Kansas City September 15th, 2005
Nick Reilly got up from his bed and wished he hadn’t. Every part of his body at least ached, with sporadic jabs of pain from individual parts that informed him they weren’t at all happy with things as they were. As that was being imprinted on his fogged brain, his stomach gave a sudden lurch that had him running for the bathroom. “Ahhh, maaan!
“Nick?” His mother’s voice penetrated his misery, barely. “What’s the matter, honey?”
“I dunno, flu maybe.” The boy managed to answer between bouts of nausea and stabbing pains that made him feel worse than he ever remembered in his thirteen years of life. “All I know is that everything hurts and I feel like my stomach is trying to crawl up my throat and find somewhere else to live until it’s over with.”
“I haven’t heard of any flu going around.” His mother worriedly answered while resting a hand on his forehead. “But you’re burning up. Go back to bed and I’ll call the school to let them know you won’t be going today.”
“Thanks, mom.” Nick staggered back to his room, making sure that a trash can was close to his bed, just in case he needed to puke again and couldn‘t make it back to the bathroom in time. He was asleep before even registering that his mom had followed, making sure that he was covered and feeling his forehead again.
Nick dreamed while he slept. A woman, at least the figure had a female shape, approached him through a moil of shifting colors, flashes of dim to blindingly bright light, and the sound of wind. Her large violet eyes bored into him with an intensity that he couldn’t bear up to, but she held his gaze as if chained to him. Flame red hair flapping in a wind he couldn’t feel framed a heart shaped face of a beauty that was inhuman as it was breathtaking. The figure said nothing, simply watched him, and he felt as if she was seeing right into him, down to the core of his being and beyond.
“Ahhh.” The vision nodded sharply with a soft, but still chilling smile while speaking in a voice that sounded of harps and birdsong. “You fear me, child? There is no need, I bring you no harm, only change. Great change and a chance that the last one I chose threw away. I would have preferred another, but you are the special one, the Thousandth of my kind to reenter the world of men. And I will be there to guide you through all the travails you will meet on the way to your destiny.”
“I am Aunghadhail, and have other names that will be made known in time.” The inhuman beauty gave him another, warmer smile as she reached out to touch his fevered face. “The change comes upon you even now, child of Man. At my touch we are bound, you and I, for eternity and beyond.”
Nick woke up screaming, and didn’t even recall the nightmare that had started him doing so.
A look into the bathroom mirror nearly brought those memories back. His eyes had changed! Instead of the soft brown he was used to seeing, the orbs peering back at him from the mirror were a deep violet, and the shape of his eyes had altered. Now they were nearly almond shaped, and seemed much larger than he was used to seeing in the mirror.
“Mom!” He almost screamed once he had seen that.
“I’m taking you to see Dr. Travis.” His mother firmly told Nick the next week. Not only had his eyes changed, but the whole shape of his face had followed. Going from the squarish oval he had gotten used to seeing in the mirror to a near heart shape. Plus his facial features had become finer and more, well, feminine.
Worse, his body seemed to be following suit. It had slimmed down, not that he had ever been even close to jock material, with a noticeable widening of the hips proportionately to the rest of his body and the beginnings of what had to be small breasts on his thin chest.
“Ok, mom.” Nick was past arguing about much of anything after the past week. He hadn’t been sleeping well, and when he did, the sleep was filled with really weird dreams and images. Plus, the changes in his body and face were really scaring him.
What frightened him most of all, though, was that his once mousy brown hair had thickened and turned to a bright flame red. Like an image he couldn’t quite identify, but knew better than he wished to. Every time he looked into a mirror, he saw an image that wasn’t himself, but something -- someone -- he had been seeing all too frequently in his restless dreams.
“Well one thing I can tell you for certain,” Dr. Martin Travis told the worried mother and frightened boy. “From your description of what is going on I did some quick research and came to the tentative conclusion that Nick is a mutant, and showing the typical changes that hit such people at puberty. The distinctive eye color is a trademark of the mutations humans go through.”
“A mutant?” Nick’s mother questioned, not in fear, but in concern. “What kind of Mutant?”
“It’s really too early to tell that with any accuracy.” Dr. Travis answered slowly. “And I’m not really qualified to administer all the proper tests that would be required to discover what, exactly, this whole thing might entail. We need to send to him to experts in the field in order to find out much of anything beyond the obvious physical changes that I‘ve noted in this examination.”
“Are you sure about this?” Mrs. Reilly questioned, though from the tone of her voice and expression on her lovely face, she already knew the answer to that one.
“Very sure, Lucy.” Dr. Travis let out a long sigh. “And so are you, if you’d just let yourself admit it. Look at him, look closely, and tell me what you see.”
“My son.” Lucinda Reilly answered firmly, then added. “Who is changing into someone else in front of my eyes.”
“That’s right.” Dr. Travis nodded with a sad look. “I’ve been your personal physician since before you were married, Lucy. And I’ve watched Nick grow from a fairly boisterous infant into the intelligent young man he was up to a week or so ago. Now I’m seeing him grow into something else altogether and without proper testing or evaluation, it may be fatal to him. You do understand that don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, Martin.” Lucy replied with a heavy sigh. “Do you know of anyone in the area here who might be able to evaluate Nick?”
“I can find out by tomorrow.” Dr. Travis answered, then gave the boy another long look. “There is one more thing that should be fairly obvious in this change, too.”
“What?” Nick asked, though the itching in his chest, and other changes that had already become very evident made that question almost needless. “I’m turning into a girl, right?”
“Well, in a word, yes.” The doctor nodded with a grimace. “Your blood work came back with a fairly normal hormone level -- for a thirteen year old girl -- sex changes aren’t all that common in mutations as I understand it, but they do happen. Given the rate of change in your appearance over the past week or so, I’d say that you’ll look completely like a teenaged girl within several months, and would likely become fully female as early as age sixteen or seventeen. I can’t be sure of all that without running more tests, which I recommend, but that is my best guess based on what I’ve seen and on your development so far.”
“Great, just great.” Nick grumbled then let out a shuddering sigh of his own. “But I don’t WANT to be a girl.”
“I don’t think you have a lot of choice here, Nick.” Dr. Travis gently told him. “In the cases I looked up that involve changes of sex -- only a few, I didn’t have time for any real in depth study of the phenomenon -- not one of the cases responded at all to hormone therapy to restore either the loss of masculine or feminine traits the mutation triggers.
“Well if it has to be, I suppose we may as well make the best of things, right Nick?” His mother said with a shake of her head and a small smile. “I’ll be here to help you adjust all I can, I promise.”
“Oh, that really makes me feel better about all this.” The boy grumped, crossing his arms across his chest and immediately dropping them as he encountered an unaccustomed softness there. Also, he knew from experience how his mother was when she decided that something was going to happen. Woe to anyone or anything, including forces of nature, that dared to oppose her once her mind was made up about something.
“I’ll make some calls and get back to you by tomorrow with the referrals to the specialists, Lucy.” Dr. Travis gave Nick’s shoulder an encouraging pat. “We’ll get your problems figured out and find a way for you to deal with them in everyday life, Nick. That’s a promise from me.”
“What’s Dad going to say about this?” Nick questioned no one in particular. “I can pretty well make book on the fact that he isn’t going to be happy when he hears that his oldest son is going to be his daughter pretty soon.”
“You leave your Father to me.” Lucy gave him a hug. “He’ll come around to the idea eventually. It’s not as if this is your fault, dear.”
“That one I’ll let you take.”
“I just want to make sure that you get the best testing and whatever else you need to become well adjusted to what you’re going to be in the future.”
“Umm, Dr. Travis?” Nick looked at the physician. “Would any of those specialists maybe be a shrink or something? I’ve got the feeling I’m going to need one really badly here, and soon.”
“Counseling will come with the rest of the evaluation procedures, yes.” The doctor gave Nick a long, searching look. “Is there something you would like to tell me now? Anything you’re feeling that is giving you problems? It could help a lot when I call to get your referrals set up.”
“Well...” Nick hesitated for a moment, worry clearly showing in his face and now very expressive violet eyes. “Not something I feel so much as hear. Everything around me has this low buzz, or makes a sound of some kind. It’s driving me nuts, I can’t even get a decent night’s sleep with all of it.”
“Ummm, yeah. Everything.” Nick waved at their surroundings. “I hear the walls, the floor, all the stuff in here, in fact. And don’t even get me around a lot of plants and stuff. If I’m not crazy now, all that is going to make me that way. Plugging my ears and closing my eyes doesn’t help at all; I still hear the stuff.”
“Is it causing you any pain, or giving you anything other than the mental anguish you’ve described to me here?”
“No, not really, it doesn’t seem to be connected to my ears at all. It’s all in my head, like my brain is some kind of super radio receiver or something.”
“Do you hear other people in your head?”
“No, just things, plants, animals, stuff like that, but no, no people.” Nick decided that telling the doctor and his mother about the strange red haired woman he had seen the first day, and still heard off and on, wouldn’t be a very wise thing to do if he wished to remain reasonably free and not locked up in some loony ward.
“I’ll get you something to help with that a little.” Dr. Travis nodded while scribbling something on a prescription pad. “That information will also make the preliminary evaluations by the specialists much more helpful for you. Is there anything else you can tell me about what’s happening to you now?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose, but you’ll probably think I’ve already gone around the bend to the left field bleachers and kept on going once I got there.”
“I don’t think that is going to happen to you, Nick.” The doctor said quietly. “What else are you experiencing with this change?”
“I see lines.” The boy shook his head as if at a loss to describe what he was seeing any better. “On the ground in places, running from one thing to another, and I can sort of feel them too. Like a string someone plucks, you know.”
“Hmm. I can see that we need to get you into that evaluation as soon as possible.” Dr. Travis nodded. “Is that interfering with your normal vision at all?”
“No, it’s just kind of like faint colors laid over everything I see.”
“All right. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?”
“No, that’s all.”
“Ok, I’ll get on those referrals right away, then.” Travis handed the prescription form to Lucy. “Get that filled at the pharmacy here in the building, and have him take one right away, it‘s a very mild sedative is all. He may get a little sleepy with it at first, but at least it ought to help him rest properly for a change.”
Nick had a hard time with even thinking about what was happening to him for the rest of the day, and night that for once wasn’t filled with restless dreams.
Not that he didn’t worry about what the doctor had told him, or actively worked at NOT thinking about his now uncertain future. The boy was still in more than a little shock over what had been confirmed during his doctor’s appointment, and shied away from what it all meant. As if trying to ignore it all would just make it go away. But that didn’t last long, Nick was too intelligent to just let it go on it’s own and really didn’t want any MORE surprises involved with his mutation than absolutely necessary.
So, what kind of mutant was he becoming? And why did the mutation insist that he become a girl?
And the most often asked question of teenagers through all time... “Why ME?”
There just weren’t any answers to those questions yet, and Nick needed a way to deal with them SOON. Before worrying about them drove him nuts.
“Well, I suppose I have to do this.” he muttered, moving towards the bathroom to wash the night’s sleep out of his eyes and brush his teeth. “Wonder what I look like this morning.”
He really did his best not to look squarely into the mirror over the sink, washed his face with closed eyes (with the excuse of not wanting to get soap in them) and tried brushing his teeth the same way. It didn’t work out too well. Finally, giving in to morbid curiosity, and necessity, he slowly opened his eyes.
“Awww, maaan.” His face had changed more overnight. The violet eyes had enlarged, not really all that much, but he was certain they had, and now possessed a definite upward tilt at the outside corners. There was no epicanthic fold, as in the eyes of an Asian; these were actually tilted a bit in his skull. His chin had definitely narrowed, giving his face a distinct heart shape instead of the oval it had been the day before... With his thicker, actually shining, flame red hair framing his face as it did he showed a delicacy of feature that could never be taken for a male’s face even with a beard and crew cut. Especially set atop his slimmer neck that had lost all traces of the nascent Adams Apple he had been showing only days earlier. In spite of the short hair, the image in the mirror already just about screamed girl! in his mind and he knew how his classmates would see it with a shudder.
“God, I can’t just can’t face the world like this. How am I going to show this face to the kids and teachers at school? Or anyone else who knows me?”
In the kitchen, Lucy took a look at her son’s downcast face and closed her eyes, privately asking any Powers That Be why they were putting her boy through such a painful experience. Outwardly she remained calm and almost cheerful even if inside she wished she could scream her own anguish for her child.
“Morning, honey.” She said while being very careful not to stare at the lovely, but inhuman face her son now wore, or the way his clothing seemed to drape in slightly oversized folds over his form. “Did you sleep well last night?”
“I guess so.” Nick nodded tiredly. “That stuff Doc Travis prescribed for me puts me out like a switch was thrown. No bad dreams, no waking up in the middle of the night with more twinges and pains...”
“But what?” He asked with a little frown that she didn’t dare tell him was really cute. “Mom! I’m only turning into a FREAKING girl right in front of your eyes and the changes are worse every time I look in a mirror. And the girl I’m starting to see is a babe! But I don’t think she’s even human from the way she looks. Why in the world would a little something like THAT ever bother me?”
“I know it has to be hard on you, dear.” Lucy moved to give her son a tight hug. “But there isn’t much of anything we can do about it from what I’ve been told, other than to make the best of it and get you through it with a minimum of difficulty.”
“Hard?” he fought back tears, something he hadn’t had to do since he was seven and his Dad and brother had moved to Cleveland after the separation agreement had been reached prior to the divorce. “I wasn’t the biggest, most buff guy around, or any kind of a jock, but I was starting to get some size and bulk at last. Then this happens to me. I don’t think I can take it. I’m a guy, Mom! I don’t want to be a girl!”
“Well there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do to stop that from happening honey.” Lucy tried to soothe the upset boy as best she could. “Being a girl isn’t such a bad thing, really. I’ve gotten along just fine as one all my life.”
“Yeah, but you were born that way.” Nick sullenly answered.
“Well, there is that.” Lucy said quietly, then stared into his startling violet eyes for a moment with determination in her own. “But you are just going to need to adjust to the idea of being one yourself. You were never a whiner, Nick, and even though this attitude you have is understandable, it needs to stop. I’ll help you every way I can, either personally, or through others. You have to help me help you, though or none of it will do any good, okay?”
“Sure Mom.” His answer was far from enthusiastic, or even close to convinced.
“I know you’re worried, honey, so am I.” His mother said as she gathered him into a hug. “We’ll get through this one too. I promise.”
“How?” his voice broke for a moment and the shine of tears filled his eyes.
“One step at a time, honey.” She whispered into his ear, noting with a small thrill of fear that it came to a small point at the top. “We’ll just have to handle things as they come up then move on.”
“Mooommm!” Nick protested once he saw the garment she was holding out to him. “I’m still a guy! I can’t wear that thing! I’d never be able to show my face in public if I did.
“You need it Nick.” Lucy Reilly insisted as she held out the nylon bra she had purchased earlier in the day. “Otherwise you’re going to jiggle and shake all the time, and people will really notice that you’re growing breasts. Now, come on and let’s see how this fits you.”
“Oh, all riiight.” Nick hung his head, then glanced at the other package his mother hadn’t opened yet. “But do I really have to wear panties, too?”
“Have a look for yourself.” His mother answered while pointing to the full length mirror hanging in her bedroom where she had pulled him for this fitting. “I think they’d be a lot more comfortable for you, at least physically. Just try these things, would you?”
Giving a reluctant look into the mirror, Nick again saw his small breasts rather prominently showing through his thin T-shirt, especially the arrogantly pert nipples that tipped them. The breast weren’t huge by any stretch of the imagination, an A cup if that much according to his mom, but they did a lot of shifting, bouncing, and other uncomfortable things whenever he moved. “Oh all right, but I still don’t like it.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“Now quit fidgeting and get that shirt off so we can get this on you.”
“Okay, okay. Just give me a minute here, this is really embarrassing you know.”
“A first bra is almost always embarrassing dear.” His mother said with a small smile. “I remember how mortified I was when my mother had me wear one for the first time. And don’t start with that ‘But you were a girl’ stuff either. You need this, and I won’t have a child of mine flopping around like some teenaged hooker everywhere she -- umm, he goes. Now get with it.”
As the bra touched his skin, he felt a distinct crawling sensation, that gradually grew into an itch. “This doesn’t feel too good, mom.”
“I imagine it is kind of strange for a first time.” Lucy soothed.
“No, I mean it really itches!” Nick squirmed uncomfortably as the itch grew, and began to scratch his shoulders where the straps went.
“Don‘t be such a baby about it, Nick.”
“Its bad, mom. Really!” Nick told her with tears starting to form in his eyes. For once he didn’t get upset about that. “It feels like I’m being burned here! Honest!”
“Let me see -- Oh, dear. Take it off, hon, and I’ll give Dr. Travis a call.”
It turned out that he was allergic to synthetics. All except plastics for some reason. So wearing nylon and Lycra was definitely something he wouldn’t be doing at all in the future. Though that gave him only a short respite from the lingerie. Following careful experimentation he had a selection of silk, satin, and pure cotton underwear in his drawers. Underwear that his mother not only expected him to wear, but insisted on.
Trying to handle a cast iron skillet was an equal disaster. Another allergic reaction, but this one gave him something like a mild burn when he held it. Steel was okay, as were other metals, even if they contained iron. But plain iron was added to the list of things Nick wasn’t able to touch.
Nick Stood outside the doors leading into his High school and just stared for a few seconds before working up the nerve to enter. He hadn’t been to classes at all for the past week or so, and really wasn’t going back yet, but needed to pick up his assignments, and have a new student ID card done since his appearance had changed so drastically.
It wasn’t something he either wanted to do or was at all looking forward to. But his psychologist, Dr. Elaine Redmond had just about insisted that he at least do that much, as a way to face up to the changes he was going through. Fortunately, the physical changes had slowed their pace enough that he wasn’t changing into someone unrecognizable on a daily basis any longer. Unfortunately, they were still happening, just in places where most people wouldn’t see them.
The silk bra and panties he was wearing made him even more self conscious, though with the dark shirt and sweater he was wearing no one should notice those necessary additions to his underwear drawer. The bra because his breasts, though still small at an A cup, were large enough to be uncomfortable if he didn’t wear one. The panties just fit his slightly altered shape below his narrowed waist better than the boy’s briefs he had worn before all the changes set in.
He’d initially protested about the lingerie, loudly, until getting a look at himself in a shirt without a bra, and feeling how uncomfortably his old briefs and boxers sat around his hips and bottom. With a shudder he also idly scratched a still red welt across his shoulder that had come from trying a nylon bra first. That had been an absolute disaster.
He got a few curious looks while walking towards the office, and was sure some of the guys were actually checking him out. Closing his eyes for a moment, he steeled himself, then pulled open the office door to enter.
“Can I help you, miss?” The secretary asked as he hesitantly went up to the desk.
“Yes, I’m here to pick up the assignments for Nick Reilly, and to have a new photo ID made up for when I come back to class.”
She did a slight double take, then to her credit nodded while turning to collect a pile of papers. “Your mother and doctor contacted us about the changes you were going through, Nick. I have to admit, though, what they told us didn’t prepare me for actually seeing you. Sorry for the staring.”
“I’m kind of getting used to it by now.” Nick answered with a nervous grin. “But only just. It’s still a shock for me to look in a mirror and see this.”
“I suppose it would be.” The secretary answered sympathetically. “Would you like for someone to go get your books from your locker wile I get the photo for your new ID taken?”
“No, I can do it. But thanks for the offer. My psychologist says I need to start facing the different things my changes are going to cause when I interact with other people, and this is one of my assignments from her to do that.”
“Well, I hope this turns out okay for you, dea.. Umm Nick.”
“Me too, and thanks.” Nick glanced around the office and moved towards the area where the background and camera for the IDs waited and seated himself on the small stool. “I’m ready, I guess.“
“You look fine.“ The secretary, he remembered that her name was Mrs. Kent, assured him while getting the camera set up. “All right then, smile for the camera, hon.“
Nick did, and tried to not frown when he realized Mrs. Kent was talking to him as if he was a teenaged girl instead of a guy. He shrugged inwardly while thinking unhappily, May as well get used to it, HON. You’re going to BE a girl soon enough if Dr. Travis is right.
A few minutes later he left the office with a wave he forced to be cheerful, his new student ID and class assignments list in hand.
His hearing had improved a lot through the changes, and he faintly heard the woman letting out a sigh and saying. “Poor kid. He really looks more like a girl than a boy, and he makes a really pretty one, too.”
“Gee, thanks.” He muttered while making his way to his locker. “Like I really needed to hear that.”
Since it was during classes, he managed to retrieve his books, and the other things he would need to complete his class work without running into too many other students.
What Kind of Name is Leon for a Wizard?
On his way back to the car where his mother was waiting to take him to the appointment with a wizard, of all things, Nick again noticed how the boys hanging out around the school were staring at him. Their expressions held more than simple curiosity, and the boy started sensing things about his watchers.
Every one of them, older boys, was staring at him and feeling... Well broadcasting desire, and even worse emotions in his direction. Nick shuddered at the sudden onslaught, and nearly staggered from the impact. They all wanted him, with the hunger a boy shows for a pretty girl he sees. He was sure enough of that simply because he’d felt much the same things while watching a pretty girl before his changes took him way too close to the other side of the gender fence for comfort.
Stopping in near mid-stride, he glared at the offending boys for a moment, only to get another, stronger dose of the raw emotion he’d felt earlier coming from them.
Just as he was about to turn and run for the car, a soft but powerful voice in his head said. Enough of this! I will not be gaped at like some half-breed cross between a shellycoat and Ban Sidhe! How DARE they demean me and my host in such a manner?
Something directed Nick to reach out with his mind to grasp the faint lines he saw running just about everywhere, and he began weaving them together into something entirely different than what they had been. Something that was to be aimed at the offending boys.
“Ugghh!” The sound worked its way out of his mouth, more shocked surprise than pain, since the experience was far from painful. In fact it was wonderful. Nick felt like he was brimming over with energy, and actually felt better than he had in weeks. Then realized that he was doing something really strange, and something he’d never thought of before the unsettling changes had started in and brought that strange, softly lilting voice with them. The threads of Magic, for he knew that was what the things he was weaving were, unraveled.
But didn’t go away. Instead, they coalesced into small balls of purple fur with ridiculous looking chicken legs and feet. The things hit the ground running, scattered, and incidentally managed to run over the boys who had been staring and broadcasting such powerfully raw emotions his way.
The boys ran, as any halfway bright person would have done seeing those silly purple balls of fur open incredibly huge mouths filled with jagged teeth aimed in their directions.
Skittering after them, the now gnashing teethed balls of fur suddenly stopped their near manic pursuit, hesitated a moment, then disappeared in small puffs of purple smoke.
“What were those things Nick?” His mother reached him and stopped in front of him with an amazed, half fearful expression on her face.
“I don’t know.” Bemused, the boy could only shrug. “I was feeling things from all those boys, and getting really upset about it.”
“Feeling, feeling what?”
“I don’t know, desire, lust, wanting me.” Nick shuddered at the memory. “Then something inside of me reached out and grabbed those lines I’ve told you I can see.”
“You caused those, those things to show up?”
“Uhh, I think so.” Was all the answer he could manage at the time. “I lost my grip on the lines and then they showed up.”
“Oh, Nick.” Lucy hugged her shaking son, then led him back to the car. “Maybe seeing this wizard isn’t such a bad idea after all.”
“After this I kind of think it would be a good idea, Mom.”
“Then let’s get over there.” His mother began hustling him away from the schoolyard and gathering of staring, whispering students who had seen the incident. “The sooner the better.”
“Yeah.” Nick nodded wincing as an internal sense of satisfaction filled him, accompanied by that voice that was his, but not him. Not bad for a first time. Not bad at all.
“Are you sure this is the right address?” Nick questioned while giving a very dubious look at the very mundane ranch style house with its well tended lawn and shrubs. “It sure isn’t my idea of where a wizard would live.”
“What?” A rich tenor voice reached him as a totally unremarkable looking man in appearing to be in his early thirties walked easily out to the car. “You were expecting a dark tower in some forbidding forest or on a mountain top?”
“I don’t really know. I never met a wizard before.” Nick said quietly in response.
“Well, that’s a good start.” The man smiled and waved towards the house. “My name is Leon Maynard, I’m the wizard you’re supposed to see. If you’re Nick Reilly, that is.”
“I am.” Nick answered, then stopped as the man grinned while holding up a hand to stop the next question before it came out of the boy’s mouth.
“Before you ask, my name is Leon, I like that name, I’m used to it, and that’s that.” The guy grinned. “Satisfied?”
“Umm, yeah, I guess so.” Nick found himself smiling back. “Are you a mind reader or something?”
“Not really.” Leon grinned. “I just get asked that question a lot. Actually I’m what people call a diviner. I look at things, or people, and am able to tell them what they are, what they do, and what they might be able to do.”
“Oh.” Nick wasn’t sure he really understood, but nodded anyway. “Okay.”
“Come on in to my office.” Leon gestured towards a door in the side of the house. “And we’ll get started on figuring you out, kid.”
“Can my Mom come too?” Nick questioned watching his mother take in the conversation with a concerned expression on her face. “She’s awfully worried about me, and I just did something a little while ago that has us both kind of up in the air right now.”
“Of course your mother is welcome, Nick.” Leon nodded while giving Lucy a pleasant smile. “In fact, I would have insisted on her being with us anyway. Now what is this about you doing something? Never mind, tell me once we get inside and I can get my books, computer, and other stuff working on the problem.”
Once inside the man’s office, which looked pretty much like any other office a slightly disappointed Nick noted, he went back over how things had changed for him over the past weeks, finishing up with the incident in the school yard earlier that day.
“Well, to begin with.” The Wizard picked up an intricately carved stick and held it in front of Nick. “This is a divining rod, of sorts. It will help me find out a little more about you, the mutation you’re going through, and give me a rough idea of where to look for more information. Do you mind if I check you with it?”
“That’s what I came here for, isn’t it?” Nick grumbled as he gave the rod a wary look. “Go ahead, I don’t mind.”
“It’s the nature of the magic, Nick.” Leon replied with a smile. “I have to have your permission to look at things as closely as I need to here. Otherwise the results might be skewed a little, or completely wrong. I also need your permission, Mrs. Reilly, for it to work the way it really should.”
“You have it, Mr. Maynard.” Lucy agreed with a wan smile. “Just please find out what’s happening to and with my boy. That’s all I ask.”
“Call me Leon.” The wizard nodded as he closed his eyes and began making passes in the air around, and over Nick. “Ummm, this is interesting.”
“What?” Lucy gave her son, and the still entranced wizard a worried look. Interesting when connected to Nick or what was happening to him was a word that made her nervous by then.
“Just a minute, nothing to really worry yourself about...” Leon waved the question aside while passing the rod in an outline around Nick. “I’ll have it in another few seconds... Ahh! Got the basics here now.”
“Umm, what did you find out?” Nick questioned anxiously. An emotion mirrored in his mother’s pretty face.
“Well for starters, even though from your appearance it may seem obvious, you’re mutating into a Faerie type, definitely one of the Higher orders of The Sidhe, I would think, just from the way your features are shaping up.”
“I’m turning into a Fairy?” Nick grimaced at the thought. “Like Tinkerbelle?”
“Definitely NOT like Tinkerbelle, Nick.” Leon gave the boy an encouraging smile. “I said Faerie F A E R I E. Magically powerful beings who are thought to have once ruled a large part of the world.”
“Oh, you mean like the Elves in Tolkien? The Lord of The Rings?” Nick asked with some interest.
“Not exactly.” Leon put the carved rod down and moved to his computer. “The Sidhe were powerful, but not all that friendly with humanity. Oh there was more than a little interaction, but the human ability to breed so fast unnerved the Sidhe. So they tended to keep their distance from humans when possible. When it wasn’t, they would either help or harm, depending upon their mood at the time. Sometimes they managed to do things that accomplished both at once.”
“So how does that affect Nick?” Lucy asked point blank.
“That’s what I’m working out now.” Leon absently replied while bringing up window after window on his screen. “Now this is interesting.”
“Umm, not to seem like I’m ungrateful or anything...” Nick put in quietly, then raised his voice slightly. “But do you think you could be a little more specific about interesting? I’m starting to really hate that word lately.”
“Well for one thing, Nick, you appear to be the one thousandth Faerie mutant recorded in modern history. For that purpose, modern history runs from around the early sixteen hundreds to now.”
“So what does that mean?”
“I don’t really know.” Leon shrugged apologetically. “Just that it was considered to be an important number and milestone for the Race of Faerie in our time.”
“I’m a milestone?”
“Your coming is supposed to be.” Leon nodded with a half smile. “It may have nothing to do with you personally beyond that. One Thousand was thought to have been a rather special number by the ancient Celts, who were the tribe of Humanity closest to the Sidhe. The number was important to the Sidhe themselves according to legends passed down from the times when they were more numerous.”
“I understand. I think.” Nick drew in a breath, then asked. “But why am I turning into a girl?”
“Well, Nick, and Mrs. Reilly.” Leon reached into an open drawer of his desk to remove a sheaf of printed papers that he handed to Nick. “Each mutation that comes has what is called a Template -- a design for the body it needs to hold it. That handout I just gave you Nick explains it in more detail, and you can go over it as much and as slowly as you need to. Evidently, in your case, the mutation has a female template, so your body is becoming more female the further this mutation progresses.”
“Is there a way to change this thing, this template so I don’t change into a girl?”
“No one has been able to do that yet, Nick.” The wizard shook his head. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility completely, there are always new abilities appearing, but any attempts to do that so far have failed. More than a few of them in what are called catastrophic failures, meaning the person died. So I wouldn’t advise trying it.
“Wow.” Nick said. “Either I die of embarrassment, or from trying to change this stupid template thing that’s turning me into a girl. Wonderful.”
“That sums it up as neatly as I’ve ever heard it.” Leon chuckled at the boy‘s acerbic response, then gave Nick a sympathetic look. “On the plus side, Faerie types are generally very robust. Meaning that they are seldom if ever ill, and their life spans are very long. So you’ll be looking at a long, healthy lifetime.”
“As a female.”
“Afraid so, Nick.” The man agreed with a shrug. “As a rule, the template helps the person it is changing to adjust, so in time you’ll get used to it.”
“Oh, now that’s encouraging.” Nick replied. “I’m turning into a female here, and one that I think is going to look pretty good, but that’s okay because I’ll get USED to it. Plus from what you say I‘ll have a LONG time to get used to it.”
“Just how long could he live?” Lucy Reilly questioned, mostly to deflect the direction her son’s responses were heading.
“Well, the oldest Faerie type recorded since these things were kept track of changed in 1695 and is still alive, healthy, and showing no visible signs of aging today.”
“Oh my god...” Lucy trailed off, turning a bit pale herself while Nick looked like he was swallowing something lumpy and full of sharp edges in his throat.
“The handout I gave you there gives you a list of reference materials, books, articles, things like that which should give you at least a basic idea of what this mutation means to Nick, and what exactly the Sidhe were in the distant past and are in the present. I’d strongly suggest that you get at least some of those on the list and read them. There is a lot of documentation on Faerie types in general, and more speculation. The definitive texts are underlined in green, the iffy ones in yellow, and the purely speculative ones in red.”
Nick silently handed the papers to his mother then asked. “Ok, I’ll have to deal with whatever happens with this template, I understand that all right. But WHAT is it that I do?”
“Why don’t you explain to me what exactly you’ve been feeling, seeing and hearing since you began changing?” Leon suggested. “I’ll likely be able to tell you more after hearing that.”
Nick drew in a breath then detailed everything he could think of, up to and including the purple fur balls he had seemingly brought out of nowhere.
“Umm hmm. Well for starters, those broad lines you see are called Ley Lines. They are connected to the magnetic fields of Earth and are generally considered to be conduits of Power for anyone who is able to see and use them.”
“Like electric wires?”
“Good analogy, far as it goes, Nick.” Leon nodded. “But with Ley lines the person who taps into them doesn’t need to be at one end or the other to get to the power, and these lines crisscross the Earth without ever really ending, so that’s a good thing. Being able to see them is a pretty normal ability for Faerie Type mutants. The ability to tap directly into them, which you seem to be able to do, isn’t. You’re a Wizard yourself, a magic user if you want to call it that.”
“Is that what happened to me at the school?” Nick asked in something like fear. “I used magic?”
“That’s exactly what happened.” Leon agreed quietly. “You drew on the Lines around you and created something from the energy you got. Then you lost your concentration, didn’t you?”
“Well, those purple balls of fur were what is called Hobgoblins. They come from uncontrolled magic, and are actually alive for as long as they last. Are you sure that all of them disappeared?”
“Yeah. I felt them go away when I saw them go up in puffs of smoke.”
“Good.” Leon grinned. “I absolutely hate chasing down loose hobgoblins. The magical energy that creates them runs out after a while, like I said, but they tend to seek out ways to last longer. They’re more of a nuisance than actually dangerous, but getting rid of a flock of them can be a real pain, believe me.”
“Ok, I’ll try not to make any more of those.” Nick promised, then grimaced. “What about these voices I hear all the time?”
“Well, that is a very good confirmation that you’re a Faerie Mage, with strong connections to the Earth. Everything you hear came out of the earth, whether it is, was at one time, or never was alive.” Seeing the confusion on the boy’s face, the wizard tapped his desk. “This desk came from a combination of trees, and ores that were all rooted into the earth at one time. They never really lose that connection, and you’re reading those connections. Those are the voices you keep hearing. I can help you shut them out, selectively, or completely, if you want.”
“If?” Nick nearly bounced out of his chair. “They’ve been driving me crazy! I have to take pills just to get a halfway decent few hours of sleep at night.”
“That isn’t good.”
“Tell me about it.” Nick grumbled.
“All right, I’ll show you a fairly simple technique to shut them out right now, and you can try it here. Ok?”
“You bet it is.” Nick fervently nodded. “That part of things is even worse than turning into a girl!”
“Then I want you to close your eyes, and try seeing the source of these voices you hear.” Leon waited while Nick did that then asked. “What do you see?”
“Colors, and little thread-like lines of stuff running away from me to things all over the place.”
“Very good. Now I want you to picture a solid silver ball around you, one that deflects all those threads. Can you do that?”
“Sure, I have the silver ball up now... Hey! The voices are GONE!”
“Try holding that ball around yourself now while you open your eyes.”
“Ok.” The boy’s eyes opened slowly, almost hesitantly, and he grinned once they were open completely. “It still works! This is great!”
“Well, it’s going to take practice to keep it up, and to be able to open little doorways to reach the threads you want, but you got the basic technique down more quickly than anyone I‘ve ever seen, Nick. Very good!” Leon actually did seem impressed with the accomplishment. “I think you’re going to be a pretty strong wizard, Nick. You need training I couldn’t give you, I know that much.”
“Where could he get that kind of training?” Lucy questioned while watching her changeling son actually appearing to be almost comfortable for the first time in weeks.
“There are several places that come to mind right off.” The wizard answered carefully. “All of them are boarding type schools that teach the gifted kids they take in how to make use of their abilities with at least some safety for themselves and the ones around them. Whateley Academy in Dunwich, New Hampshire is very highly thought of, and the first choice I’d recommend to anyone.”
“In New Hampshire?” Lucy closed her eyes. “I suppose the tuition is pretty steep there?”
“Regrettably, yes it is.” Leon shrugged, then brightened. “But they do offer full scholarships, and work programs to deserving kids. If you need it, I’m sure they’d work something out for Nick here to help defray the expenses. I went to Whateley myself, and can tell you it’s the best there is among those kinds of schools.”
“Well it is something to consider.” Lucy agreed half-heartedly. “I don’t think the expense would be much of a problem for his father, or me if we really need to send him there.”
“I’ll get you their brochures, and you can take them home with you.” The wizard gently answered, knowing that the woman was not anxious to send her child halfway across the country for schooling. “You can look them over at your leisure, and talk it over with your husband. I do stress the need for proper training for Nick’s abilities, but won’t push you into anything you don’t really feel that you want to do.”
Lucy Reilly took the offered brochures, and put them in her purse with the other information the wizard had given her. “Okay. I’ll give it serious consideration.”
“Please do that. I can’t give him the kind of training he really needs, the abilities Nick is already showing are different enough from my own that all I could do at best is be a guiding hand with suggestions that he try this or that. He needs a real teacher, Mrs. Reilly.”
“I understand.” She said quietly.
“Good. It’s never easy telling parents things like this about their children, but I have to be honest with you. Now is there anything else you’d like to talk about today?”
“Welll...” Nick nodded slowly. “I told you I can sort of know how other people are feeling, right?”
“Well right now, I get the idea that you’re sad about having to tell mom the things you did, but excited about me. Mom is worried, scared, and sad, too. What is that? Is it part of the magic?”
“No, it’s called empathic talent, and is actually a form of ESP.” Leon answered carefully while adding something to the notes he had already made. “Can you make other people feel what you do?”
“I don’t know, I never tried.”
“Would you mind trying it with me right now?”
“Ok, here goes...”
“Whoa!” Leon sat back and watched the boy with something like astonishment on his face. “I caught fear, frustration, anger, and even a little excitement of your own in that. Is that what you’re feeling, Nick?”
“Yeah, mostly. I shut it off really fast. Doing that really bothers most people, and then I catch their feelings, and...”
“No need to explain, I get the idea.” The wizard nodded. “Do you hear other people’s thoughts?”
“No, I just kind of know what they’re feeling, and can pass along what I feel to them.”
“Well, that would put you down as a receiving and projective Empath. Someone who can read the emotions of others and pass their own along.”
“Sheesh. Faerie. Girl. Wizard. Girl. Hobgoblins. Girl. Special School. Girl. Empath.” Nick counted items off on his fingers, looked up and shook his head. “This is getting complicated, you know.”
“I know.” Leon answered. “I’ll help you along as much as I can. If you’re willing to come see me at least once a week until I can’t show you any more. Would that be doable?”
“I think so.” Lucy thoughtfully nodded. “I’ll have to check with my insurance company about the fees first.”
“I’ll waive all but a token fee on this one.” Leon told her. “Money really isn’t a problem for someone who can walk down a wooded path and find valuable stuff. Which I do, and I also make a bundle on consulting. So let’s say I charge you a flat hundred dollars for this visit and not charge you for the rest of them, would that work?”
“We can afford to pay you.” Lucy responded with a little heat.
“I’m sure you can.” Leon nodded then showed a wide, almost childishly happy smile. “But to be honest, I’d do this one for free. So pay me whatever you think it’s worth, and I won’t argue, just don’t stress out your bank accounts to do it, okay?”
“Hey!” Nick stood up and glowered at both of the adults. “Did either of you think of asking me if I want to come back here every week?”
Actually the idea thrilled him. But he wasn’t about to let the grownups know that without wringing some concessions out of them.
Nicholas Reilly negotiated the crowded hallway carefully, headed for the first class of what he expected to be yet another miserable day in a life that had gone from pretty good to absolute crap in a matter of months, then back to at least halfway bearable. Most of the time. At least he could almost ignore the whispers that followed him everywhere, the laughs and giggles, and most of the taunts his fellow students threw his way. Almost.
“Hey girly boy!” Alan Hastings, and his three stooges, Frank Stodge, Les Chang, and Bobby Christian were suddenly blocking his way and showed no signs of moving. Or of letting him simply turn around and find another way to class. Alan proved that assumption true by poking Nick in his sensitive chest and announcing. “Hey freako, I’m talking to you.”
Letting out a small sigh of resignation, but for some reason determined not to be the victim that time Nick looked up at the bigger boy and quietly answered. “What? Can‘t you just let me get to class in peace?”
“Now is that any way to act when all I wanted to do was ask you a question?” Alan grinned nastily while eyeing the visible swellings at the smaller boy’s chest. “Me’n the guys were just wondering if you’d gotten out of training bras yet is all.”
There was general laughter in the hallway, and a few gasps as other students started gathering to watch the spectacle they knew was brewing and hoping something interesting would manage to happen before a teacher interrupted it.
“I don’t really think that’s any of your business, Alan.” Nick answered, reddening with anger he had been holding in check for months. “Do you think I like being this way? That I did all this to myself on purpose?”
“Do you?” Alan questioned, reaching forward to grip Nick’s shirt and pulling on it. “Like it , I mean? I bet you do, Nikki, and that you wear those weird contact lenses and dyed your hair to go with the girlie look you’ve taken to showing all the time.”
“Let go of me,” Nick told the other boy through gritted teeth as his vision went all strange. There were colors everywhere, on -- no -- in everything he could see. And lines holding those colors together or apart. Even the faint movement of the air had a hazy light blue shade that he could follow without straining. More, he had the absolute certainty and experience to know, that if he reached out -- just so -- he could not only touch those colors, but make them do things.
“Come on sweety,” Alan coaxed in a sugary voice while pulling harder at Nick’s shirt “Let us see your bra.”
Too late, Nick realized that instead of pulling him towards the larger boy, the motion was upwards and his shirt went over his head before he could do anything other than scream in outrage. The result of that was to leave his pale upper body bare, from his narrow waist to his thin chest and shoulders. Well, almost bare. The black silk bra that held the embarrassing mounds of flesh from shaking and distracting him even more than they already did was still in place. And showing an amount of cleavage with 32A cups that many girls his age in school would have envied.
Nick would have happily let any one of those girls have all of it, if he could have gotten rid of the things. But they just kept growing, and insisting on the kinds of attention a real girl’s breasts would need. Like the bra he was wearing. It was silk because nylon irritated his newly sensitive skin.
“Ohhh, pretty!” Alan jibed, staring at the exposed girlish flesh of Nick’s chest and the expanding nipples because of the cold air in the hallway. “Nice set you have there Nikki. How come you’ve been hiding them away from us? Must’ve taken a lot of hormones to get ‘em that size.”
“Give me my shirt back!” Nick yelled, reaching for the item in question and missing since Alan continued to hold it out of his reach.
“Bounce nice, too, sweety.” Alan laughed, unaware of the gathering cloud of color forming behind him. “How about a feel?”
Some of the other students did notice, however, and began edging away from the show with nervous expressions on their faces. Stodge gave Alan a light poke on the shoulder while nervously telling the bully. “Uh, give him his shirt back, Alan. This is gross, and it isn’t funny any longer.”
In desperation, Nick reached again. With more than his small hand. The swirl of colors behind Alan began to take on a cohesive shape, of sorts. The cloud evolved into a mass of chittering, multi-hued squirrels all intent on one thing. Getting as far away from where they had sprung into being as possible with all the haste they could manage.
Two of those, one a bright hot pink the other a vivid lavender decided in unison that Alan’s baggy jacket and shirt looked like a fine hiding place. But to get there they first had to climb his legs. Alan dropped Nick’s shirt, along with any thoughts of further tormenting the other boy as the psychedelic squirrels frantically crawled up his baggy pants -- on the inside.
The sudden, and noisy, squirrel explosion had the remaining students, along with a pair of teachers coming to break up the disturbance, running in all directions. Those few who did stay were pressed tightly against lockers, or pounding on classroom doors those already inside of were holding tightly shut.
“Ohhh nuts!” a high pitched voice squeaked from somewhere in the vicinity of the bigger boy’s crotch as one of the lumps in his pants reached that point.
Alan’s eyes widened, and his hands began to frantically claw at his clothing, pulling at his pants while working to dislodge the suddenly very active bulge in their crotch. “Get them off me!”
A fluffy pink tail emerged from his pants as the boy danced from one foot to the other while he tried to get the things now tormenting him loose. To Nick, who stood transfixed by the spectacle, it looked like an obscene parody of what some called a trouser snake.
“They’re licking me!” Alan wailed in rising panic as the speed of his gyrations increased.
“Goooood.” Another squeaky little voice piped from the region of the unfortunate boy’s pants. “Eat here or take home?”
“Gahhhh!” Alan’s dance got even more frantic as both his pants and the bright red boxers he was wearing under them came off and flew in different directions, with the offending rodents. The last Nick saw of the bully was his butt cheeks churning with the effort of running while two very perturbed squirrels gave chase.
The other squirrels had taken full advantage of the distraction their companions had created to scatter throughout the school. The disasters that followed them before they finally disappeared were of themselves minor, but taken as a whole, would provide an unexpected holiday for the student body and more work for the maintenance staff.
A brightly glowing acid green one streaked through the metal shop, causing every piece of equipment in the room to short out. Which threw the breakers, which caused the lights to go off. In the dim emergency lighting augmented by the flickering flames from a number of now completely Kaboshed student projects, Richard Stearn, the shop teacher looked at his metal desk, now welded shut by an errant arc welder one of his clumsier students had dropped as the thing ran through.
That student, a chunky geek with thick glasses looked at the desk, then at his teacher, back at the desk, then let out a long suffering sigh of his own. “Gee, sir. I hope your lunch wasn’t in there.”
Another squirrel, this one a blazing fire engine red, caromed through the kitchen and cafeteria before finding a window and getting out. But the damage had been done. Covered in the remnants of the dough she had been forming into cinnamon rolls to go with the chili (what better way to hide mystery meat than in equally mysterious chili? Besides you could hide the off taste with spices in chili.) the chief cook watched various appliances begin to act as if they had minds of their own, all intent on destroying each other. As a hand mixer crawled closer to a toaster with evil intent, she threw up her hands, let out a scream, and used the same window the red squirrel had.
Alice Cooper’s rendition of ‘School’s Out” echoed through the halls, classrooms, and offices, but in highly pitched, squeaky little voices that seemed to chitter with insane laughter between words.
Every bus in the adjacent parking lot suddenly developed flat tires as a purple, squirrel shaped streak ran under them.
As all that happened, the actual cause stood shivering in the cold draft of the miraculously still functioning air conditioning until that too gave out with a choked off wheeze and puffs of colored smoke emerged from the vents.
“Uh, Nick?” A quiet, cautious, girls voice interrupted the boy as he listened to the sounds things made. Not living things, or even things that normally made noises, but the actual tiles of the floor, the walls, the metal of the lockers.
The dazed boy shook himself out of the near trance he had fallen into to see a light blue satiny top dangling in front of him. “I don’t know what happened to your shirt, but you really should put something on. I got this out of my locker. Hope you don’t mind, it’s all I could find.”
Pulling the top on and noting the scooped neckline and lack of sleeves with a mental shrug, Nick turned to find who his benefactress was. “Thanks Jessie.”
Jessie Tanaka, one of the cool girls in school, but one who had never participated in the teasing Nick had endured since all the changes in his body had started with his eyes going from light brown to the rather vivid violet they now were, stood looking at him with concern. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.” Nick returned honestly. “What happened?”
“Weird stuff, but that jerk Alan got what he deserved.” The girl giggled while smoothing her black hair back into a semblance of its normal stylish little flip. “The whole school is falling apart. Did you do that?”
“I think I may have. Sort of.” Nick responded with a sigh.
“Cool!” the girl grinned and gave him a hug.
“Aren’t you freaked out, too?” Nick allowed the tension to drain from his small form and noted without real surprise that he was even shorter than the petite Asian girl who had just hugged him. Heck, just about everyone he knew, including his little brother, who now lived with his father, were taller than he was.
“Hey, I was at first,” Jessie shrugged then grinned. “But the only person the squirrels were actually doing anything to was Alan. They were squirrels, right?”
“Kind of.” Nick nodded, then explained more. “They were actually what are called hobgoblins -- unattached magical force that sort of takes on a life of its own. The wizard teaching me says those are usually mischievous, but not really too harmful. They usually show up when someone doesn’t have real good control of the magic they’re trying to use.”
“Magic?” Jessie widened her almond shaped brown eyes as her grin widened. “You mean you actually use real magic?”
“Not very well.” Nick looked around at the chaos that some of the braver souls in school were beginning to pick their ways through. “I only learned I could do it about five months ago. Just before I turned fourteen. And promised my Mom I wouldn‘t use it. My Dad, well he just freaked, but he lives in Cleveland now, so I only have to deal with that when he calls us. But Alan just wouldn‘t leave me alone!”
“Well, just a word of advice, hon?” Jessie, still grinning, leaned closer to whisper into his ear. “A well aimed knee to the crotch works, too, and isn’t nearly so -- umm -- exciting to be close to. Keep that in mind next time some bully is trying to have fun at your expense, ok?”
“Good. It’s also quieter if you know what I mean?” the girl gave him a friendly pat to the shoulder and giggled. “But I bet it’s nowhere near as much fun to watch!”
“Okay, point taken.” Nick grinned back, finally able to quit shivering as his jangled nerves began to ease back into his skin and act like normal, polite ones do all the time. “But you never did tell me how come you didn’t freak out over what happened like everyone else.”
“Oh, well...” the girl leaned forward again to whisper again and Nick realized they looked just like a pair of young girls sharing naughty secrets. “My older sister is a mutant; she could smash things into splinters with a look when she got upset. So psychedelic squirrels aren’t so bad, really. She got sent to some special school in Vermont or New Hampshire to learn how to control that.”
“The Whately Academy in Dunwich, New Hampshire?” He asked.
“Yeah, that’s the place.”
“My mom has talked with Doc Travis about the place, and Leon, the wizard I’m seeing to get at least a grip on what I do now, gave her a brochure that we‘ve looked at.” Nick nodded with a small frown. “All three of them have told me to think about going there. Especially with some of the weirder stuff I‘m going through right now.”
"What kind of stuff?" Jessie asked with a wary look in her eyes. "You aren't talking about getting more girly in the looks department here, are you?"
"No, not that." Nick agreed with a grimace. "Even if that is kind of hard to handle just now. No, I hear things. Lots of things. Like the walls, the floor, trees, flowers, everything has a voice of some kind that I can hear for some reason. Until Leon taught me to shut them out, I really thought I was going crazy."
"Wow!" Jessie shook her head, then gave him a tight hug. "Poor thing. I can imagine how hard all this must have been for you, having seen what my sister went through. Besides, if you do end up getting sent to Whateley it isn’t so bad from what Kate tells me when she’s home for vacations. She likes it there, most of the time.”
“I don’t want to go.” the boy quietly told her, then shrugged. “But know I’d better before I get any more out of control. I might end up actually hurting someone next time I lose it and use the magic, or whatever it is I can do.”
“If you do go, look up Katerina Tanaka and tell her I said hi, would you?” Jessie asked, giving him someone who might be a link from home in a strange place with a wink. “I’m sure she’d be happy to show you the ropes once she decides that you really do know me.”
“Thanks.” Looking down the hall, Nick caught sight of Principal Fletcher bearing down on them with thunderclouds (not literally) hovering over her head. “Uh oh. I think you’d better get clear, old Thunder Puss is heading this way and she doesn’t look a bit happy.”
“Ok, give me a call later, maybe we can hang out or something.” Jessie handed Nick a slip of notebook paper with a phone number on it. “Or just talk on the phone if you can’t go anywhere.”
“Oh, I don’t think I need to worry about getting grounded or anything.” Nick closed his eyes and grimaced at that thought. “My Mom is going to kill me.”
Do I Have To Do All This?
“You promised!” Lucy Reilly nearly exploded once they were in the car and headed home following a stormy meeting in Principal Fletcher‘s office. “You promised your father and I that you wouldn’t do something like this again. And what happens? I get pulled out of an important meeting, dragged into an unpleasant confrontation with that bitch of a principal, and told we’re lucky the school board isn’t going to press charges or sue us for damages! How could you let this happen?”
“It was kind of an accident, Mom...”
“Nicky.” His mother let out a long-suffering sigh, then offered him a wan smile. “We both know accidents with you and these, these abilities of yours happen way too often. How did it happen?”
Nick went over the events leading to the catastrophe, slowly and carefully, sure to leave no detail out but just as careful not to embellish things. His mother seemed uncannily able to see through any excuses or hidden facts of any incident no matter how minor or important it was. He just figured it was one of those mysterious ‘mother things’ and found it easier, and generally safer to tell the simple truth when things went wrong for him.
“That boy should be charged with assault at the very least.” Lucy was fuming again, but at least not about the de facto expulsion of her son from school for the rest of the year. “If you were really a girl...”
“Mom!” Nick winced at that track, hoping he could at least divert it into something not quite so uncomfortable for him to think about. Since he had first started showing his strange new abilities, he had started to look much more like a girl than the boy he was, and it got worse every day.
“You have to face it sooner or later, honey.” his mother soothed. “Dr. Travis has explained it to you several times already.”
“I know.” Nick fumed inwardly, then gave that up as useless. He knew, intellectually that the testosterone levels in his body were below even those in a normal girl of his age, the magic -- or whatever -- drank the male hormones from his body like a bone dry alcoholic who had fallen into a vat of new whiskey. While escalating the female hormone content in his system. He had finally, just, given in and started wearing a bra and panties because his changing body needed the former and the latter simply fit better the week before. His -- powers -- had a body image of their own in mind for him and were going to make very sure he fit it completely. Ultrasound and sonograms had shown him beyond a shadow of doubt that the proper -- to his insanely determined powers, anyway -- internal equipment was already forming while his male sex organs just kind of shrank into useless little pieces of flesh.
Dr Travis had tried to be kind, but honestly projected that Nick would be a complete, and fully functional, girl by the time he was eighteen. Nick privately thought that estimate was too long but couldn‘t help hoping it would never happen. Even though he knew that was not in the realm of conceivable possibilities given his peculiar physical problems.
“At least you can finish the school year out at home.” His mom changed the subject upon noticing the introspective look on her child’s elfin face. “So you won’t have to repeat your freshman year.”
“Yeah, that was really nice of Principal Fletcher, wasn’t it?” He answered dryly. “I don’t think I could survive another freshman year, anyway. Not if it’s like this one has been.”
“That’s a pretty top you’re wearing.” She offered him a smile of reassurance while saying that. “I didn’t think you had any girly stuff for outerwear yet.”
“I guess that’s going to change, Mom.” Nick replied quietly. “A girl at school loaned it to me after Alan -- uh -- tore my shirt.”
“Well it looks nice on you.” She answered with a long sigh of her own. It wasn’t easy seeing her little boy growing into a very pretty young woman, but for his sake she rarely showed her own distress at what was happening. Unlike his father, who was thankfully hundreds of miles and two years of separation away. Nicholas Reilly Sr. would never accept what was happening to his oldest son if God Himself were to descend and Tell the man that was how things were going to be. Better that the man was gone, she thought.
“Thanks, it does kind of feel nice against my skin.” Nick admitted a bit sheepishly.
“Are those hip-huggers you’re wearing?” she questioned after giving his jeans a critical look, especially at how they sat on his rounded hips and bottom.
“No, Mom.” The boy shook his head in resignation. “My waist is too small for my pants now. All of them fit like this.”
“Then maybe we should get you some that fit properly.”
“I can hardly wait.” He muttered to himself
“What was that honey?” His mom displayed another talent that Nick was sure had to count as mutant in some way, though all moms seemed to have it, by overhearing him.
“I said that would be great.”
“Well then, we’ll get home, unload your school stuff, and go to the mall.”
“It’ll be fun, honey, you’ll see.” His mom promised with a smile.
“Sure Mom.” Closing his eyes he pictured his mother in full shopping frenzy, with himself as the reason. He just knew she was going to make him get some dresses. Repressing a shudder, he steeled himself for the ordeal by telling himself that she did love him, and was only doing what she thought was in his best interests.
Now if only he could survive her good intentions...
The trip to the mall hadn’t been a complete disaster, anyway. The salon had been something he could have done without, especially the part about getting his ears pierced and fitted with small silver hoops. After that indignity, the hair styling, makeup, perfume, and manicure had kind of been anticlimactic. But his mother was like a force of nature when she decided something was going to happen, and she had quite obviously made up her mind that Nick was going to become Nikki whether he kicked and screamed or not. He did have to admit, grudgingly, that the new clothes they had purchased did fit and feel better.
Staring into his bedroom mirror in fascination at the narrow chinned, delicately featured girl with the almond shaped violet eyes that stood out even more with the tastefully applied liner and shadow he sighed. This person, ok -- girl -- was far from ugly, just a jolting long ways away from the squarish faced, brown haired, blue eyed boy he recalled seeing not so many months ago in that same mirror. The sleekly curving bob that her thick, glossy flame red hair had been styled into curled gently under at the nape of her neck and bounced quite prettily when she moved her head.
High cheek bones with lots of definition without being stark, small pert nose, thin arcs of eyebrows (painfully plucked to get that look) and her pale red cupid’s bow of a mouth all added up to one thing. Fox! Stone cold, guy attention getting, fox. Nick turned away from that slightly exciting, slightly disturbing image and immediately wished he hadn’t.
All the things they’d purchased after the salon ordeal were arrayed on his bed, chair, and desk awaiting his attention and being put away. Moving to do that with a sigh, he told himself. “At least she didn’t make me wear one of the dresses or skirts home.”
The following few months were so busy that the reluctantly transitioning boy hardly realized they were gone. He completed his school work within a month, just to keep from having to go out much, he admitted to himself whenever he thought about it, and did well enough to not only pass, but make the honor roll.
He also spent a lot of time learning about the care and feeding of his more and more feminine body. Putting on makeup, doing his own hair, and getting dressed without looking like someone the fashion police would lock up for their own good had consumed a great deal of his free time. But he had enthusiastic -- sometimes too enthusiastic -- help from both his Mom and Jessie Tanaka. The girl seemed just as determined as his mom was about getting him to accept his incipient girlhood, and had become a very close friend in the process.
“The Irish call people like you Fey, you know.” Jessie told him with a grin.
“Fay?” he asked, wondering where this conversation was going, but with Jessie that was often revealed only after much giggling and talking.
“No, hon, F E Y Fey, with an e.” she answered, handing him a book on Irish mythology she had been looking through. “When someone was considered strange, not like the others, they were called Fey, meaning magical, or other worldly. You’re kind of like a changeling in the old legends, too.”
“You mean someone who doesn’t fit in, right?” He returned, brushing his hair off his forehead with a hand that was more delicate than it had been even a month earlier. “And I know what a changeling was. A faerie infant exchanged for a human child by the Fairies. Right?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s close enough.” Jessie grinned. “You sure fit either description now. You’re beautiful! Exotic and beautiful.”
“Uh thanks, I think.” Nick, who now generally accepted being called Nikki, or even Nichole when he was in trouble with his Mom, nodded. “But what’s all that got to do with me going to the Whateley Academy?”
“Well...” pursing her lips in mock thought, the Asian girl shrugged. “You’re going to need a working name when you become a superhero, right?”
“And you think Fey or Changeling is good for that, if it happens at all?”
“It will happen, honey, trust me. You’re just too unconscious with that power for it not to. Of course you could turn out to be a really cool super villain, too, I suppose. Hey!”
The last was because Nick had thrown a pillow at her. The book, and superhero names were forgotten in the ensuing giggling, screaming pillow fight.
Nick was crying like a girl, well why not, he certainly looked like one, and was wearing a pretty yellow sundress with a white floral print , a pristine white silk jacket and heeled sandals. Besides, he felt like crying. “I don’t want to leave you, Mom.”
“I know, honey.” Margaret answered through her own tears as she hugged him tightly. “But you need to go. It’s best for everyone, especially for you. You really need to learn to control what you do, and the Whately Academy is the best place in the country for you to do that. You’ll be back for vacations, after all, and can call me whenever you like.”
“I -- I guess so, but I’m going to miss you. A lot!”
“I’ll miss you, too, sweetie.” His mom gave him a peck on the cheek then held him at arm’s length for one last critical looking over. “You’re so pretty now. Be careful, and learn all you can at the Academy, ok?”
“I will, Mom, and thanks. I mean that, about me being pretty. Guess I’m finally getting used to this girl thing, kind of.”
“You’re doing a good job of faking it if you aren’t, dear.”
“I can’t fake it, Mom, it kind of jumps right out at me every time I move or look at my reflection, especially in this outfit.”
“You want to make a good impression once you arrive, don’t you?”
“Sure, Mom, you know I do.” Nick sighed then gave her a sad smile. “I’ll be fine, I’m just worried about you.”
“Just take care of yourself, and don’t forget where home is once you’ve learned how to make good use of your powers, sweety.”
“Never, Mom, I won’t ever forget that. Promise.” he hugged her tightly, then looked up as someone else called his feminine name.
“It looks like someone else has come to say goodbye, dear.” Margaret smiled at the petite Asian girl running up the platform waving and jumping as she did.
“Yeah, it does.” Nick grinned, and waited beside his mom for the girl to reach them.
“Hi Nikki, I thought I was going to miss you.” Jessie panted and hugged Nick at the same time. “I’m so glad I made it.”
“Me too, Jessie.” Nick answered with a giggle. “But the train doesn’t leave for another half an hour. So catch your breath, ok? I don’t want to remember you as the girl who hyperventilated and passed out at the train station when I left.”
Several seconds passed while she did take time to breathe, then started giggling at the vision that her friend had brought to mind. Then she really looked at Nick and her smile grew even wider. “Wow, you look great!”
“Mom’s idea.” Nick shrugged, then returned the smile. “But thanks.”
“I’ve already warned Kate to keep a watch on you.” Jessie told him with an evil little smirk. “Since you obviously need someone to prod you into looking like someone who has at least a little fashion sense.”
“Gee, thanks.” Nick laughed. “I wanted to wear my black jeans and crop top, you know, the ones I bought last week?”
“And look like some geeky Goth girl?” Jessie put on a horrified look, then turned to Margaret. “Good thing you put a stop to that, Mrs. Reilly.”
“I sure thought so.” His mom agreed. “My daughter is at least going to make a good impression when she gets to New Hampshire. I got her to promise me that much, at least.”
“Good for you.” Giving his mom a wink that made Nick sure the two had conspired over the whole ‘traveling outfit thing’ Jessie nodded and reaffirmed her original assessment. “You look way better in this outfit, anyway. It shows off your curves really nicely.”
“Yeah, like I’m ready to hang out a sign that reads ‘Hey Boys! Here I am, come and get it!’ or put out an ad in the papers.” Nick grumbled. “No way am I ready for a boyfriend. Trust me on that.”
“You’ll have one anyway,” Jessie promised, or threatened, depending on which way the comment was looked at. “With your exotic good looks, you’re going to be a regular guy magnet.”
“Oh joy, oh joy.” Nick responded without enthusiasm.
“Hey, I almost forgot this.” Jessie rummaged in her capacious purse and triumphantly came up with a wisp of light blue satiny material. “Remember?”
“Yeah, it’s the top you loaned me after that mess at school.” Nick answered, taking the offered garment with a small smile.
“It always did look better on you than on me.” Jessie told him with a grin. “So I wanted you to have it, kind of a going away present and a way to remember me when you’re away.”
“I’d remember you without this, Jessie.” Giving the girl a hug that was tighter than he’d intended, Nick told her. “How could I forget about my best friend?”
“Just make sure you don’t, ok?” the girl wiped a tear away from her eye, starting the waterworks running in the other two all over again.
“Well, it’s time for you to get aboard, honey.” Margaret told him, reluctantly letting loose of the hug she had somehow given both young people and gently pushing him towards the train. “You be good, and do the best you can there.”
“I’ll make you proud, Mom.” Nick answered quietly.
“I know you will, sweetie.” With another peck to his cheek she again pushed him towards the train. “Now get going.”
Nick watched the waving pair until the train rounded a bend and began picking up speed away from the Kansas City Station. Then kept watching until he lost even the station in the city haze.
The trip was, if anything, uneventful to the point of absolute boredom. Nick was not really interested in the scenery passing by the window of his sleeper compartment, or in the steady progress east and north as the train wended it’s way towards New Hampshire.
Instead he worried about the future, his Mom, his one real friend back home, and what his Dad was going to say next time he had to go for a visit. Not to mention how things would be in a school where everyone was different from the normal people he was used to being around. Truthfully the idea frightened him more than he cared to admit even to himself.
Smoothing the silvery gray skirt of the dress he had decided to wear instead of pants and a top for his arrival in Dunwich, and making sure his hair and makeup were presentable, Nick alighted from the train with the uncomfortable feeling most people get when facing something unknown. There were others getting off at the depot, it hardly rated being called a station with the single platform, old fashioned hand trolleys for baggage, and the small stone building that served as the station house.
Seeing they were all about his own age, he surmised that they were going to be fellow students at Whateley Academy. Correctly, it turned out. A pretty, and lively black girl with short hair grinned hugely as she noticed Nick watching her.
“So, are you guys, like, going to Whateley Academy?” the black girl questioned with more energy than Nick thought he could muster in week.
He just nodded shyly. The boy gave a tentative smile. “Yeah. It’s my first year here.”
“Me Too! Kewl! My name’s Toni Chandler! And you are?”
“Hank. Hank Declan.”
Nick gave it some thought, declined to use Nikki just yet, and answered with a hesitancy that had him wishing for a bit of the confidence Toni was showing. “Fey. You can call me Fey.”
Once those introductions were finished, the black girl, Toni, almost dragged Nick into the station itself. After questioning the stationmaster and getting some response that satisfied her, Toni then continued pulling, not quite literally, Nick along. He felt like a piece of driftwood caught in the wake of a very fast boat the way he was being more or less propelled along by the force of the other's personality and actions. He did notice a pair of boys playing an old fashioned pinball machine with a great deal of concentration as they entered the room.
"Well, let's sit down and get comfortable." Toni suggested, much to Nick's relief. He found an open couch and carefully smoothed his skirt, also checking to make sure there was nothing on the cushions that would stain his clothes, then sat down with a sigh of near relief.
The pinball wizards were talking to each other, with all the nudges and sneaked looks any boys would give newcomers and were obviously making comments to one another about each of them. Not that Nick really cared about that. At first.
With a start of near surprise, Nick realized one of the boys had actually lost one of his balls in the game because he had been checking out the redhead who had just come in -- him. Then sighed with relief as he turned his attention to the almost annoyingly ebullient Toni.
But the guy kept sneaking looks in Nick’s direction, and even nudged his partner again and pointed out the foxy redhead in the silver dress and heels sitting so demurely in the waiting room. Closing his large violet eyes, he just hoped they would leave him alone until their ride got there.
Fortunately, for the depot, at least, they soon returned their attention to the pinball machine. A potential nexus hovering behind Fey that he hadn’t really been aware of on a conscious level faded away with a sound much like a disappointed sigh. No one else in the room appeared to notice either.
Fey leaned gingerly back into the questionable looking softness of the couch back with another sigh of muted pleasure. Seating on the train hadn’t been uncomfortable, but this couch wasn’t moving or sending even the faint clacking of steel wheels on rails, which was a very nice change.
Toni announced that they may as well all take seats and plopped onto the couch beside a Hispanic girl she had been talking with.
“No kidding.” Fey muttered, then found herself grinning at the take-charge attitude of the black girl without being all that worried about it. Someone had to be the person who prodded and pushed, and it sure looked as if Toni would fill that slot admirably. Toni plopped down on the couch next to the Hispanic girl. “Hi! I’m Toni Chandler. That’s Hank Delancy.”
“Declan.” Hank corrected without more than a slight grimace at her getting his name wrong and smiled at the other girl.
The more Fey noticed about him the cuter he seemed to her. Which was territory she most certainly did not want to explore just then. Even worse, though inevitable, Fey was beginning to think of himself as a she instead of a he with weird, mutant generated physical problems. Granted, the former was a lot shorter and simpler on the surface, but the latter was something that Fey still clung to her old male identity without any real hope of ever going back to even looking like a guy. With an internal sigh he shifted to she with no little twinge of loss while muttering. “Maybe I should just give in and go with it now; I’ll have plenty of other stuff to deal with at Whateley.”
Toni talked with Rip, the Hispanic girl who claimed she had control over water, while Hank sat back and listened. Fey gave part of her attention to the conversation and part to checking out the lines of magic and power in the waiting room. There were a lot of them, most old, and connected to living beings who had once been in the place, she noted. Lines from living creatures held a lot of yellow and gold, she had learned, and the yellow slowly leached out as the creatures ranged upwards in intelligence.
Additional lines from individuals were just that -- individual. Rip’s were a deep, cool blue with bright silvery highlights. Probably something to do with her control over water, Fey decided. Toni’s were an almost incandescent orange and positively vibrated with barely suppressed energy. Hank’s were a strong, but muted brown and simply radiated quiet strength waiting to be called up. The pinball wizards were predominantly light green and pale purple respectively, both shot through with threads of bright pink, which was curious, but not that disturbing.
Rip was from Redondo Beach, which was just outside Los Angeles, she wasn’t exactly sure where Baltimore was, she was the fourth of six children, her older sister Angela was a pain, her parents ran a beachside shop back in Redondo, she was an avid surfer, and her powers over water had almost gotten her lynched. Rip passed along that information in almost exactly the same way as the previous run-on sentence.
A woman entered the waiting room and introduced herself as Mrs. Shugenda, then waved all the gathered students outside where a number of vans were waiting.
Mrs. Shugenda glanced at a clipboard and started calling out the names of the new students. Fey ended up sharing a seat with chunky, but pretty white girl who seemed content to watch the passing scenery without speaking, probably because a guy with the knitted cap almost stapled to his head was sharing the seat with them and felt like someone Fey wasn’t at all anxious to know that well. Evidently, Evvie, her other seatmate, felt the same way. Gerald, the kid with the cap, gave them both a half sour once over then put on a set of headphones. Faint sounds of Gangsta Rap escaped from them as he started tapping one hand on his leg in time with it.
So Fey paid careful attention to the passing scenery. The Mountain section of New Hampshire depends heavily on tourism, and you could really tell it. The little town of Dunwich worked a little too hard to show quaint and Rustic New England Charm. Fey thought the place looked more like something in a stylized Christmas card. All that seemed to be missing was snow, a frozen pond, and a bunch of ice skaters. With an internal chuckle, she decided that those would probably show up on a seasonal basis.
Red brick and fieldstone buildings, high gabled roofs, and lot’s of nice little shops aimed at visitors were in evidence as they passed through the town. Dunwich was actually tiny, with a few long streets crossed by a number of shorter ones. The visible buildings and houses didn’t look to be all that crowded together, either.
The natural beauty of the area was well worth the trip. Dunwich was situated on a good sized mountain lake and as surrounded with thick, old looking woods that teemed with life that Fey could not only sense, but actually feel. It was almost as if a fresh, warm breeze was caressing her skin as she took in the sensations. Many city kids would have found those stands of trees a bit threatening and foreign. Fey liked them right away. They almost thrummed with the energy and power of living things in harmony with soil and stone when she used her new senses to check. Wooden signs that they passed as they left town announced the presence of several summer camps set along the lake, as well as the School itself. Fey watched the roadside as they wound their way through the mountains for about half an hour. Which time she used just soaking in the peace in the woods around them.
Finally, the vans pulled off the road and went down a private road and through the gate of a high fieldstone wall. On either side of the gate, the posts were ‘guarded’ by odd gargoyles that had batlike wings, but no faces, carved in a slick black stone. Fey got a faint impression that those gargoyles were more than simple appearance suggested, but had no time to delve further as the van passed them by.
Fey watched as they passed a group of large buildings made of sturdy red brick that she recognized from the brochure for Whateley as the main school and administration buildings. Smaller buildings came into view as the vans continued on until pulling up in front of one. Three stories tall, with an attic that probably had rooms in it, too judging by the dormer windows there, the place looked pretty much identical to the other smaller ones they had passed. The only real difference Fey noted was that this one seemed to be where they were stopping.
Getting out of the van without getting jostled, bumped, or in one case, actually groped by a teenaged hand of indeterminate gender was a trick all on its own. The unidentified owner of the hand on her backside yanked it back with a muffled yelp as Fey grabbed a little bit of power from the lamp post nearby and sent a discreet amount of sparking electricity into the offending member while innocently moving towards the building.
Gerald, the gangsta wannabe with the tightly pulled on knit cap glared at her briefly, and Fey returned his look with a sweet smile while giggling internally.
Mrs. Shugenda had them all gather in a central commons room and gave them a non-standard speech about the gathering's sexuality and problems that could cause with other students at the school. She strongly advised all of them to more or less keep their leanings to themselves or among the residents of Poe Cottage. Which was the name of the building they were in.
The woman then called three older appearing students forward and introduced them to the group.
Fey had been listening to the welcome speech, and the introductions with half her attention, but found herself checking out the people Mrs. Shugenda had just introduced. Not just their surface appearance, but the lines of them. One in particular caught her immediate attention, but she withdrew her magical sense when that one seemed to notice her gentle probing.
Steve Rossiter, the only guy in the trio was quite a good looking young man, and radiated confidence along with that trace of Macho that most teenaged males tend to show. Rosalyn Dekkard looked like some fugitive from a movie about Prom Queens or something, and regarded the milling newcomers with amusement that seemed almost predatory.
Belle Forbes, though. She was the one who had noticed Fey's light probing, and was still carefully watching Nikki without trying to make it too obvious to anyone else. Her brilliant blue eyes would flick towards Fey, then move away, but kept coming back to her. It almost made Fey uncomfortable, but there was no hostility in the glances, just curiosity and interest.
Belle lifted a clipboard and began reading off names for the group she would be handling. Hank moved towards her when his name was called, as did Toni. A girl with really strange, Bluish grey hair answered to the name of Billie, a punker looking girl with spiky black hair sauntered forward when Belle called the name Ayla, and an almost tiny Asian girl who looked to be around twelve or thirteen answered to Jade. When Belle called her name, Fey felt a thrill of excitement that had nothing to do with being among at least a few people she already knew.
When Fey joined them, Toni fixed her with a glare. “I thot that you said that your name was ‘Fay’.”
“That’s my code name.” Fey shrugged with a little twitch of her mouth denoting both chagrin at not telling the girl sooner and slight amusement as she corrected. “And it’s ‘Fey’, with an ‘E’, not an ‘A’.”
“What kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’?” Toni gave her a puzzled look, but Belle’s eyes flashed with understanding.
“ ‘Fey’ means ‘touched by magic’.”
“OH-kaayyy...” With that pronouncement, Toni gave her an odd look, and shook her head in near disbelief.
Their guide cleared her throat for attention. “Very well, welcome to Whateley, and all that jazz- hope you don’t mutate into giant slugs.” Her voice had a merry British accent, the cultured ‘Public School’ kind, with a trace of a lilt that suggested a Gaelic influence, delivered with a John Cleese deadpan. “Don’t laugh- it’s happened. I’m Belle Forbes, as those of you with short term memories that exceed 15 seconds should well recall. Just between us,” she added conspiratorially, “My name isn’t Belle, it’s Kendall. But, my ‘code name’ is ‘Beltane’, so everyone’s taken to calling me ‘Belle’. Don’t worry, I won’t eviscerate you if you call me Belle- well, not unless I’m having a really bad day. Don’t want to commit to anything I can’t make good on.”
As the other groups arranged themselves and headed different directions, Belle grinned and told them the girls were lesbians, the boys gay, and called her own group changelings.
Changelings? The light began to dawn on Fey. Pinkish threads in the guys, that silvery blue in the girls... She gave the others in her group a long, slow looking over for any identifying traits that would betray them. Boys went with Steve, girls with Rosalyn, then that meant the ones with Belle were...
The little one, Jade, had her jaw almost scraping the floor.
Belle smiled acidly. “Ah, the light dawns! Yes, m’lovelies, you are all in this group because you are, one way or another, defecting to the enemy in the War between the Sexes.”
Sparing a quick glance to a red faced Hank and privately thinking that her attraction to him wasn’t so bad after all, but still not ready to do anything about it, Fey watched the expressions on the other’s faces go from dumbfounded shock to reluctant belief, then into a kind of a relieved peace.
Belle observed the reactions of her charges with an almost tender amusement. “So you see, none of you are really quite as alone with your umm-special problems as you once thought you were.”
With the tinkling, silvery laugh that had been such an embarrassment when it had suddenly issued from her changed mouth months earlier, Fey said the first thing since meeting Toni and Hank at the station that hadn’t been nearly dragged out of her. “Kewl!”
Belle led them out of the cottage, pointing out features of interest and importance, like the other cottages and their names, plus the main Quad with it's central square. They got a quick tour of the flagstoned square, with Fey giving the wrought iron benches a wide berth, she had a peculiar allergy to plain iron. It burned her, kind of like getting a mild sunburn and the first time she had discovered that, as well as her allergies to synthetic materials, she had nearly lost it completely.
Each of them introduced themselves to the others, and Fey was surprised to learn that Jade, the little one, was actually fourteen and not twelve or so. In her turn she gave all the details of her abilities -- or liabilities as they seemed to manifest themselves currently -- the retrospectively hilarious events that got her kicked out of her old school, and her odd allergies.
Belle nodded in understanding while the others winced as she described the nasty rashes Synthetic materials gave her, and her reaction to plain old iron.
She actually felt sorry for Tennyo, once the Blue haired girl had told her story, but the anime character come to life didn't seem to have all that much trouble with the idea of what she'd become. There were too many other problems she was dealing with. One thing did especially pique Fey's interest. Billie, or Tennyo as the girl asked them to call her knew a family of Tanakas, too. She wondered if the two were related and made a mental note to ask the other girl about that once things settled down a little for all of them.
The main building was kind of interesting, with the almost stuffy common area and its enormous fireplaces. A gallery of super-beings, both good and bad had been well hidden and taken more keys, codes, and machinations to enter than a Swiss bank vault. Belle explained that it had to be hidden from the normals who visited Whateley as she opened it up.
Then there was the huge geodesic crystal dome. Fey loved it right away, for the space, the living plants that were actually inside it. They actually had real trees and grass in there she discovered to her delight.
Crystal Hall as the place was called, also contained the cafeteria and dining areas. All of them stuffed themselves with really great food in there. Fey found that her slight aversion to meat was still present, even if the meats served there were succulent and many of them covered in sauces that had her mouth watering. Still, the fresh fruits, crisp steamed vegetables, pastas, and plethora of offered gravies managed to satisfy her hunger quite well.
The place had hardly been close to filled with people, but those who were there, especially the males -- staff, custodial staff, and upperclassmen who had arrived early-- appeared to be taking an uncomfortable interest in her.
“C’mon, Fey,” Toni chided as she noted her companion’s embarrassment. It’s all part of being a girl, especially a cute one. And trust me, you go way beyond just cute.”
“So I’m a guy magnet.” Fey grumbled, then gave the black girl a sly little grin. “You wouldn’t happen to have a really big stick you aren’t using at the moment, would you?”
“Sweetie, looking like you do...” Hank put in half innocently. “A stick won’t do it. You need something like, oh maybe a submachine gun and a couple of mean guard dogs. Even then some of the guys won’t take the hint.”
Seeing Fey’s expression go from shocked to horrified to resignation all within a few seconds at that comment, Toni actually blew the soda she had been drinking out her nose and made small choking sounds that alarmed Fey at first. Until the choking sounds were replaced with a cute little giggle that grew into peals of laughter.
Jade gave them a puzzled look, then enthusiastically joined in on pounding Toni’s back until the girl quit both choking and laughing.
Belle gathered them back into a coherent group after everyone had managed to eat their fill. Fey noted with some amazement that Hank just seemed like a bottomless stomach. He had gone back for more three times, and was a little disappointed when Belle had gently suggested that he finish up so they could get on with the tour.
"I don't know why it is." He offered in a kind of apology. "But since my change I just can't ever seem to get enough to eat when there's food around. My dad kept kidding me about breaking his and Mom's bank account just to feed me."
"You strongman, or girl, types use up a lot of energy when you use your powers." Belle answered with a chuckle. "So you all eat a lot when you can, just to store up the energy you use."
"Oh, ok." Hank mumbled through a mouthful of roast beef. "That 'splains it, then."
"Once you finish that platter we'll carry on." Belle chuckled as the boy stuffed the remaining meat into his mouth then started gathering up the mountain of empty plates and dishes that had grown up around him in a startlingly short amount of time.
"Ready to go." He announced, balancing the mass of tableware on one tray with an ease that would have had a professional juggler turning acid green with envy.
"Ok, then deposit those in the proper place and follow me." Belle grinned. "Our first stop will be the classrooms on the second floor here."
The group was led up the imposing, and beautiful staircase and down one of the spacious hallways. Fey noted the hall was lined with lockers, which helped make the place seem more like a school than an English gentleman's idea of heaven which the common room below gave the impression of being.
“Like I mentioned earlier, classrooms are here on the second floor.” Belle told them all once they were all gathered around her. “There really isn’t much to see right now except empty rooms filled with desks, but go ahead and wander a little. Meet me back here in about fifteen minutes. Mathematics, English, and non-science classes are on this floor. Labs and stuff are on the third floor. Gymnasium is in the basement, and I’ll show that to you once you’re done nosing around up here.”
As the other scattered, the older girl gestured for Fey to stay behind. “There really isn’t all that much to look at just now. But letting them wander is a good way for us to have a few minutes to talk.”
“Okay.” Fey nodded, nervous about what the conversation might involve, but knowing the other girl was also a magic user. She needed all the help, and friends in that discipline she could find.
“First off, you’re obviously a magic type. With the codename, and your looks.” Belle began. “And I have to ask you a question here. You don’t have to answer, but it might help if you do.”
“Ask.” The redhead nodded, feeling a familiar rush of fear about revealing what she was and could do with that. “I’ll do my best to answer you.”
“Ok, if you’re so upset about guys going after you why are you wearing a glamour?”
“A Glamour?!” Fey responded with shock. “What kind of glamour are you talking about?”
“The one that enhances your femininity, grace of movement, and overall - umm - sexiness.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Fey almost screamed, her eyes wide with shock. “I wouldn’t do a thing like that. I couldn’t.”
“Well you obviously can do it.” Belle returned calmly. “And are. I like guys not girls, that’s not that I’m real excited about the idea myself just yet, but even so, I can feel the attraction you radiate like I’m standing next to a furnace. Guys will go absolutely gaga over you without that. With it, you're going to be a real heartbreaker around here.”
“Oh great.” Fey closed her eyes trying to sense any trace of the so-called Glamour and was unable to do it. “Just wonderful. I sure can’t feel it, I’m not even aware of it when I actively look for it.”
“I believe you, dear.” Belle gave her a friendly smile and a light pat on the shoulder. “It has to be part of your change, something that you just do. Though being able to turn it off once in awhile would sure make life easier on you. Unless you really like the idea of all that male attention you’re going to be getting.”
“How can I turn off something I can’t even find?” The redhead almost wailed, looking around in near panic as if the lockers lining the hall would suddenly burst open and disgorge a horde of boys, all intent on trying to seduce her.
“We can work on that later, Nikki.” Belle chuckled. “I just wanted to make sure that it was something unconscious and not deliberate. Some T-Girls go to great lengths to make themselves more attractive to the guys. You say you aren’t doing it on purpose, and I believe you. Now close that pretty mouth and quit drooling like a maniac looking for an axe, ok?”
“Sure.” Nikki nodded, then let out a shaky little laugh. “But having a big, nasty axe might be a help in the next few weeks.”
“Nah, the administration really frowns on students killing each other, hon.” Belle grinned. “Although there are a few here I wouldn’t mind using that axe on too.”
“Is there anything else?” Fey was anxious to change the subject.
“Not just now.” Belle smiled again. “We can maybe pick up the conversation later on, though if you’d like.”
“I sure hope so.” Fey told her with real interest. “Anything that can help me with what I’m turning into, and controlling the stuff that goes with it will be very welcome.”
“Oh, yeah, just a warning.” Belle thoughtfully told her. “Steer clear of the Goths here at Whateley. They actually try to use magic that they don’t have and some of them are jealous enough of those who do have it that once in a while they do stupid stuff trying to steal it. Not all of them, are like that, most of them are just goofy kids playing at being witches and such. But a few aren’t playing, ok?”
“Avoid the Goths.” Fey nodded with a small frown. “I have a glamour on me that positively radiates, and I’m supposed to avoid wannabe magic users? How do I manage that? With my luck, they’ll invite me to join their group and go to a black Sabbath or something else equally weird .”
“Well don’t.” Belle advised. “Real magic users avoid them like the plague. Probably because some of them are as dangerous as the disease that wiped out half of Europe and they don’t really know what they’re doing or messing around with. Remember the old saw about ‘a little knowledge’ and you’ll be ok.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.” Fey answered faintly.
The others trickled back, chattering about this classroom or another, but Nikki paid little attention to that. The downstairs part of the tour went past in a haze of self-examination for any trace of that stupid glamour. She still couldn’t see it, or even notice it’s existence.
After the tour, the girls returned to their own floor. Jade seemed to have either a bad case of infatuation with Tennyo or an equally bad dose of hero worship. The almost hungry look the smaller girl was giving the fugitive from some Anime epic was almost funny. If it hadn’t been so intense.
Fey began unloading her bags and putting her things into one of the two standing wardrobes meant for the hanging stuff. Though she was a sophomore, being new to the school meant that she was placed on the second floor with the incoming freshmen. Not that it mattered all that much to her. At least she would be surrounded by people she had already met.
“Hey!” Toni was looking over her shoulder at the things still in the suitcases and trunk, then at what was already hung up in the closet. “You have some really nice things. Real pretty, and even the pants and shirts look feminine. Show’s my roomie has good taste.”
“My Mom, and a friend's idea, mostly.” Nikki indicated her clothing with a small grin. “But thanks. I’m getting used to them, especially when I can only wear linen, cotton, or silk pants. Hard to appear even a little masculine in the silk ones, and the others were picked for their feminine cut. Wish I could still wear jeans, though.”
“I bet my folks could find some pure cotton denim for you.” Toni offered. “If I asked them to look.”
“I appreciate that, Toni, I really do.” Nikki grinned up at the black girl. “The problem is that I can’t tolerate most of the dyes they use on denim jeans. Unless they are specifically not synthetic based. Which makes the kind I would need very expensive these days. Heck, a real silk dress costs less than a pair of those does.”
“Well, I could have them look around, anyway, if you liked.”
“That would be great, Toni.” Fey told her while carefully placing a colorful assortment of satin and silk underwear in the drawers of the chest that was on her side of the room.
A thump and suddenly expelled “Ack!” from across the hall interrupted any further conversation as both girls went to their door to see what had happened. Something small, and furry, was skittering and sliding down the hallway with the sound of soft feet on the hardwood flooring.
“My cabbit!” Tennyo yelled as she charged out the door and began looking up and down the hall for the thing.
“I didn’t think we could bring pets in here.” Toni answered while pointing in the direction the thing had run.
“It’s a stuffed animal!” Tennyo answered in exasperation then colored a bit as she realized she’d just been had. “My little brother gave it to me before I left.”
“Cool!” Toni stepped out into the hall as Tennyo charged down it in pursuit of the errant stuffed cabbit, barely avoiding being knocked down by the other. She hollered to the hallway in general. “Loose cabbit on the floor! Loose cabbit on the floor! Sound the alarms and round the critter up!”
The cabbit, giggling, slid between Tennyo’s legs on its way back down the hall, adroitly avoided a grab made by Toni as it charged past her. Fey and Ayla moved to cut it off from the stairs at the end of the hall while a bemused Hank watched all the activity from his own door.
“C’mon, Hank!” Toni caroled as she rushed past where the cabbit had just been before it had executed a perfect 180 and ran skittering back the other direction, evidently with the idea of hiding in one of the bathrooms. “Help us round up this wild and dangerous Creature!”
The cabbit, in that space of time, had made it to one of the bathrooms, the boy’s, and pushed open the door, disappearing inside with a sound suspiciously like a raspberry for those chasing it.
Fey was checking to make sure she hadn’t inadvertently caused the stuffed animal’s sudden liveliness by accidentally tapping into her power without controlling it. With a visible sigh of relief, she determined that it wasn’t her fault, and joined in with the chase, which had stalled at the door to the boy’s room.
Sounds of running water, flushing toilets, and paper towel dispensers being suddenly and violently emptied came from the bathroom as Hank finally walked carefully up to the group with an amused look on his face. “A cabbit?”
“Half rabbit, half cat.” Tennyo offered helpfully. “It's in there.”
“I know what one is.” Hank chuckled. “And where this one is. I just can’t figure out why it’s not only hiding in the boy’s room, but running around at all.”
“Who cares?” Toni laughed while pushing him towards the door. “It is, and we need you to go in and get it.”
“Yeah, we are in a school filled with mutants.” Tennyo gave Nikki a halfway suspicious look. “One of our classmates must have brought it to life.”
“Not mine.” Fey protested. “I haven’t even done any of my stuff since I got here.”
“Ok, I’m going in.” Hank sighed, reaching to open the door.
The cabbit had been waiting for that. Once the door had opened even a crack, it bounded out of the bathroom, wove a complex path through the gathered kids, and headed for the stairs at top speed.
Toni used her incredible speed to head it off, but the canny cabbit veered into another room before she could grab it. Nikki was right outside that one, and ran in to try and catch the thing.
The cabbit pounced when she did, wrapping its stuffed legs around her arm and letting out mock growls while butting its head against the arm and running its blunt feet along it as well. “Bite, claw, claw, bite, claw...”
It stopped for a moment, looking up into Nikki's face with an almost grin before telling her in a female voice. “Hey, you’re being savaged by a wild and ferocious cabbit here! don’t you think a few screams of agony and useless cries for help would be in order?”
“Jinn?!” Fey understood it was Jade's alter ego suddenly and started to laugh.
“Aw c'mon, play along with me.” the cabbit, or Jinn wheedled. “This is a lot of fun, you know.”
“Uh, ok. I guess.” The redhead answered.
“Claw, claw, bite, rend, bite, claw, claw, claw, claw!” the cabbit answered, then giggled.
“Oh help me!” Nikki hollered out the door. “I’m being savaged by a wild and ferocious cabbit! The pain! Help! Help! Help!”
With that she staggered out the door with the cabbit ferociously ‘mauling’ her arm and fell to the floor with exaggerated motions. “Arrrgh! It’s killing me! Help!”
The cabbit let her go, and ran again as the others closed in. Scampering off to hide itself among the still piled up luggage in the hallway.
“Enjoying yourself drama queen?” Toni questioned as Nikki stood back up.
“Yes.” The redhead answered, then laughed. “I haven’t had this kind of simple fun for ages!”
“Me either.” the black girl answered with a giggle, then pointed to a motion among the luggage. “There it is! Get that cabbit!”
Spotted, the stuffed animal dodged them again, this time actually making it to the stairs leading up before anyone could intercept it. It took some doing, but the group did manage to corral the little critter before it made it onto the forbidden fourth floor. They all wandered back down the stairs giggling, or in Hank's case, laughing, and headed for their own rooms. Tennyo, Nikki noted with amusement, had a very firm grip on the still squirming cabbit.
She also noticed, in passing, that the very fine line that did connect Jade and Jinn was now leading from the cabbit into the room the little Asian shared with Tennyo.
With another smile, to herself mostly, she waved to the now captured toy and returned to her room.
Back in the relative peace and quiet of their room, Toni and Nikki exchanged views on the Cabbit chase, with a lot of giggles over the whole thing. Then they sparred verbally regarding Code names. Toni dug out another of Nikki’s books and was about to shelve it. When there was a knock on the door. Rip poked her head in. “Hey, are you guys decent?”
Nikki shrugged, and waved the girl in as Toni spouted something about 'striaght lines.
She stepped in. “Hey, I know that it’s asking a lot, but it’s our first day here- would one of you be willing to trade rooms with me?”
“Why?” Nikki asked, then added. “I don’t think that would be such a great idea just now, you know?”
“Aahh-- Rip-- in case you forgot-- We’re TGs. There’s no WAY that they’re gonna let us share a room with a genetic girl.”
“Oh, C’Maaawwn! I _gotta_ get out of that room!” Rip almost wailed.
“What’s so bad about it?” Toni looked at Nikki with a what’s going on here NOW? expression. The redhead only shrugged.
“Oh, you have got to SEE this to believe it!” She grabbed Toni’s hand pulling her off the bed.
“Hey, I’m sort of grounded for the rest of the evening.”
“Oh, who’s gonna know? And you just won’t understand until you see this!”
Toni looked at Nikki, who shrugged again and got up. Rip almost dragged Toni down the hall to her bedroom. The bedroom was the same size and layout as the one that Nikki and Toni shared. It was the contents that sort of jumped out at you. There were more trunks in there than Nikki thought could have been squeezed into that amount of space, then there were the stuffed rabbits and Easter Eggs? The eggs were in many sizes and all colors, some of which clashed horribly. Rip was muttering something to Toni about Liberace as Nikki simply stared at things in amazement.
Nikki peered at one of the giant sized Easter eggs curiously. “What in world?” She reached over and touched one of the ‘jewels’ on the egg. The ‘jewel’ lit.
“Don’t touch that!”
“Uhh, too late.” Nikki winced at the tone of the order, and the buzzing that began coming from the egg. “Sorry.”
The girls turned to the door. A short blonde girl was standing there. A really cute, and well formed blonde girl. With a three foot rabbit behind her that was carrying another large trunk. She was wearing tight Capri pants that really showed off how well she was rounding out and a blue shirt with white polka-dots that was tied off across her tummy. Her hair was done up and two ‘spaniel ears’ that sort of made her wide blue eyes seem all that bigger in her kewpie doll face. . Nikki stared in something close to amazement, first at the girl, then at the trunk carrying rabbit. The newcomer almost wailed, “I haven’t re-programmed that one for unpacking yet!”
The ‘Egg’ Nikki had touched literally exploded as curving panels on it opened up, making it look more like a really spoiled artichoke than an egg. Long thin cables whipped around, grabbing things and putting them into the emptied out trunks that nearly filled the room's floor.
“No!” Blondie yelled, “I was just getting settled in!” She rushed in frantically trying to reach some switch that would shut the thing off while screaming something about 'just having gotten settled'. Nikki could only watch in bemused, half admiring silence as the blonde girl's antics showed a lot more of her ample charms. That she called the whipping thing that had been an egg by a name barely registered through all that.
‘Hubert’, the insanely thrashing and stowing egg, absolutely ignored the girl, going on with packing things away as if nothing and no one was trying to interfere.
“Harvey, get in here and help me shut Hubert off!” The big rabbit- ‘Harvey’? Nikki groaned internally at that - put the trunk down and advanced. Hubert picked it up, detached the head, arms and legs, and stowed it away in a trunk. The girl kept trying to wrestle with the stupid egg, but wasn’t getting anywhere. Nikki, Rip and Toni all watched in baffled amazement. Nikki turned to her own roommate. “Couldn’t you, y’know, throw a pencil at the ‘Off’ switch and turn it off, or something?”
“Sure- IF I knew which dingus was the ‘Off’ switch.”
“Oh, right.” The redhead nodded with a sigh while continuing to watch the one-sided wrestling match between the egg -- Hubert, or whatever it was called -- and the blonde girl.
Rip murmured something about the thing doing what she wanted as the blonde girl continued in her losing battle to stop the egg, or whatever it really was.
Worse, the egg finally noticed the blonde girl, grabbed her, and shut her inside one of the trunks. An act that was accompanied by muffled screams and threats from the girl. The egg ignored that and finally just turned itself off.
“Well at least it quit.” Nikki offered a bit weakly, also quite happy it hadn’t decided to put her away, too.
“LET ME OUT OF HERE!”, came muffled from the trunk.
Toni started towards the trunk but Rip grabbed her arm and said something an amused, and bemused Nikki didn't quite catch. Then she moved towards the bouncing trunk with a shake of her head. “We can’t just leave her in there.”
She walked over to the trunk and tried to open it.
“It’s locked. And I don’t have the key.” She thumped the trunk. “HEY! We need a key to open this thing! Where is it?”
“It’s in my pocket!”
Nikki shook her head disgustedly, calling herself an idiot for walking right into that one. She muttered something halfway obscene under her breath, found the lines she needed to manipulate and sent streamers of energy traced from her fingertips. With another grumbled aside no one could quite hear, she pointed at the lock which obligingly popped open.
The second the trunk lid was open, the girl fussed and fumed until Nikki offered her a hand out. Blondie’s eyes went wide as she got a good look at Nikki. “Wow. You’re cute. I like you. What’s your name?”
Nikki blushed and stammered, taken aback at a reaction that mirrore her own towards the still unintroduced Blonde.“Oh, it’s Nikki, Nikki Reilly.”
“Hi, Nikki! My name’s Bunny Cormick. I’m from Las Vegas.”
Rip muttered something else under her breath.
“Gee, I don’t know what happened with Hubert, I didn’t expect him to pack me away like that, I didn’t program him to, by the way how did you get the trunk open, the key was in my pocket, and I didn’t hear you picking the lock, so how did you get it open? You’re not an Energizer, are you, ‘cause I haven’t managed to surge protect my eggs yet. Please, you aren’t an energizer, are you?”
Toni gave Rip a sympathetic look and mouthed something that had the other girl nodding with a quiet sigh.
Nikki blushed and stammered again. “Uhm, no I’m not an energizer. I’m actually, well, I’m sort of a magician-”
“A magician? Cool! You do Escape Artist stuff? Don’t you just love Sigfried and Roy? Too bad about Roy and that tiger, I hope they don’t kill the tiger, Roy doesn’t want them to kill the tiger, he says that it was all a mistake. My daddy works special effects and he works with their support team sometime, and don’t they have the greatest tricks?”
The little redhead closed her eyes for a moment, as if summoning courage, patience, or both, then gave up with a shrug and a small grin as she corrected the blonde vocal dynamo disguised as a girl. “Oh, ah, not that kind of magician. I’m a Mage.”
Bunny’s eyes snapped open as if she’d just found out that Christmas hadn’t been cancelled after all. “A Mage? You mean that you can do REAL Magic? Oh that is so cool! Would you mind sitting for a spectroscopic examination while you do it?”
“Uhh, well... I...” Nikki stammered under that intense, blue eyed regard and excitement it expressed.
Nikki felt as if she was drowning in a flood of words and desires until Toni jumped in. “So, ah Bunny... what’s your real name?”
Bunny blinked and looked at the black girl. “Bunny _is_ my real name.”
Toni and Nikki exchanged quick glances and rolling of eyes then Toni waved towards the over decorated ovoids strung all over the room. “What’s with all the heavy tech eggs?”
“Oh, my eggs?" Bunny gushed about those for a while, but Nikki was too distracted to really catch much of it. Her sensitive ears picked up sudden rush of air in the hallway outside, and she noted a whitish blur go by the door as she did.
“So, Bunny, you’re some kind of inventor?” Toni questioned as the blonde began giving Nikki the eye again.
“Oh, yeah, I’m what they call a ‘Level: 4 Esper/Gadgeteer’, and a ‘Level: 3 Deviser’. I mostly do robotics and electromagnetic field formation effects for hologram and Special Effects stuff, but I also do other stuff.”
“You said ‘Gadgeteer’ and ‘Deviser’- I thought that ‘Deviser’ and ‘Gadgeteer’ were pretty much the same thing, Mad Scientist stuff.” Toni continued distracting the girl from a still nonplussed Nikki.
“Well, they’re not. They’re similar, but they aren’t the same thing. But you can have both traits in one package. Like Me.” She laid a coquettish hand on her chest by way of demonstration. Nikki drew in a sharp little breath as that happened, then blushed all over again.
“Well, what’s the difference?” Toni prodded.
Nikki was having problems keeping up with the conversation at that point, still focused on the physical effect Bunny had on her.
Nikki watched with interest as the blonde rushed on about something to do with her abilities.
Some of the conversation did penetrate, though, and the similarities to what she did were almost unsettling.
That part had Nikki narrowing her violet eyes with a rather worried expression on her face. “That is uncomfortably close to a lot of theories of how Magic really works- that all the magical principles and procedures are just the Mage imposing their own theory of how magic is supposed to work on the universe. So, Bunny, when you’re working on something, how do you know if what you’re inventing isn’t a ‘Mad Scientist’ gizmo that won’t work for anyone else?”
“Those things are called ‘devises’- with a ‘S’ instead of a ‘C’. And I don’t. I have to finish every project, perfect it, and get someone else to try to build one too. Would you like to see some of my work?” Bunny opened a trunk and pulled out one of her eggs. “This is Eldon. He’s a-”
Which started another argument between Bunny and Rip about the crowding in the room and who would get how much room in it.
There was another ‘Zip’ past the door. “What was that?” Toni asked.
“What was what?” Rip looked puzzled.
Nikki was just happy that someone else had noticed it too.
“I heard something go past the door.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“I’m telling you, I heard something.” Toni insisted, while Nikki nodded her agreement.
“Maybe it was one of Bunny’s stupid rabbit robots.” Rip groused.
“My Rabbits are NOT stupid!” Bunny squeaked back.
“Maybe, maybe not, but you’re cramming them into MY space! Hey, _I_ have stuff too!”
“But I can’t just throw them out! They’re my BABIES!”
“I don’t care what you do with them! But either you find somewhere else to stash ‘em, or you can get a new roommate!”
There was that zipping noise again, and a tanned, blonde girl was suddenly there. “You want a new roomie! Kewl! I’d be glad to move in!”
“Oh, No.” Riptide moaned. Bunny and Rip looked at each other.
“Uhm, that’s all right, J. J. - I think that Bunny and I can work this out.”
“Oh, it’s no problem!” The girl disappeared with a whoosh! and a heartbeat later, was back with a suitcase. “Which side is mine?”
Bunny smiled apologetically. “No, honestly, we’re just ironing out a minor misunderstanding-”
“Oh, come on! A promise is a promise!”
“I don’t remember making any promises to you, J.J.” Bunny shook her head.
“Oh, I suppose that now you’re going to welsh on your promise to help me with my homework!”
“J.J., I never said that I’d help you with any homework!” The blonde was beginning to get that puzzled, half perturbed look on her beautiful face that presaged outright anger.
“But you were bragging about being such a genius!” The newcomer, J.J. retorted. “Of course you’re going to help me with my homework and stuff!”
“You asked me what my IQ was, I answered.” Bunny put one hand on each hip and glared. “I did not promise you anything at all.”
“Bunny, how are we going to be roommates, if you keep breaking your promises?”
“J.J.” Bunny quietly said. “When did I never ask you to be my roommate? I sure don‘t remember doing that.”
“But you GOTTA! You wouldn’t believe the weirdo that they got stowed in my room! She-” But before J.J. could go any further, Bunny’s egg ‘Eldon’ erupted in a shower of sparks.
“Get OUT!” Bunny screamed, “You’re an energizer- you’re projecting some kind of electric field and my projects are overloading!” The other egg ‘Hubert’ exploded its panels and the cables started waving around wildly, and one of the trunks burst open as Bunny’s other projects went haywire.
Nikki watched in bemusement for a few seconds before deciding that ducking for cover would be a pretty good idea. She dove behind one of the trunks that seemed to have less sparks flying around it.
J.J. left with yet another ‘zip’.
Rip instinctively began forming a thick fog around herself. Toni noted that would be a bad thing under the circumstances and literally dragged the other girl out of the room while a very upset Bunny wailed about the damage.
Waving a hand to clear the air around her head, Nikki saw the girl start to cry, and it wrenched her heart. The sparking and hissing were gone, leaving the room filled with acrid electrical smoke. With a thought she wasn’t even aware of having, she waved again and the smoke vanished. In the cleared air, the disconsolate Bunny appeared even more pathetic.
“My eggs, all my beautiful, so-cool Eggs!” The blonde cried. “Ruined.”
“Hey, it isn’t that bad.” Nikki softly interrupted the other girl’s wailing as she stood, then moved to hug her. “You can make more, right? And fix the ones that got wrecked?”
“I -- I suppose I can.” Bunny sniffled, turning in Nikki’s arms so her Bright blue eyes were staring straight into Nikki’s violet ones. “Buh - but you just don’t know what it’s like! I finally had stuff that really worked the way I’d planned it!”
“Oh, I think I can understand that better than you might think.” Nikki hugged the still sobbing girl again.
“No you don’t” The blonde sighed loudly. “So many of my earlier projects went blooey! that people started calling me BUGS!”
“Yeah, you know, like ‘Hey it’s Bugs Bunny herself! Duck now and save yourself the trouble later when things go crazy!’ and I am soooo sick of it! I was going to show them all how good I really am! Now this had to happen.”
“Bugs Bunny?” Nikki grinned in spite of the other girl’s distress, then had a real brainstorm hit just in time as Bunny started sobbing even harder. “Wait a minute, hon. They’ve been complimenting you all along, even if they didn’t realize it.”
“How?” Bunny stopped sobbing long enough to show her interest in the tack her cute companion had taken. “How is being compared to a cartoon character a compliment?”
“Uh, please don’t say things like that too loudly around Tennyo.” Nikki shook her head at the other’s puzzled expression. “Never mind, you’ll meet her soon enough. Now back to what I was saying originally.”
“Ok, I’m all ears.”
“Nikki hid a wince at the choice of words, given the other’s name and favorite stuffed toys. “Well, think about it for a minute. Bugs Bunny is SMART. Really smart. Right?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose so.”
“Ok, with that for a start, when have you ever seen anyone or anything get the upper hand on good ol’ Bugs?”
“Come to think of it...” Bunny trailed off then brightened as that occurred to her. “Never!”
“Right.” Nikki drove her point home. “Bugs Bunny always gets the upper hand, always outsmarts his foes, and NEVER lets what Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or anyone else calls him get him down. Does he?”
“Hey, that’s right!” Bunny squealed in delight.
“And he always WINS.” Nikki finished with a broad smile.
“Umm. See?” Nikki found herself wrapped in Bunny’s arms and staring back into those wide, teary blue eyes. “Now it really isn’t so bad after all, is it? Why don’t I help you clean up in here and get unpacked.”
“I have a better idea.” Bunny grinned and pressed her mouth against Nikki’s.
Later, a rumpled Nikki walked back into the room she shared to see a very smug and satisfied looking Toni lounging on her bed. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself.” The black girl took in Nikki’s appearance, and the faint lipstick marks on her cheeks. “I take it you were consoling Bunny?”
“Yeah, sort of.” Nikki nodded slowly with a silly little grin. “You and Rip have fun while I was umm, busy?”
“Oh yeah.” Toni grinned lazily. “Oh yeah...”
“What an interesting day we’ve had.”
“You can say that one again, Nikki, my friend.”