User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active
 

A Whateley Academy Adventure

Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight

by ElrodW

 

Chapter 3

Sunday, March 4, 2007
Sioux Falls League Headquarters

Everyone was watching me cautiously as I went about my morning routine, as if I were nitroglycerin ready to explode. I didn't remember going to bed, but this morning, I couldn't complain about the accommodations, even though I felt depressed and penned-in. The rooms were generously sized, with a large flat-screen television and a DVD player. A common lounge area near the cafeteria had another television, and a bookcase displayed a wide assortment of movies. I didn't watch anything; I just plopped in an overstuffed chair and stared blankly at the blackness of the inactive television screen. I felt as dark as the screen.

"Morning," Mom said as she slid gracefully into a chair beside mine. "Sleep well?" Cornflower came in behind her, and took another seat by me. I couldn't help wondering why she was there. Call it a newly-discovered sense of doom, but I didn't have a good feeling about her presence.

"I guess. At least I had visions of Tatanka and Wakan Tanka to keep me company. Wakan Tanka is trying to teach me her magic and medicine skills."

"That sounds handy," Cornflower said, looking at me with a twinkle in her eyes. I caught myself staring at her again, and quickly averted my gaze. She was just so damned beautiful, and my male instincts couldn't help but appreciate her good looks. At the same time, she was warm and approachable, and fun. She made it an effort to stay gloomy.

"Speaking of which, there are some herbs and supplies she told me I need to get, and I need to make myself a medicine pouch. Do you suppose we could go out shopping for that stuff?"

"I don't know if that's a good idea."

"We might be able to get one of our interns to pick up a few things for you if you need," Cornflower interjected. "It might even be possible to go out if the MCO surveillance is gone."

"I need to thank whoever picked up our luggage from the motel," Mom noted appreciatively. "It's nice to have clean clothes and my toiletries." She smiled sardonically. "Seems like we've gotten in the habit of leaving stuff behind a lot lately."

"Yeah, I noticed my bag in my room," I muttered. For a while, I sat in silence, brooding. "Mom," I finally broke my silence to ask the question I'd wondered about since I'd reviewed how Mom had filled out my application to Whateley, "why did you put 'other' for sexual orientation on my application?"

Mom smiled. "You saw that, huh? To be honest, if you hadn't brought it up, we were going to," she said, glancing at Cornflower. "They didn't have a spot for 'not sure'."

I was right in my sense of foreboding. "And for effects of transformation, you put that I've changed from a male into a female? Are you trying to get me killed by gay-bashers or something?"

Mom patted me on the hand. "I worked on the application packet while you were doing your testing yesterday, so it could get faxed in. According to the instructions for the forms, that information is private and won't be disseminated. It's supposed to be there to help you with your cottage and room assignment to minimize conflicts."

"You'll almost certainly be staying in Poe Cottage," Cornflower said enigmatically.

"Poe ... Cottage?"

"They aren't called dorms, but rather cottages. They residence cottages are all named after famous American authors - Dickinson, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Poe, Twain, and Emerson. Hawthorne is a co-ed dorm for students with ... extreme difficulties controlling their powers, and those with pretty serious GSD."

"GSD."

"Gross Structural Dystrophy. It's a term for rather ... extreme ... mutations. You know the type on the show about the MCO?" She winced as she said that, as if anything to do with 'Tales of the MCO' was toxic, and the distaste by others toward extreme mutations offensive.

"Yeah, I know about that. Is that really a problem?"

Cornflower nodded. "Sometimes, but just because they have GSD doesn't make them less human, or less in need of friends and social interaction. Some people think that it does, though."

"Oh." That was a lot to think about, especially after years of being 'brainwashed' by news and shows like Tales of the MCO'.

"Anyway, to continue, Melville is the newest and largest cottage, and is co-ed." She wrinkled her nose in disgust. "It's where the hoity-toity social climbers and snobs live. You know the type - the kids who think they're better than everyone else and have the attitude and money to match?" I nodded in understanding. "Girls live in Dickson and Whitman, and boys in Twain and Emerson. Poe is another special co-ed cottage." Cornflower glanced at Mom.

There must have been something in her expression or gesture that Mom saw but I didn't. "I need to use the restroom," she announced suddenly, and just as suddenly, left the room, leaving me alone with Cornflower.

Cornflower turned her chair so she was looking at me. "First of all, since you're a fellow Poesie, let's drop the formality. My name is Debra." She smiled. "And yes, I said Poesie. It's our nickname for those who reside in Poe Cottage."

"What makes you think I'll be in Poe?" I asked, sounding more than a little perplexed.

"Because you were honest enough to mark your application as transgendered from your mutation. Poe has a little secret - a very well-kept, and important, secret." She glanced at the door to make sure no-one was listening in. That act by itself made me nervous. "Poe is the place the changelings, like you, and the very gay and lesbian and bi kids go. It helps cut down on sexual harassment and gay-bashing on campus."

I frowned. "I didn't mark it. My Mom did," I replied a little angrily. Then something occurred to me. "Wait, you said you 'fellow Poesie'. You were a Poesie, too?"

Debra nodded with a sly grin.

Something in her posture and expression, and earlier words, clicked. "Are you telling me that you're ... like me, too? That your mutation did to you what mine did to me?" I was astonished to think that I wasn't the only one who'd switched sides in the gender war.

"No, I lived in Poe for the other reason, but there were others who were changed like you." She glanced around. "That's why your Mom wanted me to talk to you because I lived with friends who _did_ change genders because of their mutation. I understand, more than the average person. Last night, I'd noticed that you weren't acting very feminine, like you weren't comfortable with your body and a few of the things you'd said, or started to say, gave me more clues. I put two and two together, and after you essentially collapsed from your angst last night, I asked your Mom." She smiled. "Now, as to the nature of Poe, it has to stay secret, both here and on campus. Especially on campus. Like any school, there are bullies, rednecks, and other intolerant types, and they wouldn't think twice about beating the crap out of someone who is gay or transgendered."

"What ...? Who ...? Before, who ...?" I stammered, trying to frame the question in a non-offensive way.

Debra smiled. "I was a geeky little nerd girl with thick glasses, an overbite, and really bad acne. Then I mutated, and," she gestured, sweeping her hands down to accentuate her figure, "ta-da. Much better, don't you think?"

Since she'd essentially invited me to gawk at her, I took the opportunity. Damn, but she was hot. "How ...? I mean, if I'm in Poe, how do I know which girls are lesbians and which are changelings? I would think that changelings would still be interested in girls."

Debra laughed. "Some are, but based on how Tractor described your first impression of Farm Boy, I'd say that your mind may have changed a little bit, and it's being further influenced by that cocktail of female hormones sloshing around in your bloodstream." She smiled. "In answer to your first question, all the Transgender students room together in one area on each floor, to support one another. By the way, your blood tests show normal levels of female hormones, without too much of those pesky male ones."

She stood suddenly. "I've got to run. We have a public appearance at lunch, and I have to get ready." She patted me on the shoulder, and then walked out, leaving me with a lot to consider. "Any time you need to talk, I'm here for you." So I wasn't alone. Further, from what she said, I wouldn't be the only 'changeling' at Whateley, although she told me that the group was relatively small only two or three a year. That was a comforting thought, but then I had my greatest fear about going to Whateley, and it wasn't so comforting. I sighed and shook my head. By the time I got there, I'd be on the outside looking in. What if the changelings there had already formed their little social network? I'd be completely cut out of the support group. The sense of loneliness and isolation born of fear returned with a vengeance.

Out of habit because I was bored, I turned on my cell phone and automatically checked for messages, before I remembered that no-one of my old friends would want to text a mutant like me. I hadn't looked at it in the past couple of days, because I'd been quite busy. When I saw who the last message was from, I angrily threw my phone down on my bed.

"What's the matter, Kayda?" Mom asked, sensing my frustration.

"I got another text ... from Julie," I snorted with undisguised contempt in my voice. It wasn't the first; there were nearly two dozen messages like it that I hadn't read.

"I really think you should answer it, Kayda."

"Why? So she can taunt me or insult me? Wasn't it enough that she set me up and nearly got me killed?" I screamed. "Hasn't she hurt me enough already?" I flopped face-down on my bed, in tears again at the thought of how Julie had betrayed and hurt me, after we'd been very special friends. All the broken bones and bruises had hurt less than her betrayal. I didn't want to ever go through that again, or even to be reminded of the pain she'd caused me.

Mom sat beside me, rolling and moving me until I was sitting beside her, and wrapping her arm around my shoulders, pulling my head onto her shoulder. "You can't keep a grudge forever," she said. "Especially when you don't have all the facts."

"Like I need more evidence? You saw the texts she sent me. She was probably in the background when they were trying to kill me, gloating at what she'd done to me just like all the other mutant-hating assholes."

Mom changed the subject so abruptly that I nearly got whiplash. "Did you wonder why they weren't able to kill you, because that was obviously on their minds?"

"No," I answered. "I hadn't thought about it. But it's a good question."

"They were going to," Mom admitted, spilling something that she hadn't yet told me. "Your dad and I interrupted their beating and made them run away, which is what saved your life."

"You and Dad?" I sat quietly for a moment. "How did you know to come for me?"

"Someone very frantic and desperate called me to let me know that you were probably in grave danger, and told us where you most likely were."

"Who?"

"Julie."

My jaw hit the floor. "What? After she set me up?"

"She didn't set you up. You need to talk to her and let her explain. It wasn't her," Mom said softly.

I considered what she'd said for a few minutes. If she had really tipped off Mom and Dad, and wasn't the one who set me up, then I really had something to be ashamed of. My behavior had probably been rational, given what had happened, and what it looked like, but I'd been very quick to condemn, when there could have been circumstances in which she was indeed innocent. On the other hand, how would someone fake a text from _her_ cell phone? I hesitantly picked up my phone and, with great trepidation, typed a message.

~Can you talk right now? On the phone, not texting?~

My phone rang almost immediately, and the caller ID flagged it as being from Julie. I was suddenly petrified; what if I'd been right? Was she going to heap abuse on me now, too, like everyone else? I had to steady my nerves, praying silently that my Mom was right with her facts. "Hello?" I said very hesitantly.

"Brandon? Oh, God! I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she babbled, almost bawling. "I'm so glad you're okay. I'm sorry! I was worried sick, and when I found out what Michelle had done, I was afraid they'd kill you, or that you'd think I'd done it, and you'd never want to talk to me again! I'm so sorry! I needed to tell you how sorry I am, but I understand if you can never forgive me because of my stupidity." Her apology came at sixty miles per hour, almost faster than I could digest the words.

"Slow down, please," I said, still uneasy about the call. "What ... what happened? Your phone sent the texts ...."

"Michelle was over after cheerleader practice," Julie explained through her continued sobbing and probably tears. "I had to go to the bathroom, and I must have left my phone unlocked. Michelle was the only one who could have used it to send the texts. I didn't even know until later, when Daddy was out and I was going to text you. That's when I saw what she'd sent you." I could tell she was in anguish over the incident. "I know she hated you being a mutant, because she listens to Scott."

"Scott hates me because I took the starting linebacker position from him last fall. The mutant thing just gave him an excuse to get violent."

"I couldn't get ahold of anyone, and I was afraid that they were going to hurt you, so I called your parents."

"That's what Mom just told me."

"God, I'm sorry," she apologized again, still crying. "It was so stupid of me to leave my phone unlocked. I'm so sorry you got hurt. I'm so sorry I did something that almost got you killed."

"It was pretty easy for me to come to the conclusion that you'd set me up."

"But ... you were more than a boyfriend, you were my _best_ friend - and I hope you still are. I ... I never had a friend as good as you! I would _never_ do something like that to you. I'm so sorry." She was sniffling as she talked, fighting more tears. "I just wanted a chance to apologize, even if you hate me now."

I started to reply, but couldn't. She'd given me a lot to think about, especially in light of the growing hatred I'd been harboring toward her over the past few days, hatred based on a false assumption and incorrect facts.

"Brandon?" she asked, her voice edged with fear and uncertainty.

I realized that I couldn't hang on to the hate, especially in light of what she and Mom had told me. It wouldn't be right to blame her for something that she wasn't responsible for. "I don't hate you," I said softly. "It wasn't your fault." I heard her crying with relief that I didn't condemn her or hold it against her. "But don't you hate mutants like everyone else does?"

"I'm not a brain-dead bigot, you goof. You should know that after we've been dating for over seven months!" She was trying to laugh through her tears.

"I'm afraid we're going to have to break up the dating thing, though."

"Yeah, I saw the picture. You're really, really beautiful, you know. I'm ... jealous!"

"Sheesh! The last thing I want to hear is that I'm a good-looking girl, when just a few days ago, I was a normal boy." I got a naughty thought. "But if you think _that_ was good looking, you should see me now!" I knew that when I finished talking, I was going to take a selfie and send it to her.

"I think you're kind of hot, in an exotic way."

Alarm bells started ringing. "You're not saying that you're ...."

Julie laughed. "You think I'm maybe a lesbian and am attracted to you now?"

"Well, it's kind of confusing, especially when you say that I'm hot," I said, glancing over at my Mom who was smiling smugly at what she was hearing from my end of the conversation.

"Well, I'm not, but .... I gotta run; Daddy's car just pulled in the driveway. Brandon ..."

"Kayda."

"What?"

"Kayda. Short for Wihakayda, a Lakota word for 'little one'," I explained. "Since I'm a girl ...."

"That's a pretty name. Kayda, please call or text me. I love you dearly as a friend, and I'm so, so sorry that my stupidity caused you to be hurt so badly."

"I will. Thanks." I felt my voice choking at what I knew I had to say. "All is forgiven, and I don't hate you. How could I, after you helped save my life? Call or text when it's safe."

"Okay. Bye."

I heard her hang up, so I put my phone in standby and lowered it slowly. "She said she didn't do it."

Mom smiled and nodded. "That's what I was trying to tell you the other day, but at the time, you weren't listening because you were too busy feeling emotionally hurt and sorry for yourself and angry at her. And then Doctor Martin interrupted us. She was in tears when she called us to alert us, and she called five times while you were in the clinic to make sure you were okay, and several times before you woke up."

"I guess I misjudged her," I mused.

"Yes, you did. But at least you're good enough to admit you were wrong, and to forgive her for her mistake."

I had Mom take a picture, as I'd promised, with Tatanka manifested beside me, dog-sized, so I could sit on the floor and wrap my arms around the cuddly white bison. I knew it was going to confuse the heck out of Julie. Mom was gushing over the picture, and had to run out to show everyone else. When everyone got done ooh'ing and ahh'ing over the picture, I had her take another with Tatanka full-sized and me standing beside him, just to add to her confusion, and possible jealousy. I actually giggled like a girl at the thought of Julie seeing those pictures and getting jealous of _my_ picture.

Damned hormones.

Debra came in for the second picture, and then, after Mom left, she was excitedly telling me that I should try to join Venus, Inc., which was a Whateley fashion club that she'd been in when she was a student there. She was gushing about how adorable Tatanka was when he was dog-sized, and after a marathon session to wear me down, she convinced me to pose for more pictures with Debra's digital camera, some in only my underwear, working on playful pouting and other sensuous expressions, while she also taught me a few things about how to pose, how to use head-tosses to get my hair with the right 'mood', and how to display my body with Tatanka for maximum sultriness. We were both giggling when we got done, and she copied the digital pictures for me. I have to admit that she knew her stuff; some of the photos looked professional. There were one or two that I needed to e-mail to Julie as well.

As we worked the photo shoot, our banter and joking danced at the boundaries of being lewd, but we stayed carefully on the proper side of the line. In one pose, I was topless but turned away from the camera, and I joked about Debra keeping her eyes shut so I wasn't tempting her. She laughed, responding that she wasn't into cradle-robbing. At that point, for some unknown reason, I _did_ flash her, proclaiming that I hardly looked like a baby, and we both laugh aloud. Then I suddenly realized what I'd done, and my cheeks burned as I tried to cover up my semi-nude body, which made her giggle all the more. That, in turn, got me laughing so much that I forgot that I was embarrassed and semi-naked. I enjoyed the hell out of the photo shoot because Debra was fun to be with.

When we finished and I was dressing in private, I couldn't help but wonder whether I found Debra attractive. She was very cute, and fun to be with, but our age difference really put a damper on thinking of anything more, even if my old male thoughts preferred to think of being with girls. And Debra was too careful to avoid anything that seemed improper, emphasizing repeatedly our age difference, which was her way of telling me that she was acutely aware of it and wasn't going to come close to the line separating playful banter from inappropriate behavior, no matter how attractive she might have found me.

We'd finished dinner, and I was sitting around watching TV with the most of the group. Farm Boy and Tractor were out stopping a bank robbery, which was, after all, their job. Debra got a call, and the end I heard puzzled me. She excused herself without explanation.

A few minutes later, she was back, with a gentleman who looked to be in his mid- to late-thirties. He wore jeans, a plaid shirt, cowboy boots, a turquoise bolo tie, and a beaded belt that screamed of Native American art. Like me, he had darker pigmented skin, which with his facial shape and features marked him immediately to me as a full-blooded Native American, although I couldnt tell from which of the Nations.

I had a sudden thought from Wakan Tanka.

"He is Iroquois," she told me, "and the First Shaman of those Nations."

"What's a shaman?" I asked in my mind.

"A shaman has access to the powers of the animal spirits," Wakan Tanka informed me. "Since he is the First Shaman, he is the most powerful shaman of those Nations. He has a very powerful gift of healing, and he controls his aging. Most shamans are also dream-walkers, and a few are ghost-walkers. This one is far older than he appears, and he is very powerful."

Debra escorted the man to me. "Mr. Lodgeman, I'd like you to meet Kayda. She just manifested, and she's the one Farm Boy was telling you about. Kayda, this is Mr. Charlie Lodgeman, one of the trustees of Whateley Academy.

"Nice to meet you - I hope," I said warily. "I'm Kayda. Kayda Franks."

Mr. Lodgeman extended his hand in greeting, and shook it. He had a firm grip, and seemed to be measuring me as he shook hands. "For someone who just manifested," Mr. Lodgeman said with a pleasant smile, "you certainly look very far advanced in your changes."

"Some rather ... unpleasant ... circumstances made my changes go rather quickly. It wasn't exactly fun," I said, trying to hide the bitterness in my voice.

"So you're the one that everyone is talking about, the girl who has two major spirits?" Mr. Lodgeman didn't beat around the bush. Despite this, there was a charming twinkle in his eye, an unmistakable joie de vivre.

I shrugged. "I'm not that special," I said modestly, knowing very well that I felt less than special after what I'd experienced in the last several days.

"I know a few things about Native American mythology and lore," Mr. Lodgeman chuckled, "so when I received a report that you are Lakota, and that you had two powerful spirits, one of which manifests as a white buffalo, I had to catch the first available plane."

I frowned in confusion. "Didn't they tell you I've applied to Whateley?"

"And let you get lost in the confusion and bureaucracy before I can meet you?" Mr. Lodgeman grinned. "Not likely. Besides, it's not every day that I get to meet someone with a celebrity spirit."

"I know Grandmother told me that my spirits were important, but I thought it was a tribal thing."

"Hardly. The White Buffalo is widely known, even across tribes, and every tribe has lore about a prophet or messenger of the Great Spirit. So if you have either of those spirits, that makes you quite a celebrity." Mr. Lodgeman turned to Mom, took her hand, and gracefully kissed it. "And I presume you are Mrs. Franks, the mother of this charming young lady?"

Mom blushed at Mr. Lodgeman's compliment. "Uh, yes. Her father and I are proud of our girl."

Mr. Lodgeman turned back to me. "If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you about your ... spirits."

"Uh, okay," I said hesitantly. I had just met the man, and I wasn't very comfortable with him yet.

Mr. Lodgeman sensed my discomfort. "Your Mom is welcome to sit in with us. In fact, I insist on it. And if you'd like, for your own piece of mind, we can have Wish List sit in with us to psychically monitor our discussion."

I frowned. "Is this going to be a psychic thing?" I asked nervously. "Because when Wish List tried during power testing, one of my spirits shielded me and almost hurt her."

The four of us adjourned to a small meeting room, where we wouldn't be distracted by the others, and wouldn't disturb them either. We all sat down at the table, and I looked uneasily at Mr. Lodgeman. "Tell me about the spirits you hold," he said simply to start the conversation.

I began telling him about how I'd met them after manifesting, and what they seemed like to me. He was very curious about whether the two were truly independent or just different aspects of the same spirit. He _was_ knowledgeable about some of the Lakota legends and lore, but not nearly as versed in the spiritual aspects of it as Grandma Little Doe, or me, for that matter. Of course, I'd been getting a crash-course from all the dream-time I was spending with Wakan Tanka and Tatanka.

"I suppose it's time that I met your spirits," Mr. Lodgeman said, "if they're willing, that is."

"What do I have to do?"

"I think the best place to meet them is in the dream world. Most spiritual events in the Native American cultures occur in and around the dream-world, and if I remember correctly, that applies to the Lakota traditions as well." I simply nodded to acknowledge his supposition. "The easiest way is for me to guide you on a dream journey," he said. "I'm a shaman, and can guide dreams. Some call people like me dream-walkers."

"Since I manifested, I spend a lot of time in my dream-world with my spirits." I nodded my understanding. "Wakan Tanka told me that you are a shaman, and she said that someday, I would learn to do things like shamans do, like dream-walking."

Mr. Lodgeman's eyes widened when I mentioned her name. "Wakan ... Tanka?" he asked slowly, almost reverently. "She's your spirit? Are you certain?"

I smiled and nodded. "I'm not sure. Sometimes, it's like she talks to me through the spirit of Ptesanwi. Sometimes, she joins with me. One thing you need to know is that she only speaks to me in Lakota, so I might have to translate for you."

Mr. Lodgeman nodded warily. "All you need to do is relax and close your eyes. I will help you enter the dream world without going to sleep, and you can introduce me to spirits." I could tell from his expression that he didn't really believe I had two spirits but that he was trying to humor me.

I closed my eyes and started to take deep breaths as he suggested. It only took a few seconds for me to feel myself slipping from the real world into the realm of dreams.

I was attired in a buckskin dress with beaded moccasins, my hair worn in two braids, one on either side, as I was now accustomed when in dream-space. For a moment, I wondered if I could get clothing like that for the real world, and if it would feel as comfortable there as it did here.

Mr. Lodgeman stood beside me, clad in the garb of a medicine man. "Where are your spirits?"

I looked around, and instantly recognized the terrain. "Over that hill is a small valley with a river. The village is there." We set off, me having to hurry my pace to keep up with his long, loping strides. As we crested the hill, we saw the village, with faint wisps of smoke coming from small cooking fires among the tepees. We walked into the circle of tepees, and I took a seat on a log at the central fire. Frowning, not quite sure what to expect, Mr. Lodgeman sat down too, but not too close to me.

"Well?"

"They will come. I have asked them, but they are uncertain about you or your intentions. Even though you are a powerful shaman, you are from a different nation."

"Oh?" Mr. Lodgeman seemed surprised.

"You are Haudenosaunee - Iroquois - and more specifically, Onondaga, correct?"

"How did you know?"

"I just know," I answered with certainly,

"Greetings, visitor from another nation," Wakan Tanka said from behind us as she approached, startling Mr. Lodgeman. "I am glad your intentions are peaceful." I translated for Mr. Lodgeman.

"I am curious about the girl. It is unusual that someone so young claims to have two spirits with her. And it is curious that you look exactly like her."

I saw Tatanka shambling up behind Mr. Lodgeman, silent and full-sized. His stealth, despite his huge size, continued to amaze me, and in this case, evoked a wry grin, knowing that he was about to surprise Mr. Lodgeman.

"Why shouldn't Ptesanwi have two spirits?" Tatanka asked from behind Mr. Lodgeman on his right, startling him yet again. Evidently, he wasnt used to being surprised. "She is special since she is the white buffalo calf woman, and thus, she needs both of us."

"So you _do_ have two spirits," he said, amazed. He looked at Tatanka. "Greetings, Tatanka, buffalo spirit."

"I am _the_ Tatanka, the _white_ buffalo spirit, chief among all buffalo spirits, and companion to Ptesanwi." He seemed upset that he was called 'just' a buffalo spirit.

Mr. Lodgeman looked at Wakan Tanka. "You are truly Wakan Tanka?" He sounded impressed.

"Yes." Wakan Tanka smiled and stepped to my side. I felt her arm around me, and suddenly, I felt her in me and me in her. It was as if we'd merged into one body again. "And together, _we_ are Ptesanwi."

Mr. Lodgeman's eyes widened as we joined. "Forgive me for being so presumptuous as to dream-walk in your world without invitation, Wakan Tanka" he apologized. "It was necessary to understand how to help the girl."

We put our hand on his shoulder. "We understand," we said in our one voice. "You are correct to be skeptical, and you have the best intentions of the girl in mind. You have the spirit of the Buffalo, and you touch the spirits of the Eagle, the Beaver, and the Wolf," we said. "You are a powerful shaman. As First Shaman of your Nations, you know us, and have been our ally before."

As we watched, Mr. Lodgeman changed appearance, his clothing shifting fluidly from the decidedly western wear he had into the native attire of the old Iroquois of long before jeans became common wear for the tribes. We knew that Mr. Lodgeman was joining his First Shaman spirit in the dream-world, much as Ptesanwi and I had joined. He wore a breechcloth with long leggings, his feet clad in moccasins instead of the cowboy boots he'd been wearing. His cloth shirt was long, decorated with fancy beadwork and ribbon-work that made our beaded dress seem plain in comparison. From his belt hung a sheath, which we knew contained his ceremonial shaman's knife, much as we had Wakan Mila, and on the opposite hip was a leather pouch, probably his medicine bag. He had a relatively simple headdress with two feathers  one erect and the other lying down to the rear, indicating the Onondaga tribe of the Haudenosaunee.

"It has been long, Wakan Tanka," he said simply, smiling gently.

"Yes, it has, Shaman. Too many winters have passed since we last met."

"Why have you chosen this time to come, after so long?"

"Why have _you_ come at this time?" we asked in return, eliciting a startled look from him. We smiled. "It is nearly the time of the White Buffalo Calf, the season to return prosperity to the Peoples," we answered. "But first, there are dangers to _all_ the Peoples that have not been greater since the time of the Courts."

He nodded, smiling grimly. "And such is the reason that I have come as well."

"The demon Kitagilik has awakened," we said, watching Mr. Lodgeman carefully. His reaction was as we expected; he was startled by our news. "The hunter of shamans is moving again."

"We had not seen that. We knew that demons were awakening all over, for all the Nations."

"As before, at the time of the great war of the demons, we must gather the shamans and warriors to preserve the people against the demons, before Kitagilik and his kind descend from the north and destroy the Nations one by one."

"Why did you choose the girl Kayda?" Mr. Lodgeman and his shaman spirit asked simply. "There were surely more experienced shamans in the tribes."

"Yes," we answered, "but the girl is of the blood-line of the last Ptesanwi, and as such, she could be more powerful than any of the older shamans. But we need help from the First Shaman."

Mr. Lodgeman's face wrinkled in a frown. "Help? How?"

"She is young, and needs help to guide her. She is at the age of rebellion, where she might reject the advice of her spirits. You, as a mentor, can guide her at the times she is too stubborn to listen to me or Tatanka."

Mr. Lodgeman contemplated for a few moments. "We will watch her and provide advice when she seeks it. We cannot force advice on the young, or they will rebel even more."

We smiled. "Yes, we have experienced that with other prophets."

"We will consult with you, Wakan Tanka, if we need help with Kayda."

"That is all I can ask of you, Shaman." We smiled at Mr. Lodgeman. "Go in peace, Shaman. We will meet again soon."

I woke from my dream-space with a start. I saw Mr. Lodgeman likewise awaken a moment later. He glanced my way, and his eyes widened.

Wish List was startled by his reaction. "Mr. Lodgeman? Are you okay? I couldn't sense _anything_ from either of you while you were in dream-space."

Debra came into the room. "Well?" she asked Mr. Lodgeman.

Mr. Lodgeman looked thoughtful. "She has two very important, very powerful spirits. One of them I know very, very well, or at least my shaman spirit does."

I smiled at Mom; it was nice to be believed for a change.

"And she's Ptesanwi," he added firmly.

"Huh?"

Mr. Lodgeman sighed. "You know I have the spirit of a shaman, right?" He saw the nods from Wish List and Debra. "Compared to Ptesanwi, I'm an amateur. When Kayda joins with Wakan Tanka, she _is_ the white buffalo calf woman, with potentially far more power than I have when she learns to use it. The white buffalo spirit Tatanka is a Class 2 spirit, and I'll have to do a little research, but I believe Ptesanwi is a very powerful Class 3 spirit." I saw jaws dropping in astonishment.

"What does that mean?" Debra asked, beating Mom to the question. "Is she an important spirit?"

"You know how, in the Muslim world, Mohammed is revered as the great prophet of Allah?" he began. "In the lore of the plains Indians, Ptesanwi's relationship to the Great Spirit is more than that. Much more."

"Holy shit!" Wish List whistled. "That's pretty big."

"And the Great Spirit," Mr. Lodgeman continued, pausing for dramatic effect, "is often referred to by the plains Indians as Wakan Tanka."

Somewhere in the Black Hills

In the dim cloud-obscured moonlight, no-one saw the lumbering, rock-like form slither ungracefully from an abandoned mineshaft, one of hundreds left over from the Black Hills gold rush days. The serpent paused as it smelled the crisp, late-winter air for the first time in many generations, turning its head from side to side as its tongue slipped in and out, tasting the air. It paused as if confused, then repeated the motions. It would have been absurd for a snake to frown, but it wasn't for this rock-like serpent with small clawed limbs and a semi-humanoid face frown. For a third time, it tasted the air uneasily. Things tasted differently from the last time it had been free. Even in this remote part of the Black Hills, the scent of industry and civilization hung heavy in the air, overpowering in some ways the scents of nature and of its normal prey that it knew and remembered.

The tongue kept flicking as the serpent slithered toward a hilltop. Slowly, it was finding the old scents in the mix of pollution from faraway power stations and industrial facilities, and the sewage treatment plants of nearby towns. The smell of the automobile, from the faint hint of outgassing plastics to the pungent, bitter taste of exhaust fumes and oily fluids, were hard to filter out, but the serpent-creature could be patient. He _had_ to be patient, to remember the old smells and tastes and filter out the new, annoying and distracting one.

As he practiced tasting the air, the serpent-creature's skin slowly crumbled into dust around it. The stone shell may have been perfect for hiding and hibernating in the caves and tunnels, a cocoon to protect it from insects and small rodents that sometimes wandered underground, but here it would be a hindrance. The stone would quickly heat under the baking rays of even the winter sun, and while not fatal to the serpent-creature, it would slow its movement considerably, and its task called for speed. Speed and stealth, which the sound of its former rocky shell grating on any surface would have betrayed. Finally, the last pieces of stone fell from the creature, revealing a shadowy, inky form that seemed to absorb any light that fell upon it, leaving it appearing more as an absence in the snow-covered landscape than something which was really present.

The serpent creature tasted the air once more, and having identified the smells it needed to locate, it began to undulate silently across the terrain in a movement that might have been called graceful if only it could have been clearly seen. The inky blackness, though, would have defied any attempt to truly view or characterize its shape, let alone its motion. Instead, its motion was more of a stain moving across the land.

At a fork in the valleys of the mountains, it paused. It smelled a familiar scent, and it was reminded of something it hadn't felt since it hibernated all those long years ago. It felt of hunger. Distracted from its mission, the serpent creature flowed up the valley along an ice-encrusted creek, until it came to the source of the smell. Instincts overpowered it, despite its promise to the father-creature. Strange tepees, not at all shaped like it remembered, spread in a circle around a fire ring, the scent of which was still powerful to the serpent. It coiled, snake-like, for it was mostly snake, and then sprang its massive body into one of the odd tepees, its fangs easily rending the nylon fabric and the heavy, winter sleeping bags of the two occupant of the tent. The serpent-creature's gaping maw easily swallowed the first boy whole, but the second one, disturbed by the sound, sat up, and the serpent-creature's aim was amiss. The bite crushed the scout's chest as it tore the boy into three pieces.

The attack had been swift, but not as completely noiseless as the serpent would have wished had rational thought not been so overwhelmed by its instinct to feed. A flashlight flickered on, and then another, and another, and the tents were surrounded by the steamy fog of warm breath exposed to the cold night air. The lights and the warm exhalations only attracted the attention of the serpent, and another tent and its occupants were torn asunder by the ravenous creature.

Two adults scrambled from their tent, flashlights rapidly scanning as they looked for the source of the disturbance. One of the flashlights settled on sight of the inky, nebulous shaped serpent-creature, easily visible as a dark shape on the snow-covered ground, a half-torn body still in its mouth, as the creature paused to finish tearing the remains of its latest victim in two before it hungrily gulped down what was in its mouth. The first adult started to scream at the horrific sight, but the sound died in his throat as the serpent-creature lunged at him, tearing him apart as its jaws crushed the life out of him.

The second adult pulled something from his waist, and holding a flashlight in one hand and his pistol in the other, fired at the creature that was momentarily distracted swallowing the torn body. He managed to get five shots off, all well-aimed despite the mind-shattering panic of the man, but though they hit their mark, they seemed to do nothing to the serpent-creature. A sixth shot was fired point-blank into the face of the serpent-creature before the man, too, was torn asunder by the ravenous beast.

Late in the afternoon of the next day, a search-and-rescue team combing the woods for a missing scout troop stumbled upon a truly gruesome scene. Tents were smashed and torn, spattered with massive quantities of blood that matched the red stains of carnage on the formerly-pristine snow. A few smaller body parts, accidentally bitten off and missed by the attacking creature, lay strewn about in puddles and spatters of blood and other bodily fluids. The team found only three scouts alive out of a total group of eleven scouts and two adults. All were catatonic and unable to move or speak, let alone to describe the vicious, bloody attack which had so devastated their peaceful campsite.


Monday, March 5, 2007
Sioux Falls League Headquarters

"Mr. Lodgeman," Mom began after she had a sip of coffee. We were sitting at the table having breakfast, and Mom was being mostly quiet and in a pensive mood.

"Charlie, please," Mr. Lodgeman answered Mom with a smile. He put down his fork, expecting conversation that would interrupt any attempt at eating.

"Charlie," Mom corrected herself. She didn't look any more at ease. "I ... don't get the whole thing about the buffalo spirit and Ptesanwi and Wakan Tanka. It sounds sort of like Kayda is messing with three spirits."

Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "It's understandable, because the dream-world operates differently from the real world."

"That's an understatement," I muttered between bites of scrambled eggs.

"Let's see. What's the best way to put it?" Mr. Lodgeman thought a moment. "In the dream world, a person can interact with all of the spirits, if they're powerful enough, which is to say, if they have enough magical and spiritual energy."

"So, in theory, _I_ could interact with some spirits?"

Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "The first problem is that you need to be in the dream-world. Most people go there, occasionally, but it's a very special, wakan space, sacred space. Dream-walkers, and some people, are wakan and can enter dream-space at will. Kayda is an example."

"And you, too," I interjected.

"Yes, I suppose you could say that," Mr. Lodgeman answered with a wry grin. "The more powerful and spiritual a person is, the more, and higher-level, spirits they can interact with."

"So, since Kayda has the spirit of Wakan Tanka in her, and Wakan Tanka is the Great Spirit, she can pretty much do as she pleases in the dream-world?"

Mr. Lodgeman winced as he struggled to find the right way to put it. "I don't think Kayda has Wakan Tanka as one of her spirits. Wakan Tanka would be too powerful for even the most powerful avatars to begin to hold. After I spent time meditating on it, I think I understand what's really happened is that Kayda has the spirit of Ptesanwi with her, and that spirit allows her to channel Wakan Tanka into her dream space."

"Huh?" I asked, befuddled.

"In dream-space, you are a virtual twin to the spirit you call Wakan Tanka, yes?" I nodded. "And joined, you two are Ptesanwi, right?" Again I nodded. "The spirit is Ptesanwi. Joining is symbolic of calling forth Ptesanwi's power to you, whether in the dream world, or, I suspect, in the real world."

"I can't join Ptesanwi in the real world!"

Mr. Lodgeman smiled. "I'm not sure. You might learn to do that  someday. Anyway, as I was saying, I think that the Ptesanwi spirit in your dream world is doing what Ptesanwi does, which is being a channeller and messenger for Wakan Tanka. Wakan Tanka is appearing in your dream-space through, whose spirit _is_ in you. That's why you can talk to and interact with Wakan Tanka in dream-space."

Mom frowned, matching my own. "This is kind of confusing," she said. "There's a ... goddess ... talking in my daughter's head through a prophet spirit that is now part of her?"

Mr. Lodgeman nodded with a thin smile. "That's a crude way to put it, but yes, that's what I think. Of course, once she gets to Whateley and has proper power and avatar testing done, we'll know for certain, but I think I'm right - after spending the whole night meditating on it," he added. "Some tribal shamans would know better than I, though."

I snorted in disgust. "With the MCO after me, I'll probably never get to meet any of the Lakota shamans to understand what's really going on. Or to understand why."

"Someday, you'll have to meet with the tribal shamans," Mr. Lodgeman explained. "With the spirit of Ptesanwi, you will be very important to the tribes, and they will to recognize you."

If Ptesanwi was the prophet for Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, it was no wonder that Grandma Little Doe was so astounded at what was happening to me. And in a way, Mr. Lodgeman's speculation made a lot more sense than me having the Great Spirit in me. That would be like someone possessing the essence of the creator in him or her. Channeling that spirit through a prophet, though, seemed more reasonable, since having the spirit of a prophet seemed a lot less dangerous and scary.

Wish List decided to change the subject to something she understood. "I got a report that both of the MCO agents are in the field today. They're trying to track down a reported mutant somewhere east of Aberdeen in Webster."

Debra immediately understood what Wish List was thinking. "Both of them?"

"They flew in a small aircraft. They're at least two hours away, and our operative at Foss got a tracking beacon on their plane. We'll know exactly when they're heading home."

Vanity Girl nodded with a smile. "You know what this means, don't you?" she grinned at Debra and Wish List.

"Shopping trip for Kayda!" Debra and Wish List sang together.

I was suddenly excited at the possibility that I might get out of the 'dungeon'. In reality, calling the headquarters of the SFL a dungeon was a gross injustice; it was very well appointed and comfortable, feeling a lot like a cross between an upscale college dorm and a condo unit, with a few cool labs thrown in for fun. Mom and I had been stuck, afraid of going out, because of the fear of MCO agents picking me up, but now, it might be possible to get some fresh air and act like a normal person for a few hours, and I was almost giddy. "Can we go?" I begged Farm Boy. I think I was batting my eyes and using what they call feminine charms. "Please?"

Farm Boy glanced at Tractor and Vanity Girl, who laughed at my amateur attempt. "I guess it'd be okay. As long as Wish List and Cornflower are with them, I'm sure they'll be safe."

Mom got a twinkle in her eye, which told me that she intended to come along with me and the girls, and that I would regret it. Would she insist on more lingerie? More feminine clothes? Getting a manicure? Visiting a makeup counter in a department store? I was imagining all sorts of horrors to which Mom could subject me, and from the way Wish List was giggling, I'm pretty sure she was reading my emotions and found them funny. When she whispered something to Debra, who also started chuckling, I _knew_ I was in trouble.

After breakfast, while we were waiting for the stores to open, I entertained the crew manifesting Tatanka in all forms, from a small, cuddly plush toy to full-sized. Tatanka was unhappy being petted and held when he was toy-sized, and he made up for it with irritability and threatening snorts when he was full sized. Despite how he was acting, he was acting like he was developing a soft spot for Wish List and Debra. I finally demanifested him so we could get ready for some shopping.

I had mixed feelings about going shopping. On the one hand, it meant getting out of the headquarters, but on the other hand, it was shopping. With three women. One of whom was my Mom. I could _not_ see that ending well. But it meant getting out of the bunker! Talk about a lose-lose situation.

We went first to a department store, where I was literally bombarded with suggestions and hints of what kind of clothes would look 'cute' on me. Cute! Gak! But the women were not to be deterred, and after trying on what felt like half of the clothes in the store, I got seven or eight new outfits, plus some additions to my admittedly tiny lingerie collection, which the women insisted should be lacy and sexy. I think Debra and Wish List were enjoying teasing me about new lingerie.

After we'd spent a good deal of Dad's money, we went to lunch at a place called the Tokyo Japanese Restaurant. Yeah, real imaginative name. (At least it wasn't something related to another prominent ethnic cuisine of the area, like Sven's Lutefisk and Lefse!) Debra and Wish List both insisted that it wasn't necessary, but Mom was adamant that she was going to treat them, even knowing how much Debra could eat. The chicken teriyaki was fabulous. We never ate food like that back on the farm. Debra really was relishing their sushi, eating several trays' worth before she even sampled their teriyaki and sukiyaki dishes. Of course, by 'sampled', I mean she had four or five servings. The wait staff was a bit befuddled by Debra's enormous appetite, but they knew they were going to get a huge tip, so they shut up and served us with great courtesy and professionalism.

After we were sated, Mom insisted in getting me some nice jewelry, because 'every girl needs some nice jewelry'. I objected strenuously, but since it was one against three, I lost. Besides, Debra was driving, so I couldn't really do a lot to stop the trip.

The jewelry store was huge, not a corner establishment in the mall. The girls and Mom darted about the numerous display cases like kids in a candy store, oohing and aahing over way too much of the jewelry. The girls were occasionally commenting about what look good on me, but spent more time comparing opinions on what would go with _their_ outfits. Mom wanted me to get my ears pierced so I could get some pretty jeweled studs. Debra and Wish List were thinking more of dangling earrings. I wanted neither, but my opinion didn't seem to matter. Then Mom started looking at necklaces, especially ones with emeralds, because my eyes were, according to her, just made for accessorizing with emeralds. The other two caught onto that, and the argument shifted from whether I should bother to get a necklace, to which necklace would be best for me, and of course, which earrings would go with the various necklaces.

I barely noticed the suit-clad gentleman walking in, because he didn't at all look imposing or out-of-place. I did notice the clerks give him a cursory once-over, and I'm sure the security guard seated behind a small desk near the door did as well.

I don't know which happened first, the flash that took out power, or the bolt of electricity that knocked out the security guard, causing him to slump to the floor. Like most customers, I stood there, frozen in place by the unexpected and stunning attack.

"Good afternoon everyone. This is a robbery. I wouldn't worry about pressing the alarm," the man said smoothly as he pulled out a few cloth bags. "My EMP burst took that off-line with the electricity, and the backup systems as well. Now if everyone will politely cooperate, no-one will get hurt."

One male clerk decided he wasn't going to cooperate. I wasn't really surprised when he pulled out a gun, since South Dakota was a concealed-carry state. I dropped to the floor, though, because I _was_ worried about being hit by stray shots. Four rapid reports of gunfire echoed through the store as patrons joined Mom and me on the floor.

"Aw, now you shouldn't have done that," the man said with a sneer. He was completely unfazed by the shots, as if he the man were firing blanks. More likely, though, was that the man had some type of telekinetic or psychokinetic shield, since he was demonstrably a mutant from his little lightning show. The intruder sneered, and another bolt of lightning burst forth, catching the brave clerk and smashing him back against a wall. Smoke wafted from a burned spot on his clothing.

"Now that _that_ little lesson is out of the way," the man said loudly, "let's get on with business." He tossed the cloth bags onto a display case. "I'm the Gemologist, and I really like pretty jewelry and gems. I want you to oblige me by helping add to my little collection. Please put everything in the bags. I want the safe emptied of gemstones as well - everything a quarter carat and above." He made a show of glancing at his watch. "You have ... five minutes before people start getting hurt."

The clerks scrambled to comply with his wishes, not wanting to suffer the same fate as the injured but still living clerk who'd tried to be a hero. The Gemologist surveyed them working, and then scanned the store, and out through the glass windows. He knew exactly what he was doing, I gathered. A supervillain.

I don't know how Debra and Wish List did it, but they were suddenly in their superhero costumes. I felt a huge mental surge from Wish List as she extended her arms toward the Gemologist. He staggered, briefly dazed, as his focus was broken by her psi assault. Debra used that opportunity to step forward and let fly a shock wave at the would-be perp. He slammed against one of the bomb-proof duraglass windows and stumbled.

The Gemologist gawked in disbelief at the two supers, who were far enough apart to keep him from getting both of them with one blast. While he was dazed by whatever Wish List had done to him, Debra leapt forward to directly attack him.

A burst of energy erupted around him when Debra threw a punch, intercepting her blow and smashing her backwards. She staggered momentarily and then regained her balance. He was shaking off Wish List's mental assault, and as he focused his attention on Debra, she did a gymnastic-quality cartwheel and flip out of the way of his lightning bolt.

Angrily, he threw another bolt Debra's way, but she dodged and returned a shock wave at him, which again staggered him momentarily. So far, Debra had been able to evade his attacks, so he turned his attention to Wish List; a powerful electrical bolt smashed her way, but it stopped mere inches from her body as she absorbed the energy.

Wish List grinned. "Thanks for the power boost," she said happily as she concentrated on another psychic attack. I suspected that this one would be a doozie if she was able to use even part of the power of his attack to power her psychic abilities.

The Gemologist reeled, trying to let loose more lightning bolts at Debra, but he was dazed from Wish List's psi attacks, and she easily dodged several of his attacks and replied with the shock waves as she tried to get closer.

It looked like a standoff to me. Wish List's psychic attacks were keeping the villain off balance, and he was unable to dodge Debra's shock waves, but his lightning bolts were still strong, and his energy field deflected any direct physical blows.

In retrospect, I had to give the Gemologist credit for being observant. He'd seen the four of us together when he first came in, and he easily deduced that Mom and I were with Debra and Wish List. I could almost sense time slowing as he turned his attention to the gap between the supers, directly at Mom and me. I could sense energy building up in him as he prepared to let fly another of his energy bolts, but there was no doubt that the targets were Mom and I.

I didn't think; I reacted. I lurched on my knees toward Mom, knocking her out of where the villain seemed to be aiming, and my momentum carried me on top of her out of the danger zone.

Debra and Wish List both struck at once, Wish List hitting him with a psi blast while Debra used her PK shock wave. The combination attack foiled the villain's aim, and the bolt intended for Mom and I went wide, shattering a display case and scattering jewelry all over. As he struggled to recover, Debra leaped toward him, and at the last minute, as he prepared to hit her, she ducked and did a foot sweep, knocking him off balance and to the floor.

The Gemologist was experienced, though. He hit and did a backward roll, coming up on his feet again. He lashed out with a roundhouse kick, catching Debra as she was closing on him; her block was only partially effective, and she was knocked backwards, while he distracted Wish List by making her dodge a throwing knife that he'd pulled out of his sleeve. Apparently, he learned quickly, and was not about to shoot another lightning bolt that Wish List could just absorb and use the power it delivered.

Debra launched another sonic blast at the guy, and he grinned as he side-stepped and it missed him. A fraction of a second later, though, having reflected from the duraglass, the shock wave caught him in the back and pushed him right into Debra's kick and punch combo. I wondered how she'd connected with him through his energy barrier, until I realized something crucial - Debra and Wish List were deliberately making him use energy, until he slipped and missed either a physical or psychic barrier, or he ran out of energy to power his barriers. He staggered back, stunned, an angry sneer on his face. He glanced at Debra again, and then spun toward Mom and me.

I had to give Debra credit for incredibly fast reflexes. Even before he let his energy bolt fly, she started moving, tucking into a diving roll, and emerging as a shield between the villain and Mom and me. The bolt hit her in the leg, and the sounds indelibly imprinted in my mind - the thunder-like boom echoing off the very powerful lightning bolt, the sizzle of charring flesh as the bolt hit Debra, and her scream of agony.

My eyes widened at the realization that Debra had just saved Mom and me, and at the same time, my anger flared at the fact that this villain had targeted innocent people. I cried out, "Debra!" in desperation, agony in my heart that my friend had been injured trying to protect me, a mutant she barely knew.

I snarled in anger at what he'd done, and instantly Tatanka manifested, full-sized and angry, straddling Debra. I saw the villain's eyes widen in surprise, but he quickly recovered from his shock. Even as Wish List used a psychic attack to try to trip him up, he lashed out at Tatanka.

When the bolt hit my white buffalo friend, I felt a searing agony in my guts, as if I'd been the one struck instead of him. But Tatanka had already leaped forward, and he hit the Gemologist before he could strike again, his horn easily penetrating what was left of the man's protective field and slashing into his flesh, splitting his skin like a razor and tearing up his internal organs in a gruesome display of what a person's insides would look like after two seconds in a blender. The Gemologist crumpled like a rag doll, his blood and internal organs spilling messily onto the floor, and Tatanka stepped heavily on his chest to keep him pinned down, snorting angrily at the would-be robber. I knew that if Tatanka shifted his weight just a little, the Gemologist's chest would be instantly - and fatally - crushed.

I barely saw the end of Tatanka's brief battle. I turned and scooted to Debra's side, and then had to struggle to keep from vomiting my lunch at the sight of the massive, bloody gash in her thigh. Blood was gushing from the open, ragged wound, despite the fact that the electric jolt, which had literally blasted part of her muscle out of her body, should have cauterized the wound. Around us, the nauseating smell of seared flesh hung in the air. Debra's breathing was already ragged; the little bit of first-aid training I remembered told me that she was going into shock.

Ignoring everything else around me, I reached into the gaping, burned wound and pressed my hand against the area of the shredded muscle that was seemed to be bleeding the worst, searching by touch for whatever major artery was gushing out Debra's very life.

"Wihakayda! Chant as I do."

Not knowing what else to do, I began to chant as Wakan Tanka directed, uttering the lyrical Lakota words as I felt energy flow from me into Debra.

"Code four," Wish List said into something as she touched a pin on her shoulder. "Code four. Cornflower is down. Get Vanity to open us a portal STAT."

"Have your mother hold pressure on the wound so you can use your medicines."

I glanced up. "Mom, get a handkerchief or something and put pressure where my hand is." I saw her look of confusion. "Wakan Tanka says I need to use some herbs."

Not quite understanding why, Mom took a hankie from her purse and, as soon as I moved my hand, she pressed it onto the bloody wound in Debra's leg, where it was instantly completely reddened by the gushing blood.

Without noticing that my hand was covered in Debra's blood, I opened my small leather pouch and took out the herbs as directed by Wakan Tanka. I rolled them between my hands, crushing them together, while I chanted as Wakan Tanka instructed. "Okay, Mom, remove the hankie for a moment, but be ready to press it back into place when I tell you."

As soon as Mom lifted the hankie, a renewed flow of fresh blood spurted from the wound. I chanted again, quickly sprinkling the mixed herbs into the open, bleeding wound, and feeling some more energy flow from me. "Put pressure back on," I snapped at Mom as soon as I finished my chant.

I hadn't noticed a magic portal opening near us, nor had I seen when Vanity Girl, Farm Boy, and Tractor stepped into the jewelry store. Tractor turned his attention immediately to the perp, holding him effortlessly pinned to the floor even as the villain's gory injury slowly knitted itself back together. Apparently, he was a high-level regenerator, so the blow which would have been fatal to most people hadn't killed the would-be robber.

Wearily, I let Tatanka demanifest, and as soon as he did so, I felt a big surge of pain and incredible fatigue, staggering me. In the distance, I heard multiple sirens of approaching police cars.

"Tractor, Wish List, stay here and deal with the police." Farm Boy touched me on the shoulder. "We need to get you out of here," he said softly so that only Mom and I could hear. "Vanity, hold the portal open until after we get Cornflower to medical." She merely nodded in acknowledgement.

Farm Boy effortlessly picked up Debra, who didn't even moan because she was unconscious. With Mom still holding the improvised pressure bandage in place, we all stepped through the magic portal Vanity Girl had held open for us.

When we appeared in the bunker, we were bloody, and I was exhausted. I was barely aware of the scramble of technicians and medics, taking Debra from Farm Boy's arms and placing her on a gurney before they wheeled her into another section of the facility even as the magic portal collapsed behind us.

Farm Boy clapped his hands on my and Mom's shoulders. "Get cleaned up. We need to get your view of what happened."

"But ... Debra!" I protested weakly.

"She'll be okay. She's a regenerator." His confident words didn't match the apprehensive look on his face. Mom and I knew how badly she had been injured. I'd seen directly the gaping hole where a chunk of her thigh had been literally blown out of her leg. We'd both seen how rapidly she'd been losing blood. I could tell that Farm Boy hadn't told me the whole story, but was instead trying to distract us from the battle and the horrific injures Debra has suffered. His physical demeanor, the pained look in his eyes, and the way doctors and technicians were scurrying noisily about back in the lab told me that she was very badly injured, more than mere words could have.. Despite his attempt to look strong and brave, his eyes had glistened with extra moisture; the situation was _far_ more serious than they'd told me.

Despite my worry, I let Card Trick lead me to a bathroom, where I washed my hands. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that Debra's blood was splattered on my face, and my top and jeans were a mess. I gave my face a quick rinse, getting off the worst of the spatters, but it was going to take a shower to get all Debra's blood off me.

I walked woodenly into my room with the full intent of changing clothes, but I collapsed onto my bed, sobbing at what I'd just gone through. Debra had been very critically injured in a battle that lasted mere seconds. She'd saved me and Mom, willing to sacrifice herself in the process. I felt my stomach turn, and I lurched to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before my stomach violently expelled my lunch at the gruesome memory of her injury and all the blood, and the vicious disemboweling of the would-be perp. I sank to my knees, holding onto the edges of the toilet to keep from falling face-first into the bowl full of foulness that had once been in me. Once my gut was finished trying to turn itself inside out, I collapsed onto the floor, exhausted physically and even more so emotionally. Debra had treated me like a sister, and now she was lying somewhere else in the bunker, critically, if not mortally, wounded. I didn't know if what I had done had made any difference, and I was upset that I had such strong regenerative powers but I couldn't share that gift with her when she needed it so desperately. I lay on the bathroom floor, crying uncontrollably.

In the midst of my emotional breakdown, I heard Wakan Tanka urgently calling to me.

"Wihakayda, you must go to the shaman and borrow his medicine bag, since yours is not complete."

"What?" I asked, fighting tears even in dream-space. I'd never seen the workings of the grim reaper so up-close and personal until that afternoon, and I was quite thoroughly distraught.

"You must borrow the shaman's medicine bag if you would save your friend's life."

That caught my attention. "But ... I only know a couple of simple spells you taught me," I protested weakly. That wasn't going to stop me from trying, however; I'd use whatever magic I'd learned from Wakan Tanka if it would help Debra even just a little.

"Only _you_ have the power to help her. I will teach you the spell and guide you. Now hurry! There is no time for us to waste."

Spurred on by her insistence and sense of urgency, I pulled myself off the floor and sprinted out of my room, suddenly not caring about the bodily fluids splattered on my shirt and pants. "Where's Mr. Lodgeman?" I demanded of Card Trick, the first person I met.

She pointed to a room. "In there, I think."

I barged rudely into the room. "I need to use your medicine bag," I insisted, almost demanding.

"That's an incredibly personal request ...," Mr. Lodgeman began his objection, sounding more than a bit offended that I would dare ask such a thing.

"Wakan Tanka told me that Debra will die if I don't help her," I said firmly. "I haven't had time to make my own medicine bag, and I _need_ one!" Mr. Lodgeman thought a moment, and then reluctantly handed me a modest leather pouch and followed me as I sprinted off to the medical area, with Card Trick on my heels.

Debra was in a surgical room, with a doctor and a technician, masked and gloved, working feverishly on her leg. The beeping of the monitors in the background was irregular, as if to accentuate her dire condition. Her complexion was nearly as white as the sheet; she'd lost a tremendous amount of blood. It was obvious that, with her mutant powers and body, there wasn't a lot the doctor could do for her apart from stopping the blood loss from her leg, even though he was making a valiant effort. With the damage I'd seen, it was evident that Debra was going to lose her leg at the very least.

As soon as I walked in, the doctor turned to me, shocked at my intrusion. "You can't be in here," he protested. "This is a sterile operating room, and you ...."

I was about to protest, when Mr. Lodgeman interrupted. "She's a shaman," he explained simply, "with healing magic."

Any conventional doctor would have tossed all of us out as nut-cases, but the doctor was familiar with mutants and powers. H nodded slowly. With his assent, I stepped to an open area by Debra's chest, allowing the doctor and technician to continue working on her mangled leg.

"Wakan Tanka, please help me with Debra," I pleaded.

"I will not fail you, Wihakayda. Listen to me as I guide you, and do everything I tell you."

"Of course, my teacher." There were tears on my cheeks.

"It will be very difficult."

"I will not fail you, or her!"

Following Wakan Tanka's instruction, I began to bark orders, my voice trembling at the tremendous responsibility I'd just blindly accepted. "I need a small bowl or cup. Wooden would be best, but anything without metal will do," I sharply directed Card Trick, who was standing behind me and Farm Boy, worried like the rest of us about her friend's health. "Quickly! Fill it halfway with warm water, too!"

As Card Trick grabbed a plastic basin from the supply counter and began to fill it with warm water from the scrub sink, I measured out herbs from Mr. Lodgeman's medicine bag as directed by my spirit. When she handed me the small plastic container, I went partially into dream space, and let Wakan Tanka take over by joining us into Ptesanwi. We noted, as we prepared to do our healing, that the others in the room seemed to be staring at us in amazement.

We began to chant as we slowly, methodically added the herbs to the water in the order she proscribed, at the times in the chant that she indicated. Everything else in the room faded into a blurry background; only the container and Debra seemed to be in focus and of importance. For nearly a minute, we repeated the chant that Wakan Tanka directed as we completed the brew. A bright flash of energy erupted from the plastic bowl when we put in the last ingredient.

"Now paint the mix onto her forehead, her cheeks, and her throat, like you are painting on war paint, as I did with you when you were injured."

We did as instructed, painting the brew in a chevron across her forehead, two angled stripes on each cheek, and outlined her chin, drawing another line on her neck below the first as I repeated the chanting.

"Now her wrists and ankles."

We marked three broad, long stripes on each write and each ankle, accompanied by more chanting.

"Now paint over her heart, and once you have done that, we will chant and then pour some into the wound."

Her spandex costume had been cut off, so we just had to lift the blanket to paint the brown liquid generously on Debra's heart in a triple-chevron with a large dot in the lower center. Then, as Ptesanwi, guided by my Wakan Tanka half, we chanted some more mystical Lakota words, and then poured some of the thick brew onto Debra's injured limb.

The effect was electric. A flash of energy flowed from me to Debra; it was the last thing I remembered before I collapsed and fell unconscious into the dream-world.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When my eyes opened, I saw Mom leaning over me, worried. Also in the room was Mr. Lodgeman, watching me with concern.

"Are you okay, honey?" Mom asked as she wiped my brow with a damp cloth.

"What happened?" I stuttered, confused. I was in a bed, and was wearing sleepwear instead of the messy jeans and shirt I'd been in when I'd been healing Debra, and I had no recollection of anything after that flash and feeling of energy being pulled from me.

"You collapsed after you finished the spell. You've been out for almost fifteen hours."

Mr. Lodgeman was a little more precise. "You used an incredible amount of energy in that magical healing, and it left you very weak. You probably collapsed because you're not used to using that much magic." He was looking at me with renewed interest. "Were you ... manifesting as Ptesanwi?" he asked cautiously.

I nodded an acknowledgement. "Yes. Why?"

"I thought so. You were showing an ... aura, kind of a golden glow, as you used your magic. You looked very confident and poised."

"I ... used magic?" I stammered, flabbergasted by his comment. "How ... how is ... Debra?"

Mr. Lodgeman smiled. "You collapse from using too much magical energy, and your first concern is Cornflower? You really are Ptesanwi, showing concern for others before yourself." He chuckled. "She's doing okay. You did a major, and I mean major, healing spell, and probably saved her life. The first spell in the shop that slowed the bleeding helped stabilized her long enough to get her here. If you hadn't done that, she'd have bled out. Then the healing you did here saved her."

"It may have been while I was unconscious, but ... I was with her, in dream space. We were Ptesanwi, and we dream-walked to her to help her calm herself and to focus her internal energy on healing." I didn't tell them all the details of the dream-walk, because such things were intensely personal, even though I had had to distract Debra from her injuries, pain, and sense of panic long enough to allow her to refocus on healing.

"I'm going to retire. With Wakan Tanka and Ptesanwi around, who needs a mere shaman?" I saw Mr. Lodgeman's grin and his wink, and I knew he was kidding me. "Cornflower is stabilized, and her torn artery has regenerated. But there was something in that energy blast that she absorbed that is interfering with her ability to regenerate."

"And that means ...." I knew what Mr. Lodgeman was implying, but I wanted to hear it from his own lips.

Mr. Lodgeman winced. "You're going to need to heal her at least twice more to fully repair the injury."

"Okay," I answered simply. There was no question about whether I'd help her. She had treated me like a friend, or a sister, and I was genuinely relieved that I could help Debra. In the healing, the two of us had shared a dream-walking experience that gave us a bond that few would ever understand. For the first time since my mutation, I felt genuinely good about myself. My stomach's growling reminded me that, though I was emotionally satisfied at that moment, I still had need of feeding my physical body. "Uh, I'm kind of hungry, so can I get something to eat? And then I might as well get started on another healing."

Mom laughed nervously at my priority on eating, and after I cleaned up and made myself presentable, we caught the tail end of the breakfast service. The food selection was a bit lacking, since it had already been picked-over, but there was more than enough to satisfy my hunger. As I was finishing, Wish List stuck her head in the cafeteria. "If you're up to it, Cornflower is awake and wants to talk to you," she said to me.

With mixed eagerness and trepidation, I followed Wish List to Debra's room in the medical and lab wing, with Mom and Mr. Lodgeman following me at my elbows to catch me if I stumbled or passed out again. I could still faintly detect strange, sweet smell of the herbs I'd used in the concoction Wakan Tanka helped me make.

Debra was lying on her back, and though she was pale from blood loss, she looked pretty good for someone who'd nearly died a few hours earlier. She had an IV in her arm to highlight the seriousness of her remaining injury. The markings I'd painted on her were still present, making her look a bit like a blonde Native American. I went to her bedside. "Hi," I said uncertainly. "I heard you wanted to talk to me."

Debra grasped my hand firmly and pulled me down to sit on the edge of her bed. "Mr. Lodgeman told me that you saved my life. Thank you." Her eyes were moist, I figured out of gratitude for what Wakan Tanka and I had done to help her.

I blushed at the attention; I wasn't worthy of any congratulations or thanks or such. Frankly, it embarrassed me for them to improperly give me credit for something that I hadn't done. "It wasn't me," I protested. "It was the spirit that rattles around in my head," I said softly. I didn't like being in the spotlight, at least not as Kayda. "Besides, you didn't need me. Mr. Lodgeman is a good healer."

"Not nearly as good as you, young lady," Mr. Lodgeman said firmly from over my shoulder. "The only one I've ever seen heal better than you is Dr. Tenent at Whateley, and she's a very powerful magic healer. It was the strangest thing. It was like your healing spell temporarily gave Debra regen four or five power through whatever ritual it was you did. "

I blushed at the recognition of what I'd done. Recognition wasnt why I'd done it. "You said I'll need to do another healing spell or two." Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "I'll do one now, if I can use your medicine bag. Wakan Tanka said it will be more effective if we're alone, too."

Mr. Lodgeman handed me his medicine pouch. "I understand." He took Mom's and Wish List's elbows and led them out of Debra's room, closing the door on the way out.

I prepared the herbs, and then rummaged through many cabinets of medical supplies until I found a plastic container.

While I readied the supplies for the healing spell, Debra fidgeted a little bit. "I ... I had a dream," Debra began softly, hesitancy in her voice, "that you came to me, to calm me and comfort me."

I nodded slowly, pretty certain where this was going and not sure that I liked the destination. "Wakan Tanka directed me to come to you in dream space, as a dream-walker, to help soothe you and focus your energies on completing the healing. In dream-space, I also made you some healing tea, which I know from personal experience crossed the divide and helped you in the real world, too." I looked down, ashamed of what I'd done. "I'm sorry that I violated your dream-world without your permission. Even though it was an emergency, it doesn't excuse the intrusion in your private space."

"You saved my life. You have no need to apologize. I ...," she looked away from me, and showed a little color in her cheeks as she blushed. "I dreamed that ... you, that we ...."

"I kissed you," I said bluntly, still too embarrassed to look at her. "In the dream-world, you were in great pain, and very hysterical, which is quite understandable considering how badly you were hurt. Kissing you was the first thing I could think of to get your attention away from the injury." I glanced up saw her looking at me with a strange expression. "But it was in dream-space." I didn't understand why I felt it necessary to add that last bit.

Debra looked at me with her pretty blue eyes. Damn, but she's a hot woman, I thought. "I ... I kind of remember ...."

I knew what she was going to say, and it was going to be embarrassing to both her and me. I had to tell her, though, because Wakan Tanka had made me promise to not keep secrets from a dream-walk. "You ... you kissed me back, and ... it was nice. It ... it was ... a pretty long, pretty nice kiss. And ... I was pretty sure that you wanted to be closer than just kissing." I looked down again, feeling my cheeks burning, "I guess I did too. But it wouldn't have been right, and besides, you were too weak. And I think it was my old 'guy' thinking. I don't know."

"Yeah," Debra said with a strange lilt to her voice.

"I'm going to do the same spell I used last night," I explained as I pulled the linens down to expose Debra's injured legs. Gently, I removed the bandaging, fighting the urge to hurl my breakfast at the sight of the grisly crater still remaining in Debra's leg. Fortunately, she was too weak to sit up, so she didn't know how bad the injury was.

"Okay. The doctor told me that it worked pretty well yesterday." She sounded more confident of my magical healing ability than I felt.

The chanting over the medicine brew was smoother, but Wakan Tanka still had to guide me through the complex spell. I completed the magic on the liquid. I paused, remembering how I'd collapsed the last time I'd tried the spell.

"What's wrong?" Debra had noticed my hesitation.

"Uh, nothing," I lied.

Debra didn't buy it. "What's wrong?" she asked again, more insistently.

"Yesterday, I used so much magical power that I collapsed and was out of it for over twelve hours." I sighed. "It's a risk I'll have to take." I began to incant and paint on Debra, just like I'd done. As I finished the spell and sprinkled the reddish-brown liquid on the open wound, a bright flash nearly blinded me, and I staggered and dropped the cup, barely making it to a chair before I collapsed again.

I sat wearily on the log in the fire circle, with Wakan Tanka to my left. Debra sat to my right. She looked pale, and weak, but much better than she had in the dream-walk from last night.

"You are selfless, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said. "You thought first of your friend. I knew we had chosen well."

"I ... I couldn't let her be hurt," I said. "Not after all the League has done for us."

Debra had scooted a bit closer to me. "What's she saying?" she asked timidly.

I chuckled. "She's trying to convince me that I'm selfless and worthy of having her spirit."

"I think you are," Debra responded.

"And you are, too," I rebutted. "You took that hit that was meant for Mom and me."

Debra smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "It's part of the job. Protect people and all." I turned my gaze from the fire to her, and before I knew it, she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me very passionately.

After we broke the kiss, I stammered, "What was that for?"

"For saving me. Because I enjoyed it when you kissed me to distract me last night. Because I wanted to."

A firm shake on my shoulders woke me from my slumber. Groggy, I looked around; I was lying on my bed again. "How long?" I asked simply.

Mom took a deep breath. "It's six in the afternoon. How are you feeling?"

"Tired." I slowly sat up, but when I tried to swing my legs over the edge of my bed, Mom pushed me back. "How did I get here?" I scooted until my back was against the headboard.

"Mr. Lodgeman told me you'd finished the magic, and were in dream-space. We came in and found you passed out in a chair beside Debra's bed."

"How is she? Did ... did it work?"

Mom smiled. "She's fine. Charlie thinks that with one more healing spell, she won't even have a scar from the wound. Now, you rest here, and I'll bring you something to eat. You're probably starving."


Black Hills, between HPARC and Crazy Horse

Sitting passively in the two-person travel pod for the pneumatically-powered trip from HPARC to the Native American College outside Custer, Dr. Schmidt couldn't help but scowl as he read the reports, and he visibly winced as he scanned the pictures from the devastated campsite. By special arrangement, all the local law-enforcement agencies and federal agencies shared their data with the HPARC, because there were far too many unexplained happenings in the Black Hills, and with the rise in investigations of paranormal and mutant activities, it was prudent to make sure every possible angle was covered.

Reports like this one, however, were highly disturbing, and the images made him glad he'd had a very light breakfast so he didn't empty his stomach's contents in the small travel pod. The slaughter at the campsite, for it could be called nothing but slaughter, was horrific. From the human remains and the pattern of damage, it seemed that whatever had attacked the camp was very large, and had a bite radius of about two-and-a-half feet. Despite that, the news was calling this a savage mauling by bears, in an effort to still paranoia among the populace. Schmidt was certain that it wasn't a bear, or a mountain lion, or any other native wildlife. That only left paranormal answers. Further, the survivors were still catatonic and not responding to any stimuli, making him think that they'd had a paranormal encounter that had so traumatized them that it essentially shut down part of their brains, even the one who'd been forty or fifty yards away taking a leak.

The pod glided out of the main circulating airstream of the immense pneumatic loop and into a loading bay. Under automatic control of the maglev system, it was guided into a parking spot, and settled onto solid ground. The door opened with a hiss, and Dr. Schmidt climbed out. A graceful, wise-looking older Native American woman stepped to his side, smiling. "Dr. Schmidt, it's good to see you again." She clutched his hand in hers.

"Dr. Two Bears," Schmidt replied, "it's always good to see you. I just wish we could meet under less ... unusual circumstances. And please, call me Ernst."

The woman chuckled. "Only if you call me Hazel. Now that we have that little ritual out of the way, what mystery do you have for me to investigate today?"

The contrast between the two was striking. Ernst was young, perhaps thirty-five, tall and skinny, with close-cropped light-brown hair. His blue eyes blazed with the energy of someone who always needed to be doing something, to keep his mind active. Hazel, on the other hand, was somewhere between sixty-five and eighty; it was difficult to tell. She wore the wrinkles and lines on her face with pride, advertising her experience in a way that practically commanded people to show her respect. Her eyes were brown, beneath a long white mop of hair that was always, as today, held in a rough braid, as if the effort of grooming was of little importance to her. Ernst wore a tie and dress shirt; Hazel wore a T-shirt and jeans.

"Two things, and I hope they're not related," Ernst said as they walked from the pod bay into the underground part of the research center, clearing a security checkpoint with their ID cards. "First, our sensors have picked up some unusual psychic energy waves coming to and from our level 10 confinement area." They talked as they strode purposefully through the facility.

Hazel frowned heavily. "I thought that was warded and protected."

Ernst frowned. "It is. That's what's worrisome. Something inside is talking to something outside, we believe, even though they shouldn't be able to/"

"And with what youve got down there ...."

Ernst nodded. "Exactly." He handed his tablet to Hazel as they sat down in her office, eschewing the desk and formal chairs and instead plopping on a comfortable, old sofa. "We'd like you to look at the data and see if there's any pattern you recognize."

"You think it's Native American?"

Ernst nodded again. "Yes. And then there's the second part. You heard about the scout troop?" He saw her grim nod. "There's a lot more to the story than is in the papers. One of our psychics tried to work with the surviving boys. He hit a wall of psychically-induced fear that was practically impenetrable. Something didn't even touch these boys, but induced fear from almost fifty yards away."

Hazel looked thoughtful. "That could indicate a number of demons." She frowned. "It's too bad we can't get a true shaman to try to work with these boys."

"I might have an angle on that. Meanwhile, see if you can make any sense of this. I'm afraid this isn't in my area of expertise."


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sioux Falls League Headquarters

After one final healing and dream-walk the night before, Debra's leg was completely healed. As Mr. Lodgeman had predicted, the spell healed so thoroughly that there wasn't even a scar.

Balancing the heavy tray, I knocked on the door casing. "Room service," I said with a grin.

Debra was sitting up in her bed. "Come in," she laughed. "Medic, healer, and now waitress? You're pretty versatile."

I set the tray on one of the hospital bed things, and rolled it over her lap.

"What? No Eggs Benedict? No crepes?"

"You're lucky it's not hospital food," I giggled.

She looked at the food for a few seconds, and then leaned back with a heavy sigh. "Uh, Kayda?"

"Yeah?" I didn't like the nervous sound in her voice.

"I think we need to talk."

I sat down in a chair and looked at my hands in my lap. "I kind of figured that."

"I ... I wasn't trying to start anything like a romance with you," she said softly. "I wanted to be your friend first, because ...."

I nodded knowingly. "Yeah. The age thing."

"But with the dream-walking ... we kind of got one, didn't we? A relationship, I mean."

"In the dream world, yeah. I think so. But in the real world ...."

"I know. We have to keep it as friends." She looked down at her breakfast. "

Debra looked at me with doe-like innocence. From the trembling of her lip, I could tell that she was trying to think of the right words to say to me. "I wish you were older," she blurted out so softly that I wasn't supposed to hear.

"What?" I asked after I quickly decided to let her think that I hadn't heard, saving her from further embarrassment.

"I was just thinking," she said, trying to recover from the fact that I'd heard something, but she wasn't sure how _much_ I'd heard. "I wish I had a big picture to remember you. If you don't mind, I'd like to make one of your pictures into a nice poster for my room. My hero and rescuer, you know," she added with a coy smile, causing me to blush. I could tell that she was thinking of more, especially since some of the pictures were quite racy and daring. "And if I did, would you please sign it for me?"

I smiled. "Of course," I said before grinning and giggling. "Are you sure it's not to help keep you warm during the cold winter months, thinking about kissing me for real instead of just in the dream-world?"

It was Debra's turn to blush. Damn, but even blushing, she was one fine-looking woman, and I got tingly all the way to my toes thinking about kissing her.

I _knew_ that I should feel good about having helped Debra, and that someone like Mr. Lodgeman, who was, apparently of high repute among Whateley alumni, was impressed by my powers, but I couldn't get myself in a good mood. Mom and I were virtual prisoners; even though the cage was gilded and comfortable, we dared not go out. All we could do was to wait for the temporary MID, and until we had that, Mom couldn't even make plane reservations. And Mr. Lodgeman had flown west on some last-minute, very urgent business in the Black Hills.

From what I'd read in the brochure, students were already at Whateley, and that was even more depressing to think about. The longer it took to get my temporary MID, the further behind I was going to be, and the more I was going to be socially isolated. And I had nothing to do. At home, I would at least have had my math books. Here, I had nothing. I'd mentioned it to Wish List mid-afternoon.

After lunch, I returned to my room, still in a funk. I was stuck, prisoner in an underground bunker, unable to get to Whateley, and if or when I did, I was going to be late, and be seen as 'the new kid'. I hadn't healed Debra; that was all Wakan Tanka's doing. To be honest, I _wanted_ to feel sorry for myself. I wanted to be in a funk. I was therefore highly surprised, and pleasantly so, when Wish List came in with an armful of graduate-level math books in my room. I looked at her, both puzzled and grateful. "Thanks," I stammered.

"Think nothing of it. Your mom suggested that these might help keep you occupied. Augustana College has some advanced degrees and the classes and books to go with it. It's no MIT, but ...." she shrugged and grinned.

"You didn't have to ...." I started to protest.

"Nonsense! It was only a few minutes away, and after what you did for Debra, how could I _not_ help you out a bit?"

"That wasn't me," I mumbled, curling my knees up to my chest. "That was Wakan Tanka that helped her."

Wish List sat down beside me and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. "Shhh," she said, halfway between comforting me and scolding me. "_You_ did it. Walkie Talkie may have worked through you ...,"

"Wakan Tanka," I corrected her.

"Whatever. Without you, she couldn't have helped Debra."

"See, I'm just useless. She did everything. If you had to count on me, Debra would have died, and it would have been my fault because I'm so useless!" I wasn't listening to her message, but was getting deeper into my funk over the whole thing, convinced as I was that I had no real role in helping her, nor that I'd have any kind of social life if I ever even got to Whateley.

"Honey," Wish List said firmly, grasping my hand, "you need to learn a few things about Avatars, since you are one. You and your spirit ...."

"Spirits," I said bitterly, wishing that they had never come to me, because all they'd done was to mess up my life by making me mutate.

"You and your _spirits_ are one. You are joined, no longer separable. After you mutated, they chose you because they sense that you're special." She saw he look on my face and nodded. "Your mutation wasn't caused by their spirits, but it made you able to join with them. You would have mutated one way or the other without them. Now that you are joined, you need to know that you cannot work without them, and they cannot work without you. You get the power of the spirits, and they get a channel to the physical world."

"You don't understand! I've lost _everything_! Every fucking thing I ever cared about! I lost my friends - hell, they tried to fucking _kill_ me - twice! I lost my girlfriend. I lost my hobbies; I lost every bit of a social life I had. I'll _never_ get to restore Grandpa's car that he specifically gave _me_. I liked my school, but I can't go back there. I can't ever go back to my family, even. And I lost ...." As tears poured from my eyes, my voice trailed off. I'd probably said too much already.

Wish List hugged me with tenderness and sympathy. "Your gender isn't everything, you know," she whispered soothingly.

I was too depressed to realize that she knew something that was supposed to be kept secret. "It _was_ a part of my identity. Now I don't know who I am anymore," I bawled. I was too down and upset to even try to pretend that I didn't know what she was talking about. "And everyone knows what kind of freak I am, too."

Wish List smiled. "The _only_ reason that I know because your mom needed some help and advice filling out the Whateley application," she reassured me. "No-one else in the center knows. Your mom isn't going around advertising it, I'm not, and if Debra knows, she's keeping her mouth shut, too."

I wasn't relieved. There were far too many people who were learning of my gender-swap for me to feel comforted. All it would take would be one nutcase or one slip-of-the-tongue, and I'd be in serious trouble, or even killed, as a gender-queer freak, especially in a redneck, intolerant state like South Dakota. "What's wrong with me?" I cried. "I ... I changed into a girl! I'm supposed to be a guy. Why aren't I freaking out about that? Why doesn't that make me angry or sad or something? I feel ... like I should be upset, and I'm upset that it doesn't bother me! And I ...." I wiped at my eyes. "Does that make any sense?"

Wish List held me tighter. "It makes perfect sense. You _should_ be upset. It's a huge change. But think of it this way. Since your change, have you had _time_ to think about what the change has done to you, or to grieve the loss of your body? Or have you been too busy to think?"

"I ...," I started to say, but I paused as her words sank in. "I guess ... I haven't really had time to think." I reflected for a moment on everything that happened. "Do you think that maybe ... Wakan Tanka changed me - in my head - so I wouldn't think about things?"

"Maybe. And maybe it's that stinky brew you keep chanting over."

"Hey," I frowned. "Wakan Tanka's tea isn't stinky!"

"What's it for, anyway?" Wish List asked.

"It's ... a healing spell and tea," I answered. "When they beat me up, Wakan Tanka made it for me to help me heal. It also helped me calm down emotionally."

"So it's some kind of liquid tranquilizer, too?"

I shook my head. "Wakan Tanka taught me that it's to heal one's spirit as well as one's body." I had a flash of understanding. "Do you think," I asked, my mouth hanging half-open, "that the tea is helping me accept the changes ... in my mind?"

"It's possible," Wish List speculated. "To Walkie Talkie, healing you in mind might be the same as helping - or forcing - you to accept your gender change. If I were you, I'd talk to her about it the next time I had a chance."

I sighed. "It's weird - I know I should be upset, but the only thing I'm afraid of _now_ is people knowing and hating me, or making fun of me, because I changed." Damned hormones were making my eyes leak again.

She must have read my concern, because she quickly added, patting me on the back, "I promise I won't tell anyone." She lifted my chin so I was looking right into her eyes. "I promise."

"Okay," I said reluctantly. "But I'm still stuck in this hole!" I complained with renewed vigor.

Wish List sighed. "At least you're not in an MCO holding cell," she offered.

"I may just as well be," I cried, not bothering to wipe away my tears. "Every day, I get further behind in classes, and all the social groups there. The clubs have probably rushed all their new members, and everyone has made new friends, while I'm stuck here. By the time I get there, _if_ I ever get there, I'll be such an outsider that I just as well not go."

Wish List was at a loss for words. She might have wanted to deny that I was right, but I think she knew that I'd see through the lie, and that anything she tried to say wouldn't do much to comfort me. Instead, she pulled me close and held me while I cried.

The gym should have been a distraction from my restlessness, but even that was discouraging, since the weight set went into tons, not tens and hundreds of pounds. I felt like a weakling, and my self-image wasn't bolstered when I discovered that the special treadmill could go to over one hundred miles per hour. My top speed of just over thirty-five seemed impressive, until one of the interns did ninety on the blasted machine. I tried to work out for almost forty-five minutes, but honestly, it was depressing to watch mutants with _real_ powers putting me to shame. I was a girl, and a weak mutant with meager powers compared to the others here. It didn't help my self-confidence or self-image. And the whole thing with Debra had my emotions awhirl. Dream-walking had been necessary to help her heal, but it had also been very personal, and I was definitely attracted to her, even though circumstances dictated that we could never have a relationship.

I retreated to my room and spent time studying the math books Wish List had gotten me. I was reading considerably faster, and yet my comprehension was still at the same high level, if not slightly better. Was that something that came with being an Exemplar? If so, it would make studying easier, but it would be a killer for leisurely reading of novels and such. What's the point of trying to relax by a fireplace on a cold winter night with a novel if you can finish it in forty minutes? It'd take a stack of novels to keep me entertained for just one evening.

I was frustrated about my unwanted sex-change, and I was even more upset that it wasn't bothering me as much as I thought it should. I was a freakin' girl, for pity's sake, after growing up a boy! I had tits, and female naughty-bits, and I'd long since lost my buddy Little Brandon and his sidekicks - and it didn't seem to matter! Why couldn't I cry or get angry about what my mutation - or Wakan Tanka had done to me? She'd changed my whole life, without asking. I knew that she was probably powerful enough to make me never worry about being a girl, but she'd promised me that I was in control. Was I? Was that magic tea changing me mentally despite her promise? The only thing I could conclude, after many hours of thinking on the subject, was that I was pretty messed up mentally, and thanks to Debra, emotionally as well.

To add to that mess, nothing was happening on my MID, which continued to frustrate and infuriate me. Wish List, Debra, and Mom tried to keep my spirits up with conversation, games, movies, and so on, but I couldn't stay distracted. My mood was sinking fast, and I think everyone noticed. I wasn't distracted by their efforts to cheer me, because once a person gets so wrapped up in self-pity, it's really difficult for others to pull them out of their funk unless _they_ want to get straightened out, and at that point, I didn't want to do anything but wallow in my misery.

Debra had me talk to the doctor, who confirmed that since I was an exemplar and had evidence of regeneration ability, no dosage of anti-depressants would ever do me any good. That cheered me and depressed me at the same time; I felt cared-for and loved since they were concerned about my mental well-being, but I was also bummed that my mental state was all in my control, with no ability to ever get pharmaceutical help. As bad as I felt at that point, I had no idea of how I was ever going to pull myself out of my funk.

Tractor popped his head into the television room as I sat slumped in the couch, barely attentive to whatever movie was playing. "Hey, how's it going?"

"Okay, I guess," I replied unenthusiastically.

"Your mom said you've got some interest in academics," he said, still standing in the doorway and bearing a curious expression.

I shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."

"Do you like history?"

"I suppose so. Some parts are okay."

Tractor grinned. "Come with me." Without waiting for me to disagree, he marched toward the living apartment area, making me almost run to catch up to him. "Where are we going?" I demanded as I got to his side. He said nothing, but just grinned, as we went to his apartment.

One entire wall of Tractor's apartment was a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, and it was packed with books. Books spilled out of the shelves into a few stacks on the floor, and onto the coffee and end tables. He stepped to one section and scanned the book titles as he caressed the bindings of the books. "Your mom said you're good in math."

"I guess. I'm working on college level stuff when I get some free time. And when I have my books with me."

"So I suppose you know the origins of math, right?"

"I guess," I answered, puzzled by his question and the knowing grin on his face.

"What civilization was most important for early mathematical discoveries?" he asked. Before I could answer, he continued, "Can you name a dozen important mathematicians from that civilization, tell me where they're from, and why the discoveries were important to the civilization at that time?"

He'd piqued my interest when he asked about math. "Greece, I suppose," I answered. "And some of the important guys are Euclid, Pythagoras, Eratosthenes ... there's a whole bunch of them."

"How about Hypatia?" Tractor asked with a smug smile.

"Uh," I replied, a little perplexed. "I've heard of her, I think."

"How about Menelaeus? Dicearchus? Hipparchus?"

"Okay," I muttered, "so there are a lot of them that I _don't_ know. And I don't know all that other stuff that you were talking about - when and where they lived, why it was important at the time ..."

Tractor pulled down a book that he'd obviously been thinking of, and held it out to me. "This is the first volume of a six-volume set of history of ancient Greece. All those questions, and more, are answered in these volumes."

I warily took the book and cracked it open, looking at a random page. In a brief scan, I saw that this section was dealing with the trade interactions of the Middle Minoan and Middle Helladic eras of the Aegean civilizations. It didn't have much to do with math, or mathematicians, but it was strangely interesting to me. However, being a somewhat stubborn teenager, I tried hard not to show that interest, instead handing the book back to Tractor and scanning the book shelves.

He had a larger personal library of books in his apartment than the library at my former school, and from what I could see, most were related to history. "I take it you like history?" I asked, trying to sound uninterested, even though my curiosity had been stirred.

"You could say that," Tractor answered. "Everything from ancient civilizations in both the old and new worlds, up through Viet Nam. History tends to run in cycles, so if you understand the past, you can be prepared for the future."

"I thought Vanity Girl said you have an almost eidetic memory," I continued, confused at the sheer number of books in his collection.

"Not quite," Tractor answered, smiling, "but close."

"So why _do_ you own all these books? They take up a lot of space. Couldn't you just borrow them from a college library or something, and then send them back once you've read them and know what's in them?"

"I understand you like classic cars," Tractor changed the subject so abruptly that I almost got mental whiplash.

"Uh, yeah," I replied, baffled. "So?"

"And you were working to restore a car?" Again I nodded. "Why don't you just get a lot of pictures of the car? It'd cost a lot less, and you wouldn't have to do as much work."

"That's not the point," I grumbled. "It's ... better to own the car, to feel it working, to repair it and understand first-hand how it works. Pictures aren't the same thing."

Tractor just grinned, and let me think about what I'd said. Slowly, the answer dawned on me, and my cheeks flushed. "Oh," I answered. I'd made his point for him. "You own the books because you can touch them and re-read them and feel closer to the history." I felt a little dumb at that moment.

"Precisely. They're _my_ connection to the past. Now, if you get bored, feel free to borrow a book. Just please let me know what you're reading. If you want, we can discuss a topic after you read about it."

I worked on Abstract Algebra for a while that afternoon, and glumly realized that, at my rate of work, I'd probably be done with it in two weeks, three tops. Even as I worked, though, I couldnt get my mind off of the history books. Perhaps Tractor was right in thinking that understanding the men and times behind the mathematical discoveries was as important as the math itself. Certainly, if nothing else, there were stories to be learned that could be entertaining or distracting.

I went on-line to the Augustana College bookstore to see what math books they had, and sadly, there wasn't a lot that interested me. With the books Wish List had gotten for me, I could work on advanced numerical analysis, complex analysis, or numerical linear algebra. I really wanted to dig into cryptography theory and applied cryptography, which would require a foundation in finite math. Unfortunately, the books Wish List had purchased for me didn't include anything in my preferred subjects, and the college bookstore wasn't listing any relevant books.

After dinner, I sneaked into Tractor's library and borrowed the large tome on ancient Greece that he'd piqued my interest with, realizing that he probably knew I'd come back to get that book. I figured if I was going to learn something about history, I might as well start near the beginning. It was something to do to keep from going crazy, even if I did figure it would be boring. A quick look at a timeline was daunting; the tome started with the Bronze Age of Greece, through the Mycenaean period of the late Bronze Age, and into the Dark Ages following the general collapse of bronze age civilizations. Then it went through Archaic Greece, the Classic era, and into Hellenistic Greece, and then into Roman Greece in later volumes. I was rather dismayed that this rather massive book was the first of six volumes on the topic, which meant that there was a _lot_ of history that I didn't know. I sighed to myself and considered reading something simpler, like War and Peace. This was bound to be quite boring.

I figured wrong. I'd heard some terms like the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations, but I hadn't realized what they were or how they fit into history, because, after all, to my teenage mind, they weren't girls, cars, or math (and not necessarily in that order). I suppose that it would have been difficult before my mutation to keep straight all the dates and periods- Minoan on Crete, Hellenic on mainland Greece, and Cycladic on the Greek islands - but my improved memory and recall made it easy to keep all the dates and facts organized as I plowed through the book detailing the culture, art, architecture, agriculture, and trade interactions of these three distinct groups as the Bronze Age unfolded on the pages. It was a shock to discover that this history was almost as intriguing to me as math, and by the time I put the book down about one in the morning, I'd read up through the Middle Minoan period, but I'd barely scratched the surface of ancient Greek history. A part of me was starting to think about how the ancient Greek civilizations were subsumed into the Roman Empire, but that would have to wait, because I liked my history neat and in order, not skipping about willy-nilly.

History was turning out to be like crack cocaine - something powerfully addictive and alluring. I felt a thrill as new facts poured into my head from the pages, and as I read, I wanted to learn more and more. I realized, as the night wore on, that I was hooked, that I was becoming a history-junkie.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

After breakfast, Tractor took me aside and asked me how I liked ancient Greek history, since he'd noted, with some smug satisfaction, that I'd borrowed the book. We went into a quiet room, whereupon he grilled me on the Bronze Age of Greek history. As a tutor, he was extremely thorough, but when I finally answered all his questions satisfactorily, he smiled, patted my hand in a fatherly way, gave me an assignment for that night's reading, and then, whistling pleasantly, strode out, leaving me quite baffled. It was a case of not judging a book by the cover. At first glance, being a brick and wearing his farm get-up, I figured him to be a grunt type, all muscle and no brain. It turned out I was completely wrong; Tractor was extremely smart, had a master's degree in history, and was working on his doctorate when he wasn't superheroing. He just used his appearance to disarm those around him.

Tatanka gazed out over the forests, with me standing beside him. "Your friend knows the lessons of wiciteglega. Do you know what the lesson is?"

"He ... He appears less than he is. His appearance deceives those around him, giving him advantages."

"And so must you," Tatanka concluded the brief refresher lesson.

After lunch, Wish List and Debra got permission to take me up into the mall to do some shopping. While I usually loathed the idea of shopping, the thought of getting out of the coop for a bit was enticing, even if it did mean 'girl shopping'. And when I say girl shopping, I mean real girl-shopping. After our last shopping outing, I was very nervous about the possibility of a repeat adventure, but Wish List and Debra reassured me. At the last minute, Vanity Girl and Card Trick joined us, making it a large all-girl's shopping adventure. Mom declined to participate, noting that she was tired, but she gave me her credit card so we wouldn't be a burden on the group, and we went on our adventure.

In retrospect, I should have known that it was going to be another torture session like Mom had put me through shopping, or at the very least, a cram course in being a young lady. We started by stocking up on lingerie for me, which had been embarrassing enough when I'd had to do that with just mom, but with the girls along, it got ... interesting, and quite embarrassing. Their thoughts of what a girl should have for lingerie didn't match my thoughts at all, and they had fun making me try on lots of different undergarments, from corsets to bustiers, teddies to garter belts. I know I was blushing a lot when I had to model for the girls, but never more so than when I occasionally noticed a very appreciative, lustful look in Debra's eyes. Every time I saw that look, a small part of me wanted to flaunt the underwear even more for her, and the fact that I felt as I did added to my embarrassment.

We got manicures, which I really didn't like, but the artist doing my nails really understood my motif, which was Lakota symbols, and my nails ended up looking very nice with painted symbols on a light tan background. They wanted to get me a pedicure, but I drew the line at that. I got my ears pierced, like Mom had wanted, and the studs they put in also had a Lakota theme. I bought a few more sets of earrings that had the Indian theme, including one pair that looked like miniature dream catchers. I wasn't going to, but when Debra started ranting about how cute they looked on me, I couldn't resist. I hoped that Tatanka would appreciate the buffalo earrings I got as well, as a tribute to him.

We paused once in our rounds to eat at one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, Taco Johns, which is located primarily in the upper Midwest. It's not authentic Mexican food, but their taco burgers are to die for! Debra ate eleven of them as a mid-afternoon snack. I doubted I'd see another TJs once I went to Whateley; the fast food restaurants there probably served maple-syrup covered pancakes, codfish, and concoctions of clam chowder and lobster. Yes, I was being stereotypical, but I figured it was all in fun, and Debra got a laugh out of my jokes.

There was a wonderful store of Native American crafts and such, primarily for tourists, but Debra talked to the manager, and we went into a back room filled with more exclusive merchandise that _wasn't_ for tourists. I was measured for a buckskin dress and custom moccasins, like I wore in dream-space, beaded with the symbol of Ptesanwi and Tatanka. The proprietor was Lakota, so we talked some in that language, confounding Wish List and Debra. He was pleased, and it seemed that he recognized something special in me, because he was very accommodating. It would take a couple of days for my custom clothing to be ready.

Wakan Tanka told me how big of a pouch to get, and when I told the proprietor, he was confused at first. Slowly, though, after I explained that what I needed was a bag sufficient for a medicine woman, and I talked with him about shaman medicine, he understood that I knew what I was talking about, and he bent over backwards to help me. According to Wakan Tanka, I had about half of the supplies I would need for my medicine pouch, so when I asked about the rest, he smiled and said he knew of sources and could have the supplies to me at the same time the dress and moccasins were done. I paid in advance, giving him a generous tip, since he'd been so helpful.

We were all very surprised back at the base when the cook-du-jour had prepared some authentic Mexican food, like chile rellenos, chicken mole, Tampico shrimp, cheese enchiladas, and beef chimichangas, with flan and empanadas for dessert. I don't think Debra really appreciated the food, the way she was shoveling it in; Farm Boy and Tractor had to stop her and make her dish up her plate last so the rest of us could at least sample everything before she wolfed it all down.

After dinner, I worked some on my Abstract Algebra, and then picked up the history book again. Once more, I was up late reading about ancient Greece. Gak - was I more addicted to history than I was to math? The improvements in my recall, which was nearly perfect, and my reading speed were very noticeable, and it was quite satisfying. It should make studying easier. I had also found a new interest, in history of all things. In high school, history was boring, rote memorization of key dates and events. This was much different, coming alive on the pages in way that my old teacher, Mrs. Schmidt, could never have presented the material. Up to then, I'd focused on math, but having found a second area of academic focus seemed ... fun. And geeky. I didn't really care about that; I never had, well not much. I fell asleep sitting up on the bed against the headboard, with the book in my lap - at least that's what Mom told me the next morning.

It was pleasant to sit in by a stream in the prairie, watching the tall grasses dance and sway to the music of the gentle prairie breezes. There was little sound apart from a few birds and the occasional whistling and barking calls of the prairie dogs.

"Nature is as varied as the People," Wakan Tanka said. "Paha Sapa is different from the grassland, which is different from the lands around the Mnisose, the Missouri River as it is called. The maco sica, the Badlands, are different than all of them. And the lands are different with their white winter coats than with their spring flowers or their summer colors. You must learn to be in touch with _all_ of nature."

"And its creatures?"

Tatanka nodded. "The grasslands are the home of the buffalo and the pispiza, the prairie dog."

"What are the important lessons you have to teach me?" I asked Tatanka pointedly. I smiled. "Besides the fact that being big and having horns can be handy?"

Tatanka chuckled. Apparently my question was an indication that I was learning. "Endurance and survival. We live in a harsh land, with winters that are brutal. We are strong, but we are a herd, where our unity gives us protection. What is not obvious is that Tatanka are generous to the People who hunt us, giving everything they need, and thus becoming part of their spirits."

That sounded strange. It was like Tatanka didn't mind that he was hunted by the Lakota.

"What do you think are the lessons from pizpisa?"

I thought a moment, looking out over a prairie dog town. "They are a community. They work together, using whistles and grunts and signals to communicate when danger is near."

"Very good, Wihakayda. Pispiza is one of the creatures that can teach the most, but often, he is overlooked, because people seek strength and courage and independence. Learning the lessons of pispiza is very important to you." He grinned. "There is a saying about the wolf, sugmanitu hota. It is said that he is strong enough to stand alone, independent enough to stand apart, but wise enough to stand together with his pack when necessary."


South Dakota, between the Black Hills and Sioux Falls

A film of inky blackness slithered across the field, pausing every now and again to look at the horizon. Travel was slow; unlike its father, who could be sustained solely on the magical energies of the world, the serpent-creature needed to eat physical food, and pausing to eat slowed its progress. Fortunately, food was plentiful in the form of cattle, even if they werent the creature's preferred human prey. Detours from the path to feed weren't the only things delaying down the creature; the sun agonizingly burned into its dark being, forcing it to pause to find or excavate a burrow for the daytime.

The creature could sense its prey; the magical energy radiated by the hybrid of Ptesanwi and the white buffalo was a beacon, practically inviting the creature to locate it and destroy it and its host, just as its father had directed. Like its father, it knew patience. It could stalk its prey for decades if necessary, like its father, playing a game measured in centuries, not in hours or days.

As light began to slowly color the horizon with paler shades of blue, the creature stopped its forward progress and began to dig into the soil, making yet another huge burrow to conceal itself from the destructive rays of the sun. It smiled to itself. Two or three more cycles of the sun, and it would be in position to destroy the enemy of its father. It would not fail.