his head peeked out, looking around nervously, and especially looking uneasily at me.
"Itukala," Tatanka said sternly, "you startled Wihakayda."
The mouse scampered out of its hiding place and sat on its haunches before the buffalo. "I'm sorry, great Tatanka," he squeaked. "She startled _me_!"
"I told you that she might be nervous about meeting you," Tatanka chided the mouse. "Now go meet her. She has much to learn, and you can help her."
Itukala bowed, and then nervously came before me. "I'm sorry, Wihakayda," he said apologetically. "You startled me."
I shook my head in disbelief. A mouse was going to teach me something? It wasn't like I was afraid of mice - growing up on a farm, mice and rats were a common problem, but we usually let the cats deal with them. "You startled _me_!" I countered.
"Perhaps, but you startled me more, and you're much bigger!" Itukala rebutted. "Besides, you're the one that Tatanka said is learning, not teaching." He scrambled up my dress and perched on my shoulder. "In some ways, Wihakayda," he said, "we are alike, and in some ways, we are very different."
"Oh? I suppose _you_ have been spying on me, too?" I shot a glare at Tatanka, who shrugged and looked away.
Itukala laughed, an odd sounding squeaking chuckle that could never be taken as anything angry or threatening, only amusing. "You are the Ptesanwi," Itukala said reverently. "Tatanka need not tell me important details like that. It is obvious to any who pay attention."
"Oh?" I was surprised at the revelation of what he already knew. "And what else?"
"You are young, and you make many mistakes, because you haven't learned yet," Itukala said. "You confuse what is important with what is unimportant."
"How would you know what's happening in my life?" I frowned at what he said.
"It is who I am," Itukala answered mysteriously. "Tell me, if you had a foe who wished you harm, and another with whom you'd only had a minor quarrel over a misunderstanding, which one would deserve most of your attention?"
"Easy. The one who wishes you harm."
"And yet, there are those who wish you harm that you don't concern yourself with, while you fret needlessly over issues like your instructors." He stared me unnervingly in the eyes. "Which one is unimportant?"
"The ... teachers?"
Itukala smiled. "Good. You must strive to discern the truly important from the unimportant, and then not worry about the latter."
"Okay, so I'm not so good at that. We're different."
"Not only that, but a part of being discerning is to pay attention to your surroundings, to things and events, so you are alert to danger," Itukala added. "Tell me, which animals fear me?"
"Um, none?" I guessed.
"Correct," Itukala confirmed. "Mato, the bear, Sungmanitu, the coyote, Ceda, the hawk, Wabli, the eagle, Hiha, the silent owl of the night, Igmu Taka, the cougar, Sugila, the fox, Sugmanitu Hota, the wolf, Thunkasan, the weasel, Skecathanka, the wolverine - these, and more, not only do not fear me, they hunt me. So how do I survive with so many enemies?"
"Uh, luck? Numbers?" I speculated.
"Partially," Itukala answered, but then he sat back on his haunches, still perched on my shoulder. "Luck I have. Numbers of us, there are," he squeaked in a really bad imitation of Yoda. "Sufficient, these are not. More must I have. Aware of my surroundings I must be. Like a Jedi, mmm?"
I couldn't keep a straight face. The tiny Itukala, squeaking in an amusing attempt to imitate of the ancient Jedi master, was comical. "Learn of my culture, you did!" I answered back, laughing aloud.
"In many place I can hide," Itukala replied with a grin. "In homes, schools, and even theaters. I know more of your strange culture than almost all of the other spirits, because I can watch, unobserved. And how do I know these things?" He didn't wait for me to answer. "It is because I pay attention to detail, especially my surroundings and dangers to me. I pay attention, and learn, and remember."
"Are you saying I don't do those things?" I challenged him.
"Not well. You have started," he added quickly. "You use your magic to protect yourself at times, which means that you are learning. But you place yourself in danger frequently by not paying attention to all of the details and dangers."
I frowned. "You said we are alike in some ways. But the way you're talking, it sounds like we have nothing in common."
Itukala squeaked out a chuckle. "Despite the brave face you paint, you are shy under new circumstances and events, and around new people," he said, "like me. You are determined to adapt and survive, like me, but sometimes you overdo your determination a little."
"I would call it stubborn," Tatanka butted in, earning a scowl from me, but a titter from Itukala.
"Okay," I said cautiously. "So I have a few things to learn."
Itukala looked at Tatanka. "And you told me she was too stubborn."
I frowned at Tatanka as he winced. Then I stuck my tongue out at him, only realizing too late that it was a very girly thing to do.
Laughing, Itukala hopped down from my shoulder and ran to Tatanka. The two of them seemed to be engaged in some type of conversation, and after a moment, Tatanka nodded, looking at me. I wondered what the white buffalo was up to.
"I believe it's time for you to go to your meeting," Tatanka said plainly, offering no hint of what he and the mouse had been discussing. "Your friends are waiting to escort you there."
I started at the reminder. "Oh, yeah. I guess I better go."
"And of course you know Stonebear," Stormwolf said as he introduced me to some of the Native American group. Stonebear was a member of the Wild Pack, and thus one of the security auxiliaries that I'd seen off and on over the past several days.
"Nice to see you casually," I chuckled to Stonebear. He wasn't in his body armor, but was wearing traditional Paiute shirt, and he looked a little uncomfortable, almost as if he was uncomfortable without his Wild Pack armor. Stonebear wasn't as tall as Stormwolf, but he was almost as physically imposing, and no doubt many of the girls found him attractive.
"I hope you can stay out of trouble for a few days," he retorted with a grin. "It gets boring to deal with your issues time after time."
There was a trio that seemed to be inseparable; an older woman who I was told was from the local Medawihla tribe and their representative to many school affairs and boards, a young girl who seemed to be highly observant and quiet but looked nothing like the woman, and a girl who looked like she was a human-panther hybrid, with cat-like ears and blue cat-eyes. Her body was lightly furry, and everyone stayed back from her a bit, because, as Stormwolf told me, she generated a large electrical charge.
Stormwolf made sure he introduced me to the members; Lupine was very distinctive, with white hair and striking yellow eyes that seemed more animal than human. She didn't mention her tribe, but was watching me, cocking an eyebrow when I mentioned that I was Lakota.
Flux was a Chickasaw from Oklahoma; I'd seen him around Poe, but I never formally met him. He seemed a little bored by the event, which seemed common among the guys. I could tell both Stonebear and Stormwolf were itching to leave, and Flux probably wasn't far behind them.
Lifeline was interesting; whether her ash-blonde hair was due to genetics or her mutation was an open question; in either case, she didn't appear so much Native American as much as a well-tanned average high-school girl. She hailed from Kansas, so she had a refreshing down-home manner about her, unlike all those coastal big-city types that always seemed so pretentious, at least to me. She didn't mention what tribe she was from, but Wakan Tanka guessed that she was Kickapoo.
Mindfist, Rachael Harriston, from Alaska, was definitely not an exemplar, but she was still quite cute, in a Native American way. Her tall, athletic, curvy body was definitely not stereotypical Inuit, but her skin tone and hair were definitely Amerindian.
One of the other girls, who was introduced by her code name Crimson, even though someone told me her name was Felicia Kingston, was from the coastal Washington state area, and was Chinook. Her long, wavy brunette hair had a small touch of red, but that intriguing look clashed with her slate-gray eyes. She was a junior, and a member of a training team that, if rumor was to be believed, was sponsored by the Syndicate. That fit; there was a mysterious air about her, as if she was constantly on the lookout for trouble.
Bluejay, Jay Blue-Lake, was a Chumash from southern California. He seemed to have a mischievous twinkle in his eye that made me want to watch out for trickery from him. His alpha pin marked him as one of the campus elite; I couldn't help thinking that someone like him would feel he was too good to hob-nob with 'normal' students like the Native American group.
Skinwalker, a tall Apache from Arizona, seemed friendly but a little reserved. Perhaps it was just me, but he seemed to be observing me closely. It might also have been the distinctive dark tattooed designs on his arms and face that were quite unusual, and thus drew attention to himself.
It wasn't hard to guess that Slapshot was Canadian, based on the small Canadian flag pin he wore on his shirt collar. A member of the Canadian First Nations, he was from the Chippewa tribe. He looked like he was a hockey player - although he still had a full set of teeth, and he looked rather serious, like he'd forgotten how to look happy!
"And you know Stonebear," Stormwolf said with a wry smile.
"It's nice to see you without having to fill out a report afterwards," Stonebear joked. Then he frowned. "You _aren't_ going to make us fill out paperwork tonight, are you?"
"Not if I can help it," I chuckled back at him.
Stonebear grinned. "Good. I have the night off, or at least that's the theory."
Stormwolf introduced me to the final two girls present. "Mechanisma, this is Kayda," he said ineloquently. He turned to me. "You'll have to bear with her; she's one of those insufferably-arrogant Texans!' he joked.
The girl stuck her tongue out at Stormwolf, and then smiled pleasantly at me. "I've heard of you," she said, drawing a surprised look from me. "Some of the guys in the lab say that you're a gadgeteer, too." She was cute, but not exemplar-beautiful, but in the labs deep in the bowels of Whateley, that was probably more than attractive enough for the hordes of guys in lab-coats. The tiny bit of Southern drawl in her voice added charm that was probably a huge hit in the ranks of the technophiles.
"I've kind of had a thing for mechanical stuff since I can remember," I replied lightly. "My preliminary testing showed that I'm a bit of a gadgeteer."
"Good," Mechanisma smiled. "It's always nice to have other girls in the lab. Strength in numbers and all that, you know."
"And last, but not least, is Wind Runner," Stormwolf introduced me to one of the other girls in the meeting room. "She tries to keep things running when Totem is out of town," he added.
"That's been rather frequently of late," Lifeline chuckled.
"Yeah, and I heard that it's because of you," Skinwalker laughed.
Wind Runner's laugh sounded forced, and she was looking quite critically at me, although I didn't really understand why. She was pretty, and her features made Wakan Tanka guess that she was from the desert southwest - perhaps Hopi or Navajo. She was a couple of inches shorter than me, and a little thinner, almost starving-waif model thin. I was prettier, though, I realized, and her envious or critical look could easily be jealousy from a rival in the looks department. I held out my hand to her. "I'm Kayda," I said, and saw Stormwolf raise an eyebrow. "Er, Pejuta," I added quickly. It wasn't clear when I should use my code name and when I should use my real name.
"What tribe are you registered with?" Lupine asked, eyeing me cautiously. With those yellow eyes, it looked almost creepy.
I winced; Wind Runner seemed to be almost glaring at me and the attention I was getting. "Uh, I'm not," I answered, noting Wind Runner's look of triumph or relief - I couldn't tell which. "My grandmother Little Doe is full-blooded Lakota, so I'm eligible, but my brother and I haven't been enrolled yet."
"Which tribe?" Lupine asked curiously, having been listening in.
"Sicangu," I answered without hesitation. "Grandmother Little Doe grew up on the Rosebud reservation."
"I'm of the Wolf Clan," Lupine said in a hushed voice, obviously wanting to keep her tribal affiliation secret.
I felt my eyes bugged out. "According to my grandmother, that clan ... disappeared - a very long time ago."
With a wry smile, Lupine said, "The reports of our deaths are greatly exaggerated."
"Mark Twain, paraphrased," I chuckled.
Lupine seemed surprised. "Most people don't recognize the quote. Do you like literature?"
I shook my head, laughing. "No. While I do like some science fiction, I much prefer math."
"Too bad. We're always looking for new members in the Whateley Literary Club."
"The Lit Chix?" I asked, smiling. "My ... friend ... Debra told me about the club." I saw her puzzled expression. "She graduated last year, and helped save me from the MCO back home."
"Oh." Lupine wrinkled her nose. "It's the Literary Club," she reiterated, letting me know that she didn't think much of the nickname the club had acquired. "You look more than one quarter Lakota." She'd decided to change the subject, halting at least temporarily her recruitment effort.
"I got a little bonus when I manifested," I said with a smile.
A few others who were gathered around and listening in chuckled. "Yeah, we all understand _that_!" one guy laughed, imagining, I'm sure, that I was merely an exemplar who'd gotten more attractive with my manifestation. I wasn't about to disabuse anyone of that notion.
"There are several members who aren't here," Stormwolf explained, as if excusing the small turnout. In fact, it was a little larger club than I'd expected, and if some weren't here, the Native Americans were well-represented on campus - perhaps more-so than in the population as a whole. I wondered about that; were Native Americans more likely to manifest? Perhaps it would be something to ask Charlie Lodgeman about sometime - if I remembered.
"You probably know Riptide; she's from Poe."
"Yeah, she's a couple of doors down from me," I explained.
"Another one from Poe is Heyoka," Stormwolf continued. "Thunderbird, Mule, and Hardsell round out the guys, and Aztecka, Swoop, and Pristine are the rest of the girls. When they're here, that is," he added.
"Sounds like a rather diverse group," I said casually.
"There are others who aren't members, despite being enrolled in various tribes."
Some of the group seemed rather puzzled to see Stormwolf present, and I was certain that rumors were going to start, because Stormwolf and the Wild Pack had been spending a lot of time watching and escorting me. I felt a slight tinge of nausea at the thought of even salacious rumors about me and _any_ guy. Knowing the connections and friendships that existed, I didn't doubt that someone was still in touch with Debra, and she'd eventually hear some of these rumors. That, in turn, meant that I'd have to talk to her first, just in case.
The meeting was actually rather boring, with a little drumming and singing of traditional songs, plus a Navajo game. By the end of the meeting, I understood why Stormwolf didn't attend many meetings. Still, it was socializing a little, which I hadn't done.
Just as we were about to break up, Mr. Lodgeman arrived. "Sorry I'm late," he apologized. "I've spent the last several days helping with a couple of ... urgent research projects, including a marathon day and a half at HPARC in the Black Hills. If they hadn't had a warper bring me back, I wouldn't be back until late tomorrow." His face lit up in a smile when he saw me, and he changed direction to come to the little group I was talking with. "Kayda," he said as he clasped my hands, "it's good to see you. How are you adjusting to Whateley?"
I guess that my derisive snort gave away a general mood. "It's been ... different," I admitted, stealing a glance at Wind Runner, who'd looked like she'd sucked on a lemon. I gathered, from the way things went, that she was expecting Mr. Lodgeman to talk to her, since she was the putative head of the group, and she was highly upset that he'd come to me first.
Mr. Lodgeman chuckled. "I understand you've had a few problems." He shot a glance at Stormwolf, who was standing near me.
"A few," I admitted. "Nothing as bad as back home, but ...." I shrugged, not wanting to say more in front of others, even though Stormwolf probably knew eighty percent of what I might have told Mr. Lodgeman.
"Dr. Bellows has kept me informed. I understand he got your classes straightened out today?"
I couldn't help but grin at that. "Yeah. But I have to figure out if I want to work with Ms. Bell as a TA or do work-study with Dr. Quintain."
Around me, jaws fell. I was new on campus, and I was being recruited to be a teaching assistant in the math department.
"Get ahold of me tomorrow when you get a chance. Since I'm your official advisor, I'd like to meet to review your schedule and plans." He started to turn away, and then turned back, like he had an afterthought. "I need to talk with you about your ... adventures while traveling here."
He nodded. "We'll talk more tomorrow."
"Mr. Lodgeman, can I ask a question?"
"Why is this group only informal? If it was a recognized group, it could use campus resources, and maybe even have a reserved meeting hall or hangout."
Some of the guys around me perked up a bit at that suggestion. "I don't think anyone's ever suggested it," Mr. Lodgeman answered with an interested expression.
"And ... um ...." I wasn't sure I wanted to continue.
"Go on, Kayda," he prompted me with a smile.
"Uh, Wakan Tanka was telling me I should learn some, um, traditional fighting skills," I managed to stammer. "You know, like the bow, lance, and tomahawk. And, um ...."
Around me, the jaws repeated their downward trip, but whether that was from my name-dropping, or from my suggestion, I couldn't tell. Mr. Lodgeman, however, wasn't one of those surprised. "And you were wondering if perhaps this group might be a place to learn and practice those skills, right?" For not being an esper or telepath, Mr. Lodgeman was dead-on reading my intentions.
"Yeah. I mean, maybe it'd be cool if we went out camping native style, and had some skills games and challenges. And cooked and ate some traditional foods."
Stormwolf chuckled. "In case you hadn't noticed, Kayda," he said, "there aren't a lot of buffalo to hunt around these parts anymore."
"But perhaps we could simulate some hunts and such," Mr. Lodgeman countered. "You know, Kayda, that might be a very good idea you had. If you kids were a formally-recognized group, you could use the simulators to do more ... adventurous ... native skills."
"Like a buffalo hunt," Lupine said, grinning.
Mr. Lodgeman laughed. "That might be a lot of fun. I have to warn you, though, that if, and I repeat, _if_, you get formal recognition, do _not_ get your hopes up of seeing me putting on a sim suit and chasing after buffalo!"
"I don't think Tatanka would let _me_ weasel out of that," I said with a grin.
Lupine eyed me warily. "Tatanka? Wakan Tanka?" She obviously recognized the names, and probably the importance.
I realized that I'd said too much. I glanced around nervously, and then looked at Lupine, and gestured to one side with a very small head tilt and sideways glance with my eyes. She caught my hint, and when I excused myself, she followed discretely.
"So, what's up with Tatanka and Wakan Tanka?" she asked again when we were away from the others.
"Um, my avatar spirit is Tatanka," I said hesitantly.
"Pretty cool," Lupine replied. "You've got a buffalo spirit. How does that tie in to Wakan Tanka?"
"No. Not _a_ buffalo spirit. _The_ buffalo spirit. White Tatanka." After I spoke, I wondered if I should have kept my mouth shut.
"_The_ white Tatanka?" Lupine's eyes were wide as saucers. "That is _sooo_ cool!"
"Yeah, well, most of the time he's pretty cool, but sometimes he's a pain in the rear." I glanced around. "On the honor of the Wolf Clan, I have to ask you to not tell anyone."
"It will be secret," she said solemnly. "Does Mr. Lodgeman know?"
I nodded. "Yeah. He dream-walked with me to help me understand my spirits." Oops. I should have used the singular form. Fortunately, either Lupine didn't notice, or she ignored what I'd just said.
"And Wakan Tanka?" Lupine asked, her voice carrying a bit of reverence and awe.
I shrugged. I couldnt tell her that I was the Ptesanwi. "She ... sometimes speaks to me," I explained cautiously, "in my dreams."
Lupine's eyes narrowed as she studied me carefully. I felt intimidated by her piercing gaze, but eventually, she just nodded. We conversed a while longer more; I was curious about the wolf clan, and she was curious about what I knew of my tribe - which sadly was only what Grandmother Little Doe had taught me.
"You've got to come back, especially when Heyoka is here," Lupine said eagerly. "He'd be so interested in talking with you."
"Your tea," Wakan Tanka called to me as I sat down by the fire pit, handing me a gourd full of her magic brew.
"Who is Heyoka?" I asked. "I was young when Grandmother told me the stories - _if_ she did. I don't really remember anything."
Wakan Tanka had a puzzling expression. I couldnt tell if she was upset or concerned or amused. "Heyoka is ... the sacred clown. He is a jester and clown, and most importantly, he is a teacher."
"A clown - as a teacher?"
"Heyoka is a contrary Wakan person. If this Heyoka of whom Lupine speaks is truly Heyoka, heir of the tradition of Black Elk, then he holds the spirit of the Wakinyan, the thunderbird."
"What do you mean, contrary? What is his role?" I was curious about this sacred clown.
"Heyoka acts backwards. If food is scarce, he will complain about being full. In the cold snows, he will wander around naked complaining about how hot it is."
"That sounds ... stupid." I took a big sip of tea.
"Heyoka teaches through satire by making the People think. Heyoka says those things people are afraid to say, and challenges beliefs that people aren't really certain of."
I nodded. "That sounds like one of my teachers back home."
"What is Heyoka doing here?" Wakan Tanka asked, which I took as a rhetorical question. She sighed, and looked at me. "You must find out. Heyoka's presence here, so far from our ancestral lands, is odd."
"Some would say the same of Ptesanwi and Tatanka," I said with a smirk.
Wakan Tanka frowned. "You have been spending far too much time with Tatanka. He is being a bad influence on you."
When I snapped out of my dream space, I noticed that Mr. Lodgeman was watching me, not like I was in trouble or like I was doing something wrong, but like he was merely observing. He disengaged from the conversation around him and meandered over to me.
"Another dream walk?" he asked with a knowing smile.
I shrugged. "Sometimes, Wakan Tanka wants to talk to me. Sometimes, I need to talk to her. It's a convenient break at times."
He laughed. "Just don't make a habit of doing that during your classes."
After a while, the group started to break up, so I decided that maybe I should go back to Poe to do some studying. Stormwolf had left earlier, with a promise that two security officers would escort me to Poe. When I protested, he was adamant; there was something unknown afoot, and Chief Delarose wasn't taking any chances with me.
Mr. Lodgeman called for the security guards when I was ready to leave. He, too, wasn't about to take a chance with my safety. I had to wait until two guards showed up outside our meeting room, one glancing in and scanning the room.
"My chaperones are here," I told Mr. Lodgeman, rolling my eyes at the thought that I'd require a security escort. "I bet I look like a total weenie."
"You aren't going to buck orders again, are you?"
I sighed. "No, sir." I walked out to the waiting guards.
Their eyes fixed on me. "Kayda Franks?" one of them asked politely but firmly. His nametag read Lindon.
"Yes," I answered, feeling more than a trifle nervous.
"We're to escort you back to your cottage," Officer Lindon spoke.
I glanced at the second officer, feeling a bit wary for some reason. "Hi," I said, putting on a smile."
The second officer, Matthews from the nametag on his uniform, didn't answer, or so much as blink, but he stared at me with an impassive, creepy look in his eyes.
"Lyle is pissed that his favorite basketball team isn't going to the final four," Officer Lindon laughed. "He's been glaring at people and growling since he came on shift."
With a wave back to Lupine, I started toward the stairs.
"Elevator. The tunnels are safer," Matthews said firmly. There was absolutely no emotion in his voice, and the vacant stare in his eyes was really getting on my nerves.
Neither officer said anything in the elevator, and once in the tunnels, we walked for a ways, while Officer Lindon made small talk about Whateley - he understood I was new here, how did I like it, where was I from. Standard issue chit-chat. The second officer, though, was stone-cold silent, and when I stole a glance over my shoulder, his eyes seemed to be intently focused on me. He was making me very nervous, so I turned back to chat with Officer Lindon
The sudden click and a boom echoed strangely in my ears as sound reverberated from the tunnel walls. Startled, I turned around - and my jaw fell open. The second officer, Officer Matthews, had his rifle leveled at Lindon, and wisps of thin vapor still drifted from the barrel. Lindon's eyes were wide open, and his body was sliding down the wall of the tunnel, leaving a red smear behind staining the rock.
Expressionless, Officer Matthews swung his heavy firearm toward me, his murderous intent only too clear. I barely had time to invoke a shield before the gun barked again, and then four more times in rapid succession. Sparks flew from my shield at the impact points of the bullets, and the shield itself was severely weakened by the sheer energy that the impacts of five thirty-caliber bullets had imparted to it. I had no idea how much more the shield spell would last under that ferocious assault.
I did what anyone would do in such a situation - I turned and ran, blindly and frantically, while behind me, the rifle barked again and again, and my magical energy was being drained to hold up the shield, the only thing that was keeping me alive. I turned down a hall, which I thought led to an elevator, or at least should go past other labs.
From one door, a couple of heads poked out, curious about the sound echoing through the halls, but when they heard more shots and saw Officer Matthews chasing me, firing, they ducked back into the lab, and I heard the door being bolted shut. Damn - if I'd have been six or seven feet further down the corridor, I could have ducked in too. When I saw the door more closely as I sprinted past it, I realized that would have done no good. The door didn't look nearly heavy enough to stop the rifle.
I ducked down one side hall which dead-ended in a stairwell that only went down. Terrified, hoping for the best, I dashed down the stairs, hearing his heavy boot-steps running behind me. I exited and ran to a T in the corridors, and without thinking, I sprinted to the left, figuring that most people went right, and if Officer Matthews hadn't seen me, he might run to the right as well. Anything for a little extra space between me and the murderous security officer.
I hadn't fooled him, and he was following me like a bloodhound. I passed an elevator, but instinct told me that even if a car was there, waiting, by the time the doors shut, Officer Lyle would have caught up and I'd be dead.
What the hell was this guy's problem? I knew some security officers didn't like me, but this was ridiculous! He was trying his best to kill me! And if that wasn't bad enough, it was late, and the tunnels were mostly empty because it was nearing curfew.
Another shot rang out, and I felt my shield take the impact. I didn't know how, but I was grateful that it was still there, because I knew that I'd have long since been dead without it.
Around a corner was another door, so without bothering to think, I crashed through it. Damn - another staircase that only went down. I cursed the tunnel designers who apparently hadn't planned any emergency exits with stairs that went up, or at least not any close to where I needed them.
As I passed a landing at different tunnel level, I heard the distinctive sound of boot steps on the stairs above me, I kicked the door open, and then using its slamming to hide my own footsteps, I slipped quietly down to the next level, grateful that I was wearing my moccasins because they were silent.
I huddled by the door the next level down, eyes wide with fear, as the door above crashed open and heavy boots clomped out of the stairwell. The sound paused for a moment, and I figured that Officer Matthews was looking or listening for me in the corridor above.
Quietly, cautiously, I pried open the lower door, and eased myself out into the maze of tunnels, doing my best to keep the door closing silent. Unfortunately, as the door shut, the latch slipped past the metal frame and into the striker plate, making an audible click that sounded like it was a hundred decibels. Eyes wide with fear, I dashed down the tunnel, randomly taking branches as I struggled through the maze. Behind me, I heard the door crash open and running footsteps pursuing me again. I dashed along the halls, hoping to find some way to escape the crazed officer.
Something seemed familiar about this corridor. I turned, and within fifty feet, I ran headlong into a security guard outside a restricted lab area. He looked up at me sharply. "Do you have authorization ...?"
"He's trying to kill me!" I screamed. "Matthews is trying to kill me! You've got to help!" The phrase panic-stricken was completely inadequate to describe the terror I felt.
The officer's countenance instantly changed; what I had said sounded serious, but he was professional enough to know that I might be a ruse. His hand slipped down to his sidearm as he stood, giving him freedom of motion. "Who is trying to kill ...?"
Officer Matthews came around the corner, following my screamed pleas for help. Impassively, as he slowed to a stop, he raised his rifle and deliberately and callously shot the officer at the security station. I watched as the man crumpled, bleeding, and I turned back, confused, scared, and knowing that I was probably going to die. "Why?" I asked simply, feeling my eyes crying at what I'd seen and what I was certain was about to happen.
"You won't escape me this time, Wihakayda." The words came out of a sneer, but they sounded forced, like Officer Matthews wasn't used to speaking. He swung his rifle toward me, and time seemed to nearly stop. I realized, belatedly, that he'd spoken Lakota, and further, he'd called me by the name Wakan Tanka used. What the hell was going on?
I cast my spell again, but found that my magic energy was nearly drained. Still, it stiffened the shield enough to deflect two bullets from near point-blank range. There was only one thing I could think of. Tatanka manifested on command, and after a moment to understand the situation, he turned and charged toward Officer Matthews.
Shots rang out, and I screamed in agony as it felt like my guts were being torn asunder. One after another, three bullets hit Tatanka before he head-butted Officer Matthews sharply. The transference of pain from Tatanka to me was definitely a down-side to being able to manifest the brute, even if he was a good fighter.
The deranged officer dodged at the last second, avoiding the horn which would have ripped him open like a paper bag, but he was still tossed across the hall. His dexterity, however, was amazing, and he landed on his feet, getting another shot into Tatanka while the white bison turned. I felt the searing pain of the shot, and it staggered me.
Tatanka was losing his effectiveness, but he still had fight in him. He swung his head sharply, and I saw the spray of blood and guts as he tore open the belly of Officer Matthews.
The officer stopped, and looked down at his horribly mutilated abdomen, and then he laughed. "You have to do better than that, Wihakayda!" With his intestines spilling out of the open, bleeding wound, he shot at Tatanka, this time having switched his gun to fully automatic, and I felt a row of spikes driving into my own body as Tatanka's pain was transferred to me.
This time I did slip backwards, falling against the downed officer who Officer Matthews had so callously murdered. I was fighting the searing pain transferred from my white buffalo, agony through my entire torso as the rampaging officer put shot after shot into Tatanka, until finally, too damaged to maintain his manifestation, Tatanka vanished in a wisp of cloud.
Officer Matthews turned toward me, his face still expressionless, but his voice taunting. "The bitch chose poorly, didn't she Wihakayda?" Without monologueing, which I'd secretly hoped he'd do, giving me a second or two to think of something, anything, that I could do. I was out of options. There was only one thing left in my bag of tricks - I cast my ghost-walking spell.
When I saw the look of confusion on Officer Matthew's face, I realized that the spell had hidden me. Almost too late, I rolled to the side when I realized that Matthews would probably shoot where he'd last seen me. The shots were fired blindly, and one ripped into my left thigh, a red-hot poker of flesh-rending pain that made me scream. I lost my focus even as a second shot tore into my ribcage on my side, probably shattering ribs, and the silvery hue around Officer Matthews vanished as my ghost-walking spell collapsed. I tried, desperately, to pull myself back, as if somehow getting myself a few inches further from that deadly thirty-caliber rifle would spare me. It was a foolish hope.
Until my hand hit something metal. I knew instantly, as I slid backward through the pool of my own blood and that of whatever officer had been gunned down moments ago, what the object was. But I had no time. Officer Matthews raised the gun, and I could see his finger squeezing the trigger. I closed my eyes, flinching, knowing that death was milliseconds away.
The loud click caught me by surprise, but it was an even bigger surprise to Officer Matthews, or the thing that was animating him, for he was clearly being powered by some unnatural force that wasn't disturbed by having rent human guts cascading from his belly. I had a good idea of what that force was, unfortunately.
As he snarled, and then reached for a magazine, I clutched at the foreign object I'd backed into, and my eyes wide with fear, I pulled the handgun up beside me. I knew the gun well from its feel, and from having seen it on many security officers - it was a standard issue Beretta 92FS. My mom had one, and I'd cut my teeth shooting handguns with it.
Agony ripped through me as I tried to bring the gun up two-handed. My leg and ribs sent wave after wave of pain through me, and the damage sustained by Tatanka had transferred to me and seriously weakened me. The sight picture blurred and wobbled all over, defying my attempts to line up on Officer Matthews, while he slapped home a fresh magazine and reached for the bolt release.
The Beretta barked once, twice, and then over and over. Officer Matthews staggered, but kept struggling to raise the rifle toward me, while I fired shot after shot into his head and upper torso. The Beretta slide locked open as my hand fell to the ground and my vision faded to gray.
Doyle Medical Complex
Slowly, sound filtered back into my brain. I wasn't sure quite what it was at first, but I could hear people talk loudly, noisily, and with a great sense of urgency. I didn't try to open my eyes at first, though.
"How's her blood pressure?" someone asked. It sounded like Dr. Guitterez, who I'd met in the ER only days before.
"Eight-five over fifty-five, but it's stable."
"She's lucky she's a regenerator," I heard the doctor say. "Or she wouldn't have made it this far."
I felt something tugging at my clothes, and through the pain, it felt a little drafty. I moaned, trying to ask what was going on.
"She's conscious," I heard the doctor say, concerned. "Get her under, stat! Is the OR ready?"
Moments later, there was a slight burning sensation in my arm, and then the pain started to fade as a mask was slipped over my face.
Friday, March 23, 2007 - shortly after midnight
"I think she's coming around," a voice said. I didn't recognize who had spoken. "Kayda? Kayda, can you hear me?"
I tried to open my eyes, but they refused to respond. My throat felt raw, and my mouth was dry. "Uhhh," I mumbled, trying but unable to form a word.
"Kayda, don't fight. Lie still and let the anesthesia wear off."
I was content to follow that advice because I hurt too much and didn't have the strength to do much more. I let the world of dreams and shadows reclaim me.
Gradually, I managed to pry open an eye, but I flinched at the bright lights. "Sore," I croaked.
"Open up, Kayda," someone said. "It's an ice chip for you to suck on to moisten your mouth." I let them slip the ice into my mouth. The cool liquid melting from the sliver of ice soothed my throat and helped dissipate the gunk I felt was gumming up my mouth.
"More," I croaked, a little less hoarsely. I managed to open my eyes enough to see a nurse standing beside me, leaning over toward me to slip me another ice chip. I let myself sag back, and I seemed to float away again as my brain tried to process the information that didn't make sense. I was in a hospital room, and the clock that I'd spotted behind the nurse seemed to indicate around two thirty. Two thirty? Morning or afternoon? How long had I been out?
"Kayda? Kayda, can you hear me?" It was Mrs. Shugendo's voice. Oh shit, I was in really deep trouble if Mrs. Shugendo was here personally. That meant it was two-thirty in the afternoon, which in turn meant I'd been out for about seventeen hours.
I moaned, or something, still not wanting to open my eyes and admit the searing pain of the bright lights. My head hurt anew. When I'd passed out, I must have hit it again.
"Kayda, can you hear me?" Mrs. Shugendo asked again.
"Uh huh," I mumbled affirmatively.
"Can you tell us what happened? Do you remember?" Ms. Hartford asked insistently.
Crap. I was in deep trouble if both Mrs. Shugendo and Ms. Hartford were there. "Unh," I mumbled, feeling fatigue washing over me, making me want to shut my senses and sleep. But there was something I had to tell them. The problem was that my head felt like it was swimming and my thoughts wouldn't coalesce, and I had almost no strength.
"Kayda," another voice said, "This is Chief Delarose. Do you know what happened?" I didn't need his intro to recognize his voice, too. I'd spent way too much time in his company already.
"Officer ... tried ...." My voice faded off as I fought fatigue again. I just wanted to go to sleep. "Unh ...."
"Who shot you? Officer Matthews?" It was the Chief speaking.
"Uh huh," I muttered softly.
"Did he shoot Lindon and Hicks, too?"
"Yeah," I mumbled, even more softly.
They must have thought I'd fallen asleep, or had slipped into unconsciousness again, when in reality I was just too tired to respond. Ms. Hartford curtly asked the Chief, "What happened?"
Chief Delarose didn't sound happy. "Based on a quick view of the security footage, Matthews turned his gun on Lindon without warning and shot him, then fired multiple times at Kayda. It appears that she had some kind of shield or force generator, because nothing hit her, and there are some energy flares close to her at the times Matthews shot. She ran, and ended up going down to the fourth level, with Matthews following her. Kayda stopped outside the restricted biolabs, presumably to ask for help from Hicks. Matthews arrived and shot him, and fired at Kayda again. She manifested her buffalo, which Matthews fired repeated at, the buffalo demanifested, and then Matthews had to reload. That's when Kayda used Hicks' gun to shoot and kill Matthews. It was thirty-five seconds from Matthews' first shot until Kayda stopped him. We didn't even get an alert to the whole team or get to lockdown." He sounded very frustrated by his last bit of news. "We were lucky the first teams found Kayda and Lindon so quickly."
"What is going on with her?" Mrs. Shugendo asked, the frustration in her voice clear as a bell. "Psychic intrusions and harassment is one thing, but blatant attempted murder, and by a security officer?"
"The doctors said Lindon will make it. Hicks, though ...." The chief's voice trailed off, and I knew what he meant without having to hear the words.
"Some of the men were saying that Matthews was acting funny all day today. There are several peculiar facts here. What has Louis' attention is that, in the footage, it looks like Kayda's buffalo all but disemboweled Matthews, but he stood in place as if nothing happened. How many people do you know who can continue fighting when their guts have been put through a blender?"
Ms. Hartford whistled softly. "What causes a security officer to become homicidal like this? And to continue to fight even though, by all rights, he should have been mortally wounded and down?"
"Louis thinks some demon force was animating him. It's the only thing that would explain his ability to fight after the gut injury. He very specifically stated that no-one touch Matthews' body, but that we get someone from Psychic Arts or ARC Black Section to come and take a look. He thinks it might be ... contaminated by something ... nasty."
I tried to open my eyes, but I was too tired. "Unhce ...." I mumbled.
"What?" Both Hartford and Delarose asked.
"Unh ... ce ... gila," I finished saying. Just talking was sapping all my strength.
"Get Reverend Englund to have a look. He's dealt with this kind of thing before."
"I already contacted him. And I got ahold of ARC. They'll call when they're at the scene. Security has a perimeter set up to keep everyone away in the meantime."
Mrs. Shugendo sighed heavily. "What do we do with Kayda? Confine her in Hawthorne for her own protection and have her attend classes remotely? Post guards? Even that won't help, as this incident illustrates."
"You're not going to like this, but I think she needs to have her magic knife back, so she has at least something to defend herself with."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that," Ms. Hartford said in an emotionless, analytical tone.
"And get her through safety class and authorize her to carry a pistol," Delarose added.
"Damn! I don't like having to arm students to keep them safe, and I don't like authorizing that while Mrs. Carson is out," Mrs. Shugendo muttered angrily.
"It's necessary, though," Ms. Hartford countered. "Get three guards, and have Louis scan them. No ifs, ands, or buts - they get scanned. And then post two outside this room, and one at the corridor entrance. No-one gets in to see her without being scanned by him."
"Okay," the chief answered. "I'll stay here until the guards arrive. You should try to get some rest before sunrise."
Sunrise? Did that mean it was two-thirty in the morning? Had I been out a whole day? Or just a few hours?
That suggestion was answered with a derisive snort from Mrs. Shugendo. "Are you kidding? After all this, you think I'd be able to sleep? I'll just drink a lot of coffee."
A few hazy moments later, or what seemed like moments but really could have been hours, given my state, I felt a warm hand on my forehead. "Be calm," the male voice said. "I'm Banned Aids. I'm going to do some healing on you."
"Damage ... magic, from Tatanka getting hit," I mumbled. "Not ... healing right."
Some energy seemed to be trying to get into me, but instead of relief, I felt a little nausea and some pain in my head. After a bit, Banned Aids must have stopped, because the feelings went away.
"Chief ... Unhce ... Unhcegila." I mumbled, too tired to speak more clearly, but the pieces clicked in place. The presence I'd felt from Officer Matthews, the mocking way he'd addressed me - in Lakota - it all fit.
Even in dream space, I was bandaged, and my thigh felt like it was home to a red-hot poker, while my abdomen and ribs felt a slightly higher level of pain. It was so intense that I was sweating quite profusely. I wasn't at the fire, but was lying on buffalo furs inside a tepee.
Wakan Tanka noticed that I was awake. "You are in distress, Wihakayda," she said. "Your wounds are not healing properly."
"Tatanka?" I asked, since I didn't see or feel the furry beast. "Where's Tatanka?"
"He's okay. He's resting, just like you should. His wounds would heal quickly, as quickly as yours do, but right now, he is injured."
"Why hasn't my regeneration worked? Why didn't a healing spell work?" I asked, a little bit snarky.
"The wounds are ... tainted."
"But ... can you heal me? Or can I do a healing spell on myself?"
"I dare not heal you from this," Wakan Tanka said, a sad look in her eyes. "Much as I wish I could."
"But ... why not?"
"The cost to you is too high." She saw my puzzled look. "I told you once before that there was a cost when I directly performed magic on you. I can give you some raw magic energy, and I can instruct you, but when I send more than a trickle of magic to you, such as a healing spell, it builds up interference between my realm and yours."
"I don't follow. Interference?"
"It's like a fog that gets thicker. If I used too much magic, I would no longer be able to communicate with you."
"Oh." That would be really not good.
"It is a veil between our realms. The more spells I use directly, or the more energy I try to send you, the thicker the veil becomes. In a fog, even sunlight cannot penetrate clearly. So it will be between you and me."
"I'd be on my own?" I asked, frightened by her words.
"Yes. The magic I send you is like a candle at night, a small, steady magic stream to help you that slips through the veil without disturbing it. More magic, though, disturbs the veil, and it becomes thicker and less able to let magic through. If the veil is too thick, the magic won't go through at all, just as light from a candle cannot be seen in a thick fog. The stream of magic from me to you will vanish." She sighed heavily. "I almost healed you. I was preparing to, when the doctors crudely repaired the damage."
"But you didn't. Because of what it would have cost?"
"Yes, child. Because of the taint, it would have taken far more magic than the other healings, and the barrier between us would be very thick and strong."
"I was attacked ... by Unhcegila, wasn't I? Is that why you taught me of him, because you knew his attacks would come?"
"It was one of the spawn of Unhcegila that attacked you, the same one that attacked Debra in the dream world, and I believe the same one who poisoned the mind of Mishibijiw."
"So ... the taint has taken my natural healing away?"
"For now," Wakan Tanka replied. "You must rest and recover magic energy. When you have enough, I will teach you to remove the taint, and then you will heal quickly." She took her medicine pouch and quickly mixed up some tea. "This will help restore some magic energy. You must consume as much tea as you can to gain the energy you will need, that which the wauspewichakhiya Grimes calls 'essence'."
I sat back to rest, cringing at the stabbing pain in my abdomen and thigh, allowing Wakan Tanka to tend to me with some other type of herbal concoction. When she took off the bandages, the tugging made me cry out softly in pain as I flinched.
"This will help you," Wakan Tanka said as she began to gently rub a thick paste over the wounds.
"Ouch!" I couldn't help crying. "What is it? I thought that magic wouldn't work."
"It's not magic," Wakan Tanka replied. "It's a simple herbal mix which will ease your pain and help your natural healing."
"Oh. Okay." It was interesting that Wakan Tanka used traditional herbal medicines as well as her magic ones.
"I will teach you when you are healed." She sat upright suddenly, looking around the camp, her eyes narrowed.
"What is it?" I asked, struggling to sit upright but giving up when a sharp pain stabbed through my abdomen.
"Someone approaches." She focused her gaze. "He has been here several times before. He is one who helped you with your ... attack."
"Mister Geintz?" I asked.
"I believe that is his name. Should I let him into the camp?"
I started to snort at the implication, but winced instead at the sudden motion. "I don't know if we could keep him out. Yeah, let's see what he has to say."
Mr. Geintz strolled casually to the fire ring and sat down. "Good evening, Wakan Tanka," he said, surprising me because he'd spoken Lakota.
"When ... when did you learn the language, Mr. Geintz?" I asked, shocked.
Mr. Geintz chuckled. "I always like to learn new things, and since you're rather ... busy ... with security and psychic incidents, I figured it would be helpful sometime in the future. I just didn't expect to need it so soon." He smiled. "And please call me Fubar. Or Foob. It's far less formal."
"I suppose you want to talk about the latest ... incident?" I asked knowingly.
"It had crossed my mind. Do you have any idea who, or what, did it?"
I glanced at Wakan Tanka, and then nodded to him. "It was a spawn of Unhcegila," I replied. "The same one that attacked Debra in the dream world, and Wakan Tanka thinks is the one that corrupted the Mishibijiw."
"The security guard has the same ... feel ... as the Mishibijiw in that attack," Wakan Tanka added.
"That creature ... was contaminated by a Class X entity," Fubar said ominously. "It was insane because of exposure to something very ... nasty."
"What ... what does that mean?"
"It's about as bad as it can get. Worse, Officer Matthews has the same psychic feeling to him. His body is being taken to the Homestake Paranormal Activity Research Center for storage in their deepest, most secure vault."
I looked at Wakan Tanka angrily. "You didn't tell me that part about Unhcegila, or his spawn!" I said accusingly.
"Unhcegila and I are ... enemies," Wakan Tanka admitted softly. "For ages, I have battled to keep the People safe from him, while he exists only to corrupt and devour.
"So I inherited an enemy with major-league bad mojo?" I sighed, shaking my head. "Is this 'taint' you told me about something from Unhcegila's spawn?"
Fubar nodded. "Exposure to the entity contaminated even the ammunition he used, although that could have been done deliberately to stop your regeneration and healing."
"Wihakayda must rest to save her magic energy," Wakan Tanka said, "and I will teach her the spell to purify herself from the taint."
"Can ... this spread?" I asked Fubar and Wakan Tanka, worried.
Fubar shrugged uncertainly, but Wakan Tanka shook her head. "No. It should not be enough to spread to others."
"But until you get rested and clear this ... taint so you recover your regeneration," Fubar said, "you need to stay in Doyle."
Friday, March 23, 2007
Doyle Medical Complex
I was resting, unable to fall back asleep. I don't know if that was because of the dawn sunlight streaming through the windows, or if it was because of what I'd learned the night before. In either case, I hurt, and the wounds weren't healing very quickly. The wound on my side had the same feeling as broken ribs; I guessed - correctly it later turned out - that the bullet had shattered some ribs, while my leg merely felt like a burning steel rod had embedded itself in my outer thigh.
A knock sounded on my door, interrupting my dream-walk. "Come in," I said.
Evvie, Laurie, and Adrian walked cautiously into the room. Evvie looked exhausted, and her cheeks were moist from crying. When she saw that I seemed to be resting comfortably, she dashed to the bed, bent over, and hugged me. "You had us all so worried!"
"How are you feeling?" Laurie asked, going to the other side of my bed.
"I'd be better if you weren't crushing me," I tried to joke to Evvie, wincing from pain. A sudden thought occurred to me. "Can you get my medicine pouch? I hope it's somewhere in here - probably with my clothes."
Evvie disentangled herself from me and looked in a small closet. "Yeah, they're here, but I think this outfit is ruined." She held it out, on the hanger, and I could see the blood stains on the shirt and skirt.
"Is my medicine pouch there?"
I sighed with relief. "Good. Can you please put it where I can reach it? Wakan Tanka has a ... special ... spell I need to do later."
They visited for a while longer, with Evvie adamantly refusing my plea to get me a clean, unstained outfit, at least not until I was officially released. When a nurse came in with a tray, they remembered that they hadn't eaten yet, but despite that, they had to be chased away. After reluctantly saying their goodbyes, they scurried off to the caf, with the promise that they'd be back to visit as soon as they could.
"You're lucky," the nurse said to me as she set the tray on my bedside table.
"Gee, I really feel it," I said sarcastically.
"The wound in your side didn't hit any organs, so the doctor said you can eat real food instead of being fed through the IV line."
"Wonderful," I grumbled. "Hospital food."
"Or if you're going to be that way about it, I can just feed you through the IV," the nurse said with a wicked grin.
"Uh, no thanks."
"I figured you'd see it my way," the nurse chuckled before leaving.
I was about to eat, but I decided to try the spell first. I made a cup of healing tea to gather a little more essence, and then, alternating between the real world and my dream space, I chanted the spell as I added ingredients into a plastic cup of water.
There was a flash of magic in the cup, and I felt a huge surge of magic through my body when I sipped the drink. "Ugh!" I couldn't help saying; this brew, unlike the other, was quite bitter. Holding my nose, I drank more of the foul-tasting liquid. As with the healing tea, there was no infusion of magic from later drinks, but, just to be sure, I forced myself to down the entire contents.
The only way I could describe the sensation is that I had been dirty without even knowing it, and the brew was like a refreshing shower that left me feeling refreshed and clean. It wasn't until the taint was gone that I realized _how_ tainted I had been. At the same time, I felt tingling warmth in my thigh and in my side; I guessed that, since the taint was gone, my own healing had kicked back in. With regen and some healing potions, I'd be back on my feet in no time; in fact, I already felt quite a bit better, though I knew I hadn't completely healed.
After that refreshing feeling, eating was a pleasure. The fact that I had no internal injuries was a good sign for a quick recovery, or at least as quick as shattered ribs from a glancing shot would heal.
After finishing my breakfast, I sat back, thinking. I didn't know how long they'd keep me now that my healing had kicked back in, but I was missing an Avatars class, and possibly all of my day's classes. Magic - that wasn't going to bother me, because I was catching up quickly. Besides, I didn't really want to face Ayla and Fey. Open fourth period was supposed to have been a meeting with Dr. Quintain about the possible work-study job, but that would have to wait. French - I thought that was hopeless, so missing another day wasn't helping me. There was no power lab on Friday, so I wasn't going to miss anything here. And electronics. That was one class I really wanted to go to.
Of course, I saved the worst for last - Martial Arts, with the tyrannical midget Ito. Sensei Tolman had proven that she wasn't too bad, so I had a twinge of regret for missing that class, but since I'd heard that Ito often had the class spar on Fridays, it wouldn't be too bad if I missed that class.
I lay in my bed, awake, and having nothing to do but think. I turned to the attack the previous night. From the point where Matthews had shot Lindon, there had been enough time for me to get a shield up. But the other day, in martial arts, I'd seen one of the better students disarm and disable another student in the same amount of time it had taken for my spell. Could I have done that? And then, during the chase, there had been times where I could have had the drop on Matthews and struck him, possibly saving me from the gunshots; the stairwells had been a particularly good setup for an ambush. Then he'd run out of bullets and had to reload. During that time, I would have been able to turn the tables - if only....
I'd screwed up. Really screwed up. I was alive because of a few flukes. When he'd taken his rifle off his shoulder, I should have sensed it. Itukala would have, because he would have paid attention to the air and earth spirits, and heard even the tiny rustle of the rifle sling moving against his shirt. I messed up there, and I hadn't taken Tatanka's lessons about the spirits to heart. It had almost cost me. I'd been very fortunate that he'd shot Lindon first; otherwise, I'd have died in the first shots.
As much as I hated admitting it to myself, there was no escaping the conclusion that I _needed_ martial arts. There was something out there that wanted me dead, and I needed every advantage I could get. I _had_ to get serious about self-defense, because I couldnt always count on being as lucky as I'd been - that time, or during the other attacks. It hit me like a hammer that until I learned to defend myself, I was probably living on borrowed time if luck was the only thing in my arsenal of weapons.
I waited and waited for a doctor to visit so I could find out when I would be able to get out of Doyle and get back to classes, but not even the nurses came in for quite a while, except to take away my tray and to give me another shot of antibiotic. It was time to take matters into my own hands.
I waited for a doctor to come by to release me; after a while, I called a nurse, and when she popped in, I asked, firmly and insistently, that I see a doctor so I could go back to my classes. After all, I _was_ feeling better, and my regen had kicked in. Eventually, I wore them down, most probably because they realized that I was going to be a pest until they _did_ let me go. Caduceus used her healing on me, and she confirmed that my regeneration was healing my wounds. With no danger of my broken ribs puncturing a lung or anything else, and with my leg healed to the point that walking around wouldn't tear it open again, she decided that I was healed enough to go to classes - with the proviso that I didn't do anything too strenuous the rest of the weekend.
My clothes were ruined; Evvie hadn't exaggerated. Even my panties were very blood-stained, like my skirt and blouse. Rather than wait for someone to get me fresh clothing from Poe, I took an old pair of sweats they had in their 'spare clothing' bin and, after a quick review with the nurse and an admonishment to take it easy for the rest of the weekend, to which I paid little attention, I walked out of the medical center. Unfortunately, I still had guards to accompany me, since they hadn't been released by Delarose. I walked briskly to Poe, feeling only a tiny amount of pain in my leg and ribs, but I wanted to minimize how many people saw me having a heavy security escort.
The escort left me once I was safely through the door at Poe, and while some girls and guys were staring strangely at me, Mrs. Horton wasn't around, which was fortunate, because I didn't want to get a lecture from her on taking it easy, and precisely what that meant. I walked upstairs, feeling a little tugging and pain in my thigh, and discovering that moving my hand along the handrail hurt my ribs. Everything hurt my ribs - breathing, moving, twisting, raising or lowering my arm.
It took a little longer to shower and get dressed than I'd planned, since I wasn't supposed to get my dressings wet, and the wounds were still a bit sore, but with another healing spell, I felt better and got myself dressed. A new pair of guards came from Kane to escort me to Laird Hall; it was early, before the first-period class had dismissed, so there weren't a lot of people around to notice me.
Having arrived at the locker room a few minutes ahead of the other girls, I sat down to rest. The injury and healing had left me tired, and now that my body was regenerating, it was using any spare energy I had. After I took a very brief breather, my clothes went onto hangers in my locker, and I began to slip on my gi, cringing a little as I started trying to pull the gi pants onto my injured leg.
The other girls who had come in were changing as well, and they were occasionally looking warily at me. I realized, belatedly, that it was because I had large bandages on my thigh and lower ribcage. Finally, Alicia came over to where I was dressing. "Are ya okay?" she asked, staring directly at my lower torso.
I nodded. "Yeah." I was, wincing a bit from pain in my ribs as I had to twist my shoulder and torso to slide my arms into my gi top. It twinged a little more than I'd expected, and for a brief moment, I wondered if I was pushing too hard. The memory of the brutal attack, and the mocking by the snake demon, though, put an end to those thoughts. I needed to be prepared for the next time we met.
"The rumor is that you were in Doyle because you'd been pretty badly hurt," she continued.
"Yeah, but I'm okay," I replied defensively.
"Are you sure?" she asked again. "Cuz if you were in Doyle, you'd be excused from class."
Charge came to join the little concern-fest. "Are you sure you want to go to class, Kayda? You look pretty weak, and you're moving like you are 'urt."
"I'm fine." I was very surprised to see her expressing concern. She'd been so arrogant and snobbish toward me in powers classes that her concern was totally unexpected. When I saw Charge also staring at the bandages, I quickly closed my gi, then I winced slightly at the twinge from cinching the belt. I sat down again, waiting for the mildly throbbing pain to ease, while the two girls watched me with concern, not believing my assurances.
After a few moments of watching me, Alicia and Charge, shaking their heads, walked out of the locker room to join the other girls on the mats. Fatigued from the long night and regeneration, I lurched awkwardly to my feet, grimacing, and went out to join the others. All eyes seemed to be on me as I lowered myself to seiza position, a task that was more difficult with the injuries that weren't yet fully healed; I seemed to be sweating a bit more than usual. I couldn't help but wonder what the rumor-mill was saying about my injuries.
Sensei Ito strode confidently to the mat, pausing to look at me as if he didn't expect me to be in my gi and in position. He didn't frown at me, which I figured was about as much approval as I was ever going to get from him, and then he addressed the class. Because Sensei Tolman was attending to unexpected business, we would have two students from his Aikido II class assisting, and we were going to spar. Sensei Tolman had told me that I wouldn't have to spar for a couple of weeks, so that I could learn some basics first. That was fine with me; my leg and ribs were shooting me an occasional twinge to remind me that they still hurt a bit. Without having to spar, I would be sitting for the class, although I'd be sitting seiza, which put a little extra strain on my thigh. Sitting still would also minimize pain in my ribs. I could watch and learn from the other students' sparring matches.
Class began, though, with a demonstration by Ito. My stomach knotted when I saw Ayla and Hank walk onto the mat toward Ito, taking positions behind him on either side, seeming to indicate that they'd be part of the class instruction or demonstrations.
"Phase is an exemplar, and thus much stronger than a baseline," Ito explained. "Lancer is a PK brick. Since some of you need reminders that powers are not necessary to fight, I will demonstrate fighting two much stronger opponents. They will not be using all of their powers, but they are nevertheless much stronger and much less vulnerable than me." Ito nodded to the two, who stepped to the center ring.
When Ito called, "Hajime," the two Kimbas separated, intending to attack Ito from two sides to keep him off balance. Ito took that initiative away from them, darting at Ayla in a flurry of punches and kicks to keep Ayla off balance. Of course, given this, Hank closed in behind Ito to strike. It seemed to me that hitting from behind was a little unsporting, but Hank wasn't bothered by rules of politeness in the sparring ring.
Ito seemed to know when Hank would hit. A half-twist of his body, and he was positioned to not only block Hank's strike, but also to step into Hank and use his own momentum against him, neatly throwing Hank over his hip, right into Ayla, who'd been using the attack from Hank to initiate his own strike. Ayla was knocked backwards, but recovered enough to stay in the ring - barely.
The fight continued like that for several more seconds; each time it looked like Hank and Ayla had an advantage, Ito turned it against the duo, using them to interfere with each other's attacks. In one case, Ayla was grappled and twisted, off balance, right into a side kick from Hank, and with a little extra help from Ito, Ayla landed with a thud outside the ring. Seconds later, Hank joined him.
They rose and bowed to Ito, and then stepped back behind him while Ito turned to face us. "Until Sensei Tolman returns from her meeting," he began, looking pointedly at me and making me squirm, "Phase will referee the beginners sparring matches, while Lancer will spar against the advanced students. To your groups."
I sighed with relief; I was far from an advanced student, and I really, really couldn't have sparred against Lancer, but that seemed almost preferable to having to deal with Ayla. Unfortunately, either was a bad choice, and it wasn't mine to make. Ito and Tolman had assigned me, quite properly I had to admit, to the beginner group that Ayla was assisting.
I cautiously levered myself off the floor and followed Phase, with Rip, Murphy, and the other beginners, to one side of the mats. I thought Alicia was looking at me with concern written on her face, but I convinced myself that it was probably my imagination. Besides, I wasn't limping, and my range of motion with my torso was improving as my regeneration slowly worked.
Warm-up wasn't much fun, because stretching hurt more than usual. My ribs hurt with a dull ache, which reminded me with a sharp stab of pain when I twisted or flexed my torso more than a little bit. I could also feel the stitches in my leg being pulled taut when I stretched my leg. I had counted on my healing spells helping heal and dull the pain, but it wasn't as effective as I thought it would be.
We knelt again, while Charge sparred with Lifeline, and then Alicia sparred with Rip. Then, to my surprise, Ayla called me to spar against Murphy. Watching Ayla warily, and feeling the twinges of pain, I stood up cautiously, wincing a couple of times as the injuries objected to my movement, and I walked slowly to the edge of the ring, trying my best to avoid visibly limping. Opposite me, Murphy took her position, and we bowed. I gasped slightly at the pain that radiated from my ribs with the simple act of bowing. Maybe this _wasn't_ a good idea. No, there were no maybes about it - this definitely _wasn't_ a good idea.
"Hajime!" Ayla commanded.
I dropped to a front stance immediately, and I cautiously approached Murphy, who was doing the same. She struck first, throwing a straight punch, which I moved to block. The sudden motion of sweeping my left arm up and out to block the punch caused pain to explode in my injured side, and because of that, I didn't complete the block, and Murphy tagged the side of my jaw. I staggered back a bit, straining my leg, and then I jabbed to counterattack, but the suddenly-increased pain was slowing me down so much that Murphy was able to easily block the blow. She swung again, this time with a ridge-hand strike aimed at my neck. I twisted, again feeling stabbing in both my leg and my ribs, and sort-of blocked her blow, but I deflected it upwards, and her hand hit my head - hard.
Through a red mist of pain, I noticed that Murphy was off-balance a little, having over-extended herself for the strike; without thinking, I shifted my balance and started a front-kick with my right leg. My actions, though, were slow and tentative because I had the constant throbbing in the leg I was trying to balance on and in my left lower ribcage.
Murphy easily deflected my kick to one side, grasping my ankle and yanking me off balance. I twisted to pull my leg free before she could punch or kick at me, and in doing so, I felt tearing in my left leg, accompanied by searing pain. I stumbled back, off balance, limping, and trying not to cry out in pain, and as a result, I couldn't move quickly enough to block a back fist which caught me in the jaw. I staggered a bit, unsteadily, because my leg and ribs were really hurting. Murphy followed with a jab that I was lucky enough to deflect right into my ribcage, causing me to reel in agony.
I don't know when Sensei Tolman came back from her meeting, because frankly, I'd been trying to survive a sparring match. "Kayda!" she shouted loudly across the gym. Distracted, I glanced toward the voice. Since no-one had told her to stop, Murphy saw her opening, and she started a roundhouse kick to follow up her punch, taking advantage of my being off balance and the distraction from Sensei Tolman.
"Yame!" Tolman called sharply and frantically as soon as she saw what was transpiring, and she began to run toward our sparring circle.
It was too late - Murphy's kick smashed into my thigh, and with pain exploding and stitches tearing free, I crumpled like rag doll as my leg gave way beneath me. My arms flailed in a futile effort to stop my fall, and I smashed to the ground on my injured left side, my left arm beneath my body with my own elbow crashing into my battered ribcage. I heard a scream that seemed a long ways off, but I knew that it was me making the loud noise, while my head was suddenly immersed in a red fog of agony. I struggled to push the pain down, and with tears on my cheeks, I struggled unsuccessfully to roll over so I could stand.
"Kayda, are you okay?" I heard Tolman's voice penetrating the fog.
Grimacing at the intense pain, I pushed myself up, crying out again when a red-hot poker stabbed into my leg again and my ribs shot pain through every nerve in my torso. Still, I had to get up. Painfully, wincing and moaning in pain, I struggled to get to my knees.
"Kayda, stop!" Sensei Tolman said as she knelt beside me, fearing perhaps that I was going to stand up.
Slowly, things were coming back into focus as the stabbing pain turned into a steady ache that registered only eleven on the pain scale. Breathing hurt, moving my torso in the slightest hurt, kneeling hurt. Thinking about the pain hurt. Everything hurt.
Ito had stopped what he was doing and had run over, staring wide-eyed at me. I realized that everyone else was also looking at me, or more specifically, around my waist. Slowly, so as not to induce any more pain, I looked down and gasped; the sudden intake of air hurt my ribs. My gi pants had a shiny, wet, red spot on them from where blood was oozing out of my re-opened leg wound, and higher up, there was a smaller but spreading crimson stain on my top. I looked up again, and saw Ayla staring at me, stunned at what he saw.
"Phase," Sensei Tolman barked, "Kayda is not supposed to be sparring!" She looked absolutely aghast at what had happened.
Ayla looked horrified and full of self-recrimination. "I ... I didn't know!" he stammered. "It wasn't marked on the instruction sheet I was given," Ayla protested weakly, his voice cracking.
"It is not your fault, Phase," Ito said firmly to calm Ayla. "As Sensei, it is my responsibility that a student was injured." He glanced at me, and I thought the look he shot my direction was uncalled for, implying with his icy glare that seemed to imply that it was _my_ fault. "Advanced students, back to the ring to complete class."
Sensei Tolman cradled my torso and gently rolled me to my back. "Stay still, Kayda," she said firmly. "What are you doing here? You know better than to do _any_ exercise with gunshot wounds." There was a collective gasp from the gathered beginners at her words.
It took a second for her words to penetrate the agony that was throbbing from my body up to my brain. "I ... I _have_ to learn!" I protested softly. "I have to be able to defend myself."
"You can't do that if you're injured," Tolman countered sharply.
"I ... I almost got killed several times ..." I stammered, fighting back tears of frustration and pain, "because I don't know _how_ to fight! I _need_ to know how."
"And we're teaching you. You just have to be patient."
"So the next one can succeed in killing me before I learn enough to defend myself?" I cried. "Do you know how many times someone has tried to kill me in the last month?"
"I know of four," Sensei Tolman answered, looking grim.
"Six, not four," I corrected her, which elicited another loud collective gasp from the girls around us.
"You won't help yourself learn if you do something stupid like this," Sensei chided me. "You risked getting a more permanent injury, or setting back your recovery by days, if not weeks." She shook her head. "You should have told Ito Soke that you were injured, and you shouldn't have tried to actively participate. You should have told Phase that my instructions were that you weren't ready for sparring yet."
"But ... it's not ..."
"No 'buts', Kayda. You have a responsibility to let your instructors know of your physical condition. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Sensei," I said, blushing with embarrassment, because I knew that she was absolutely right.
Tolman sighed, shaking her head slowly. "At least you're finally getting enthusiastic about learning, which is a change for the better." She glanced around the beginners, who were still around us. "Rip, Headrush, go call Doyle and get help sent over here. Tell them Kayda reinjured herself."
Doyle Medical Complex
"Kayda," Mrs. Shugendo said, staring at me and shaking her head with frustration, "what am I going to do with you?"
"I'm sorry," I said, looking down at my hands in my lap. I was back in Doyle since I'd torn all my stitches open and had broken a rib which had been merely cracked before. "I ... I thought I was healed enough to do some light training in martial arts."
"And if you'd have asked me or Sensei Ito, we'd have sidelined you," Sensei Tolman scolded me. "You know I didn't want you sparring until you learned some basics."
"I was instructed to spar," I protested in my own defense.
Sam Everheart was also sitting by my bed in Doyle. "After being shot twice, you shouldn't have been in any physical activities for two or three weeks. You can't learn to defend yourself if you reinjure yourself before you heal."
"I ...." I looked down, knowing they were right, and that I'd done something very stupid. "I need to know how to fight, to defend myself," I said softly. "I got lucky too many times. One of these days, my luck is going to run out." I sighed heavily. "I just ...." I shook my head. "I don't want to have to rely on everyone else to protect me."
"That's a much better attitude than fighting against Sensei Ito and Sensei Tolman, or trying to get Mrs. Hawkins to let you drop martial arts," Mrs. Shugendo said with a slight chuckle, trying to break the somber mood. I looked up, feeling a little hopeful. "But it doesn't excuse a stupid stunt like this," she added, making her disapproval abundantly clear.
"No, ma'am." I hung my head, embarrassed.
"The problem," Sam observed, looking directly at me, "is to get you competent as possible, as quickly as possible, and in as many disciplines as possible, so you _can_ defend yourself."
Mrs. Shugendo sighed and shook her head. "That's your instructors' problem," she said directing the comment toward Sensei Tolman. "Any ideas?"
Sensei Tolman looked at me. "Have you got any free periods?" she asked me.
"Fourth, but I was going to do work-study with Dr. Quintain during that time." I watched Sensei Tolman as she thought; one could practically see the gears turning in her head.
"You're thinking of something?" Mrs. Shugendo asked.
The sensei nodded. "I'll talk with Ito Soke, but I think he'll agree that we can put Kayda in advanced Aikido for a few weeks, and rotate the more experienced students through instructing her."
"Will he go for that? It will distract from the current students."
Sensei Tolman chuckled. "Ito was the one who told me, years ago and quite repeatedly, that part of learning is teaching. He'll go for it."
"Sam, can we get Kayda a crash course in firearm safety and whatever else is necessary for her to carry on campus?" Mrs. Shugendo asked.
Sam nodded. "I'll talk to Gunny and make arrangements." She turned to me. "You realize that with all this emphasis on self-defense training, you're going to be giving up a lot of your free time."
I snorted. "What free time? When I haven't been here or in Security, I'm doing homework to catch up." I saw the look of disapproval on Mrs. Shugendo's face at my sarcastic joke. "Okay, I'll stop being snarky." She seemed mollified by that. "Yeah, that's reasonable."
Sam glanced at Mrs. Shugendo, who nodded. "Since Louis and Dr. Bellows agree that there's no longer a suicide threat, I think that Kayda should get her knife back, too."
"Okay." It was very difficult to not be excited by that; I'd felt naked without Wakan Mila. As Wakan Tanka had told me, I'd magically bonded with the knife.
"But I still want her escorted everywhere she goes," Mrs. Shugendo said in a steely tone. "What else can we do?"
I pondered whether I should mention what my spirit had requested, and then decided that this was as good an opportunity as any. "Wakan Tanka wants me to learn traditional Native American weapons and combat forms and skills that she thinks might be helpful."
"That might be a tough one," Mrs. Shugendo said. "Let me make some inquiries to see if I can find a suitable tutor." She glanced at Sensei Tolman. "Amanda, you can get back to your class. If you need or think of anything more, let me know ASAP."
Amanda Tolman nodded, and then departed, leaving me, Sam, and Mrs. Shugendo. A moment later, we were joined by Fubar. There followed a very detailed discussion about the snake demon, and what I knew about him. At Wakan Tanka's urging, I became Ptesanwi, which surprised Mrs. Shugendo and Sam; Fubar had seen me merge before, so he just smiled knowingly as Sam and Mrs. Shugendo tried to not show their shock. With us joined as Ptesanwi and channeling Wakan Tanka, we were able to speak more authoritatively about Unhcegila and his spawn.
We saw much concern on the faces around us as we told what we knew of Unhcegila, which was quite a bit. Despite the efforts of many warriors over the years, none had managed to kill Unhcegila because of how dangerous he was; even his spawn were terrible foes in battle, destroying nearly all of those who'd set out to slay them.
From a very careful psychic examination of the corpse of Officer Matthews, Fubar knew the psychic signature of possession by the snake demon, so he would be able to monitor for signs of another attempted possession. The magical wards around the school should keep anything physical away from Whateley. I _should_ be safe. Safer. Of course, I should have been safe in the first place.
"Is there anything else?" Mrs. Shugendo asked, signaling an end to the discussion.
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "If I promise not to do anything physical, can I get back to classes after lunch?"
Mrs. Shugendo rolled her eyes in disbelief at my comment. "No," she said firmly.
"No. You're going to be a special student in fourth period martial arts, and knowing how ... stubborn you can be, you'll probably go to class and overdo it again," Mrs. Shugendo said firmly.
"I promise ..."
"To stay here and rest, and take your French class remotely," Mrs. Shugendo directed. "And then, if Dr. Tenent is satisfied, she'll let you return to your last class for the day."
"Okay," I agreed unhappily. I might have been able to weasel out of directions from the doctors, but Mrs. Shugendo was the third highest authority, and she acted like she knew, probably from first-hand information from Mom, that I had a tendency to stretch instructions and directions to suit my own goals. She wasn't going to give me any wiggle room.
"Wakan Tanka," I asked, sitting by the fire, "why does Unhcegila's spawn come after me so relentlessly?"
"Because, child," my spirit said calmly, "Unhcegila knows that you will be a powerful Ptesanwi when you grow and learn. He seeks to destroy you before you have enough power to stop him."
"I feel vulnerable," I confessed, looking down at the ground. "I don't know much, and I can't stop him."
"The chief of this school has a plan to help you learn more quickly," she replied. "It is as good as you are going to be able to do."
"I ... I don't think I can handle the advanced martial arts class," I stammered after thinking a bit. "I barely know anything from the basic class."
"The wauspewichakhiya sapa, your instructor, has a plan to help you learn quickly."
"I ... I don't think I can learn in a class that is that advanced."
"Think of the trials, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said. "How does a young man train to face the trials? Does he train and fight with other children?"
"No," I answered. "He trains and learns from warriors who have proven their skill."
"The wauspewichakhiya sapa knows this. She wants you to train against experienced braves, not against other children."
"But ... I can't win against them if we spar!" I protested. "I know so little compared to the advanced students."
"Of course you won't win, not at first. No warrior does. But through diligent training, you _will_ learn how to win by practicing, making mistakes, and learning from your errors."
"It seems so ... overwhelming."
"And it does to any young man when he begins to train to be a warrior. So it is with you. But you must be persistent and eager to learn."
"Now, there is one more lesson you must learn for the day, a very important lesson."
I sighed. "Is this where Tatanka leads me out to meet another animal spirit?"
Wakan Tanka laughed. "No. Even in the dream world, you must rest. The spirit you must learn from is in our village."
"Another mouse?" I asked sarcastically.
"No." As she spoke, a dog came running to me. He was a mutt, a brownish-grey dog about halfway between a beagle and a German shepherd in size. There was something about his expression that made it impossible to feel gruff or angry. His eyes were bright and cheerful, and he panted like he was eager to please whomever he met.
"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said, "this is Suka."
"You want me to learn ... from a dog spirit?" I asked incredulously.
"Suka is more than just a dog," Wakan Tanka chided me. "Your Kusi, your grandmother, must not have taught you of the role of Suka in the lives of the People."
"Before the coming of the horse, the dog helped pull the travois when we moved camp. The dog helped hunt, helping to drive the buffalo over the cliff jumps or toward the hunters. The dog was a guard, helping watch over the village at night and during the day, wary of strangers and intruders, alerting the village to danger. Suka is very important spirit to the People."
"Oh. I, uh, didn't know that."
"Now you do," Suka said to me, nuzzling me like a big puppy.
"What do you have to teach me?" I asked as I scratched behind his ears, just like our farm-dog Boo used to love. In return, he licked my wrist in appreciation.
"I am a guardian, a watcher for danger. You, too are a guardian."
"Humpphh," I snorted. "Some guardian. I'm the one being attacked all the time. I'm the one who needs a guardian."
"No, Wihakayda, you are learning to be a guardian," Suka replied. "You need to use your senses to alert you to danger. And you _will be_ a guardian."
"Guardian of what?"
"Did you not enter the world of dark dreams to protect your beloved? Did you not risk your life for hers? Did you not use your magic to keep her safe?" Suka asked knowingly.
"Yeah, I guess I did."
"Even now, untrained, you are a guardian, and you will become a greater guardian. That is Ptesanwi's role - to watch and protect the People." He looked at me with sad eyes. "Did not Wakan Tanka tell you that?"
I started to deny it, but then I remembered that she _had_ so informed me. "Yeah," I muttered. "She did."
"Is a guardian always loved by those who he watches?"
"Uh, I'm guessing 'no', because of the way you worded the question."
Suka chuckled. "No, he is not. A guardian must use powerful force to protect his wards, but when there is no danger, that same power can frighten them. A guardian directs those who he guards to do or to not do certain things to protect them. Sometimes, those being protected fear the power of their guardian. The sheepdog is a cousin to the wolf, even though he protects the sheep. When there is no threat, the sheep may begin to fear the sheepdog because he reminds them of the dangerous wolf. Sometimes, those being guarded don't always listen, and they rebel against the guardian."
I thought of Mom and Dad, always setting rules that my brother and I didn't understand and didn't like. _We_ rebelled against the rules frequently, and sometimes resented our parents for setting such rules. "Yeah. I guess I did that to my parents, too."
"But your parents, your guardians, didn't cease in their duties, did they?"
"Because they knew their roles as protectors and guardians. They didn't take the disagreements personally, but instead continued to watch and guard and love their charges."
"But ... what does that have to do with me here and now?" I asked, puzzled.
"In a way, your instructors are your guardians. But you disagree with them, and rebel against their directions, right?"
I hung my head in shame, nodding slowly. "Yes.
"Do you think they take your rebellion and disagreement personally?" Suka asked. He lay down beside me, his head in my lap. "Or do they continue to do their job, like proper guardians?"
"They ... do their jobs, regardless," I answered softly.
"What happens if you neglect or yell at a dog? Does he sulk and rebel? Does he run away? Does he deliberately disobey you more?"
"That is because a dog _is_ unconditional love and forgiveness," Suka explained. "He serves his role, sometimes overlooked, sometimes chastised, but always, he loves those he serves. If a person strikes him, he doesn't strike back, but instead forgives and continued to offer his companionship and his love, right? He has to; he could not be a good guardian if he didn't."
"Why?" I was confused again. "They hurt him. They wronged him."
"Think of his role - he carries the burdens of the hunt and the gathering back to the village. When the village moves, he carried the dwellings from place to place. Is that not enough of a burden to carry without also carrying resentment and anger in his heart?"
I sat silently, contemplating his words, unable to reply or protest because his words struck a little too close to home. I _was_ carrying a burden of anger. But they deserved it. Didn't they? I was starting to have my doubts.
"To lighten your burden in life, you must be as the dog. You must shed the load of resentment and anger through forgiving those who wronged you," Suka explained patiently. "What would happen if a dog did not forgive?" he continued.
"Uh, I suppose he'd get angrier."
Suka nodded, pausing to move his head so I was scratching under his chin. "Eventually, one would destroy the other, and neither would gain. The People would lose companions, and guardians, and those to share their burdens. Suka would lose companionship and a community to belong to."
"So, you're telling me that I have to forgive ... Fey and Ayla?"
Suka chuckled. "No. I tell you what Suka does. It is up to you to heed my lesson or not."
"It's ... it's hard!" I protested. "Fey really endangered me and Debra, and Ayla ... makes me panic because of what happened to me."
Suka looked up at me with his big brown doggie eyes. "You must decide for yourself what to do." Suka stood. "I must get back to my duties of watching the village. But remember, Wihakayda, your burdens are already heavy without adding to them." With that, he left, padding softly across the earth to begin his patrol around camp.
Doyle Medical Complex
I was bored out of my mind during fourth period, and remote French class was a royal pain in the rear, so by the time Dr. Tenent came around to check on me, I was more than ready to get out of Doyle. She checked, and my regeneration and her healing had obviated the need for the stitches, so she removed them. With the proviso that I do nothing physically demanding for the rest of the weekend, she discharged me and got me an escort back to Poe, where I worked on catching up on my classwork, especially those that I'd missed that day.
Electronics was fun; with the independent study format, my gadgeteer trait and math skills made it easy for me to catch up. Of course, Delwin had volunteered - several times each class - to help me with labs and to offer study time; I was polite, and did let him help with one lab, even though I didn't really need the assistance. It didn't hurt to be polite to him; I'd been an outsider once, and besides, having friends was nice. I was only hoping that I wasn't leading him on, because I really had no interest in being anything other than a friend.
I didn't know where Evvie was hanging out before dinner, so I sat on my bed, my back against a pillow, reading my magic arts textbook and thinking, although to be perfectly honest, I was doing more of the latter than the former. My first week of classes had been interesting, to say the least, although the next week should be considerably better, since I was out of algebra, power theory, and English, and I got my avatars class. It had taken a bit to overcome my stubborn-ness, but I had a much better attitude about martial arts, even though it was going to be a challenge, and I still considered Ito to be a rude, miniature tyrant.
And the lessons from Wakan Tanka and Tatanka? I'd met and seen quite a few animal spirits, and upon reflection, when I listened to them and modeled their traits, I had better days than when I ignored their wise lessons. I thought about the ones I'd I talked to so far - Maka, the skunk, Hehaka, the elk, Ptan the otter and Ithunkasan the weasel, Itukala the mouse, and Suka the dog. The lessons were pretty common-sense, but I'd been ignoring them somewhat. I knew that, over the weekend, I was going to have some long conversations with Debra, and maybe I should ask her about those lessons.
At the thought of Debra, I glanced up at my poster and smiled. Her bright, cheery smile made me feel like she was hugging me, and I practically purred contentedly. After a break, as I walked back in to the room, I frowned when I looked again. The poster seemed a little tilted, which surprised me; Mom would have been very particular about hanging the poster for me. I climbed up on my bed, and when I lifted a corner of the poster to adjust its position, I was surprised to see that the tape wasn't adhered very well.
I climbed down and got a roll of tape from my desk, and then, after taking down the poster and peeling the existing tape from it, I made new tape loops and fastened them to the back of the poster before climbing back onto my bed to rehang it.
A knock sounded at my door as I stood, trying to gauge how level and centered the picture were.
"Come in," I replied to the knock, still focused on the poster.
The door opened, and I heard the guest walk in and stop. "If you want it centered, it needs to move about an inch and a half to the left."
I tensed at the sound of Ayla's voice. I hadn't expected him to be hanging around the cottage. "Okay," I answered in as neutral a tone as I could, all the while thinking about what Suka had told me. I moved the poster a bit, as he'd indicated. "How's that?"
"That looks good," Ayla answered.
I pressed the corners of the poster firmly against the wall, and then climbed off my bed, looking critically at the poster, and studiously avoiding looking at Ayla until I'd sat in my chair. "Is there something you need?" I asked, again trying to be neutral.
"I've been trying to talk to you for a couple of days," Ayla said, sitting in Evvie's chair. "I get the very distinct impression that there's something wrong between us, especially after this morning."
I felt my shoulders tense. "Um," I stammered, stalling so I could figure out what to say. A month ago, I would never have felt as intimidated in a potentially confrontational discussion, but now I was trembling inside, possibly to the extent that it was visible externally. "I don't know," I lied, looking down at the floor.
"I owe you an apology for what happened in martial arts," Ayla said without prompting.
"Uh, it wasn't your fault," I replied quickly.
"Yes, it was. I was in charge of the group, and it was my responsibility to know any restrictions or limitations." His voice sounded more than a little heavy under the burden of responsibility. "It _was_ my fault. I'm sorry you were injured because of my negligence."
"It wasn't your fault. You can't know what Ito and Tolman don't tell you," I said, surprising myself because I was defending Ayla from responsibility for the morning's accident.
"Well, just so you know, Ito chewed me out royally for not noticing that you were injured before you even started, and for not noticing that your injuries were hampering you and stopping the match," Ayla said in a tone that told me that he _did_ still think it was his fault, and Ito agreed.
"Ito was responsible for class, not you," I reiterated.
"Ito was blaming himself for a student being injured in his class."
"Yeah, right!" I snorted.
"He takes instructing very serious," Ayla continued, "even if he is a pain in the ass. He doesn't like it when his students get hurt, especially when an injury was preventable. Like yours was."
"It wasn't Ito's fault, or your fault, for that matter, that a guard flipped out and tried to kill me," I retorted.
"That's what my sources told me. Are you okay?"
I nodded, still avoiding Ayla's gaze. "Yeah. They had to operate last night, because something was interfering with my healing and regen. After we got that cleaned up, Dr. Tenent made me suffer through a few hours of rest and regen, plus a healing spell." I shrugged. "I'm not supposed to do anything physical today, but I should be completely healed by tomorrow. I can always do a healing spell on myself if I need to."
"Good. If there's anything you need ...."
Still not looking at Ayla, I shook my head. "No. I'm okay."
"Is something else bothering you?" Ayla asked hesitantly. "Maybe ... the morning routine?"
I sighed. "I'm ... trying," I said, my voice quavering slightly. "I .... It's not fair to ask everyone else to change their routines because of ...."
"I can adjust my schedule," Ayla began.
I shook my head. "No. I've got to learn - eventually. So I'm not paralyzed by this ... by my PTSD." My eyes felt misty because I felt helpless against the PTSD, enslaved to the traumatic memories and afraid that I'd never be normal again.
"Are you sure? It seems like it's my fault."
"No," I answered, trying to assure Ayla. "I'm trying to get over it."
"Did I do something that made you want to sit with Tansy in magic yesterday? And made you and Nikki glaring at each other, and why you didn't wait to walk with us to lunch?"
"It's nothing you did. Not directly, anyway." I closed my eyes for a moment, taking a couple of slow, deep breaths to try to clear my thinking. "Besides, I shouldn't get pissed at you for sticking up for your teammate," I added. "You're supposed to do that, no matter what."
I could practically hear Ayla frowning. "What's going on between the two of you?"
I shook my head, still not feeling like looking at Ayla. "It's ... it doesn't matter."
"Does this have anything to do with yesterday morning?"
"Ya think?" I blurted, staring with a look of bewilderment that he'd even think of asking something so obvious. As soon as I realized what I'd done, I lowered my gaze once more, shaking my head slowly. "Among other things, that wasn't exactly nice of her."
"You should talk with her. She's kind of confused about what's going on. "
"She shouldn't be," I explained. "It was her fault, not mine. Both times!"
Ayla sat silently for a moment or two. "Why don't you talk to her?"
I sighed heavily. "Why? So she can blame me instead of apologizing? Or so she can tear up my privacy again?" I shook my head. "I ... I know I should," I admitted softly, "but to be honest, she, and the Sidhe queen intimidate me."
"You two need to work this out. And ...." Ayla's voice trailed off, and I could tell there was something he wasn't saying. "You need to talk to her so you can work this out. It's important to both of you, more-so than you know."
"Are you taking Dr. Bellows' job, too?" As soon as the words had left my mouth, I regretted them. "Sorry," I muttered. "That wasn't fair of me."
Ayla thought silently a bit. "Leaving Nikki out of it, are you and I back on speaking terms?"
"I don't see how we can leave Nikki out of it. I mean, you have to be loyal to your team-mates, right?"
Ayla chuckled. "There's a difference between being loyal, and blindly defending a team-mate who's doing something wrong or stupid. I've always found that those who put their blind faith in someone else inevitably find trouble. So, are we okay?"
I looked at Ayla for a few seconds. "Yeah, I suppose we are," I admitted. Surprisingly, those few words seemed to remove a burden of anger and resentment from me, just like Suka had told me. But Fey's case wasn't going to be so easy to forgive. Not when she was so damned intimidating that I didn't know how to talk to her.
"Good. Let's get to why I came to talk to you. Ms. Bell sent me, actually."
That surprised me. "Oh?"
Ayla chuckled. "She said that you were working as a TA in the math department, and that you'd be my tutor for a little experiment in accelerated math."
I frowned. "I hadn't agreed to be a TA yet," I replied, "let alone agreed to advanced math tutoring."
Ayla's eyebrows rose. "I was told that you _had_ agreed."
I sat back in my chair, staring impassively at Ayla as I crossed my arms. I winced when I had to adjust my arm position under my breasts to finish crossing them. As I did that, I stared at Ayla as if daring him to make any kind of smart-ass comment about my reaction. "What is it you're trying to accelerate?"
"Right now, I'm in pre-calc," Ayla replied. "I'd like to try to finish calculus 1 this term, so that in the fall term, I can take some business classes that have that as a pre-requisite."
"And I was volunteered to help you with this little ... experiment?"
"Actually," Ayla said with a wry grin, "when I learned of your math background, I pressed Ms. Bell to accept that solution."
I chuckled. "She _did_ say that there were some problematic students who they needed help with, but I didn't think she meant you."
Ayla glanced at his watch. "Do you want to see if Ms. Bell is still in her office?"
"Why do I get the feeling that you already know that she's in her office, and that she's expecting us?" I looked at Ayla, and although he'd carefully schooled his features to be as neutral and impassive as possible, it was still possible to read hints of his underlying thoughts. "You're excited about getting ahead in math, aren't you?" I asked in a tone that sounded more like an accusation than a question.
Ayla smiled sheepishly. "Maybe."
Ms. Bell _was_ expecting us. I frowned at that; she'd obviously predicted, accurately, that I'd go for a tutoring opportunity, although she didn't know about the tension between Ayla and me. Ayla _had_ known that there was tension, and while he hadn't known exactly what it was, he'd been confident enough to ask Ms. Bell to meet us late on Friday afternoon.
The upshot was that during sixth period on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when Ayla wasn't in physics lab and I wasn't in powers lab, we'd get together to review material. Those were also the designated times when he'd take tests in the math building, and I would review lessons, plans, and such with Ms. Bell. Ayla was thrilled much more than he was letting on that he'd get pre-calc and calculus 1 out of the way in the spring term, and while I was nervous about working with Ayla, I was a bit excited about getting a chance to tutor.
I was about to get up to bus my tray when Vasiliy asked, "Are you going to the movie tonight?" It was a general question for the group.
I shrugged. "Probably not. I've still got a lot of catching up to do, and ...." I didn't want to admit that I was nervous about being in public, nor had I completely adjusted to being a girl. Classes were somehow different, but the thought of being out and about in a casual setting was quite intimidating. "How about you?"
Vasiliy shrugged. "Haven't decided yet."
"Which means that Chat Bleu hasn't turned you down yet," Naomi giggled.
Vasiliy blushed a bit, which meant that Naomi had nailed it. "Are you going?" he tried to change the subject.
Naomi didn't have to look at Evvie. "Nah. I'm just going to put in a DVD and make some popcorn. I feel a little blah tonight."
Laurie piped in, "We're going to Dunwich to a movie," she said, holding Adrian's hand. She eyed me for a moment. "You want to come, Kayda?"
I saw a flash of disappointment on Adrian's face; it was clear that the last thing he wanted was a third wheel to interfere with his date. But he was too polite to say anything to me about it. "Nah," I answered.
"Besides," Evvie chimed in, giving me a wink, "I don't think Kayda could get a pass from admin or security, given how much she's been in trouble this week."
"Oh, very funny!" I retorted before sticking my tongue out at her, which got a few giggles from around the table.
"What _are_ you going to do?" Evvie asked seriously.
My mouth opened to speak, but no words came out. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do, except be in my room, alone. "I ... I don't know," I mumbled, suddenly feeling the awkwardness of the moment as my eyes moistened without warning. I knew I wouldn't go to the movie here in Crystal Hall, because I didn't know that many people who would be going, and I wasn't going to the movie in Poe; it was an 'alternative love story' where, most likely, all of the girls who went would be there with partners. I'd be alone there, too, even surrounded by others.
I quickly chanted my ghost-walking spell and dashed away from the table, running outside, and then away from the crystal dome. The enormity of my situation had hit me like a hammer; despite having some friends, when it came down to activities on weekends, I still felt alone.
I eventually found a spot against a tree on a low hill, where I could overlook the central part of campus with all the office and classroom buildings; the lights in Crystal Hall shone brightly, giving the dome a sparkly look almost like a Christmas ornament, and here and there, lights shone in a few office windows of the buildings. With a slight turn, I could see Dickinson cottage, and beyond it, the top of Whitman. Overhead, the stars twinkled in the cloudless sky, and a sliver of the silvery moon shone down very dimly, casting almost no illumination on the peaceful scene below.
I slowly realized that my friends, startled by my emotional reaction, were probably going to start looking for me, especially since Evvie, as an empath, could sense my loneliness and sadness. I couldn't let them waste their evenings because _I_ felt morose. "Tatanka!" I beckoned my furry companion.
The white buffalo appeared immediately beside me. "Yes, Wihakayda?" he asked.
"I want you to go find Evvie, and tell her that I said they should go ahead with their plans, that I don't want them to change their activities because of me."
He stared at me for a few moments. "They are your friends. They are very likely worried about you."
I shook my head. "Tell them ... tell them that I wanted some quiet time to reflect, and that I'm ...." I looked down for a moment. "Tell them I'm talking with animal spirits."
"That would be lying," Tatanka chided me.
"I don't care! I don't want them changing their plans just because I'm alone," I said, wiping at the renewed tears. "They've got their friends, and their plans, and they should have fun."
"But Wihakayda ...," Tatanka began.
"Do it!" I ordered him. The white, furry guy stared at me for several seconds, and then shambled off to complete the errand I'd given him. I drew my knees up to my chest, crossed my arms on my knees, and let my head rest on my forearms as tears dripped from my eyes.
A little while later, I felt Tatanka in my head again.
"Did you find them?" I asked bluntly.
"Yes," Tatanka answered. "And I delivered your message."
"They are not happy that you ran off. They are worried about you."
"But are they going through with their original plans?" I asked, sensing that the was hedging.
"There were others with them, planning a search to find you, to make sure you were safe."
I glared at the white bison. "Did you tell them that I _am_ safe, and that I want them to have their own fun?"
"Are they going to?"
Tatanka sighed. "Adrian and Laurie got on the shuttle bus to Dunwich," he reported. "Vasiliy was going to try to talk Chat Bleu into going to the movie in the dining hall with him."
"Evvie and Naomi?" I asked bluntly.
"There were others at the table with them, who'd come to look for you, apparently."
"Ayla Jade, Hank, and Rosslyn," Tatanka reported. "They were going to go with Evvie and Naomi to find you and ensure your safety."
"Did you tell them I said I was okay, and that I didn't want to interrupt their plans?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, and I could tell from his tone of voice that he was most unhappy that I'd made him convey that message.
"What did they say?" I asked when he wasn't forthcoming with their response.
Tatanka frowned. "Evvie and Naomi were insistent on looking for you."
"I told them that you were being stubborn, and they eventually agreed to go to the movie.
Despite my familiarity with cold weather and the jacket I'd worn, as the temperature dropped, I started to feel a little chilly. I shivered a little bit, but convinced myself that I was warm enough to enjoy communing with nature under the stars - even though I knew in my heart that I was avoiding other people so I wouldn't be so pointedly reminded that I was, in effect, alone. Others had plans; I didn't. Others had friends and dates that they were doing thing with; I didn't.
After a bit, shivering from the cold, I recast my dream-walking spell.
The fire was warm, but the air around it was cool, with a slight breeze, enough that I felt rather chilly. "Wakan Tanka," I asked as I mixed up tea for her, a change of pace for both of us.
"What is it, Wihakayda?"
"Is there a spell to keep warm?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "There are many spells to protect us from the weather - from rain, or snow, or cold."
"Will you teach me one to keep me warm?"
Wakan Tanka sighed. "A buffalo robe does a better job, without using your essence."
"Two minor problems, here," I said to her. "First, I didn't know I was going to be outside, and second, I don't have a buffalo robe."
Wakan Tanka looked at me, dumbfounded, for a bit, and then she shook her head, gazing into her tea. "Okay, Wihakayda. If you wish to use your essence foolishly because you didn't plan well ...."
Once she finished teaching me the spell, she gazed at me. "Have your mother buy you a buffalo robe," she directed.
I sighed. "Okay, I'll try to convince her - if only to stop you nagging me."
The spell was pretty simple, and almost immediately after casting it, I felt like I was wrapped in a cloak of warmth which dissipated the chills which had made me shiver. I sat back against the tree, comfortable again, and gazed at the stars. I used to love star-gazing, because the heavens were so vast and pretty, but at that moment, the size of the universe made me feel tiny and insignificant. I had friends, true enough, but ... I was lonely. They all had plans, and I'd been overlooked while they were making those plans. It felt like third grade all over again.
As soon as I recognized my train of thought, I fought against it. I was _not_ going to sit under a tree and feel sorry for myself. Yes, I was hurting psychologically. Yes, I'd been through some serious stress and trauma. But I was alive where other mutants had been killed or maimed. My parents still loved me, where other kids had been totally rejected by their parents. I was surrounded with faculty and staff who wanted to protect me and teach me how to protect myself. And I had friends. Not best-friend type friends, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.
I should have just gotten up, marched back to Poe, grabbed a snack, and then plopped my butt down in a chair in the movie room. Or I should have walked to Crystal Hall for that movie. The only problem was that, in either case, I was afraid that I'd be alone. Others had dates, or were with groups of friends, but I'd be all by myself, even if I was surrounded by other students. I tried to make myself get up, to move, to do _something_ positive, but I lacked the conviction that either movie would be better than sitting under the stars.
Something moving near the administration building a couple hundred meters away caught my attention. A figure was walking toward the trees where I sat, slowly, deliberately, and gracefully. I could tell it was a girl just by the way she was walking, but she was too far away to tell who she was. Perhaps if I had Wabli's or Ceta's vision, I could have seen who it was, but alas, I didn't have their gift of sight. I did a quick double-check to verify that my ghost-walking spell was still active, and then watched her, growing concerned as it became apparent that she was walking in a straight line toward me.
When she was about sixty to seventy meters away, I frowned when I realized who was approaching me. She seemed to be walking in my general direction, even though she had the faint silver aura around her that let me know she wasn't seeing through my ghost-walking spell. As she continued toward me, I debated my course of action. I could get up and run, or walk quickly, in another direction, avoiding her. I could let Tatanka confront her. I could confront her myself. Or I could sit still and do nothing. The closer she got, the fewer good options I had, because she was coming my way. I stood and walked six or seven meters to one side, to another tree, and watched as she walked in a straight line. She wasn't walking like she was looking for me, but rather with her shoulders hunched a bit, looking toward the ground, and her gait wasn't confident, but seemed hesitant, almost like she was lost.
"Wakan Tanka," I whispered to my teacher, "What do I do? I don't want to talk to her."
"Why not, Wihakayda? Look at her - she's not looking for you. She looks like she's pre-occupied with something."
"She's following me!"
"I don't think so, little one. She has her own concerns. You _should_ talk to her. At the very least, you need to get past your distrust."
Leaning against a tree, I watched as Nikki stumbled forward, until she leaned against another tree and slid to the ground. In the dim moonlight, I couldn't see her expression, but from the way she held her head, she was looking for the same kind of solitude I'd sought. For several minutes, I watched her warily, becoming more and more confused with each passing second. This was not the self-assured, confident Nikki that I'd seen so often. She looked small, fragile, and hurt.
Wakan Tanka made my decision for me, by cutting off the magic sustaining my ghost-walking spell.
Nikki was startled when I suddenly appeared, possibly as much as I was that my spell fizzled out. From stories of Team Kimba's various adventures, I expected her to be on guard against danger and do something to protect herself, or to make a pre-emptive move against me, but she did nothing, seemingly resigned to whatever happened
"Hi," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I didn't think anyone was here."
"I ... was looking for a little quiet," I replied nervously, upset that Wakan Tanka had forced my hand. "I ... felt like some solitude tonight."
"Yeah," Nikki responded in a sad tone, "I know what you mean."
"I figured you'd be doing something with your friends or your team." I bit my tongue before I added, 'or someone else to harass me.'
"They ... don't understand," she said softly, melancholy lace through her words. "I know they're trying, but ...." Her voice trailed off, and her gaze was fixed far in the distance.
"I know the feeling," I said, recalling bitterly how many times someone had said, 'you poor dear' or other false platitudes when they heard of my assaults, at a loss for words or actions that indicated that they _truly_ understood.
"Do you want to sit down?" Nikki asked. I could see an occasional glint of moonlight off some moisture on her cheek; something was _really_ bothering her.
I shrugged. "I was just leaving."
Nikki frowned. "Kayda, why are you mad at me?" She seemed a little hurt that I was being distant.
"If you don't know," I replied almost automatically, "then you wouldn't understand."
Nikki sighed. "That sounds like the movie answer a woman gives when she's mad at a friend. Or a guy." Her expression was quite unhappy, despite her attempt at forced humor.
I tried to frown at her comment, but I realized that I _had_ made the same statement that Mom used to give to Dad when he'd done something wrong. It _was_ a stereotypical _female_ answer. I did manage to suppress a chuckle.
"Does this have anything to do with your spell the other morning?" she asked.
"Among other things, yeah," I replied unhappily. "What gave you the right to mess with my spell? Especially since you know about ...." I couldn't say the words. "You _know_ that it's ... very difficult for me, with Ayla and Vamp ...." I frowned at her. "Were you trying to humiliate me more? Or were _you_ trying to ogle me, too?" I saw the shocked expression on her face. "I heard about you and Bunny," I continued. "So I know you like girls."
Nikki's mouth hung agape. "Kayda," she finally stammered, "I'm ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to break your spell." Sparkles of moonlight reflected off what appeared to be fresh tears.
"No? So why'd you do it then? Just for jollies?"
She looked down, embarrassed, shaking her head. "I ... I wanted to see if I could understand how your spell worked," she replied softly. "I've never seen spells like you use. I was using a spell that _usually_ lets me examine someone else's spell and see how it's made. I'm ... I'm sorry it shattered your magic."
"So it's okay for you to break my privacy? How would you feel if someone did it to you?"
"Not very good. I'm sorry," Nikki repeated, sounding genuine in her regret. "I didn't mean to break your spell." She took a step forward. "Can we ... be friends again?" she asked hesitantly. I heard pain in her voice that surprised me. Pain ... and fear of rejection? This wasn't the self-assured girl I'd met so often since moving into Poe. There was something really, really wrong.
I closed my eyes for a moment, and said nothing.
"Is ... is there something else I did that upset you?"
"I'm surprised Ayla hasn't already told all of your team everything." I muttered softly.
"That's not fair to Ayla," Nikki said, defending Ayla from the aspersions I'd cast. "He knows when to be discrete, and he doesn't deal in rumors and gossip." She studied me for a second or two. "Are you're still upset about the dream thing?"
"Duh! Ya think?"
"Why? I said I was sorry." She _definitely_ sounded hurt that I quite evidently hadn't accepted her apology.
"Your mumbled half-hearted apology sure didn't sound like it." I sighed and shook my head sadly, my eyes closed for a moment. "You really don't realize how much danger you put Debra and me in, do you?"
Nikki's eyes widened at my words. "I don't understand."
"No, you don't. But Aunghadhail does. Or at least, she should if she wasn't traipsing all over like she owned everything. Just like she used to when she knew Wakan Tanka."
Nikki looked confused. "She didn't tell me anything."
"Debra and I were attacked in the dream world," I explained. "Seriously attacked. Unhcegila's spawn took Debra hostage, and ... hurt her, to lure me to my death." I shook my head. "And an attack in the dream world affects us in the real world." I felt a combination of anger and fear in my voice as I tried to relate what had happened to Debra. "I was almost killed trying to rescue her. And then I had to ... use some powerful magic ... to heal her."
The poor girl looked apoplectic. "I ... I didn't know ...."
"I had to cast special spells to protect Debra, too," I continued unhappily, "and then Aunghadhail waltzed through my dream-world barriers like it was no big deal, shredding all the work I'd done to protect her! And then you had the audacity to accuse _me_ of doing something wrong!"
Nikki looked quite saddened, with tears glistening on her cheeks. "I ... I didn't know she did that." She wiped at her moist cheeks, shaking her head sadly. "You don't have to worry about her ever doing that again," she said. "Aunghadhail - is ... gone," she sniffled.
"Gone? What do you mean, gone?" I stammered.
"Yesterday, when we were trying to help ... Cav and Sky, Hekate's spell ...." She convulsed, and I could see that she was fighting unsuccessfully to maintain some semblance of composure. "She was ... killed." Tiny rivulets of tears flowed down her cheeks. "She didn't mean to put you in danger."
I felt myself changing, merging, until we were Ptesanwi. We are truly sorry for your loss, Nikki," we said. "We didn't know." I felt Ptesanwi slipping back, and I could tell that she was afraid that her presence was a painful reminder to Nikki of Aunghadhail. "And I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about it. I was ... very upset."
Nikki nodded knowingly, and I could tell she was trying not to show her grief. "You had a right to be. If someone put me and my friends in danger, I'd be upset, too." She stepped hesitantly toward me. "Are we ... okay?"
I thought momentarily about Suka's lesson. "Yeah," I answered, holding forth my hand. "We're okay." Another weight was lifted from me.
Instead of shaking my hand, Nikki took a quick step forward and wrapped me in an embrace. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I ... I got carried away being curious about your magic, and ... and I did something stupid. And I got angry and blamed you before I knew the whole story about the dream thing." I felt moisture on the cheek that was pressed against mine, telling me how much she really rued the incidents. And how much she was hurting.
I returned her embrace, feeling petty about the grudge. At the moment, she had to be hurting much more from losing Aunghadhail than I was about her accidental intrusion. Nothing like seeing someone else hurting to put your own woes into perspective. For quite a while, we just hugged silently, but unlike past events, this time I was the one offering support to someone crying on my shoulder instead of being on the receiving end of the sympathy and support.
"If you're curious about my magic," I said, finding my voice unexpectedly choked up and my eyes misting, "you _could_ just ask me. Not that you need to learn about my magic, because, you're so powerful with your own magic."
"Yours is very ... different," Nikki said, and from the feel of her cheek against mine, I could tell that she wasn't smiling, but probably had a very sad expression, and her lip was probably trembling. "And I'm not _that_ good. Not anymore. Not without Aunghadhail's help."
"Tell you what. I'll teach you about my magic, if you teach me some of yours."
"I guess. I ... I need the help learning, now," Nikki commented. I suspected, based on having been in a similar state, that losing Aunghadhail had put her in a state of depression. I couldn't imagine how I'd feel if I lost Tatanka or Wakan Tanka.
"Let's go back to Poe," I said, easing out of the hug and taking her arm. "Your friends are probably worried." I felt a twinge of loneliness again, recalling that my friends had things planned, and I didn't. Then again, Nikki's pain obviously dwarfed my own, and in comparison to her loss, a bit of loneliness seemed pretty shallow. "And I've still got a lot of catching up to do, so I can't spend all night gazing at the stars."
"I suppose," she said, sounding quite uncertain. I, on the other hand, was _very_ certain. She had good friends and team-mates. She needed them to help her through this.
Poe Cottage; Ayla's Room
"Are you sure?" Ayla asked as I walked to the door of his room. Nikki, Hank, Toni, Jade, Billie, Bunny, and Vox were gathered, supposedly for a movie, although they'd delayed that for a few minutes while Ayla and Vox interrogated me about the shooting. I suppose the word 'interrogated' is a little too strong, but Ayla was very interested in details. One thing that I found odd was that Ayla seemed to already know what had happened, and was only listening to my story to corroborate other information sources. While I was explaining what I knew, the others gathered around Nikki, like a protective, supportive circle clinging tightly to one of their own in her moment of need.
"Yeah, I'm sure," I replied. "I'm ... not feeling good," I lied. I saw Nikki's eyebrows lift, and I was certain that she empathically knew I wasn't telling the truth, but the honest fact was that I felt like an intruder in their very close-knit little circle of friends. I didn't want to be included out of pity; that would have felt worse than being left out in the first place. Even more so, I knew instinctively that Nikki needed support from her friends, and I didn't presume to be in that tight-knit circle. They'd been through a lot together, and I could tell they helped each other in ways that I couldn't.
Without another word, I slipped out the door, pulling it shut behind me, and walked back to my room. After flopping down on my bed, I pulled out my phone and dialed Debra's number. I could always count on Debra to cheer me up. But when the phone rolled over to voicemail, I cringed, remembering that Debra had told me that the Sioux Falls League was attending a charity fundraiser, and it would be late before they were back, not counting the time difference as well.
I sighed and, for a moment, reconsidered the movie in Ayla's room, but that struck me as crawling back to a group, looking like a pitiful loser. Instead, I grabbed my magic book and propped myself up so I could read. Honestly, I tried to study, but with girls coming and going in the hallways, it was a bit noisy and difficult to stay focused. When magic couldn't hold my attention, I fell back to my go-to subject, the one thing that I _knew_ would keep me riveted - math. I still had to finish some abstract algebra, so I opened that book and settled down on my bed to read.
That held my attention for far too short a time; soon, my mind was wandering again, this time because of the noise of someone's stereo above me, which was accompanied by some kind of proto-human tribal dancing and jumping about while banging clubs loudly against anything near them. At least that's what it sounded like. With a heavy sigh, I let the book flop in my lap as I considered my options.
The door opening surprised me, and I didn't know who was more surprised to see the other - Evvie or I. "What's up?" I asked after the momentary surprise had worn off.
Evvie smiled as she stepped to the tiny refrigerator in our room. "The vending machine doesn't have cream soda," she replied, "so I have to keep my own stock." She glanced at my math book. "Don't tell me you're studying on a Friday night?" she said plaintively.
I shrugged. "I was _trying_," I replied casually. "But the Neanderthal mating ritual upstairs is making it hard to concentrate."
Evvie set down the cans she'd retrieved from the fridge and took my math book, tossing it unceremoniously on my desk. "C'mon," she said, grabbing my arm. "You're going to come up to watch the movie."
I winced at that. "I'll be out of place," I complained. "And besides, it's probably some chick flick, and I'm not really into those."
"Maybe not yet," Evvie chuckled, "but you'll get the hang of it soon enough." She pulled me to my feet. "And now is a perfect time to practice."
"But ... I'll ...." I was propelled out the door. "I don't want to be the only ... single ... one there," I whined.
"There are others who aren't attached," Evvie said, not taking no for an answer. "And it's not a movie where everyone's looking to hook up, either," she added, taking that excuse away from me before I'd even thought of it.
In the television lounge, there was a variety of chairs, mostly fat stuffed chairs, with a couple of sofas. I winced when I saw how many girls were snuggled with their girlfriends in the big chairs and on one of the two sofas, cuddling, hugging, and making out. I would have turned to leave except that a few of the chairs were occupied by single girls, so I knew that I wasn't the only unattached one there. There was two unoccupied spots on a sofa that didn't have quite as good a view of the television, so I sat down, reasoning that it didn't matter much, since I really wasn't into that genre of movie.
After I'd settled in, and relaxed a bit, someone slipped down onto the sofa beside me. "Well, isn't this a pleasant surprise?"
I recognized Rosslyn's voice immediately, and felt a sense of dread. "Hi," I whispered to her so as not to disturb those who were actually paying attention to the movie and not the tonsils of a partner. I turned back to the movie so she wouldn't get any hint that I was interested.
Even after a few minutes of watching, hoping against hope to see some car chase or major fight, or even guns and rockets exploding, I came to the conclusion that chick flicks were an acquired taste, and I definitely hadn't acquired it yet. Still, since it was a French film about two women who, despite being married, discovered that they loved each other more, the girls were all very emotionally involved in the story, even with the subtitles doing a poor translation of the emotion conveyed by the actresses and by the actors who portrayed the confused by still caring husbands. The one plus is that I was starting to recognize a few words of the French dialog.
"You look pretty tense," Rosslyn said quietly in my ear.
I shrugged. "Long day and a half," I replied, equally quietly.
"I bet. Being shot would make anyone tense." Her hands slipped up on my shoulders, and I practically leaped out of the sofa. "Calm down. A little massage should help take the stress out of your knotted muscles." She began to knead my fatigued shoulders, and I found myself enjoying her ministrations. I hadn't realized until that moment just _how_ stressed I'd become from the previous day and a half.
"I'm still not interested," I whispered insistently to Rosslyn.
"It's only a shoulder massage," Rosslyn giggled softly. "Lighten up a bit, would you?"
"It'd be easier to do that if you weren't always hitting on me," I retorted, a little louder than I'd intended, because a few faces turned our way, causing my cheeks to burn.
"All of us were worried when we heard that you got shot," Rosslyn said softly, concern evident in her voice. "Almost any of the girls would give you a shoulder rub to help you relax after that."
I thought a moment, and started to protest, but it _did_ feel good, and Rosslyn was right; I was very tired and stressed from the ordeal. "Just a little bit, maybe," I said, lulled into a state of bliss.
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
Arm around her shoulder, Scott Hollings walked his girlfriend Shelly out of the ice cream shop, laughing and joking as they walked through the brisk evening air. It wasn't too late yet, and when Shelly suggested that they _cuddle_ for a bit, Scott was only too eager to agree. After he closed the passenger door, he practically floated around to the driver's door. For a moment, he frowned; his car was still disabled, and he had the family car, so it wasn't quite as 'cool', but the upside was that the back seat was roomier than his sports car, which would make extra-curricular activity there less uncomfortable.
Without his favorite squealing of tires, which frustrated him, he drove the car down the highway toward the James River a few miles away, and to the spot affectionately known as Makeout Mountain, a small bluff which was situated to give scenic views and, more importantly, privacy.
A block away, a non-descript pickup, without license plates and with darkened windows, began to roll down the road in silent pursuit of Scott and Shelly. When Scott turned off the highway, the pickup continued, and then quickly stopped, doused the lights, and turned back to follow the unsuspecting high-school sweethearts.
Scott and Shelly were busily making out, oblivious to what was around them; after all, it was the country in a sparsely-populated area, and there really was no danger to distract them. So when the car doors yanked open and rough hands grabbed the two. Shelly's shirt was off, and her bra unfastened, so her breasts bounced freely as she was dragged, screaming, from the car. Scott's pants were unbuckled, and as he was pulled from the drivers' side, his pants and underwear hung down around his thighs, threatening to fall even further.
The figures holding them were shadowy and wraith-like, without discernible features. They were large, and quite strong, as Scott realized from struggling against their grasp. As he struggled, a few fist-blows hammered into him, and he felt and heard the crack of a rib yielding under the battering. He could see two figures holding Shelly, having gagged her, while at least two men were restraining and beating him. And still, there was no clue as to their identity; they were ghostly shadows in the night, dark masks inside dark hoods, cloaked by dark clothing.
"What do you want?" Scott gasped between blows. So far, he'd managed to not cry out, despite the pain being inflicted on his helpless body.
One of the men tilted his head back and howled, a blood-curdling war cry that cut through Scott and Shelly like knives, terrifying them with the feral intensity of the sound as it was joined by all the mysterious captors.
"We want justice," another of the men growled. "And you know what for..."
Scott's eyes widened, and he paled. "What ... what are you talking about?" he stammered as fear gripped his heart.
"We know what you did," the growling man repeated. "Confess and ... or else."
"Or else what?" Scott squeaked.
"You can face your justice," the voice said calmly, "or _ours_. Your girlfriend was there that night, wasn't she? How would she like to be subject to the same treatment? Or you?" The voice was more menacing because it was spoken in such a confident, low tone and volume.
One of the other men holding Scott pulled out a large Bowie knife. With one man holding Scott's hair, he could only see the man stepping forward, lowering the knife toward his groin. Scott whimpered, trembling in fear of what he was certain was about to happen. The man with the knife jerked his shoulder slightly, and Scott cried out, and then realized that he wasn't hurt; all that happened was that his groin was much colder because his clothing had been cut away. The respite, though, was short-lived.
"Please, no!" he practically sobbed as he felt the cold steel against his scrotum.
"Confess ... or else!" the growling man repeated. Without warning, he backhanded Scott across the jaw, his knuckles smashing Scott's jaw up as they knocked him out. His unconscious body was unceremoniously dropped to the ground, and after holding a bag of herbs across Shelly's face until she passed out, the men vanished ghost-like into the night.
Poe Cottage, 3rd Floor Movie Room
Someone was kissing my neck, her face buried under my tresses, as I smelled the fragrant honeysuckle of her shampoo. Her hand danced across my bare breast, pausing to cup and lightly squeeze it before her thumb and forefinger teased my erect nipple. Her other arm, wrapped around my waist, held me fast, not that I wanted to escape from the pleasure she was giving me. I moaned at the electric sensations radiating outward from her tender ministrations on my breast.
"Shall I stop?" she asked as she began to kiss down my neck, to my shoulder, and then to my chest. Her hand expertly guided my nipple into her mouth, and she began to alternately tease it with her tongue, and suckle on it.
"I ... I can't," I protested, but the words were without conviction, and my mind was confused.
"No," she said, "but I can." She resumed kissing, and her hand slowly moved down, toward a fire that was building in me.
I felt her hand on me, and my knees wobbled at her expert touch, as the pleasure built more and more, feeling like a volcano about to explode. "Please," I whimpered, not knowing if I wanted her to stop, or if I wanted her to bring me to completion. Without thinking, I reached for her breasts, eager to give her the same pleasure she was giving to me, and I brushed her long, ravens-black hair aside so I could caress her supple breasts.
Slowly, I became aware of the sound of people shuffling around me. I was leaning against something soft and warm that smelled delightfully like honeysuckle, my hand resting against my support on on something pillowly.
Alarm bells sounded in my head. Honeysuckle - just like the dream I'd been relishing. I ... I was in the TV room, wasn't I? That was the last place I remembered - I thought. I bolted upright, opening my eyes suddenly, terrified of what I was going to see, while yanking my hand back from where it had been resting.
Around me, most of the paired girls were too busy or had left, and a number of the unattached girls were noisily rising and walking from the room. A few were staring at me, with knowing smiles, and a few titters coursed through the room. I turned, and saw Rosslyn, sitting beside me, on whose shoulder I'd apparently been resting. And my hand had been on her chest.
"Pleasant dream?" she asked me with a knowing, coy smile.
"Uh," I stammered, "I ... I ... uh ...." I figured that it was better to say nothing and leave an awkward silence - not that I knew what to say!
"Ooohhh," a couple of the girls cooed, one wigging her eyebrows suggestively. Their teasing calls ended abruptly when Rosslyn looked at them; I couldn't see, but I gathered, from the reactions, that she had given them some kind of look to get them to shut up.
"You've had a long, tiring day, and you're almost asleep," Rosslyn said with a smile. "It'd probably be best if I walked you to your room."
The catcalls started again, and once more, Rosslyn silenced them, but not before my cheeks turned six shades of red. She stood, and then offered her hand to help me up. Still groggy, I let her pull me to my feet, and then she slipped an arm around my waist to steady me.
We walked silently down the hall, and then down the stairs. I was afraid to ask the question that was on my mind, and she wasn't volunteering any information, but kept glancing at me with her enigmatic smile.
Finally, when we got in my room, I couldn't take it anymore. "What are you grinning about?" I practically demanded, turning to face her with my hands on my hips.
"Aw, you're so cute when you're angry," Rosslyn purred.
"Really," I said, getting impatient. "What ... what did you do?"
"Honestly?" she asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.
I cringed at the way she was acting. "Uh, yeah," I answered uncertainly.
"What?" I was stunned. "But ...." I shut up; I didn't want her to know that I'd been dreaming, and quite probably of her.
"I just let you use my shoulder as a pillow," she told me. "You were exhausted."
"But that must have been some dream you were having," Rosslyn grinned. "Oh, in case you didn't know, you talk in your sleep."
My mouth dropped open in shock.
Rosslyn winked at me. "You were kind of ... softly moaning ... while you slept."
"Oh, God!" I said as my cheeks flushed.
"Yeah, I seem to remember that you said _that_ a lot, too!" Rosslyn giggled. "And your hand was kind of ... roaming." She leered at me. "Who was she, anyway? Anyone I know?"
I turned away quickly, feeling my cheeks burning with shame.
Rosslyn laughed. "I _knew_ you wanted me! Now that you can admit it, it'll be easier for you to accept an invitation to the hot-tub party, won't it?"
I turned, shaking my head, while blushing intensely. "You're ... bad."
Rosslyn smiled, then licked her lips and made a kissing motion. "Good night, Kayda," she said before turning and leaving my room, pulling the door shut behind herself, and leaving me standing dumbfounded and feeling more than a bit embarrassed. I had a feeling that it was going to be a long, long time before she let me forget this incident.