Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior (Ch 5)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 2: Trials of a Warrior
(with contributions from Bek)
Chapter 5 - Thanagila
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I had to grab breakfast on the run so I could get to my costuming class, which was another of those classes that I didn't want. Nevertheless, since my schedule had already been adjusted in my favor in many ways, I figured it wasn't worth complaining too much, at least not before I went to class to see what it was about. There were about twenty-five other students in the class, most of whom looked as groggy and tired as I felt. There were a couple who were bright-eyed and eager; I alternately envied and hated them, which was a significant change for me. Until a few weeks earlier, I'd been up early to do morning chores before going to school. Now, though, after only a couple of weeks of not having to do those chores, I was getting used to sleeping in a little bit longer.
Our instructor, who had arrived early to assist students before class, was Mrs. Ryan, an old battle-axe dressed straight out of the early 1900s, with a dress that was drab, hung well below her knees, and had a neckline just barely below her tonsils. The visual dichotomy between a dowdy instructor helping one girl work on a computer of a costume with a miniskirt and plunging neckline was jarring; I was suddenly struck with the realization that I had no idea of what to expect from her or the class. Around the perimeter of the room, students had plopped in front of workstations and were slowly getting their systems initialized.
Not sure what was expected of me in the class, I stood by the doorway, looking around the room. Naturally, this led to a few leering gazes and strange stares from those who arrived to class after me; it was yet another reminder that while I was starting to fit in at Whateley, in many ways I was still a bit of an outsider. As Mrs. Ryan walked back to the front of the classroom, she paused and looked at me. I could practically see the wheels turn in her mind. "You're the new girl? Miss Franks?"
I nodded, still not sure where to sit, since it seemed like all of the workstations were occupied.
Mrs. Ryan gestured toward the desks in the center of the room, which were quite unoccupied, so with a shrug, I sat down, knowing that I was inadvertently the center of attention, sitting alone in a block of about forty desks, while everyone else sat at workstations. I felt more than a trifle self-conscious, which seemed to be a normal state of affairs lately, and one that I wished would hurry up and end.
"You were expected last week. Since this class meets once a week, you have a great deal of catching up to do, especially since we miss the two weekends around spring break."
"Yes, ma'am. Things ... happened," I answered nervously, feeling a little pressure. With limited time and the classes I'd already missed, this class could be a serious challenge. That, and my admission that some things had already occurred which would stir curiosity and add fuel to the rumor mill.
Mrs. Ryan nodded. "Yes, I was informed so. And I hope you don't mind me using this as an example, but at least one of those incidents relates directly to this class." All of the students were paying attention to her. "Several fabrics used in costumes have excellent bullet-stopping capability. Even if you're not a superhero, wearing such clothing can greatly improve your odds of success when you come against the unexpected, such as a deranged gunman."
I felt all eyes on me; the rumors of the previous day's events had to have spread across campus, and Mrs. Ryan's example probably confirmed for many people that I'd indeed been shot. At this point, questions I might ask which would hint at the event didn't matter. "Excuse me," I asked, "but what is the energy which typical fabrics can stop?"
Mrs. Ryan looked critically at me. "Kevra is rated to eleven-hundred Newton-meters when used in standard fabric weight."
"But a thirty-caliber bullet, at normal muzzle velocity, has well over two-thousand Newton-meters of kinetic energy. How do you stop that?"
Mrs. Ryan grinned, while the other students goggled at me. "It's a very good point, Miss Franks. There is no bullet-proof fabric which will be protection against all possible threats. If you'd been wearing a Kevra suit, you still would have been injured. If you had something that was sufficient to stop a fifty-caliber round, it might be no protection against fire, or electricity. There is no such thing as an invulnerable costume,"
"Except Loophole's wonder-suit," someone in the back piped up, causing titters and chuckles.
"Even Loophole's wonder-suit has vulnerabilities," Mrs. Ryan said without batting an eye. "I've looked at the materials and structure of said super-suit. Off the top of my head, I can think of six ways to defeat it." She let that soak in for a moment. "So on top of being nattily-attired in a wonderfully-designed costume, you have to think before you wade into combat as a superhero or even as a helpful bystander, or you might end up as a well-dressed corpse."
"Now, it's time to show your progress since last we met." With that, she began to go around the room, and each student's work was brought up in a holographic display in the front of the room. I felt even more awkward, because I was just beginning, while everyone else had three weeks of class, with the instruction and lab time, and had something of a costume, even though some of the works-in-progress were truly hideous or impractical. The worst, from a practicality standpoint, was a silver and Kelly-green outfit that looked like a very skimpy swimming suit with a deeply plunging neckline. While it looked extremely sexy on the model of the exemplar girl who'd created the design, it had virtually no ability to protect the wearer, unless the intent was to have the villain's eyes bugging out with lust to the point that he was effectively disabled, in which case it might have worked.
For about half the class, it was a critique session for all the students' working designs, with Mrs. Ryan very strictly refereeing to ensure that comments were fair, focused, and germane to the designs. She also went around the room so that _every_ student had an opportunity to speak about a project. During that time, I sat silently, feeling completely left out once again, because I didn't know what to say despite being asked for input. I didn't even know enough to be a fashion critic on patterns or colors.
While the others used the remaining class as lab time, I spent about a third of the two and a half hours with Mrs. Ryan, reviewing principles and material that she'd taught lecture-style, and the other two-thirds reading course material while she walked about the room helping other students with their projects.
There was a distinct attitude in the air that some of the students resented my presence, as I'd distracted Mrs. Ryan from helping them; in general, it seemed to be the students whose projects had attracted the majority of the critical comments during the review time.
"Do you have any ideas for a theme?" Mrs. Ryan asked, having noticed me sitting quietly while the others worked on their projects on the computers.
"Uh, yeah," I replied uneasily. "I'm thinking a Lakota theme. Kind of a shaman thing, too."
"Does that relate to your powers at all?"
I nodded. "Yeah. My spirit is a Lakota shaman, and my grandmother is full Lakota."
Mrs. Ryan nodded critically. "Would that be something in a faux buckskin?"
I nodded. "I have a dress that ... some friends ... got for me that's buckskin with some very nice decorative beadwork. That's the kind of thing that I was thinking of."
"That sounds like a decent starting point. Have you done any research on Native American-themed clothing?"
"Yeah, some." Thanks to advice from cottage-mates, I'd spent a little time browsing the web to find designs and pictures, and I'd saved them to my school-issued computer, so I opened a folder that had design data and started viewing the pictures. We slowly stepped through the pictures, with commentary about practical design elements, good color coordination, and style, and then we went through some of the traditional shaman masks and head-dresses. Many of the head-pieces were, even to my inexperience eye, completely impractical, especially when I considered that I'd need to use the outfit and headpiece for combat finals, plus for training when I was assigned a training team. Given my luck so far, I half-expected that someone in the administration would discover that I really _was_ a sophomore and would shove me onto a training team.
By the time class ended, I had a few ideas, and had a copy of the design software installed on my computer, so I'd be able to experiment before the next class. My assignment was to have at least two design concepts before then. I wasn't sure about creating two original designs that incorporated the bullet-resistant fabric and also fit the theme I wanted.
There was no time to go back to Poe before lunch started, and I didn't want to leave stuff in my locker, which I hadn't even had time to find yet, so I just carried my stuff to the caf, where I'd meet up with my friends - assuming they were eating on the same schedule that I was. That was a big assumption on my part, because I'd left before anyone else was awake, and we hadn't talked the day before. After the most recent attack, I had my shield spell active, because first, I knew it could stand up to a rifle shot or two or eight, and second, I was feeling more than a bit paranoid. At least I had Wakan Mila strapped to my thigh which would let me fight back - a little.
There was one curious thing about my knife which Wakan Tanka hadn't told me about. As soon as I got my knife back, I charged it with essence - just in case. And then in the evening, I'd decided to refill it, since I'd gather more essence as I slept. To my surprise, the blade was still charged from that morning, and I couldn't push much essence into it. Maybe that meant my knife could store essence like a battery; if I put in magic energy and didn't use my knife, the essence would stay there for me to use later. That could be a very handy capability. I knew I'd have to experiment to find out more about it, like how fast the essence leaked out of the knife while I didn't use it.
Naturally, as I walked alone toward Crystal Hall, one of the Wild Pack noticed and within seconds, Stormwolf was at my side, escorting me
"You don't have to do this all the time," I insisted indignantly as he fell in beside me. "I have my shield spell active."
"It's standing policy. You aren't to be alone between classes."
"And you just happen to be the white knight who always comes riding to my rescue?"
"Sure," I said, drawing out the word. "And I'm the queen of England. I think you're stalking me."
"What?!?!?" he sputtered, surprised by my verbal jab. "No, it's ... I'm not ... " I had him on the verbal ropes. "I'm just doing my job. And for your information, I _have_ a girlfriend."
"Does she know you're stalking me all the time?" Around us, I could hear students giggling at the interchange as I teased Stormwolf.
"I'm a warrior," he said gruffly, "and if you paid attention to your culture, you'd know that a warrior never puts a woman in danger."
"So you admit that you _are_ playing the gallant knight!" I chuckled.
"You really should take more martial arts classes so you can learn how to defend yourself," he said, ignoring my ripostes.
"Why, when you are always around to do it for me?" This comment elicited even more chuckles and guffaws from around us.
"Girls," he muttered under his breath, exasperated by my tormenting.
"I would say that people are going to talk, but I think they already are," I giggled. We walked into the caf.
"Just go get your tray."
"Aren't you going to be by my side to ward off evildoers and ne'er-do-wells?" I pleaded.
He just shook his head, ignoring the looks and giggles around him as people walked by. "I'll be close enough if trouble happens."
I was amazed at how cool he'd managed to stay, only losing his focus once in the entire episode. I wondered if he even had a sense of humor, or a sense of embarrassment. Some of what I'd said should have made him beet red, but he seemed unflappable.
Of course, the fates decided to return the favor; within a minute of sitting down at a table, Rosslyn came over from her usual table to join us, which allowed Stormwolf to beat a hasty retreat so he wouldn't be subject to further teasing.
Rosslyn wasted no time in getting started. "Are you two-timing me?" she whispered so none around us would hear.
My response started with a scowl. "Don't you have friends you'd rather sit with?"
"No," she grinned. "Not when you're more interesting."
"I'm not going to the hot-tub party."
Her chuckle was soft and melodious, and a bit sinister. "Maybe you'd rather cuddle and watch a movie instead."
"No," I replied quickly.
"I heard that you're really good company at a movie," she said, loud enough that others around us could hear.
"I ... fell asleep," I protested.
"Ooohh, how romantic," she purred. "Sleeping in your sweetie's arms."
"It was _not_ like that, and you know it!" I snapped back, losing my cool. "I was exhausted!"
"Napping on someone's shoulder instead of the solitude of your bed?" she continued. "How sweet!"
"What will it take to get you to stop this?" I asked, exasperated.
"You know the answer," Rosslyn said with a demure smile.
Around us, people were silent, ears turned our way and listening in to whatever salacious gossip they could hear, because Rosslyn had made it generic enough that it sounded like I had a boyfriend. As if!
"No, no, and no!" I replied.
Naomi was the first of my friends to join us. "What're you talking about?"
"Nothing," I retorted quickly.
"We were talking about how Kayda falls asleep instead of watching a movie," Rosslyn countered with a grin. "And whether she has rather ... vivid dreams."
Naomi giggled. "She's not going to stop, you know," she told me.
"Never!" I replied with a bit of anger in my voice. "I'm not going to the party."
"It'll be fun. And I can see past that defiant little glare of yours - you're curious, aren't you? And you _want_ to come, don't you?"
"No. I'm ... not going to do that."
"Kayda," Naomi said, shaking her head and smiling, "you might as well give in. She's _not_ going to give up." She leaned a little closer. "Besides, it's a lot of fun."
"I see that you want to warm up to the idea. So we'll start you off a little slower," Rosslyn said with an evil grin. "A bunch of us are going to a movie in Dunwich next weekend. Meet the bus by Schuster at six, so we can have pizza before the movie."
My mouth dropped open at the audacity of Rosslyn. "You're assuming that I _want_ to go to a movie," I replied. "You should _ask_ first."
"I thought you were the kind of girl that liked your date to take charge," she said, lifting her eyebrows suggestively. She leaned a bit closer. "And I know how to take charge," she added with a naughty smile.
It was fortunate for me that Adrian and Laurie arrived when they did; I was beyond a little bit embarrassed. Laurie noticed. "Whatcha talkin' about?"
"Nothing," I replied quickly.
"Dates for a movie next weekend," Rosslyn said at the same time.
Adrian and Laurie exchanged glances. "That sounds like fun," Adrian said. "We should make it a group thing. A whole bunch of us go for pizza, and then a movie. Afterwards, maybe we can find someplace still open with dessert. Something chocolate?"
"Mmmm," Laurie purred. "Chocolate." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "You know the way to my heart, don't you?"
"See, Kayda," Rosslyn chuckled, "it sounds like a _fabulous_ idea. So we'll meet you at six."
"Aaarghh!" I shook my head, frustrated and flustered. "When are you going to take a hint?"
"Never." With that, she waggled her eyebrows and winked at me again, and then sauntered away from our table, making sure she put a little extra sway in her hips."
Crystal Hall, dinnertime
After a restful afternoon of catching up on classes, I wasn't too disturbed that a malfunction in one of the checkout stations caused the checkout line at dinner to be a little longer than normal. Standing in line with Evvie and Laurie, I saw Ayla talking with Charge in another line, with Nikki and Toni nearby.
"Kayda, watch out," Evvie hissed softly to me. "It's Greasy and Peeper."
"Oh, good!" I said with eager anticipation.
"What?" she exclaimed, dumbfounded. "Are you crazy?" Her voice was loud enough to attract attention, which was precisely what I'd been hoping for.
With a quick glance, I saw that Ayla was looking around, and I could tell the moment he spotted Peeper. "Quick," I urged Evvie softly, "go tell Ayla to back off and watch. Go!"
Evvie stared at me, her mouth agape with confusion, before she quick-stepped to the other line to intercept Ayla. Nikki, too, noticed the commotion, and was watching, concerned enough that she looked ready to intervene.
As Peeper and Greasy looked for the source of the disturbance, I decided it was time to take things up a notch. I turned to Laurie. "Just play along, okay?" She nodded, so I continued, raising my voice a little bit. "I can't believe your boyfriend would say, to my face, that my butt is cuter than Fey's!" I exclaimed louder than normal, trying to sound upset. When Laurie's eyes popped open in shock at what I'd said, I gave her a quick wink.
Laurie stammered for a moment, and then picked up on the scene I was trying to make. "Well, you were probably wiggling your ass in his direction so he's notice you, anyway!" she snapped loudly. "And I really doubt he thinks you're cuter than me, let alone Fey!"
We had the attention of the crowd, as I'd expected - and planned. "Where is he? We can just ask!" I challenged her back.
"Ladies, please," I heard Peeper's voice over my shoulder. "There's no need to argue, when you can find an impartial ... AAAGHHH!" He cried out in shock, holding his hands over his eyes as soon as I turned toward him. "Aaaghhhhh! Make it stop!" he cried. "Make it go away!" He looked like he was ready to collapse to the ground and curl up in a little ball.
"Peeper," Greasy said from his side, "what's wrong?"
"I see ... I see ... OLD PEOPLE!" he cried. "Old, wrinkly, saggy! AAAGHHH! It's ... awful! Make it stop!" He turned and fled as fast as his feet could carry him, crying aloud in distress the whole time.
I glanced across to the other line, to where Ayla was smiling at me, nodding in a well-played' signal, while Nikki grinned broadly. I gave her a thumbs up sign in thanks for the special beads she'd enchanted for me several days prior. I was glad that they had worked exactly as I'd hoped.
As Evvie came back to our line, people around us were laughing and clapping at the show; it wasn't every day that Peeper was scared away from a girl. "Okay," Evvie and Laurie said almost simultaneously, "what was that about?"
"You know how Peeper like to ogle girls, right?" Both girls nodded. "And Nikki made her special enchanted beads to stop that, right?"
"Yeah, but most girls don't wear them anymore," Laurie said, "since Peeper has gotten a lot more subtle."
"Or he's gotten used to the effect, and he avoids staring if a girl has them," Evvie added.
"I had Nikki make me some custom beads," I practically chortled.
"So what did he see?" Evvie asked, starting to grin.
"The oldest, saggiest, most wrinkled female body I could think of. Age spots, wrinkles, stretch marks, tits sagging down past the belly-button on a paunchy tummy - the works!" I laughed aloud.
Evvie and Laurie laughed aloud at my explanation, Evvie having to wipe tears from her eyes. "That's ... that's so funny!"
I chuckled. "So one of my buddies from the Wild Pack should be here in about ...," I looked at my watch, "thirty seconds."
Laurie suddenly frowned. "You're lucky," she said ominously.
"What if Peeper had a fetish for ... old, saggy, wrinkly women?" she said, shuddering.
I saw Evvie shudder at the same time I felt a shiver run up my own spine. "I hadn't thought of that," I confessed, realizing that my whole scheme might have backfired, even though the odds were well against that. I realized that I was fortunate that it hadn't.
It took two minutes instead of thirty seconds for security to arrive, and Mindbird wanted to take me to Kane Hall that very moment, even when I explained that it was just a variation of Nikki's magic beads. They acted like I'd physically assaulted Peeper, but I managed to talk them into letting me eat first, and by the time I'd finished eating, security had checked with the original incident with Nikki's beads, and decided that I didn't have to come over for interrogation and harassment - for once. It was a small victory, but it was a victory.
Poe Cottage, evening after dinner
There wasn't very much happening in the cottage. I joined Evvie, Naomi, Verdant, and several of the sophomore girls in Angel and Wallflowers room, where we gossiped and I listened to many stories about the week, or at least that part that I had not seen because of my other activities. It was mostly a general bull session, and it was fun to sit around and chat, carefree, friendly, and peacefully. I had the distinct impression that the gathering was going to go very late into the evening. While I was enjoying the company, I was also missing Debra very much, and I found myself anxious to get to bed so that I could dream-walk with her. I don't think the other girls quite understood the emotional and personal significance of a dream-walk; it would have been very difficult to convey to them just how intensely personal dream-walk was, especially with someone you really cared for and loved.
I excused myself and, not realizing how long the day had been, trudged downstairs to my room, where I retrieved my toiletries and went into the bathroom to prepare for bed. Not surprisingly, at this hour, the bathroom was fairly empty, and as I brushed my teeth, with the showers and their Hydroflux hardware visible in the mirror, I couldn't help but feel a little bit warm and aroused at the thought of putting that hardware to its intended use. It didn't help that I remembered only too clearly the very erotic dream I had the previous night while resting on Rosslyn's shoulder. Even that memory made me feel conflicted; I shouldn't have gotten excited by her, because the only one I cared about was Debra, and yet, there was no denying that I _had_ been dreaming about the raven-haired beauty, and thinking about her _did_ make me feel rather hot. Feeling rather embarrassed by the swirl of emotions in my head, I went back to my room, undressed, pulled on my robe, and returned to the bathroom, where, after checking to ensure that no one else was there watching, I hung my robe by the shower door, made doubly sure that I switched on the sound cancellation system, and crawled into the shower.
After a very lengthy and invigorating shower, I wobbled down the hallway to my room, and to my embarrassment, I was seen by several girls, including Nikki, Verdant, and Vox. They grinned knowingly at me, and I felt my cheeks burning furiously at having been caught, but the session was just what I needed to relax and put me in the mood for dream-walking with Debra. I was learning from the Hydroflux hardware what gave pleasure to a girl, and I intended to practice while dream-walking. At the same time though, while I was in the middle of several rapid-fire, consecutive orgasms, I found my mind drifting occasionally to thoughts of Rosslyn, and the erotic dream I'd had while resting with her. She admitted very clear that she was ready and willing to teach me about the joy of loving another woman, so that I would be prepared to share that joy with Debra when we could truly physically experience what we shared in the dream world. And she was here, while Debra was in South Dakota. Rosslyn was available, and as I was realizing to my dismay, a very tempting partner to satisfy my curiosity.
It took a while for me to fall asleep, because of my troubling thoughts about Rosslyn and my anticipation of being in the dream world with Debra. Eventually my tossing and turning ceased, and I drifted into the land of nod.
It was almost a scene from a corny movie where two lovers ran toward each other across a high mountain meadow, arms outstretched towards the other, being with happiness and desire, but that was the scene I found myself playing with Debra. Even though it may have been a little clichi, Debra didn't seem to mind, eagerly running toward me just as I eagerly raced to embrace her. We collided gently, wrapping our arms around each other in a strong embrace, while our lips eagerly sought each other. Hugging and kissing, we fell to the grassy ground, rolling playfully together as if we hadn't seen each other for years.
After several minutes of tongue-fencing, we sat beside each other, giggling at the enthusiasm with which we greeted each other.
"I really missed you," Debra said, "I was so scared when I found out you been shot. If I could have, I'd have flown out immediately to be with you."
"Well," I replied, "it really wasn't a lot of fun being on the receiving end of that."
"These things are happening too much," Debra said, "and I'm really, really getting worried about you. I don't want anything to happen to you," she said, her eyes a little misty and her voice choking a bit.
"Now you know how I feel," I replied, my own voice a little emotional, "whenever you get hurt on a mission."
Debra hugged me tightly, and I strongly suspected that she was crying softly, just like I had when she'd been injured. "I promise I'll be careful," I tried to assure her, "and Fubar and the magic arts department now know what to look for to keep old snake-face out of Whateley."
"I still can't help worrying about you," Debra said.
In response, I hugged her very tightly too. My lips sought hers to assure her that I was okay. We kissed again for quite a while.
The cool mountain breeze rustled through the trees, chilling us slightly so that I had to wrap my arms around Debra and hers around me to stay comfortable, not that I minded holding her more.
We walked to a clearing in a valley, where a native tepee village spread out near a creek. The smell of a fire wafted on the breeze toward us, and the smell of something roasting tantalized our taste buds. Debra and I raced, laughing and giggling, down the side of the mountain and across the clearing into the village.
Wakan Tanka was sitting in her usual spot by the fire smiling gently and knowingly at us as we dashed among the teepees to the fire circle. Debra and I sat near Wakan Tanka, with my arms wrapped around her shoulders holding her close.
"When are you going to learn to cook, Wihakayda?" Wakan Tanka asked with a sly grin.
Debra turned and looked at me, puzzled, since Wakan Tanka had spoken in Lakota, and Debra didn't understand her.
I smiled at Debra. "Wakan Tanka is implying that I should learn how to cook," I giggled. "Like that's going to happen anytime soon!"
Wakan Tanka must have understood the hesitance in my voice, because she just shook her head saying, "You must learn to cook for yourself, Wihakayda. It is part of being self-sufficient and being Ptesanwi."
"I suppose you're going to keep insisting until I do know how to cook Lakota foods," I replied with a grumpy tone.
Wakan Tanka simply ignored me, instead using the gourd ladle to scoop some soup from a pot, and serving two gourd bowls to Debra and me. It smelled fantastic, and Debra and I hungrily dug into the soup, not knowing what the seasonings or vegetables were, and not really caring because it tasted so good.
After we ate, Debra, Wakan Tanka, and I walked along the stream, listening to the splashing and burbling water, and occasionally waiting barefoot into the chilly brook. Around us, we heard abundant wildlife birds singing in the trees, fish jumping in small ponds, frogs croaking. Overhead, an eagle circled lazily on the wind, his sharp eyes scanning the land around us as he searched for prey. Somewhere near, we heard a crashing sound in the trees, like a bear was stumbling about fattening himself for the winter.
We paused to sit on some large rocks overlooking a small pond. Butterflies and insects flitted about, and a small ruby-throated bird danced among the flowers, hovering long enough to feed on the nectar before dancing on the air in to yet another blossom. After a few moments, the hummingbird noticed us, but rather than darting off frightened, it changed course and flew directly to us, or more specifically, to me, where it hovered in front of my face.
I watched it for a few seconds, its green iridescent body with the bright ruby chest and throat looking so beautiful, and its wings a blur as they flapped so quickly that the eye couldn't track them. Then I heard the bird sigh in high, squeaky voice like I imagined a fairy sounded like. "How am I supposed to talk with you if you make me spend all my energy flying?"
Raising an eyebrow in surprise, I gently raised my hand, one finger extended, toward the graceful aerial artist, and somewhat to my surprise, the hummingbird landed on my finger.
"Are you the Ptesanwi of which all the other animal spirits speak?"
With one eyebrow cocked, I glanced at Wakan Tanka, puzzled that the animal spirits had heard of me and were speaking about me. Wakan Tanka smiled demurely. "You're very important, Wihakayda," she said. "It's only natural that the animal spirits would know of you. Thanagila has asked me several times to meet you."
"What?" I asked, astonished. "The animal spirits _want_ to meet me?"
"Yes," Thanagila replied cheerfully. "It has been long since Ptesanwi was with us."
I sighed. "I suppose you have some lesson for me, just like all the other spirits?"
Wakan Tanka chuckled. "Sometimes, Wihakayda, the spirits just want to talk with you."
"Wait," Debra interrupted. "Can you please tell me what's going on?"
"Oops," I apologized, ashamed that I'd forgotten that Debra didn't speak Lakota. I glanced at Wakan Tanka. "Is there a spell that will let Debra understand what we're saying?"
"Of course, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka answered. "Let me teach you."
I turned to Debra again. "Wakan Tanka is going to teach me a spell so you can understand without me having to translate everything."
Debra smiled at me; her smile warmed my heart and made me want to hug and kiss her because she wore her it so beautifully.
It only took a few moments for Wakan Tanka to teach me the spell, and then I invoked it on Debra. "Does it work?" I asked in Lakota.
"Yes," Debra answered, goggling in wonderment. "I understand what you said, even though I know it's not English!"
"That's good ...." I frowned as I turned to Wakan Tanka. "Wait a minute. Why didn't you use this earlier, when I didn't understand you?"
"Wihakayda, have you already forgotten what I told you about my use of magic, and how it affects the veil between us?"
I cringed a tiny bit, ashamed of my outburst. "Yes, I remember," I mumbled apologetically.
"Is this permanent?" Debra asked eagerly, changing the subject.
"No," Wakan Tanka explained. "The spell will last for several hours. There is a spell which can be permanent, but Wihakayda hasn't learned it yet."
Debra turned to Thanagila. "You're so ... pretty," she said, almost awestruck by the fact that I had a hummingbird sitting on my finger. "You look so ... innocent and joyful."
Thanagila nodded to her, and then looked at Wakan Tanka. "Why is Ptesanwi not the one talking?"
"Because I'm not sure what to say," I replied to the bird. "I don't know what I want to ask."
Thanagila turned to me once more. "Then let me tell you what I observe. You are not happy much of the time, are you?"
I glanced uneasily at Debra and then Wakan Tanka, who was sitting in the background unobtrusively, staying out of the conversation. "Uh, yes I think I'm pretty happy."
"Are you certain? And do you feel peaceful?"
I shook my head. "No. Not most of the time. Not with all the ... stuff ... that keeps happening to me."
"If you aren't peaceful, how can you be happy?" Thanagila shook his head. "Do you feel peaceful with _yourself_?" he asked, clarifying his question.
I exchanged an uneasy glance with Debra, and then I looked back to the hummingbird. "Uh ... I _think_ so."
Thanagila laughed, a bright little titter. "If you have to think about being at peace with yourself," he squeaked, "then you probably are not."
"But ... I think I am. I mean," I gulped, "I'm making friends, I'm getting settled in to school, things are looking positive."
"Are you at peace with yourself?" Thanagila repeated.
"Uh, I ... I don't know." I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"When you look in the mirror," Debra interjected, "do you like who you see? Or is there still part of you that thinks the reflection is foreign, and isn't really you?"
"Your friend speaks wisely," Thanagila said. "You cannot be at peace with others unless you are at peace with yourself. And you cannot enjoy life unless you are at peace with the world around you."
I thought a moment. "But ... that's hard!"
"Until you recently talked to Ptan, you didn't play. Without feeling playful, you are not using part of your energy, your vitality. Your energy must be balanced, but if it is out of balance, is it not better to be more playful than more worried or angry?"
"Ptan versus Ithunkasan," I muttered, remembering that lesson. "But ...."
Thanagila shook his head. "No buts. Do I look worried, or angry, or fretful?"
"No," I replied. "You look ... beautiful. So agile, so full of life. You don't look like you worry about anything."
Debra wrapped her arm around my shoulder. "And you, love, would look even more beautiful without all your worries."
"But surely there are things you have to worry about!" I protested to the tiny, colorful aerial acrobat.
"Ah, now you start to understand. There are _always_ things which we must worry about. But we must _not_ worry about those things we cannot change."
"And we have to be smart enough to tell the difference?" Debra asked with a wry grin.
Thanagila nodded. "I worry about those things I must worry about, and only when I have to. The rest of the time is for being at peace. You know of the shrew, do you not?"
I frowned. "The tiny little high-strung rodent?"
"Yes. He worries about everything, all the time. And he worries so much that he can damage his own heart from the stress of worrying too much."
"So ... if I worry too much, it's not good for me, right?"
"Now you see. Peace is good for your health. Being playful is good for you. Worry is not."
We talked more, and Debra wanted Thanagila to fly around some, because he was so agile and dexterous. In truth, I think the little bird enjoyed a chance to show off, to flit playfully among us and cause us to smile and laugh. Eventually, though, he had to return to eating, because, as he reminded us, he had to keep balance, and using energy to play required that he eat as well.
I hadn't noticed, but sometime while we were talking with the hummingbird, Wakan Tanka had gone, probably back to camp, so Debra and I decided to take a little walk. We climbed up the side of the valley, until we were sitting on a rocky crag high above the meadow below. The sun was warm and comforting, offsetting the cool, gentle breeze. I wrapped my arm around Debra's shoulder, and she put hers around my waist, leaning on my shoulder contentedly. The vista was so beautiful that we were happy to sit together and just soak in all that was around us.
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
Chief Dan Bear Claws tapped his foot impatiently as he held the phone, waiting for it to be answered on the other end.
After the sixth ring, the phone clicked on. "Yeah? What do you need?"
Chief Dan frowned as he snapped, "Knock of the physical attacks. You almost killed her."
The voice on the other end sounded quite surprised. "That wasn't me," the operative said defensively. "Someone else is doing that."
Chief Dan's eyes went wide. "Who?"
"I don't know."
"Well, find out who, and stop them! If anything happens to her ...."
"Maybe a few failed attempts on her life will convince her to leave ...."
Dan shook his head. "Don't you know what's at stake here? We can't take the chance that they might accidentally succeed."
"Then you don't want to hear what happened yesterday," the operative said, choosing the words carefully.
"What?" Chief Dan was afraid of what his agent was going to say.
"Something demonic possessed a security guard, who tried to murder her," the person said cautiously. "He came close to succeeding."
"Yes, I know that," Chief Dan replied angrily. "The shaman told me about it."
"What else can you tell me about it? What was the demon?"
"I don't know. That wasn't in the security reports that I have access to," the agent answered, frustrated that Chief Dan was getting more and more demanding of information.
"You need to find out. And get back on harassing and embarrassing her. The shaman wants her out of there _now_. The whole plan depends on her being so frustrated that she comes home."
"It won't be easy. Someone already got her schedule straightened out."
"Well, get it messed up again!" Chief Dan roared.
"I can't. Not with their computer security. Any more tampering, and their security guru will notice, trace it to me, and then I'll be in deep shit!"
"You're going to be in deep shit from a shaman if we don't get her to come home," Chief Dan reminded the agent.
The operative ignored Dan's threat. "I'll see what I can find out about the demon, and who else is interested in her. And I'll try to step up the harassment on her. It's not going to be easy - she's already made a bunch of friends who are helping and supporting her."
"Then break up those friendships."
"I'll see what I can do."
"No," Chief Dan snapped. "You'll _do_, not try."
"I've got some actions working to humiliate her, too."
"Okay, keep going with those. But remember - your actions can _not_ be traced to me, and if you fail ...."
"If I fail, _you're_ the one who's going to be in trouble with your tribe's shaman. _My_ tribe's shaman will protect me, since I'm repaying a debt to another tribe. So just make sure my expenses and fees are paid." The agent hung up the phone.
Dan winced at his operative's last comment. His threat was weak if what the agent said was true. The only thing he had was a debt being repaid, and the allure of the fees he was paying. A slight smile crept back on his features. The shaman had said to not worry about costs; well, he could promise some incentive pay to his agent.
Debra lay snuggled against my back in the buffalo furs, warm and happy. But I was feeling a little guilty because I'd found myself aroused by, and attracted to Rosslyn. Finally, I couldn't stand the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Uh, Debra?" I began softly.
"What?" she asked me back, keeping her arm draped over my body and holding me tightly against her.
"Uh, last night there was a movie in Poe," I said hesitantly. When she waited silently for me to continue, I did. "I didn't have anything else to do, and I couldn't study, so Evvie and Naomi took me."
"See," Debra said warmly, "I knew you'd get comfortable and feel accepted."
"I was ... very tired, after the shooting and my healings and regen," I said, nervousness audible in my voice.
"I told you that Rosslyn's been teasing me and flirting with me a whole bunch, didn't I?"
"Yeah." I felt her body stiffen. "And ..?"
"And ... I was sitting next to her on the couch, and she gave me a little neck-rub, and ... well, I fell asleep."
"Okay. I thought it was going to be something more than that," Debra replied.
"While I was asleep, I ... sort of had an ... erotic dream. About her."
I felt Debra's body shift, until she was leaning on her arm behind me, her body angled so she was no longer cuddled tightly against me. "There's nothing wrong with that," she said calmly. "Especially with Rosslyn. She's ... she's something special, and it'd be hard to _not_ think about her."
"And I'm not sure, but I may have been ...," I lowered my voice to a near whisper, "touching her ... breasts."
"You're ... not sure?"
I winced. "I was kind of asleep, and I dreamed I was," I stammered. "And when I woke up, I ... I had my hand ... on her chest." I looked away, ashamed. "I ... I don't _want_ to think about anyone but you."
"But I'm guessing that Rosslyn has told you about me and her," Debra said. Credit her for being sharp. "And ... you can't help but be curious, right?"
"Yeah," I said, nodding. "I ...." I shook my head, not knowing quite what to say. "When she talks about you, it's ...."
"You're a little jealous, too, aren't you?"
"Yeah," I admitted. "But I shouldn't be. It wouldn't be right, because you and I hadn't met, and we weren't involved, and ...." I sighed again. "I'm just confused."
"Because Rosslyn is there, and more than willing, and I'm so far away? And maybe because you _are_ a bit jealous, and definitely curious?"
"Uh, huh," I muttered.
"Sweetie," Debra said, leaning forward to kiss my neck, "if I _was_ there, we couldn't do anything. Not legally until your birthday, anyway. And neither of us want to risk that. We'd have to wait. In the meantime, I ... I guess I'd understand," she added softly, "if you ... you know."
I practically did a flip in the furs, until I was face-to-face and hugging her tightly. "I don't _want_ anyone but you," I said firmly. "I'm not going to give in to any temptation, no matter how much Rosslyn teases and flirts with me."
"I know you want to be strong, and resist temptation," Debra said softly. "But she's there, and it'd be okay for you, and ...."
She was giving me permission to experiment, without saying so. "I ... I don't want to, even though I know you're right, and I'm curious. I just wish ... that Rosslyn would stop, because that would take away some of the temptation."
Sunday, March 25 2007, early afternoon
For some reason, the caf seemed a trifle quieter at lunchtime. I expected it at breakfast, because of the tendency of lots of kids to sleep in, and the extended weekend serving hours, but lunchtime seemed a bit too quiet. I glanced around, and a few of the people I knew weren't there. That could have been because it was Sunday, and the meal schedule was very unpredictable, but it seemed there was more. Several people I knew weren't present, even though some of their friends were eating. I looked around again, puzzled. "What's going on?" I asked Adrian, who'd been the first one to join me at the table.
"In what way?"
"It seems like there are fewer people here."
"Well, it is Gearhead Day," Adrian answered nonchalantly before taking a big bite of his breakfast.
"Gearhead Day? What's that?"
"The Whateley Auto Club, the Gearheads ..."
"I read about them in the catalog."
"Well, they have a big event once every term where they show off their cars and do time trials at the salt flats."
"Salt flats?" I was puzzled. "The only salt flats I know are in Utah."
Adrian nodded. "Yeah, and they've got some kind of teleporting gateway that takes their cars from the shop to the test area."
"That sounds ... cool." I know I didn't sound convincing of my eagerness or interest.
Laurie set her tray beside Adrian's and then sat down next to him. "What sounds cool?"
I sighed. "The whole Gearhead thing," I answered unenthusiastically.
Evvie, Naomi, and Vasiliy had joined us.
"Don't tell me you're interested in the Gearheads," Naomi commented acerbically. The hobby plainly wasn't on her list of favorite past-times based on the disparaging tone of her voice.
"I ... I would have been," I said, my eyes closed and my head tilted slightly down. "Back before ...."
"Before you manifested?" Adrian asked, picking up the conversation that I should have never started.
"I ... I was ... a bit of a tomboy," I lied to cover the secret of Poe. "My dad owned a farm implement dealership, and I spent a lot of time with mechanical stuff."
Vasiliy chuckled. "Sounds like more than bit of tomboy, if I am understanding meaning of that word."
I glanced, and saw Evvie lift her eyebrow just a tiny bit, acknowledging quietly my recovery from almost spilling the beans. I shrugged, determined to carry on with what I'd started. "You probably don't know many farm-girls from the upper Midwest," I continued. "City girls are soft, and don't know how to fix the transmission in a tractor, or combine wheat, or cut hogs."
"Cut ... hogs?" The girls' eyes all widened. So did the guys'.
I realized that I could have some fun. "Yeah. Every spring, when the calves and piglets are born, most of the male calves get ... _parts_ ... cut off," I said, smiling as I made a slicing gesture toward my crotch. The girls all turned various shades of green, while Adrian and Vasiliy involuntarily crossed their hands in their laps. "That's so they can be fattened for market."
"Remind me to never piss you off," Adrian squeaked nervously.
"Are you saying that farm-girls are interested in cars?" Naomi asked. "Because it's probably not just farm-girls. A lot of the Gearheads are girls. Loophole, Murphy," she noted.
"Skids," Evvie contributed.
"And isn't Dashboard the president?" Adrian chimed in.
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway," I said with a shrug, trying to hide my disappointment that yet _another_ hobby was out of my reach. "I don't have a car to work on."
"You can always get a car. I think there's a car salvage place in Berlin a lot of them go to get project cars," Evvie added.
"I _had_ a project car," I countered quickly, maintaining a neutral tone despite my inner hurt. "Back home. It was my grandpa's car, and I was going to restore it and turn it into a hotrod. But now ...." I said, shaking my head sadly.
"You should bring it here," Adrian encouraged.
"How? It's halfway across the country." I sighed heavily. "Besides, I asked around, and there isn't much room in the car shop, so even if I _could_ get my car here, I wouldn't have a place to work on it because I'm just a freshman - you know, low person on the totem pole. On top of that," I added, "my schedule is too busy for me to have time to work on a major project like that."
"You have free time," Evvie countered, "and you'll get more as you get more caught up."
"I read the rules, though, and having a car in the shop is limited to people on the technology track. I'm on the magic track because of my spirit." I was making excuses to try to hide my disappointment and fear of rejection by the Gearheads. Shaking my head sadly, I added, "Maybe next fall, I guess."
"Wait. Aren't you taking electronics? That's part of technology track, right?" Vasiliy asked.
"It's just ... not practical." How could I tell them that it really hurt, deep down, because I'd been working with mechanical things all my life? It was therapeutic to assemble an engine or transmission, or to modify or build something with cold steel and a welder or a lathe or milling machine. I'd had to _make_ parts for tractors from raw metal, and the feeling of accomplishment was indescribable. None of my friends were mechanics at heart. But I'd already seen the various groups at Whateley; they were closed little cliques. After third grade, I was desperately afraid that a latecomer like me wouldn't be welcomed. I feared being rejected, but I was also afraid of feeling like I was pushing my way into a group.
"Don't be so negative," Evvie gently but firmly scolded me.
"I guess it's not meant to be this term." I turned back to my food, and the conversation wandered in another direction. I didn't contribute much to further lunchtime discussion, even when Evvie and Laurie prompted me. I didn't want to mope around, but I couldn't help feeling a little bummed.
I stood suddenly. "I'm going back to my room to work on my math," I announced before walking purposefully away. I was right about the car. It just wasn't practical. I wasn't a member of the Gearheads; hell, I didn't know if I would _ever_ be accepted by that clique. Loophole was a member? I'd heard of Loophole. She was considered a goddess of the gadgeteers, and she was a key member of the Alphas, the top dogs of the campus. From what I gathered, she already had five or six pretty impressive patents, and even as a high school sophomore, was raking in the cash from her inventions. How the hell could I compete if she was typical of the Gearheads. It accentuated the fact that I was far from the top student here, when I'd so easily been the best at my old school, and honestly, I didn't know how to _not_ be the top student.
As expected, two security officers patrolling near the cafeteria moved to intercept me, and they fell in behind me. One that I didn't know - yet - had his hand on the rifle sling that hung across his shoulder, anticipating trouble. I sighed and shook my head, chuckling to myself. At this rate, I was going to know all the security officers, and if this kept up, I'd go broke on Christmas cards and small gifts for my 'friends'.
I wasn't really paying attention as I walked, and therefore, I was surprised when two people intercepted me along the walkway. Startled by the sudden intrusion, I cast my shield spell almost immediately before I recognized Tansy with Don Sebastiano. I'd seen the two in the cafeteria; the Don had a reputation as a very nasty piece of work, considering himself God's gift to women, and using his psychic talent to get girls to fall for him, only to dump them when he tired of his new bedroom toy. There was also a rumor that he'd been badly injured by a couple of juniors who he'd made into mind-slaves, but when the spell had worn off, they wreaked a fierce revenge upon the Don, hospitalizing him with serious injuries. The guards halted behind me, and I could tell that they were nervous about the newcomers.
"Hello, Kayda," Tansy said cheerfully, smiling to me before shooting an unpleasant glare at the security guards. Just from her tone of voice, I knew she was up to something. She, too, had a pretty unflattering reputation as a rich, manipulative snob, who also made liberal use of her psychic power to get her way. "Nice afternoon for a walk, isn't it?"
"It's okay," I replied non-committally. Based on what I'd been told of the two, I wanted to say as little as possible to these two.
Sebastiano stretched out his hand, and when I grudgingly took it to politely shake, he bowed to the point that I thought he was going to kiss it. "I am pleased to meet such a charming lady," he said smoothly, raising himself. "I'm Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez, but a lot of people simply call me the Don." He had the creepy smile of a snake about to strike its prey. "And if I have heard the rumors correctly," he continued, "you would be Kayda Franks?"
"Yes," I answered, thinking furiously about how to handle the situation, even as I felt a strange calm, soothing me and telling me I was being paranoid and didn't need to fear a little conversation.
"The rumor is that you had some difficulties yesterday," Sebastiano said, his voice sounding sympathetic and concerned. There was an air about him of significant over-confidence.
"Is Team Kimba making trouble for you?" Tansy added quickly, speculating wildly. The look on her face made it very clear that she disliked the Kimbettes intensely, and that she was almost hungry for news that Team Kimba had made another enemy. "They're rather ... reckless," she added in a conspiratorial tone, and have caused far more than their share of troubles."
"There are some around campus who could protect you from their bullying," Sebastiano continued. "Let's face it - the security team and the auxiliaries like the Betas only show up when the bullying is done." He smirked at the two officers standing behind me as if daring them to react to his obviously demeaning comment.
I started to react, but then I paused, which was quite non-characteristic of me. "Yeah, I've been bullied a bit since I got here," I admitted.
"I heard about some of it," Sebastiano said, trying to look sympathetic. "The slush-balls, the ice attack - especially on a girl." He wrinkled his brow. "Only a coward would attack a girl," he spat. "Especially a lovely seqorita such as yourself."
I felt a touch of warmth rush through me at being called lovely. Something seemed wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
"But I bet you have dozens of champions willing to defend you, no?" he continued smoothly.
"Uh, not really," I stammered. Despite the cool weather, I felt unusually warm.
"No?" Sebastiano roared. "That is an outrage! No seqorita should be lacking defenders when the bullies are out." He smiled charmingly. "Why don't you join us for dinner this evening, and we can talk about what can be done to protect you from such uncivilized buffoons."
"Uh, I've got dinner plans with a couple of girls from my cottage," I replied, suddenly wondering if I shouldn't cancel those plans.
"And you have to live in Poe with all the head-cases," Tansy said smoothly. "Perhaps that's why you don't have a lot of friends - everyone is afraid of the Poesies, and doesn't want to associate with you."
"Uh, I'm ... that is, I've got some friends."
"I take it you're not referring to those arrogant snob Kimbas," Tansy purred. "They've been known to stab their so-called friends in the back." She had my attention, and she knew it. "Last term, Ayla kicked one of their supposed friends off their training team, and after she risked her life with them in Boston."
"Uh, that would be Chou, right?" I speculated, feeling a little ... distant, like I was watching the conversation from over my shoulder. "I ... heard something ...."
"Ayla stabbed her in the back," Tansy continued, "and then got her moved out of Ayla's room, to boot."
"Uncalled for. It just goes to show how untrustworthy a Goodkind can be. If she'd do something like that to a baseline, imagine what she'd do to a mutant!" Valensuera agreed, nodding.
I couldn't argue; Ayla had been very indifferent toward me when he'd been ogling me, not caring if I'd been raped and was emotionally bruised.
I frowned as I realized something - Ayla had apologized, and even offered to change his shower schedule to avoid causing me unpleasantness, even though I knew that he enjoyed the hell out of ogling the other girls. Something wasn't right here, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
"Kayda!" Evvie called to me, sounding desperate. I turned, and saw Evvie, Naomi, Adrian, and Laurie running toward me from the cafeteria. "Kayda, don't trust them!"
"Wihakayda!" Tatanka growled to get my attention, snapping me abruptly into the dream world.
"Huh?" Things seemed a bit foggy and nebulous.
"They are using psychic tricks on you," Tatanka reported, nudging me hard to snap me out of whatever brain fog they were inducing. "Snap out of it!"
"Uh, what?" I replied, feeling a big groggy. "What?"
"Those two are using mind tricks on you. Should I stop them?"
"Of course!" I snapped at Tatanka. Then I had a better idea. "Can you give them a mind-butt that'll knock them on their asses?"
Tatanka grinned. "No-one messes with the Ptesanwi while I'm on duty," he said.
Tansy screamed, clutching at her head in pain, while the Don staggered as if he'd been physically head-butted. "What the hell?" Tansy yelled furiously at me.
"What did you do to them, Kayda?" one of the officers demanded as he stepped beside me. His partner was on my other side, warily looking between the Don, Tansy, and myself.
"She attacked us," Tansy screeched, still holding her head as if it was throbbing painfully. "You saw!"
I smiled, shaking my head. "I didn't move a muscle," I said, almost gloating. "My spirit is sensitive and defends me from psychic intrusions and attacks, but it can't harm anyone who isn't psychically touching me," I continued smugly. "It's on record with Chief Delarose, and also with Mr. Geintz in the Psychic Arts department."
"We'll have to take you three to Kane Hall for an investigation," the officer said to all three of us. Tansy was scowling, and the Don had a curious expression on his face, like he had mixed emotions.
"Fair enough. But I'm not going to file a complaint," I added, grinning. "They didn't hurt me, and I know that they won't _ever_ try that again."
Evvie and Laurie came with us to Kane, where Chief Delarose was waiting. Cripes, did he ever take any time off work?
"Nice to see you without any physical damage, Kayda," he said as we sat in his office. There weren't enough chairs for everyone, so Evvie and Laurie stood, ready to defend me against whatever accusations the two were going to level at me.
"Yeah, it is a bit of a change," I said casually, smiling and shaking his hand like it was a class reunion instead of a security investigation.
"Louis said he'd be right over," the Chief replied.
I glanced at the Don and and Tansy; they were looking a little nervous about Mr. Geintz coming. Obviously, his reputation and skill were intimidating to them, since they'd been the ones who'd started the mind-games.
After Louis examined me, he was satisfied that they had been psychically touching my mind, although it wasn't clear as to the extent, and that Tatanka had only shoved them out of my mind in an act of defense. When offered the chance to press charges on me, Don and Tansy had seemed rather eager, until the Chief reminded them that they'd be subject to psychic evaluation as well. A quick glance exchanged between the two highlighted how uncomfortable they were with that thought, and they looked like they were ready to sprint from the office.
Once they'd left, with a warning, Delarose looked at me. "Okay, Kayda, what's going on? You had them dead-to-rights, and they'd have gotten serious detention."
"They learned a valuable lesson," I said, smiling. "I don't think they're ever going to try to mind-fuck me again."
Evvie chuckled. "It looked like Tatanka gave Tansy one heck of a headache."
"And he almost knocked the Don over!" Laurie added gleefully. "But what if they decide to come after you by other means?" she asked with a worried furrow on her brow.
"They will," I said with certainty. "Their type always does."
"Well, if you're not going to press the issue, I guess you can go, then," Chief Delarose said.
With Evvie and Laurie, the Chief decided that I didn't need formal security escorts, so we walked back to Poe.
"That was kind of classy how you handled them," Laurie observed.
"Yeah," Evvie acknowledged. "I'd have nailed them, but then again, I know all the crap they did last fall."
"In my experience, when adults get involved in bullying, it gets worse and far more subtle." I shrugged. "I've got enough to worry about without making enemies of Sebastiano and Tansy."
Evvie chuckled. "More so than you just did?"
I shrugged. "If all they can do is psychic stuff, then I'm okay because Tatanka can block that."
"The Don has a team of goons that can get kind of rough," Laurie cautioned. "I heard that they tried to kill Loophole and Murphy once."
"Such a cheery thought," I said sarcastically. "Can we change the subject, please?"
Laurie obligingly changed topics. "Murphy got a car in the shop, and she just came in the winter term." Just my luck for her to resume talking about the topic I'd rather have avoided.
"Yeah, but she's a friend of Loophole," Evvie noted.
"I'll get it next fall," I said, hiding my hurt again, and trying to put on a positive mask. "Besides, like I said earlier, I don't have a lot of free time, especially with extra martial arts and tutoring Ayla."
Evvie's eyes bugged out. "You're tutoring Ayla?" she exclaimed in disbelief.
"Yeah, go figure," I chuckled. "I was talking with Ms. Bell about being a TA, but I hadn't agreed yet, but apparently, she told Ayla that I _had_ agreed, and that I could help him with his pre-calc and calc 1 this term."
Evvie chuckled. "Or Ayla told them that you would tutor him."
My jaw dropped. "How would he know ... about my transcripts, and ...."
"Ayla knows more than anyone but Carson about what's going on around this place," Laurie said with a giggle.
"Would Ayla have done that?" I stammered. "Setting me up to tutor him without me knowing it?"
"Why don't you ask him," Evvie said with a shrug. "But if Ayla _is_ behind this idea, which I suspect he is, then he would have made sure you knew that you could say no."
Laird Hall, Whateley Academy
I finished tying on my gi, glancing around as I did so. "I really appreciate it, you guys," I said once again. It was nice of the three girls to take time on Sunday afternoon to help me with martial arts.
"Remember, you promised to 'elp me with my algebra," Charge reminded me unnecessarily. In exchange for spending time with me sparring, she'd traded some math tutoring. I thought I was getting the better end of the deal.
"And Ah need more practice, too," Alicia drawled, "so Ah don't mind at all."
Toni chuckled. "I get to torture a student, I get to torture a student," she said in a sing-song voice, grinning all the while and rubbing her hands together like an evil villain.
I smiled. "If it's anything like tutoring math, you're going to find that it's a lot harder to teach than to learn, especially when it's so natural for you."
"Yeah," Alicia added. "And y'all have to remember that we don't learn this stuff as fast as y'all do."
Toni shot her a faux withering glare, and then grinned. "I've already been teaching some students, so you're not my first guinea pigs. Besides, this stuff is easy. You'll pick it up really fast." She seemed a little hyperactive. "Let's go."
I followed the other girls out to the mats, and we began stretching. I had to pause and gawk at Toni, who seemed to be as limber as a wet noodle. She was stretching herself in ways that I didn't think were even possible, and as she started her warm-up katas, I noticed that Alicia and Charge were also staring.
Toni noticed that we were staring, and she paused, putting her hands on her hips. "C'mon, girls," she said sternly, "you need to warm up, too." As she spoke, she lifted one leg in a stretch until it was nearly straight up, with her arm reaching up to touch her toes.
I couldn't help shaking my head. "Why do I get the feeling that this is a very bad idea?" I asked. Trying to follow Toni's example, Alicia and Adalie followed Toni through a simple kata, while I struggled to make similar moves, completely messing up.
Toni noticed, and she bounced over beside me after directing Adalie and Alicia to continue. She demonstrated a stance, and when I tried it, she nudged and pushed me until she was satisfied that I was in the same stance. She then walked me through a few moves of the basic kata, and watched as I tried to repeat it. "No, no, no," she chided me gently. "Like this." She did the stance, and flowed gracefully through those moves again. "Now you do it."
I tried, and quickly became discouraged when I messed up again and again and again. After about fifteen minutes, during which time I felt like I was successful at precisely zero moves and stances, I stopped abruptly. "I'm sorry," I said softly, looking down at the mat in shame when I saw how she was getting frustrated by my lack of understanding of even the simplest motions and stances she was doing. "I'm just hopeless at this."
"No, you're not," Toni tried to reassure me, but I couldn't believe her. She was so graceful and refined in her motions and actions, and in comparison, I was a total klutz.
"It's so natural and easy for you. I can't even see what you're doing because you make it look too easy, and it's not." It was discouraging to try to work with Toni, because she was such a natural that she'd never gone through a long learning-curve, and thus couldn't sympathize with me. "I'm sorry I'm wasting your time."
Toni spun, and then did a walkover to my side, where she wrapped me in a hug. "You're _not_ hopeless," she repeated. After she finished a brief embrace, she started pacing and thinking. "Hmmm," she muttered to herself. "Charge, Headrush," she called out, doing a back handspring toward them, "line up on either side of Kayda, and you go through the basic kata slowly, while I watch and help her."
That was a little more successful; I followed along the other two girls, while Toni bounced around me, pausing in her critical observation to correct my stance or the motion of my hands and arms. We did that six or seven times, and then she backed off and we all went through it more quickly. It was rough, so Toni had us do the part of the kata again. As we went through it a third time, she flipped and bounced to get some pads.
"Okay," she announced when we finished those steps. "Let's work on some basic strikes that are part of that kata." She handed Adalie a large sparring pad and then demonstrated some basic strikes like knife-hand, ridge-hand, and jab. She took the pad and had Adalie slowly perform the strikes, which I could see was difficult for the French speedster. Then I performed them into the pad Adalie held while Toni leaped and bounced all around us, observing my strikes from various angles and correcting me when necessary. It was a struggle to get the movements to be fluid. I traded roles with Adalie while Alicia practiced against Toni.
"Why didn't you ask Ayla to help," Toni said as we peeled off our gis after nearly two hours of practice. "He knows this well enough to teach."
"And he's less hyperactive," Alicia said with a grin.
I winced. "I ... can't," I said softly.
"Why not?" Alicia asked the obvious question.
I closed my eyes, tilting my head forward. "I ... I just can't," I said again. "You know that, Toni," I added.
"Why not?" Adalie asked, now curious.
Toni, bless her heart, realized what I was implying. "Oh. Yeah, I forgot," she replied, careful to not spill my private secret and horror.
"What?" Alicia and Adalie asked almost in unison.
"It's ... it's personal," I muttered. "I'd rather not talk about it." Thankfully, neither girl pursued further discussion or questions about the sensitive subject.
On our way back to Poe, we passed by Melville, where Adalie and Alicia lived. Adalie reminded me of my promise to help her with math later, and then Toni and I continued back to Poe.
"You know you're going to have to spar with boys eventually," Toni reminded me.
"Yeah," I mumbled, grateful that the pathway between Poe and Melville was deserted. "I know. But ... I can't. Not yet."
"You know Ayles wouldn't do anything."
"It's just ... I ... I can't. Just thinking about it makes me ...." I barely suppressed a shudder.
"Ayles is probably going to want to help you somehow in exchange for helping him with his math," Toni added.
"I know," I said. "I would if it were me."
"I'm just warning you so you won't be surprised if you find a gold-filigreed tomahawk in your room as payment for the assistance," Toni giggled.
"He wouldn't!" I said, my mouth agape.
"He might. It's a funny rich white boy thing he's afflicted with," Toni said with a laugh.
Crystal Hall, dinnertime
The Gearheads were back at dinnertime, and from the buzz around the caf that nearly bowled us over when we walked in the door, they'd had a good day. The noise level seemed a little higher than normal as they talked with their friends about their testing, each talking a little louder than usual to be heard above the background din, with the result that _everyone_ had to talk louder. It was pretty obvious, too, from the windburns and wind-blown hair, who had been at the salt flats with the Gearheads.
After the martial arts practice session and a shower, I'd decided to wear my buckskin dress, including earrings that dangled like miniature dream catchers, and beaded thongs tying my hair. Despite the urging of Evvie, I'd resisted the notion of putting on my paint; it seemed a little much for a Sunday evening dinner.
"Are rather quiet, Kayda," Vasiliy interrupted my private thoughts as we took our place in line.
I was startled out of my thoughts and snapped my head toward him. "What?"
"You contribute nothing to conversation tonight," he continued. "You are thinking of something, perhaps?"
"Are you okay, Kayda?" Adrian asked, gazing at me. "You look very ... distracted."
I shrugged, sighing. "I'm okay." I doubted that I sounded convincing. I glanced around, looking for a way to distract the conversation from me. "I wonder what _that_ is all about," I changed to subject, indicating a tarp covered mass of struts and gear that had been assembled near the waterfall about the center of the dome.
"I dunno. It's something that bunch of newbies that came in with the Angel of Hell's Kitchen were working on," Laurie replied, staring at the huge mess as well.
I figured then that part of the abnormally-loud uproar was speculation about the mysterious structure, and not just about the Gearheads. I latched onto that explanation, because it downplayed the attention that seemed to be focused on the group that I so desperately wanted to join, but was afraid to pursue.
As we waited in an immobile line for food, staring like everyone else at the contraption, a boy of maybe 14 or 15 with a brush of fair hair tucked under a floppy green velvet cap came out dressed in something out of a Ren fair, with a green velvet vest of some sort that matched the cap, linen sleeves, and tight pants. He was carrying a long brass trumpet with a flag of green velvet draping from it. When he was sure that everyone was staring at him at him, he raised the trumpets to his lips and blew a credible fanfare. As the lights in the Crystal Dome obligingly lowered, he tucked the horn under his arm and stalked off.
A spotlight shown down from above onto the assemblage, now devoid of the covering tarp, which was revealed to be a small steep hill covered with impenetrable thorny vines studded with lurid red roses, among which venomous serpents coiled and writhed. Atop the hill, nestled among a bower with sprays of tiny white flowers, resting in state on a catafalque, was a slender female figure in a sapphire blue gown that was tastefully draped over the edge of the pedestal, her long flowing golden locks also decorously arranged, and a delicate veil of lace covered her face. For a moment, a flute played a serene yet wistful refrain.
"What the hell?" Evvie whispered loudly, receiving replies of 'shhh' from all the curious around her who were likewise entranced by the strange spectacle.
Another chorus of trumpet fanfare blared as another spotlight lanced to the floor, where a glorious white stallion appeared. Riding the princely charger was an equally princely figure, a slender youth draped in regal vestments of purple-and-white silk with ermine trimming. The large ruby medallion upon his chest was matched by the eight rubies in an elegant gold crown that topped his pageboy-trimmed head. His face was the visage of a young fey warrior-poet, almost too delicate and refined, but not quite.
The young paragon of romance looked to the hillock's summit and spotted the young princess. As the brasses were joined by strings and percussion, he reared his steed, and valiantly they essayed the hillside, but the thorns and serpents were too much for the noble charger, so the princeling dismounted and drew a sword that was suspiciously large for such a slender scabbard. As the music swelled to heights of epic grandeur, he hewed at hedge that kept him from the goal of his quest. Halfway up the hillside, a chorale joined the orchestration, and climbed to Wagnerian efforts as the Prince conquered the summit.
The orchestration faded to a single violin and a solo soprano descant as the Prince leaned over the lady's supine figure and paused. There was that brief, tender pristine moment, and then the Prince lifted the veil to reveal-
-a pebbly blue face of pseudo- reptilian horror. As he goggled in horror, 'her' eyes fluttered open, and 'she' said in a glorious baritone, "My Prince!" and clutched at him to kiss him.
The Prince reeled, stammering lame excuses that sounded even worse than blatant insults. Stumbling back from the reptilian princess, he tripped and rolled down from the hilltop, flailing through the thorny vines that tore at his regal clothing until it hung in tatters about his slender frame. He bounced, and a stray branch caught him by the seat of his pants, giving him a noticeable wedgie that made him give a falsetto gasp that rang throughout the cafeteria. Every guy hunched over a bit at the display, secretly sympathizing with the Prince even while they laughed at his predicament. The Prince bounced on that branch once or twice before it snapped, sending him sprawling face-first into the thicket.
As the Prince frantically struggled through the briars, the 'Princess' wafted down from the hilltop unimpeded, to help her 'rescuer'. The Prince just barely managed to make it to the saddle of his horse, which bolted at the sight of the 'Princess' and ran off before the Prince could get a proper seat, and dragged him along on the ground from one stirrup, as the Princess chased them off into the darkness.
The spotlights faded, and after a brief interlude, punctuated by titters and chuckles, the house lights came back up. Slowly, the applause began here and there in the room, until it became a crescendo of admiration for the evening's dining entertainment.
"Those guys are such clowns," a guy near us in line guffawed.
"Entertaining, though," a girl beside him laughed. "We should demand that they do something silly every weekend."
The guy groaned. "You _want_ them to start acting like this every weekend?"
"Ewww!" the girl replied in shock. "No way!"
I nudged Evvie. "Who was that?"
As if on cue, a somewhat shorter, slender boy with a rather androgynous, delicate face strolled into the cafeteria, accompanied by a very large, tall hulking boy with a rather frog-like or reptilian appearance. The smaller boy looked like a Johnny Depp / Tim Burton version of Willy Wonka, even to the Edwardian waistcoat, ascot, and high silk hat, which he doffed and swept in front of him as the unlikely pair took a deep bow. The larger boy, now bereft of the dress and wig, looked a little embarrassed, but he, too, bowed. An assortment of cheers, catcalls, whistles, and boos arose from the assembled crowd, and his second bow and smile acknowledged the former and ignored the latter.
"Those guys are Robert Rose, with a whole ton of middle names that all start with R, and Froggy," Laurie explained.
"Bob Rose is an ectoplasmic manifestor. His partner in that theatrical crime is Baird Frobisher," Adrian added.
"Rose is as good as Beltane," Evvie added unnecessarily for my benefit.
I groaned. "Is he as much a trickster as Beltane?"
"The two are a matched pair," Adrian chuckled. "Their pranking and counter-pranking is pretty infamous, and sometimes, it catches the spectators."
"That's ... wonderful," I deadpanned. The thought of two like Beltane wasn't comforting.
"And Robert has a very strange fascination with Nacht," Laurie added. "She's one of the Seeds, and is as uninterested in him as he's interested in her."
"Do they do this often?"
Vasiliy laughed aloud. "No. Stage show is unusual. Normally they make spectacle in quad each week."
I shook my head, unable to keep from laughing at the absurd stage-play the pair had created.
"Oh, crap," Evvie said, holding her hand against her open mouth in mock horror. "Kayda is laughing! The end is surely nigh!"
I changed my amused grin into a scowl. "I am _not_ that bad!"
A guy ahead of us in the now-moving line heard me and turned, looking up and down my figure appreciatively. "Definitely _not_!" he said with a leer that sent a shiver rippling up and down my spine repeatedly. He nudged a friend next to him. "I'm sure that's _her_," he said loudly enough that I could hear.
The friend turned, and his eyes widened. "Oh, yeah," he said, practically licking his lips in a disgustingly lustful display. "I wish she'd pose with _me_!"
"You and me both!" the first guy said, leering.
I stood, shocked at their publicly lecherous behavior, and puzzled at what they meant. Evvie and Laurie, though, had noticed, and they stepped between me and the two guys, their arms crossed over their chests. I couldn't see the looks on their faces, but judging from their stance, they were probably giving the two a withering stare of extreme disapproval. From Laurie, it would have been intimidating. From Evvie, it probably seemed life-threatening. The two guys turned away quickly, trying to shuffle away from us in the slowly-moving line.
"What the hell was that about?" I asked myself. The dinner hour was already confusing - first, there was my undeniable envy of the Gearheads, which made me feel left out again. Then there was the absurdity of the little twisted fairy-tale vignette, followed closely by the mysterious attention I'd garnered from two guys I didn't know. I hoped the night wouldn't get worse or more confusing.
I stopped at what appeared to be a concierge desk in the entrance hall of Melville. I felt a little intimidated by the displays of wealth around me from all the A-listers who lived in the exclusive residence hall. The inside of the cottage reflected that prestige; the main ground-floor hall of Poe, and I presumed the other older cottages, was quaint and old-timey, but the entrance to Melville was regal in comparison.
"May I help you?" a girl asked from the desk, interrupting my gawking at the openly-displayed status about the cottage.
"Uh, yeah," I stammered, taken by surprise by her sudden appearance. "I'm supposed to meet Charge to help her with her math."
Three guys walked across the lobby, but their eyes locked onto me and tracked me as they continued to walk. It was more than a little discomforting; it was positively creepy
"She looks a _lot_ better in person," one of the guys muttered softly, but loud enough that I overheard.
"If Fey's a ten, she's at least a nine point eight."
"Why can't she live in _our_ cottage so we could watch that every day?"
I turned my back on the offensive talk, fuming. I was absolutely certain that they were talking about me because I'd listened to more than my share of locker-room and hallway talk about pretty girls.
The concierge girl shot an envious glare at me, as if all those unwelcome comments were somehow my fault. Part of my brain reacted in rage, wanting to slap the girl for her rude behavior, while another part of me recalled how catty girls could be, especially when they were jealous of one another. Damn. Was she going to dislike me just because I looked better?
"Charge is in room four oh seven. The elevators are over there." She pointed across the entry hall to a bank of elevators in a nook off the main hallway.
"Thank you," I said politely, forcing myself to ignore her bad attitude. Ignoring the guys who I _knew_ were staring - some obviously, and some subtly - I crossed to the elevator, pressed the button, and waited. It wasn't long before the doors chimed open and the elevator disgorged a few students. Frowning angrily so as to discourage any who stared at me, I scooted around them and pressed the "four" button. As the doors closed, I started to relax as I was free of the sudden unwanted attention I seemed to be finding.
The door halted, and then opened back up, and a towering hulk of a boy stepped in. He smiled at me, ignoring my angry scowl, and stretched his arm in front of me to push the 'eight' button. Slowly the door closed again.
"This one is Kodiak, the spirit of the wild earth," Wakan Tanka warned me. She was scowling in a way I had rarely seen, so I knew she was not happy about seeing him.
"Who is he?"
"He was associated with the five-fold courts. He is unpredictable. He ignored the People in our time of need, choosing instead to assist the Sidhe and others of the courts," Wakan Tanka explained, concerned.
"What should I do" I asked, concerned.
"Do not trust him. He is not trustworthy."
"What are you staring at, little lady?" the boy asked with a curious smile.
"My spirit warned me about you, Kodiak," I answered gruffly.
Kodiak's eyes widened in surprise. "Your spirit knows me?" he asked. "Or have others been spreading rumors about me again?"
"My spirit knows you. And I've heard a few rumors about you, too."
He threw back his head and laughed aloud. "You seem to have me at a disadvantage. The only thing I know about you is that you're a new student and you've been in trouble with security an awful lot in your short time here." He smiled deferentially. "I'm Wyatt Cody, better known as Kodiak." He watched my expression with a wry smile. "So your guess wasn't too far off."
"It wasn't a guess," I answered, watching him warily. "My spirit doesn't trust you."
Wyatt laughed aloud. "That's not exactly a friendly way to introduce yourself."
"She's very old, and very wise. If she said that she knows the Spirit of the Wild Earth, and that I should be careful, then I'm not going to argue with her."
"You could at least be polite enough to introduce yourself," he said, never wavering from his friendly smile.
"Okay," I conceded that he had a point about manners. "I'm Kayda Franks. Freshman. And I am _not_ interested."
"What makes you think that I am?"
I scowled. "I know how guys like you think," I replied acidly. "Campus jocks, big men, and hot-shots who think they can smile at a girl and lure them into bed."
"You wound me," he said, clutching his hand over his heart. "Do you think that's all I would be interested in?"
"You didn't exactly deny what I said," I commented.
Cody laughed again. "Well, your instincts are correct. Or were. But now, I have no interest in you, or in anyone other than my girlfriend."
The elevator dinged as it slowed. "Okay," I said hesitantly. "I'll accept that. But if she dumps you, don't even think that I'd ever be interested in you. And not just because of your spirit, either."
"Who is your spirit that claims to know me?" Cody asked, bemused.
I stepped through the doors. "She'd prefer to remain anonymous," I answered bluntly. I looked at the signage, turning toward room four oh seven.
"I'll find out who your spirit is," Cody chuckled behind me as the doors slid shut. "I can always ask the bear, because if your spirit knows him, then he probably knows your spirit!"
I got a few stares from various guys and girls in the halls, including one of the Drow girls who went into the room adjacent to where Charge and Alicia supposedly resided. I stared for a moment or two, and then knocked on the door of Charge's room.
"Who is it?" I heard Charge's voice on the other side of the door.
"Ah'll get it," Alicia's voice called. Alicia recognized me as soon as she opened the door. "Kayda!" she called enthusiastically before wrapping me in a hug. "Ah want t' thank y'all for lettin' me help this afternoon. Ah need to work on mah martial arts a lot, too. C'mon in," she said, stepping aside so I could enter.
The rooms in Melville were a little nicer than in Poe, as expected. Not only that, but they were warm, unlike the drafty, uninsulated windows and walls we had to deal with. But even as I compared the rooms, I knew that the sense of community in Poe, with our shared secrets, was something that would be difficult for me to give up. The A-listers and snobs I'd already encountered were contrary to my background, upbringing, and expectations.
Adalie rose from her desk, on which was a mess of papers around an open math book. "I'm so 'appy that you've come to 'elp me," she said, gratitude in her voice.
"Yeah, me, too," Alicia chuckled. "Maybe y'all can help her so she quits gripin' about math all night and we can watch our movie!"
"Your outfit - it is so cute!" Adalie said enviously, ignoring her roommate. "I 'ave never seen a Native American - is that right?" she paused to see if she'd gotten the wording right. When I nodded, she continued. "I 'ave never seen such an outfit. Is it really authentic?"
I chuckled. "The designer took a few liberties," I answered, sitting down in Alicia's chair which Alicia had pulled next to Adalie's desk for me. "I don't think they wore dresses with skirts this short or necklines this low."
"You certainly 'ave the figure to make it look good," Adalie repeated.
"I don't think you want to spend the whole night talking fashion," I chuckled, "unless you're stalling to avoid doing algebra."
Adalie blushed. "Per'aps," she admitted. "I am not good at it, and most of the lessons confuse me."
It took a while to help Adalie with her math; when she started on a problem, it quickly became apparent that some earlier concepts weren't clear to her, so we had to back up several times. Eventually, though, she had her daily homework completed.
"You're going to have to back up as you work problems to make sure you have the basic concepts down," I cautioned her.
"Oui," Adalie said, concerned. "But often I do not know 'ow to recognize which parts I don't understand."
"If you get confused, ask for help before you get so far behind again," I advised her.
"Would y'all like t' stick around for a movie?" Alicia asked eagerly.
"Oui," Adalie chimed in. "It is a French love story."
"Which means it's a borin' black-n-white movie with bad subtitles and a confusin' plot!" Alicia teased. In response, Adalie stuck out her tongue at Alicia.
"I'd like to," I said, realizing that these two were also quickly becoming my friends - I hoped. "But I have to get back to finish my own homework. I'm a little behind in French."
"French?" Alicia asked. "Y'all can ask us. Mah folks speak French back home, and of course Adalie is from France!"
"Thanks," I replied, "but I don't want to spoil your evenings. "There are a few girls in Poe I can get help from." I stood and walked to the door. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, I guess."
"Oui," Adalie said, leaping to her feet and giving me a hug. "Merci for the 'elp. I would be up very late and still not get the math right if you 'adn't 'elped."
Alicia nodded. "And Ah learned some from watchin' and listenin' t' ya. Y'all can come by any time. 'Specially when Ah make up a batch o' Cajun gumbo!"
"Thanks," I said, not sure if I should consider that a welcome invitation. I had no idea what Alicia was talking about. With that, I went back to Poe, pausing to activate my shield spell before stepping out into the cool night air - after waiting for my security escort, as I was required to do. I wasn't going to ignore my restrictions _all_ the time.
There was a spring in my step in the few paces between the bathroom and my room's door; Bunny was giving me a strange look, like my whistling happily was an ill omen of something bad. "Nite," I said to her with a smile before slipping into my room.
Behind me, she _had_ to have been thinking that I'd been using the Hydroflux since I was in such a good mood. I smiled to myself; a few days ago, I'd have died of embarrassment at the thought of using the special shower hardware. With that, I staggered as I realized that it hadn't even been five weeks since my life had changed so radically.
I sank onto the bed, my robe hanging open, as I thought about the enormity of changes in my life. I manifested as a mutant, changed gender, and looked fully like a Native American girl. I was almost killed twice, was brutalized, and met Debra after fleeing my home town. I'd been almost hurt or killed as a bystander in a jewelry-store robbery, attacked in the dream realm, then in real-life by enemies of Wakan Tanka, the very powerful entity whose emissary I was. I'd been psychically attacked, hit with slushballs, pushed telekinetically, and smashed with an ice ball. I'd been humiliated and tormented by an unreasonable class schedule, and bullied by an advisor. I'd been hospitalized, not once, but three times, once due to a PTSD event. I'd met an ancient antagonist who'd messed up my magic and humiliated me. I'd had PTSD events on two other occasions, both of which left me shaken. I'd had a security guard try to murder me. I was too late for joining most of the campus group, so I felt a little left out.
But I was smiling. I'd survived it all, and in the process, had made some friends.
I wasn't stupid enough to think that all my troubles were over - not by a long-shot. More trouble lay in wait for me, of that I was certain. But after enough talkings-to by animal spirits, after being chided so frequently by Wakan Tanka and Tatanka, after so many visits with Dr. Bellows, maybe I'd decided it was time to quit feeling sorry for myself and to start enjoying life, like Ptan did.
Thinking of playing with Ptan and her pup in the river put a smile on my face. That short time frolicking had been very relaxing in a way that I desperately needed without realizing it. And then sharing that play with Debra in a dream walk had made it even more special.
I glanced at my alarm clock, which read ten-thirty, which meant it was nine-thirty in Sioux Falls. It wasn't bed-time for Debra yet, but I could always call her.
Still in my open robe, and not caring, I lay back on my bed and picked up my phone, dialing a number that I'd long since memorized. It was a wonder that the numbers hadn't been worn off the keys from overuse.
"Hello?" Debra answered hesitantly.
"Hi, sweetie," I purred into the phone. "I was just thinking about you."
"I wondered if you were going to call, my love," Debra answered, her voice a siren call begging me to crawl through the phone line to be with her.
"Why wouldn't I?" I asked. "I love hearing the sound of your voice."
"And I yours," Debra cooed. "You sound happy tonight! Been using that special hardware in the shower again?"
I'm sure Debra could _hear_ my blush through the phone. "No," I said, beet-red with embarrassment. "I don't have to use that to sound happy, do I?"
She laughed. "No. I know how to make you really happy when we dream-walk, and there's no shower involved!"
My toes had escaped the first blush, but they couldn't escape this one. I must have looked like a boiled lobster from blushing so hard.
"Really," she continued after giggle some, "what's up? Why do you sound so happy?" She paused dramatically. "Especially without me being there with you?"
"I was thinking," I started contemplatively.
"Did it hurt?" Debra joked, interrupting me.
I couldn't help but laugh with her. "It's ... I don't know. Something seems different today."
"Yeah." I felt like I was stumbling about for words. "It's like ... I ... sort of fit in," I said, frowning. "If that makes any sense."
"It makes perfect sense." Debra's happiness carried through the phone to me. "I told you that things would work out."
"I got my schedule straightened out..."
"You told me," Debra reminded me.
"And I ... I think I finally got my head on straight about martial arts."
"You didn't sound so sure of that last night."
"Last night I was ... pretty bummed about everything that happened."
"Yeah," Debra agreed. "And I was scared for you! Please don't do that again!" I could hear the fear and concern in her voice.
"I promise you that I'll try to never, get shot again," I vowed solemnly.
"Or any of the other stuff!" She sounded genuinely frightened and worried.
"Not on purpose," I said. "Cross my heart. But at least you know how I feel every time you go out to stop a crime or something."
Debra was silent for a moment. "That's fair, I guess. Tell me what happened to make you be happy - not that I'm objecting to you being happy, mind you."
I chuckled. "Tatanka would tell you that I was being stubborn."
"He would be right!"
It didn't do any good, but I still stuck my tongue out at the phone. "I don't know - maybe I was being stubborn," I admitted. "I've listened to more than a few of the animal spirits telling me that I needed to be less stubborn and stuck-up."
"Well, they were right! When are you going to introduce me to some more of them? The hummingbird ..."
"Thanagila," I interrupted.
"Yeah. He was pretty. And he had some good advice for you."
"And Ptan and her pup. You seemed to enjoy playing with them as much as I did!"
"When can we do that again?" Debra asked eagerly. She _had_ enjoyed playing in the mud slide and river, as I suspected.
"Soon." I paused, thinking. "I guess there are two things."
"Yeah. You know I told you about Rosslyn pranking me."
"Well, the thing that got me thinking is that she was having fun pulling my leg, until she knew it was time to be honest so I wouldn't worry. She had balance, like Ptan and Thanagila said I needed."
"Mmmm. There could be something to that."
"The other thing," I continued, "is that _I_ sort of pranked a couple of troublemakers today. You might know them - Solange and the Don?"
"Solange? That miserable, wretched excuse for a despicable human being?" I could tell that she was nearly livid with just Tansy's code-name. "Don't tell me that she hasn't been kicked out yet?"
"Nope, she's still around, and probably bitchier than you remember. Ayla told me that she was dumped from the Alphas earlier this year."
"No! And I wasn't there to see it? Damn! I know a _lot_ of people who would have paid a lot to see that!"
"And the Don got kicked out, too."
"He should be in prison," Debra hissed, "after what he did to Skybolt and Cav! They were nice, until he turned them into mind-slaves!"
"Ayla told me that it wasn't the Don; it was Hekate practicing some really dark magic."
"Yeah, but she's gone, too. She's wanted by half the world's law enforcement agencies."
"Couldn't happen to a nicer girl! Now tell me, what did you do to Tansy and the Don?"
I gave Debra a detailed recounting of the events, including - and lingering on - the psychic head-butt that Tatanka gave to both of them. "Tansy ended up with a bad headache, and the Don was knocked on his ass!"
Debra roared with laughter. "What did security say when they showed up?"
It was my turn to laugh. "They were right there, providing me a safety escort. The two of them were over a barrel; they couldn't claim that I psychically assaulted them without agreeing to mental scans to confirm their accusations, which would have revealed that they'd tried it on me. And they couldn't claim physical assault, because I hadn't touched them. And then, to make it sweeter, I didn't file a complaint, so they were humiliated in public and couldn't do anything about it!"
"That's my sweetie!" Debra said. "I'm proud of how you handled that."
"It was .... a bit scary," I admitted softly. "The Don was trying to influence me, and he might have if Tatanka hadn't been guarding me. But I kept my cool and didn't have an episode or collapse or anything!" I added proudly.
"Good for you!"
"There is one thing that made me a little sad today, though," I admitted.
"It was Gearhead Day, so all those guys were out at the salt flats with their cars. It reminded me that I won't get to work on Grandpa's car for a long time."
"Why not?" Debra asked.
"Because," I began to explain, "like all the other groups, they already rushed their members for the term, so I doubt they'd let me join, and you have to be a member to have a car on campus to work on."
"I'm sure ...."
"And I'm not in the technology track, which I'd have to be. Besides," I added softly, "with my schedule, I just wouldn't have time."
"And what else?" Debra demanded.
I sighed heavily. "It's ...." I shook my head, searching for words. "They're so ... intimidating!" I finally stammered. "Loophole has half a dozen or more patents, and they say her car does over three hundred, and everyone talks about her like she's a total mechanical genius." I sighed again. "I don't want to work where I'm the dumbest one in the shop and everyone else is telling me what I'm doing wrong or how to make what I'm working on better."
"Kayda," Debra chided me, "quit feeling sorry for yourself and introduce yourself to them."
"I can't do _that_!" I protested. "I'd ... I'd look like a desperate loser trying to push my way into their group!"
"This isn't third grade," Debra scolded, "and the lab-coat crew are very accepting of people who like building things. Especially pretty girls."
"Even if I _did_ join," I sighed heavily, "my car is back there, and I'm way out here. Maybe I'll try again after next summer. Maybe by the fall term, I'll have the car fixed enough to drive out here, and then I could work on it some more."
I changed the subject, and Debra and I chatted for almost two hours. Finally, when Evvie flopped noisily over once more, indicating not so subtly that she was trying to sleep, I figured I better end the call. She'd come back to the room late, and had spent at least the previous forty-five minutes trying to ignore my voice, even though I was trying to be quiet.
"I'd better let my roommate get some sleep," I said sadly. "And I've got classes early in the morning, too. I'll see you in the dream-world in a bit, okay?"
"Sounds like fun," Debra agreed.
"And maybe you can figure out what I'm going to do about Rosslyn," I added. "She's getting on my nerves."
"Hmmm," Debra thought. "I might have an idea." She smiled. "Do you want to prank her?"
"Most definitely," I answered eagerly.
"Okay, here's what you can do ....."
Franks Family Home, South Dakota
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway interrupted Mr. Franks' concentration. He glanced at the clock; it was well after eleven in the evening. Unhappily, he put down his newspaper and pulled himself out of his recliner, and then strode to a window where he could see the large drive/parking area of the farm, around which were various farm buildings and the house. He frowned at the sight which greeted his tired eyes - the sheriff's car was just pulling to a halt.
Mr. Franks groaned at the unwelcome intrusion, knowing that the sheriff wasn't going to be here at that late hour on pleasant business. In a mudroom just off the kitchen, he slipped on his jacket and then retrieved his 1911 pistol, sliding the bulky firearm into a pocket of his jacket. By the time he opened the door, the sheriff was striding toward the house. Judging by his posture and the way he was walking, Sheriff Clarkson wasn't a happy man.
"Sheriff," Mr. Franks said to acknowledge the man's presence, but without even the slightest hint of warmth or friendliness in his voice.
Clarkson wasn't being even marginally polite. "Where is it, Franks?" he demanded.
Mr. Franks' eyes narrowed; he was pretty sure the sheriff was referring to Kayda. "Where is what?" he asked, his voice gruff.
"Your mutant. Where is it?" Clarkson demanded again. "Bring it out here."
"My _daughter_ is a person, not a thing," Mr. Franks growled at the sheriff. "And you know that she's not here; thanks to you assholes, she had to go to a private boarding school."
Clarkson glared at Mr. Franks. "Then you won't mind if I look around to make sure that you're not hiding it around here."
"Not without a warrant, you won't," Mr. Franks replied angrily.
"I _knew_ you were hiding that piece of gene scum," Clarkson growled. "I have probable cause to look for it."
"Not without a warrant, you don't," Mr. Franks repeated.
"I can search if I want to," Clarkson moved his hand down his leg toward his service pistol.
"Are you threatening me?" Mr. Franks asked, clenching his jaw. "Because I'm playing by the rules. No warrant, no search."
"You want to play it that way?" Clarkson sneered, "then fine. I'll get a warrant, and then we'll tear this place apart looking for that filthy mutant. And while the judge gets the warrant written, I'll just stay here to make sure you don't try to move it."
"Not on my property, you won't," Mr. Franks said firmly.
"Fine." Clarkson backed down - a bit. "If you want to play that game, so be it."
"I'll cooperate, as long as you play the game by the rules," Mr. Franks continued, trying to sound at least a tiny bit cooperative. "You and all your Humanity First! goons know that Kayda isn't here anymore, not after you ran her out of town. No thanks to you, my child can't even stay at her own home."
"We don't want dangerous mutants around here!" the sheriff snapped.
"The only thing dangerous is that _you_ let her former friends get away with trying to kill her after they raped her!" Mr. Franks glowered. "So don't give me any of your self-righteous spiel about protecting the people."
"There's no evidence to support your accusations," Clarkson said, puffing up his chest.
"Thanks to you and Doc destroying or not even collecting evidence," Mr. Franks continued without emotion. He knew Clarkson was rabidly anti-mutant, and with a badge on his chest, the man could become dangerous quickly. "Now what's this all about? You didn't poke around here threatening me before. What changed?"
Clarkson glared at Mr. Franks briefly. "Some of the kids in town have received threats, and there has been physical action against their property, and now three of them were beaten."
"So naturally you suspect the one that you ran out of town, right?"
"They're all former friends of your mutant."
"And let me guess - they're also all the ones who were involved in the non-existent beatings and rape and attempted murder, right?"
"What beatings and rape?" Sheriff Clarkson snarled. He knew he'd been hemmed in perfectly by Mr. Franks; if he admitted the commonality as a reason to suspect the mutant, then he was tacitly admitting that crimes had taken place that his office hadn't investigated or had swept under the rug. If he didn't admit the connection, then he had no cause to be searching for that dangerous mutant.
"Oh, by the way," Mr. Franks said, his hands inside his jacket pockets and his fingers on the grip of his pistol - just in case, "I've still got Senator Jennings' office, and the state police, on speed dial - just in case someone tries something stupid. We wouldn't want that, now, would we?"
Clarkson fumed. "No, we wouldn't."
"Then good evening," Mr. Franks said, turning to go back into his house, leaving the sheriff with an implicit invitation to leave. At the door, he paused and turned back to Clarkson. "Oh, by the way, have you heard the news?"
Mr. Franks smiled. "Your buddies in the Sioux Falls MCO office have been arrested by the Department of Paranormal Activities for crimes against US Citizens. And based on evidence collected from their office, the East River chairman and deputy chairman of your Humanity First! friends were arrested for assault and property crimes against citizens as well. So it looks like you've lost some of your anti-mutant backup."
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Monday, March 26
"Good morning, sweetie," Rosslyn sang sweetly as she came out of the cafeteria to where I was waiting for my escort. She had a charming smile on her face, and a curious twinkle in her eye.
"I _have_ a sweetie," I replied, rolling my eyes. "I suppose you're my first-period escort again?"
"Of course," she said with a grin. To my horror, she clutched my arm, pulling me close, but not too close.
"What are you doing?" I hissed at her. "Are you trying to make everyone think ...."
"That we're friends?" she asked? "We are. We're just two friends walking to class and talking."
"Friends don't cling together like star-struck lovers," I countered angrily.
"Sure they do! Don't you watch any movies?" She giggled. "Oh wait, you fall asleep and have erotic dreams instead, don't you?"
My cheeks burned, and if I'd have had reservations about what Debra had suggested, they vanished in an instant. I opened my mouth to reply, but I couldn't think if an appropriate rejoinder, so I shut it again.
"We're having another movie night on Friday. You don't need an invitation, of course."
"You make it sound like you're asking me on a date."
Rosslyn chuckled. "Now you're catching on."
"Sorry, but my heart belongs to someone else."
"I'm not after your heart," Rosslyn said with a leering grin.
"I'm going to have to talk with Mrs. Horton about you," I threatened. "I'll tell her you're harassing me."
"Good luck with that," Rosslyn said sweetly. "As far as you can prove, I've been joking around with you. And _you_ were the one who was doing some, ahem, inappropriate touching while you were resting, not me."
My eyes nearly bugged out. "Oh, God!" I gasped. "You're going to blackmail me, aren't you?"
She laughed aloud. "No, I'm not. But that isn't a bad idea! Thanks." She watched me from the corner of her eye, seeing my shock at the corner I'd seemingly backed myself into. "Just kidding." She shook her head, smiling. "You've got to learn to lighten up a bit and not take everything so seriously."
"I'm still not coming to the hot-tub party," I said defiantly.
"You're so cute when you think it's your decision," she giggled. "We'll have to see."
"We're here, so you can go find someone else to torment," I said as we halted in front of Schuster Hall, where my avatars class met.
"No," Rosslyn said, smiling as she shook her head. "You're my ... special project ... for this term."
"I've got to get to class," I said, prying her arm off mine and starting into the building.
"Oh, Kayda?" Rosslyn asked, causing me to halt.
"You really, really have a nice touch. You must have practiced a lot," she whispered, smiling. "You made me curious whether you're as good with your lips and tongue."
"Ohhh, you!" I protested firmly and completely flustered. "You're ... impossible."
"You can have an erotic nap on my shoulder any time you want. You know where I live." She turned and sauntered off, pausing to blow me a kiss.
Crystal Hall, lunchtime
Conversation around our table abruptly halted, and heads turned to somewhere over my left shoulder. Expecting Stormwolf or Mindbird, I turned, to see what they wanted, only to have my jaw drop.
"Good afternoon, Kayda," Charlie Lodgeman said with a smile.
"Uh, yeah," I said uneasily. A trustee of the school didn't show up in the caf to chat with a mere student.
"If you've got a minute, there are a few things I need to talk with you about," he continued, still smiling.
His pleasant demeanor calmed my jangled nerves a bit, but I was still nervous. "I was just finishing up," I replied.
"We'll get your tray," Evvie volunteered.
"Thanks." I grabbed my book bag and walked with Mr. Lodgeman, knowing that many students were watching me and wondering what was going on. _I_ was wondering the same thing.
"I was assigned to be your advisor," he said casually, "so I thought I'd get to know you, at least better than when we met in Sioux Falls."
"Um, yeah. I suppose."
"We can go up to my office for a few minutes before you have to run to your next class. It's a bit less noisy," he added.
"Okay." I really didn't know what to say.
"I hear you've had an interesting time here so far," he continued as we rode the elevator.
"I guess that's one way to put it. It's not every student that has a security guard trying to kill her."
"I heard about that." He sounded a little reserved, as if he didn't want to talk about that in the hallways.
Once we got in his office, he shut the door and gestured for me to take a seat, while he sat behind his desk. The contrast between his office and the offices of Mrs. Hawkins and Dr. Bellows was marked; there were still-packed boxes piled up in corners, as if he hadn't moved in, or was preparing to move out.
"So, what do you want to talk about?"
"Let's start with your classes," he replied. "I see that Dr. Bellows covered for me and got your schedule changed. Are you happy with the changes?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "Although I don't understand why I had so many classes when I'm technically a sophomore."
Mr. Lodgeman frowned. "We're trying to figure out what happened. For some reason, Mrs. Hawkins didn't get your transcripts, and had what appeared to be a request that you take very specific classes."
I frowned. "So someone was messing with me?"
"Might be," he replied. "I've put a request with Ms. Hartford to check into that." I scowled at the mention of her name, and I saw him smile wryly. "She and I don't always see eye-to-eye," he added.
"It's nice to be out of classes I've already taken. But now Dr. Quintain and Ms. Bell both want me to do work-study for them. I really didn't get back any free time, I guess."
"And I see a note from Mrs. Carson that your fourth period is special tutoring in martial arts." He nodded. "Given what's happened to you so far, I can't say that I disagree with that assessment."
"That means I've got a full day of classes, and then electronics after regular classes, and I'm supposed to tutor in math in my free time," I grumbled.
"It's better than getting bored."
I snorted distastefully. "After all the excitement of the past month, a little boredom would be a nice change."
Mr. Lodgeman chuckled. "Yeah, you have had a rather exciting month. Which brings me to the real reason I want to talk to you. What can you tell me about the attacks on you? More specifically, the dream-world attack, the Mishibijiw, and Officer Matthews?"
I shuddered at the rush of memories at the reminder. "The dream walk - that was an attack on Debra ...."
"Yes. The snake demon attacked her to lure me into his dream space."
"Do you know the identity of the demon?"
"Yeah. Wakan Tanka said it's one of the spawn of Unhcegila."
Mr. Lodgeman frowned almost imperceptibly. "Not Unhcegila himself?"
"No," I felt the cold shiver again. "Wakan Tanka told me that if it had been Unhcegila and not just his offspring, I wouldn't have escaped."
"What did it feel like when you were near him?"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Did you have any ... perceptions of him? Any feelings or sensations?"
"Besides creepy?" I thought a moment. "It was like ... there was nothing alive. There were _things_ in the dream world, but they didn't seem alive. Not like all the animal spirits. It was like there was a big empty space with nothing."
"And the snake-demon?"
"The same, but much stronger."
"Did you try to touch his mind?"
"No. I ... I was too scared."
Mr. Lodgeman nodded in understanding. "That's normal. You're probably lucky you didn't try. It's pretty ... tainted by its father, who's a Class X entity."
"Somehow associated with the Great Old Ones, the ancient and very powerful gods who were once here. Touching - physically or mentally - anything related to the GOOs or their servitors is a very bad idea. It can physically twist a person's flesh and mind."
The shiver returned, even stronger. "Did ... did it hurt ... Debra? Because he ... made her ... carrying his own spawn."
"If Wakan Tanka didn't tell you otherwise, she should be okay." He leaned his elbows on his desk, steepling his fingers. "I want you to think about the attack by the Mishibijiw. Did you _feel_ anything from that?"
"Apart from the fact that Wakan Tanka thought he was insane, because she said they are peaceful and shouldn't have attacked us?"
I bit my lower lip, trying to recall that battle. It had been so fast that I didn't really think about what had happened. "I ... I don't know. Wakan Tanka thinks that maybe the snake demon touched Mishibijiw's mind and drove it insane, too."
Mr. Lodgeman frowned. "I was hoping that you'd have some feeling about him to compare."
"Why? What's going on?"
"I'm working with the Homestake Paranormal Activities Research Center on these attacks. They recovered the ... remains ... of the Mishibijiw, and the man who'd touched it before they got it."
My jaw dropped. "Touched it? What ... what happened to him?"
Mr. Lodgeman shook his head. "His mind is gone. He's probably irrecoverably insane."
"But ... I ... touched it, too!" I cried, suddenly very afraid.
"When you fought it, yes," Mr. Lodgeman agreed. "Wakan Tanka should have been protecting you. Or you'd be twisted or insane now."
"Even when I ...." My voice trailed off.
"When you what?" Mr. Lodgeman asked, suddenly attentive and frowning.
"Wakan Tanka told me to ... cut off his spikes," I admitted. "She said they have powerful magic."
"You ... have the spikes?" He goggled, his jaw agape. "They're ... they're probably tainted and very dangerous!"
"Wakan Tanka taught me to remove the taint," I replied nervously. "I ... had to when Officer Matthews shot me, because the bullets were tainted too, and they made my injuries not heal."
"_You_ removed the Class X residue?" To call him astonished was an understatement.
"Wakan Tanka taught me."
"And ... do you still have the spikes?"
"Yeah. I got two of them purified this weekend, and there are six more. It takes a lot of essence to do that spell, and I can only do one at a time. Wakan Tanka said they'd be very powerful talismans that I could shape into something normal, like jewelry or such."
"Kayda," Mr. Lodgeman said sternly, "those things are _very_ dangerous! Where are they?"
"In my cottage," I replied nervously.
"You have to get them to Mystic Arts for safekeeping _immediately_!"
"Uh, okay," I stammered. I didn't think I'd get that kind of reaction from my having the spikes.
"And you can purify them?"
"I want you to talk to Ms. Grimes and arrange to have them stored in a _very_ safe place. I'd really like to send one to HPARC for them to study."
"Wakan Tanka told me that I shouldn't break up the set, because they'll be more powerful that way."
"Okay. We'll deal with that after you get them purified. What else can you tell me about the Mishibijiw?
I shook my head. "Not a lot, really."
"What about the attack by Matthews?"
The memories of that very recent attack had me trembling with fear. "It ... he ... he shot me," I stammered. "You can probably find out more from Chief Delarose."
"Kayda, this isn't an interrogation. Officer Matthews was ... contaminated by something," Mr. Lodgeman explained softly. "I'm trying to help HPARC figure out what's going on, because the first two were Native American spirits, and the third points that way."
I was sitting at the fire circle drinking tea with Wakan Tanka. "Why am I here?"
Wakan Tanka took a sip of the herbal tea. "You need to be more observant, Wihakayda," she said with a sad smile. "Did you learn nothing from Itukala?"
"He taught me that I should pay attention to everything around me, and make note of what the world is telling me."
"Very good, Wihakayda," she said, "but you need to apply that lesson better. You removed the taint from your wounds, right?"
"Yes." I was puzzled by the direction of this conversation.
"You also removed taint from two of the spikes, right?"
"Yes, but ...." Things suddenly clicked. "The taints - they felt the same. Kind of an awful, sick taste and smell and feeling."
"Taints from demons are unique. If you deal with the taint of one demon, you will forever remember the ... taste ... of that demon's taint."
"They're the same!" I exclaimed, back in Mr. Lodgeman's office from dream-space.
"The Mishibijiw's spikes, and the bullets that wounded me - they're the same! Wakan Tanka helped me remember how they ... tasted. They're the same! They came from the same spirit."
Mr. Lodgeman's eyes narrowed. "Are you certain?"
I nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. They're the same." I saw his doubts. "What did they do with the bullets they took out of me, or out of the two guards Matthews shot? I ... I can compare them with a spike, to make sure. Or Ms. Grimes could help!"
Mr. Lodgeman nodded, but he was visibly wary. "I don't know if Ms. Grimes, or even Circe, could protect herself from that type of ... contamination."
"But ... what if Fubar was with me psychically when I did that? Wouldn't he be able to tell, too?"
I could almost see the gears turning in his mind. "Since I'm a shaman, too, I should be able to safely help," he said. "That just _might_ work!" He thought a bit more. "I'll talk to Fubar about it while you're in classes."
"After you take the remaining spikes to Mystic Arts."
I nodded. I didn't want to give them up, because Wakan Tanka had told me how powerful they could be for me, but I didn't doubt that they could be as dangerous as Mr. Lodgeman thought. "Okay."
"Good. Now before you go, Mrs. Carson said that you asked about learning traditional weapons and fighting skills."
"Yes," I replied after recovering from the minor mental whiplash of having the subject changed so abruptly. "Wakan Tanka wants me to learn to ride, to shoot horse-bow and use the lance, and to learn hand-to-hand traditional styles, including the knife and tomahawk."
"Good. Mrs. Carson is looking for a suitable tutor. As you can imagine, we don't have much call for traditional Native American fighting techniques here. What exists tends toward the ... eastern Asian fighting arts."
I chuckled. "I could claim discrimination against Native Americans."
Mr. Lodgeman smiled, and then shook his head. "That might work if all of the group wanted to learn more, but since you're the first one ...."
"The Nations," I repeated. "That's what I'm going to suggest that the group should be called, because most tribes thought of themselves as nations."
Mr. Lodgeman beamed. "I like the name - and the idea." His approval made me feel like I was finding my niche at Whateley.
Laird Hall, 4th period Advanced Aikido
The locker room was full of girls who looked at me with suspicion as I changed, some noting none-too-subtly that I was in the wrong place. Evvie, Verdant, and many more girls - over a dozen, I guessed, were changing, and their friendly banter seemed to pause or halt whenever they glanced my direction. Even the Drow harem was keeping their distance from me, which really made me feel self-conscious.
When we got out to the mat, I saw that the girls weren't the only heavy-weights in the class. Ayla and Blot were only two of the talented ones. I took a place at the end of the line, sitting seiza like everyone else, and looking down to avoid the curious and suspicious stares directed my way. I was so wrapped up in being unobtrusive that I almost completely missed Senseis Tolman and Ito coming onto the mat. When I did look up, I saw that Sensei Tolman was looking at me impassively, which added to my self-doubt. It _had_ been her idea, after all, but I couldnt help wondering if Sensei Ito approved of the idea, or was reluctantly just going along.
"Pejuta, front and center," Ito barked.
Surprised by his words, I scrambled to my feet and dashed across the mat to him. "Yes, Sensei," I said when I stopped in front of him, respectfully bowing very slightly.
"Class," Sensei Tolman began, "Pejuta will be joining our class for a couple of weeks for some ... intense training." I felt myself blushing down to the soles of my feet.
"You may or may not have heard of an incident on Friday. The details are not important, but an ... entity ... attacked her with the intent to kill her." There was a collective gasp, except for the grim expressions on Verdant, Ayla, and Evvie. "This was not the first attempt," she added, causing many of the girls to goggle at me, jaws dropped open. "Because of that, the administration and the Phys Ed department agreed that Kayda needs fast intensive training so she can better defend herself."
"Excuse me, Sensei," one girl piped up shyly.
"Wouldn't that be a job for security?"
Sensei Tolman turned to me. "Kayda?" she asked, inviting me to answer - if I wanted.
"A demon possessed a security guard," I said softly. "That's who tried to ... kill me."
Ito decided to chime in. "If a demonic entity could sneak onto campus in a possessed security guard, we can't completely trust security. It will be best if she learns self-defense as well to augment anything security can do to ensure her safety."
"Due to some ... traumatic events," Sensei Tolman said, carefully avoiding details, "Pejuta has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for the time being, will only train and spar with girls."
I was once again the subject of intense scrutiny, except for my fellow Poe girls, who knew the story. I wasn't going to provide any additional detail; I could trust the girls in Poe, but outside our cottage, I didn't want the rumor mill to go into warp drive.
Ito nodded. "A major part of learning anything is to learn to _teach_ the subject. The girls will take turns providing instruction, for a period of eight to ten minutes, and then they will rotate, so everyone will have a chance to instruct Kayda, as well as learn the material the rest of the class is working on each day." He turned to me. "You _will_ have to start fighting and learning with the boys, Kayda," he said firmly.
Trembling at the horrific thought, I nodded. "Yes, Sensei," I said, my voice quavering badly.
"Okay, normal groups, except Belphoebe," Tolman called out. "You have the first turn at instruction," she said to the Drow girl.
"Yes, Sensei," Belphoebe said nervously. Her slight British accent with her exotic white hair and coal-black skin and Sidhe ears was intriguing, even to me.
"Don't worry," Sensei Tolman said encouragingly, "I'll be supervising the instruction. But I _won't_ be with you all the time."
When the instructors directed, I walked to Belphoebe and bowed respectfully. "I'll try to be a good student," I said softly and meekly.
"And I'll try to be a good teacher," she replied to me with a smile. "You can call me Phoebe, or Feebs, if you wish. Most of the girls do."
"I'm Kayda," I reciprocated the informal introductions. "I'm nervous about this," I added as we walked to one side of the gym, apart from the other students.
"Mater is gloating insufferably," she said, nodding in the direction of another Drow. It was tough to distinguish one from another.
"Jobe Ann Wilkins," Phoebe replied. "She had to give the rest of us a crash course in martial arts, which fortunately she'd had since she was a young boy."
"Boy?" My eyes were wide at that little revelation.
"I'll tell you the story some other time. If we don't start instruction, Sensei Tolman will become quite upset."
"Okay. I don't want her yelling at me. Or Ito."
After instruction from Phoebe, I got brief sessions with Britomart, Adamantine, Aquerna, and Kismet. The one thing Sensei Tolman hadn't mentioned was that the girls doing the instruction were generally rested, while I was getting very fatigued by keeping up intensity for the entire class period. I think she - or Ito - were doing that by design. I was going to blame Ito - he was a sadistic little man, whereas Sensei Tolman had earned at least some respect, and thus the benefit of the doubt.
Crystal Hall, dinnertime
The undercurrent of muttered comments and innuendo in the serving line was getting annoying, and by the time I picked up my tray, I realized that I was the focus of a lot of staring, leering and ogling, to say nothing of the whispered commentary.
"What the heck is going on?" I asked rhetorically.
"I don't know," Evvie answered, "but I can tell that when most of these guys are staring at you ...,"
"Yeah," I said bitterly, "I don't have to be an empath to know that I'm suddenly the center of attention of a bunch of horn-dogs."
"But why now?" Laurie asked, pausing a moment to stare down two guys who were staring at me.
"Hey, Buffalo Girl," one guy shouted from behind us in line. When I glared at him, he grinned and waved like he knew me, or I knew him.
I turned back to Evvie and Laurie. "I don't know what's going on," I fumed, "but it's annoying."
All through the serving line, guys were openly staring at me with more than slightly lustful expressions, and the longer it went on and the more guys that were staring at me, the more nervous I got, until by the time I got from the crowded serving line to the even-more-crowded checkout line, I was shaking so badly that I thought I was going to drop my tray - and I didn't care. I had to get out of there, away from all those creepy, leering stares that were closing in all around me.
Evvie must have recognized my growing panic, because she took my tray and set it on the checkout line, which was good, because as my hands were trembling and my shaking was worsening with every passing second, I was having a hard time holding it steady. No sooner had she set it down than she wrapped her arms around me, clutching me tightly. "It's okay, Kayda," she said.
I turned, but all around me were boys - hundreds of them, it seemed, pressing in on me, reaching for me, grabbing at me. "No!" I cried, trying to twist away, but everywhere I went, there were more, all pressing zombie-like toward me, all trying to touch and grasp me.
"Kayda!" a familiar, sharp, high-pitched voice called to me, barely audible above the din of the guys drone-like incantation of, "Want Kayda. Want Kayda." I turned, looking to see what was around me, but all I could see was a sea of guys.
The voice was joined by another, definitely female voice, calling out to me, "Kayda!" A third, and then a fourth voice joined in, struggling to be heard above the din of the guys.
"Kayda!" The haze slowly parted, the guys disappearing, replaced by a minor horde of students in the cafeteria. "Kayda, are you okay?" I slowly recognized Evvie's voice.
I turned, shaking violently. "Evvie?" I cried in a small, frightened voice.
"You're okay, Kayda," I heard Laurie saying from the other side of me.
I turned, looking at Evvie for some reassuring sign, and then at Laurie. Both were holding me tightly. Around me, the background roar of students had faded, and I looked cautiously, lip trembling and limbs shaking, to see what kind of disturbance I'd created. Unsurprisingly, many of the students in the food and checkout lines were silently staring at me, wondering what was happening to me.
"I've got to get out of here," I said softly but urgently to Evvie. "Please!" I added, almost begging.
"You're okay, Kayda," Evvie reassured me. "Let's get you checked out, and we'll get to the table."
"I want to go! Please!" I repeated, more insistently.
"Kayda," Evvie said firmly, "you can't run away from this forever. You can do it. We're right here with you."
I didn't know what to say, and I was so unsure of what to do that I let Laurie and Evvie lead me through the checkout line, and to our table, where Adrian, Vasiliy, and Naomi were waiting. Laurie gave Adrian some kind of silent signal, because he moved his tray to the other side of the table so I wouldn't be seated near a guy, but between herself and Naomi.
Adrian and Vasiliy were watching me uneasily, not really eating, as I sat, trembling, not sure I wanted to stay in the caf. I tried to pick up my fork, but I was shaking too much to even take a bite of food. I could feel that others were still watching me, and the panic wasn't fading. If anything, it was resurging.
"What are you guys staring at?" a strong, female voice snapped from behind me in a commanding tone. I recognized Mindbird immediately. When some of the guys turned away, she and another girl put their hands reassuringly on my shoulders.
"Are you okay, Kayda?" Mindbird asked, concerned.
"I ... I think ...." I shook my head. "I don't know." Drops were trying to leak from my eyes. "I ... I can't do this!" I cried, burying my face in my hands as I lost the battle of holding back my tears.
I guess I cried for four or five minutes before I got control of my emotions again. "I'm sorry," I apologized to the group, wiping my face. "I ... I want to go back to my room."
"What happened?" Naomi asked, concerned.
"Too many guys, all gawking at me," I said softly. "Why were they all staring at me? What's going on?"
Mindbird and Thunderfox shook their heads. "I don't know," Mindbird said.
"This kind of thing happens," Thunderfox tried to comfort me. "Every girl, at some time, feels panicked about guys."
"I suppose," I said morosely. It wasn't supposed to happen to me. I wasn't really a girl, or at least I hadn't been.
"While I'm here," Mindbird said, sitting down beside Naomi and talking in a calm, friendly manner, "can I talk you into a cup of your tea?" She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "There were a lot of pranks that got out of hand, and I'm kind of stressed."
"Spring fever," Thunderfox interjected.
"Yeah, so it was a busy afternoon."
"Sure," I answered unenthusiastically. I took my medicine pouch from my belt, while Mindbird went to get a cup of water. It didn't take me long to do the incantation and make two cups of tea - one for her, and one for myself. After a sip, some of my panic went away, but I was still trembling. I'd calmed down enough that I could actually hold the cup without slopping tea all over my lap and the table.
Mindbird took a sip, and she purred happily, sounding far less stressed. "Ooh, this _really_ hits the spot." She turned to her compatriot Thunderfox. "You really should try some."
Suddenly, there were three excited girls gathered around me. "Make me some, please!" Palantir begged.
"Me, too!" Clover and Abracadabra whined as they tried to crowd closer to me.
Mindbird shook her head. "You three, go away!" She sighed. "See what my day was like," she muttered to me.
"I taught you how to make it," I explained, trying to be patient.
Palantir frowned. "Abra lost the instructions," she groused.
"It wasn't my fault, Pally!" Abracadabra retorted.
"Stop calling me that!" Palantir retorted sharply. She turned back to me. "Please? I won't lose the instructions this time!"
I glanced at Evvie and Naomi, who were both trying to keep from laughing. "All right," I conceded. Once more. But this is the _last_ time, got it?"
"Okay," Palantir grudgingly agreed.
"And you two as well, got it?" I glared at the other two.
Abra and Clover glumly nodded.
"And since you lost the last one, this one means you owe me one."
The three little witches frowned, and then huddled. "I don't wanna owe her a favor," Clover complained.
"But we get essence out of the tea!" Palantir countered.
"What if she makes us do awful stuff to pay her back?" Abra whined.
"She's not like Tansy," Palantir argued.
Eventually, the huddle broke. "Okay," they all agreed in unison.
After I'd gone through the instructions - twice - and they'd written them down - again - the three made their tea. The amount of essence each could get was miniscule compared to mine, because they didn't have much to start with to liberate all the natural essence in the tea's ingredients.
As the three left, I saw Evvie and Mindbird exchange quick smiles. Shortly thereafter, Mindbird and Thunderfox left the table. I had my suspicions, but I kept my mouth shut until we got back to Poe.
"Okay," I demanded as soon as Naomi, Evvie, and I were in my room, "what was that all about?"
"What was _what_ about?" Evvie asked, glancing at Naomi nervously.
"It wasn't an accident that Mindbird and Thunderfox showed up, was it?"
Evvie grimaced. "No," she admitted softly. "I saw Mindbird, so I made a big emotional outburst that I knew she'd pick up. After that, she knew what I was thinking."
"You did all of that ... to distract me?" I asked, stunned.
"Yeah," Evvie winced.
"Including the three little witches?"
Evvie nodded again. From her expression, it was clear that she feared my reaction to the truth.
I think I surprised her when I wrapped her in a tight embrace. "Thanks," I said. "I guess I needed that." I opened one arm and drew Naomi into a three-way hug. I felt my cheeks moisten, but unlike earlier in the caf, this was from feeling so accepted and grateful for my friends that I was getting emotional.
A knock interrupted my studies of Abstract Algebra, which I was trying to finally finish. "Come in," I said automatically as I slipped a bookmark at my location and put the text on my desk.
Ayla poked his head through the door. "Have you got a minute?"
"Sure. What's on your mind?" Reading his body language, I gathered that what he wanted to talk about was more than just a minute. "Evvie's in the library," I added, gesturing toward her chair.
As he sat down, I thought to myself that, at times, Ayla moved with very feminine grace, even though that idea would horrify him. I didn't completely suppress a chuckle when I recalled Toni's description of when Ayla had been approached by Loophole's brother in a colossal misunderstanding. I swear that girl could make a person's mother's funeral an amusing anecdote.
Ayla raised an eyebrow. "What?"
I shook my head, "Just thinking about what someone said yesterday in Laird." I gave a quick shrug and continued. "What's up?"
"I'd like to get a plan laid out for finishing pre-calc and calculus. Sections, timeline, quizzes, homework, test schedule, and your proposed grading structure."
I chuckled. "You make it sound like you're in a business negotiation."
Ayla smiled. "Isn't that what this is? Well-negotiated agreements avoid misunderstandings and disagreements, and ensure a successful deal. You want to be successful as a TA. I want to learn pre-calc and calc."
"It _does_ sound like a business deal."
"All good deals are win-win," Ayla stated, as if was the most obvious thing in the world.
I couldn't help but smile. "That's what my dad always said. You have to live with the same neighbors you do business with. That's hard if they feel like they got the short end of a deal."
"Basic business," Ayla said, smiling. "It amazes me how many people fail to live by that."
"I'm sure you didn't come to talk about business philosophy," I said, "so let's get back to the topic at hand. Your math classes."
"Do you think you can get this done, with everything else on your plate? You'll be doing two terms of math in one."
"Says the girl who does advanced math independent study," Ayla said with a grin.
"Touchi," I said, smiling. "How do you want to proceed? Mini-lectures and demonstrating problems, and then giving you assignments? Self-study with problem-review? How rigid a schedule do you want?"
"Unlike you," Ayla replied, "I haven't done much math as self-study. Business, yes, but not math. So I'll defer to your judgment, but I would prefer a solid schedule."
"Maybe we should start out with mini-lectures and demonstration, and see how you do. You realize this is going to be a very aggressive schedule. You'll have two months to complete essentially two terms' worth of material."
Ayla smiled. "Perfect recall will help. It won't be difficult to remember the formulas."
"True, but knowing which formula to apply when is the tricky part. Did you bring your pre-calc book?"
"No. I wasn't sure whether you'd want to get started now or tomorrow."
"After a little work tonight, I'll write up a proposal for Ms. Bell so we have her approval."
Ayla's grin was telling. "I already wrote three variations of plans," he said. "I'll e-mail you the one that's closest, and you can do the updates and submit it for approval."
I kept my jaw from hitting the floor. Of course Ayla would have anticipated and written a plan. I shouldn't have been surprised. "One thing we'll need is a timeline," I added. "I would strongly suggest that you finish pre-calc by the end of the April. That'll give five and a half weeks for calc. At that pace, there will be four tests and a final, which would put one every week. I'm inclined to add one graded homework assignment per week and one quiz per week to keep an assessment of your progress."
"That seems reasonable."
"I propose using the same scale Ms. Bell uses for her class - twenty percent of the grade on quizzes and homework, fifty percent on the four intermediate tests, and thirty percent on the comprehensive final."
"Okay," Ayla said, nodding in agreement. "That should make it more likely to obtain her approval."
"If you go get your book, we can get started."
"You're making an assumption that Ms. Bell will approve of the study plan," Ayla said cautiously.
"This from the person that convinced Ms. Bell to do this whole cockamamie thing before I'd even agreed to be a TA?" I asked with a wry grin.
"Touchi." Ayla left, returning moments later with his pre-calc book and a notebook.
I explained the next two sections in the book, working problems as I lectured, and then had Ayla do a few exercises in each section's problem set. Any doubts I might have had about him handling this aggressive approach were quickly laid to rest; he was a very diligent and attentive student. After the practice problems, I picked out several additional problems for him to work so that I'd be able to spot errors, and then Ayla went happily along his way to do his homework, with a plan for another session the following day, and a test on Thursday. I didn't tell him, but I was already planning a quiz for the next day, assuming Ms. Bell approved my study approach.
I'd no sooner settled in to work on my Powers Theory self-study than another knock sounded at the door. Sighing, I answered, "Come in."
The door opened a crack and Billie peeked in. "Are you busy?" she asked meekly.
I put my book down. "Not really. What's up?"
"I wondered if you'd have time to help with my math?" she asked.
"This must be tutoring night," I chuckled. "I just finished helping Ayla with his pre-calc study plan."
"Yeah, he told me," Billie said, having come inside the room. It was a little disconcerting talking with her, because when she wasn't thinking about it, she tended to float a few inches above the floor, as if gravity was ignoring her. "He said you were probably free."
"Pull up a chair," I replied, gesturing to Evvie's vacant seat.
As she sat down, I thought about her, and some of the hints that Toni, Ayla, and Nikki had given me about Billie. Apparently, Whateley and some of the staff had been quite unkind to her, attempting to move her to Hawthorne for infractions that someone else had started, categorizing her as a very dangerous trouble-maker, and even altering some records to keep her out of the library. Worse, someone had sabotaged a team simulation to hurt Team Kimba, and Billie had taken a devastating psychological blow during that ill-fated sim. Based on my interactions with her, I got the impression that she was reserved and hurt inside but tried really hard not to show it. In a way, I felt a strange kinship with her.
We'd no sooner started reviewing than Evvie came back from the library, with Naomi and Laurie. One glance told me that Billie felt she was intruding on Evvie and me, and Evvie was about to volunteer to go somewhere else, which made _me_ feel like I was imposing on her.
"Are things quieter in your room?" I asked Billie. "I can help you there if your roommate is okay with it."
"Sure," she said, looking relieved that I wasn't just going to toss her out as an inconvenience. She gathered up her books and we marched to her room.
It was strange to see a book floating in the air next to Jinn, the wanagi, studying independently of Jade, who was on her bed in a Hello, Kitty nightshirt, head down in another book. The two girls, Jade and Jinn, were a mystery to me _and_ to Wakan Tanka, so I figured it was easier to just deal with the situation by ignoring it.
Jade looked up when we entered, and she beamed. "Hi, Kayda," she greeted me. "Did you come to talk about Wondercute? Did you bring Tatanka?" She was positively giddy with excitement and anticipation.
"Whoa, Jade," Billie halted the rapidly-spewing questions from her roommate. "She's here to help me with math, okay? No talk about Wondercute."
Jade looked at me, disappointed. "Okay, oneesan," she replied to Billie. After sulking a bit, she perked up. "Did you bring Tatanka?"
"You have homework to do," Billie reminded Jade.
"I'm doing our homework, so we can spend time with Tatanka while I study," Jinn replied almost smugly. That confused me - how could Jade benefit if Jinn was doing the homework? And what was with the mixed pronouns?
"These two are ... very strange," I said to Wakan Tanka, sitting by the fire.
"Jinn, the wanagi, is very strongly connected to Jade. I have never seen two spirits connected this way."
"Is that why Jinn said that she was doing their homework?"
"I don't know," Wakan Tanka answered. "It is possible that what one learns, the other knows as well."
I nodded slowly, thinking about this. If it was true, it was a secret that they probably didn't want to share. "I'm not sure I trust them."
"You should be more wary around the other girl, the one with the blue hair," Wakan Tanka observed.
"Her spirit ... seems familiar. It feels like something very ancient and very powerful," she said, her eyes closed in concentration as she thought. She opened her eyes, and I could see ... fear? "I don't know how to deal with her."
"Should I be cautious?" I asked. "I see someone who pretends to be brave, but is really shy and hurt."
"Because you know how that felt, right?" Wakan Tanka asked with a smile. "If what you suspect is true, then you cannot force your way into friendship with her. All you will be able to do is to be courteous and helpful. If she wishes your friendship, she will open up to you."
"She has her friends on Team Kimba," I observed. "But I can still help her with her math when she needs it."
"And in doing so, you will be like Pizpisa," Wakan Tanka beamed. "I will delight in telling that smelly old beast that you _are_ learning!"
"Kayda?" Jade was asking, staring at me.
"Uh, sometimes my spirit wants to talk to me," I answered, telling only a half-truth. _I_ had wanted that conversation, to ask her about the two girls.
"Can you manifest him?" Jade asked, getting back her excited pre-teen attitude.
In response, I had Tatanka manifest St. Bernard size. The bison noted Jade, and as he turned around and spotted Billie, he bellowed and backed away so quickly that it startled me, staring at Billie the whole time. He'd have backed out into the hall if the door hadn't been closed.
"Tatanka," I snapped at him, "behave."
"Wihakayda," he replied in Lakota, "do you know _who_ that is?"
"Yes," I answered also in Lakota. "Billie Wilson, a student who I'm helping with math. Wakan Tanka wasn't as alarmed as you seem to be."
He looked at me, and then at Billie, before cautiously creeping up to her. He gazed up and down, and then sniffed, causing some embarrassment to Billie when his nose got near her crotch. "She smells like something bad from the past," he said gruffly, still speaking Lakota, "but I can't remember _what_."
"Does she smell like a demon?" I asked bluntly, challenging him. If he was _my_ spirit, he would do as _I_ said.
Tatanka frowned. "No."
"Then let _me_ be the one to worry about her, okay?"
Tatanka glared at me briefly before nodding. With one more suspicious glance at Billie, he walked to Jade, who started cooing about just how kyoooot he was.
"That'll keep her distracted for a while," Billie said.
"Good." I pulled Jade's chair up beside Billie's and started looking at math with her.
"What was all that talk between your buffalo and you about?"
I shrugged, as if it was no big deal. "He likes to be a little overprotective at times. Now, let's get to the math."
Laurie and Naomi had left by the time I got back to the room, leaving Evvie studying. She glanced up when I came in. "You look rather pleased with yourself," she observed.
"Yeah," I said, flopping on my bed. "But tired."
"Who knew that math tutoring could be such a workout?" Evvie chuckled.
Whateley, Astral plane
The Whateley Gaming Club, as the Dream Team officially called themselves in a blatant case of misdirection, sat around a table in their headquarters. While others thought them to be avid gamers who spent much of their non-class time engaged in various games like GEO, in reality they were learning to protect Whateley and its students from creatures of the astral plane.
Valkyrie, an astral mage, came into the room, which raised barely a stir among those gathered. "Anything new and exciting?" she asked as she took a seat in a very plush seat. Since the club members were frequently on the astral plane, it was considered a necessity for them to leave their physical bodies in comfort so they didn't have aches and pains when they returned.
Anno Domini, AD, snorted. "Do you _really_ want some excitement?"
"Not really," Valkyrie chuckled. "But this is mostly boring. How are we supposed to learn anything when it's so utterly and completely dull?"
Weaver piped up. "There _is_ something unusual going on that you might be interested in. There's kind of a ... bubble ... here."
"What?" AD asked. "What do you mean, a bubble?"
"It's like a ... very tenuous subregion in the astral plane that seems to be almost like its own space. Or like it overlaps with the astral plane that we know." Weaver frowned. "I think I might have seen something very tenuous like it before, too, but I didn't investigate more closely."
The others slipped into the astral plane to see what WS had noted. "What is it?"
"I don't know," Weaver answered softly, as if sound might disrupt this bubble and release something horrific.
Something nagging in the back of Heyoka's mind thought that the bubble was familiar, something he'd seen before, but he couldn't put his finger on why. That creepy feeling of recognition sent a shiver down his spine.
"I've never seen anything like it," AD said.
"It'd be nice if Foob was here," Valkyrie observed. "He might know what it is."
"Should we try to see what's in it?" AD asked, but from his tone, it was evident to the others that he had already made up his mind.
"I think we ought to wait for Foob," Arte-fact opined.
AD glanced around at the others. "Well, here goes nothing." He glided toward the faintly-shimmering ethereal bubble, and after glancing over his shoulder at the others, he pressed a hand against the strange phenomenon.
Nothing happened, except that it was like his hand had hit a wall. Frowning, he pushed harder, with the same result.
"What is it?"
Valkyrie was occupied pulling her astral essence into a spell. Once completed, she released the spell against the bubble. There was a dazzling, aurora-like flash on the surface of the strange object. "That didn't work," she said after the effect dissipated. "I was trying a spell to read the thing."
AD frowned. He backed up, and then cast a spell, resulting in a blinding burst on the outside of the shell, but when that faded, there seemed to have been no effect on it.
"Can you see if this is tied to the physical realm?" Weaver asked.
AD and Valkyrie concentrated. "Yeah," AD answered, getting concerned. "It looks like ... it's in Poe."
Heyoka's eyes widened. "Poe?" He didn't know anyone, other than himself, who could navigate the astral plane.
"Yeah. It looks like you're going to have to try to track this down."
A shiver went down Heyoka's spine. "I ... I think I know who, and what this is," he said with dread certainty.
"It's ... a shaman's dream-world," he said gravely. "That's why it seemed a bit familiar."
AD frowned. "Shouldn't my spell have gone into this 'dream world'?"
"Yes. Unless this is a very powerful shaman."
Weaver grimaced. "Heyoka, you're going to have to track down who this is so we can talk to him or her."
Heyoka gulped. If it was who he thought .... "I'd rather not," he said with a grimace.
"I'd rather not say," Heyoka answered. "It involves my spirit."
AD frowned. "But you know who it is?"
Heyoka nodded. "It's the new girl, Pejuta."
Weaver winced. "The Native American girl that's been the focus of so much trouble?"
"I'll try to talk to her," Valkyrie volunteered.
Fortuitously, Foob chose that moment to show up. "What are you guys doing?" he asked, sounding very concerned.
"I noticed something faint but unusual," Weaver explained, "so we were investigating."
"It's Pejuta's dream space," Foob stated immediately. "It's very heavily warded to protect her and people she cares about."
"From what?" AD asked, not liking the sound of Foob's explanation.
"From a very nasty Native American snake-demon that exists in either plane as it wants. You should probably let me talk to her, since I've been in her dream-space before."
The sighs of relief weren't audible, but the faces of the Dream Team were visibly relieved by Fubar's volunteering. If they couldn't affect the astral bubble, they weren't sure that they wanted to confront the spirit that had created it.
"If you can," Foob continued, "you should watch for astral entities trying to attack or penetrate the dream space. But if you see something, do _not_ engage it or try to stop it. Let me know immediately, and stay away from it."
AD gulped. "Is it _that_ nasty?"
"From evidence, it's a Class X entity." He noted the gulps and gasps of the rest of the team; they might have to deal with the worst astral entity that they'd ever encountered, and it was an object lesson in the dangers of their responsibility as guardians of Whateley's astral space.
Western South Dakota
As he hid under a bridge to shield himself from the injurious rays of the sun, the snake demon pondered the knowledge he'd absorbed from the two women - the one stranger in the truck, and the one of the People in the odd, fixed structure. If he understood it right, the People had been weakened by diseases brought by an invading swarm of fair-skinned humans, beings like the one in the truck whose thoughts he'd eaten. The vast herds of bison were gone, slaughtered by the invading whites to control the People.
Now the People were mostly located on small tracts of land called 'reservations, where they no longer lived their nomadic lifestyle. The snake creature knew that his father would be curious about this, even though it made no sense. The spirit of the People that they remembered was wild, untamed, roaming free on the vast prairies. Had the invaders destroyed that spirit? And if so, had they forgotten about the gods and beings they worshipped?
What would the father-creature do if there were no warriors with whom to battle and cow, no People to worship and offer sacrifices? The world had changed radically from what he, and probably his father, remembered.
There was no doubt, however, about the snake creature's place; he was the son of Unhcegila, a servant of his father, and since he'd been given a task, there would be nothing that would stand in his way.
In all the memories of the woman of the People, there was nothing about the sacred sphere. His task had become more difficult; he had to find these 'reservations' and then find someone who would know.
As the day stretched into evening, the snake demon reached out with his senses, and he immediately felt something moving. It was large, even bigger than a Bison, and moving very rapidly, like the strange metal beast which had hit him earlier. That wound had been serious, but nothing he wasn't healing from; he decided to risk another such injury to find more knowledge to consume. If he was lucky, the human in this beast would be one of the People.
Ignoring the pain of the late-day sun, the snake crawled from under the bridge, clinging to it so he climbed directly onto the road.
In the car, Joseph Red Elk took his gaze from the road for a second, because the radio station he'd been listening to had faded, so he had to switch to another station. Satisfied with the country music blaring through the car's speakers, he returned his attention to the road.
A huge black snake curled on the road, a hideous half-demon face staring malevolently at him. Panicking, Joseph jammed on the brakes and swerved to go around the massive creature. The tires smoked as the brakes locked the wheels and rubber ground noisily against the asphalt, and the car skidded, caroming off the opposite bridge rail and back into the snake creature, where it slammed to a halt.
Joseph sat behind the now-deflated airbag, dazed by the impact and the shotgun noise of the airbag inflator. He faintly saw something moving, lurching awkwardly beside his car, and he tried to get his mind in order.
It was a futile task. Even as he struggled against the seat-belt, the snake demon pushed his mouth through a window. Joseph was too dazed to realize what was happening, so he didn't even scream.
After consuming the man, the snake crawled painfully back under the bridge. This second vehicular impact had hurt him worse than the first, and he knew it would take time to heal. Worse, this man had no more knowledge of the sacred sphere than the woman. The one thing that did help was that he was driving to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, and the snake demon now had the knowledge to find this land, where he would find more People.
Two victims had given him no information about the sacred sphere. Perhaps it was time to find a shaman, who _should_ know much more about sacred artifacts. Then he'd find out where the object of his search lay, and he could claim it for his father.