Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - morning
I must have looked as bad as I felt; as soon as I staggered into the bathroom, it seemed like all the girls stopped to gawk, open-mouthed, at me.
"What happened to _you_?" Vox asked, voicing the question that I'm sure was on everyone's minds.
"I didn't sleep worth a crap last night," I said, shaking my head slowly because, among other things, I had a headache.
"No dream-nookie last night?" Vamp asked with a leering grin.
"Fuck you!" I snapped right back, and as soon as I said the words, I regretted being snippy. Then again, I regretted having to shower in a room with Vamp and Ayla, both of whom made me nervous.
"Um," Vamp leered, as if considering, "Nah, you're not my type." Ayla glared at Vamp, his eyes shooting daggers at the smartass. That wasn't surprising; it was well known that Ayla and Vamp didn't get along at all. I couldn't help but wonder why they were rooming together.
Shaking my head angrily, I joined a line for the showers.
Toni was in line ahead of me. "Really, what happened?" she asked, curious. "You really don't look good."
"Something was interfering with my dream-world," I answered with a sigh.
"So you _didn't_ get any dream-snuggling with your GF, then."
I stared at her a second before I shook my head. "No," I admitted softly
"Girl gotta get some," she said softly, but loudly enough that Verdant heard and gave me a knowing wink, and Toni's pleasant smile became a leering grin. "Nothin' like a little _cuddling_ to keep a girl in a good mood!"
My slightly reddened cheeks must have turned crimson, because I caught a few girls glancing at me and smiling. Damn, Toni had me embarrassed - again.
"Not that I didn't try," I countered, trying to push my embarrassment aside - unsuccessfully. "Let me put it this way. How would you manage to 'cuddle' if someone was banging on the door, pounding the floor above you, smashing into the walls periodically, and every so often banging on your window?"
"Damn, girl, you're supposed to be sleepin' for your dream walkin'," Toni said, shaking her head.
"Yeah, I _was_ asleep, but something was really hitting my dream-space hard last night, like ...." I broke off, realizing what it had felt like. It was the same as the time Aunghadhail had come into my dream space. I frowned, and looked around to see if Nikki was in the restroom. If I mentioned Aung's intrusion, the reminder of her ancient Sidhe spirit might Nikki off into another tear-fest. She'd already had enough of those over the weekend.
Nikki had just come in, bleary-eyed and still waking, carrying a towel and her toiletries kit. She looked like I felt - exhausted, but then again, everyone knew, from her near-constant griping, that she wasn't a morning person. On top of that, since she lost Aung, she seemed a lot less energetic and happy. She looked around, rubbing sleep from her eyes, and yawned, and then she noticed me staring at her. "What?" she asked plaintively.
"Someone was messing with my dream-walking last night," I said, angrily, even though I didn't mean to sound that way. I was tired, and my emotions were pretty raw.
"Was it ... Aung?" she asked hopefully, her eyes begging me to say yes. We all knew that she was really messed up from losing Aung, and despite counseling, often seemed to be in denial.
I shook my head 'no'. "I don't think so. It didn't feel like her. I'm sorry," I added, knowing that Nikki had gotten her hopes up that I had encountered her lost spirit.
"Trouble?" Billie stepped over beside me, aware that others were paying undue attention to us. "What's wrong?" she asked. "You look like death warmed over."
"I didn't sleep well last night. Someone, or something, was disturbing my dream space," I complained.
Nikki shook her head, her unkempt red hair swirling about her in a disheveled mess. "Are you sure it wasn't Aunghadhail?" she asked, pleading with her eyes for me to say that it was. Damn, but she was taking the loss of Aung hard, even with all the time she was spending with Dr. Bellows, and I couldn't say that I blamed her. Sometime, though, she was going to have to get out of denial and face the fact that Aung was permanently gone. She had her team-mates to help her, but she was still having difficulties, even with daily counseling.
Ayla asked, "Was it that snake-demon, perhaps?"
Toni's eyes narrowed. "Tell him to bring it on. We'll kick some snake-booty. We'll teach that bitch not to mess in _our_ hood!"
I shook my head. "You guys don't want to mess with him," I cautioned. "He's sort of Class X - real bad news. Just his appearance drives people insane."
"Must be an _ugly_ motha', then." Toni replied. "No wonder snakey-boy is such an ass!"
"It wasn't old snake-face," I replied. "I've felt his presence a few times, and this didn't feel anything like him at all."
"Girlfriend, you better find out what it was and fix it pronto. If one night without sleep leaves you like this, I'd hate to think what a week would do!" Toni said, shaking her head.
"Yeah. I know."
"Hey, why don't you have Tonka Trucka kick some psychic ass to whoever is doing that, like he did to the Don and Tansy?" Toni suggested.
"Hmm. That's a good idea."
"Of _course_ it's a good idea!" Toni giggled in a serious faux British accent. I giggled, because I immediately caught the reference, but many didn't, and they were giving her strange looks.
Several of us walked over to the caf for breakfast; as tired as I was, I wasn't really paying attention to the conversation as we walked, nor was I alert at the table with my usual gang. If the chefs had prepared eggs benedict or crepes or souffles for breakfast, I don't think I would have noticed.
As we were leaving the caf, Rosalyn sidled up beside me. "I've got escort duty this morning, girls," she said to Naomi and Evvie, pausing to wink at me as if we has some secret between us.
"Okay," Evvie said, looking warily at me. "I guess we'll see you for lunch?"
"Yeah. Assuming I survive martial arts," I groused.
"You seem awfully stressed," Rosalyn commented as Evvie and Naomi went their separate directions. "Need a shoulder rub?"
I turned, stunned by how forward she seemed to be. "What?"
Rosalyn smiled coyly. "If you're that stressed, a shoulder massage might help you relax. And then you can give _me_ a massage and help _me_ relax!" She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"You're not giving up, are you?"
"Debra told me that you always found yourself a 'special project' every term," I grumbled. "I really don't want to be yours this term."
"You know how to get me to ... slow down."
"I noticed you didn't say 'stop' this time."
Rosalyn grinned. "Why stop when I'm making progress?"
"You're _not_ making progress, and I think all you want is to see me naked."
"Is it my fault that we're on different floors, so I don't get to take in your magnificent ... scenery ... every day in the shower like those lucky girls on the second floor do?"
"I had a bad night's sleep last night, and I'm not in the mood for this."
"Oh? Something wrong?" For the first time of the morning, Rosalyn sounded concerned.
"I don't know. Something was messing with my dreams." I sighed, glancing around and noting a guy from my floor in Poe. "I wish ...." I broke off, mid-sentence because Wakan Tanka yanked me into dream space.
"You must speak to that one."
"Who? He's a kid from my floor with the code-named Heyoka?" I replied.
Wakan Tanka frowned at me. "His spirit says that he is a true Heyoka. You must find out why he is here."
"Urk ...." Rosalyn stammered when she saw the change in my posture and demeanor as Ptesanwi manifested in me. "Um, what's ... going on?"
"We must speak with Heyoka," we said imperiously. We were Ptesanwi, and we expected to be listened to.
"Uh, okay," Rosalyn said a bit nervously. "Why ... why are you talking with a royal 'we'," she asked, her voice uneasy, "and why are you glowing a little bit?"
"We are Ptesanwi. We must speak with Heyoka," we commanded.
Rosalyn, bless her heart in all her confusion about what had happened to me, took us toward Heyoka. Jamie looked like he had partial feathers on him, like he was trying to manifest a bird, and as soon as he saw us, he frowned deeply.
"Heyoka," we said in a commanding tone, "we will speak with you."
"I don't need to speak with you," he replied. There was something disquieting about his demeanor.
"Why are you here? Why are you not teaching the People, as you are supposed to?"
Heyoka frowned. "I answer to Ptesanwi," he answered.
"You _are_ the contrary one, the Heyoka, the sacred clown. I understand your words in ways some of the People cannot. You say no, when you mean yes. You say you are cold, when you are hot. You say you answer to Ptesanwi when you have no intention of answering to us. Very well, if you will not answer to Ptesanwi, will you answer to Wakan Tanka, since we speak for her? Do you answer to her?" I asked.
"I ... I will not answer to Wakan Tanka," he said after staring at us uneasily for a few seconds.
"Why are you here?" we repeated. "Your role is to teach the People."
"I can teach that which I do not know," Heyoka answered sternly.
"You _are_ truly Heyoka," we replied. "You speak contrarily, as you should to get the People to question themselves. But you must share it with the People, so they will learn. It is your task."
"I don't need to learn to control my powers," Heyoka countered. "It will help the People if I teach without knowing."
"Then learn, Heyoka, and return to the People to teach them. They are in need of us."
"The People don't need us right now," Heyoka answered. "We won't return to them."
"Uh, do you understand this?" Rosalyn asked hesitantly.
We turned to the confused older girl. "Heyoka speaks contrary to his meaning. It is a way to make the people question their knowledge, morals, rituals, and traditions."
"So ... when he said the People don't need him, and he won't return to them ...."
We smiled at Rosalyn. "He acknowledges that the People need him, and that he _will_ return to them when he is finished learning here."
"Heyoka," we continued, "you have the knowledge to dream-walk, yes?"
"I don't know how to dream-walk."
"Did you interfere with our dream-walk last night?
Heyoka frowned, and we could tell that he had an internal struggle over whether he should answer us. "We didn't notice anything unusual in the astral plane last night. We didn't try to investigate the space that is your dream-world."
"You will leave our dream-space alone!" we fairly screamed at him angrily. "You have no right to interfere in another's dream-space without permission, especially that of the Ptesanwi!'
"We can tell you everything about the incident that didn't occur," he answered. "Here, in public, and right now."
Despite his contrary language, we, as Ptesanwi, were used to dealing with Heyoka. "You will meet us later, so we may discuss this in private."
"Very well. Since you live just down the hall in Poe, come by my room to talk." We turned sharply away from Heyoka, resuming our walk toward our class. Shortly after we started walking, I felt Ptesanwi leave the real world, so I was Kayda once again.
"That was ... weird," Rosalyn said uncertainly as we walked. "Is that ... your spirit that manifests for you?"
"It is one of them, the Ptesanwi, the White Buffalo Calf Woman."
I sighed. "Is the Sacred Clown of my People."
"And you understand his funny way of talking?" Rosalyn asked. I simply nodded. "So, if that's the way it works, then when you say 'no' about going to the hot-tub party, you really mean ...."
"Heyoka speaks contrariwise. I speak normally," I cut her off with a wry grin. "Nice try, though."
"Dang. Well, you can't blame me for trying."
"I've learned to expect no less from you," I said, half-sighing, half-smiling at my would-be seductress. Then I frowned. "I really need you to keep quiet about this whole thing, especially my spirit."
Rosalyn nodded. "I might have to ask a favor for keeping my mouth shut, though," she said with a leering grin. When she saw the look of horror on my face, she chuckled. "Got you!" she teased. "I promise I'll keep quiet. As long as you _think_ about coming to the party."
"Okay," I answered. "I'll _think_ about it. But no promises that I'll come."
"Fair enough." From the very interested look she was giving me, I had the dread feeling that she was winning our little contest of wills. I was also wondering why, at times, it seemed fun to be engaged in the flirtatious verbal sparring with her.
Schuster Hall, Headmistress' Office
Mrs. Carson heard the buzz on her phone, and was tempted to ignore it in favor of the pile of paperwork before her on her desk. It wasn't that she didn't trust Elaine Claire, Ms. Hartford, or Mrs. Shugendo when they sent her papers for her signature; rather, she pushed herself to stay as informed about _her_ school as she could, and she believed that if her underlings sent her documents to sign, those papers were important enough for her to read and understand _before_ she signed them. When the intercom function buzzed again, she carefully set the paper she was reading back on the 'unread' pile and pressed a button. "Yes, Elaine?"
"Mrs. Carson, I finally got ahold of Mr. Two Knives. He's on line two," Ms. Claire reported promptly.
"Thanks, Elaine." Mrs. Carson punched a button on her phone. "Hello," she said, having switched on her speaker-phone so she could lean back and stretch a bit. Forty-five minutes being hunched over a stack of papers really made her shoulders stiff, despite being an exemplar. "Mr. Two Knives?"
The voice chuckled, a deep but friendly sound. "Please, call me Billy. I presume I'm speaking to the esteemed Mrs. Carson?"
It was Liz's turn to laugh. "I prefer to not go on reputation, but let people decide for themselves whether I live up to the advance billing."
Billy Two Knives chuckled again. "What can I do for you, dear lady?"
"Straight to the point. I'm not sure if that's appropriate for this discussion."
"Oh? You were hoping to get a feeling for me from some idle conversation?"
Liz Carson frowned. "Yes, but since you want to get straight into the topic of our phone call, a trustee of our school got a recommendation from your uncle, your tribe's shaman, that you might be qualified to tutor one of our students."
"My ... uncle? Jimmy Red Lake?" This time, Billy Two Knives sounded surprised. "What kind of tutoring are you thinking of? I'm not a teacher."
"I know. You barely passed your high school classes," Liz said, reading from her computer monitor. Silently, she mouthed, 'bless you, Elaine,' acknowledging the admin aide's diligence in getting information about Mr. Two Knives sent to her computer.
"You have me at a disadvantage."
"Do I? You seem to have checked on my reputation, so you must have been expecting someone to call you."
Mr. Two Knives laughed aloud. "Is it not wise to know who is asking about you?"
"Touche," Liz acknowledged. "I am Headmistress of Whateley Academy, a private boarding high school, and we frequently find ourselves in need of tutors with special ... skills."
"Which means you have some problem students," Mr. Two Knives commented.
"You could say that."
"What kind of skills would _I_ be able to provide?"
"The information and recommendation we received says that among other things, you're an expert horseman."
"I ride, but not conventional dressage or formal equestrian styles, if that's what you're asking."
"Yes, but I'm not looking for a conventional horsemanship instructor," Liz replied.
"What _are_ you looking for?" There was puzzlement in Mr. Two Knives' voice.
"Tell me, what are your qualifications with traditional Native American weapons and fighting styles?" Liz prompted.
"Oh, you're looking for someone who can teach Native horse combat skills? Isn't that a little unusual for a high school?"
"Your file shows that you're considered one of the best Native fighting instructors in the country."
"I teach a little bit of traditional skills."
"What do you teach?" Liz asked bluntly.
"I teach Native riding, which means bareback and no bridle. Riding this way is the basis for learning horse bow and lance. I also teach standing bow, tomahawk, war club, knife, and unarmed combat."
"So would you call yourself a warrior?" Liz asked.
Mr. Two Knives chuckled, relaxed after many confusing questions. "Some would call me that. What kind of classes are you teaching?"
"You _could_ teach my students the skills you know, right?"
"Yes, but ... I'm not sure I understand. How many students would be in my class?"
"One?!? You're talking about me teaching _one_ student?" Mr. Two Knives was astounded.
"One right now. Our trustee is pretty sure that more students in his Native American cultural group will be interested in learning the skills you teach _if_ you come here, but the primary student is a girl who needs training. Her ... spirit ... demands it."
"One student?" Mr. Two Knives repeated in disbelief.
"She's a very special student.
"She must be," Mr. Two Knives said, still surprised.
"What's your background?" Liz prompted to continue the discussion.
"I thought you read a file on me," Mr. Two Knives said.
"I do, but I want to make sure what I'm reading doesn't have any errors."
"Fair enough," Mr. Two Knives agreed. "I'm forty, single, and I'm from the Wahpekute Band. When I was younger, I belonged to the Ino'ka, the Badger Society and the Kangi'yuha, the Crow owners society. I've been a leader in both. Now I'm one of the few members of Wi'ciska, the White Marked Society, which is reserved for the best of the best veteran warriors."
"That looks like what I've read. Do you know any of the martial arts?"
"Like Krav Maga?" Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "I'm a third-level expert in that technique. I find it adapts well to traditional combat situations and weapons. It's so much more useful than the LINE system I learned in the Corps."
"You were a Marine?"
"Yes, ma'am. I hold dual Canadian and American citizenship."
Carson chuckled. "You'll get along well with Gunny Bardue, then. Have you ever worked with mutants?"
"Yes," Mr. Two Knives answered, again sounding puzzled. "We had several in the Corps."
She paused a moment, to collect her thoughts. "My student is in basic martial arts, and due to some ... threats ... is taking intense classes with the Aikido 2 class as well."
One could almost hear the frown on Mr. Two Knives' face. "Threats? Of what nature?"
"How versed are you in lore and legends of the Sioux peoples?"
"Lore? Pretty well, I guess. I grew up on the Birdtail Sioux First Nation in Manitoba. My uncle is a shaman, so he made sure I know all the stories of my people."
"How about shaman magic and healing?"
"I'm not a shaman like my uncle, but I know of shaman traditions and magic. You're getting me quite intrigued by this web and puzzle of hints you provide. Who is this girl? Is she a shaman?"
Carson chuckled again. "You could say that." She glanced at a green indicator on her phone, indicating that _her_ end of the phone line was secure. "I trust you're on a secure phone."
"Yes, I am," Mr. Two Knives answered, sounding puzzled. "Why?"
"The girl is an avatar, and her spirit is Ptesanwi." There was dead silence on the line for several seconds. "Mr. Two Knives?"
"I'm sorry, there must have been interference on the line, or you're pulling my leg. You couldn't have said Ptesanwi."
"I _did_ say Ptesanwi," Carson said in a serious tone. "The girl has the spirit of Ptesanwi."
"Yes, I'm very serious. I don't joke about my students. Because of that, she's attracted some ... unwanted attention, and she said that Wakan Tanka has told her that she must learn traditional fighting methods."
"Wakan Tanka ... talks to her?"
"Yes, we believe so."
"When can I start?"
Liz was taken aback. "Wait a minute. Don't we need to introduce you and see if the girl will accept you as a tutor? And there are little matters of pay and schedule and such."
"When can I meet her?" Mr. Two Knives sounded quite insistent.
"Aren't you even interested in negotiating a salary?" Liz wanted to be cautious, because while he was eager to meet Kayda, she might not like or get along with him.
"You expect me to be paid to teach Ptesanwi? Would you take a salary to teach _your_ messiah?" He took a breath. "I'd like to meet her as soon as possible.
Liz cringed at his statement. From the moment she'd learned of Kayda's spirit, she'd been afraid that the girl was going to attract devotees and disciple-wannabes. The reaction of Mr. Two Knives didn't do anything to assuage that fear. "If you can come here, we'll arrange a meeting to see if she finds you acceptable."
"Great. I'll be there as soon as I can." The line clicked dead, leaving Liz Carson with an uneasy feeling about Mr. Two Knives as a private tutor for Kayda.
Laird Hall, 4th Period
"I hate doing martial arts twice a day," I grumbled as I went through a form with Anna Parsons. "How can you be so cheerful about it?"
Anna laughed; she was a sweet, carefree girl - mostly. The exception was her worry about her boyfriend, one of the lab-coat crew named Hazmat. She seemed perpetually terrified of not being good enough, or upsetting him and making him not like her - normal teenage girl worries. I hadn't yet met him, although I suspected that I would eventually. "It's fun!" she replied happily.
"Yeah, maybe for you, because you're good at it. I suck," I grumbled.
"When I first started," my student instructor explained, "I wasn't very good, either. It takes practice."
"Yeah, I know. I also know that I can't do half of the moves you're doing. They're ... weird. Not like Sensei Tolman and the others are teaching me."
Anna winced, as if embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she apologized profusely. "My ... mutation has given me some ... characteristics of my avatar spirit ...."
"Yeah, I know what _that's_ like!" I griped.
"Well, it's ... it's like I move better when I move like my spirit, not the same way other people move," she continued. "And that makes my technique different." She stopped moving. "Sensei said we're supposed to spar once before my turn teaching is up," she said, noting that Kismet had come over to take her turn instructing - which also meant that she was refereeing Anna's and my sparring match.
I won't bother with details; it was ugly. I got my ass kicked six ways from Sunday. Anna was too fast, and her moves were unconventional enough that it threw off everything I thought I'd learned. After the third point - all won by Anna, she helped me to my feet, self-conscious of the way I winced in pain. "Did I hurt you?" she was almost in tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you so badly, because I wasn't trying to hurt you, but we were sparring, and ...."
I held up my hand to stop her. "It's okay. Remember, Ito Sensei and Tolman Sensei keep telling us that injuries are common in this class." I smiled. "And Tolman Sensei keeps reminding me that I'll only get better by sparring people better than I am."
Relief flooded her expression. "Oh, I'm glad you're not mad at me, because I wouldn't like it if you were mad at me because you got hurt sparring, and I wasn't trying to hurt you. I wasn't being mean because I hate you or anything, but I was doing what Tolman Sensei told me, which was to make you fight hard, and ..."
"It's okay, Anna," I interjected quickly. "You were doing what the senseis told you, and you were doing it correctly." Gak! I was defending the sadistic teaching methods of Ito? What was the world coming to? Then again, Anna was a really sweet girl - the kind I would have loved to have had as a girlfriend back in the days when I was a boy. Now, if she was my friend, I'd be happy, because she was so cheerful and friendly. It was hard not to like her. Unlike Britomart, who was a little standoffish and cool toward me. Ayla had told me that Britomart was really nice, but she was a little shy, and that she'd warm up to me eventually - so long as I didn't get bitchy or nasty with her.
I did six rounds of instruction and sparring, and I was tired and very sore when class ended. Based on the smirk on Ito's face, he'd done that to me on purpose to push me. I was the first one done showering, and while I was waiting outside the locker room for my 'escort', Anna and a few other girls came out.
"Didn't you say you had French next period?" Anna asked.
"Can't go yet. My escort isn't here," I answered.
"Escort?" Her eyes widened as she came to the wrong conclusion. "Oh, your boyfriend."
I shuddered with revulsion. "No," I answered quickly. "I don't have a boyfriend."
"Then what?" Anna asked. "Or are you ...?"
I figured I should head off this conversation. "You know how Ito said I needed to jump-start my martial arts? It's because I've been attacked several times since I manifested. Chief Delarose and Mrs. Carson said I _have_ to have someone escort me on campus, to try to discourage whoever is trying to kill me - at least until I'm good enough in martial arts to defend myself."
Anna's eyes popped open. "Someone still wants to hurt you?"
"There's a very powerful Lakota demon spirit that wants me dead," I said with a resigned air.
I glanced around, not seeing anyone. "Can you walk with me to my French class? I don't see anyone coming for me, and I don't want to be late."
"Sure." We started toward the classroom building. "When you said you didn't have a boyfriend, you looked kind of upset. I'm sorry if I said something I shouldn't have," Anna apologized as we walked. "I mean, you just seem like the kind of girl that would have a lot of boys interested in you, because you're so pretty, and everyone says you're really smart and ...."
"It's okay. You don't know."
"Know what?" she asked before she realized that she might be treading in a place she shouldn't. "Oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked, but I didn't think that maybe you don't want to talk about whatever ...."
"It's okay," I assured her, patting her arm. "After I manifested," I explained, deciding to give her the 'short', less shocking version, "the guys in my home town tried to kill me." Her eyes widened. "Twice. And ...." I fought the surge of panic that threatened to paralyze me as memories tried to overwhelm me - again. "And I ... have a hard time trusting guys anymore after that."
"I've got ... post-traumatic stress disorder," I explained. "I ... have a very hard time ... even thinking about guys." A shudder made me tremble at the horrid memories - including the ones I hadn't told Anna about. "I grew up like everyone in my home town, believing that you don't ever hit girls, and then they tried to kill me." The threatening PTSD episode faded away, albeit slowly. It was still there, a rocky shoal of emotions deceptively hidden beneath a seemingly calm sea, waiting to rip my emotional vessel apart if I made any missteps. I was past loathing the monster within me; I hated it, but I didn't know how to rid myself of the thing.
"Wow!" she said again.
I decided to change the subject - quickly. "You're an avatar, too?"
Anna squirmed uncomfortably. "I ... I've got a ... pretty lame spirit." She looked at me. "Someone said you have a buffalo spirit. That'd be so cool, better than what I've got."
"Yeah, my spirit is the sacred white buffalo of the Lakota people," I answered. I could see that Anna looked impressed - and a little envious. "Thanks for walking with me. Otherwise, I'd get in trouble with security - again," I said to break the awkward silence. "I guess I'll see you in class tomorrow."
"Yeah," she said with a grin. "The way Tolman Sensei set it up, I'll be seeing you every day."
"You mean, you'll be kicking my butt sparring every day," I chuckled.
"Oh, don't worry about that," she replied cheerfully, "you're learning pretty quickly. You'll be beating me soon."
"Yeah, right," I scoffed. "You're so damned good, and you've got moves that I'll _never_ be able to do! I'll never be that good."
"That's what I thought last fall," Anna answered. "I didn't even know how much I was learning until I started winning some of my sparring matches, and I'm in class with all the advanced students, who I _never_ thought I'd be good enough to spar with, so I'm sure you'll get better at martial arts quickly." It was so damned hard to stay frustrated around her because she was so positive.
French class was the usual exercise in frustration, but I was starting to feel like I was catching up - maybe. Despite that, the instructor thought that I'd do well with some tutoring, because I wasn't nearly as good at languages as I was with math. I was a little envious of Hippolyta from our cottage, whose mutation seemed to have made her a wiz with languages; I'd heard that she was fluent in more than twelve languages. I could have used a little of that power. As I considered that, I got a particularly mischievous thought that maybe, if I ever met her, I could speak Lakota, and watch her try to figure out the language, because it was highly unlikely that she'd ever encountered it. Then again, she was known to have a short temper, and she was a brick, so if she wasn't amused by the joke, I could be in serious trouble. And with my luck, the joke would fall flat because she'd figure out the language in a couple of minutes.
After French, I met Ayla in an unoccupied classroom in Schuster to work on pre-calc. I was pleased that he'd read ahead - as everyone told me he would - and had worked some of the problems, but there were a few concept that didn't quite fit together for him, so we went over them, worked several sample problems, got him a homework assignment, and then I sprang a quiz on him. I could tell he was surprised, and I kind of giggled at his reaction, as if I was a little less than fair at springing a quiz so quickly. He needn't have worried; he completed the quiz easily and quickly, and was mostly accurate; he seemed quite miffed to have only gotten 9 of the 10 points. He didn't complain, nor did he try to convince me that his answer was correct, which was what I would have expected from a teenage high school kid; instead, he asked what he'd done wrong, and then rather insistently asked for a couple of practice problems that he worked in my presence to ensure that he knew the concept and had corrected his errors. If I had any doubts about Ayla as a student, that pretty much erased them.
If I'd have let him, Ayla would have kept me in that classroom for longer, but I had to get to my electronics class, and Ayla had to go to his job as a teaching assistant for accounting, so Ayla escorted me to the electronics lab. On the way, I stopped by Ms. Bell's office and gave her Ayla's graded quiz. The smug look from Ms. Bell seemed to indicate that she thought she'd gotten a difficult student out of her hair and had given _me_ the problem. I took her attitude as a reason to help Ayla succeed so Ms. Bell would wipe that smug grin off her face.
Tatanka lay peacefully on the prairie next to me. "The waunspewichakhiya is pleased with your skill."
"How do you figure that?" I asked with a frown. "She looks like she's pleased to have foisted a problem student on me."
"Did she correct you?" Tatanka asked.
I had to pause a moment. "No," I answered, thinking. "She didn't."
"If she was unhappy, would she have corrected you?"
Damn that smug know-it-all bison. "Yeah," I was forced to agree.
"Did it occur to you that she was actually pleased that her experiment appears to be working, instead of being smug about ridding herself of two problems?"
"Are you going to start doing the 'I told you so' dance?" I asked sarcastically.
Tatanka smiled. "I don't dance, Wihakayda."
Electronics was okay; I was getting caught up, but the pace of instruction was unrelenting, so unless I worked very diligently, I might never catch up to the other students. After class, Delwin was nice enough to escort me from the electronics lab, although I had to admit that he looked a little nervous. It was widely known that a security guard had tried to kill me, and he may have had the uncomfortable thought that being with me made him a target as well. I had to respect him for walking with me despite that knowledge; either he thought of me as a good friend, or, and this was a much scarier thought, he was really crushing on me and was hoping to maybe impress me with his bravery.
Wakan Tanka looked a little cross. "Wihakayda, you are forgetting something," she said sternly, her arms folded across her chest. She seemed to think nothing of interrupting me.
I started at her tone. "What?" I asked. "What did I forget?" I was a little upset that she'd intruded without warning, at a time when I hadn't asked her.
"You must purify the spikes from Mishibijiw," Wakan Tanka told me bluntly, as if chiding a young child.
"I haven't forgotten," I retorted. "It takes all my essence, and I was going to do it later this evening, because I might need some essence this afternoon.
"It will take time for them to attune to you after you have purified them. You must go purify another spike _now_."
I sighed heavily. "Okay."
"I need to go by Kirby, if you don't mind," I blurted when I realized that he was staring at me. I'd spaced out again in the dream world, although it couldn't have been for more than a few seconds. I saw the look on his face. "Sometimes, my spirit pulls me into the dream world to tell me something important," I explained, "and it seems like I zone out when that happens."
"Oh," he said; I think he was relieved that it wasn't something more serious, like I'd been poisoned or was under some kind of telepathic or psi attack, or was having another PTSD episode.
"She's sometimes very insistent," I added with a bit of a smile, trying to put him at ease. "She yanks me into dream space without warning when that happens."
"Dream space? Is that like an Indian thing?"
I smiled, chuckling softly. "We prefer Native American, and yes, dream space is part of what shamans help people connect to. We call it dream walking."
Delwin's eyes bugged out. "Wait," he stammered, "so are you telling me that you're a shaman or something?" He seemed a little surprised, and even overwhelmed.
"Like Mr. Lodgeman? I heard a couple of students talking like he's a shaman, too."
"He's got a very important shaman spirit. To people of his tribe, he has _the_ shaman spirit."
"Are you from his tribe, too?" Delwin seemed fascinated by the lore I was telling him. Or he was pretending to be interested in the hope he'd impress me.
"No. He's Iroquois. I'm Lakota."
"Oh." He thought for a moment. "So you have different traditions? And ... his spirit isn't your people's most important shaman?"
"It gets complicated when you talk about the different Nations and their spirits and lore," I answered, not sure how else to put it. I certainly didn't want to tell him that I thought Wakan Tanka really outranked Mr. Lodgeman's spirit. We came to the door of Kirby Hall. "This is my stop. I think this is going to take a while, so it wouldn't be fair of me to have you wait."
"Okay," he said, sounding a little disappointed.
"Thanks for walking with me." I smiled, and then walked into Kirby, thinking. Delwin was nice, but in a friends sort of way. There was no way that I could bring myself to kiss him, or anything else for that matter, but he was nice to hang out with. Like Adrian and Vasiliy, who were interested in other girls, and as a result, weren't acting like total jerks around me. I supposed that if I'd have been born a girl, and not been raped, someone like Delwin would be fun to go out with. Those 'ifs', however, couldn't be ignored, and the thought of even kissing a boy made my stomach churn uncomfortably.
I made my way through a magically hidden doorway, which, as the story went, was installed to hide the Mystic Arts complex from the offices of the Psychic Arts department, with whom they had a rivalry of sorts. Supposedly, if one couldn't find the portal, one didn't belong in the Mystic Arts complex, so all the beginning and introductory classes were in the 'normal' part of the building. With the power of Wakan Tanka through Ptesanwi's spirit, I had no problem finding the doorway.
Ms. Grimes' door was open, and she was sitting at her desk, apparently grading papers, so I knocked on the door frame. "Oh, Kayda," she said when she looked up and recognized me. "Come in."
I slipped through the doorway. "Um, I came by to purify another of my copper spikes," I explained quickly, not wanting to waste any of her time. "If it won't be too much trouble."
"Oh, of course," she said, setting down the red pen she'd been using to 'bleed' on the classwork. "If you don't mind," she continued, standing, "I'd like to watch you cast that spell."
"I don't mind at all," I replied, trying to sound cheerful. I really didn't want spectators, but she _was_ an instructor, and the spikes were under the watchful eye of the Mystic Arts department. "Wakan Tanka also told me that, to be most effective, I'll need to keep the spikes with me so they attune to me."
"Circe thinks that you should wait until all the spikes are purified, just to be certain we don't have an accident."
"Okay," I replied unhappily. Wakan Tanka wanted me to start tuning the copper artifacts to my magic as soon as possible, but Circe was the department head, and I had to respect the wishes of my teachers.
She led me into a warded storage room, and then she opened a large cabinet, on which I could sense even more mystical protection. I frowned when the cabinet revealed my spikes sitting, unprotected, in what appeared to be a plexiglass case. "Um," I started to say that I thought they were being careless, but I wasn't sure quite _how_ to say that without offending Ms. Grimes.
"Don't worry, Kayda," Ms. Grimes said with a smile, "they're well protected."
"Um, okay," I answered nervously, not really surprised that she'd guessed - or read - my concern about the spikes.
Under her watchful eye, I used a spell to check for taint, because I didn't want to waste my essence removing taint from those two I'd already purified. Satisfied that I wasn't about to clean one I'd already done, I reached into the box and picked up a spike, feeling a faint tingling on my hand when I reached into the box. I looked up at Ms. Grimes, surprised.
"A little extra mystic warding," she chuckled.
"Oh." I set the spike on the floor, then sat beside it, cross-legged. I was well-acquainted with the 'dirty' feeling of tainted objects, bodies, and things; it was like a subtle, foul taste that, now that I knew it, I couldn't ignore. With frequent consultations with Wakan Tanka, I went through the purifying ritual, and cast the spell. As the magic flowed from me, I felt a little dizzy and weak; I would have fallen had I been standing.
"Interesting," Ms. Grimes commented as I took a few deep breaths to recover from the mystic exertion. "That was a very unique spell you used. Where did you learn it?"
"Wakan Tanka taught me," I replied. "She can't do it directly, but she's teaching me the spells. But it's a little confusing to me, because Lakota shaman magic doesn't neatly fit into the spheres or areas of magic you're teaching."
"And you used a lot of essence for the spell," she noted. "Hmm. I wonder ... if Fey could ...."
"No!" I snapped, surprising even myself with the intensity of my reply. Ms. Grimes looked at me, startled. "I don't know _what_ those will do to someone else," I added quickly. "The last person who touched them, besides me, is in ARC, down in the lower levels. I ... can't let anyone else take a chance with them."
Ms. Grimes nodded, accepting my reasoning. "I assure you that ...."
"Wakan Tanka tells me that she has no idea what would happen to anyone touching or trying magic on them," I added firmly. "I can't let anyone risk it."
"Not even to examine them?"
I shook my head. "Not until they're all purified, and someone in the department can confirm that they're not dangerous."
"Okay," Ms. Grimes reluctantly agreed. "Since your spirit is most familiar with them, it's best to listen to her. You better put that back with the other six until after ...."
"Seven," I corrected her, frowning. "Not counting the one I have in my hands."
Ms. Grimes shook her head. "We counted them when you brought them over. You only brought a total of seven."
"There ... were eight," I mouthed in disbelief, feeling the blood drain from my face. "That's how many I cut off. Wakan Tanka had me double-check."
"Dear, you only brought seven to the department." As the implications of her words hit, she paled as well. "There are only six in the box that I can see." She took my elbow and guided me to the cabinet. "Please check for yourself."
I did a quick count, and if anything, became paler. "One of them ... is missing."
"Is it possible you didn't put back one you purified?" Ms. Grimes asked hopefully. "Or that you only brought over seven?"
"I've only purified three now, counting this one. And I can see, from the auras around them, that there are only two purified spikes in the box." I looked at her, my voice quavering. "Someone has one of these things, and it's got a Class X taint on it."
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - evening before dinner
The knock on the door casing interrupted my reading. "Yes?" I answered nervously. Since we'd discovered that one of the spikes was missing and had done a rather frantic search for it, including in my room, I'd been fretting about what that meant and where the spike could be - and how much trouble I was going to be in.
Mrs. Horton stood framed in the doorway. "Kayda, dear," she began, "Mrs. Carson wants you over in Schuster immediately."
"This is about Mishibijiw's spike, isn't it?" Doubt and fear rose to overwhelm me. "I was certain that I took all of them to Mystic Arts, and I double-checked that the missing one isn't in my room, and ...."
"Calm down, dear," Mrs. Horton tried to soothe me. She'd have had more luck trying to single-handedly stop a hurricane.
"Calm down? I'm gonna get expelled because I brought them with me, aren't I?" I started to bawl. "It's not my fault! Someone had to have taken it! I _know_ I didn't lose it!" I wiped at the moisture that was suddenly dripping off my cheeks. "I don't want to go! I'm sorry it got lost, but it wasn't my fault!"
Faster than I thought she could move, Mrs. Horton had me wrapped in a hug. "Calm down, dear," she repeated, holding me in a comforting, motherly hug. "You don't know what Mrs. Carson wants, so there's no sense getting yourself in a tizzy, is there?"
I heard her message, even though I felt like being pessimistic. "I ... I suppose not," I sniffled.
"Besides," she added, "with all the other things you've done without getting in too much trouble, do you think she'd expel you for this?"
"But ... that spike could hurt or kill someone!" I protested, my eyes still leaking.
"Kayda," Mrs. Horton said, leaning back a little and holding my cheeks so we were looking eye-to-eye, "this is a _dangerous_ school, because the students here have their powers, but lack control or the mental discipline to control them. Kids here _die_." She paused to let that sink in. Her blunt acknowledgement of facts hit like a hammer. "Unless it's deliberate murder, you can't be held responsible if someone stole something dangerous. This place is _full_ of dangerous things, like pathogens in the biodevisor labs, weapons at the ranges, and that's to say nothing of the uncontrolled power danger in Hawthorne. Okay?"
"Yeah, but ...."
"No buts," she said, shaking her head. "Unless it was deliberate on your part, you _can't_ be held responsible if someone else took one. Okay?"
I nodded slowly. "Okay."
"Good. Now wipe your eyes," she said, giving me one more hug before she released me, "and get yourself over to Schuster. I don't think Mrs. Carson will wait. She's pretty busy with paperwork and issues that arose while she was out of the office for a few days."
"I need an escort," I said as I wiped my cheeks and walked to the mirror in the room to touch up my face.
"Already lined up."
"It's not ... Rosalyn," I asked, shuddering involuntarily, "is it?"
Mrs. Horton chuckled. "Yes, dear, I know she's got her eye on you, and unfortunately, she's the only one around, so you'll have to put up with her teasing."
I sighed. "I suppose."
"She's really a good girl," she explained. "Just a little overly enthusiastic in expressing affection, and it looks like you've attracted her attention."
"I already _have_ a girlfriend!" I protested. Mrs. Horton, as housemother, knew the secret of Poe, so I knew that I wasn't saying anything that she hadn't heard before. "I'm not interested in Rosalyn."
"Would you like me to have a talk with her?"
I thought a moment, and then shook my head. "No. I'll figure out how to deal with it. I don't want to look like I can't do anything on my own." I shot her a smile. "Besides, Debra gave me an idea to prank her."
Surprisingly, Rosalyn didn't make any double-entendre comments, nor did she joke about getting me to a movie with her. She _was_ concerned about how I was doing; the grapevine had already spread news that I was in trouble for something. As we walked, I noticed that it was a 'red flag' day, and I wondered about that little bit as well. Mostly, though, I focused on conversing with Rosalyn, wondering when she was going to start with her teasing; I knew such was in character for her, and so far, she'd been very friendly and not in the slightest bit suggestive.
At the entrance to Schuster, I turned to her. "Thanks. I appreciate your help."
Rosalyn smiled, a very pretty smile that _could_ be enchanting if I wasn't attached. "No problem."
"I'm thinking," I said slowly, "that maybe I _should_ ...."
"Go to the hot-tub party?" Rosalyn asked, suddenly excited.
I chuckled. "No. I was thinking that maybe at the next movie night, we could ... talk, and watch the movie together."
Rosalyn looked at me suspiciously. "You're not pulling my leg, are you?"
I shook my head, smiling demurely. "You've been so much help that I figured it wouldn't hurt to ... say thank you and be friends." I looked square into her eyes. "Just watch the movie together. Nothing more."
"I'm looking forward to it," Rosalyn said, smiling warmly. She turned, and with a bounce in her step, walked back toward Poe.
As soon as I turned, I grinned wickedly. Step 1 of the setup done. Another couple of steps, and I could prank her just like Debra had suggested.
That gleeful thought vanished as I walked through the massive entrance hall that doubled as an informal, cozy student lounge, toward the wing that held the admin offices. I paused at the frosted glass door of the admin office suite, and, steeling myself to face whatever music I was fated to face, I walked into the offices.
Elaine Claire looked up from her computer. "Kayda," she acknowledged my presence. "I'll let Mrs. Carson know you're here."
"You're staying late," I observed.
She shook her head, sighing. "A lot of paperwork to catch up on after Mrs. Carson was out. It happens every time she takes a break." She looked down at her phone and pushed an intercom button. "Mrs. Carson, Kayda is here."
"Send her in, please," she answered. For some reason, she sounded a little tired, or distracted.
Wincing, expecting the worst, I hesitantly turned the handle and pushed the door open.
Inside, Mrs. Carson had already risen from a chair, not from behind her desk. There was a man with her, which surprised me. "Kayda, come in and sit down." She gestured to a chair in an informal conversation group, where she'd been sitting and where the unknown guy was standing.
I walked to an unoccupied chair, and before I sat, Mrs. Carson continued, "Kayda, I'd like to introduce Mr. Billy Two Knives."
I shook his hand, and I felt like he was scrutinizing me the same way I was evaluating him.
Mr. Two Knives was about five-ten, and I guessed in his mid-forties. He wore his long, black hair in a ponytail, as was traditional of men from the Nations, as his complexion and face seemed to indicate. His grip was firm and rough, and with the weathered lines on his face, indicated that he wasn't an office-chair occupier, but worked outside for a living. He wore faded jeans and a western-style shirt, with a Native-themed bolo tie, and well-worn moccasins on his feet. His belt was also adorned with imagery and decorations that I recognized as Native American, and more specifically, Lakota.
"Mr. Two Knives," I said formally.
Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "I go by Billy, not Mr. Two Knives. Mister Two Knives sounds so old."
We sat, and I looked to Mrs. Carson for some type of explanation.
"Kayda," she began, "after you told us that Wakan Tanka wanted you to learn Native American skills, I've had my staff looking for a suitable instructor. Mr. Two Knives comes well-recommended, and he seems quite eager to have you as his student." She chuckled. "In fact, I only talked to him this morning, and he caught the first flight he could to come to meet you."
"I see," I said cautiously, looking at Mr. Two Knives more closely. I saw eagerness in his eyes. "Why?"
"Why, what?" he asked. "Why would I want to teach you?" he chuckled. "Because, if I understand correctly, you're the Ptesanwi, and it's my duty - and privilege." He eyed me warily. "You _are_ Ptesanwi, aren't you?"
I felt my spirit stirring, and we became one again. "We are the Ptesanwi," we replied. We noticed that Mrs. Carson had an amused look on her face. "How have you heard this?" We were wary of him.
Mr. Two Knives chuckled, glancing at Mrs. Carson. "When your headmistress informed me that she had a special student, she told me _who_ that student was."
"As soon as he found out who you were," Mrs. Carson interjected, "Mr. Two Knives got on the first available flight to meet you so you could see if he would be acceptable to you as a tutor." She chuckled. "I first spoke with him this morning, and to be honest, I didn't 'expect him to come for a couple of days, not within hours."
We looked warily at Mrs. Carson. "You aren't kidding us, are you?"
Mrs. Carson shook her head. "No. Mr. Two Knives comes highly recommended as an extremely experienced warrior, and a first-class instructor of Native American fighting skills and weapons."
Mr. Two Knives noticed our knife on our belt, and his eyes widened. "Is that a sacred knife?" he asked.
We nodded. "It is Wakan Mila, the knife we carry, and have always carried. It is a gift to us from Wakan Tanka."
"May I see it?" he asked hesitantly.
We nodded, and handed him the knife. The awe on his face as he examined the sacred knife was unmistakable. After examining it, he handed the knife back. As we sheathed it, I felt Wakan Tanka leave me. "What ... what will you teach me?" I asked, hesitantly.
"Traditional weapons. Bow, tomahawk, lance. Hand-to-hand combat. Bareback horsemanship, so you can learn the horse bow."
"I see," I replied. "I'm a little uneasy about learning _more_ combat, but Wakan Tanka was insistent, and ...."
"Kayda," Mrs. Carson said, "it's _your_ decision as to whether Mr. Two Knives will be your tutor. He is highly recommended, but ultimately you have to learn from him, so _you_ have to be comfortable that you can work with him."
"I ... understand."
"Why don't you talk more over dinner? I'd like to talk more with the two of you, but I've got a _ton_ of paperwork to catch up on after my little ... vacation."
"Okay," I said uneasily. "I suppose that will work."
"Do you have any fighting experience?" Billy Two Knives asked as we stood in line, waiting for our turn to get trays and food.
"I fought a snake-demon in the dream-world," I said hesitantly. "After I got my butt kicked by some former friends when I manifested."
Billy Two Knives nodded grimly. "My uncle, our tribe's shaman, told me that almost _all_ shamans have heard of that incident. It is an insult that the white man would treat Ptesanwi so shamefully." He practically spat the words with fire in his eyes; I suspected that if he were in my home town, some of my attackers would be in serious trouble.
"Hey, Buffalo Gal," some guy I didn't know called out to me as he joined the line, "lookin' good, girl!"
I spun, startled at his comment, and little angry at the implication that he was admiring my figure. I had no idea why he would make such a rude, overtly sexual statement, but it annoyed the hell out of me. As soon as I turned, I saw other guys looking at me appreciatively.
"Would you autograph _my_ picture?" One leering guy asked, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
I was confused by this talk about a picture? I hadn't given anyone any pictures - certainly not the ones on my memory stick with Debra at the Sioux Falls League photo shoot, and most definitely no one outside Poe knew of my poster with Debra. And yet these guys were acting as though there were public pictures of me for them to admire.
"What picture?" I demanded angrily, my eyes narrowed to slits, as I tried to convey with my expression my extreme disgust at the unwanted attention I was getting.
Instead of being intimidated, the guys just laughed, one even saying, "That angry expression is _really_ cute!"
"Yeah," another guy said, laughing, "but there's no way she can look as fierce as Fey did in her poster."
Several other guys joined in the laughter, all looking at me with expressions I took to be unadulterated lust, which really creeped me out. I was starting to feel very flustered and intimidated, almost ready to leave the lunch line and harassment I was receiving.
Billie Two Knives stepped between me and the guys, glowering at them. "You young men are not displaying any knowledge of how to act around a lady, especially one as important as Kayda. Would you perhaps care for a little remedial education?" The tone of his voice and his posture left no uncertainty as to his intention to thrash the guys if necessary to teach them a lesson in respect.
I felt cheeks blushing. That was all I needed for all these guys to think that I couldn't stand up for myself, but needed a defender to protect me from unwanted attention. It certainly would be readily apparent to even the dumbest of them that their comments about my appearance and the reference to some picture had really gotten to me, flustering me to the point I was nearly speechless.
I decided to do something about that perception. "What picture are you talking about?" I demanded angrily of the first guy.
He merely laughed at me, and asked again, "Can I get you to sign my poster?"
I seethed inside, realizing that these guys were not taking any threat seriously, but treating the whole thing as some kind of sick joke at my expense.
Mr. Two Knives, however, was not amused. He stepped to the first boy, confronting him face-to-face with a wicked sneer, and demanded," You need some lessons in gentlemanly behavior." Though he spoke in a low tone, his voice conveyed a real menace to the boy, and despite puffing out his chest, knowing he was probably much stronger than Mr. Two Knives, Mr. Two Knives' very presence and demeanor conveyed a very real threat.
The boys, gulping, backed down. "Sorry," the first boy said halfheartedly before turning and moving to a different part of the lunch line, away from Mr. Two Knives and me.
"What was that all about?" Mr. Two Knives asked me.
"I have no idea," I replied nervously, wondering about several references to photos that I'd heard in the past few days. "They can't be talking about some pictures I took with the Sioux Falls League when I was staying with them."
"Are those the pictures that that were published in the Lakota Culture magazine?"
I winced, wondering why the League would have published anything without telling me. It was out of season for a calendar, and I didn't _think_ they were going to publish anything else. "Are you kidding me?" I asked, feeling panicked. "Please tell me you're kidding me."
Mr. Two Knives shook his head. "No. There were some very good pictures of you in the magazine as an example of a self-assured young Lakota woman."
"My mom didn't tell me that they were going to publish anything but a calendar." I complained. I was rattled by the attention the guys had given me; I could feel panic rising within me at the thought of some of those pictures being published and having found their way to Whateley. I felt my world closing in as the PTSD rose once again. Mr. Two Knives noticed that something was wrong, and gently put his hand on my shoulder to reassure me.
The panic turned into a dam-burst of fear, to the point that it was winning; I spun away from him, backing away from the line in the crowd of guys seem to be pressing in on me from all sides. My eyes darted about, searching for a nonexistent threat, and frightened as I had been every time I had a PTSD attack. The memories were _trying_ to come back, to overwhelm me.
Laurie, bless her heart, was in line, and saw my reaction. She almost dropped her tray in her haste to get to me, and she wrapped her arms around me holding me and comforting me, while she said over and over in a soothing voice, "It's okay, Kayda. It's okay."
It took a few minutes, during which I felt that everyone in the cafeteria was watching me, as if I was some kind of circus sideshow, but eventually Laurie calm me down, and I got a tray of food and joined Mr. Two Knives in the checkout line, where he was waiting, and watching me in a studious manner. We got checked out and went to my usual table, where Laurie, Adrian, and Vasiliy were already seated. They eyed Mr. Two Knives carefully as he sat across the table from me; he'd clearly learned quickly about how sensitive my PTSD was, and he wanted to make sure he didn't cause another attack.
"Guys," I said, "this is Mr. Two Knives, who will be tutoring me in Native American combat skills."
Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "First, I go by Billy. Second, I'm only going to instruct you if you accept any as your tutor. It's your decision, not mine."
"What sort of things do you teach?" Laurie asked curiously.
"Native horsemanship and weapons," Mr. Two Knives replied with a humble smile, "and the little bit of Krav Maga."
"Krav Maga?" Vasiliy asked, looking at Mr. Two Knives with a little respect. It seemed obvious that Vasiliy had heard of Krav Maga as a martial art form.
"I'm only a third-level expert," Mr. Two Knives said casually, as if reporting the weather. "I find Krav Maga is much more flexible than the old Marine Corps LINE system. That system was intended to fatally disable an opponent, whereas Krav Maga gives you the flexibility of response, from disarming to disabling to killing."
The three students at the table looked wide-eyed at Mr. Two Knives, who seemed amused by the entire conversation.
"What's the difference between native horsemanship and normal horseback riding, if there is one?" Adrian asked, changing the subject slightly. The thought of using martial arts to fatally attack someone was a bit unnerving to the students. "Before I came to school here, I did quite a bit of dressage back home."
"Well, with Native American horsemanship, we don't use fancy things like bridles and saddles," Mr. Two Knives said with a grin.
While they were talking, I got out my medicine pouch and began to make myself a cup of tea. When he saw what I was doing, Mr. Two Knives' eyebrows raised in curiosity. "Is that a traditional herbal tea?"
"Yes," I replied. "My spirit taught me to make it. It has some healing and calming properties that I find very useful."
Mr. Two Knives looked at the herbs longingly. "Would it be asking too much for you to make me a cup as well?"
No sooner had I started to make him a cup of tea than I saw Mindbird coming across the caf toward me, looking more than a little stressed. I chuckled to myself, knowing that my tea, which she'd first been very leery of, now seemed to be her relaxing beverage of choice. Before she even arrived, I began mixing up a third cup of tea for her, and then glancing around the table I saw that Laurie had a pleading look as well. "I should start charging for this," I chuckled as a mixed up the beverages and imbued them with my magic.
"Some days," Mindbird said with a heavy, frustrated sigh, "it'd be worth it."
I didn't have to be an esper or telepath to sense the three junior-high students coming up behind me. "No, girls," I said without turning, "I am _not_ going to make tea for you." I turned to look at their disappointed faces, while my group, and especially Mindbird, chuckled.
"But ...." Palantir started to complain.
"I taught you - twice."
"Someone," Irene glared at Abracadabra, "lost the instructions - again!"
"It wasn't my fault, Pally," Abra whined.
"You were the one who was writing the stuff down," Irene said accusingly.
A couple of tables over, Tansy stood, glaring the direction of the three little witches. Irene had told me that Tansy was their personal supervisor when they weren't in class, and I gathered from Ayla that the girls were getting their jollies out of making her life miserable. From what Ayla had said, they didn't really have to do much extra to accomplish that.
I sighed, then reached into my purse and extracted a folded sheet of dirty paper. "You mean _these_ instructions?" I asked with a wry smile.
Abra looked, and reached for the paper. "That's it! How did you ....?"
I pulled the paper away from her outstretched hand. "Ah, ah, ah," I chided the three.
"But how ...?"
"You girls were so excited last time that you didn't even notice that Abra dropped the paper. I _knew_ you'd be coming back eventually."
"That's _our_ paper," Irene declared, meeting my gaze with her own determined look.
"Not once you lost it," I said. "Finders, keepers."
"You _know_ it's ours!" After a couple of seconds, though, her expression became far less determined. "Please?"
"This is _two_ you owe me," I said smugly as I handed the paper to her.
Irene gulped and nodded. "Okay," she replied grudgingly.
"Don't worry, though," I added with a grin. "I won't ask for much. Just maybe making Tansy's life hell if she bugs me again."
As the little witches scurried away, I looked back at Mr. Two Knives. "How do I know you're any good?"
Mr. Two Knives smiled. "I have permission from your headmistress to give you a demonstration after dinner." He had taken note of my reaction in the serving line. "In fact, you can all come if you want to see some traditional arts."
My eyes silently begged the group to come with us, just to give me moral support. A one-on-one meeting with Mr. Two Knives, an unknown man, terrified me.
"That sounds like it could be fun," Adrian stepped up.
Despite the presence of four teenagers, Mr. Two Knives kept the conversation focused as if he was interviewing me and I was interviewing him. It was almost a surreal experience to have someone guide you as you interviewed them, but I learned a great deal about my would-be instructor. It was a little disturbing to realize that he'd been in the Marine Corps and had been a drill instructor because all of the things I'd heard about how demanding DIs were reputed to be. From what he'd said, he was a very accomplished warrior and teacher of traditional fighting skills. The question was how effective he would be helping me in a school full of superpowered mutants, where traditional fighting skills and weapons might fall woefully short.
Nevertheless, after dinner, the four of us accompanied Mr. Two Knives to Laird Hall, to one of the smaller gyms that was set up for hand-to-hand combat instruction, complete with realistic looking dummies. Mr. Two Knives pulled out a training knife from a duffel bag; it was similar in size and weight to Wakan Mila, but of course had no magical properties. He had me attack one of the dummies, and although I thought that I was very successful, he had a very critical expression on his face.
"You're making basic, rookie mistakes in knife fighting," he said. He took the knife from me, and after backing away, he approached the dummy warily. When he struck, his hand moved fluidly with a knife while his other arm was in a position to block or deflect an attack from the opponent.
To further demonstrate, he gave Vasiliy a practice knife and told Vasiliy to attack him. The movement was so fast I barely caught it; Vasiliy was not inexperienced, but his best attack was easily defeated and Mr. Two Knives expertly placed the blade against Vasiliy's body four times before Vasiliy could react. Naturally, Adrian had to try to demonstrate his own manliness for his girlfriend. The result was the same; no matter how Vasiliy or Adrian tried, they couldn't come close to landing a knife strike on Mr. Two Knives.
Laurie, as a healer, was not thrilled with the thought of self-defense and martial arts, but she seemed to be enjoying the show as I was put through some intense drills.
To make things more interesting Mr. Two Knives had both of the boys attack him, and he very easily defeated them; if it had been a real-life attack, each of the boys would have had four or five major knife cuts without a single mark on him.
After putting away the knives, Mr. Two Knives took his personal tomahawk from his duffel bag and put a safety guard over the cutting-edge. Vasiliy and Adrian moved three dummies into position and when one of them said go, Mr. Two Knives attacked with his tomahawk in a frenzied blur of motion. Had it been real-life, the three dummies would then rapidly and effectively disemboweled, two from direct blows, and the third from having a thrown tomahawk embedded in its skull.
Although the boys had been eager to demonstrate knife fighting skills, neither of them looked particularly eager to attempt the same thing when Mr. Two Knives was armed with his tomahawk. Instead, he had them holding and moving the dummies as if attacking. Again, he moved with manic speed, seemingly everywhere at once as he tore into the two moving dummies mercilessly. I couldn't help but be impressed by his skill, while at the same time I doubted that I would ever be able to learn such moves.
I thought we were done for demonstrations, but Mr. Two Knives continued, using Adrian and Vasiliy to demonstrate some of his Krav Maga skills. In a way, it was not unlike working with Sensei Ito and Sensei Tolman, who frequently had two-on-one or three-on-one sparring sessions, sometimes with weapons, and other times using full powers. With mock handguns, Mr. Two Knives could disarm one of the boys faster than they could react, and before the second one even had a chance to say the word "bang", he would have shot them both if the situation had been real.
Even after all of that, Mr. Two Knives had more surprises in store for me. The training room had some small bows and training arrows, which he prepared.
"These aren't the kind of bow I'll be teaching you," he remarked as he strung the bow and then took a few practice shots to get the feel of it, "it'll work for me to show you what can be done with a bow if you're trained." Mr. Two Knives had Vasiliy and Adrian arrange the dummies and then, at nearly a full run, he wove in and out of the dummies, the whistling hiss of the bowstring sounding time and time again as he shot arrow after arrow, all of which hit the targets, some of them all the way across the training room, forty feet away.
"Well?" He asked me as he hung up the bow, not even breathing hard. "Do you think that there is anything I can teach you?"
"Um," I stammered, in awe of the display of martial efficiency and viciousness I'd seen. "I think ... that I'd like to learn to fight like you do."
Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "It'll take me some time to teach you to be as good as I am. After all, I've had a few more years of experience than you."
"Wakan Tanka believes that I should learn, and as you know how to use the weapons well, I think I would like to learn from you."
"Very well, Ptesanwi," said almost reverently. "It will be my honor to teach you all that I know."
We walked back to Schuster Hall, where Mr. Two Knives was to have a late meeting with Mrs. Carson. After saying goodbye, Laurie and Adrian escorted me back to Poe cottage, while Vasiliy went back to his own cottage. As we walked, Laurie asked, "What did he mean calling you Ptesanwi? I thought your code name was Pejuta."
I winced; I really didn't want a lot of people to know the identity of my spirit, but their curiosity _had_ been piqued by Mr. Two Knives' comment. "Ptesanwi is the name of my spirit," I explained softly, trusting that they'd keep the secret. "She is the Lakota spirit called the White Buffalo Calf Woman."
"That sounds kind of mystical and eerie," Adrian said.
"You can't tell anyone else," I said solemnly. "Please. Ptesanwi is a very important spirit to the Lakota people. It is a great honor for me to have her as my spirit, but I'm afraid that many Lakota people will look upon me as someone sacred or special."
Laurie nodded, saying, "We won't tell anyone else, will we?" She gave Adrian an elbow in the ribs to emphasize her point, and he quickly agreed.
When I got back in my room, Evvie was busily studying, but she glanced up at me. "I expected you home shortly after dinner," she said. "I was starting to get worried."
"Mrs. Carson introduced me to a warrior who is going to be my tutor, and he wanted to demonstrate his traditional combat skills before I decided."
Evvie chuckled. "When are you going to find time for another training class?"
I winced. "I hadn't thought that through. I'm sure since Sensei Ito and Mrs. Carson will figure out some way for me to get the extra training time."
Evvie laughed. "Just make sure you save time on your busy schedule to have a little fun now and again. On the bright side, if you're busy all of the time, Rosalyn can't harass you!"
I gave a halfhearted chuckle. "I suppose there is that." I sat down at my desk, pulled out my books, and began my own studies.
When both of us had finished studying, and after I'd brushed my teeth and was ready to crawl into bed, Evvie leaned up on her elbow on her bed and looked strangely at me. "What?" I asked, puzzled by the expression on her face.
"I was just thinking about your feelings whenever you're talking about Rosalyn flirting with you," she said. There was something in her tone that indicated to me that she was being cautious or that she thought the subject might be a little sensitive.
"I wish she'd stop!" I replied quickly and testily.
She frowned. "That's not what your emotions are saying right now."
"Well, that's what I want!" I huffed and flopped down on my bed.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked after a couple of minutes.
"You're feeling a lot more than just annoyance, aren't you?" she asked knowingly.
I sighed. "You're not going to let go of this, are you?"
Another sigh. "Okay, she ... she scares me."
"Because ... hell, you know. You're the empath."
"The question is whether _you_ know, or acknowledge, what you're feeling," Evvie replied.
"Are you after Dr. Bellows' job?"
Evvie chuckled. "No. But I can tell you're feeling a lot of different emotions when you talk about her."
"I'm ...." I stared at the ceiling for a few seconds to gather my thoughts. "She scares me," I said finally.
"Because ... a part of you likes her flirting with you?"
I nodded. "Yeah. And ... I've had ... some fantasies about her," I admitted softly.
Evvie chuckled. "Every girl in Poe ... at least those on _our_ team ... has fantasized about her," she said.
"She's very pretty, and she's got a sexual appeal to her that's ... hard to ignore."
"But ... I love Debra!" I protested.
"Are you doing anything with Rosalyn?" Evvie asked. "Or is your attraction to her confirming that you really _do_ like girls?"
"I ... I dunno."
"Think of it this way. If you weren't attracted to her, you should worry that you're not really a lesbian. And then you and Debra would have _serious_ problems."
"Maybe," I admitted. "But what if ...? I mean, she's here, and Debra's not, and I've had some pretty erotic fantasies about her. What if ...?"
Evvie smiled. "You're worried that since Rosalyn is here, and Debra isn't, and you've had a couple of erotic dreams about Rosalyn, that you're going to fall for her? Or cheat on Debra?"
"Yeah." Evvie nailed what I was thinking.
"I wouldn't worry about it. If you really do love Debra, you won't do anything stupid."
"Why won't Rosalyn stop, though? I've told her ...."
Another chuckle. "Do you _really_ want her to stop? Or are you enjoying the fact that her flirting makes you feel sexy and attractive?"
Damn, she got me with that one. I really _didn't_ know what I felt about that. Maybe Evvie had a point. Maybe I _did_ like having someone flirt with me, since Debra wasn't here to do it. It took a long time for me to fall asleep as I considered what Evvie had said.
Kayda's Dream Space, Poe Cottage
I sat by the fire circle, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun on my face. As was typical, Wakan Tanka was brewing tea for the two of us. It was a peaceful, wonderful day, with bright blue, cloudless skies, a gentle breeze rustling leaves, and Debra sitting beside me with her head on my shoulder.
"The warrior your teachers have chosen seems worthy of the task of instructing you," Wakan Tanka said, handing cups to Debra and me.
I chuckled, and Debra gave me a puzzled look at the conversation. "What warrior? What instruction?" she asked.
"I think I told you, sweetie, that Wakan Tanka wants me to learn traditional fighting skills. Mrs. Carson has located an instructor to teach me those skills." I took a sip of tea.
"I guess that would be very helpful," Debra observed, "but I thought Sensei Ito would teach you enough."
"He's making sure I'm learning a lot," I laughed. "He's sort of a sadistic little ...."
"Wihakayda!" Wakan Tanka snapped at me. "Show respect to your teachers and elders. I shouldn't have to tell you that."
I sighed heavily. "I wasn't trying to sound mean or insulting. We _all_ refer to him as a sadistic little runt or worse."
Debra giggled. "I see some things haven't changed."
I knew sitting at the fire circle wouldn't last, because I hadn't seen Tatanka, and I figured the old goat would drag me off somewhere to learn some lessons from yet another animal spirit. My expectations were accurate; he ambled silently into the camp and rubbed the side of his head on my arm.
"You didn't surprise me," I laughed. "Not when you lumber around like a great noisy cow."
Tatanka frowned. "You've been listening to Ithunkasan too often." he pouted. "I'm _not_ a great noisy cow. I seem to recall that he was using that phrase to describe you."
Debra giggled again so I turned at her with a frown to let her know I didn't find it amusing. Before I could say anything, she kissed me, and I forgot all about being miffed at her.
"Save your kissing for later, Wihakayda," Tatanka snorted. "It is time to meet another spirit, who I think has much to teach you, especially with your new emphasis on learning to fight."
Debra and I followed the shaggy, cuddly beast out of camp. We walked a ways, and eventually Tatanka bade us sit. "Who is it today?" Before Tatanka could answer, I heard the grass rustling and I looked toward the noise.
A squat, furry animal, with white cheeks and white tufts on his ears, and a white stripe from the top of his head to the tip of his snout, looked up at me. After staring a few seconds, he looked at Tatanka. "Is this the one you told me about?"
Tatanka nodded. "Yes, Hoka," he answered. "This is the Ptesanwi, the one who is to come."
Hoka, the badger, frowned. "She looks too young to be the Ptesanwi."
"Nevertheless, she is. And she has come to you to learn."
"You mean, you dragged me here to learn," I interjected sternly.
Hoka laughed. "She has the fiery spirit of Ptesanwi," he said. He turned to me, pausing to glance at Debra. "Who is this?" he asked suspiciously. His posture spoke volumes; he was on guard and ready to defend himself if need be.
"This is Debra," I told the badger, pulling her close and wrapping my arm around her waist. "My beloved." I changed the subject back to the visit. "Why did you bring me here?"
"To learn from Hoka."
"Tell me, young one," Hoka said, squatting down like a dog sitting, "what do you know of my kind, of the badger?"
I couldn't help chuckling. "I know better than to get a badger mad at me," I said. "They're probably the most ferocious animal, size-wise, I've ever seen. Badgers are persistent, and very aggressive, especially when cornered."
"Ah, so you _do_ know something," Hoka said. "Sit." As Debra and I seated ourselves on the ground, Hoka continued. "Am I so ferocious when we sit here and talk?"
"Precisely. As I go about my day, unlike other animals, I am well grounded, centered, alert but not aggressive."
"But ... I've seen a badger get _very_ aggressive," I countered.
"Why? Why was he aggressive? Was he looking for a fight? Did he stumble across some other animal and decide to do battle?" Hoka asked.
"No," I stammered. "He ... was being harassed ... by a coyote, I think."
Hoka shook his head. "Sunmanitu, the trickster coyote," he said with a sigh. "Every animal is wary around Sunmanitu because of his incessant tricks. And when he's not playing a trick on someone, he's hungry and looking for a meal." The disgust in his voice was plain to hear. "Tell me, Wihakayda," he continued, "what did the badger do? Did he attack the coyote?"
"No," I said, struggling to remember the details. I'd been quite young at the time. "No, he tried to run away."
"It was only when he couldn't run that he turned to fight. He even tried to dig his way to safety, I think."
"Yes. We're good diggers," Hoka said proudly, "so good that the People - and most animals - respect us for our talent." The moment of smug self-satisfaction passed. "So why did the badger fight?"
"Because the coyote wouldn't let him escape," I answered confidently.
"And how did he fight once he was forced into combat?"
I didn't have to think of that one. The scene was only too clear, as if it happened that afternoon. "The badger was vicious and relentless attacking the coyote until it gave up and left."
"What was the reason he fought?"
"Because he was attacked?" I asked, hesitantly because I figured it was a trick question.
"And when did he quit fighting?"
It was a eureka moment. "He stopped when it was no longer necessary, when the danger was gone."
"I fight only when there is no choice," Hoka explained, "but when forced, I fight aggressively."
"And Hoka fights with great courage when it is necessary to fight," Tatanka added. "Hoka will defend himself - and his family - against great odds."
I frowned. "That sounds more like suicidal insanity."
Hoka chuckled. "No. Suicidal insanity would be fighting against great odds when there is no reason to fight."
"But how do you know if there is a reason to fight?" I asked. "What if you are wrong about the need to fight?"
Hoka glanced at Tatanka. "She asks questions that are wise," he said. "It is obvious she has tutors other than just you."
Tatanka snorted at the insult. "I am wise, and could teach her all she needs to know."
I couldn't resist. "If that's true, why are you so insistent that I learn from the other animal spirits?" Debra and Hoka laughed, while Tatanka frowned at me.
"How does this apply to your life, Wihakayda?" Hoka asked once he's stopped snickering at Tatanka.
"I ... don't always have to fight," I said cautiously. "But that part's easy. I don't like to fight."
"And that is part of your problem, because you're only thinking of the first half of the lesson" he said firmly.
I wasn't quite sure what he was asking, but when I glanced at Debra, she was smiling knowingly. "What?" I asked her.
"Think about it a moment. How does Hoka fight?"
The image of the badger fighting a coyote came to mind. "When a badger fights, he fights aggressively." The light bulb came on. "If I _have_ to fight, I need to fight as aggressively as I can."
"You need to fight to win," Hoka said with a smile, "_when_ you have to fight."
Debra clutched my arm, leaning her head on my shoulder. "You need to give a hundred and ten percent in a fight - and that's whether sparring, or using magic, or fighting for real. And not give up."
"But ... how do I know when I should or shouldn't fight?"
"Experience," Debra said with a smile. "Which you'll get from occasionally making some mistakes."
"You have a wise companion," Hoka said. "You will learn when it is necessary to fight and when a fight can be avoided, and when you _must_ fight, you will learn to fight as a badger - with courage, aggression, and persistence.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Outside Kirby Hall
I turned at the sound of my name, searching to see who had called out to me. Irene, walking beside me to the caf for lunch, also looked around out of curiosity.
"Kayda, I want to talk to you."
This time, I saw the speaker, trying to dart through the crowd to catch up to Irene and me. I could feel my eyes narrowing; the girl approaching was Wind Runner, Doli Peshkali, from the Native American group. "Hi," I said as neutrally as I could manage. I wasn't sure I trusted her, based on how she'd acted in the Native American culture group meetings.
Wind Runner stepped beside me as if invited. "Heading over to Crystal?"
"Yeah. I always meet my friends for lunch." I started walking with her, with Irene on the other side of me watching Wind Runner cautiously.
"Listen, I wanted to talk with you a bit about your idea for my group," she began.
"You mean, Mr. Lodgeman's group, don't you?" I interrupted.
"Well, yeah," she replied, annoyed that I'd forced that admission from her. "But he trusts me to run things when he's on travel, which he's been a lot lately, so ...."
"So you consider it _your_ group?" Irene chimed in from beside me. "I wonder what the others think of that."
Her frown was almost audible. "Well, things are working okay as it is, and we don't want to change things just because someone gets a wild idea."
"I thought it was Mr. Lodgeman's choice, since he's the advisor and organizer," I replied, trying to keep my rising anger out of my voice.
"Yeah, and he trusts _me_, so we're going to just leave things alone," she declared.
"Why?" I asked, getting more than slightly peeved at her. "It could be so much more."
"It works fine the way it is."
"Is that why Stormwolf and Stonebear are there _all the time_?" I asked sarcastically. "Because it's so exciting and fun?"
She stopped abruptly, grasping my arm so I swung around to face her. "Listen, you may have fooled Mr. Lodgeman and a couple of the others with your wild-ass claims to having some kind of mystical spirit," she snarled at me, "but _I_ don't buy it! You and your phony claim to being important aren't welcome!"
I really, really wanted to punch her. Hard. Right in the nose. Hard enough to break it, and maybe spoil some of her pretty appearance. It was taking an effort to rein in my temper. "It's not yours to say."
"Oh yeah?" she snapped, "If you're such hot shit, why aren't you even enrolled in a tribe?"
I flinched, annoyed at her question. I _wasn't_ enrolled, and thus not officially a Native American, at least not in the federal government's eyes, or in a tribal government's.
She saw my reaction. "You're not, so you're not welcome! It's a group for Native Americans, not fakes and wannabes!"
"I'm joining, whether you like it or not. It's not your decision." She was getting my stubborn streak up.
"Not if you're not enrolled, you're not."
"Okay, if that's how you want to act," I said defiantly, "I'll get enrolled, just so I can shove your objections so far up your ass they scratch your tonsils!"
"Hah!" Wind Runner scoffed loudly. We were gathering a crowd, perhaps expecting a physical fight. "It can take years to get enrolled! You'll probably graduate before the paperwork gets approved." She turned to march off, her head held high and her nose slightly upturned, as if I was beneath her.
"We'll see about that! My grandmother is well placed in the tribe. She'll know how to make things happen."
"Good luck with that," Wind Runner scoffed before walking away arrogantly.
I stood in place, glaring after her and fuming. She'd gotten under my skin, and now she was gloating. "I guess I have to call Grandma tonight and hope she can help me get enrolled."
"What do you mean, enrolled?" Irene asked as we started walking again.
"It means you're officially recognized by the tribal government and by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as being at least one quarter Native American."
"So it's like a pedigree or something?"
I started at her comparison. "Yeah, I guess it is," I replied. "I have to prove that I'm at least one quarter Native American."
"Is she right? Is it hard to do?" Irene asked.
"I don't know," I answered honestly. "I've heard it can be tough." I shook my head. "I hope not, though."
We walked silently for a few seconds. "What's with Fey?" Irene asked. "She looks upset, and every time I see her, she's got a lot of her friends with her."
"Why do you ask?" I didn't want to betray any secrets; it wasn't my place to tell others what had happened to Nikki if she didn't want to talk.
"'Cause she's up ahead of us, with Phase and Bugs and Chaka and Tennyo and Generator," Irene said, "and they _never_ all come over here to meet Fey at lunchtime."
I looked and sure enough, the group was just ahead of us. I knew that Ayla and Nikki were behind us when we started walking; they must have passed while Wind Runner and I were exchanging words. "I don't know," I lied.
I wasn't on her team, but as a floor-mate in Poe, I was worried about Nikki. I couldn't begin to imagine how her friends felt. They were always with her, never leaving her alone, but even then, she seemed forlorn all the time, as if there was no cheer left in her life.
I wondered, as we walked, if there was anything I could do that would bring her some cheer, but I realized that if her team couldn't comfort her, I probably couldn't either. And Wakan Tanka would just remind her of losing Aunghadhail. I sighed, shaking my head; surely there was something that I could do, but I couldn't think of anything.
"No, no, no!" Billy Two Knives said, interrupting the attack I was attempting against him, using a training knife. We were in the gym after dinner, cutting into my homework time, but I'd already agreed with Mrs. Carson and Chief Delarose that I had to really work on my self-defense skills, so I had no room to complain.
"What?" I asked, having frozen in place as soon as he interrupted. It had only taken a couple of minor 'lectures' about stopping so he could correct what was wrong, and I got the lesson; when Mr. Two Knives said stop, or halt, or anything remotely similar, I stopped moving.
"Look at your foot stance," he said. "You're off balance, aren't you?"
I looked down and nodded sheepishly. "Yeah."
Without another word, he did a quick leg sweep, and with a minor blow to my chest, I tumbled to the mat.
"By being off-balance, you left yourself open to having the tables turned on you." He reached down, taking my hand, and helped me back to my feet. "Again."
Once more, I lowered myself into a balanced stance that was remarkably similar to what I was learning in beginning martial arts. I circled warily to my left, causing him to turn, and when he had just lifted a foot to move, I lunged at him.
Effortlessly, he blocked the knife strike, using my momentum against me, and I sailed over his hip to land with a thud on the mat. At least in beginning martial arts, I was learning how to fall so I didn't get hurt. I rolled, getting back to my feet quickly, fast enough to block a blow he was going to deliver to me.
"Good," he smiled. "But what did you do wrong this time?"
I thought a moment. "I don't know."
"When you blocked my attack, you failed to counter. You aren't aggressive enough on your attacks, and that leaves you very unbalanced."
"Hoka," I said under my breath.
Mr. Two Knives grinned. "Yes, Hoka. If you fight, you must do so aggressively." He eyed me questioningly. "How do you know Hoka?"
I chuckled. "Let's just say that Tatanka and Wakan Tanka want me to learn from as many animal spirits as possible, and I've been getting a crash course in life philosophy from a lot of them."
One eye narrowed, while his other eyebrow rose. "You're a dream-walker?"
"Yeah," I admitted. "I'm learning to do that."
Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "I'm not surprised. You _are_ the Ptesanwi, after all."
That name made me wince, because it seemed that he was acting a little bit like a fan-boy and not like an instructor. "Could you just drop the Ptesanwi thing?" Reacting to his confused look, I continued. "It's not going to help you instruct me if you're practically worshipping me, is it?"
"I guess not," he said with a chuckle. "Where did a fifteen-year-old girl get such wisdom?"
"From actually listening to one or two things all those animal spirits have tried to teach me," I chuckled. "From now on, it's just Kayda, okay? No Ptesanwi."
Mr. Two Knives nodded. "Agreed." He smiled. "I suppose it's fitting that you're getting lessons from Hoka. When I was younger, I was a member of Ino'ka, the Badger Society."
"The order is pledged to take on the aspect of the fearless badger. Ino'ka warriors are renowned for extreme ferocity in battle, and for fighting fearlessly regardless of the number of enemy." He smiled. "I'm not a member anymore, so I no longer wear otter fur on my wrists and neck."
"I'm Wi'ciska, White Marked Society. It's reserved for the best and most experienced warriors."
"Uh," I stammered, "I don't think I'll want to belong to a warrior society."
"There are special societies for women who are warriors," he said before dropping back into his fighting stance. "Okay, Kayda, let's try that again. This time," he added with a grin, "try not to telegraph your moves."
"Huh?" I was a bit confused; he hadn't said anything about telegraphing my intentions. It was an ill-timed distraction; I found myself once again slammed to the mats.
"And don't let yourself be distracted," he added, smiling smugly.
I got back in my fighting stance, and as I watched him prepare for my incipient attack, I had a funny feeling that I'd seen his motions before, even though I couldn't remember were.
The result was only marginally better than the previous fourteen attempts; I didn't telegraph my attack quite as much, and I avoided his attempted foot sweep, plus I didn't get thrown too hard.
"Better," Mr. Two Knives said. "You're getting there."
"Yeah, right," I said sarcastically. "I don't think I made any progress at all." I shook my head. "I couldn't do _anything_ against you."
He chuckled. "If you had thirty years of experience fighting, you'd be winning every time because I'm a baseline. For the first time training with a knife, you weren't doing badly."
"It doesn't feel like it."
"You have to be patient. It'll come."
Suddenly, things clicked, and I goggled at him. "You're animal spirit - he's igmu taka, isn't he?"
Mr. Two Knives was a little surprised. "How do you know that?"
I smiled at having guessed correctly. "Because of what I learned about igmu taka," I replied. "He has power, but he balances it with patience and cunning. He's swift, but not impulsive, planning his moves and attacks to avoid surprises." I chuckled. "I watched him hunt. You move the same way."
"Very good," he said with a pleasant smile. "I was right to not underestimate you." He put the knife back in the cabinet. "Let's work with the tomahawk for a while."
"But ... there are more types of fighting than just igmu taka," I said to him, confused. "How am I to fight mato the bear, or hoka the badger, sunmanitu the coyote, sugmanitu hota the wolf, or skecathanka the wolverine, ithunakasan the weasel, or any of the other animal spirits who guide those who fight?"
"Why?" Mr. Two Knives asked. "Why would you need more than one fighting style, or type of opponent?"
I shrugged, frustrated at his indifference. "Because, they all fight differently. They all have different strengths and weaknesses."
He positively grinned. "I see that you've learned from your spirit mentors. In answer to your question, yes, they all fight differently, but there are only a handful of characteristics that are combined to any animal spirit's fighting style. Grace, strength, power, patience, agility, risk taking, observation, aggressiveness - these are the primary characteristics. If you can counter all of them, you will fare better against the various combinations."
"And I suppose you teach fighting all aspects of the spirits," I said sarcastically.
"Yes, I do," he said with a smile. "It's why I'm an effective warrior and teacher."
"Oh." I considered what he was saying.
"Now, let's do some work with tomahawks, and then we'll work on some Krav Maga."
An hour and a half later, I stumbled, aching and bruised, into Poe. Just my luck, Rosalyn was one of the first people I bumped into.
"What happened to you?" she asked, concerned, as she eyed up and down my stiff, sore figure that was mottled with bruises all over.
I knew that she suspected another attack. "It was my 'extra' training," I explained to put her mind at ease. "My Native American tutor is ... quite thorough."
"You look like you went fifteen rounds with Chaka," she mused.
"I _feel_ like I've gone fifteen rounds with her." I sighed wearily. "Right now, I'd give just about anything for a nice, hot soak in a tub." As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth, I regretted them.
Rosalyn's eyebrows shot up. "I think something can be arranged," she replied, trying not to grin like a Cheshire cat.
"By the time the hot tub party comes around," I said, "I won't be bruised and tired."
"Who says we have to wait?" she asked with a mischievous, leering grin. "What's your tutor teaching you?" Rosalyn changed the subject, and turned to walk with me up the stairs.
"Native American combat skills. We worked on knife and tomahawk tonight, with a little Krav Maga thrown in for good measure."
"That sounds ... intense," Rosalyn said. "But aren't those weapons kind of primitive?"
I chuckled as we walked down the hall of the second floor. I was getting a few looks from the girls - some of whom looked jealous, and some who had a knowing grin. "The advantage is that they don't rely on technology. No matter what kind of devise or gadget someone comes up with, they're still effective."
"Good point," she said. "But they sound so ... messy."
"Yeah," I said, nodding wearily. "That's one thing he was working with me on. If I have to use them, it's going to be really ... gross ... and I have to get past that."
I shrugged. "It can't be much worse than seeing my buffalo rip the guts out of two different villains."
"And Debra's wound that I healed was pretty gross, too."
Rosalyn made a face and put her fingers in her ears. "I _so_ do not want to be hearing this!"
I grinned. "Still want me to come to the hot-tub party if I talk like this?"
Rosalyn goggled at me, and then she grinned knowingly. "As if I wouldn't distract you from that kind of talk!'
"Well, you just keep thinking that," I said, mockingly sweet as I leaned forward as if to kiss her, but pinched her cheek instead. "You're so cute when you think you've won." With that, I walked into my room, leaving her standing in the hall with an expression that said, 'what just happened here?' At least, it halfway asked that question. The other half of her expression seemed to say that she knew she was making progress.
Evvie didn't even bother to look up; her empath power sensed my emotional state - fatigued, pleased, and a little frustrated and concerned - before I even opened the door. "How was your special class?"
"Intense," I replied, slumping heavily onto my bed. "I'm going to have to do something about this schedule, because if we work out after dinner, I won't have enough time to do my homework."
"And what's the reason you feel kind of smug?"
"I'm not smug," I replied testily.
Evvie chuckled. "You're broadcasting that emotion pretty strongly. So what's up? Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to pry it out of you?"
I sighed. "You know how Rosalyn has been acting?"
"Yeah. I think she's got a thing for you."
"Debra gave me some ideas to prank her so _maybe_ she'd back off."
"How would Debra know ...?"
"Debra and Rosalyn, um, last year, they, um, ...."
"Okaaaayyy," Evvie said cautiously.
"I'm not jealous, honest," I said defensively. "That was before we knew each other. Besides, I was fooling around a lot with my girlfriend, so it's not like I was any better."
"True. But ... you _are_ a little jealous, aren't you?"
I blushed. "Only because she and Debra ... and we haven't." I decided to change the subject. "I'm so sore that I'd love a hot soak in a tub."
"Don't say that anywhere near Rosalyn or you'll get ...."
"I _did_ accidentally say it," I said, wincing.
"And now she thinks you want to go to the hot tub party?" She shook her head, chuckling. "Good luck dealing with that."
"I'm going to take a warm shower," I grumbled. "So I don't have to put up with _you_ teasing me the same way Rosalyn was." I bounced from the bed to my feet and quickly stripped, put on my robe, and grabbed my toiletries kit.
"Don't forget to turn on the noise cancelling system," Evvie said with a grin.
"Oooohhh!" I grumbled. I turned and stomped out of the room to the bathroom.
Rosebud Indian Reservation
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Chief Dan growled at the phone as he walked slowly, painfully, from the bathroom toward the source of the interruption. "It never fails," he muttered to himself.
"Dan Bear Claws," he said unenthusiastically.
"Chief? I've got some news for you."
Dan perked up when he recognized the voice of his operative. "What?" He didn't have time to play nice social games on the phone.
"I've heard that she's going to enroll with your tribe," the operative reported.
A smile crept across Dan's face. "That's great news. I'll have to report it to the shaman immediately."
"But there may be complications."
"Word is that the school has hired a private tutor for her."
"A private tutor? Why?" Dan's mind was racing; if she was getting a tutor, then it could be that she was content, or, God forbid, even happy at the school. "Tutoring her in what?"
"Native American fighting skills."
"Damn! What the hell am I going to do about that?"
"It gets worse."
"How could it get worse?" Dan snapped.
"There's an informal Native American culture group on the campus that she's getting involved with."
"Damn. You've got to figure out a way to keep her out of that group, to keep her isolated."
Dan sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know. Get creative. That's what I'm paying you for."
Dan hung up the phone and thought. This whole thing was getting a lot more complicated than he'd originally counted on. He'd have to figure out how to deal with these latest setbacks. Meanwhile, he had a task to do. He punched in a few numbers and put the phone to his ear.
"Hello?" the familiar voice on the other end of the phone asked.
"It's me, Chief Dan."
"I presume this isn't just a social call?"
"No. I just got some news from my operative," Dan admitted with a frown.
"Go on," the shaman commanded.
"She's going to enroll in the tribe," Chief Dan said plainly.
"I already know that," the shaman said impatiently.
"Won't that take a few months?"
"No," the shaman cut off his protest. "Let me handle that. I've got favors I can call in to speed that through the system in a matter of days. What else?"
"She's got a private tutor for Native American skills."
"Oh? A private tutor? _That_ I hadn't heard."
"And she's getting involved with an on-campus Native American student group."
"Keep her out of that group. I don't care what your insider has to do, you _must_ keep her out of that group."
"I already told my operative that."
"As to the tutor ...." The shaman paused, leaving silence on the phone for several awkward seconds. "Hmmm. I think we can make this work _for_ us."
"For us? How?"
"If she's getting tutoring for skills, then make her a gift from the tribe. Something very important to help her learn those skills."
"Yeah, but what?"
"You're supposed to be a chief, dammit!" the shaman snapped. "She's learning fighting skills. What's the most important gift a young warrior can get?"
"A ... a horse?"
"Yes, of course I'm thinking of sukawakan. Get her the best pinto you can. It's very symbolic, and the gift will be appreciated and will endear her to her tribe."
"But ... isn't that going to be expensive?"
"I've told you to let me worry about the cost. She'll be home for Spring Break in a week and a half. Make sure you arrange to get it to her then."
Chief Dan frowned at the way the shaman was ordering him around. It was demeaning. "Is she going home? The high-school boys tried to kill her twice."
"I've got that little problem under control. By the time she comes home, the townspeople will be afraid to say or do anything against her."
"I'll get a horse for her, and we'll arrange to deliver it to her home."
"Or possibly to Sioux Falls if she decides to not come home. She has friends in Sioux Falls."
"This isn't going to be easy to line up in that short a time."
"Maybe you _shouldn't_ have been chief, then, if you can't do a simple task like this." The shaman slammed down the phone, leaving the sting of an insult ringing in Chief Dan's ears.
Kayda's former friends JJ, Skelly, and Rich walked quickly out of the burger shop and teen hangout, and looking around themselves frequently and nervously, they scampered to JJ's car. Once inside, they relaxed a bit, but only slightly, because the car was parked in a darker area, since all the better-illuminated spots nearer the burger joint had been taken when they arrived.
"This is getting kind of freaky," Rich said, his voice quavering.
"I know," JJ replied. "Scott and Shelly got the crap beat out of them, and Scott was threatened with castration, but he was adamant that we have to stick to our story. The sheriff will find what's going on and stop it."
"How?" Skelly whined. "There aren't _any_ clues. No footprints, no fingerprints - it's like they're ghosts appearing out of nowhere."
"And the sheriff still doesn't have any clue about ... you know," Rich said, alluding to the break-ins that had left notes and animal testicles, and the sabotage of the guys' cars. "I ... I can't take much more of this."
"Quit being a whiny little pussy!" JJ admonished him sharply. "We've got our story, and if we stick to it, well, there's no proof of what we did."
"It ... it was _Brandon_!" Rich complained. "Our friend that we did it to."
JJ turned and glared at him. "It was a fucking mutant," he snarled. "Not Brandon. And it had it coming to it." He turned his attention back to the car and turned the key.
Nothing happened. The boys' eyes widened in shock, as JJ tried again and again, with the same results - nothing.
Before JJ could react, the doors of the older two-door car were yanked open, and roughly, JJ and Skelly were yanked from the car. Hands clamped over their mouths instantly to prevent any noise. A couple of seconds later Rich joined them after being dragged roughly out of the back seat in a fashion that was going to leave bruises.
One man held each of the boys, their arms pinned painfully behind their backs in a way that suggested that the unknown assailants knew precisely what they were doing. In front of them, two more men stood looking at them, although the faces of the men were hidden by ski masks.
"We know what you did," one man hissed menacingly, drawing a wicked-looking knife from his boot. He waved it casually an inch or so in front of the throats of the boys, seeming to relish in the terror that filled their eyes. "Confess or suffer the consequences." He paced in front of the captives, letting the sharp steel blade touch their throats as the boys tried unsuccessfully to pull back from the knife.
The second man, following the first, suddenly delivered two sharp strikes to the side of Skelly's torso, with an audible crack, and as Skelly flinched at the sharp pain of broken ribs, he kneed him very hard in the groin, causing Skelly to crumple. The man holding Skelly let him fall to the ground, where he curled up in a fetal ball in agony.
Rich and JJ's eyes widened even more when the one who'd been holding Skelly kicked the boy very hard in the crotch. Skelly retched, hurling the contents of his stomach at the incredible pain, and even that caused more suffering as the convulsive spasm of his guts pulled at the broken rib.
JJ barely had time to think before he was similarly assaulted and injured, leaving Rich standing, his eyes nearly bugging out of their sockets, and a look of profound terror on his face.
The man with the knife held the blade to Rich's throat again, and leaned close to the captive boy. "Well?"
"I ... we ... I didn't ... mean to!" the terrified boy stammered, tears running down his cheeks. "The others ... started it, and we'd been drinking, and ...."
"Confess to the police," the masked man hissed again. Rich nodded feverishly, beads of sweat running down off his forehead and face. "We'll know if you don't," he said threateningly, moving the knife down to Rich's groin. "If you don't, ...."
Rich nodded again, gulping.
"Good." The arms holding him relaxed, but he knew that with at least five assailants, he couldn't run.
A second man thrust something in front of Rich. "Here." Rich hesitantly took the Sharpie marker pen, wondering what was going on. "Write as I direct on each of your friend's foreheads."
Hesitantly, avoiding the pools of vomit on the ground, Rich knelt beside Skelly. With a last glance up at the circle of men surrounding him, one holding a wicked-looking knife, he wrote what he was told in large letters on Skelly's forehead. Looking up again, he saw the man nod and point with the knife blade to JJ. As with Skelly, Rich wrote on JJ's forehead.
No sooner had he finished than a something was clasped over his nose and mouth, and as he struggled, awareness faded quickly.
Nodding, the man who'd given Rich the marker took it back, and similarly marked Rich. The small band stood, and tilting their heads back, shrieked a frightening native war cry, a terrifying, ululating howl of primal anger and triumph. A moment later, they faded away from the boys lying on the ground, leaving no traced of their having even been there.
The war cry was heard inside the burger shop, and immediately, over a dozen boys and girls spilled out, looking around. It took a moment, but the group quickly located the source of the disturbance - sixty or seventy yards from the entrance, on a side street, they could see three figures lying on the ground. Like moths drawn to a flame, the group satisfied their morbid curiosity and anxiety for their friends by circling around the three, avoiding the disgusting puddles on the ground. One produced a penlight, and as he shone it on the boys on the ground, a couple of girls screamed.
The last thing they expected to see was the word "RAPIST" written boldly on each of the boys' foreheads.
Cheryl, one of Julie's friends, turned to her friend Harry, mouth open in shock. He had the same look of disbelief. The two looked at Shelly, who was holding her hand in front of her mouth, staring in shock at the three boys on the ground. Unlike the others gathered around, she looked like she'd seen a ghost.
Thursday, March 29
"My turn," Anna said cheerfully, coming over to where I was working out with Britomart in fourth period martial arts. Britomart made me finish the kata I was working on, and then gave me a curt bow and strode back to the main group.
"We better get right to the lesson so Sensei Tolman gets upset."
Anna demonstrated some moves, and I just shook my head. "You expect me to move like that?" I asked, astounded. "I don't think my body will do half of that stuff."
"Oh, yeah," she blushed. "Sorry." She'd forgotten that I didn't move the same way her spirit and physiology worked best for her.
"You move like ...," I thought a moment, "like Zica."
Anna wrinkled her brow. "Who's Zica?"
I gave a little amused snort. "Sorry. It's ... a Native American spirit. The spirit of the squirrel, Zica. And the ground squirrel, Tasnaheca."
"Wow! You've met these spirits?" Anna asked, wide-eyed.
"My spirit showed me them, and taught me why they're important, but I haven't actually _met_ them yet. Heads up - here comes Sensei Tolman."
As I expected, Sensei Tolman chided us for talking instead of working, and then had us spar several rounds - which was totally frustrating to me, because I got my butt kicked every single round. Between rounds was an analysis of what I'd done right, and what I'd done wrong. The latter list was always the longer of the two.
"Well, that was humiliating," I mumbled as I got up from the last round, sore all over. "I don't see the point."
Sensei Tolman overheard. "The point, Kaya, is for you to improve your fighting skills."
I snorted. "I'm already good at losing. I don't see that I need much more practice at that."
"Against a baseline," Anna chimed in happily, "you'd have kicked butt. You're getting better."
"Hmphh," I scoffed. "I don't feel like it's doing any good."
"That's because you're learning from, and practicing with, advanced students, who've had at least one term of martial arts, and in most cases, two terms."
Anna went back to the advanced group, while Sensei Tolman had me run through my katas, chewing me out when I did something wrong. At least it felt like she was chewing me out, because she didn't seem to find _anything_ that I was doing right.
After two more torture sessions of sparring, when class was over, I was in the locker room when Anna plopped down on a bench next to me. "You're getting better," she said to reassure me.
"Doesn't feel like it," I grumbled.
"In another couple of weeks like this, you'll be winning most of your sparring matches in basic martial arts," she predicted.
"If I don't die of being bruised and battered first. I've got two periods of martial arts, and then after classes, a tutor teaching me Native American fighting skills."
"That sounds _so_ cool!" Anna said appreciatively. "I wish _I_ could learn more fighting skills and styles, but Senseis Tolman and Ito keep me busy enough, and I have to have time for studying, and ...." She blushed a bit.
"And your boyfriend, right?" I asked with a knowing smile.
"Yeah," she replied softly, as if it was a state secret. After we got showered, while we were drying off, Anna asked, "What was the thing about today, the Native American spirit, zinc?"
"Zica," I chuckled. "He's the squirrel spirit. My buffalo spirit has me meet the animal spirits so I can learn from them."
"Like hiding nuts and running up and down trees?"
"Hardly," I chuckled. "Zica and Tasnaheca teach important lessons about being prepared, and planning things well, but also about being adaptable. What they teach is very important to the People. In the days of the bison, the People had to conserve and store food for the winter, just like Zica. But even though life was hard for the People, they learned from Zica to balance work and play, to be part of their larger group."
"Wow!" Anna said, amazed at what I'd explained.
"Your spirit is Zica, isn't it?" I said. "I see his moves in your movement."
She nodded, wincing in embarrassment. "Yeah. Pretty lame, isn't it?"
"Not at all. Your spirit is revered by the People for the lessons he teaches."
Her eyes widened. "Really? You're not just teasing me are you?"
Like the day before, Anna walked with me to my next class, all the while practically begging for more information about Zica and Tasnaheca - what they were like, were they fun or grumpy, were they cute - standard questions someone with a squirrel spirit would ask a shaman who visited squirrel spirits. I enjoyed talking with her, although the sparring thing wasn't yet among my favorite ways to spend time with her.
For some unexplained reason, as we neared Kane Hall, where language classes were taught on the upper floors, above the security offices, I tripped on an uneven spot in the walk and fell, dumping my backpack, just in time for a gust of wind to scatter my papers.
Anna, bless her heart, helped me retrieve all of the blowing papers, and after telling her thanks and putting everything back in my backpack, I went into class while she went off to her next period.
I would have thought nothing of it, except that as I was walking back from Electronics with Delta Spike, I tripped again. I looked around, suspicious this time, but I didn't see anyone watching me except the idly-curious who would normally stare if someone fell down. Suspiciously, it was the same pattern - I fell down, my book bag was slung from my shoulder, and an ill-timed gust of wind blew many of my papers away. I couldn't shake the feeling that someone was pranking me, and that both occurrences were not coincidental.
Crystal Hall, Dinnertime
"Incoming," Evvie said, looking over my shoulder. We were in the caf, sitting at 'our' table eating, hoping for once to have an event-free meal. Alas, it was not to be.
"Mindbird or the three little witches for more tea?" I asked, resignation in my voice.
"No," Naomi said, her voice quavering. "It's a few girls from ... Wondercute."
"Wondercute?" I stammered, astonished.
"Yeah. Generator, Dragonrider, and Aquerna, and they're looking straight at you."
"Oh, gods!" I swore softly. "Why me?"
"Might as well face the music," Laurie said with a snicker.
I sighed, and turned just as the trio stopped. "Can I help you?" I asked, trying to be polite, even though Wondercute apparently spread fear and terror across the campus by their very existence. Even though their T-shirts were trimmed in different colors, and with different animals embroidered on the chest, there was no mistaking that they were part of an unofficial 'uniform' for the dreaded team.
"Hi, Kayda," Jade said cheerfully. Her T-shirt had a 'Hello, Kitty' theme, which caused grimaces around the table.
"Hi," I replied stiffly. "Hi, Anna," I said in turn to Anna, who had a shirt with an embroidered squirrel on it. It wasn't hard to deduce that the other one was Dragonrider, both from Naomi's warning and from the dragon embroidered on her shirt.
"I'm Lindsay," the girl with the dragons said, holding out her hand to shake.
While grasping Lindsay's hand, I couldn't help asking, "Is there something I can help you with?"
The three girls exchanged nervous glances, and then they started giggling softly. "We ... we wanted to ask you if you'd have dinner with us," Lindsay said nervously.
"She'd _love_ to," Evvie said with a wicked grin, which earned a glare from me. "Why, just at lunchtime Kayda was saying how it would be nice to expand her circle of friends, wasn't she?"
Adrian frowned, and opened his mouth to speak, but a sharp elbow in his ribs from Laurie shut him up. "That's right," she chimed in.
"So go, have fun," Naomi said in a motherly tone. "We're always here, but you don't get a chance to dine with others all the time."
"Especially not with a team with the ... awesome ... reputation as Wondercute."
"That's great!" Anna squealed happily. "I'll carry your tray!"
"Everyone is _so_ anxious to meet you," Lindsay said, giggling.
Resigned to being railroaded by my friends, I stood and followed the trio, pausing only to turn and look at Naomi, and mouth, "I am so going to get you for this!"
We went up to the second level, which was a bit intimidating, since I'd never eaten on an upper level. Ironically, the same girl who had chastened me only a few days ago about ascending to the upper levels was coming down the stairs as the three Wondercute members and I walked up. She gave me a questioning look, but said nothing, which made me smile.
Dinner was chaotic, at best. The topics shifted fluidly, rapidly, and with the accompaniment of much good cheer and giggling. The girls introduced themselves; three I knew - Bunny, Jade, and Anna. The others were Lindsay, who was also known as Dragonrider because she could manifest a dragon, Molly, also called Gateway, whose companion was an ancient huge panther-like cat named Rythax, and Misty - Superchick - who had a fondness for unicorns. The main topic of discussion was figuring out how to get back at a group of Southern rednecks called the Good Old Boys, who'd apparently seriously dissed Molly and Anna, a slight that deserved serious retribution, something that would humiliate the rednecks even worse than they'd done to Jericho some time back.
"We're meeting in Anna's room. Please come with us!" Jade begged as soon as we were all done eating and were busing our trays. She was making use of what Ayla and Toni called her plus-ten Big Sad Puppy-Dog Eyes. I realized that they were only half-joking about how effective Generator could be by using that sad, pleading look in her eyes.
"I guess I can - for a little while," I relented. Even Tatanka would be powerless against such formidable weapons. "But I've got a Native American group meeting at eight-thirty, so I can't stay long."
"Oh. What's that like?" Lindsay asked.
I shrugged. "Not great, so far. But I've got ideas to make it more fun." I grinned. "If it was a formal club, then we could do things like camp out, or use the simulators for things like buffalo hunts."
"Oooohhh!" was the general reaction. "That'd be so cool!"
"With traditional weapons - horse bow and arrows."
"I heard you have a buffalo you can manifest," Molly said softly, like she was afraid to say anything.
"Yeah. Jade saw him, and I've had to summon him a couple of times to defend myself."
"Oooohhhh! Can we see?"
"You're going to love it. He's so kyooooot!" Jade cooed.
"Okay." With that, I had Tatanka manifest, in St. Bernard size.
"What's his name?" Lindsay asked, goggling the bison with adoration in her eyes.
"He's Tatanka," I replied. "And I can have him manifest from full size to lap-dog size."
"Ooohhh! That's so cool!'
Molly thought for a moment, and then concentrated. Almost instantly, a sort-of gate thing opened, and a black, winged panther-sized creature manifested. "I can summon Rythax," she said proudly.
Tatanka frowned, and then walked cautiously to the black shadowcat. He sniffed the cat, who was watching him warily. "Rythax. It has been a very long time," he said, startling the girls.
"Indeed, Tatanka. It was before the Sundering," Rythax answered in a neutral tone.
"Now we find ourselves meeting once again," Tatanka said.
"Yes. And I hope we can continue our friendship as before."
Misty was staring at Tatanka. "You know, we should call him Mr. T. That sounds so cool!"
Tatanka slowly turned his head and stared at her as if she was joking. "Who, or what, is this Mr. T?" he asked after trying - and failing - to stare down Misty.
"He's so cool. My dad watched the reruns of the A-Team TV show all the time. Mr. T was soooo awesome!"
"You are _not_ going to call him Mr. T!" I snapped as soon as I realized what they were thinking.
"Why not?" Lindsay asked, getting excited by the prospect of a nickname for Tatanka.
"Mr. T would be a lot better than what Toni calls him - Tonka Trucka!" Jade chimed in.
Misty grinned, and leaned closer to Tatanka, whispering in his ear. I didn't like what she was up to.
My fears were proven well-founded when Tatanka de-manifested for a moment, and re-manifested - with his fur in a shaggy Mohawk, close-cropped on the sides, and then furry again around his horns, trailing down into what would be sideburns, a thin moustache, and a beard. His eyes were narrowed angrily, and around his neck were dozens of chains that looked like gold.
"Tatanka," I cried in horror. "What are you doing?"
"The request wasn't harmful, and it entertains your friends," he replied in deep, gruff voice. "And if anyone don't like it, I pity the fool!"
The girls all giggled gleefully at that, while I face-palmed and rolled my eyes. Good grief - this was awful. "What is Wakan Tanka going to say?" I asked, hoping to appeal to his sense. "This ... isn't seemly for the mighty Tatanka."
No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the fool buffalo to change back; he seemed to be enjoying my discomfort, or he was relishing in attention from the other girls. In either case, I was frustrated and embarrassed by my spirit, but I gave up trying to persuade them otherwise. As soon as I made one logical argument, four or five more 'cute' statements would arise, peppering me from all directions with questions to refute, or worse, points that were completely unrelated that would sidetrack the discussion into a frenzy of oohs, aahs, and giggles. It was easier to just give up and deal with Tatanka later.
There were only a few things I got out of the nearly forty-five minutes I spent with the girls of Wondercute: first, anyone who didn't like 'cute' was someone to be converted or shamed into silence about 'cute'; second, the type of treatment they were talking about for the so-called 'enemies of cute' was truly frightening to any sane person; third, they couldn't decide on which of these enemies they should strike first; and fourth, the topic of discussion bounced around with all the rationale of a random number generator on amphetamines. If there was a pattern that could be harnessed from the seeming randomness, it would create an encryption scheme so strong as to defy the best mathematicians in the universe. Certainly, if such a resulting encryption technique included words and phrases from the actual conversation, it would instantly render insane anyone attempting to crack the code.
By the time I had to go to the Native American meeting, I understood the terror that Wondercute instilled in the hearts of many. It was obvious that the girls wanted me to join their ranks, although it wasn't clear if it was because they thought I would love their concepts of cute, or, more likely, they thought Tatanka was cute. My dilemma was that I wasn't into 'cute', but I also realized, from their wild and chaotic discussion, that I didn't want them angry with me.
"Last week," Mr. Lodgeman said at the end of the meeting, as soon as he had everyone's attention, which took all of ten seconds after he stood in the front of the room, "Kayda offered a suggestion, and I think it's worth presenting to the entire group to see what you think. After all," he said, smiling modestly, "this group is for _you_, not for me." He looked my way. "Kayda?" He was suggesting - strongly - that I come to the front to present the idea.
Wind Runner's glare at me had been nonstop, from the time I'd arrived at the meeting, and it transformed from dislike to outright hostility. The malice in her expression was unnerving, and I swallowed hard, realizing that she was rapidly becoming a foe, even though I had nothing against her.
"I was thinking last week," I began nervously, "that if this group was a formally-recognized campus group, it would bring some advantages."
"Like paperwork?" someone in the back called out, which elicited some chuckles.
Surprisingly, the lighthearted banter made me less nervous. "Yeah, well there is that," I replied. "But recognized groups get to use campus resources that we can't. This group could have a private clubhouse, where we could meet anytime, instead of having to meet only when there is an empty classroom."
"That would be nice," someone - I think it was Slapshot - commented.
"Yeah. And if we were working on projects, we wouldn't have to clean them up every night when the meeting is over," Lupine added.
"Plus, we could petition for some of the student activity fees for supplies, which I think you all have to buy yourselves, right?" I continued.
"That would be too much red tape," Wind Runner objected.
"Maybe," Mr. Lodgeman said, "and maybe not. It certainly wouldn't hurt your cause that Native Americans are a recognized minority by the federal government. And it wouldn't hurt if you had a trustee advocating for you."
"I think the group could do so much more," I said, on a roll. "Besides just telling tales and singing, we could learn native skills. We could have native-themed campouts. We could learn traditional weapons and fighting."
"That sounds cool," Stonebear observed.
"And," I saved the best for last, "if we were a recognized group, we could use the simulators for activities like simulated buffalo hunts, or raiding parties."
"Yeah," a few of the guys said enthusiastically. "That sounds _really_ cool."
I glanced around, and the girls looked a lot less enthusiastic about the idea of simulated hunts and raids. "And that wouldn't just be for the guys," I continued. "Lakota legends tell of a woman who led a raiding party against incredible odds, and succeeded. I'd have to look it up, but I bet most cultures have similar lore about great warrior women."
"I still think it'll be more trouble than it's worth to become a recognized organization." As I expected, it was Wind Runner, and her eyes were shooting daggers at me. Clearly, she thought I was trying to usurp her spot as leader of the group.
"I don't know," Mr. Lodgeman said thoughtfully. "Having our own facilities alone would simplify life for our group, just in scheduling and planning meetings." He looked around the room. "Show of hands - who thinks we should explore this option more?"
Immediately, hands shot into the air, and looking around, I gathered that well over half the assembled group liked the idea. Wind Runner was notably not among those holding her hand up.
Mr. Lodgeman nodded at the showing. "Okay, as unofficial advisor and sponsor, I'd like you," he was looking right at me, "to write up a formal proposal that we can present to the administration after we review it in here."
"Will this be open to only those who are enrolled Native Americans? At least on the planning team?" Wind Runner asked innocently.
"Since we aren't a formal group yet," Mr. Lodgeman replied easily, "we don't have formal membership requirements." He recognized that Wind Runner was still glaring at me. "Besides, if I didn't believe a person wasn't genuinely interested in Native American culture and lore, I wouldn't ask them to write up a proposal."
"I think it'd be better if I had help writing the proposal," I said, trying to take the attention off myself. "Maybe a small committee?" I was honestly hoping that Wind Runner would volunteer, so she'd realize that I wasn't trying to usurp control of the group.
Hands shot into the air again as people volunteered. Mr. Lodgeman surveyed the group. "Lifeline, Thunderbird, Slapshot - your hands were up the fastest. You get your wish to work with Kayda on a draft proposal." He watched the grins form on the three, and a few looks of disappointment. "For the rest of you, I don't think the committee will turn down any suggestions or help. Oh, and one more thing - we're about a week from spring break. I'd like it if you can write a charter, review it with the group, and work with me to get an appointment with Mrs. Carson, Mrs. Shugendo, and Ms. Hartford to present this proposal before spring break." He read the shocked expressions on all our faces.
"One week? Are you kidding?" Slapshot asked.
"You've got several charters you can use as a blueprint, and you just have to customize it for this group," Mr. Lodgeman said. "It'll be easy to get it revised and reviewed electronically. It would be advantageous to have the proposal in the administration's hands for them to consider during break, when there aren't little distractions like classes and students getting in trouble."
The meeting broke up, and I met Verdant, who'd drawn the short straw to provide escort for me. I smiled at her. "Nervous?"
She winced a bit, but tried to shake her head no.
I chuckled. "After what happened to me last week, if I were in your shoes, _I'd_ be nervous."
Verdant nodded, relieved that I understood. "I guess I am, a little bit."
"Fubar wouldn't let me out if there was any threat like last week," I said. "But we're _not_ going in the tunnels this time."
"Good. Because it's easier to run away above ground."
As we walked toward Melville, we passed a couple of boys walking the other way. They stopped, looking at me, and then grinned. "Hey, Buffalo Gal," one of them called out, "wanna take a picture with _me_?"
"Me, too," the other guy said. I didn't know a lot of students yet, and in the dim light of the lamps along the walkway, I didn't recognize them. "Or at least get me an autographed copy?"
"Preferably one in a skimpy, sexy outfit," the first guy said.
Verdant's scowl matched mine. "Knock it off, Applesauce."
"Appaloosa!" one of the guys snarled at her.
"Whatever. You two don't want me to let it be known that you're being an ass to one of Ayla's friends, do you?" Verdant said with a malicious grin.
Judging from the reaction of the two, they were intimidated by Ayla. I'd have to find out the backstory on that one when I got a chance.
"C'mon, Ferret," the one called Appaloosa said, "let's get back to Emerson before curfew. We've been in enough trouble with Tolliver already, and she's in a bitchy mood."
"We _still_ want autographed pictures," Ferret said over his shoulder, "showing _lots_ of skin!"
We walked past Melville before Verdant asked, "What was that all about?"
I shook my head. "I have _no_ idea. But it's not the first time." I noticed her teasing the one guy about his name. "What's with the mangled code name?"
Verdant chuckled. "Ayla started it, and it kind of caught on. It's a way of getting under the skin of the more obnoxious students."
Standing Rock Indian Reservation, South Dakota
"I _hate_ those things," Ernst muttered to no-one in particular as he walked away from the helicopter which had taken him, Hazel Two Bears, and Chris Patton, his research assistant, to the center of the reservation, where air service was sparse.
"Would you rather fly to Mobridge and drive an hour and a half," Hazel asked with a chuckle.
"I didn't even know there _was_ a town called Watauga," Ernst grumbled. "Why does this have to be in the middle of nowhere?"
"A shaman lives where a shaman lives," Hazel replied philosophically.
The helicopter, one of the South Dakota National Guard's Blackhawks, had set down on the edge of down, near a cluster of flashing police lights and roadblocks. The trio approached a line of yellow police tape that had cordoned off an area at least two hundred feet from the small dwelling.
A gruff-looking older tribal police officer intercepted the trio. "No-one is allowed in here," he warned. His gruff expression softened when he noticed Hazel.
Ernst pulled out his wallet and showed his HPARC ID card. "We're from the paranormal research center. We're expected."
The policeman nodded. "Okay." He was obviously a man of few words.
"What can you tell us about what happened here?" Hazel inquired.
"Some kind of wild animal attacked and killed Sam Blue Feather," the officer reported. "The person who discovered the attack flipped out shortly after she reported it, probably due to the ... mess ... she reported." An involuntary shudder coursed up and down his spine. "From what she described, there's not much left of him."
Hazel frowned. "Sam is ... was ... a shaman, correct?"
The officer nodded. "A pretty well-liked fellow around these parts. It's a shame this happened to him." He frowned. "Why did the tribal council order us to not enter the house, and why did they call you guys?"
Hazel sighed. "It wasn't a wild animal, I'm willing to bet." She began to chant a rhythmic song-like incantation, and when she finished, she grimaced. "Bad. There's residue of something that's Class X."
Ernst winced. "That's why you were told to stay away," he said to the officer. "Anything that's Class X can warp your mind, or your body. If you're lucky, it'd kill you outright." He looked at Hazel. "Can you ... protect us?"
She nodded, and opened her medicine pouch. Crushing a few chosen herbs while she chanted, she tossed the herbs in the air. A small downburst of air hit the three researchers and the officer, startling the policeman. "That'll give us about twenty minutes, give or take."
"Give or take how much?" Ernst asked with a frown.
"I wouldn't push past ten to twelve minutes," Hazel advised.
The trio entered the house, and immediately, Chris turned to empty his stomach. The room was a complete shambles, with blood and pieces of a body strewn about; there was precious little left to identify the victim.
"This has a similar feel," Hazel said, her eyes half-closed in concentration. "Like Mishibijiw, and the residue from the car wrecks."
"Is it like the house in Rapid City? And the campsite?"
Hazel nodded. "It is a familiar pattern. It feels like ... Unhcegila."
"That can't be!" Ernst snapped. "He's on ice in the lowest level."
"You might want to check on that," Hazel replied grimly. "But it could also be one of his spawn."
"His ... what?"
"Unhcegila has spawn that are somewhat like him in nature, fierce and ruthless and single-minded about sowing destruction and death."
"How many spawn might we have to deal with?"
Hazel thought a moment. "According to legend, usually three. Never four or more, and sometimes only two."
Ernst's eyes widened. "So ... the Mishibijiw in Erie ..."
"Could be another of his spawn, and we're dealing with two of them." Hazel sighed. "There's nothing to be found in here. Let's go back out."
With a huge sigh of relief, Chris and Ernst emerged from the bloodbath that was the inside of the house. "Now what?" Ernst asked Hazel.
"Now, we need to consult an expert."
"Charlie Lodgeman," Ernst said knowingly.
Hazel shook her head. "No. Not him."
"The girl he spoke of, the one with the spirit," she lowered her voice, "of Ptesanwi. The girl who fought the Mishibijiw."
Friday, March 30, 2007
"I don't think we can get away with closed membership," Maggie, aka Lifeline, said. "I could ask Loophole; she'd be able to find the regulation in seconds."
"But ... I thought we were going to restrict membership to enrolled tribal members," Scott said. "That would ensure that our membership is interested in, and votes for, things that are pertinent to the Nations."
"I agree with Maggie," I said hesitantly. "We can't discriminate for general membership. But we _can_ create an executive council, and restrict officers, to those who _are_ enrolled members."
"We can?" Slapshot asked, astonished.
I nodded, and then turned my computer so they could see. "See here? In this charter, which we're using for a model, the European Promotional League restricts officers and even voting members to European students." I chuckled. "They don't even consider Brits to be European, so they don't get to vote or hold office either."
"I bet that's just fine with the Brits," Scott deadpanned.
"Okay, I think that'll work," Maggie said with a nod.
"How about a sponsor? Mr. Lodgeman?" Slapshot asked.
Maggie and I both nodded. "That makes sense if he'll do it. He should, though since he's already an unofficial advisor."
Maggie went further. "We should see if we can get a representative from the Medawihla tribe as a non-faculty sponsor as well."
Slapshot furrowed his brow. "Why?"
Scott grinned. "Because Hartford hates Mr. Lodgeman, but she won't dare oppose us if someone, like Mrs. Donner, was a local tribal sponsor since the school is on tribal land."
I sighed. "I met them the other night, but I've never heard of the Medawihla tribe."
Maggie grinned. "And there are probably a lot more tribes you've never heard of. Tribes that predate the Nations by a long time. The were tribes."
"Weres?" I shook my head. "You can't be serious."
"She is, and so am I," Scott said. "You met Mrs. Donner's daughters, Paige and Jo, the other night, too."
"Wait, you mean Paige is a were?"
"Yup," Maggie said. "She's a were-panther. Although she's just a cub right now, according to what I've heard."
"Hey, boyfriend," a voice purred from behind me. Across the table, Scott's eyes darted up, and then a big shit-eating grin formed. "Hey, Toni," he replied. "We were just working on a charter for our group."
"Boring," Chaka said as she slipped around the table and slid into Scott's lap. "I'd rather we took a little stroll before our next classes. It'd be a shame to waste such a beautiful day being cooped up with bureaucratic stuff."
Scott looked at us, torn between spending time with Chaka and our task of working on the charter.
"Go," Maggie said simply. "We've picked your brain so clean that there's nothing left."
"As long as you left his lips alone," Chaka said seductively to Scott.
I nodded. "Yeah. If you're distracted, you won't do any good. Besides, I think I've got enough to get a draft put together and get it out to you sometime tomorrow after my costuming class."
Maggie shook her head. "Let me do the draft. I'm not so busy with after-school classes and tutoring, and I can run this by Loophole to make sure we're not violating any school regs."
As Scott got up, with Chaka doing some impossible flip off his lap and ending up with her arm around his waist, I shook my head. "Is Loophole some kind of legal wiz?"
"You don't know how she got her codename, do you?" Maggie said with a smile.
"Mrs. Carson gave it to her," Maggie grinned, "because within her first few days as a freshman, she was quoting regulations to Mrs. Carson to get what she wanted."
I frowned. "The way everyone talks, she's like a goddess of the labs."
Maggie chuckled. "She's probably the best gadgeteer on campus. She figured out the computers and broke the simulators during the fall combat finals. Mrs. Carson was a little pissed. She invented the bullet-resistant fabric Kevra, she built a suit of powered armor for combat in a few days after she'd spent only a year designing it from scratch, she's already got a three patents, two of which are licensed and being marketed - yeah, she's pretty damned good."
My jaw muscles clenched as I thought about this girl Loophole. I _used to be_ the best in my school, but the way it sounded, despite being a certified math prodigy, I was merely average in comparison to this uber-genius who invented anything she thought of. Mouthing off to Mrs. Carson? Breaking the simulators? Inventing stuff, seemingly on a whim, and already holding a few marketed patents? And she was the 'power behind the throne' of the Alphas according to someone? If she was that good, I suspected that she was probably pretty full of herself, too. It wouldn't surprise me if someone like that ran around the labs telling everyone what they were doing wrong, probably with a smug, condescending, know-it-all smile on her face. I hated know-it-alls. The more I heard about Loophole, the more I didn't want anything to do with her. It was mostly due to never having had to deal with being second-best because of the small-town, limited environment I'd grown up in. With everything else that had happened, her reputation seemed to take away yet another thing that I'd excelled at, knocking my accomplishments down to mere 'so what' and hitting once more at my self-confidence and feeling of self-worth.
As I expected, the advanced martial arts class was an exercise in futility. At least in the morning class, I could spar against Alicia and Adalie, where I had a chance. Not so in fourth period; no matter what I tried, I couldn't come close to scoring a point against the girls who'd been selected to tutor and spar with me. Britomart was simply too good for me to have a chance against. Anna and her squirrel-like reflexes were too quick, and her jumping ability made it impossible for me to score against her. Belphoebe was worse, with her Drow exemplar-4 strength and super-enhanced reflexes; in a sparring match against her, I was lucky to last more than five seconds. Evvie, Kismet, Scrambler, Bova, and Flashbang were also on my list of 'tutors', and were impossible for me to spar with. Evvie was a brick, Scrambler, a speedster, Bova, another Drow, and the other girls were simply too practiced. They'd all had the fall term, a combat final, and many had taken other martial arts during the winter 'special topics' term. In comparison, I'd been learning martial arts for only a few weeks. The net result was that I was always humiliated in sparring sessions, even when the girls didn't use their powers. I also left every fourth period battered and bruised, both physically and emotionally, sometimes limping from minor injuries.
Like I did every day at the beginning and end of the class, I briefly wondered why I was subjecting myself to this type of physical and emotional punishment, but the memories of the attempt on my life were seared into my brain, and I knew - at least intellectually - that I _had_ to improve my self-defense skills.
French, Power Lab, and electronics were a nice chance for me to rest before I went to my third martial arts class of the day, my private tutoring with Mr. Two Knives. I know he'd chided me time and time again for not calling him by his first name, but it went against all the manners I'd learned over the years. He was an adult and a teacher, and thus was to be given respect.
The only thing odd about the day was that small annoying 'incidents' kept happening, enough that I was certain they weren't a coincidence. I tripped several times, even though there was nothing to trip on, including in the breakfast serving line, which resulted in a bit of a mess and several annoyed students upon whom part of my breakfast had landed. At the start of French class, I couldn't find my textbook, even though I was certain that I'd put it in my book bag. It was happening too often to be coincidence, and I began to suspect that the harassment campaign that had greeted my arrival here was back.
Laird Hall, before Dinner
"Attack again," Mr. Two Knives urged me. Unlike the senseis, he spoke respectfully instead of barking out orders.
"I'm exhausted," I complained, wearily holding the training knife. I was so fatigued that my arms naturally fell to my sides. "This is my third combat class of the day!"
"That doesn't matter to a warrior," he retorted sharply. "An enemy won't wait for you to be rested. If the enemy is smart, he will attack precisely when you're tired so he has an advantage. A warrior must _always_ be ready to fight. Now, attack again."
One of the reasons I was a little reluctant was that Mr. Two Knives was having me perform all sorts of attacks, including from behind an opponent. "It doesn't seem right," I had complained at first, "to practice sneak attacks."
"A warrior must use _every_ advantage he has," Mr. Two Knives had chided me. "What if there are three enemies in a group, and the only advantage you have is surprise - if you can keep it? A warrior would use stealth to improve the odds by quickly eliminating one opponent - and without compromising the element of surprise to the other two."
I hadn't been able to argue with his logic; I'd seen in my spirit-world battle with snakey and in the real-world with Mishibijiw that any surprise, no matter how small, threw off an enemy's plans. Evening the odds was a normal way to approach battle.
Using as much stealth as I could manage, I tiptoed across the mat toward the training dummy, but just before I grabbed him to slit his imaginary throat, I had a brief vision of attacking JJ, one of my former friends, a guy I'd grown up with until I manifested. The thought of slicing JJ's throat, despite what he'd done to me, completely rattled me. I collapsed into a sobbing heap on the mats, horrified by the thought of killing someone I'd been close to.
Mr. Two Knives squatted beside me. "What's wrong?" he asked, concerned.
"I ... I couldn't," I cried. "What if it was someone I knew? Like my friend? My former friend?"
"What if they were beating you again, with the intent of killing you?" he posited. "What would you do then?"
I looked up, into his eyes, and I saw flint, a hardness and resolve that I apparently lacked. I looked up again at the practice dummies, arrayed in a small cluster of four. The thought of them - attacking me a third time, and possibly more, sent shivers down my spine.
The blank, featureless faces melted and rearranged, becoming Scott and JJ and Rich and Shelly, all leering at me, all taunting me, their expressions evil. Around me was the night-time parking lot of the honey factory, my nightmare come to life - again. The guys were circling me as they taunted me. Scott's belt was unfastened, and he was unbuttoning his trousers. I screamed at what was going to happen - again.
I saw Scott's eyes looking down, toward my side, wide with surprise. I followed his gaze down, and saw that I was holding Wakan Mila, my sacred knife. Something inside me snapped. This time, it would be different. This time, I had Wakan Mila, and they weren't going to repeat the rape and beating, not if I could help it. All my anger burst out in an uncontrolled frenzy. I sprang from the ground, my knife already swinging upward, into Scott's abdomen. He looked down, shocked, as blood began to pour from the wound. I didn't wait to watch him fall; I turned, leaping onto the back of Rich, pulling his head backward as my knife sliced at his neck. A scream gurgled and died in his throat.
JJ had watched, and as the horror of the situation sank in, he backed away, afraid for his life for a change. "No," he pleaded, but my fury had made me quicker, and I jumped on him, sliding the blade between two ribs right into his heart. He hadn't even begun to fall when I leaped, twisting, to Shelly, the bitch queen who'd helped Scott beat and violate me.
"No, please!" she pleaded, but I stabbed at her, wounding her leg so she fell, Again and again, screaming in primal rage, I stabbed her, in her groin, in her abdomen, in her neck - all over, venting my fury at the beatings and rape at the now-helpless victim beneath me.
"Kayda!" a voice calling me over and over penetrated my nightmarish fog. Slowly, breathing hard, I realized that I wasn't in my hometown, I wasn't being assaulted all over again, I wasn't viciously turning the tables on my would-be attackers. I looked around, semi-dazed and found myself in a training gym, atop a training dummy, with a training knife in my hand.
"Kayda," Mr. Two Knives called sharply again, trying to get my attention.
"Uh," I stammered, looking up at him. "Yeah."
Mr. Two Knives looked at me with concern. "What happened?"
I slid off the training dummy to the floor, shocked that I'd had another PTSD event, and that this time, it had resulted in the raging attack it had. "I ... I don't know," I mumbled. "I ... I was ... back there ... and I saw the guys ... trying to ...." I dropped my head, wiping at my damp eyes, ashamed to look at my tutor and unable to continue my explanation.
"I think I understand," Mr. Two Knives said solemnly. "You have to keep your head during a fight, and it doesn't look like you did today."
"I know," I said, ashamed. "I ... I don't know ...."
"Mrs. Carson told me you have frequent meetings with your counselor because of what happened," Mr. Two Knives said. "You need to keep going to those sessions so that you can stay in control."
"That's easy for you to say," I cried, my dammed-up emotions bursting forth. "You haven't been through what I have!" I let my head fall into my hands as I started crying like a baby.
Mr. Two Knives squatted down beside me and put his hand on my shoulders. "No, Kayda, I haven't." with his free hand, he unbuttoned his shirt as I looked at him, both puzzled and afraid. "I've been through my own hell," he said as he exposed some horrific scarring on one side of his torso. "First Gulf War." His eyes looked far away, as if he was seeing something that wasn't there. "My squad got hit. Hard. Only two of us ...." I could see his jaw trembling, and the battle within was reflected in his eyes as he fought his own demons. After a bit, he began buttoning his shirt as he gave a single, soft snort, which I guessed was because he was angry at letting those emotions surface. "I know PTSD."
"How ... how do you deal with it?" I asked hesitantly.
Mr. Two Knives chuckled. "You master your pain," he said, "so it doesn't master you." He looked at me with wizened eyes. "You're a shaman. You're the Ptesanwi. Surely Wakan Tanka is teaching you these things."
I nodded, dropping my gaze. I honestly didn't know, at that point, whether Wakan Tanka and Tatanka had helped me more than Dr. Bellows or not. "Tatanka has me learning from the animal spirits, and Wakan Tanka has been teaching me ...." My voice trailed off as something occurred to me that hadn't before. "She's teaching me healing magic first."
"Healing the body, or the mind?"
I started at his question, and realization dawned on me. "Both."
"Rest is over," he declared, springing to his feet. "Time to get back to work."
"But ... my episode ...."
"You must learn to master it ..."
"So it doesn't master me," I concluded his saying.
We worked more with the knife, and then with a tomahawk. Though he was extremely critical of my every move, correcting me and having me repeat the motions again and again, I could see in his eyes that he thought I was making progress. I felt a little satisfaction in that; he wasn't being spiteful or nasty like Ito was, or at least seemed to be, but was guiding me without being arrogant, cocksure, or sarcastic.
"Enough with the weapons for tonight," he finally said. "Even a warrior in training needs time to relax and unwind with friends."
"Okay," I agreed. I hadn't realized how long I'd been training until I looked at the clock, which showed that it would be dinnertime in less than an hour.
"Let's do one more brief exercise." He pulled out a handkerchief, which he quickly folded and put on himself as a blindfold. "I want you to sneak up on me."
I frowned. "You're serious?"
"Yes. Do anything you want, to sneak up on me and touch me."
I slipped off my moccasins, and padding softly, as gently as I could, trying to use what I'd learned from Ithunkasan, the weasel, I crept toward Mr. Two Knives. He stood perfectly still, and just as I was about to poke him with my finger, he spun, raised an arm, and blocked my move.
"Again." A second time, I crept toward him, trying even harder to be stealthy, but just as I was about to softly kick his leg, he danced out of the way.
"Again." This time, I wasn't going to fail. I quickly chanted my ghost-walking spell to hide myself, and then circled him slowly in a tightening spiral, watching for any clue that he knew where I was. He stood perfectly still though, his head tilted slightly to one side, and once more, just before I touched him, he ducked out of the way.
"How can you do that?" I asked, astonished. "I ... I was using my ghost-walking spell."
Mr. Two Knives smiled. "You should know that. I'm well trained. I hear and feel everything - a disturbance in the breeze, the slightest noise. And like Igmu Taka, I feel disturbances to the earth spirit."
He slipped off the blindfold and extended it to me. "Your turn."
"As shaman, as Ptesanwi, you should be much better than I. You touch the spirits of the wind and the earth in ways I can't. You should _never_ be surprised."
"Ceta, na Hoka," I said, suddenly realizing how his lessons connected with the lessons Tatanka had been supervising.
Mr. Two Knives smiled. "Yes. Feel the wind spirit as Ceta does. Touch the earth spirit as Hoka must."
Reluctantly, I tied the blindfold over my eyes. With that sense masked, I focused on my other senses - my hearing, my sense of touch. More than that, I reached out to the earth and sky spirits, to feel them.
A sharp poke of a finger on my arm shattered my attempted focus. "Ow!"
"Again," he directed. I focused again, concentrating on my senses and the spirits, and heard and sensed nothing until my feet were swept from beneath me and I fell to the mat.
"Don't think," Mr. Two Knives admonished me. "Feel."
"This isn't the damned Force!" I snapped at him in my frustration.
He chuckled. "No, but it's an appropriate metaphor. Don't try to think. Feel. Now, let's try again."
It took three more tries, but I finally sensed enough that I was able to move away from where he was, even though he was circling me in random directions. When he tried to touch me, I could almost see his arm moving, and I managed to block it a little, so the poke was a glancing touch.
"Ha!" I said in triumph, just before a slap painfully hit my other arm. "Ow!"
"A warrior _never_ celebrates in battle," he chastised me. "You were thinking of your success, and you lost focus." He tugged the blindfold off my head. "You're making progress, but you need to practice. You need to pay attention to what's around you, to the sounds and ...."
"Itukala," I said, nodding. "He listens and feels what's around him so he's not surprised."
My tutor grinned. "Precisely. As you go about your day, spend time feeling the spirits, and do as Itukala does - listen and see and smell and feel _everything_ around you."
Saturday, March 31, 2007
"No, I'm sorry," I apologized, red-faced, to Mrs. Ryan, "but with my class load and the extra tutoring, I didn't get all of my homework done."
Mrs. Ryan frowned at me. "There is no class next Saturday, Kayda, and you started late. Are you going to be able to complete this course?"
I sank down in my chair, feeling shamed. So far, the morning was a disaster. I was late waking up and barely had time to take a shower before I had to run to class, skipping breakfast - all the while knowing that I was going to be in trouble for not getting last week's homework done, let alone that which I was still behind in. "I can't go home for spring break," I muttered, knowing that many other students were staring at me, "so I'll use that time to catch up - in all my classes."
"What _did_ you get done?" Mrs. Ryan asked, her tone changing slightly from stern taskmistress.
"I got a few ideas from the Internet," I said, turning my laptop so she could see as I opened the pictures that I'd found. Most were variations on a basic buckskin dress, but a few were in blue or white leather, with knee-length skirt. There were a few arm and wrist bracers that were ornamented with beadwork and semi-precious stones as well, plus a few headbands, belts, and chokers. With the dresses, I had over-the-calf moccasins, but in one outfit, I had a mini-length buckskin dress with matching pants, again ornamented with beadwork. I had another file of accessories, from chest plates to bracelets and necklaces.
"What do you see as problems with these?" Mrs. Ryan asked, pointing at two of the dresses.
I winced, knowing immediately what she was looking at. "The neckline on that one is too low, and there's nothing covering the arms. And on that one," I pointed at the second dress, "the skirt might be too long."
"Correct," Mrs. Ryan said, sounding pleased that I'd noted the flaws. "There's a reason that miniskirts are so popular with heroes, because they aren't constraining."
"But I'm not going to be a hero," I protested.
"Perhaps not, but you _will_ have combat finals, and no doubt you'll be on a training team, so you'll need a suitable costume," she said, smiling wryly. "And when you go home, it will probably be expected of you to be in a suitable costume, true?"
My jaw dropped. "How ...," I stammered. Unless Mrs. Carson talked, how would Mrs. Ryan know about my spirit.
She leaned a little closer. "When the administration signed you up for this class," she whispered, "they let me know that you have a very important role in the Lakota tribes. It was suggested strongly that I help you find something suitable - and protective."
"Oh." I hoped that she didn't know of my spirits; the fewer people who knew that I had the spirit of Ptesanwi, the safer I'd probably be.
"I like the ones with the beadwork," she continued. "It's laced together, and can have some armor value."
"Exactly. Now on these designs that you've looked at, you could overcome the weakness in protection by wearing a skin-toned Kevra bodysuit, which would give you the protection you wouldn't have."
"A body suit?" I was flabbergasted. "Like ... tights? Or nylons?"
"Yes," Mrs. Ryan said. "With a dress, your legs are unprotected. Unless you have a long-sleeved top with a high neckline, you have too many unprotected, vulnerable areas. All of that can be overcome with a Kevra body stocking."
"Then ... why would I want extra weight? Wouldn't it be too hot?"
"It's been my observation that being hot is better than being dead," Mrs. Ryan deadpanned. "And Kevra is such a stretchable fabric that a bodysuit will be skin tight and barely noticeable." She smiled. "We're lucky that Loophole's patent agreement let us buy it at cost; otherwise, many of our students couldn't afford to use it for their costumes." It was obvious she was proud of the fact that a Whateley student had developed the product.
My jaw clenched involuntarily when she mentioned the Goddess Queen of the Labs, Loophole. As if it wasn't bad enough to be considered second-rate compared to her, now Mrs. Ryan expected me to be beholden to her for her miracle-fabric invention? "Uh, I don't have to pick a fabric yet, do I?" I stammered.
"No," Mrs. Ryan confirmed. "You don't have enough of a design figured out to commit to a fabric. But I have to say that Kevra would be a good choice, based on the troubles you've already found yourself in. Now, have you thought about headgear?"
I frowned. "There are a few options I've found." On my computer, I opened a file that was a collage of a number of pictures of different headgear.
"Hmmm," she said to herself. "The war bonnet is traditional and pretty distinctive."
"No," I replied. "It's traditionally reserved for chiefs, and I'm not one. Nor do I plan to be one. Besides, it'd be pretty impractical for fighting."
"I was looking at the headpieces with the bear theme, the bison theme, and even the cougar theme. Kind of like a helmet that would give an animal impression and hide my upper face, just like the book says is required."
"Do you want my opinion about what would fit you best?" Mrs. Ryan asked. When I nodded, she continued. "Your hair is so pretty, especially if you have it braided with Lakota-themed accessories. It'd be a shame to cover it up. You should go with a domino mask, with appropriate beadwork and such."
I frowned. "Not a lot of protective value there, is there?"
Mrs. Ryan shrugged. "What most students fail to consider when they design a head-covering is that any projectile impact with kinetic energy more than half of the stopping power of Kevra is going to result in a very serious, brain-scrambling concussion and probable unconsciousness, to say the least. The head is the hardest thing to protect, outside a full helmet in an armored suit, but an armored helmet, like most headpieces, also restricts one's freedom of head motion and interferes with some senses, and those factors are vital to combat situations."
I sighed. "I still don't know why I'm here. I didn't want this course, and I don't think I need it."
Mrs. Ryan smirked. "You'll have to take that up with the administration. I'm just a humble teacher who instructs those who are enrolled." She gave me a pat on the shoulder. "Before next Friday, I want to see at least three of these concepts refined and modeled in the graphics program."
"Yes, ma'am," I answered unenthusiastically. At least I had two more hours of class time to work on the project.
Poe Cottage, mid-afternoon
Lunch gave me no rest; I had to go to Laird with Mr. Two Knives for more practice, and as usual, he was pretty thorough in his tutoring. Mostly, I worked with the knife and Krav Maga; all the work in Basic Martial Arts and 4th period Aikido seemed to help with the hand-to-hand instruction. I was quick to notice the differences between the martial art forms - in particular, Krav Maga was much quicker and more ruthless than what we were learning in regular classes. Given its history, I wasn't surprised.
Still sweaty, I flopped heavily on my bed. "I thought weekends were for resting, not for non-stop school!" I grumbled.
Evvie chuckled. "That's not my fault. You need to take that up with the administration."
"With the tutoring, I effectively have nine classes this term. Nine!" I shook my head wearily. "I must be freakin' insane!"
"No more so than Ayla," Evvie laughed. "Did you know that last term, Ayla took business accounting two, three, _and_ four? And after acing business accounting one in the fall, he was teaching assistant? On top of regular classes and a Saturday class?"
"Ayla's fucking nuts," I mumbled. "Type A double-plus personality. Ayla probably won't stop working this hard until six months after he's in a grave."
Evvie laughed. "Yeah. I guess that's how come he's successful."
"That and being fortunate enough to be born to rich parents," I added.
"That's not it," Evvie chuckled. "He lost everything, and then earned back a small fortune." I gave her an odd look. "Okay, a rather large fortune. But it's because of hard work, not being born lucky."
"Yeah, and I shouldn't talk, either," I said contritely.
"Oh?" Evvie turned her head at the sound of the knock on our door. "Come in."
Naomi came in, sitting down on Evvie's bed. "What's up?"
"We were just talking about rich kids," Evvie said with a grin.
"Oh. Ayla again?"
"Yeah," I said, not bothering to move my head, or even my eyes, to look at her. I was too tired to waste the energy.
"And you were saying something about how you shouldn't talk?" Evvie prompted.
I sighed. "I never knew how much my family was worth until Mom told the Sioux Falls League."
"And how much is that?"
"My parents own a farm implement dealership, a few thousand acres of good farm land, an agricultural trucking business, and a cattle feed-lot. Plus investments they've made over the years." My pause to take a deep breath must have seemed like a dramatic pause, but it was only because I yawned. "Somewhere north of a hundred mil."
I could practically hear Evvie's eyes bugging out, just like in the cartoons. "A hundred million?"
I nodded very slightly, feeling my neck muscles ache with the effort. "Yeah."
"Girl, you're buying pizza and movie tickets tonight," Naomi said with a grin.
"I'm not going to the movie," I replied. "All I want to do is rest. And if knew I where one was, I'd take a nice long soak in a hot tub."
There was silence in reply to my comment, so I tilted my head up, with some neck discomfort, to look at Evvie and Naomi. They were looking at each other with strange expressions. "What?" I asked.
I saw Naomi shake her head almost imperceptibly. "What?" I repeated. A moment later, the answer dawned on me. "The hot-tub that Rosalyn keeps talking about - that's not just for that party she keeps talking about, is it?"
Evvie winced, and Naomi positively grimaced. "No. It's open for general use - if you know about it," Naomi admitted after an awkward moment.
"Where is it?" I asked eagerly. "I want, no I _need_ to soak for a bit."
"It's not ... in Poe," Naomi said slowly. "It was a special Poe class project many years ago."
"Can I use it to soak?"
Evvie exchanged another glance with Naomi. "I'll check to see if anyone from Boys-town is using it. If not, we might be able to use it."
"Yeah," Naomi grinned. "If you're going for a soak in the hot tub, we might as well go, too."
I felt my eyes widen. "Okay," I said hesitantly. "But no-one else, okay?"
Evvie laughed. "That's going to depend on whether someone else had the same idea."
I stared at her for a second or two. "Just my luck, Rosalyn will be there." Naomi and Evvie exchanged a glance, and then started to snicker. "Not funny!" I protested.
"Yes, it is," Naomi said with a grin.
I sighed. In a way, they were right; if it wasn't me being tormented by Rosalyn, I'd have found the situation hilarious. "Are you going to take me?"
"Sure," Evvie said. "Best thing is to put on a pair of sweats - with nothing underneath."
"You don't think we use the hot tub with clothes on, do you?" Naomi asked with a grin.
"Besides, you've seen all of us - or most of us - in the showers," Evvie added.
"Okay," I said reluctantly. "But if Rosalyn shows up, you two better not laugh!"
"Can't promise that," Evvie chortled.
Naomi went upstairs to change, while Evvie and I pulled on sweat suits and grabbed towels. We met Naomi downstairs by the back entrance, and with me looking around nervously, paranoid that every girl I saw knew what we were up to, we walked in the direction of Hawthorne, and only ten or twelve yards from Poe, Evvie and Naomi checked that no-one was nearby or looking, and then Naomi led us off the main walkway onto a well-disguised path through the underbrush and landscaping. We went deep into the trees, until we came to a large stump, the tall remains of a once-mighty oak tree. Glancing around again, Naomi pressed in a knothole, and a part of the stump swung inward like a door.
"Don't worry," Naomi said. "It's a biometric lock, and when it's in use by the girls, the boys are locked out and vice-versa."
That statement put my mind at ease - a little. There were still potentially other girls to deal with, and for some reason, this felt more intrusive than the communal showers, even with Ayla and Vamp there. If there were older girls, they wouldn't have seen me nude, and they might be attracted to me. That thought scared me, even though it was irrational.
We descended a wooden ladder into a large limestone grotto, with amber and golden illumination on stalactites, while recesses and benches were spotlighted with soft green glows. Three girls were in one of the three pools already, and they smiled at us as the door above closed again. The pools were marvels; they were sunken into the floor, with only a small rim, so that there was an illusion of walking straight from the grotto floor down into the pools as if they were natural low-spots in the cave floor, albeit pools with blue lighting from below the surface,
"Put your things in one of the nooks," Naomi directed as she began to shamelessly strip. Evvie did the same, and reluctantly, I did the same, feeling rather self-conscious as the girls seemed to be looking at me.
I recognized them, but not from my floor. All were at least sophomores. I recognized Angel instantly; it would have been difficult _not_ to recognize her. Besides being very pretty, her wings were a dead give-away. In my opinion they made her look even more angelically beautiful. I was puzzled, though, what a soaking in a hot-tub would to do her pretty wings. Troika and Selkie were the other two in the pool, Selkie being notable by her fey-like appearance. Troika I'd seen around, but I didn't know her as well, and since I knew all of the changelings, she had to be one of the many lesbians.
I gulped at the stares of admiration directed my way. Following Evvie and Naomi, who had no problems displaying their sexy bodies in front of other girls, I nervously stepped down into the pool and sat down on a built-in bench, hiding most of my body from the gazes I'd been receiving.
The contented sigh would have escaped my lips even if I'd been trying to be silent; the warm water bathed and massaged my tired muscles in a way the shower never could.
"Feels good, doesn't it?" Naomi asked with a grin.
"Is this a natural cavern?" I asked.
Angel laughed softly, a sweet, mellifluous sound instead of mocking chuckle. "No. This is the legacy of the class of '83. It's reinforced concrete with limestone over it. The water is filtered and heated and completely changed out every few hours. On top of that, some of our mages and devisors put in wards and guards and anti-snooping technology, so it's safe from prying eyes."
It felt like I was almost floating in the warm pool, my cares washing away from me as the heat soaked into my tired body.
"Careful," Selkie said, almost startling me. "You look like you're about to fall asleep in here."
It was my turn to chuckle. "I had a hard day training with my tutor, after getting up early for my Saturday morning costuming class."
"Tutor?" Troika asked curiously.
"She has a Native American warrior teaching her traditional fighting skills," Naomi answered before I could. "From what I saw the other night, he's even more of a taskmaster than Ito."
"That's not possible," Angel scoffed. "Ito is the most demanding teacher on staff."
"Except Gunny Bardue," Selkie chimed in. "He's impossible to satisfy."
"True," Angel, Naomi, and Troika nodded together.
Selkie noticed my look of confusion. "Gunny is an ex-marine, and you don't get to use the simulators or ranges unless he's satisfied that you're not a screw-up."
"Since the ... incident ... last week," I said softly, "the administration wants me to get up to speed on martial arts as quickly as possible. I'm in basic martial arts in the morning, and after lunch, I'm training in the advanced aikido class. And they're going to get me qualified on the range so I can carry, too. So I have to deal with Ito twice daily, and it sounds like I'll get to meet Bardue soon, too."
"That sounded horrible!" Angel said, wincing. "Was it really as bad as everyone was saying? A guard tried to kill you?"
I leaned back, closing my eyes. "Yeah," I answered. "He damned near succeeded, too." I sighed heavily. "I hope I don't have to deal with the demon-spirit that possessed him for a _long_ time."
"Pretty nasty?" Selkie asked, her interest piqued.
"Yeah. That's the third time I've had to deal with him. He fought me and Debra ..."
"Cornflower," Angel chimed in so the girls knew who I was talking about. "Kayda's girlfriend." That got 'oohs' of appreciation from Selkie and Troika.
"Yeah. We fought him in the spirit world, and then he possessed an Iroquois water panther that attacked me, and then he possessed the guard."
"Wow! How'd you get him for an enemy?" Troika questioned.
I shook my head softly. "I inherited him when I got my spirit," I said. "His father is apparently an ancient enemy of my spirit, so ...."
"His ... dad? You mean you were fighting ...?"
"Just his offspring," I finished Angel's question. "Yeah. I'm glad I didn't fight big daddy snake demon."
Angel reached out and held my hand. "As long as you're in Poe," she said reassuringly, "we'll all help you, because Poesies watch out for each other."
"Thanks," I said. "I appreciate that. But I need you guys to promise that if I do have to fight him, you'll stay out of reach, and especially don't lock eyes with him." I saw their eyes all widen, including Evvie and Naomi. "He's a class X thing, and from what I've been told, merely looking into his eyes can drive a person insane."
I felt the atmosphere grow heavy with that line of conversation, so I decided to change the topic. "This is so relaxing. I feel like my cares are floating away. It's certainly better than being clubbed with training knives and tomahawks."
"Yeah, well, I think that the fighting instructors have a bet to see who can make the most students sore in a day," Troika laughed. "Lord knows, Ito sure makes everyone suffer."
"He's got to have the record for number of injured students in a term," Angel added with a giggle. "I've heard the others keep trying to break his record, but every time someone comes close, he steps it up a notch and keeps the record safely in his hands." We all laughed at that.
We talked a lot about classes and such, and the girls were interested in my Lakota heritage. Time passed more quickly than I'd expected because of the fun conversation, and it was soon time to get out and dry off so we could go to dinner. I'd half expected to see serious hanky-panky in the hot tub while we were there, but it was a friendly gathering of girls; Evvie and Naomi only held hands as they relaxed, which surprised me a bit.
The other girls climbed out of the pool first, and I found myself staring at them a little jealously, which surprised me. Angel was a beauty, head to toe. Selkie was exotically attractive and alluring. Troika had an assured self-confidence that announced that she was beautiful and knew it. Compared to them, I was shy, and I slunk out of the pool to my things. I went to my clothes, and as I dried off, I noticed that there weren't any sounds of motion. I turned to find all the girls staring at me. "What?" I asked, feeling even more self-conscious.
"I hope you don't think I'm being forward," Angel said, "but you're really, really beautiful."
"And sexy," Selkie added softly.
In the colorful, soft lighting of the cavern, they couldn't see my cheeks flushing beet-red, but I could feel them burning.
"No wonder Rosalyn keeps talking about you," Troika added.
"Oh? She's ... talking about me?" I stammered.
"Yeah," Angel replied. "I think you really caught her eye, from the way she talks."
"Yeah," Selkie added with a chuckle. "I've never seen her so focused on one girl before. She's always been pretty carefree, and hasn't ever seemed so ... intent."
"Damn," I swore softly. "I don't want her paying attention to me. I'm ... I'm spoken for."
"Yeah, we know. Even Rosalyn knows about Cornflower, but she still seems to be hung up on you for some reason," Selkie said. "Everyone in the cottage knows that."
"Well _I_ didn't know it!" I protested. "Shit," I muttered, mostly to myself. "What am I going to do?"
"You could always get Debra to ride to your rescue and fight for your hand," Evvie laughed.
Angel shook her head, wincing. "I don't think that'd be a good idea."
"Because last year, she and Rosalyn were pretty ... close."
"Yeah," Troika added, nodding. "And a little ... adventurous. With your luck, if you tried to get Debra to help you, Rosalyn would probably get her to persuade you into a menage a trois!"
"Oh, shit!" I swore as the other girls giggled.
We got dressed and walked back to Poe together. Just after we rejoined the main path, I saw someone coming out of the back entrance that made me wince.
"Hi, girls," Rosalyn greeted us cheerfully, smiling especially at me it seemed. "How was the water?" She had an almost predatory expression when she was looking at me..
"Pretty relaxing," Evvie answered, covering for me.
"Glad you enjoyed it." She stepped to one side of the path so we could walk past, and as I passed her, she wiggled her eyebrows at me. "Now that you know how nice the hot tub is," she said seductively, "and you've had a little experience socializing au natural, it'll be a lot easier for you to find when we have the party after spring break. I'm looking forward to _seeing_ you there."
My jaw dropped open at her more-than-slightly-suggestive comment, while the other girls giggled at my predicament. "I am so in trouble with this, aren't I?" I asked.
Dunwich, NH - evening
"Rosalyn really wanted you to go to the movie night," Evvie teased me in the bathroom of the pizza place. The Poe trio - Evvie, Naomi, and I - had left Laurie doing some face-sucking with Adrian, while Vasiliy was trying to impress Chat Bleu. The fact that she'd come along meant that he must be making _some_ progress."
"Very not funny," I said with a scowl.
"Well, it's true," Naomi said. "She didn't show it much, because she's pretty schooled in not showing her emotions unless she wants, but I could tell she was a little bit disappointed."
"Have I got my own private stalker now?" I asked sarcastically. "Because I _so_ do not need that kind of aggravation."
"Well, you better figure out what you're going to do before the hot tub party the second Wednesday after spring break," Evvie cautioned me. "Because I _know_ she's going to expect you to be there."
"Why did they have to schedule it on my birthday?" I complained. "If it was a couple of days earlier, I could use my age to keep her friskiness down, since I'd be below the age of consent."
"Does Rosalyn know it's your birthday?"
I sighed. "I'm pretty sure. I heard that the party got moved back a week, probably just because it'll be my birthday." I started to wash my hands. "Can we please talk about something besides Rosalyn?"
"I'm glad the Kimbas aren't here. They're trouble magnets," Evvie commented. "When they got on the shuttle, my first thought was, 'oh, crap - what kind of mess are they going to stir up this time?'"
"I'm glad they got Nikki out of her room," I countered. "She's pretty deeply depressed, and she needs some cheering up." I sighed again. "To be honest, I'm pretty worried about her." It had been very depressing to me to watch Nikki go through her loss, and the emotional anguish that accompanied it. For a few days, she was acting like Aunghadhail had simply gotten lost, and she was desperately trying to find her spirit. It was heartbreaking to watch and listen to. She still occasionally regressed into the denial state, where she was looking desperately for Aunghadhail. I don't know if she accepted that Aung was dead, but I could tell the times she seemed to realize that the Sidhe queen's spirit wasn't coming back; Nikki's mood had shifted from seeming lost to hopeless despair. I _wanted_ to help, but I didn't know what to do. Besides, she had her team-mates, who'd been friends a lot longer than I had.
"Yeah, the whole floor is," Evvie said softly. "She hasn't smiled in over a week. But what can we do?"
"Can't your spirit, like, talk to her?" Naomi suggested hesitantly.
"I don't dare," I replied, shaking my head. "The spirit I channel knew Aunghadhail. I'm afraid that if _I_ tried to help Nikki, it'd just be a painful reminder to her."
"Too bad you can't slip her some of your special tea," Evvie suggested. "That might help her calm down a bit, and maybe start to snap out of her depression."
"If Dr. Bellows isn't having much luck helping her," I countered, "then what could I do? Besides, she's got her friends with her almost around the clock."
"I noticed," Evvie said. "Toni and Jade looked like they were ready to kill anyone who upset Nikki, and Ayla is, well, being Ayla - watching carefully to see if there's anything he can do to help."
"We better go back to the table before Vasiliy does something stupid and causes a scene," I said.
We walked back to the seating area, and noted that more Whateley kids had come to town. Frankly, given the troubles I'd had, I was surprised that the administration let me off campus. Either they were confident that I could take care of myself, or there'd been an administrative oversight and they hadn't gotten my name on a 'confined to barracks' list.
"Hi, Kayda," Anna said enthusiastically, waving at me. Damned, but I wish I could distill the essence of what made her so maddeningly cheerful all the time. It'd dominate the anti-depressant market.
"Hi," I said, detouring slightly. I noticed immediately that she was with a boy - probably the one she'd called Jerry, or Hazmat, during our sparring and locker-room chat.
"This is Jerry, my boyfriend," Anna said softly, as if announcing it to the world would jinx her.
"Pleased to meet you," I said.
Jerry rose to his feet and shook my hand graciously. "Anna has been talking about you. Is it true you can talk to spirits?"
I chuckled. "Yeah, but only the Lakota spirits," I said.
"And Kayda told me that the squirrel spirit and animal totem is considered very important in her culture," Anna added, almost giddy with happiness and what I'd told her about Zica.
"I don't want to hold you two up," I said to excuse myself. "My group is waiting to finish pizza so we can get to a movie." I glanced, and then giggled. "Actually, they're waiting for me to _pay_ for the pizza so we can go to a movie." I smiled at Jerry, but not in a way that might be interpreted as suggestive or predatory. "It's nice to meet you, Jerry. In the short time I've known Anna, she talks about you a lot, so you must have made quite an impression on her."
Jerry blushed. "She's pretty special. I'm lucky she thinks I'm worth dating."
"Have fun, and I'll see you in class on Monday," I told Anna before going back to my own table.
As we walked from the pizza shop toward the theater, I suddenly stopped, so abruptly that Vasiliy and Chat Bleu ran into my back. Something didn't feel right, and I started looking around.
"What?" Evvie asked, starting to look around also.
I shook my head. "Something is wrong. It's like ...." I thought a moment. "It feels like Ptan and her pup - they're in trouble!" I looked around, trying to use my spirit senses and my normal ones at the same time. "It's ... over there," I said, pointing down a side street.
"I don't know about this," Naomi said cautiously.
"Yeah. Just come on," Laurie said, shuddering visibly at the thought of leaving the main street area.
"No, it's Ptan," I said again. I turned without waiting for them and began to walk softly down the side street. In a moment, I sensed the others following me, reluctantly based on their whispered comments. "Ptan?" I called out softly. "Ptan? Is something wrong?" I knew the others wouldn't understand Lakota, but Ptan would.
The tail that smashed into the group, scattering us like bowling pins, came unexpectedly and from nowhere. I hit the side of a building, and my left forearm exploded in pain. I dragged myself back to my feet and instantly called up my shield.
That move was just in time - it stopped the black snake-like creature from sinking his claws and scimitar-like teeth into my body; I shivered to think that if I hadn't invoked that shield spell so quickly, I would have been killed instantly.
"So, Wihakayda," the snake demon hissed at me, "you come to me and save me the trouble of figuring out how to get to you. I knew if I was patient long enough, you'd leave the protection of that school of yours. I didn't expect it to be so soon. And you're so easy to trick - I have to help poor little Ptan!"
Wakan Mila was in my hand, and I quickly pushed essence into the blade. "Evvie?" I called out to my roommate. "Are you guys okay?"
If they answered, I didn't hear, because I was suddenly very busy with a vicious black snake-demon. He snapped his tail around like a whip, and it sent my shield - with me inside - careening across the street like a billiard ball. I was momentarily stunned by being tossed and turned so violently, and as I tried to reorient myself, I accidentally let my shield slip.
Old snake-face saw the opening, and he lunged, using his snake body like a spring to propel him across the gap toward me, his claw-tipped arms extended to grasp or impale me, and a mouthful of short swords prepared to shred my body.
I ducked, feinting to one side, which caused him to twist his body to match my move. Instead, I dropped and rolled the other direction, swinging my knife toward his body as he went over me and feeling the blade connect with some part of his body. There was a nearly-deafening roar of anger and pain from the snake-demon, and as soon as he could halt his momentum, he turned and lunged at me again. I knew that he wouldnt make the same mistake twice. I was momentarily paralyzed with fright at the sight of his terrifying face coming at me, and when I forced myself to focus, I realized with sickening certainty that I didn't have enough time to get my shield spell activated.
His gaping maw came at me, seemingly in slow motion, and I knew that I was going to die. I started to lift Wakan Mila, but he was moving incredibly quickly. The ugly face of the snake demon swelled until it nearly filled my vision. Death was coming to meet me, and I felt helpless, trying hard to shake the cobwebs from my brain before it was too late.
There was a motion in my peripheral vision, and then someone was between me and snakey. His awful mouth clamped down on something, and stopped.
"Evvie, don't look at it," I screamed when I realized what my roommate had done. She was counting on her PK field to protect her - and me - from the snake demon.
With the merest thought, Tatanka manifested, and the white buffalo glared angrily at the son of Unhcegila, while he lunged at the beast.
Another scream of agony sounded from the creature as one of Tatanka's horns tore into it, but the snake demon was tough, and he clawed back at Tatanka. The razor-sharp slashes across my buffalo friend's back stung me as well, staggering me.
Snakey was hurt, and he pulled back into a coil, glaring at me. A split-second later, my head felt like it was exploding; he was using the same psychic attack on me that he'd used in our dream-world battle. I struggled against the psychically-induced dizziness and pain to recite the spell for a psychic shield, but the attack was too ferocious. I heard cries of pain behind me, and I knew that my friends were under siege as well.
Though Tatanka had hurt Snakey, I needed him more inside my brain to shield me from the psychic attack. It was a tradeoff I hated to make, but snake-face had left me no choice. Tatanka vanished from the darkened street, and instantly, the induced brain fog and pain vanished.
The demon glared at me, and then looked toward my friends, who were still reeling from the psychic attack. With another glance at me, he turned and lunged toward them, toward where Laurie squatted beside Chat Bleu, where she'd been obviously trying to help the girl. I screamed in frustration, swearing mightily in Lakota, as I dashed toward my friends, in an effort to protect them.
The snake-demon was clever; as I sped toward my friends, distracted, he whipped his tail around again, catching me in the back and knocking me forward, where his claws raked at my body. I rolled, and as I did so, I slashed upward with my knife, feeling the blade impacting some part of the demon. He roared again, and his tail whipped once more, knocking me away from him.
I hit a building hard, and I felt pain radiate from all over in my body. Pushing myself away from where I'd hit so I wouldn't be a vulnerable target, I rolled, and as I did so, I realized that I'd dropped my knife, the only weapon I had which could hurt old snakey.
Adrian, bless his heart, lived up to his code-name Harrier, flying skyward and darting toward the snake demon in an attempt to distract him away from me. As soon as I realized what he was doing, though, I screamed at him, "No, Adrian." He kept buzzing the creature, and old snakey kept slapping his enormous tail and swiping his claws at the sky in an attempt to swap the buzzing little pest. "Don't look at him!" I cried, hoping he heard me and would avoid the creature's gaze. Otherwise ....
As I pulled myself to my feet, Evvie rushed to my side, so her PK shield could help protect me. In the middle of the street, Naomi darted under the upraised snake-demon's body. "No!" Evvie and I screamed together.
Realizing that Adrian was only a distraction, Snakey turned his attention back to me. There was a glint of reflected light giving away movement of his ivory-black tail, and then it was right there, in front of me, about to smash into me yet again. I was smacked against the wall, but Evvie had come to my side, and her PK shell didn't bend under the impact, which left a small space in which I was protected. If not for her, I'd probably have been killed by that blow.
Naomi darted away from Laurie and Chat Bleu, toward Snakey. He was too busy focusing on me to notice her. She bent over, scooping up something, and then she yelled, "Kayda! Catch!"
That got Snakey's attention. Turning to the noise, he must have seen the knife, because he lunged at Naomi, just as she threw the knife toward me. Snakey grabbed at it with his clawed hands, twisting unnaturally but stymied by the momentum he'd put into his motion toward Naomi, and so he missed. Angry, he looked at me, then at Naomi, undecided of his course of action, but only momentarily. Since Naomi had tried to help me, and he'd been moving that way, he must have decided to punish her first before he finished me off. There was no doubt in my mind that if he killed me, Snake-face was going to kill _all_ of my friends.
Evvie noticed snakey's attention to her lover, and screamed. She - and everyone else - was too far away to help, though. By helping to give me a chance, Naomi had forfeited her life. Snarling, snakey lunged to kill her.
Outside the Dunwich Movie Theater
Pendragon was reaching for his wallet to pay for tickets for himself and Gloriana when he heard the unnatural roaring and screaming a couple of blocks away. Everyone turned, mesmerized by the sound, but the two high-school kids knew better than to stand and wonder. As one, they dashed from the movie line toward the noise.
Using skills they learned in costume change class, they shed their civilian clothes and, without losing a step, were in their superhero costumes. Knowing how to support each other, Gloriana took off, flying toward the source of the noise, while Pendragon kicked into high gear to run. Several Dunwich residents saw her take off, and most of them simply yawned; seeing super kids was no big deal anymore. They were more curious about the supernatural shrieks. She rounded a corner, and saw a scene of total chaos.
It was difficult to be certain in the dim light, but it looked to Gloriana like Nursing was kneeling beside Chat Bleu, probably tending to injuries. Based solely on who hung out together, it was a safe bet that the boy standing near them was RPG, looking helplessly at the massive pool of snake-shaped blackness that was in the middle of the street, and had obviously attracted the attention of the kids. She was certain she recognized Harrier hovering out of the snake's reach over the sky, unsure of what he could to do help, while in the middle of the scene, Naomi stood in the street, trying not to stare at the monstrosity that was coiled up to strike her. To one side, Kayda and Punch were against a wall that had a conspicuous Punch-shaped indentation in the bricks as a testament to the force that had hit her.
Kayda bent over, picking up something, while Punch screamed at Naomi helplessly. If there was any truth to the wild gossip that Punch and Naomi were an item, it would explain why Punch was so distraught at Naomi's very vulnerable situation.
Gloriana wasn't close enough to help. It was a truly frustrating feeling to know that one of the Whateley students was probably about to die. Still, she turned and burned, flying as fast as she could toward the helpless girl. As always seemed to happen when adrenaline levels were high, the entire scene seemed to move in slow-motion.
Adrian beat her by a few seconds, which was fortuitous for Naomi, because Gloriana would have _never_ been able to reach her in time. The snake thing's massive maw snapped on empty space, vacated only a moment before by Adrian swooping in to snatch Naomi from certain death.
The snake demon was extremely angry at that move, but instead of pursuing Naomi and Adrian, he turned back toward the two girls by the building.
"Vasiliy! Shoot!" Kayda screamed.
Gloriana knew that RPG had a devastating energy attack, and that Kayda, seemingly quite vulnerable, would be inside the blast radius if RPG did shoot. "She's too close!" Gloriana yelled at Vasiliy.
"Shoot! Now!" Kayda commanded again, more insistently.
Snakey had finished coiling, and was ready to strike. Kayda was helpless, and Gloriana wasn't close enough to help.
"Don't look at the thing," Punch yelled, getting Gloriana's attention. "Don't make eye contact with it! It'll make you insane!"
For the moment, natural human curiosity defeated better judgment, and Gloriana looked at the snake creature bearing down on Kayda. It seemed to radiate evil, and if the back of its head was any guide, the thing's face was a horrible sight to behold. Gloriana turned at a flash, in time to see RPG send an energy ball toward the snake. She pulled up her flight into a retreat to keep distance between herself and the incipient explosion.
She couldn't help but look as a massive fireball and explosion engulfed the snake creature and Kayda.
Adrian dove in and got Naomi out of the serpent-demon's way just in time, after she had so heroically retrieved Wakan Mila and tossed it my way. Luck was with me or she had good aim; it clattered to the ground essentially at my feet. I barely had time to pick it up before old snake-face turned his attention back to me.
Evvie was torn between trying to help me and looking after Naomi. I gave her a shove toward the others; I had no idea how long her PK field could last against snakey, and if she happened to make eye contact .... Besides, my one last gambit might prove fatal to her if her PK field didn't provide enough protection. This fight was too dangerous for the others.
As snakey reared to strike at me, in what would most likely be a final blow, I screamed at Vasiliy, "Vasiliy! Shoot!"
A familiar voice from the Capes sang out above me. "She's too close!" I didn't have time to glance up to see Gloriana; instead I urged Vasiliy, " Shoot! Now!"
No sooner had the energy ball formed in his hands than I did a quick incantation. Snakey was lunging toward me, his dagger-filled mouth and claw-tipped arms ready to tear me to pieces. Behind him, I saw the energy ball leave Vasiliy's hands.
I dove to the side, just as his RPG blast hit snakey in a massive explosion and ball of fire. As snakey and I were engulfed in the explosion, I was knocked back against the building, hard enough to knock the wind out of me even though my shield spell was up. It seemed to be holding against the massive forces assailing it. If I got time, I was going to have to thank Wakan Tanka for teaching me the stronger version of the spell.
As my eyes painfully readjusted to the dim illumination of two very distant street lamps, I could see the others, half-turned away from the blast, but peering back my direction. In the street lay snakey, although it was difficult to say how badly he'd been hurt because his inky black body blended too well with the dark scene.
As I watched in horror, snakey's eyes opened, and laboriously, he began to lift his head. "You and your friends will have to do better than that, Wihakayda," he hissed. If he'd been angry before, he was furious now, and his voice was labored some. RPG's blast _had_ hurt him. I needed to summon another shield, and then let Vasiliy lob some more of his energy bursts at the critter.
Before I could direct him, a figure in what looked to be chivalric armor, wielding a sword, dashed past the group and charged at the demon. "No!" I screamed to Pendragon, but I was too late. His sword bit into snakey, eliciting a howl of pain, and then the demon spun toward the new threat. His claws raked at Pendragon, and his teeth bit ferociously again and again at the armored figure, but Pendragon was experienced, and he kept his shield between himself and snakey's mouthful of jagged doom. Unfortunately for Pendragon, as he fought, snakey whipped his tail around viciously, smashing into the would-be hero and knocking him back by the assembled group of my friends.
Using the distraction, I leaped at snakey's body, knife stabbing into the demon-hide. Snakey roared in agony as I felt Wakan Mila draining her magic into the demon's body. He thrashed around wildly, trying to strike me and dislodge the knife. I was thrown from him, miraculously hanging onto my sacred knife, and Snakey turned to glare at me.
"You can't protect yourself and your friends at the same time, Wihakayda," he hissed angrily, before spinning and lunging toward my retreating friends.
"We'll see about that, asshole!" I snarled at the demon. I incanted, and a small ball of magical energy formed in my hands, which I then hurled toward the nearest two, Laurie and Chat Bleu, who was still down, possibly knocked unconscious by the first blows. The little ball hit Laurie, and because she'd been touching Chat Bleu, both girls received the magic and shimmered and vanished from sight. I repeated the incantation, sending what Wakan Tanka had called a group spell toward Naomi, Adrian, and Evvie, and likewise, the three vanished. "Move!" I screamed at them as snakey roared in frustration. Angry at losing his targets, he smashed his body at the spot where Laurie and Chat Bleu had last been, and his tail thumped wildly about, smashing into the asphalt street hard enough to damage it.
Gloriana pulled up short, facing the demon, and a burst of bright energy radiated from her, smashing into snakey. The demon shrieked again, the light having the same effect on him that sunlight would. She dove in closer, preparing for another of her glory bursts, but she had to dodge his thrashing tail which was trying to swat her from the skies. One swipe of the massive tail clipped her slightly, sending her careening through the sky.
It was an opening that I needed. As I ran toward his body, unseen since he was so focused on Gloriana, I pushed my essence into Wakan Mila, and dove onto the top of his body, my knife flashing downward in an arc even before I hit. No sooner had the knife entered than snakey screamed and convulsed his body, trying to toss me and the knife free. I poured every bit of essence I had into the knife, feeling it course through me and into my blade, and snakey's roar turned into an ear-splitting shriek. Still I pushed essence, and the snake demon reared, twisting his head over his back to attack me.
With a final convulsion, the snake demon's fore-body crashed to the ground. Still clinging to my knife, all of my essence poured into the blade and into snake-face, until I was drained. I slipped off, exhausted from pushing so much magical energy into the demon. That was it - I was spent, and if he still lived, I had no more fight left in me.
"He is dead, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said proudly to me. "You fought well."
"I'm tired," I said, feeling like I didn't even have enough energy to speak.
"Drink some tea," she replied, holding forth a cup. "It is the healing tea to help your body, and it will give you some essence."
"Yeah," I acknowledged wearily. "All I want to do is sleep."
I levered myself off the ground and looked around. Snakey was on the ground, unmoving, and the aura of evil he'd been radiating was gone. "He's dead," I said. "Finally." Without quite knowing why, I tilted my head back, and spreading my arms down and back, I cried out, letting loose with what Mr. Two Knives would recognize as a Lakota war and victory cry.
It dawned on me that a number of the spectators were staring at me, paying more attention to the fact that I'd just let loose an Indian war cry than to the battle and snake corpse behind me. Suddenly, I felt very conspicuous.
With a quick spell, I burst all the ghost-walking spells I'd cast on my friends to protect them. Behind them, we'd attracted something of a crowd, which was not unusual given the explosions and screaming that had gone on in the preceding battle. I collapsed wearily to the ground, sitting beside the corpse of the fearsome spawn of Unhcegila.
"Hey, Fey!" Toni called as she pushed to the front of the crowd. "Look at what Kayda killed. We have SO got to mount that thing in our trophy room!"
I looked up at her, not quite believing her casually-sassy attitude.
"Uh, Toni," Nikki said cautiously, "we don't _have_ a trophy room."
"What? Why not?" Toni turned to another person in the crowd. "Ayles? Hey, Ayla!"
"You need to pay for a little change in Poe. You have _got_ to get us a trophy room!" Toni turned back to Nikki. "Do you think that we should put it next to the Yama Dojo ninja stuff, or next to the picture of Billie whooping the Arch-Fiend's ass?"
"Definitely next to the Yama Dojo stuff," Ayla replied.
"That black hide would make a _cool_ pair of snake-skin boots! And a matching belt and purse!" Toni observed.
I just stared at them, not quite believing their casual, carefree demeanor. "Guys," I cautioned everyone, shaking my head in disbelief at their sassy attitudes, "stay back from him. He's got Class X taint."
HPARC - Black Hills, South Dakota
A psychic roar of anguish rattled through the entire HPARC complex, beginning in the lowest, most secure level. In the control room on the second lowest level, coffee cups rattled and clinked, while dust drifted down from overhead fixtures and false ceilings. The staff looked anxiously among themselves, afraid of what was causing the facility to shake from top to bottom.
Ernst looked up from the paperwork he was completing, a frown on his face. "Look at the monitors. Find out what's causing that!" he barked.
"All the monitors are out," someone called from the control room outside his office.
"Code Black Lockdown!" Ernst decided without having to think. "Power armor teams suit up and triple the guards between levels."
Sirens started to sound as security doors slammed shut, while the clatter of guards echoed in the halls. Moments later, the 'clomp, clomp' of power-armor added to the sound of chaos. In less than five minutes, the only sound was the siren.
"Shut that damned thing off," Ernst yelled to be heard above the siren and the echoing of the unknown roar.
Hazel Two Bears stuck her head in Ernst's office. "Got any idea what it is?"
Ernst shook his head. "I suppose you do?"
Hazel nodded grimly. "That's Unhcegila."
Ernst's eyes widened. "How do you know?"
"That's his call. Something hurt him, badly."
"What? What could do that?"
Hazel smiled. "That answer is back east."
Hazel shook her head. "Nope." She strolled back to the office she was borrowing at the HPARC center. "She has returned," she said softly to herself, smiling enigmatically.
A level down, in a secured room, Unhcegila finally stopped his agonized roar. He'd felt it when his son had died, and it surprised him. After recovering the energy which he'd expended in his emotional rant, he sent a psychic message to his two remaining sons. "She is stronger than I thought."
"I understand, father," the closer son, the one working on the wards that kept Unhcegila prisoner.
"Do not allow this to make you clumsy," Unhcegila warned, "but you must free me soon so she can be stopped. She must not be allowed to grow more powerful."
"What shall I do, father?" the second son called in psychically.
"Find the sacred sphere. I must have it soon because it will take time to empower me."
"His remains are dangerous," I said urgently. We sat in a conference room in the security offices, with Gloriana and Pendragon, and my friends who'd been in the battle. Mrs. Carson had Dr. Hazel Two Bears on the telephone on a conference call.
Mrs. Carson nodded. "I understand. Louis?"
"We have a guard on the remains to keep people a safe distance. ARC has been notified and is sending a team to retrieve them."
I snorted. "Toni's going to be so disappointed that we can't make a souvenir of its head." That statement was greeted eye-rolls by both Mrs. Carson and Chief Delarose.
"Ms. Chandler and her friends are well known for a rather ... unique ... sense of humor," Fubar said dryly.
"Was this the same snake demon you've dealt with before?" Mrs. Carson asked.
I nodded. "Yeah. He's the one that attacked me in my dream space, and he had the same psychic feel as the Mishibijiw and ... Officer Matthews." The last words were spoken softly, knowing that they were probably an unfortunate reminder to Chief Delarose and Mrs. Carson.
Louis Geintz nodded. "I can't ... feel ... that psychic presence in at least a hundred miles of Whateley. It's a safe assumption that he's deceased."
"From the top, what happened?" Mrs. Carson beat Chief Delarose to the punch.
We all took turns telling the story, interrupting each other when one forgot a point or we thought something needed embellishment. I'm sure the running description of the battle was rather disjointed, but the essential information was all there, and we didn't care if the administration and security were going to need to work to put the events in order.
Mrs. Carson nodded. "How are you all? I assume you got hurt again?" She was looking at me on the last bit.
Laurie gave a semi-serious chuckle. "I suspect Chat Bleu got a concussion in the first attack. She was unconscious for most of the fight."
"And you're going to Doyle as soon as we're done, right?" Mrs. Carson directed.
"Oui, Madame," Chat Bleu answered.
"Harrier escaped injury from attacks, but he strained a muscle saving Naomi." Mrs. Carson nodded. "Punch took several hits," Laurie continued.
"I saw the dent in the brick building," Chief Delarose said, shaking his head. "I'd add the word 'significant' to the description."
Laurie nodded before continuing. "Gloriana was hit with a glancing blow from his tail, but I healed her minor injuries. Pendragon was lucky he had his armor on; he got a few scrapes from that thing's claws. He's healed, too."
"And Kayda?" Mrs. Carson asked, looking right at me.
"Broken left radius, probable concussion, possible fractured rib," Laurie began to recite my injury list.
"What is it with you and broken ribs?" Chief Delarose asked sarcastically. I just shook my head.
"Sprained right ankle and knee. And her right wrist is sprained as well.
"And you haven't healed yourself because ...?" Mrs. Carson asked.
I sighed, fatigued beyond belief. "I drained all my essence into that thing," I replied.
Mrs. Carson looked at the phone. "Dr. Two Bears, is there anything you'd like to add?"
Hazel answered. "From the photos you sent, I can confirm it was the offspring of Unhcegila."
"I knew that already," I muttered, annoyed. Why didn't they believe me when I told them what I knew?
"From the legends, Unhcegila has three offspring in his brood," she continued. "There is evidence that one of them is active on the Lakota reservations, and there is some evidence that the third is still in Paha Sapa."
"So it's unlikely that another one of them would venture to the Whateley area?" Louis asked.
"No. Unhcegila is on ice in HPARC and can't have more offspring, so there are at most two of them left. According to legend, he can't have another brood until all of his sons are killed anyway. Your area should be safe."
"I haven't detected a similar psychic presence here," Louis reported.
"What, if I may ask," Mrs. Carson said, "can you tell us about this Unhcegila? Is it a threat that we might have to deal with?"
"Unhcegila is the eternal enemy of Wakan Tanka, and thus Ptesanwi."
"We figured that part out," I said sarcastically. "Are you sure Unhcegila is still there?"
"Yes," Hazel said without pause. "There was a significant ... event ... here, that seems to correlate with the time you killed his spawn. Unhcegila is still here."
"And he knows you killed his spawn," Hazel added.
"That can't be good," I said with a sigh.
"Can you please provide any additional information you might have on this Unhcegila?" Mrs. Carson asked. "
"I'll get a packet put together. Courier?" Hazel asked.
"Yes, that would be good. I'd prefer to not have too many people know that we're dealing with this particular nasty spirit."
"I'll have something for you tomorrow."
"Good. Is there anything else?" Mrs. Carson asked.
"I'd like to meet Kayda," Hazel said. "Anyone who beats Unhcegila's spawn must be pretty special, and her report of the fight would be useful data for us."
"She'll be on spring break in a week," Mrs. Carson said.
"Yeah. I'll be back home. Hopefully." It was all going to depend on whether my hometown was going to be hostile or not.
"Anything else?" There was no response. "Okay, I'm sure we'll be talking more."
"Kayda?" Hazel asked through the phone.
"You're her, aren't you?" Hazel asked enigmatically.
My mind raced. I could lie, or mislead her, but I was certain she already knew the truth. The question was how many other people I wanted to know. Certainly, the group at Whateley counted among my friends and teachers. "Yes," I answered simply.
After the debriefing session ended, about eleven at night, Mrs. Carson made us all go to Doyle to get checked out. It was then that I started shaking uncontrollably. I glanced around, and noticed that Naomi and Laurie were also looking quite rattled. But surely not Evvie? No, when I looked at her, she, too, looked rattled by the experience.
The emergency staff called in Banned Aids, who did a healing on all of us. By the time it was my turn, my regeneration had kicked in, and the amount of healing I needed was minimal. After that, Laurie and Adrian walked with us back to Poe. Mrs. Horton noticed how unsettled we still were, so she made an exception to policy and allowed Laurie to stay with us for a sleep-over. We all collapsed from physical and emotional exhaustion within seconds of lying down.
In the few moments before I fell asleep, I took a moment to reflect. It had been a good day. Intense, challenging, nerve-wracking, and terrifying, but as Mr. Two Knives had told me only a few hours earlier, the exhilaration of battle and victory more than made up for the jangled nerves. I realized at that moment that I was a warrior.