Tuesday, May 1, 2007, late evening
Mrs. Nelson poked her head into the TV room on the third floor of the cottage. "Girls," she said in a firm parental voice, "you know that the TV goes off at ten-thirty."
Carlie looked up from the TV and frowned, trying to look sad and pathetic to gain the housemother's sympathy. "But Ms. Nelson," she said plaintively, "the movie is almost over!"
Mrs. Nelson looked - it _was_ a good movie, and she did understand why her girls would want to watch it. With a sigh, she relented. "As soon as the movie is over, the TV is off for the night, got it?"
Cytherea spoke for the others. "Yes, Mrs. Nelson," she said firmly.
Five minutes after she left, the credits started to roll, so Heartbreaker picked up the remote, shut off the television, and stood. "I don't know about you guys," she said, stretching, "but I've got to finish a paper for English." Flicker, Lemure, and Tangent also excused themselves to study.
"Have you heard the latest about that Indian girl?" Theresa, Duplex, prompted as if she was sharing a state secret. If the movie was over, a round of juicy gossip would entertain the girls for a little while longer.
"You mean Kayda?"
"Yeah," Duplex said with a nod. "My roommate Doli was pretty pissed when Kayda took over her Native American group. Now she's gotten pretty bossy and is running things _her_ way, no matter what the other members want!"
Kandy nodded. "Yeah. And I heard she's claiming that she's got some kind of important Indian spirit and everyone who's Native American should practically worship her!"
"Arrogant bitch!" Tangent snorted derisively. "She needs to be taken down a notch or two!"
Katarina Tanaka frowned. "I don't know," she said hesitantly. "You know how nasty rumors can be. I doubt she's as bad as some people are saying."
"Oh yeah?" Fade sneered. "She fooled Ito and Tolman! She's getting special treatment in martial arts, and gets to fight who _she_ wants instead of fighting everyone like every other student does!"
"Drama queen, if you ask me," Kandy added with a snort. "My roommate told me that when she doesn't like who she's fighting, she fakes some kind of panic attack and gets out of it!"
"Mindbird let it slip this afternoon that they're providing special protection for her all the time, too! Like she can't take a little teasing or goofing off!"
Tansy Walcutt frowned at the discussion. Though she knew the real reason from Kayda's thoughts, and though her long-learned behavior was practically demanding that she add fuel to the gossip fire, she held her tongue. She'd seen Kayda the night before - not an arrogant, self-important snob, but at tiny, terrified, lonely girl. "I don't know," she said, startling all the girls. "You _do_ remember that one security guard tried to kill her! Maybe that's why she gets extra protection."
"Are you suddenly one of her fans?" Fade sneered.
Widget thought a moment. "Scott helped with the charter for the group, and he said she was pretty easy-going."
"What'd she do, flash some tit at him to manipulate him?" Tangent spat.
Widget started to reply, to defend the boy she was still pursuing, when Wind Runner came into the study room, looking around. "Mindy?" she asked as soon as she saw Washout, "can I borrow your notes from chemistry? I can't find mine."
"Sure," Washout said, standing. "No prob. I'm done studying for the test anyway."
"Why don't we get the information straight from the source?" Fade stared at Wind Runner. "Doli, what's going on with that new girl? The Indian girl?"
Wind Runner's eyes flared angrily and her jaw clenched. "She's ... she's a bitch!" she spat, her words dripping with venom.
"She came waltzing in, sweet-talked Mr. Lodgeman, and took over my group. MY group!" Doli snarled. "Everything was running so nicely, and she just took over like it was her birthright!"
Fade shot an 'I told you so' look at Tansy and Katarina. "So is it true that she claims she's got an important spirit and wants everyone to let her have her way?" Her words were salt in Doli's emotional wounds.
"She _thinks_ she's important, and she's snowed Mr. Lodgeman and a couple of others, too!" Doli shook her head. "At least Heyoka isnt buying her load of bullshit!"
"What do you mean? Are those two fighting or something?" Tangent asked in a leading way.
"Something like that," Doli confirmed. "I heard her on a major bitch-rant about him messing with her dream-space, chewing him out like she was all superior and shit." She shook her head. "He was basically telling her no to everything she said!"
As soon as Wind Runner left, the topic turned to other gossip, leaving Tansy sitting silently, puzzling out the rumors against what she knew for fact. The bit of catty gossip exchanged so far was ... uncomfortable to her. It was so judgmental; she asked herself if _she_ had been that nasty in starting and spreading rumors. There was a _lot_ about Kayda that she didn't know. Maybe she should find out more.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007, middle of the night
Poe Cottage, Kayda's Dreams
I walked sadly into the village, to the fire circle. Things didn't seem quite right; this didn't _feel_ like my dream world, but rather a vivid dream - or nightmare. A figure sat, her back to me, and I flinched; it was definitely _not_ Wakan Tanka. In fact, my mentor was not at the circle. Frowning, I walked closer, wondering who had violated my dream space - if indeed I _was_ in my dream space.
As I neared, she turned, and her silhouette in the firelight was unmistakable; my heart leapt to my throat. "Lanie!" I cried, running to my friend.
She stood and wrapped me a in a warm embrace, and before we knew it, we were kissing each other passionately. Being taller, she picked me up off my feet, still kissing me, and carried me into a tepee. I started, but she shushed me with another kiss as she laid me down on a buffalo blanket and practically ripped my clothing from my body.
I ran my fingers through her long, silky, red hair as her tongue expertly teased my nipple, my entire body hot and tingling with excitement. She paused and glanced up at me, her green eyes as full of hunger and lust as I was sure mine were. Her hand slipped up my back, from where she'd been holding me, and she pulled my head toward hers, crushing her lips against mine, kissing me forcefully and passionately, and in moments, our tongues were fencing, my arms wrapped around her and pulling her so close that it seemed our bodies would fuse together. For a long time, we kissed, and then slowly she began to move, her hot lips kissing my neck. She paused to nibble on my ears, and then resumed her kissing journey south.
Once more, she expertly used her tongue on my breasts, sending shivers of delight coursing through my body, while I tried to lovingly caress one of her larger, rounder boobs. Then her kisses moved down more, until she was kissing at my navel.
She looked up, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "Shall Ah stop?" she asked, knowing that there was no way I could refuse her continued ministrations.
"Oh, God, no!" I cried. "Please don't stop, Lanie!" I begged her.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007, about 1 am
I woke up, panting, feeling sweaty and sticky, and highly aroused. The dream wasn't in my dream space, of that I was certain, but it had been very, very vivid.
Softly, I padded out of my room and across the hall to the girls' bathroom, so I could clean myself up a bit. I flipped on the shower and, hanging my jammies on a hook, climbed in. The warm pulsing jets of water woke me up, but it did nothing to quell the residual excitement from that all-too-real dream. I reached for the control knob to turn the shower temperature down; a cold shower should quench my lust.
Instead of turning the temperature down, I found myself turning on the 'special feature'. The water jets, pulsing and throbbing, renewed my arousal, and my knees wobbled as the tingly, exciting feeling exploded outward to fill my whole body, or so it seemed.
My eyes drifted shut as my body throbbed with pleasure. "Oh, God, Lanie," I found myself saying softly as the orgasms continued to wrack my body, "Yes, yes, yes!" In my mind, it wasn't a Hydroflux, but Lanie attending to my needs, and I squealed with pleasure as my imaginary lover brought me to new highs of delight.
About half an hour later, back in my room, I slipped back between my sheets and laid my head on my pillow, feeling confused.
What did the dream mean? Had I goofed, and somehow accidentally bonded with Lanie? Did our initial glance, the electric feeling when I first gazed into her eyes, mean something? Why did I keep thinking of that kiss at the hot tub party? And more importantly to me, did it mean that she was okay, and that I _hadn't_ harmed her in the rituals?
And once I turned on the Hydroflux, why did I fantasize about Lanie instead of Debra? The guilt at imagining that I was with Elaine instead of my soulmate haunted me. Why had I even turned it on? If I was that disturbed by the dream, a frigid shower would have spoiled the mood and let me return to sleep in peace. If that was what I wanted. Was it?
It was troubling that I couldn't get her off my mind. It was because of the ritual and her injury I told myself, knowing that it was a lie. I loved Debra, of that there was no doubt. But how did I feel about Lanie? _Did_ I have feelings for her? Did I secretly desire that she be more than just a friend?
But that would be cheating on Debra. Wouldn't it? She and Debra knew each other, Lanie had said. And it sounded like they were friends, too. Maybe in some naughty recess of my mind, I was secretly hoping that they were _more_ than just friends, and we could become a nice trio.
I dismissed that out-of-hand as a silly idea. Lanie was in love with Wyatt, and she wouldn't leave him for Debra and me. Would she? No, I told myself. She wanted to bear Wyatt's children. And yet, at the hot-tub party, she'd been more than a bit flirtatious. She admitted that she'd been checking me out.
Then I had a disturbing thought. If Lanie was okay, would I feel so guilty about having almost hurt her that I'd give her any favors she wanted, up to and including sex? I knew that she'd checked me out and found me sexy. Her kiss in the hot tub wasn't a friendly little peck on the cheek, but a very sensual exchange that had left me feeling weak and aroused. So maybe she _did_ want me. What would I do if that was true? Would a guilty feeling about Lanie make me cheat on Debra? Did I _want_ to have a fling with Lanie?
I sighed, my mind awhirl at the dream and whether there were any hidden meanings, or whether I was having a relatively normal teen fantasy and my imagination was running amok.
At least it was better than the nightmares. Which _did_ come back. And I didn't sleep well between the shower and my alarm clock ringing.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007, Morning
Poe Cottage, room 205
I tried to stay in bed because I had zero motivation to get up, but Evvie physically dragged me from my bed and to the bathroom. As soon as I realized that everyone was staring at me, I slunk to one of the benches and plopped down to wait for an open shower - and a far less-crowded bathroom. Verdant and Evvie manhandled me into a shower, which I hurried through as quickly as I could, and then, with my hair still wet, I went back to my room and flopped on my bed, still in my robe and with my head wrapped in a towel.
Even Mrs. Horton got in on the act of trying to persuade me to get dressed and get some breakfast - without success. After a while, I _did_ dry my hair and pulled on a buckskin dress and then, casting a ghost-walking spell, walked glumly to Doyle; I had to try to see how Lanie was doing, even though I was terrified that she was injured.
After going through the doors where my ghost-walking spell was broken, I tried to cast it again, without success. I don't know if it was due to lack of essence or if something in Doyle interfered with the spell, but I couldn't hide, so I walked, head down, paranoid, toward the nurse's station. The nurse wasn't going to tell me anything, because I wasn't staff or family, but she did show me to Lanie's room.
I very cautiously pushed the door open a crack to look in; as I feared, Wyatt was still keeping vigil by her bedside, and there was someone else in the room as well. I halted abruptly, easing the door back shut, unwilling to go in. Lanie was still lying motionless in the bed, which broke my heart. Far from being reassured, I left feeling lower than dirt at what I'd done to my friend.
I slunk back to Poe, not bothering with a ghost-walking spell; it really didn't matter to me if I got in _more_ trouble. Things were already gloomy enough. Mrs. Horton intercepted me outside of Poe, and she got a couple of girls to hustle me off to my first period Avatars class. That was a disaster; the instructor seemed to be eyeing me very critically, and a number of students who knew Lanie seemed distrustful of me. I found a back corner seat and sat unenthusiastically through class. Dr. Hewley, the instructor, called to me to get my attention as I was leaving class at the end of the period. I looked at him, and instantly fear gripped me. It was pure supposition on my part, but I imagined that because Dr. Hewley and Dr. Aranis worked with Lanie, he was upset about what I'd potentially done to her. I must have knocked four or five students to the side as I ran in terror, applying a ghost-walking spell the moment I was out the door.
BMA was no better. I didn't even make it out to the mat; I was dead certain that girls who knew Lanie were glaring at me in the locker room. Sensei Tolman found me there, dreading going out to class, and rather than force me to go out and face the other students, she sent me to Dr. Bellows' office. I don't remember a lot of the session with Dr. Bellows; only that he seemed very concerned about my mental health and how exhausted I was. I'd gotten maybe two or three hours of sleep in the previous seventy-two hours. My self-guilt about Lanie, my attempt to run away, my lack of appetite - he knew it all, and he was _trying_ to persuade me that accidents like this often happened at Whateley, and that it wasn't my fault. He hadn't convinced me by the time third period was over and it was lunchtime. But rather than going to Crystal Hall, I went back to lay down on my bed in Poe.
Dr. Bellows had written a pass for me for the whole day, not that I was interested in going to class anyway. I just stayed in my room, feeling like I was the worst person on the planet for what I'd done, until Mrs. Horton had Angel escort me back to Dr. Bellows' office for another unproductive session. After that I tried to nap because I was so tired, but even then, fear of more nightmares kept me from getting any rest. Sometime around six, Evvie came back to the room and tried to get me to go to dinner, but in a fit of pique, I put up my shield spell so she couldn't force me to do anything. I know she was very worried about me when she left for dinner with the other girls on our floor.
Rosalyn came in the room less than ten minutes later. "Get up, Kayda," she said gently but firmly. "It's dinnertime."
"Not hungry," I muttered at her, not bothering to look away from the wall I was facing as I lay curled up on my bed.
"When was the last time you ate?" she demanded in a stern voice I'd not heard from her before then.
I shrugged. "Dunno. Doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does," Rosalyn countered. "Now get up and let's go to dinner."
"Not hungry," I repeated. With my shield spell active, there was nothing that she could do.
I underestimated Rosalyn. She left, but came back after a few minutes with a take-out dinner for me. Despite her pleas and entreaties, attempted flirting, jokes, and sympathy, I didn't respond.
The next voice startled me. "How is she?" Debra asked Rosalyn as she walked into my room.
"Not good," Rosalyn said, concerned. "I don't think she's eaten since Lanie went into Doyle! Or slept."
She sat down on the bed and tried to rub my shoulders, but the shield spell blocked her. "Sweetie," she said softly, "can you drop your shield please?"
I turned my head slightly, and Debra gasped at my appearance. Even her concerned gaze was not enough to impact my depressed state, though. With a sigh, I let the spell dissolve.
"Mrs. Horton told me what happened," she continued quickly. "It's _not_ your fault! You were trying to help Lanie, not hurt her."
"But I _did_ hurt her!"
"You don't know that!" Rosalyn said firmly. "Nobody knows until she wakes up."
"But ... she's unconscious because of me!"
"Did you ask Wakan Tanka what might have happened?" Debra asked.
I turned to reply, angry at her question, but I stopped and my mouth dropped open. "Um, no," I mumbled after a bit.
Rosalyn joined Debra rubbing my shoulders. "Maybe you should talk to Walkie Talkie about the ritual and the possible side effects before you judge yourself."
The two of them managed to get me to sit up and eat a little bit, even though my appetite was far from normal, after which they walked me to Debra's room in the guest cottage.
I was too exhausted to dream walk. In fact, I fell asleep on the sofa, cuddled between Rosalyn and Debra. I knew that because when I woke up screaming from nightmares several times, both of them were there to comfort me and reassure me. In the morning, I was shocked to realize it hadn't been a dream, that both of them were with me, in a very non-sexual, platonic way - which was exactly what I needed.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007, Lunchtime
I sat alone, my ghost spell around me, in the little nook behind the waterfall. Since Debra was in Berlin picking up a few things, Rosalyn and Angel had almost dragged me to Crystal Hall to eat, arguing that I _had_ to eat, ignoring my arguments that I wasn't hungry. After I'd played with a few bites, I carried my tray to the conveyor.
I turned, and gasped in surprise; a tall, curvy redhead was walking out of the caf with an older woman. It _had_ to be Lanie! She was okay! At least she looked okay! I ducked and dodged my way through the crowd of students who were _all_ bussing their trays so they could get to their next class. I had to watch where I was going so I didn't run over someone, which made it quite difficult to try to see where Lanie was going, but when I got clear of the throng, I couldn't see Lanie or the woman. I stumbled to a halt, my heart sinking a bit. I needed to talk to her, but at the same time, I was afraid. Was she really okay? And was she angry at me for what she'd gone through? I didn't know. I needed to know that she was okay, but at the same time, I had a growing fear that she might be upset over what she'd gone through in getting the spirit. Assuming it was a good spirit. And assuming that she wasn't injured in the rituals.
My heart was a little lighter, but my sense of dread was still there; Lanie might be alive, and she looked unchanged physically, but there were still many things I feared might have happened to her.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 - after classes
Patio behind Schuster
Nervously, Darren and Eddie looked around the "fixers' patio" and settled on the tall, thin girl with white hair and a rather angular face. "She's here."
"Okay," Eddie said, "let's go."
Darren paused momentarily to steel his nerves. _Everyone_ knew Jadis Diabolik, and the fact that she was a very shrewd operator. She might be shrewd, but she had what he needed at the moment. Taking a deep breath, he marched toward the table at which she sat alone reading a book.
"Is there something I can help you with, Speakeasy, Quickdraw?" she asked, putting a well-worn bookmark in the pages and setting the now-closed book on the table. Though she was smiling, there was something unsettling about the twinkle in her eyes and the wry smile she wore.
Darren winced. She was a lot more direct than he'd expected, and she'd used their code-names like a threat - or a pre-emptive strike, announcing that she _knew_ of his powers. "Word is," he said easily, taking a seat when she gestured to one of the empty chairs, "that you're the go-to person for renting space down in the tunnels."
Jadis stroked her chin and looked thoughtful. "I _might_ know how a person could get some space. It depends, though."
"On what?" Eddie asked bluntly, ignoring the previous direction from Darren to keep quiet.
Jadis read the look Darren shot Eddie and chuckled softly. The two were so obvious about which of the two of them was in charge. And Eddie's speedster mouth _would_ slip up and give her precious information. "So direct. What a pleasant change from all the dodging and metaphors and hidden meaning people use to try to disguise their real intentions." She smiled, knowing that she was in the cat-bird's seat. "Why would you two want some space? You're not on the technology track, so you don't need labs. Your ... associations ... have their own club space. And," she grinned, "so far as the grapevine says, neither of you has a new love interest that might require ... privacy."
"I'm after a certain amount of ... discretion," Darren said coyly. "No questions."
"I see. Well, that _will_ raise the price somewhat." She saw the boys' eyebrows shoot up. "If something ... nefarious ... is done in a space that I control, whom do you think security or our Headmistress would target first? I _do_ require certain precautions to be taken to ensure that I'm not implicated in anything ... against the rules."
"I understand," Darren said confidently.
"So if there are no questions, I can rent you any space I like, since I can't ask you about your specific needs, right?" She smiled at the shocked look on Darren's face. "Oh, so there _are_ some permissible questions?"
"Yeah," Darren growled, pissed at having been so easily outmaneuvered.
"I think I can determine what you need in five questions. Fair?"
Darren thought and then nodded. "Five questions."
"Okay, first question. Do you intend to use the space for anything that is illegal?"
Darren thought quickly, wincing. Technically? It _might_ be considered rape if the persons who received the serum were non-consenting minors, but then, if they had the serum, they'd sure be consenting, wouldn't they? "Um," he said, grimacing. "Not technically."
Jadis took out a small book and jotted down a few notes. "I see. Second question. Will the space be used for anything that, while legal, is against school rules?"
His face screwed up in the mother of all scowls, Darren nodded.
More notes went into the little book. "Third question. What is the timeframe you need the space for? Start and stop dates and times," she added.
"Tomorrow if possible," Eddie answered quickly. "Before the serum .... OUCH!" He grasped at his sore leg from where Darren had brutally kicked him.
Jadis' eyebrows rose imperceptibly. Serum? What kind of serum were they discussing, and what were they planning to do with it? Her sources had told her nothing of anything in the labs that might be termed a serum. She'd have to poke around a bit more.
Darren turned back to Jadis, pasting on a smile that was obviously phony. "We'd like to start tomorrow about two, and the duration should be no longer than ... twenty-four hours."
"Hourly rates, gentlemen?" Jadis asked sarcastically. "Really! Do I look like the kind of person who'd rent rooms at the No-tell Motel?"
"It's ... a little social experiment," Darren lied quickly. "We'll ... get all the data we need in a few hours." He smiled again. "It's for a term paper."
Jadis smiled, shaking her head. "Right. A term paper. Okay," she put her serious face back on. "Fourth question. What size and furnishings do you need? Large? Small? Lab desks? Casual? Clubhouse-type space?" She raised an eyebrow. "Love nest perhaps?"
Darren blushed furiously at her insinuation, at the same time realizing that her questions were getting perilously close to enough details to put someone on their trail. "Um, about a decent den or living-room sized room. Casually furnished. You know, sofa, chairs, maybe a coffee table."
"And a refrigerator," Eddie added, ignoring the warnings he'd previously gotten from Darren about opening his mouth. "It's got to look like a social setting."
More notes. "Okay, last question. Do you need the entrance to be secret for the duration, or do you want it open and accessible to others?"
"Definitely accessible to others," Darren answered confidently.
Jadis nodded and then consulted different pages in her book. "Hmm, that one? Nope. Definitely nope." She thumbed through a few more pages. "Oh, here's one. Yeah, this one should fit your needs nicely." She read the data. "Third-level tunnels, away from the labs toward Laird. Accessible and known, so there's no chance of leaking any secrets. Twenty by fifteen feet, former clubhouse."
"That sounds like ... a nice fit," Darren said haltingly to try to hide his glee at the space. "Very suitable."
Jadis nodded, and then thought a bit, scratching down notes in her book. When she finished, she tore out a page and slid it across the table to Darren.
Darren's eyes bugged out. "That much?"
Jadis shrugged. "Your hesitant and dodgy answers about legality and school rules requires me to take a few extra precautions, so that if you do something ... wrong, I won't get the blame. There are also security deposits against damage and cleanup fee." She smiled. "Around here, cleanup by necessity _does_ include the possibility of hazmat decontamination. Of course," she added with a pleasant smile, "if you leave the space in good condition, those deposits will be refunded."
Darren frowned at the number he stared at. "Um, is there some way we can work a deal? Some favors, perhaps?"
Jadis chuckled. "First, I only trade favors in certain rare cases, and most assuredly _not_ in cases where the other party might not be in a position to repay me. Second," she smiled wickedly, "one thing I learned from Dad is to never trust others with favors unless you have some ... collateral. Sorry, no. Cash only. You can deposit payment to my school account at the bookstore."
Darren sighed heavily, glancing at Eddie. This was going to be more expensive than he'd hoped. Then again, he _had_ already captured the lust demon, and with his very being on the line already .... And if the administration discovered what they'd done to Sara, they'd be expelled - at best. "Okay," he said firmly, thinking of getting rid of those two Lakota scum, "deal."
Jadis smiled. "Once you've made payment, come back and sign the contract and I'll give you directions and the key."
"You protect your space with a simple door key?" Eddie asked in astonishment.
"I didn't say it was an ordinary key, did I?" Jadis asked cryptically. She watched the two boys walking back across the patio. "Now _why_ would you two want a room for a short time, and be willing to pay so much without negotiating the price?" she said to herself. "I guess we'll find out, since you _didn't_ insist on total privacy, did you?"
Thursday, May 3, 2007, 3rd period
I still hadn't had a chance to talk with Lanie, and I was still terrified of the thought that she'd been harmed. Worse, the nightmares were still there, but different; in them, Lanie was a different person with changed personality, interests, and abilities. She knew she'd changed, and she hated me for it, as did Ayla and Wyatt and all her friends. At least Debra was there to comfort me when I'd awakened screaming in the middle of the night.
I sat in the back of the classroom again to avoid Ayla and Ms. Grimes, who kept giving me the evil eye - or so I had convinced myself. A couple of times, she called on me, but I just sat silently, brooding, worrying, and afraid that if I answered incorrectly, she'd have an opportunity to yell at me.
An antique PA system crackled to life, interrupting Ms. Grimes and sparing me having to dodge a question. "Ms. Grimes?" the speaker announced in poor fidelity. "I'm sorry to interrupt. Please have Miss Franks report to administration immediately."
"Certainly, Mrs. Shugendo," Ms. Grimes replied, speaking into the microphone of the PA box. She turned and looked at me. "Miss Franks?"
My stomach turned a couple of somersaults; reporting to administration meant that Mrs. Carson was about to drop the hammer. Trembling, I gathered my books and scooted quickly out of the classroom. Ms. Grimes had either forgotten or hadn't been told of my restrictions, because she didn't assign an escort for me; I sped out of the building before she _did_ remember, because she'd probably assign Ayla to escort me, and I was absolutely certain that Ayla was upset over what I'd done to Lanie.
Despite the fact that it was a warm spring day with clear, sunny skies, I felt the icy grip of dread. Worse, one of the work-study students was at the door waiting for me, and he simply said 'follow me' before striding determinedly to one of the conference rooms on the first floor of the building.
I gulped uneasily as I stood in the open doorway. Mrs. Shugendo sat at the conference table with another older woman with graying hair. Wyatt Cody sat at the table, next to a girl with really severe GSD who was sitting on the floor. "You sent for me, Mrs. Shugendo?" I asked nervously from the doorway.
"Come in, Kayda," Mrs. Shugendo said simply, "and close the door please." As I shut the massive, heavy door behind myself, she continued, "I believe you know Mr. Cody and Miss Nalley?"
My jaw dropped as I goggled at the bear-looking girl with GSD. "Lanie?!?" I cried, my heart sinking as my knees started to wobble and my hands shook. The room threatened to spin as I tried to understand. I _had_ caused her harm.
The bear-girls smiled and nodded. "Like the new look?" she asked wryly. "Ah woke up this mornin' and decided Ah just had to change things." The woman glared at Elaine, obviously not appreciating her attempt at humor.
Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat. "Kayda, allow me to introduce Mrs. Nalley, Elaine's mother."
I gawked for a moment, then tried to be polite, offering my still-shaking hand in greeting. "How ... how do you do?" I squeaked. I was bordering on a full-fledged panic attack from everything that was wrong, and the fact that Wyatt and Mrs. Nalley no doubt blamed me - as they should have.
Mrs. Nalley barely smiled, and her handshake was cursory at best. Once the requisite social greeting was concluded, her countenance became stern, even angry. "Am I to understand that _you_ are responsible for merging this ... spirit, I believe is the correct word ... with my daughter?" Her words were hard as iron and cold as ice; her eyes bored into me with an intensity that rivaled Mrs. Carson.
I nodded slightly, my hands trembling even more. "Yeah," I managed to croak.
"No!" Lanie interrupted. "Ah'm responsible!" she declared firmly. "_Ah_ interviewed Grizzly, _Ah_ researched the subject when she made the offer to me, and _Ah_ made the decision to join with her. Not Kayda! Me!"
Mrs. Nalley's eyes were still boring into my skull with profound disapproval. "Mrs. Nalley," I said cautiously, not quite sure I trusted myself to explain correctly, "I _did_ perform the ritual that bound Elaine with Grizzly. At her request!" Her intense glare softened - a tiny bit; there was no doubt she was still quite upset. "I accept responsibility for that." I glanced at Lanie. "What ... what happened?"
"Ah woke up this way," Lanie replied, shrugging as if waking up as a bear-girl was normal. Well, at Whateley, maybe it was.
"She's manifesting Grizzly," Wyatt interrupted to explain, "so she should be mostly in Grizzly's hallow."
"In her dream-space, right?" I asked Wyatt without thinking. It suddenly dawned on me why I was there. I looked at Mrs. Shugendo. "You want me to dream-walk with Mrs. Nalley to Elaine's dream-space?"
"Yes," Mrs. Nalley answered immediately and curtly. She got a disapproving look from her daughter. "If you could, please."
I glanced at Lanie and saw a slight nod. "Yes, ma'am," I answered, "I ... I can."
Mrs. Shugendo nodded, her expression toward me still neutral. "I'll leave you alone then. You won't be disturbed here." She withdrew, closing the door behind herself.
Mrs. Nalley sat stiffly, alert and on edge. "Try to relax, ma'am, and sit comfortably" I said to her. "This is going to seem a little strange at first. I'm going to do an incantation, a Lakota shaman thing, and you'll find yourself somewhere else." She nodded hesitantly. "Don't panic. You'll be alone there for only a moment, and we'll be right behind you. Just ... don't move, okay?"
Mrs. Nalley glanced warily at Lanie, and then nodded to me. I started to incant as I reached out to touch her forehead, which caused her to flinch a little bit, but she steeled herself and I finished the spell. Instantly, her eyes closed, and her body relaxed.
"Send me in, Coach," Wyatt said with a grin. "I'll keep Mrs. Nalley out of trouble."
I sighed, shaking my head at his metaphor, and repeated the incantation. Once that was done, Elaine looked at me, a bit worried. "Um," she asked hesitantly, "how does this work? With Grizzly in me, Ah mean."
"You'll have to let Grizzly guide you back to your own dream-space," I replied. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, and I 'saw' Grizzly reach from her space in the astral plane and pull her into the dream space. It was my turn; I focused on relaxing, and slipped into the realm of dreams.
I took a deep breath of the clean, fresh air, clearing my thoughts, and then I opened my eyes. We were at the fire circle. Mrs. Nalley glared at me. "Is this some kind of joke?" she asked in a deceptively-calm but stern way that reminded me of Mom. Mrs. Nalley, in reality, was a bit stout, like most middle-aged women, but in dream-space, she was strong and firm, looking like nothing so much as a Scots queen.
"Mrs. Nalley," I said quickly, "I'm _not_ making fun of you. I promise!"
Wyatt, having been in the dream-world before, chuckled softly. He looked, as he usually did in the dream world, like a swordsman, but this time, less like someone out of a renaissance festival and more like an average guy, which made me wince at the beaded buckskin top and short skirt I was wearing that exposed a _lot_ of leg and midriff.
"The outfits are a reflection of who you _really_ are, including your ancestry," I explained. "Lanie told me that she was descended from Picts and Scots, so naturally, you would be too." Mrs. Nalley and Wyatt exchanged a little banter that should have made me feel less ill-at-ease, but I couldn't help being nervous. Mrs. Nalley was definitely on edge and unhappy. "This way," I indicated, leading them from the camp. We walked from the camp on the prairie, and over a small hill, we were suddenly in a dense forest, which quickly gave way to woods, and then a sandy seashore. I focused a moment, and my buckskin outfit turned into a two-piece swimsuit with a short-skirt around my hips. Mrs. Nalley was in a one-piece with cut-off jeans, and Wyatt was in trunks that made him look like a surfer dude.
"I'm home!" Mrs. Nalley gasped, looking around and at the sailboat anchored a ways from shore. She pointed across the water to a house. "That's my house!" she exclaimed.
"Mom!" Lanie called enthusiastically as she and Grizzly loped toward us. Seeing her, Mrs. Nalley rushed to embrace her daughter, overjoyed to see her back to normal
As the Kodiak, who we hadn't notice before, walked up to nuzzle Grizzly, Lanie grinned. "See? It's just a new power Ah have to learn to handle."
Wyatt nodded. "I can manifest Kodiak as well." He realized he'd omitted something. "Mrs. Nalley, may I present Kodiak and Grizzly." As Mrs.Nalley gawked at them, their forms shifted to a huge, macho biker and an amazon woman.
"Spirits present a perception, a more familiar shape for you to communicate with, and a way to grasp that which you couldn't otherwise understand," Kodiak explained.
Grizzly looked at Kodiak. "I need you to take a look at Elaine."
"Why?" Kodiak asked, frowning. Their forms shifted, and with them the dream-space, until they appeared as a doctor and a nurse in a hospital ward.
"My spiritual binding to her hallow caused some swelling of her Gustatory and Olfactory cortices," Grizzly explained. "It's interfering with her primary mutation."
I felt my heart skip a few beats as I goggled at Elaine. Grizzly's words did _not_ sound good. The two of them looked at a 3-D representation of Lanie's brain, while Kodiak asked her about the padded device she was sitting on.
"Ah ... Ah don't know ...," Lanie said hesitantly. "Ah think ...." She stumbled through a halting, incomplete attempt to explain it. "Ah'm not sure."
"Has she ... lost ... her gadgeteering?" I asked fearfully.
Kodiak frowned, and then asked, "Elaine, how could you fix your Pocolda so it was strong on both sides?"
Lanie stammered, "Ah ... think ..." She continued to fight, while the hologram of her brain glowed red. "Ah .. Ah would have to ...." She clutched her head. "God, it hurts!" But Kodiak kept pushing her, restraining Mrs. Nalley to keep her from Elaine's side.
As I watched in horror, Lanie kept trying, fighting pain as her eyes watered, and then she started bleeding from her nose. She finally screamed in pain, and Kodiak did something to take away her agony.
I barely heard Kodiak speaking, "No, she hasn't lost it. But she will have to relearn using it."
Tears poured down my cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Lanie!" I cried over and over. "I ... I took away your special ability. It was like Mrs. Carson had predicted - and it was all _my_ fault! Wyatt tried to interrupt me, but I wouldn't listen. "I ... I did this to her! After all I complained about wanting to be special, I _took_ that away from her!" I backed away from her in fear, knowing that she had to hate me for what I'd done. I turned, but before I could run like I so desperately wanted, Elaine grabbed me, having wriggled out of her mother's hug.
I couldn't face her. "I'm sorry!" I bawled. "Lanie, I'm so, so sorry!"
Lanie spun me around, hugging me tightly as I bawled with guilt at what I'd done. She put her hands on my cheeks and tilted my head up so I was looking directly into her green eyes. "You did _nothing_ to me that Ah didn't specifically ask for," she said, staring into my eyes. "You didn't take anything from me out of malice or spite."
"But ..." I sniffled. How could she be so calm and ... forgiving? I couldn't meet her gaze eye-to-eye, and I tilted my head down, ashamed of what I'd done, afraid to see anger or hatred in her eyes.
"It was an _accident_, Kayda!" Lanie insisted strongly. "Having a power doesn't make me special. Hell, it ain't even gone! Ah just have to relearn how to use it." She wiped at one cheek. "Dry those tears. Ah got Grizzly! And you know what Kayda? Ah feel safe! For the first time in two years, Ah feel safe!" She tried to smile. "You can't know what that's worth to me."
I looked up, so terrified that I'd hurt my friend, and stunned to hear her forgiveness that I knew I didn't deserve. I stared in her eyes, and she stared in mine, and just like at the hot tub party, there was _something_ there - warmth, friendship, forgiveness, tenderness, and something else. Before I knew what was happening, she leaned down while I stretched up to meet her lips. I don't know if it was a kiss of forgiveness, or reasserting our friendship, or if it was something else - all I knew was that it was a very powerful, sensual kiss that made me tingle from head to toe. We were French kissing, clutching each other tightly, while I struggled in my mind with how I felt about Lanie and how I _loved_ Debra. Despite feeling conflicted about the two of them, I kept kissing Lanie, because she was such a _good_ kisser and I was so relieved that she wasn't blaming me for what had happened, but still considered me ... special? What _did_ we feel for each other? I wasn't going to bed with Lanie, but I still very much cherished her friendship - and more. At least that's how I rationalized continuing to kiss her.
Grizzly cleared her throat, and I started, remembering suddenly that we _weren't_ alone. I drew back, and very hesitantly turned toward Grizzly. Lanie's mother and Wyatt were gawking slack-jawed at us. I blushed furiously, and looked down, away from Wyatt's gaze. Surely he was furious that I was French-kissing his girlfriend....
"Oh, _shit_!" Elaine whispered, blanching as she and I both realized what we'd done.
We opened our eyes in the conference room in Schuster. I was instantly aware, and I looked away from Wyatt and Mrs. Nalley, who was taking the longest to re-orient herself. I sighed with relief to see that Lanie was back in her delicious red-headed, curvy form, although her clothes were horribly oversized. I glanced again, and saw Mrs. Nalley staring at Lanie, her eyes wide in disbelief.
Wyatt helped Lanie up and into a chair, and he kissed her cheek. "Family comes first," he said softly. "I'll run to the bookstore to get you some clothes."
I sat rigidly, not really wanting to look anyone in the eye. I was ashamed of how I'd kissed Elaine, I was embarrassed that I'd done it in front of Mrs. Nalley, and I was terrified that Wyatt was furious with me.
Mrs. Nalley cleared her throat, and said in a deceptively calm voice, "Would everyone please excuse us?"
Wyatt stood first, and I hung back behind him, trembling nervously. He opened the door for me, shutting it once we were in the hallway. It had been my intention to scoot off as quickly as I could to avoid his anger, but when I tried, my book bag caught on something. I wanted to move and it most certainly _didn't_, so I ended up spinning around, nose to chest with Wyatt, who had his index finger hooked into the carry handle.
I looked up, terrified, but he had a small smile on his face and immediately let go once he had my attention. It wasn't lost on me that he'd grabbed my bag instead of touching me. "Can we talk a minute?" he asked softly.
A thousand lame excuses beat at the back of my teeth, but I felt my head shakily nod. After all, I couldn't outrun him or hide, and I certainly wasn't up to a fight. He gestured at the bench in the hall and sat down.
Wyatt sitting was much easier to deal with psychologically. He didn't loom sitting the way he did standing. He patted the bench next to him and smiled. "You don't have to be afraid of me, Kayda," he promised softly. "I don't hit women."
The tears welled up in my eyes. "I...I'm sorry...I didn't mean...we didn't..."
He held up a hand, his yellow eyes concerned. "You don't have anything to apologize to me for," he declared firmly, which took me by surprise. "I know you and Lanie hit it off at the hot tub party."
"Nothing... happened!" I said defensively.
"Hey, not my business!" he replied with a smile. "Lanie and I weren't together, and it's not like you can turn feelings on or off." He looked off in the direction of the conference room. "She's really awesome, isn't she? I've seen her dressed to the nines like a movie star on Oscar night and drinking beer in cut offs and a bikini top, and either way I ask myself, how did somebody so fantastic end up picking me to be with?" He shook his head. "I know I don't deserve her. She deserves somebody a lot better than me."
He turned and locked eyes with me and seemed to bore into my soul. "Maybe that somebody is you. Lanie likes girls, and based on her choices - you, me, Maria - she kinda has a thing for project people, people she can fix. And because we're all broken a little, we start building up walls to protect this wonderful person in our life, and maybe we get a bit afraid of the other people she's trying to fix, trying to help. I don't think she'd want that."
Wyatt turned back and grinned again. "I think Lanie would want, would need us to be friends. You're important to her, so as far as I'm concerned, you're important to me." His face softened and he seemed so sad suddenly. "I know you had a rough time of it, Kayda. I know you've been horribly abused," he had a very sad look as he watched me react with shock that he knew my awful secret, "and if there is anything I can do to help you, I will. Because that will make her happy, and...and, more importantly, because it's the right thing to do. I'm not angry you and Lanie kissed, ok? You don't have to worry about me flying off the handle. In fact, I want to help you." He paused for a moment, thinking. "Could you call your buffalo pal?"
I blinked and Tatanka was there, big enough to be menacing, but not taking up the whole hallway. Wyatt pulled up his sleeve and revealed the gauntlet he was wearing on his right wrist. "I want you to see this," he told the spirit. "See that I'm not hurting her, ok?" Wyatt touched the bracer and his hand glowed golden.
Tatanka sniffed at it and nodded guardedly. "You may proceed."
Slowly he reached up, and I was too dumbfounded to run or resist, and by the time I thought to try and warn him, he touched my forehead. A weight I didn't know I carried fell from my shoulder and I sagged in relief. "You won't dream tonight," he promised. "No nightmares, just sweet, blissful sleep." His voice and inflection were ever so slightly different than normal and when I looked up his eyes were brown, but lightening back to yellow.
"Get to feeling better, Kayda," he ordered with his goofy grin. "And if you need help, come to me, ok?" I felt my head nod, too stunned for speech.
He smiled again and stood, wagging a finger at me. "No more running," he ordered. "You have a problem, you come to me."
Then he smiled again and walked down the hall, whistling like he didn't have a care in the world. Like he hadn't just seen me kiss his girlfriend. And as I watched him go, I wondered if I would ever understand Wyatt Cody.
Thursday, May 3, 2007 - after dinner
Third Level Tunnels
As soon as the transaction was complete, Darren and Eddie had set up the room - planting some nonsense papers about Ayla's business deals - just enough to hold someone's attention for a few seconds. Glasses had been set out with an ice bucket and cokes, in preparation for a supposed meeting. And then, very carefully, wearing triple-layers of very heavy, impregnable gloves, Darren had swabbed some of the precious serum onto the glasses and onto the papers. Two hidden cameras were set up to record the events: if things worked as planned, it'd be a shame to waste possible blackmail evidence.
It had only taken him and Eddie a few minutes to pick two targets for their plot - none better than two of the three rabidly anti-gay bullies of TNT. If it could work for them, it'd work for _anyone_ - including their main target. Once they'd selected their test victims, it was easy to figure out a suitable enticement for them - their hatred for the Goodkind bitch-boy was well-known, and they'd been chafing for a long time to find a way to get back at Ayla for some of the trouble they'd gotten into because of him.
At dinner, Eddie and Darren had talked conspiratorially - just loud enough for Tee-Kay and Nitro at the next table to hear - about Ayla and their 'informant' gathering information about the Goodkind so they could 'pressure' Ayla. The 'note' left partially hidden beneath a dirty plate on Eddie's tray cryptically directed the two of them to the newly-rented lair where they'd be able to deal for information about some of the things the Goodkind was up to - with a hint that some of the information could get Ayla into serious trouble with the administration.
It was easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Not only had Tee-Kay and Nitro overheard, but Darren had only had to use his esper suggestion a little teeny bit to get Nitro interested in the paper on Eddie's tray. It was thoroughly predictable that the two would call their buddy Truck to intercept and delay Darren and Eddie so that Tee-Kay and Nitro could get the information first.
Darren and Eddie hadn't counted on another set of ears overhearing, belonging to another Ayla-hater seated at the table behind them in the caf. Another wicked grin of possible revenge, and another person falling into their little trap.
Tee-Kay tested the doorknob, surprised to find it unlatched. He frowned at Nitro, overly suspicious of anything involving the Goodkind.
"Whoever has the info is expecting Darren and Eddie," Nitro replied casually. "Why wouldn't they leave it unlocked?"
"I guess." Tee-Kay opened the door wider, seeing nothing in the darkened room. Hesitantly, his hand reached inside the door frame, moving along the wall until he found a switch. Instantly, the room was bathed in warm light. "Nobody here," Tee-Kay said after glancing around. He slipped inside, pulling Nitro in behind him and closing the door with a soft click.
Tee-Kay looked around the room cautiously. It seemed like a normal small clubhouse - some moderately-worn furniture, a door into what was probably a bathroom, a small refrigerator, and a bookshelf and TV. On the coffee table were a few scattered papers.
Nitro had walked to the refrigerator. "Must be expecting a party here," he sneered, picking up a glass and scooping some ice from a convenient ice bucket. "I wonder if they've got any Coke in the fridge?" Without a care, he opened it. "Hey, you want one?" he asked his buddy.
Tee-Kay was looking at the papers. "Huh? Oh, yeah. I'll take a Coke." He turned his attention back to the papers. "This looks like the mother lode!" he chuckled gleefully. "We'll take that bitch down!"
"If you do," a husky female voice insisted from the doorway, "I want to be a part of it."
In a nearby lab, Speakeasy and Quickdraw watched a video monitor in horror. They hadnt expected Tisiphone to show up; she could ruin _everything_! Hell, she'd probably fireball Tee-Kay and Nitro to get the evidence herself. All of that planning, going to waste.
In the rent-a-lair, Tee-Kay and Nitro turned in shock at the interruption. "Oh, hey, Tissy," Nitro recovered first. "What are you doing here?"
"It's Tisiphone!" the bat-winged, scaled gargoyle-looking girl in the doorway hissed. "I'm going to get revenge on that Goodkind bitch!" She stalked to the table and snatched the papers out of Tee-Kay's hands. "Let me see that!"
Nitro suddenly realized he was staring longingly at Tisiphone, a raging boner in his pants. "Damn, she's hot!" he muttered to himself. Without even thinking about it, he walked over to the bat-demon girl, and as she read the papers, scowling as she tried to understand the business gibberish, Nitro practically launched himself at her, wrapping his arms around her and frantically trying to kiss her as he rubbed his body urgently against her.
"What the hell ..." Tisiphone started to say, but the serum that had been on the paper was rapidly working its way into her bloodstream, and in seconds her objections were muted. Her claws raked lightly at Nitro, shredding his clothing to expose his naked body, while he and Tee-Kay practically tore the clothing from her.
In the nearby lab, Darren winced at what he saw, and yet he couldn't tear his eyes from the monitor, watching for almost two hours as Tee-Kay, Nitro, and Tissy went at it in every imaginable way in their rented lair. Watching one of the boys having sex with Tissy was, in a strange way, quite enticing, but the imagery when the boys were kissing and screwing each other in the strange, lust-serum-induced mini-orgy was revolting. And yet they couldn't take their eyes from it. After a couple of hours, the three of them were so exhausted physically and sexually that they passed out, their naked bodies still intertwined.
Eddie glanced nervously at Darren. "Don't even _think_ of getting any of that crap on me!" he protested loudly.
"We've got to go destroy the evidence," he said, wincing.
"_You_ go do it!" Eddie countered angrily. "I'm not going anywhere _near_ that place!"
A couple of minutes later, having donned the extra-thick rubber gloves, Darren crept into the room, where the trio lay on a rug; Tissy was snoring softly, snuggled up with Nitro. For a moment, Darren wondered if he'd accidentally gotten some on himself, because he was getting aroused at the sight of the naked demon-girl. Forcing himself to look away, he put the tainted glasses and papers into a trash bag and crept back out of the room, pausing to look once more at Tisiphone. Sure, she looked like a bat-winged demon or succubus, but she looked _damned_ sexy that way. Gulping nervously, afraid he'd accidentally gotten a dose of the serum, he eased the door closed behind him. The bag of evidence went into one of the trash hoppers that was destined for the incinerator. The tapes securely in hand, he and Eddie left to go back to their cottage, satisfied that all the pieces were nearly in place.
Jadis leaned back from the monitor, one eyebrow lifted. A review of the tape from her mini-lair's security camera had been ... interesting. Nitro and Tissy?. Tee-Kay and Tissy? Well, the two weren't known to be very kind to GSD students, but it _was_ imaginable. But the things they'd done to each other? And as big of gay-bashers as they were? Something weird was going on. And that last little bit where Darren had sneaked into the room, tiptoeing around the sleeping menage a trois, to pick up the glasses and papers - with very heavy gloves? Was it possible that someone had _finally_ developed an overwhelmingly powerful aphrodisiac?
She knew she'd have to check her sources, especially with the chem-devisors and gadgeteers. If one of them had made such a thing, it'd be hard to suppress the news - or the product. She'd _have_ to get ahold of the inventor and make some arrangement - such a product would be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands.
In the meantime, she felt like a shower. A long, special shower ....
Friday, May 4, 2007 - about four AM
Rented Clubhouse, Third level Tunnels
Nitro slowly awakened from his nightmare, shaken to his core. Such ... bizarre and disturbing dreams! And ... the things he and Tee-Kay had done! He needed to see a shrink about that - it was unnatural!
"Hey, lover," a husky girl's voice sounded in his ear from behind him. His eyes widened in shock, and he realized that an arm - a scaly, clawed arm - was draped over him, holding him tight. "Ready for another round?" the voice asked as the girl rolled him onto his back.
"Um, Tissy?" he started to protest, frightened. If she was here, naked, attacking him, that meant that .... He heard snoring behind Tissy, and he _knew_ with sickening certainty that it was Tee-Kay.
"Shhh," she said as she swung her leg across him to straddle him. She leaned closer to kiss him, and her long, demonic tongue snaked between his lips, while he felt her hands starting to touch him.
Nitro should have been repulsed. Massively repulsed. He'd had sex with this GSD monster. And apparently had gay sex with Tee-Kay. And yet ....
He found himself kissing her back, eagerly pulling his lips against hers, his hands reaching up to caress her large, inviting breasts, while he grew more and more aroused. Feeling it, Tissy shifted, lifting herself and then lowering her body, impaled on his manhood.
"Oohh," she purred, "you're mine! You're _all_ mine!"
The sound of the two rutting stirred Tee-Kay; he awoke with a start. "Eep!" he squeaked as he realized the situation he was in. Memories flooded his brain - very disturbing memories that made him want to throw up. How would he _ever_ live it down if word of what had _obviously_ happened got out? Feeling sore in spots from his awkward position on the floor, he kept his mouth shut, lying still, so the two would think him still asleep. That would ensure he wasn't drawn into more of ... _that_!
Friday, May 4, 2007 - about five-thirty AM
Third Level Tunnels
Wrapped in tatters of clothing and dust covers from the sofa, Tee-Kay and Nitro lurched awkwardly through the tunnels back toward Schuster. Tissy strutted beside Nitro, her arms wrapped around him possessively and her head on his shoulder.
"This _never_ happened!" Tee-Kay hissed menacingly as they reached the junction of tunnels where Tissy would separate to go back to Whitman. "Don't you _ever_ talk about it!"
Nitro gulped, and then looked at the girl hanging all over him. "She was ... pretty fantastic," he admitted, wincing.
Tisiphone giggled. "So were you!" She glanced down the tunnel. "Walk me home," she said insistently to Nitro. "Boyfriend!" she added with a giggle.
"Um, it's ..."
"Walk me home!" she insisted more firmly, squeezing his tush provocatively.
"Um, okay," he squeaked, flinching a little bit. At the same time, her rough, somewhat commanding way was sexy and arousing.
Tee-Kay shuddered as Nitro escorted the love-struck demon-girl back to her cottage. As he turned toward the tunnels to Emerson, he heard her saying to Nitro in a seductive purr, "What are we doing tonight, sweetie?"
Kane Hall, early evening before dinner
"Chief?" Lt. Reynolds reported, popping his head into Delarose's office.
Chief Delarose looked up at the interruption. "What?"
"We got something on Apathy," Reynolds reported grimly.
Delarose frowned. He had a feeling it wasn't going to be good news. "What?"
"One of the Weres came in to help track him, but he couldn't pick up a scent from Apathy. Too much rain lately."
Delarose knew there was more, or Reynolds wouldn't have interrupted him. "But?"
"But the kid _did_ say there's a strong stench of rotting remains. Problem is, he couldn't find a corpse." Reynolds winced. "It was so strong that _I_ could even smell it!"
The chief was fully alert. "Buried, maybe?"
Reynolds shook his head. "The kid didn't think so. He said it smelled like a carcass that was a couple of weeks old, but although he could smell it, he couldn't see it."
Something clicked in Delarose's mind. "The attack was on Kayda, right? And she does that fancy ghost-walking thing, right?"
Reynolds nodded slowly.
"Send two officers ... Hell, forget that. I'm going to get her myself." His visage grew grim. "If we find a body, and it _is_ Apathy, she's a suspect. Get me two officers - fully equipped."
Friday, May 4, 2007, Dinnertime
Outside Crystal Hall
I was so glad that Debra was back because I missed her and because her presence cut down on my confusion about Lanie. I hadn't yet told Debra about the dreams, the dream-walking, and kissing Lanie in dream-space, but I knew I couldn't put that off for long. As we approached the doors to the caf, Chief Delarose and two security officers intercepted us.
"Kayda," Delarose began, and his tone was anything but friendly.
"What can I do for you, Chief?" I asked, a little alarmed at how the guards were holding their weapons, ready to fire if needed.
"Let's move away from the cafeteria doors," Delarose said cautiously, glancing at the horde of students flooding toward Crystal Hall. Without waiting for an answer, he led us a dozen or so yards away from the building.
"What's up?" I asked again, this time more nervously.
"What can you tell me about Brad Collingsworth?" he asked cryptically.
I thought a moment. "Isn't he known as Apathy? I think he lives on the fourth floor of Poe; I don't know all the Poesies."
"When was the last time you saw him?" Delarose continued.
The questions were frightening me. It was almost like ... I was a suspect. With a lump in my throat, I glanced nervously at Debra for reassurance, and clutched her hand tightly. "Um, I don't know," I replied. "Two or three weeks ago maybe. I think I saw him and his friends when we got back from Spring Break."
"And you haven't seen him since?"
I shrugged. "Not that I remember. Why?"
Delarose paused a moment. "Let me pose a hypothetical. Suppose you were trying to cover up evidence of a crime, like, perhaps, a body. Someone who could cast an invisibility spell could, in theory, make the body disappear, right?"
I goggled at him; if I understood correctly, he was all but accusing me of something heinous. "Um, maybe," I stammered, "but ... the spell only lasts a couple of hours." I saw him start to speak, and decided that I had to add some evidence, especially if he _was_ accusing me of something. "Ms. Grimes knows the spell and its limitations."
Debra stepped up beside me. "So do I," she said firmly. "From personal experience with that spell. It has a limited duration." She frowned. "Chief, what's going on here? It sounds like you suspect Kayda did something that involves a body."
Delarose scanned her a couple of moments, sizing her up. "You're a licensed, sworn superhero, right?" Debra nodded. "Okay, let me put my cards on the table. We had a student disappear, ...."
"Apathy," I said with sickening certainty. "That explains why Mrs. Horton kept asking if anyone had seen him."
Delarose nodded. "He disappeared about two weeks ago. Not coincidentally, the security cameras show him in Laird Hall less than an hour before your ... accident with the knife, and he had no reason to be there."
"Ah, so he's the primary suspect in what happened to Kayda? And," Debra's eyes narrowed, "you're wondering if Kayda possibly found out about it and ... took her revenge?'
I gasped; until Debra vocalized the concern, I was sort-of in denial. But once she spoke. "But ... I wouldn't have had a chance!" I protested. "You had me under escort watch from the time I got here!"
"We considered that," Delarose said evenly. "So no, because you were in the hospital, and then had escort, you were _probably_ lacking in opportunity, so you're not the prime suspect. That doesn't mean, however, that you _aren't_ a suspect."
I sighed with relief. "So what do you want with me?"
"Some information, mostly," Chief Delarose said. "And maybe some help."
"Okay. How can I help?"
"First, if you _wanted_ to use your invisibility spell ..."
"Ghost-walking," I corrected him.
Delarose frowned at the interruption and correction. "If you wanted to use it to hide a body, would it be possible?"
I shook my head. "Only for a few hours. Four or five, tops." I paused a moment, though, as I remembered something.
"What, Kayda?" Debra had noticed me flinching.
"The ghost-warriors," I answered softly. Seeing her puzzled look, I continued. "The ghost-warriors at home. They couldn't cast the spell, but they _were_ ghost-walking. And they ... all had the same kind of charm!"
"Could you bind the spell to a charm?" Debra asked.
I nodded grimly. "Well, not me, but an experienced shaman - yeah."
Delarose frowned deeply. "Would there be any way to detect such a charm?"
"Only if I were ghost-walking and looking for it," I replied uneasily. I did _not_ like where this was going.
"Can you come with us?" Delarose asked. "Both of you."
Delarose grimaced as we started following the officers. "One of the weres helped us look for a ... body." He sounded grim. "He could smell a body, but he couldn't locate it."
Debra gasped. "And ... you think that maybe ... the body has some kind of invisibility on it?" Debra clutched me tighter; she knew what was coming, even if I didn't.
We walked with the security officers and Delarose to the west side of the academy grounds, far from the center of campus in a wooded area. There was _something_ unpleasant in the air, an unnatural smell that wasn't identifiable, but wasn't natural.
I was about to cast a ghost-walking spell to start searching, but Debra caught my arm. "Include the Chief in the spell, Kayda," she suggested. I glanced, and saw the Chief nod.
I cast the spell, and immediately touched Chief Delarose. The others had the silver aura, but not the Chief. "You'll see anything that's covered by a ghost-spell." I explained to him.
"Okay. This is going to take a walking search of this area; this is where the were-kid said he smelled something."
"Would it help if we had the others searching, too?" I asked. When he nodded, I touched Debra and the two officers.
Debra and I stumbled through the undergrowth, she with one officer, and me with Chief Delarose, and the other officer searched on his own. It wasn't thick, impenetrable jungle-like growth, but small scrub brushes under the trees, so the only real obstacle was the hilly, undulating terrain.
The chief and I trudged down into a small swale with several old trees, their large trunks making the tiny area into an obstacle course, and suddenly, I felt uneasy. "There's something here," I said nervously to the Chief. His hand dropped smoothly to the butt of the pistol at his waist, and he was visibly more alert. Being younger, I could move more easily over the rocky, uneven terrain, and I came around a large oak tree ahead of the chief.
My eyes felt like they were going to bulge from their sockets, and bile rose in my stomach. I lurched against the tree, my back to the rotting corpse as I crumpled to my knees, a spasm violently hurling the contents of my stomach to the ground.
"Over here!" Delarose called out as he stood beside me, looking down at the greenish-black, rotting remains of a human being. Despite his background in law enforcement and who-knew what else, he sounded unsteady, like seeing this type of crime scene was something he'd never get used to.
Thursday, May 4, 2007
Rosebud Indian Reservation
Mission, South Dakota
Dan Bear Claws
The retired chief was worried as he hung up the phone. His contact at Whateley sounded a bit ... irrational. He seemed to be delighting in the thought of using violence to get at Kayda, and he snapped back at Dan when he'd been told to tone it down.
And his contact still had nothing to tell him about the other party, the ones who'd been using potentially-lethal attacks on the girl. The more he thought, the more worried he became. This "simple job" was turning out to be anything _but_ simple.
He'd barely set the phone in its cradle before it rang again. "Dan Bear Claws," he answered as soon as he scooped the headset to his ear.
"How are things going?" Gray Skies demanded, skipping formalities.
Dan winced. "Um," he stammered, "we might have a problem."
"What do you mean by 'problem'?" Gray Skies demanded in a low, insistent tone that sent chills down Dan's spine. "Is there a threat to the girl?"
Dan grimaced. "He hasn't found out anything about the other party," he confessed.
"He _has_ to! You promised me that he'd get to the bottom of that!" Gray Skies was _not_ happy. Not happy at all.
"Um, okay," Dan replied hesitantly. "I'll remind him that's his top priority."
The shaman paused. "What's going on?" Gray Skies finally demanded.
"Um," Dan stammered, "my contact sounds ... a little crazy. Like he's ... not listening to me."
"Is he a threat to her?"
Dan winced. "I'm ... I'm not sure. I don't _think_ so!"
"You don't _think_?!?" Gray Skies practically screamed. "If you're not sure, call him off! I don't want to take any chances with the girl, do you hear me? If _anything_ happens to her, do you know what will happen to you?" The last bit sounded menacing and ominous.
Dan swallowed hard. "Yes," he answered softly, his voice about to tremble from fright. "I'll call him right back and call him off."
"Good." The line went dead.
Mr. Bear Claws pressed the hang-up button on the phone, and then released it. His fingers danced over the keypad on the old-fashioned desk phone, and he sat impatiently as the phone rang. It took four rings for someone to answer.
"Hello?" the voice said.
"This is Bear Claws. Something has changed, and so has your mission," he said urgently.
"What's changed?" The voice on the other end sounded impatient and upset.
"The shaman said to stop what you're doing and find - and stop - the other actors who mean the girl harm."
There was a long pause, and Dan was starting to think that his contact had hung up. "I'm too close to stop," the voice said, sounding almost obsessed with his job. "I can't stop now."
"You have to stop! That's an order."
"I've got to get the witch!" the voice said. "She has to be removed from the campus. And so she will!" The line clicked dead.
Dan Bear Claws started shaking. His contact sounded - insane. And he was obsessed with removing the girl from Whateley. And if that wasn't bad enough, the contact was no longer taking direction from Dan. He had a bad feeling that something was going to happen to the girl. If it did, Gray Skies would blame him, and the threatened retribution would descend on him like a ton of bricks. He didn't know what to do; maybe it was time to tell Gray Skies the truth; the consequences would probably be less severe than if something happened to the girl.
Friday, May 4, 2007, evening
After finding the hideously deformed and rotten corpse, I had _no_ appetite. Because of my magic, _I_ had had to locate the charm so that one of the officers could retrieve it so the body would be visible, which meant that I had to study the body to locate the magic. To make matters even worse, the knife wound which had killed Apathy was visible, which put me back atop the suspect list. As a result, I spent over two hours with the Chief and Emily Strong giving a statement and explaining my whereabouts for nearly every moment after the knife attack in the gym. We went back to Poe, where Mrs. Horton practically ordered me to spend the night with Debra; she'd gotten the report from security and could tell how thoroughly rattled I was. I spent the night cuddling with Debra to calm my nerves;
The doctors in Doyle confirmed that the body was the missing boy Brad. I didn't envy Mrs. Carson's job of letting his parents know about his murder. Worse, I knew that the parents needed closure, so they would want to know that Apathy's murderer had been caught and would be punished. The problem was that evidence included me in the list of suspects.
Dr. Bellows had excused me from several classes, including, fortunately, magic, because I still was nervous with Ms. Grimes. That class had been uncomfortable the previous two days, and my participation had been considerably less than enthusiastic. Even though Lanie wasn't seriously harmed, I felt overwhelmingly guilty about the impact to her power, and no doubt Ms. Grimes and Mrs. Carson blamed me. It made me so uneasy that I arranged with Circe to 'decontaminate' the final of the seven spikes that were in custody instead of doing that ritual with Ms. Grimes, as I had before.
Debra and I were in the serving line when an arm reached in from the left and grabbed for the butter spoon at the same time as Debra. "Oh, Ah'm sorry," the girl said, and then she squealed with delight. "Debra!" she called excitedly.
Debra started when her name was called, and she turned toward the interruption. "Lanie?" she asked before grinning. "Look at you! Good grief, you've blossomed!" She let go of the butter spoon and wrapped Elaine in a warm embrace. "How's my favorite photographer? Or are you in _front_ of the camera now?"
"Missing mah favorite model!" Lanie anwered with a grin. She opened her arms, displaying her body. "And no, I'm not going to do any modeling, even though Mother Nature gave me a little present last summer," she giggled, "There's no way Ah can compete for the Vogue photography medal without you, so Ah've been doing other things."
"No!" Debra said with a mock pout. "You have _such_ a good eye."
"Lanie? You and Deb really do know each other!" I commented.
A few students pushed around us to get the condiments for their own potatoes while Debra and Lanie caught up and exchanged memories. From the looks they were exchanging, I was pretty sure that Lanie had appreciated Debra's figure during the photo-shoots.
"Hey, Deb!" greeted Wyatt as he came over. "Long time no see! What brings you out East?"
I flinched at his voice; he still made me very nervous.
"Visiting my aunt in Boston," Debra replied wearily. "And since I was so close, I thought I'd run up here and see everyone."
Wyatt glanced knowingly at me, which caused me to blush, while Lanie winked at me. "Some more than others, right?" After a moment, Lanie winced. "Maybe we should talk ...." She stopped suddenly, looking nervous and a bit sheepish.
Wyatt nodded as he picked up Lanie's tray. "Sure." After the checkout line, he led us to the secluded table behind the waterfall - the same one I ate at when I wanted privacy. With the noise of the waterfall, we wouldn't be overheard. "Now, what's going on?" he asked as he slathered steak sauce all over his massive helping of prime rib.
Lanie and I exchanged a worried glance. "Um, we've ... kind of got something ... to tell you. Both of you."
Debra raised an eyebrow. "Be careful you don't talk out of turn," she cautioned, still sensitive to the secret of Poe.
Wyatt chuckled. "I know Lanie is bi.
Debra's eyes darted between Lanie and Wyatt, and she smirked, "Wyatt Cody, you will _never_ cease to amaze me! What is that, three?"
Wyatt actually blushed. "Lanie kind of came after me," he admitted.
I frowned, confused. "Three _what_?"
Debra leaned closer and whispered, "Wyatt has managed to coax three girls out of the Sisterhood!" I shuddered, and decided to stare at my plate so they wouldn't see my embarrassment. She straightened. "Now, what is it you want to tell Cody and me?"
Before I could say anything, Lanie said hurriedly, "We haven't done anything."
"Um, _yet_!" I added nervously. Lanie winced and nodded in admission.
Debra looked a little serious. "I see," she said, turning to me. "You're attracted to Elaine?" My blush was enough of an answer for her, but I nodded a bit, too. "I see. And there's no need to ask Lanie, because I know her tastes, and you are _right_ up her alley." She paused, staring evenly at me until I looked up at her. "Are you asking for my permission to have an affair with her while I'm back in Sioux Falls?"
I gawked at her blunt words. "No!' I cried in response.
Debra got a sly look. "Are you maybe having second thoughts about being a lesbian and you want my permission to try out Wyatt?" She ignored my look of total shock as I felt blood draining from my face. "From what I've heard, you couldn't ask for a better one for a trial run," she commented without expression, "but I suggest you ask Lanie's permission first."
"No, I'm not asking for _that_!" I exclaimed, my voice trembling as much as my body at even the thought of such a thing. "I'm not even ... tempted!" I added, shuddering.
"No?" Debra asked, grinning. "Goodness, _I_ certainly was ...."
Wyatt goggled at her. "You _were_?" he demanded, receiving a punch in his arm as a reward for his curious-sounding question.
"Is there any girl in this school that you _haven't_ slept with?" Lanie demanded. I couldn't tell if she was mocking him or not.
Debra lifted her hand, index finger extended, and waved it. "Yeah, me," she replied with a chuckle. "But it wasn't for lack of trying on his part." She looked to me and gently brushed some stray hair out of my yes. "Kayda, I don't own you, and I won't ever be jealous because you see someone and have a reaction. That's _perfectly_ normal."
"I _want_ to be with you!" I cried in protest. "I _love_ you!"
"And Ah love Wyatt," Lanie added. "It's just ...."
I sighed, knowing that I was going to have to admit something to Debra and Lanie that I hadn't even admitted to myself. "It's just ... there's _something_ when I look at Lanie. It's ... not the same as when we look at each other, but it's ... I don't know," I added, shaking my head. "I don't want you to think that I'm sneaking around behind your back. It's just that ... I'm attracted to Lanie. But I _love_ you!"
Debra smiled sweetly. "And I love you, sweetie. And I _trust_ you. Both of you," she added. "I appreciate you being honest with me." She shrugged. "I can't speak for Wyatt ...."
The burly senior rubbed his chin. "You know, Debra," he mused, "maybe we _should_ give them a little fling. As it is now, they'll both be 'the girl they didn't score with' or something." He sighed. "I don't _want_ that," he continued. "What I want is to punch somebody."
With a soft pop, Tatanka was standing beside the table at my side, his eyes blazing.
"Back off, mighty whitey," Cody growled. "I won't hit her. That's not my style." He looked steadily at Debra. "What I _want_ is to go all cave-man and take Lanie to my cave, and beat the crap out of anyone who interferes. I want to shout that Lanie is mine, and everyone better keep their fucking hands off!" He sighed again. "But I'm all civilized, so I won't do any of that shit."
Debra chuckled. "Thank God. Because if you do anything to Kayda, you and I are going a few rounds."
"More than anything," the big senior continued, "I want Lanie to be happy - with me and with the choices she's made. And if the two of you need a fling for her to sort that out, then ... go ahead and get it out of your systems."
"No!" Lanie and I said firmly, and almost in one voice.
"Besides, Ah love _you_, you big galoot!" she added. "Ah made mah choice!"
"Just because we're ... attracted to each other doesn't mean that something's going to come of it," I added firmly. "We can be friends without having an affair!"
Debra chuckled. "That's funny, considering how sure you were that you _hated_ Lanie a couple of weeks ago?"
Lanie's jaw dropped. "Hated me?" she asked, stunned.
I was on the spot again, so I turned to face my friend. "I ... prejudged you from all I'd heard - you know, Lab Queen, Gadgeteer Goddess, Mechanism Maestra ..."
Lanie giggled. "_That's_ one I hadn't heard!"
Her mood was infectious. "I ... was intimidated. You know, like we talked about. I ... didn't think I could _ever_ get any respect in the labs, not compared to you. I ... felt like one thing I was good at was taken away, because I'd only ever be second-best."
Lanie smiled and patted my hand, which caused Debra's and Wyatt's eyebrows to rise. "It's okay," she assured me. "Ah hope you know Ah'd never try to deliberately humiliate you or make you feel second best."
"I know - now." I turned to the big senior. "Wyatt, I'm not trying to ... poach," I tried to assure him. "She kept me safe at the hot-tub party, when Rosalyn ..."
Wyatt's eyes widened. "Rosalyn? Rosalyn Dekkard? Super-tramp was after you, and she didn't score?" He looked stunned.
"Yeah. Full-court press," I admitted. I was _not_ going to tell them how close she'd come to succeeding, nor was I going to betray the secret she'd shared with Debra and me in Mrs. Horton's apartment.
Wyatt laughed aloud. "I don't think we have _anything_ to worry about," he told Debra, grinning.
Debra smiled smugly, holding my hand. "I never thought we did."
Friday, May 4, 2007, After dinner
"Kayda, can we talk to ya for a sec?" There was no mistaking Alicia's Cajun accent and bubbly enthusiasm, even in just a few words shouted from halfway across the cafeteria.
Seeing Alicia seated with Adalie and my other friends, I gave a half chuckle. "I better see what kind of trouble they want me to get in this time."
Debra nodded, but when Lanie and Wyatt started to follow me, I interrupted them. "This'll only take a minute." Wyatt glanced at Lanie, and then shrugged and continued toward the door.
Debra and I sat down at the table with my friends. "What's up?"
Alicia winced, as did Addy. I looked around, and noticed a somewhat guilty expression on Adrian's face, while Laura just shrugged. Even Evvie, Naomi, and Vasiliy were acting like they'd been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. "Okay, what's up?" I asked again, this time more firmly.
"Um," Adrian stammered, "we ... we were talking, and, um ...."
Evvie piped up. "Since you're doing simulations with the Nations, we thought we should ask again if, er, ....,"
RPG sighed. "Are wanting to form training team with you," he blurted out in his thick Russian accent. "You are gaining experience, and would be better to train as team with people we are knowing instead of random group."
I goggled at him, and then looked around. Everyone was staring at me with hopeful expressions, especially Naomi and Adrian. As upperclassmen, they were _going_ to be assigned to a team if they didn't have one soon. I glanced at Debra.
"You're going to be put on a training team yourself, too," she said knowingly. "It's better to be on a team with people you know and trust."
"Voice of personal experience?" I asked about half-sarcastically.
She nodded. "The good teams aren't the random ones." She gave a half-chuckle. "Although, Gunny _has_ been known to call in random students and make them go through a team sim just to show that you can't always pick the people you might have to fight with."
I looked around again. "If I have to be on a team, I'd rather it was with people I know will have my back and that I can work with," Adrian said simply. The others nodded their agreement.
I thought for bit. There was logic in what Adrian said, and what Debra had told me. And we _were_ going to be required to train in the simulators. I exhaled deeply. "I suppose if I have to be on a training team," I said slowly, "I'd like it to be with friends."
"Does that mean ...?" Alicia asked uncertainly.
I nodded. "Yeah. Let's make a team." I glanced around nervously. "How big can a team be?" We had me, Evvie, Naomi, Alicia, Addy, Adrian, Vasiliy, and Laurie.
"When I was here, the biggest team I saw was nine," Debra explained. "That was a rare exception, though. Usually, they like to keep it at six or seven, but eight happens sometimes."
"Okay," I said, nodding. "What do we have to do to ....?"
"I already picked up a team registration form," Adrian interrupted. "All we have to do is turn it in." He pulled a paper out of his pocket.
As I read the form, which was wrinkled and upside down in front of Adrian, I frowned. "You _already_ have me on the form? _And_ you've picked Ghost Walkers for a team name?" I asked, astonished at their certainty.
"Yeah," Laurie said sheepishly. "We figured we could talk you into it."
"But ... Ghost Walkers?"
Adrian chuckled. "I wanted Tatanka Ska, but the others voted it down."
They wanted to name the team 'White Buffalo?' I stared at them aghast. "Don't _I_ get a vote?" I asked, feeling more and more like I was being railroaded.
Evvie chuckled. "You'll get voted down. Once Addy told us about the Ghost Warriors and their charms, it was unanimous."
I buried my head in my hands. "Why me?" I groaned.
"And you can make us ghost-walking charms, like you said the warriors had," Naomi added enthusiastically. "That'd be so cool!"
We sat and talked for over an hour about the team - what we'd have to take for classes, who would be team captain - and I almost got railroaded into _that_ job as well - how hard it would be to make ghost-walking charms for everyone, how we'd practice, and so on. Debra chipped in ideas based on her own experience, and I could tell that some of my time with Debra was going to be spent on team tactics and simulators and stuff.
After settling out a few things, Debra and I left Crystal Hall, making moon-eyes at each other in anticipation of a very intimate evening but not yet holding hands or wrapping our arms around each other's waist. It wasn't worth taking a chance. Soon enough, I thought to myself with anticipation. As we strolled toward Poe, Debra noticed someone on what looked like an intercept course. "Wild Pack at two o'clock," she whispered insistently to me.
I spun my head and frowned. It was Mindbird in her security armored suit, helmet on, and moving very quickly toward us. I glanced around, looking to see if there was someone else she was after, but there was no-one else. We were her targets.
"Kayda," she said formally as she blocked our path on the walkway.
"What's with the formality?" Debra asked, a little concerned.
"Kayda, you are to accompany me to a meeting in Schuster Hall," she reported in a monotone, not betraying anything through her flat vocal delivery.
"Why?" I glanced at Debra. "Can't it wait?"
"I have orders to take you to Schuster _right now_," she insisted firmly, crossing her arms across her chest in a power stance.
I glanced at Debra again, bewildered. "What's it about? Who wants to meet with me?"
"The only thing I can tell you is that you are to be escorted to Schuster Hall now. She can come," she added with a glance at Debra, "but she can't come into the meeting." She stepped beside me and gently but firmly took hold of my elbow and forearm in a no-nonsense way that emphasized her mission.
I glanced over my shoulder at Debra. "I'll ... call as soon as I get done with whatever this is." Nervously, I turned and walked with her toward Schuster Hall, every step rattling my nerves more and making me feel like a condemned person walking toward the electric chair.
Friday, May 4th, 2007 - After Dinner
Rm 216, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
"So what can you tell me about this other girl on Mom's list?" Shelly Carson asked Lanie, sprawled on her bed ignoring the laptop beside her.
"You expect me to engage in gossip?" Lanie asked with mock horror, turning from the computer on her desk at which she'd been frantically working. "Ah'm shocked. Shocked!" She laid her hand at her chest like proper Southern lady. "Shocked that it's taken you so long to ask what rumors Ah might know!" She grinned at her new roommate. "After all, you have a _lot_ of catchin' up to do in that area!"
"Well?" Shelly guffawed. She already really liked her new roommate.
"To properly spread rumors," Lanie grinned, "Ah have to know who Ah'm gossipin' about!"
"Oh, yeah," Shelly chuckled. "I guess I'd gotten used to Mom somehow knowing what I was thinking. She's a new girl, apparently, with a nose for trouble. Kayla? Something like that."
Lanie gasped softly. "Kayda?"
"Yeah, that's the name. So what can you tell me about her." Shelly's eyes narrowed at the expression on Lanie's face. "You _do_ know her, I take it."
Lanie nodded. "It's a long story."
"I've got time."
"Ah don't," Lanie laughed melodiously. "At least not right now."
"Your beefcake?" Shelly asked with an appreciative waggle of her eyebrows.
"Yeah, Wyatt Cody."
Shelly's eyes widened. "He's on the list, too! So what are you, the Three Musketeers or something? I mean, it can't be a coincidence that you know both of them, and Mom's watching all three of you."
Elaine decided to change the subject away from Wyatt. "Kayda and Ah met only last week. She's ..." Her heart fluttered a bit when she briefly recalled the lithe Lakota beauty standing naked beside the hot tub. "She's a fellow gearhead," she added hastily, as much to distract herself from her own thoughts as to give Shelly more information. "Smart, interestin', fun to talk with." Elaine frowned. "Why is _she_ on your mom's list?"
A knock at the door pre-empted Shelly's response. "Come in," Elaine called. "Oh, hi, Diana," she said with a smile as Thunderfox entered the room. "What can Ah help you with?"
Diana glanced at Shelly, and then looked sternly at Elaine. "I have orders to take you to Schuster Hall."
"Schuster?" Elaine asked, baffled. "Ah was just there, not even an hour ago!" she complained. "Why do Ah have to go again?"
"I wasn't told anything other than to bring you to Schuster Hall ASAP," Thunderfox replied, carefully neutral in her tone.
Lanie sighed heavily. "Can you give me a second? Ah've got a date tonight, and Ah'd hate to waste time walking from Schuster back here on mah way to ... mah date!"
Friday, May 4, 2007. 9 PM
Schuster Hall, Mrs. Carson's Office
I looked up when Thunderfox escorted Lanie into the outer office of the Headmistress. "You, too?" we both asked at the same time.
"Do you have any idea what she wants with us?" I asked softly as Lanie sat down.
"Nope," Lanie answered. She hadn't even fully seated herself when the door to Mrs. Carson's office opened.
"Come in and be seated," Mrs. Carson's voice rang out in a commanding tone. She wasn't visible; the high back of her chair faced the door, and the sound of keypresses on her computer attested to her activity.
Glancing nervously at each other, we rose. I sniffed, and then turned to Lanie. "I _love_ that perfume you're wearing!" I whispered insistently. "It smells so ...," I couldn't help but think of her at the hot-tub party, "so enticing! You'll have to tell me what it is so I can get some for Debra!" At the same time, I knew why she was wearing it. "Must be a date with Wyatt."
Lanie nodded. "Assuming Mrs. Carson doesn't keep us too long," she whispered.
"Be seated, girls!" Mrs. Carson called out.
Nearing the door, I could see another person seated beside Mrs. Carson's desk. I winced at Mrs. Horton's presence. This had all the ominous feeling of something _really, really bad_! Warily, we sat, both on the edges of the seats. Being called into the Headmistress' office was intimidating enough, but this late on a Friday night? After the week we'd both had? It was downright nerve-wracking.
Slowly, the chair turned around, and I gulped at the Supreme Authority mode that Mrs. Carson wore visibly like a suit of clothing. "Have either of you seen the old movie, 'The Trouble With Angels'?" she asked.
"Ah have," Elaine admitted. "Ah presume you're thinkin' of the scene where the Reverend Mother is talking to one of the nuns and says that she should expel the two girls, but that would be an act of cruelty against the world?"
"Very good, Miss Nalley," Mrs. Carson said, her face and tone impassive. "The two of you have obviously become good friends very quickly, but I can't decide if that's equivalent to putting two sub-critical masses together and hoping they explode."
I winced. "Ma'am?" I asked nervously, a little intimidated and wondering what she was intending for us. Mrs. Horton sat impassively, giving me no clue about what was happening. That made me even more nervous.
"Alone, each of you attracts more than your share of trouble. Together?" She almost suppressed a shudder. "Neither of you are ready for the world, and I know the world is not ready for you. That means I have to figure out a way to _try_ to keep you two out of trouble long enough for you to learn to avoid it.
Lanie and I exchanged a worried glance. "Yes, ma'am," I said softly.
"You two experimented with something that could have turned out very, very disastrous," Mrs. Carson said sternly, her tone enough to send a chill down my spine.
"Yes, ma'am," I acknowledged quickly. "I ... won't do that again."
"No," Mrs. Carson said, "You won't, except in very controlled circumstances of which I approve and when you are closely supervised." She glanced back and forth between the two of us. "Since you chose to open this can of worms ...."
I didn't like the way she sounded. It was the same way Mrs. Zimmer, my old English teacher, started a significant lesson based on someone's major screwup. What was worse was that Mrs. Horton sat impassively, a neutral observer adding nothing, giving me no support.
"Can either of you identify the eight principal dangers associated with extra-dimensional beings?" she demanded. I gulped; I had no idea what she was talking about. "Oh, come now, Kayda," she continued sternly. "Surely you know one of them from experience, since you were attacked in your dream-world. Okay, can either of you tell me the complications that can arise in a magic ritual?"
After an awkward moment of silence, when neither of us dared to speak, she continued. "Do you know how spells work? How they are designed to make the magic flow the way you want, and not have an uncontrolled mess that might attract unwanted attention? Or what kind of ... things ... would be attracted to errant magic?"
I flinched a bit, and she noticed. "Kayda?"
"Um, I ... I kind of visualize things like a mechanical diagram," I answered meekly, "and then I figure out how to make magic flow through the components."
Mrs. Carson's eyes widened in surprise. "You've ... designed spells?"
I flinched again. "Um, yeah. Pretty simple ones," I added quickly. "Wakan Tanka taught me how ... how things work."
"Hmmm," Mrs. Carson mused, exchanging a quick glance with Mrs. Horton, who seemed mildly amused at my revelation. "I seem to have underestimated how much tutoring you're getting from your spirit." Slowly, a rather sadistic smile crept upon her features. "Yes, this will work better than I thought." She looked at Lanie. "Since you'll be taking intro to magic next fall, and since you understand mechanical things almost instinctively, Kayda will be the _perfect_ tutor to help you understand magic since she thinks in mechanical terms as well." She turned to me. "I would strongly suggest that you learn your magic well so you're prepared to help Elaine."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, gulping.
"And you two will also be in a special class on Extra-dimensional planes and beings, taught by me, so you can learn about the dangers and pitfalls which you've invited into your lives through your ... reckless experiments."
I gulped again, and glanced at Lanie, who looked like she'd already heard that news. "Um, excuse me," I said hesitantly, "but with Ms. Bell already asking me to be a special math tutor and the work-study position with Dr. Quintain and normal classes, I won't have any time for something _I_ want to do, like technology courses!"
"Ah, I was about to get to that," Mrs. Carson said, shooting a quick glance at Mrs. Horton. "In exchange for the time you'll be spending tutoring, since Elaine is already knowledgeable and skilled in technology, she'll be _your_ tutor in technology classes."
Both of us goggled at her, and I stole a glance at Elaine. I was nervous, but for an entirely different reason. Between classes and tutoring, we were going to be spending a lot of time together. We'd both already admitted that we shared a mutual attraction, but I was nervous that our professed love for others wouldn't be enough to keep us from doing something we'd regret.
"But ... Ah won't have any time of mah own!" Lanie complained, "for mah own tinkerin'!"
Mrs. Horton smiled. "Well, now, your role next fall as a Resident Advisor on Kayda's wing should minimize the time you spend running back and forth between cottages, right?"
I goggled at Mrs. Horton, and then at Lanie. "Resident ... advisor?"
Mrs. Horton nodded. "There's going to be a major remodeling of Poe this summer. The old cottage will have two extensions built on either end so that it's H-shaped. Each wing will have an older student as a Resident Advisor to help keep an eye on things."
Lanie nodded. "Ah've already agreed to be RA for your wing," she admitted.
"You two are going to be together so much you'll be like sisters." Mrs. Carson finally broke a smile. "And congratulations on being team-mates."
"Team-mates?" Lanie and I both said, stunned.
"Yes. You're both on Team Phoenix," Mrs. Carson said in a way that practically screamed, 'Do _not_ try to get out of this!'
"But ... I've already _got_ a team!" I protested. "We agreed tonight at dinner - me and Addy and Alicia and my other friends!"
Mrs. Carson beamed. "Good. You'll get a lot of team training, then. Especially since you're doing simulations with the Nations." She leaned back in her chair for the first time. "Now, it's Friday night, and I'm sure you two girls have things you'd much rather be doing than sitting here. If you have questions, you can talk to your academic advisors or to Mrs. Horton, or you can always get an appointment to talk to me."
Stunned, Lanie and I nodded, rose from our chairs, and walked - zombie-like - from the office. We had a _lot_ to think about.
Bella. Horton watched the door close. "Either those two will help each other learn control, or they're going to get themselves in so much trouble ...."
"I'm counting on you to make sure it's the former," Mrs. Carson said with a grin.
"I wonder," Bella mused, "how long it will take Lanie to figure out that you making her tutor Kayda is for her own good? That it'll help her relearn her gadgeteering skill?"
"She's sharp. She's probably already got that figured out."
"Wanna bet on that?" Bella asked with a chuckle. "She's a very headstrong girl!"
"End of the term," Liz answered with a smile. "Before then, I win. If it takes longer than that, you win. What do you bet? Ten dollars?"
Bella chuckled. "Money is so boring."
Mrs. Carson arched an eyebrow. "What do you have in mind?"
Bella thought for a bit, and then proposed terms for the bet. Liz's eyes widened at the outlandish proposal, and then nodded. "I hope you don't mind losing," she chuckled.
"And you _know_ that putting those two together on the same wing is going to cause a lot of trouble, don't you?" Bella added.
"I think you'll manage to keep that from happening," Liz replied confidently.
"Double or nothing?"
Outside Schuster Hall
Debra and Wyatt were waiting for us as we practically skipped down the steps from the admin building. We hadn't gotten off nearly as badly as we'd feared.
"You realize that the magic tutoring is going to take a _lot_ of time," I cautioned Lanie.
Wyatt frowned. "Tutoring?"
Lanie nodded. "Besides the classes Mrs. Carson assigned me, Kayda got assigned the same Extra-Dimensional class, and she's supposed to tutor me in magic theory - apparently because she thinks of magic in mechanical terms. And I have to tutor her in technology stuff," she groused.
"And Mrs. C is making me take intro to magic next term, too," Wyatt said thoughtfully. "You know," he continued, scratching his chin, "maybe you can tutor _both_ of us."
I saw more and more of my free time slipping inexorably away. "When? I'm already overloaded for next fall!"
"Why don't you tutor us in dream-space?" Wyatt asked.
Wyatt nodded. "We all know that time is different, and we can all go to dream-space. Plus your spirit could help us." He paused, glancing around furtively. "And we know that I have to learn a _lot_ of magic very quickly - for reasons the Kodiak knows."
Debra looked warily at Wyatt, and then at me. "I'll explain later," I said quickly. I looked back at Lanie. "Maybe we should make ourselves scarce in case Mrs. Carson comes up with more wacky ideas to torture us."
Wyatt, Lanie, and Debra all grinned. "That sounds like a plan."
"How about we go sailing tomorrow?" Lanie proposed. Seeing our stares of disbelief, she continued, "Ah've got a mockup of mah boat in the simulator."
I glanced at Debra, who had wrapped her arm around my waist, pulling me close, just as Wyatt had done with Lanie. "That sounds like fun," Debra said cautiously, "but I ... get a little motion sick sometimes."
"We'll be on a lake, not the ocean," Lanie chuckled. "Besides, there are some really good devisor drugs to stop motion sickness that'll even work with your regen."
"Okay, it's a plan." Debra gave my waist a small squeeze. "Eight o'clock after breakfast?"
"Eight thirty," Elaine countered. "See you then." She and Wyatt turned toward Melville, while Debra and I turned toward the guest cottages.
Saturday, May 5, 2007, breakfast
No sooner had I sat down at our table than Ayla approached. His normally inscrutable face betrayed the tiniest hint that something was wrong, so when he asked if he could speak to me, I accepted.
"The rumor is," he began furtively, eyes glancing around to ensure nobody was listening in, "that you and Heyoka are at odds."
"What?!?" Such a thing was ludicrous; Heyoka and Ptesanwi had an understanding, and _I_ didn't think there was any friction. Certainly not after the dream-walking interruptions had ended.
Ayla nodded, his expression grim. "Some of the rumors are pretty dark - that you two are threatening each other, that there have been fights between you two in Poe, that your spirits hate each other and have vowed to punish the other."
My eyes must have been bulging from their sockets. "But ... but ... that's bullshit!"
"Perhaps," Ayla said, "but if someone wants to _cause_ friction, rumors are one way to start mistrust and misunderstandings."
"I'll have to talk to Heyoka when I get a chance," I replied.
"Perhaps even having lunch with him a few times," Ayla suggested. "A friendly lunch or two would help dispel any rumors."
Across the dining hall, Magic Mikey sidled up to the table at which Wind Runner sat - alone. "Mind if I join you?" he asked in a friendly tone.
Wind Runner shrugged. "I guess."
As Mike sat down, he said, "You seem kind of down today."
"Yeah, whatever," she answered
"Does this have anything to do with all those nasty rumors?" Mike asked, trying to sound innocent.
"What rumors?" Wind Runner demanded.
"You know - that the new girl undercut you in the Native American group and is trying to get you to leave the group entirely?"
Wind Runner's frown deepened. "What have you heard?"
Mike shrugged as if he knew nothing. Manipulating angry people was so easy! "Just that she sucked up to Mr. Lodgeman and the administration and convinced enough members to vote for her instead of you." He sighed, pretending he wasn't delighting in her growing rage. "
"Well, she _did_ have Mr. Lodgeman's help in reorganizing the whole thing!" she said angrily.
"Someone said she's trying to run Heyoka out, too," Mike mused. "Aren't you and Heyoka friends?"
Wind Runner shrugged. "Well, we _kind of_ know each other," she said.
"That makes sense, then!"
"What?" Wind Runner's curiosity had been piqued.
"She heard that you two are friends, and because she's got some kind of hate on for him, you got caught up in it, too!" Mike pronounced. He grinned to himself; it was so easy to sow seeds of discontent and nasty rumors, especially when Wind Runner had been seriously slighted in the Nations elections. And adding the rumor that Heyoka and Kayda were at odds? An easy way to increase the amount of dislike for her. He had to admit that his girlfriend Amber had had one hell of a good idea about that. It was such an easy way to get all of Heyoka's friends to hate Kayda.
Saturday, May 5th, 2007, Breakfast
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Breakfast on a Saturday frequently was something of a 'brunch' affair as late sleepers drifted in later and later in the morning until it was really more of lunch than a breakfast. Nevertheless, the staff rather liked the laid-back attitude since it made for an easy morning without the hectic rush of the weekdays. Debra and I had joined Wyatt and Lanie at breakfast and he and Debra were swapping stories of the 'good old days' before Lanie and I had gotten to Whateley.
As we were laughing and enjoying the morning, the Crystal Hall's speakers interrupted the soft music they normally played. Unlike the intercom through most of the school, these speakers were new and fairly state-of-the-art and crystal clear. "Students Elaine Nalley and Kayda Franks," Mrs. Carson's voice drifted over the splash of the waterfall and the muted din of the other conversations. "Report to Arena 77. Elaine Nalley and Kayda Franks, report to Mrs. Carson at Arena 77."
"What the hell?" demanded Elaine. "It's too early for combat finals...!"
"Would she make us fight...?" I wondered.
As usual, Wyatt was nonplussed. "No," he declared flatly. "She just happens to be at Arena 77," he said. "If it was some kind of combat thing, she'd have told you to come in costume. It's probably nothing serious. Deb and I will guard your breakfast. We'll see you in few minutes." Elaine stood and gave him a peck on the cheek, and then we took the stairs down to the ground floor and back into Schuster Hall.
It was a quick elevator ride down to the tunnels and we arrived within minutes at Arena 77, where I got a shock at my first view of Mrs. Carson in casual attire. Like Elaine, she was wearing a pair of jeans, but she topped it off with a flannel shirt of red-and-black checker pattern whereas Elaine was wearing a simple T-Shirt emblazoned with a round badge rather like a yin/yang symbol, except the left was red and the right was blue and the colors were separated by a stylized silver S. Mrs. Carson frowned as she caught sight of it and said, "I thought you and your family were all Ford enthusiasts?"
Elaine shrugged with a grin. "Only because Studebaker went out of business in the sixties."
"Mrs. Carson," I blurted out in amazement. "You ... you look...great!"
"Different," the Headmistress replied with a smile. "You will find, Miss Franks, that 'nice' clothing is more comfortable the higher the quality - and unfortunately the price. And while 'The Headmistress' is all Armani skirt suits, Liz Carson would rather be wearing a pair of waders in a trout stream than a pair of Prada heels." She paused for a moment, and then grinned. "Well, Prada does make a very nice shoe ..." She raised her hand and it became clear she was holding a collection of black masks that she distributed. "We're almost certain we've gotten all the cameras out of this redone arena, but no sense taking chances."
"Why are we here, ma'am?" asked Lanie as she pulled on the mask and got its string settled through her hair.
Mrs. Carson sighed. "I want to share something with you, and apologize." We looked at each other, dumb-struck. "You'll understand," she promised as she went over to the panel and punched in a code. "Run program Carson Apologia," she commanded.
"Program Complete. Enter when ready," replied the computer in the voice of the Grand Dame of Star Trek.
"Miss Nalley...?" growled Mrs. Carson.
"Well, technically, Gene Roddenberry had a clause in his contract for all the technology of Star Trek to be open source so that when the real devices were developed, they could use their names. NASA is currently working on 'Warp Drive' and..."
"And I will not debate you on this," Mrs. Carson stated flatly. "Change the voice."
"Yes ma'am." The door slid aside revealing a pair of figures in the center of the room, standing still. Mrs. Carson led us over to them as the door closed behind them. The figures had a yellow tint to them, betraying their origin as a three-dimensional extrapolation of a color photographs. It was a pair of girls - one a tall shapely brunette with her shoulder-length hair in the classic 'victory roll' style. She wore a mechanic's coverall and workman's gloves, both well-covered with grease.
The taller girl was giving a one-armed hug to a young teen girl, perhaps a year or so younger than her; the two were both at that age when a year or two could make a huge difference. The young girl wore a star-spangled mostly blue outfit with red gauntlet gloves and boots and a red and white stripped rah-rah skirt. She was wearing a red domino mask and her slightly longer than shoulder length blonde hair was up in a high pony tail. Both girls were flashing the camera with a 'V for Victory' symbol. "This," Mrs. Carson introduced, "is Donna Fiedler. And, the young blonde in the regrettable outfit is me."
She looked both girls in the eyes, the black mask she wore an odd counterpoint to the lumberjack shirt and jeans she was wearing. "She was my very best friend. I met her my first day in High School, about a month after Champion had saved my life by giving me these powers. I was young and stupid and bursting with the most juicy secret any fifteen year old girl ever had. Donna had been held back a year because she had broken the principal's nose when he'd 'goosed' her after she had successfully argued her way into the shop classes she wanted."
Mrs. Carson sighed. "We...we were inseparable. We were past friends; really and truly she was the older sister I'd never had. I told her my secret three weeks after we became friends and she told me hers."
"Hers?" I asked.
"She was gay," Liz replied. "Oh she would double-date with me all through High School, but rarely did she date the same boy more than three or four times. Past that they started expecting things she didn't want to give."
"You...and her...?" started Elaine softly, but Mrs. Carson gave her a sardonic look.
"You don't have to have sex with someone to be friends, Miss...er, Loophole," Mrs. Carson said with a smile. "No, we weren't lovers. I'm pretty sure she had a crush on me, but neither of us acted on it. And to be honest I would have said no. While there have been a very small handful of women that have tempted me, I rather enjoy the company of men." She shrugged. "To each his or her own." She worked a control and a new image appeared; this time the two girls were in a beat-up looking 37 Packard coupe.
"Donna's father was a pretty accomplished mechanic and Donna learned well at his knee. That Packard humiliated every hot-rodder in Chicago. Are you seeing a pattern here, Loophole?"
"Ah remind you of...?"
Liz sighed again. "Yes, you do," she admitted with obvious effort. "You both do, and I didn't realize how much until ... someone we all respect reminded me that my interest in you both was becoming somewhat more than was professional, strictly speaking."
"But," I interrupted. "I'm not ... I mean, I'm shorter and ..."
"And you're also a mechanic," Liz reminded her. "But that's not why you remind me, nor why I was so harsh in my criticism of your actions." She clicked the control again and the space shimmered and became a one-bedroom flat that had been drawn from a black-and-white crime scene photograph.
The furniture - what little there was of it - was pushed aside to make room for a pentagram and a circle that was drawn in the center of the room. I was only just learning western occult magic, but even my limited knowledge was enough to see several gross errors in the design and materials that were used. "Donna and I started having some trouble after high school. Part of it was I was beginning to realize that I wasn't a late bloomer, but rather that I wasn't aging. I still looked fifteen or sixteen and she was getting into her twenties. So was I, to be fair, but you couldn't tell. The apparent age difference caused a few ... difficulties. The other part she finally admitted to me after a huge fight - she was jealous of me. Jealous of my powers, of being able to run around with Champion, and being a hero, even one that looked like a kid sidekick, I was treated like a person, not a woman."
Liz looked away far into her past and sighed. "She wanted me to ask Champion to do to her what he'd done to me. I told her no. Not because I was selfish, or I didn't want her to come out with me; I did, I really, honest-to-God did. But she didn't know, she couldn't know, that Harry deeply regretted what happened to me and Ted, and that he'd sworn he would never again force someone else into his crusade. I couldn't ask that of Harry, and I tried to explain it to Donna, but she was angry, and I guess I was angry because of what she was asking of me."
"Be so careful of your words, Children. Words are like bullets - once they fly, there's no calling them back." A tear escaped her eye only to be ruthlessly brushed aside before it could fall from her cheek. "The last conversation I had with Donna was a fight. We screamed at each other. I said things I'd trade my soul to apologize for. And then Champion got a lead on a psychotic jewel thief with a body count that would put Bundy to shame, and he needed my help. That led to a three-month chase. When we finally caught him and had him behind bars, I came home to make things right with Donna. But I couldn't find her. No one could. So I used my key to her apartment and I found this."
"She...she used...?" I mouthed softly, aghast.
"Yes, she did, Pejuta," Mrs. Carson replied. "She used a magic spell she barely knew anything about, desperate to have a power, to bind a devil or a spirit - her notes were never clear - so she could come run on rooftops with me. And now you know why you remind me of her and why I was so harsh with you over your ritual on Loophole."
"Did...did they ever find...?"
Mrs. Carson shook her head. "From what Dr. Arcane could decipher of her notes, more than likely something answered her summoning. And that something either killed her instantly, if she was lucky, or more likely dragged her body and soul back to whatever realm it came from. Where it likely is still tormenting her."
"Mrs...er, Lady Astarte..." I started, but a harsh gesture cut me off.
"Learn!" she snapped. "God damn it girls, learn from this! I am sorry for what I've said and done because of who you remind me of, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from this." Suddenly needing to be physical, the Headmistress gathered both girls into a massive hug. "I don't want to mourn you two the way I had to mourn Donna," she whispered. "Promise me, promise, you'll take this to heart and stop and think. Come to me if you're not sure; I swear I'll never judge you, and if what you want is safe and can aide you, I will help you, but if I say no, it won't ever be out of spite or any other reason other than I want to keep you safe."
She stepped back a bit, holding each girl by the shoulder. "Promise me, Pejuta. Promise me, Loophole. Your words, your solemn oaths," she grinned sheepishly and held up each hand, her last finger extended. "Pinky swear."
Loophole exchanged a glance with me and then we both grinned and each wrapped a pinky finger around Mrs. Carson's. "We swear," we said in chorus.
Mrs. Carson smiled at them. "You two run back to finish your breakfast. But Pejuta?" I was startled. "I saw that that Loophole booked time for some sailing, and assuming you and Cornflower will be sailing with her, you might want to go easy on breakfast if you're not used to boats."
I nodded, wondering suddenly if I _would_ get seasick. "Yes, ma'am." We turned back toward the exit, quite clearly eager to finish breakfast so we could have some fun.
"Oh, and girls?" Mrs. Carson called out one last time as the door opened.
"Yes, ma'am?" we answered in unison.
"Do _not_ think, even for a moment, that this means you get a free pass on _anything_! Do I make myself clear?"
We girls nodded enthusiastically. "No, ma'am."
"If anything, you understand my motivations more than any other student, and you might find that I'm even more demanding of the two of you. You understand why?"
I gulped. "Yes, ma'am," I squeaked while Lanie just nodded mutely.
"Good. Now go have fun."
Saturday, May 5, 2007, mid-morning
"Chief?" Lt. Forsyth poked his head into Delarose's office.
Delarose looked up from his computer. "Yes?" he asked simply.
Forsyth held up a folder. "Got a hardcopy of the path reports associated with Apathy."
Delarose perked up. Murders on campus were unusual, even with the power available to teenage students. "What are we working with?"
"Death was caused by the knife wound, as expected."
"Okay," Delarose sighed. "Any surprises?"
"We got a bit of good news, if you want to call it that," Forsyth reported. He saw that he had his chief's attention. "We were lucky that you took Ms. Frank's knife the other day. The lab scanned it for genetic material."
"And they found some really weird shit on that ...."
"The water panther and the snake demon?"
Forsyth shrugged. "Whatever it was, it wasn't human. At least that's what the lab techs - and the powers guys in the tunnels - think."
"Any human DNA on it?"
Forsyth shook his head. "None. Apart from Miss Franks, which is expected. Not even a cellular trace of human blood, even in those fancy carved runes or whatever the hell they are. If she _had_ stabbed Apathy, it'd be damned near impossible to clean all traces of blood out of those markings."
"So what you're saying is that her knife was _not_ the murder weapon?"
Forsyth nodded. "There's more. The murder weapon was narrower than Miss Franks' knife. It _couldn't_ have been her knife. The fatal wound would have been almost a centimeter wider."
Delarose sighed. "So she's not our top suspect?"
"I wouldn't put her in the top ten. Not after seeing her face when she was filling out the reports after she helped find the body."
"Oh? You're a criminal psychologist now, too?" Delarose asked with a sardonic chuckle.
Forsyth smiled. "I _observe_ people. She was rattled. Very rattled. She's never seen a murder victim before, I'd bet my life on it. You can't fake reactions like that."
Delarose nodded, smiling a bit. "Yeah, that's what I figured, too. And the knife evidence pretty much clears her." He sighed and shook his head. "But we still have to find the killer."
Saturday, May 5, 2007, lunchtime
I sat with mixed emotions as the rest of my friends chatted at lunchtime. After a morning in the simulator sailing with Lanie and Wyatt, Debra had left to go back to Sioux Falls and I already missed her terribly. At least my best friend - damn, that sounded so nice, _best friend_ - knew enough to practically force Debra and I to spend some final time together down below in the boat's cabin, and when I closed my eyes momentarily, I gasped lightly at the memory of her touch and her tongue on my hot body, her taste as we brought each other to glorious ecstasy over and over. In a way, it was a tender but frantic way to say goodbye, knowing that we wouldn't be in each other's arms again for almost two months. I cried like a baby when she forced herself to get into her rental car and drive from the parking lot by the guest cottages; I stood waving, crying, and not moving until long after her car was out of sight.
What a roller-coaster of a week it had been. From the highs of the post hot-tub intimacy to the ultra-lows of fearing that my stupidity had hurt my new best friend, back to the highs of knowing she was alright. Lanie was safe and unharmed and _happy_! She no longer had to fear having her mind messed with, and she got some pretty cool avatar powers from Grizzly in return - like being able to manifest a huge bear that was damned-near indestructible! But the process, which _I_ had helped with, had impacted her primary mutant ability, her systems intuition. It was heartbreaking to me to know that Lanie had a long, painful road ahead of her to relearn that skill she'd been born with and had manifested so powerfully; No matter how much she insisted otherwise, I couldn't help but feel like I'd stolen something from her, a part of Lanie that made her who she was - the Gadgeteer Goddess and the Queen of the Labs.
Despite it all, she was still my friend, she still cherished me as a friend, and she comforted me, more worried about how I felt than her own loss of her mutant talent. What a precious thing to have in a friend, that she was more concerned about me than herself! And I know I felt the same about her - only not to the same degree I felt about my girlfriend. Wyatt still scared me, but all boys did. Still, he'd helped me in a way that was most unexpected, and he held no grudge against me for what my help had done to Lanie. I couldn't even begin to understand him, but Lanie was happy with him so I was happy for her, and because she was my friend, I'd put up with him as best as I could.
Somehow, I had the feeling that the rest of our time at Whateley was going to be anything but boring. And with that came the echoes of Lanie's voice a few nights ago: "Why can't mah life be more boring? Lots and lots more boring?"
"May you live in interesting times" indeed.