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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Kayda 9: Crying for a Dream

by ElrodW

Part 1

On a night as I lay sleeping, in a dream I saw the shore of a distant land where
Promise lay in wait
And I heard the sound of voices of a million hungry souls
Now it comes to me to lead them to the gate

But I am just a man, not worthy of this plan
With a strength that's not my own,
I must rise

And I...will bear the light, (and the vision leads me onward)
That have their sight
I'd sail a thousand seas to make it so

To the Kings I gave the mission, in the hope that they would share
In the joy of setting countless captives free
But the lust for Gold and power, is luring us away
From a calling that began in purity

And 'm still just a man, not worthy of this plan
With a strength that's not my own, I must rise

Now a tempest rages in my heart, as this fever furies on
Soon these islands promise rest and hope, my answers wait beyond their shore
Dream on...

Hungry eyes are standing on the sand, they beckon us to bring the tide
Sovereign hand must hold me now, I plead with you
Be my solace and my guide... by my side

And I...will walk with you
On the shores of the land of promise
That blind... men see you too
I'd sail a thousand seas to make it so

Distant Vision
- Kansas


Friday, August 3, 2007 - Afternoon
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

"I hate this!" Danny snapped at Mom and me. He was sitting in a recliner, resting a bit, as we waited for the healing brew to work its magic and whisk away the last remnants of his headache.

"It's your own fault," I chided him, perhaps a little too roughly, because Mom shot me a dirty look. "You know you have to spend time like this to keep the headaches from coming back." 'This' was the kitty-girl form of Wihinape that Mom referred to as 'slut-kitty', and to be honest, I understood why. In this form, Danny had long, tawny hair, cute little rounded mountain lion ears high on the sides of his head, cat-eyes, and a body that'd put almost any girl but Fey to shame. And a tail.

"I know," Danny groused. "But ... I don't like ... looking like this!"

Sue Philips, recently hired by my family to help around the farm, was passing by a large archway connecting the living room to the dining room. "I think you look adorable like that!" she grinned. Based on how she scurried away, Danny had given her some kind of dirty look. Sue and her boyfriend Steve were both mutants with mild GSD and friends of Debra, and both wanted to be farmers eventually, so Mom and Dad took them in as hired help and apprentices.

"Mom," I suspected that Danny wanted to talk with me alone - probably something that he'd be embarrassed to talk with to Mom or in front of Mom. "Can you give Danny and me a little time to talk?"

It was obvious that Mom wasn't sure she wanted to go; after all, it was part of a mother's job to comfort her sick children, but then again, Danny wasn't really sick. His forced time as Wihinape-woman was an inconvenience at most - maybe not to him, though - but Mom was treating it as an excuse to baby her son. As my mind wandered, I wondered for a moment if I'd be that caring a mother.

As soon as I realized what I was thinking, I ruthlessly banished those thoughts from my mind as a mighty shudder coursed up and down my spine - several times. Where in the hell had they come from?

"Okay. Danny," I began, not very patiently. "You know the score - you have to spend part of your time as ... her ... or her spirit will force you to permanently change into at least her cat-woman form."

"But ... I don't wanna be a girl!" he whined.

I looked down at him and he cringed; I was probably glaring or giving him some other unpleasant expression. "And you think I did?"

My little brother - sister - winced, realizing he'd hit a sore spot. "Sorry," he muttered. "It's just ... embarrassing!"

"You'll get used to it," I tried to sound sympathetic, but I wasn't sure if I was succeeding.

"But ... I don't want to have to ...." Seeing my returning glare, he stopped mid-sentence. "And getting me that ... stuff ...."

"It's called lingerie," I smirked.

"Lingerie ... it wasn't cute or sexy!"

"We all thought it was," I chuckled, thinking of the look on Danny's face when he opened the package.

"Yeah," Danny started, then realized where his thoughts were going. "But not on me!"

"Mom thought it was cute, but ... maybe a little too daring," I admitted.

"Yeah? Well what if Mom decides to take you shopping with her ... for ... girl clothes?" he snapped angrily without thinking.

"She did," I retorted, just as angrily. It really rankled that I'd gone through a complete sex change, and had painfully adapted, while he was whining about spending a day or two a week as Wihinape-girl. "There's nothing you're going through that I haven't! At least you get to spend most of your time as yourself!" I snapped, turning my back on him so he wouldn't see my eyes watering at the memories - damn, was it only five and half months ago? With everything that'd happened, it seemed like it had been forever!

"Sorry," he mumbled. "It's just ... sometimes ... I forget how much you went through."

"Yeah? Just be glad that ...." I stopped, shuddering and wiping my eyes from the onslaught of tears at the brutal memories that seemed to never fade.

I didn't expect Danny to get up and wrap me in a hug. Since he was in his kitty-girl form, it didn't seem at all weird; more like a sisterly hug. "Sorry," he apologized, and he sounded like he really meant it.

"Let's take a little walk," I suggested on the spur of the moment. I had a feeling that I knew one of the things that was bugging Danny, and it wasn't something he was going to discuss with Mom or Sue anywhere nearby. "We're going for a walk," I called to Mom, who was busy in the kitchen, as we went out the door.

As we walked toward the shop, I had to ask one question. "Did you and Mom and Dad ever settle on what to call you when you're ... like this?"

"No, but I overheard Mom talking to Sue. She said I should maybe go by Danni - with an 'i'," Danny said, "but ...."

"Too close for comfort?"

"Yeah. I ... kind of think that ... I want to go by Danica. And ... I always liked the name Alexis," he admitted, looking down and quite probably blushing, "so if I had to have a middle name ...."

I smiled. "Nice. Let me guess - you're upset because ... you're afraid girls won't like you at Whateley?"

"They think I'm 'kyoot'," Danny complained. "I don't want to be cute." He looked at the ground as we walked for a bit. "And ... I ... I mean, I've never .... And changing like this ...."

I couldn't help but chuckle. "Danny," I began, stopping and lightly clutching his arm so he halted and turned toward me. I lifted his chin so he wasn't gazing at the gravel drive. "Danny, there are some girls on campus who are going to want to tear your clothes off and jump you - whether you're in your normal form, as kitty-boy, or like this!"

"But ...." Danny was confused.

"Danny," I continued, "I guarantee you that there will be girls - bi girls - who will be all over you. You'll probably get more nookie as a guy than I ever dreamed of!" He blushed, looking skeptical. "I'm not kidding. And the first time you're like that and with a girl ...." I couldn't help but grin, which made him blush all the more. "You might like it so much you don't change back!" I teased.

"Uh, no!" Danny protested in horror. "I ... I won't do that!"

Time to change the subject. "Let me guess - deep down, inside, you like the sexy underwear Addy and Alicia got for you, don't you?"

"It's ... it's ..." He looked up sharply at me. "I'm not gay!"

"I didn't say you were. But a girl's skin is more sensitive than a guy's, and satin and silk feel real nice."

Danny gawked at me, and I could tell that there was a war going on in his brain - part of him was revolted by things, but part of him liked the silk underwear, making him quite conflicted. "Why did this have to happen to me?" he finally cried out, his eyes starting to water. "It's ... it's confusing!"

I sighed. "I don't know," I answered honestly.

"Wihinape said it had to do with your spirit," he countered. "So you have to know!" He was getting kind of overwhelmed emotionally; he clearly wasn't used to the different cocktail of hormones sloshing about in his female body.

I just shook my head. "I don't know."

At that moment, Danny shot me a look that cut me to the quick - no doubt he felt that I'd betrayed him by not telling him, or was somehow the cause of his changes, or that I hadn't given him more help to adjust. Eyes watering, trying to keep from crying aloud, Danny turned and bolted for the house.

I was left standing alone in the driveway, staring after him. At that moment, I realized that I didn't know my own purpose. I had no clue what my changes were all about. I realized that I had a ton of questions that I'd never considered before. And that was a frightening thought.

Friday, August 3, 2007 - Evening
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

The moment I entered my dream-space, I knew that it wasn't going to be a pleasant dream-walk. Every time the skies were overcast or it was dark, there was some serious matter to attend to, and this time, it was quite cloudy with ominous, dark storm clouds gathering on the horizon. An involuntary shudder coursed down my spine.

Even before I heard the shrieking call above me, the wind spirit told me that something was circling high overhead. I looked up to see which spirit was soaring on the winds, and smiled when I recognized Wabli, the eagle. "Greetings, friend!" I called to him, stretching out my arm and inviting him to land. As he glided downward, I asked him the question that was on my mind. "Where is Wakan Tanka? Why are you here to greet me, and not her?"

He lit on my buckskin-covered arm, and I didn't flinch a bit, even though I knew his talons could shred my arm. He was Wabli, a friend and guide, and I'd walked with him and the other animal spirit guides often enough that I no longer flinched from some of them - like Maka the skunk or Mato the bear. At that thought, I chuckled to myself; I had flinched when Mato decided to prank me and introduce me to Matohota, the spirit of the grizzly bear.

That had been a very interesting experience. I thought I knew Grizzly, the ancient spirit I'd bound to mitake ki, Lanie, the one who was my soul sister. But Grizzly wasn't the same as Matohota; there were many animal spirits of the same type, each dwelling in one area or with one group or clan. None, though, were as powerful or as ancient as Grizzly. The Grizzly.

Many weeks earlier, I'd gone to my dream space to talk to Mato, to get some advice, and while I was talking with him, Matohota came onto the scene. "Hi, Grizzly," I said with a smile. "Where's Lanie?" To my shock, Matohota didn't reply, but instead roared before lowering to all fours and charging me. I nearly wet myself as I bolted to safety, realizing that it wasn't Grizzly, but another spirit. And all the while, Mato roared with laughter so hard that he was rolling on the ground. Lanie, too, had found the incident hilarious when I recounted it to her. I had to get back at him for that prank. But now was not the time. Now it was a time for me to seek answers to questions that I had.

"Where is Wakan Tanka?" I asked Wabli again.

"She is not here," Wabli answered simply.

I was rather shocked. "But ... I have some questions to ask her," I countered. It wasn't like my spirit mentor and tutor to not be there for me.

Wabli was nonplussed. "The questions you have, Wakan Tanka cannot answer."

"What?" My jaw nearly hit the ground.

"The answers are not with Wakan Tanka," Wabli repeated, "but within you."

"I ... I don't understand."

"Who are you?" Wabli asked simply.

"I'm ... I'm the Ptesanwi," I replied after a momentary pause of surprise. Surely he knew who I was.

"Yes, but what does that mean?"

I was taken aback by the question. "It means ... it means I'm the prophetess for Wakan Tanka," I said hesitantly. By that point, I strongly suspected that he was asking for something different.

"Yes, you are," he answered, looking me square in the eyes. "But what does that mean?"

I made a sour face thinking about the question. "It means that ... I'm supposed to ... help the People?" My response was less a statement than a question, and a very uncertain one at that.

"Does it?" another voice came from below me. Startled, I looked down to where Hoka, the badger, sort-of squatted on his haunches.

"What does it mean to help the People?" another voice said - a soft, feminine voice that I immediately recognized as being the deer Sitehaska.

All around me, the spirit animals were congregating, closing in without threatening, more like they were giving me an audience. Hoka, Mato, Sitehaska, Suka Wakan the horse, Suka the dog, Hehaka the elk, Zica the squirrel, and so many, many more; it seemed as if every single spirit animal I'd met - and some I hadn't - had come to me, all looking like they were waiting for my answer. "I don't understand the question," I tried to beg off, to get some time to think about the question and its answer - if there was one.

"What does it mean to help the people?" a gruff voice echoed. For several seconds I stared at Tatanka, my buffalo spirit, a latecomer to the scene, trying to figure out how to answer his question. "You do not know the answer to the question of who you are, Wihakayda," he replied after a bit, "and so you cannot answer the question of what it means, or what your role is to be."

"That's ... that's why I was going to talk with Wakan Tanka," I protested, though I knew that with all the animal spirits gathered, there had to be truth in what Tatanka and Wabli had been saying.

"You must find your own answers as to who you are, and what your purpose is," Mato said gently, almost parentally. "Wakan Tanka knows who she is, but she cannot tell you who you are. Only you can do that."

"But ... how ...?" Now I was more confused than ever. If I didn't know who I was, and the animal spirits couldn't tell me, and Wakan Tanka couldn't tell me, then how was I supposed to figure it out on my own?

"You must do what your ancestors have done since the sun began to rise in the morning," Tatanka said. "The People have sought answers in Hembleciya, 'Crying for a Dream'. And now, it is time for you to do the same."

I gulped nervously. The answer didn't surprise me; I knew about that ritual from my grandmother, and she had predicted that someday, I would have my own vision quest. Now, it was that time, time for me to find my answers to my questions. The prospect frightened me.

Friday, August 3, 2007 - Evening
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

"You gonna join us anytime soon?" Earl Smoking Pipe asked from the table where he and several other men were clustered around cards and chips, with cigar smoke rising from more than one of the poker players.

"You want me to burn the burgers?" Tom Small Horns replied with a chuckle. "On the other hand, if I do burn them, you guys won't make me cook next week."

"Fat chance of that!" another man, William Short Bear chuckled. "It'd be Earl's turn, and he can't cook worth a damn!" He glanced at the cards in his hand and then at the pot. "I'll see you and raise two."

"You're bluffing," an older, white-haired man, Ben Three Tails, next to William grumbled. "I'll see you and raise three." The next man, Dave Runs-Quick, stared at his cards a bit. "I'm in." The fourth man, though, a young, thoughtful-looking man named Sam Jump-the-Creek, sighed as he slapped his cards face-down on the table. "Not with this hand."

"Call," Short Bear said, tossing in three chips. "Ah, come to papa," he said with a grin after his full house won the round.

"How come you're so lucky tonight?" Sam asked William.

"Yeah," Ben Three Tails queried. "In fact, you've been on a winning streak since ... since early July."

Short Bear chuckled. "That's what happens when you get a blessing from the Ptesanwi."

"Yeah, right," Earl, looking over his shoulder from the grill, scoffed.

"No, really," Short Bear said. "A couple of weeks ago, she came out with her Mom - Grey Skies' daughter? - to deal with more of Grey Skies' estate and affairs." He puffed up his chest a bit. "Naturally, we were the honor guard for the girl." Absently, he fingered a charm on a leather thong hanging around his neck.

"Why would she bless someone like you?" Three Tails chuckled. "Unless it was because she knew you needed all the help you can get?"

"Funny!" Short Bear grunted. "She blessed all the Ghost Warriors. That's why I've been so lucky."

Earl turned to the poker table. "I met her last spring," he announced to the group. "When she was introduced by Chief Bear Claws and Grey Skies." He couldn't help but smile as he recalled the festivities. "Cute girl, too. Now if I had a grandson ...."

"He'd be as ugly as you and she'd flee in terror!" Dave Runs-Quick laughed.

Short Bear shook his head slowly. "I heard she's two-spirits. And that's not surprising, after what happened to her!" There was soft murmured assent at his comment; they all knew the story, and nothing more needed to be said.

"Typical of the white man's promises," Jump-the-Cree snorted angrily. "They promised justice for her, but gave none. Just like all their other empty words."

"Yeah." The consensus was unanimous; the men had little faith in the government to watch out for the interests of them or the People.

"If John hadn't let her see him, we could have taken care of that," Short Bear complained. "But she saw him, and she stopped us."

"She's the Ptesanwi," Three Tails snorted. "Of course she was going to see the Ghost Warriors." He took a sip of his drink. "She should have called down the cloud upon them."

"And she should have let us maintain our tribe's honor," Short Bear shot back.

Earl shook his head, grimacing. "That's the problem with the white man's schools. They teach our young to be sheep instead of wolves. They do not teach them honor and tribal values and family."

Sam Jump-the-Creek tilted his head slightly, lost in thought for a moment. Realizing that the other were staring at him, he gave a half chuckle and shook his head. "It ... it's nothing." Seeing their persistent, curious gazes, Sam shrugged. "We should stand up and be wolves before we die as sheep," he said philosophically, his eyes burning with an internal rage-fueled fire. "The white man dared to dishonor our Ptesanwi, so if we are wolves, we will take revenge and not wait for the white man's broken promises of justice."

Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Morning
Kayda's Home, South Dakota

"Kayda?" Mom's voice was a little insistent and concerned.

"Um, yeah," I mentally shook off the distracting thoughts to focus on Mom. Not surprisingly, she, Danny, and Sue were all staring at me. Mom and Danny had knowing looks, but Sue's expression was pure confusion.

"What are you thinking about?" Mom asked bluntly, with a frown.

"Um," I winced, not sure I wanted to tell Mom. "Nothing."

"Kayda," Mom returned sternly, her eyes narrowing. "What's going on? Did you have problems dream-walking with Deb last night?"

I shook my head. If anything, last night with Deb was wonderful. It was the nagging question which weighed heavily in my mind, and I didn't think Mom would understand. "No, it was nice." I deliberately avoided her gaze.

"But?" She glanced at my plate, which I hadn't touched. "You haven't eaten anything." I could feel her glare at me. "Kayda?"

"I ... I need .... I've been thinking about something," I hesitantly answered, trying to divert her questions - which I suspected was a futile effort.

"Kayda Louise Franks," Mom shifted into full stern parental mode. "What is going on?"

A heavy sigh came out before I could stop it. "I ... I don't know who I am," I replied.

Mom shook her head, smiling. "You have time to grow ...."

"No, I don't!" I replied sharply. "I don't have time! I'm ... I need to know who I am."

Mom reared back slightly from the insistence in my tone. "You're a teenage girl, dear," she tried to comfort me. "You have time to grow."

"Mom," I sighed, shaking my head in frustration. "Who am I supposed to be?" I easily read her confusion. "According to my spirit, who am I?"

"You're ... you're the Ptesanwi," she replied uncertainly, and I couldn't help but notice a little bit of awe and reverence in her voice. In keeping with her heritage, she knew the legends and importance of the prophetess of Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit.

"But ... I don't know that that means," I countered. "I don't know how to be the Ptesanwi!"

Mom started, and her mouth opened to reply, but no words came out. Finally, she nodded. "I understand."

"Tell Dad after I've gone," I said simply. "He wouldn't understand, and he'd try to stop me."

Mom nodded her agreement. "Okay. When are you going to start?"

"Last night. I started fasting and taking the ... herbs. I need to go get ready and then go."

"Go? What are you talking about?" Danny finally interrupted, confused at the cryptic way Mom and I were talking. "Where are you going?"

"Hembleciya," I replied simply, not quite seeing that what was obvious to me wasn't clear to Danny. Sue was totally lost, of course. "Crying for a Dream. What is ... inappropriately ... called a vision quest. I ... better go get ready so I can go." With that, I excused myself from the table and went upstairs to change. Behind me, I heard Mom trying to explain the concept of a vision quest to Sue and Danny.

I took out one protective charm that, in the weeks since my trip to France, I'd fashioned from Mishibijiw's copper spikes and had infused with magic. I hoped I wouldn't need it, but it was better to be safe. It had taken quite a while, and lots of time in dream-space with Wakan Tanka, including a rather nerve-wracking visit to Mishibijiw, to figure out how to use the copper spikes. When a charm or token was fabricated from Mishibijiw's magic copper spikes, it was 'tuned' to a specific spell that the user formed into the new item. Thereafter, it was like a rechargeable battery to hold essence and release it into that spell - but one-and-a-half to two times more efficiently than my regular spell, which meant a shield lasted twice as long. When a token or charm was made from a full set of spikes, the effect was two to two-and-a-half times as strong. The other advantage was that the spell in the copper item could be turned off and on so long as there remained essence within it. I could see a lot of advantages to having such an item, but the fact that it was limited to one spell - and that essence used to charge it was irrecoverable - made me wary of what spells I put in them. I had to make charms for my teammates, but I'd wait until we were all back at Whateley so we could collectively discuss what spells best fit each person.

"Does Deb know?" Mom asked when I came back down.

"Yeah. We talked about it last night." I went to the 'special' cabinet where Mom kept the 'special' herbs from Grandma that I didn't normally keep in my medicine pouch. "She's not happy, but she understands." I filled a couple of water bottles, and then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'll be back in a few days."

Mom wrapped me in a hug. "Be careful. We'll see you when you're done."

"Okay. Love you, Mom." With that, I turned to the door. Wearing the simplest and most modest of my buckskin outfits, carrying only two water bottles and my medicine pouch, I set off toward the fields, hopefully toward some answers. My heart was heavy at not being able to dream-walk with Deb for several days, and I was a little afraid, because the hembleciya ritual was reputed to be tough on the body and the mind, but I was determined to find the answers I needed.

Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Kayda's Home, South Dakota

June Franks walked nervously and quietly into the living room, where Danny was sprawled lazily on the sofa watching a movie. When he didn't acknowledge her - as was typical of a teen boy - she took the remote and clicked off the television.

"Mom," Danny complained, "it was getting to the good part!"

"We need to ... talk," June said, cringing at the words even as they came out. She knew it sounded like Danny was in trouble.

The boy looked up uneasily at his mom. "Um, why?" he asked hesitantly.

"It's about ... your changes," June answered. "Let's go upstairs to your room."

Danny's concern skyrocketed at her choice of words. "Mom," he whined, hoping to deter the subject he dreaded talking about.

"Your sister has gone on her vision quest, Sue is out in the field cutting hay, and your father and Steve took a load of cattle to Sioux Falls, so it's just us. And we need to have a talk." She put her hands on her hips, signifying that she had no patience if he didn't obey.

Reluctantly, begrudgingly, Danny trudged up the stairs as if each tread was a major obstacle. June followed, having picked up a small package from a desk in a corner of the living room. At the head of the stairs, she detoured into Kayda's room and retrieved a book, then followed her son into his room, where she pulled out his desk chair and sat. "Sit down," she gestured to Danny's bed.

After Danny was seated, June took a book out of the package and handed it to Danny. He gawked at the title as he read it - 'Man's Body: an Owner's Manual' - suddenly dreading the subject he knew his mom wanted to talk about. He gulped nervously and looked meekly at his mom.

"I assume your Dad has had 'the Talk' with you?" she asked bluntly.

"Um," Danny winced, "yeah. Kind of. Some."

"I'll talk to him tonight so he can finish that before you leave for Whateley, then."

Danny sighed with relief; the thought of talking with his Mom about male biology and urges and such was more than slightly nauseating. "Okay."

"Which brings us to what I want to talk to you about." Danny goggled at his mother, now very, very nervous. "Please manifest ... your cat-woman form."

"Mom," Danny whined, "I ... I don't want to."

"Danny ...!"

Reluctantly, Danny stood, and then, with some concentration, his body flowed, easily passing his kitty-boy form and becoming the lithe, sexy cat-woman form that Wihinape's spirit gave him access to. "This is embarrassing," he protested.

"Then brace yourself," June said, smiling, "because it's going to get a lot more embarrassing for you." She watched, almost enjoying watching him blush. "Okay, now please put on your new underwear and the outfit I got you."

"Mooommmm!" Danny protested loudly. "I ... I don't want to wear those things!"

"Well, it will make part of the talk easier if you're naked." When Danny googled at her, in near total shock, she smiled. "You're going to have to spend part of your time like this," she explained, "so you need to learn something about the female body."

The next hour was probably the worst in Danny's life, or so he believed. He learned about lingerie - how to put on bras, how to check for fit, what kinds of nightwear were comfortable and appropriate, how to wear stockings. He learned a tiny bit about makeup - after all, when he was in the female form, he should look his best. He learned about girls' clothing and accessories - enough that he could get by.

And then there was 'the Talk'. Using one of Kayda's old sex-ed textbooks plus the other book June had gotten - the companion 'owners manual' for the female body - June gave Danny an unwanted lesson in female anatomy, hygiene, and elementary sex education. By the time they were done, Danny was beet red from head to toe.

"Now," June concluded, "whenever you're in this form, you need to be properly dressed. We'll go to Mitchell tomorrow to get you some clothes that will suit you."

"Mooommmmm," Danny whined in protest, knowing it was futile, "I don't want to have to wear ... girl clothes!"

"And there's one more thing. When you're in this form, it's not ... appropriate ... to call you Danny or Dan," June concluded. "Unless you use the feminine form, spelled with an 'i'. That's short for Danielle, which I think would fit nicely. It's what we would have named you if you'd have been a girl."

"I heard you talking to Sue about that," Danny grumbled. "I don't like it."


"If I have to have a girl's name when I'm like this," Danny muttered softly, "I was thinking Danica."

One of June's eyebrows arched, and she studied Danny for a few seconds. "Well, since you have to spend part of your time as a girl, then ... I suppose we can call you Danica. We all want to help you be comfortable."

Danny looked down, embarrassed once more. "I ... I don't want to be a girl ... all the time," he mumbled, "but ... it's ..." he shook his head, not quite sure what to say. "I don't know."

"Danny," June said softly, which got his attention, "are you gay?"

"No!" Danny shot back immediately. "I ... I really like girls. But ...."

"I think I understand," June smiled. "If you have to be a girl sometimes, you want to be comfortable with it."

Danny pondered her words for a moment. "Yeah," he acknowledged.

"Good." June stood with a smile. "You can borrow a pair of my shoes if they fit."


"Because if you want to be comfortable those times you have to be a girl, you need a few nice outfits. So we'll go to Mitchell and see what we can find." June was already lost in thought as she planned a shopping trip. "I wonder if we should go to Sioux Falls," she muttered to herself. "Maybe Deb or Val or Vanessa aren't busy, and they could help us get something trendy and fashionable."


Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Mid-Afternoon
Near the Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

I hadn't eaten since last night, and the August sun was, as usual, rather brutally hot. Add in the fact that I'd trudged a few miles, and it was understandable that I was tired and uncomfortable, but a vision quest wasn't about being comfortable. I was here to find out about myself, to open myself to the spirits to help me discover who I was and what my path in life was to be. I wasn't even on our farm property anymore, but rather on a river bluff looking down on the James River. I had water, shade, and protection in case an afternoon thundershower popped up. In my soul, I felt like it was a good place to search.

Since I'd consumed my water, I first got more; the river wasn't exactly clean, but a few herbs and magic, and it was as pure as rainwater. I thirstily drank a bottle, and then I cleaned more water and mixed up the special herbs from Grandma.

I had no idea what to expect, except that the herbs were hallucinogenic, and hembleciya was not about being comfortable, but instead was to put stress on the body in a way that helped push the spirit further into the other realms, from whence the visions would come.

Feeling a little dizziness come over me, I sat back against a tree and began to say the ritual prayers.

Saturday, August 4, 2007 - Evening
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The old, retired chief ambled slowly into the room, limping slightly and walking with a cane. Silence had descended on the large group of men, young and old, who were seated in a circle as if at a council fire; he felt all eyes in the room on him, and the weight of the conversation hung like thick smoke.

"Chief Dan," Earl Smoking Pipe stood and shook hands with his friend. "It is good to see you up and about again. How are you feeling?"

Dan snorted. "Better than I deserve." He spotted a stuffed chair behind a couple of young men and eased his slightly-overweight, tired, old body down. "But that's my own fault."

Ben Three Tails smiled to himself. "Sometimes, we get involved in matters which should be left alone. I heard of Grey Skies and her plot ...."

"Which I was stupid enough to fall into," Dan grumbled angrily. "She could have been hurt! And all because Grey Skies wanted to manipulate her into coming 'home'."

Earl chuckled. "It is hard to say no to a powerful shaman."

"I know," Dan groused. "But that doesn't make me feel any less stupid for my role."

"What's done is done," Ben dismissed the past events.

"Which brings us to tonight," Dan speculated. "Rumors spread like a prairie fire before a wind. Grumbling of discontent and anger."

"And why shouldn't we be angry?" Sam Jumps-the-River snapped, scrambling to his feet. "After what that town did to the Ptesanwi?"

William Short Bear nodded. "We had the power to do what their justice would not, but she stopped us."

"Would you go against her wishes?" Ben's question stopped much of the chatter.

"She is young," Sam countered. "She does not know our ways, our traditions, our culture."

Tom Small Horn nodded firmly. "If we do not make an example, soon the white men will think they can take any of our women with impunity! Ptesanwi is too important to not avenge the wrong done to her."

"Her father told me that the Federal government is investigating to charge the ... offenders ... with civil rights violations," Dan Bear Claws replied. "They haven't ..."

"That's not punishing them for the crime!" Sam almost shouted back. "That's ... a made-up, feel-good law! They are rapists, plain and simple, and they need to carry the mark of what they've done."

"A conviction on civil rights violations is ... weak," Tom nodded in agreement. "They would not have to register as sex offenders. They would get little punishment for the actual crime."

"So what would you have us do?" Dan asked, certain of and dreading the answer he was going to receive.

"We must punish them ourselves, in accordance with our laws!" Sam replied, to which he received more than a little vocal support. That wasn't surprising; he'd been stirring up the men for a couple of days, and at present, they were almost a mob.

"Do you request it?" Ben asked solemnly. His words and tone caught everyone by surprise, and they gawked at him. "Do you request this?" he repeated.

Sam nodded angrily. "I request that the tribe punish those who violated our Ptesanwi."

"We should punish the entire town!" Tom added. "They were accessories to the boys not being punished for their crime."

"It's time to act like men," Sam argued. "It's time to quit being sheep to be trampled by the lies of the white man. It's time to act like the proud people we are."

"Would you have us put on our war paint?" Dan asked calmly. Many of the men gulped at his blunt words, but Sam and Tom stood firm.

"If necessary," Sam said defiantly, "yes. We cannot allow this insult to the People to go unanswered."

Dan and Ben exchanged wary looks. "Very well," Dan finally replied. "I will bring it up with our current chief."

"And you will support it?" Sam asked hopefully.

Dan looked coolly at the man. "I will bring it up with our current chief."

Sunday, August 5, 2007 - Morning
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

As usual, the groups that gathered outside the church were pretty much segregated by age, with only a few exceptions. Danny was with a tween/teen group of ten kids - far from his entire class, but then again, different families went to different churches. Nearby, the older high-school kids hung around, a couple of them eyeing Danny with suspicion or hostility, especially since the six girls in Danny's group were huddled around him like groupies.

"That is soooo kyooot!" one of the girls squealed in delight as she rubbed Danny's ears. As usual, with embarrassment came his 'kitty-boy' form, and that caused girls to go wild.

As feared, he'd continued to change, losing bulk and muscle mass until his body was very sleek, almost feminine except for very visible, well-toned musculature. Facially, he was softer, less angular, more bishonen, and though he hated it, Kayda and Deb had been correct that many girls found it very attractive. His hair had changed from medium brown to tawny color, and even in his most human, most male form, his incisors were a tiny bit longer, more like a cat's teeth. Naturally, his body form drew a lot of teasing from other boys, especially when girls reacted like many of them did.

As kitty-boy, the change was even more profound. His body was covered with light, tawny-brown fur, and his ears morphed toward the top of his head, rounding like the ears of a mountain lion, and his canines were even more pronounced. To his shock, he'd discovered that his kitty-boy form had slowly changed as well; he now had a short tail, which made sitting quite uncomfortable, and was a bit of a pain to keep hidden in his trousers.

Danny, blushing, winced. "I can't help it," he explained. "When ... when I get ... embarrassed or stuff, I ... kind of automatically shift to ... this." He gestured with his hands down his body, as if he'd really needed to point out the differences to the girls.

"Or stuff?" one of the girls, Trisha Roberts, who was well ahead of her classmates in the curves department purred sexily, moving closer until her body was touching Danny, her breasts against his side as her hands rubbing all over his shoulders and chest. "Like ... maybe this excites you?"

"You're wasting your time on this sissy-boy faggot, Trish!" Tyler Peterson, one of the boys, sneered loudly enough to be heard by anyone within ten yards. "Anyone with eyes can see that he's gay."

"Oh, yeah?" one of the other girls named Sandy asked. She was quite cute, with her hair in a short, sassy style, and wearing a dress that, if it had been any tighter, would have been a body tourniquet. Glaring at the boys, she turned, took Danny's face between her hands, and kissed him. It wasn't a fast kiss, or a grandmotherly kiss, but a slow, sensuous kiss. Danny gulped when her tongue forced its way past his lips and began to fence and tease his own. He felt warm all of a sudden, and downstairs, his equipment started to stir in response to the kiss and Sandy's hands roaming sensuously around his shoulders and back.

After what seemed like a lifetime of Sandy's passionate spit-swapping, she backed away from him, smiling, and then suddenly, her hand slyly darted down to the front of his trousers, confirming that her kiss had elicited a reaction from the boy. "That wouldn't be there if he was gay," she giggled, waggling her eyebrows at Danny in a more-than-slightly suggestive way, while his blush went past scarlet into the far-infrared part of the spectrum.

The guys were doing a slow burn, and the other girls seemed slightly jealous. Ignoring everyone else, Trisha stepped boldly forward and kissed Danny, taking as much time as Sandy had, and possibly a little more enthusiastically. When she'd finished, she giggled, only to be pushed aside by another girl.

"Definitely not gay," Trisha announced to the guys, grinning.

"He's filthy mutant scum," Nick Wilson, the leader of the guys, snapped angrily. "Just like Brandon!"

"He's probably going to change into a girl, too - just like Brandon!" a second one joked. "Let's see you kiss it then!" he laughed.

"Ignore them," Trisha said, locking her arm in Danny's. "Let's go get some lunch."

Danny glanced over to where his parents, Sue, and Steve were chatting amicably with other adults. "I've gotta go home when Mom and Dad are ready to go."

Trisha smiled pleasantly. "I've got my license, so I'll give you a ride."

"Yeah, we'll make sure you get home," another girl, Megan Lewis, said as she clutched Danny's other arm.

"If it's okay with Mom and Dad," Danny started to say, then realized that his comment sounded like a little kid who had to beg permission, but he was a teenager. "I mean, Dad might need me to work in the shop, or go out to mow."

"Uh, huh," Sandy said with a knowing grin, letting the girls and Danny know that she wasn't fooled in the least bit by his sudden change of rationale, but she didn't call him on it because, after all, she was a young teen, too. Adults were too close for a public demonstration of rebellion and disobedience - especially at a church.

Trisha and Megan turned Danny toward his parents, who noticed their presence and turned toward him. "Yes?" Mom asked him, barely batting an eye at the two girls on his arms or his kitty-boy form.

"Um, if you don't have any chores for me, can I stay in town for lunch with my friends?" Danny asked, trying to sound more mature. "Trisha can bring me home afterwards." The girl nodded to reinforce Danny's point.

Mr. Franks very obviously looked at the boys who'd been harassing and who were still glaring at his son. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"

"Yeah," Danny said confidently, although inwardly, he felt a little nervous. It wasn't easy to forget how the town had treated Kayda, or how they'd harassed him a few times during the summer. Many of the townsfolk were nervous or openly hostile to mutants, and there was no denying that Danny was a mutant like his sister. "I'll be okay. It's just getting a burger and shake."

June glanced nervously at Pete, but finally nodded. "I suppose it'll be okay. Don't stay too long, though."

Happily, Danny walked off in the center of a cluster of girls, with Trisha and Megan on his arms. He felt like a million bucks, and for the moment, his long-standing anxiety about his body's changes was forgotten because of the girls and the very nice kisses they'd given him.

Though it was only a few blocks to the malt shop, the group split into two to ride in Trish's and Lisa Clark's cars, with the girls arguing briefly about who Danny would ride with. Lisa, a 'girl next door' with long wavy brunette hair, won by noting that since Trisha was going to take Danny back to the Franks' farm, it was only fair that Danny rode with her.

Since Trisha's car was right behind Lisa's, Danny couldn't see Tyler Peterson's faded blue Dodge pickup following them; if he had, he would have probably had Lisa take him straight home, since Tyler and his friends Nick and Chris seemed to be the leaders of his antagonists.

After Lisa and Trisha parked, and the kids got out to walk to the malt shop, but stopped suddenly when Tyler's pickup pulled up on the curb blocking their path. Stunned by the action, Danny and the girls naturally froze for a moment, wondering what exactly was going on - that pause gave Tyler, Nick, and Chris time to leap out of the truck.

"You had your last chance," Tyler snarled as he stalked toward Danny, "to get out of town, you fucking queer mutant scum! I guess you're too stupid to take a hint, so we'll just have to teach you a lesson!"

Trisha, glaring angrily at Tyler, started to step forward, but Danny put his arms out to the sides to scoot the girls back in a silly and old-fashioned display of chivalric gallantry. "Leave him alone!" Trisha yelled at the boys, who were slowly encircling Danny and his friends.

Danny, kind of pushing the girls aside or back, slowly backed up away from the trio of angry boys, but Lisa's car blocked his escape route. Eyes looking around, now fearful, Danny realized that this situation was significantly more serious than the verbal harassment he'd received; these guys intended to hurt him.

Crowding him closely, Tyler was the first to throw a punch at Danny; he saw it coming and tried to dodge and roll with the punch, but he wasn't entirely successful, and the blow, glancing off his upper arm, hurt quite a bit. While he was distracted by that pain, Chris took a swing at Danny's head - but he missed because Lisa had jumped on his back to distract him.

"Get away, bitch!" Chris screamed in rage as he twisted to throw Lisa off his back. He smacked her against her car, and with a cry, she released him, crumpling to the ground with the wind knocked out of her.

Nick was unencumbered, and he punched Danny hard in the gut, doubling him over. Danny, gasping for breath, expected a rain of blows; he'd seen how badly enraged anti-mutant high-school boys had beaten Brandon, and expected the same as he regretted letting the girls talk him into a burger for lunch.

"Fight!" Wihinape urged him strongly. "You must fight!"

Danny shrank from her. "I ... I can't! There are three of them!"

"Then let me fight," she snapped decisively.

A blow to the side of his head knocked Danny off his feet, and as he fell to the ground, his body began to shift, very quickly since he'd had a lot of practice over the summer. His nose and mouth moved forward, teeth becoming longer and sharper, while his body got sleeker and covered in tawny fur. Hands and feet rearranged themselves, fingernails turning to sharp claws, while his fingers shortened into cat's feet.

Mid-kick to the helpless boy, Nick fell back when he saw the changes starting, mouth agape and eyes wide with fear. In the few seconds that they gawked at the changes in Danny, he shook himself free of his trousers and boots, and with an ill-fitting shirt draped over his body, Danny/Wihinape sprang upon Tyler, knocking him backward to the ground. Retracting her claws on her right paw, the big cat cuffed the boy sharply across the face, while the left claws, still extended, dug painfully into the boy's shoulder.

Ignoring the smell of urine from Tyler having pissed himself, Danny/Wihinape spun deftly and hit Nick, who'd mustered enough courage to hit the boy-turned-mountain-lion. Her mouth clamped angrily on his neck, applying enough pressure to frighten him, but not enough to crush his windpipe, and after a second of pressure to emphasize that she could easily kill him, she released his neck and spun toward the third threat, pausing to kick sharply with her rear paws right into Nick's chest, knocking him back onto his ass.

Chris wasn't totally stupid; seeing Danny turn into a mountain lion shocked him momentarily, and as the cat so deftly and swiftly attacked Tyler and Nick, he did the one thing most bullies did when confronted - he turned and ran.

Danny/Wihinape took two bounds and landed on the boy's shoulders, driving him forward into the ground. Pausing with her front paws on his shoulders, she looked around to check other threats.

Tyler was scrambling for his truck, the dark stain on the front of his pants obvious, while Nick was still scooting away, eyes like saucers and a terrified expression on his face. Beneath him, Chris trembled, fearing that Danny-turned-Wihinape was going to kill him.

Instead, the mountain lion backed off. "Don't do that again," Danny/Wihinape said, but the voice was somewhat feminine with an overtone of cat mewling instead of Danny's deepening male voice. "Or I won't go so easy on you. Understand?"

Nodding with fear, Chris dragged himself to his feet and ran as fast as he could away from the scene. Satisfied that he was no longer a threat, Wihinape released control of the big cat's body, and Danny turned back to the girls, who were huddled in fear, pressed against Lisa's car. Danny sashayed gracefully, almost in a sultry female way, up to them.

"I'm not going to hurt you," Danny said. "I ... wish you hadn't seen that."

"D ... D ... Danny?" Lisa stammered out her question.

"Yeah," Danny replied. "This ... this is a more ... extreme shift - than what you saw earlier. It happens ...." His words were cut off by Sandy's scream, and the cat spun its head to where she was looking.

Face red with rage, Tyler was climbing back out of the pickup, handgun in hand. In milliseconds, Danny accurately assessed the situation, and figuring they probably couldn't get to Tyler before he could shoot, Danny did the only other thing she could - she sprang away and took off at a dead run.

Three shots rang out, but because of his fear and injuries, and the mountain lion's speed and zig-zagging motion, all three shots missed. The fourth, though, at considerable range for a handgun, was luckier. The bullet smacked into Danny's hindquarter, and with a feline scream of pain and anger, she tumbled to the ground. Painfully, she forced herself back to her feet, and with a worried glance back at Tyler, Danny took off again, running as fast as her badly-injured leg would allow. The big cat ducked around a corner of a building, then ran down an alley, frequently glancing over her shoulder to see if Tyler was pursuing her.

Danny didn't slow until she got to the edge of town, where she started walking slowly and cautiously toward home, glancing around frequently to see if Tyler was following or if anyone else might have noticed. Seeing nothing around him, Danny slunk into a shelter belt of trees - a line which usually surrounded farm buildings to cut down on wind and wind-blown snow, and sat down to think.

Her leg hurt. No, Danny corrected herself, that was an understatement. It felt like a red-hot iron was shoved into her right rear leg, and it really didn't like having pressure on it. The wound was still bleeding, but not profusely, so she didn't have to worry about bleeding out, but the pain was really, really fatiguing, and she wasn't sure she could walk home with the bum leg.

Danny couldn't change back to human form - either Wihinape or kitty-boy or to his normal male self, because she would be nearly naked, at least from the waist down. Besides that, as a cat, she could limp along on three legs, but if she changed back to one of the human forms, he wasn't sure if she could walk with one leg so injured. If the wound even transferred back to a human form, of which she wasn't sure.

"Oh, shit!" Danny swore when he realized that he didn't have her cell phone either. It was in her pants pocket, which was with her boots, underwear, socks, shoes, keys, and all the other junk teen boys kept in their pants pockets, back by Lisa's car. "Mom is going to be so pissed!"

Her ears perked up at the very faint sound of a vehicle, so she ducked down beneath a pine tree, hiding in the shelter belt. In these parts, any farmer who saw a mountain lion was apt to shoot first to protect his livestock, and Danny didn't exactly relish the thought of being shot. Again.

Shortly, she saw a car approaching, so slowly that it didn't even raising much dust from the gravel road. Danny started when he recognized the car - at least it looked like Lisa's car, with two people in it. Maybe. Damned these cat eyes - he was rather nearsighted in this form, and while not totally color-blind as many fallaciously believed, colors were muted and subdued. He wasn't absolutely sure that it was Lisa's car, and after having been shot once, he was reluctant to take a risk. Better to rest and figure out how to get home.

"Danny?" The voice was very clearly Lisa's.

Danny looked around, but couldn't see anything - or anyone - nearby. He wondered if he should take a chance.

"Danny?" Lisa called again, followed by the other person calling out the same. The other voice sounded like Sandy.

Danny abruptly stood, flinching at the pain in her rear leg. "Lisa?" she called out hesitantly.

The car halted suddenly, generating a small cloud of dust as the brakes locked. "Danny, is that you?" Lisa called out nervously, looking in the direction of the shelter belt.

Danny limped forward toward the ditch that separated the trees from the road. "Yeah, it's me," she said nervously. "Why? I'm ... I'm just a mutant. Why are you helping me?"

"Because we've been friends since first grade," Lisa replied a little indignantly. "And not everyone is a stupid bigot! Can you walk to the car?"

"You're still ...!" Sandy exclaimed softly, eyes like saucers.

"Yeah," Danny agreed. "If I change back, I'll be half naked."

"Oh, yeah," Sandy said sheepishly, having forgotten what was obvious to Danny.

"We picked up your clothes after the boys left," Lisa volunteered. "They were tracking your blood. Tyler said he's going to kill you for what you did."

"They started it!" Danny protested. She had a sinking feeling that this was going to be just like Kayda's ordeal - the townsfolk would back Tyler and his friends, even when there were witnesses who agreed that the boys attacked Danny, and she acted in self-defense.

"They're driving around looking for you," Lisa stated urgently. "We have to get you home before they find you!"

"Hurry up and get in," Sandy said, opening the passenger-side door.

Danny winced; crawling in the back seat of a two-door hatchback was going to be tricky, especially injured as she was. "Might be better if I get in the back."

"Good idea."

"Can you open the rear, please?" Danny asked, circling to the rear of the car. "No hands, remember?"

Sunday, August 5, 2007 - Around Mid-Day
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

The crisp, late spring air high in the mountains was invigorating, and fatigue had been almost completely washed away. It would have been difficult to stay tired anyway with the scenery around me - pine-forested mountains stretching far into the distance, with granite cliffs and spires adding a nice contrast, and with puffy cumulus clouds scampering across the vivid azure sky, it was almost a scene from a picture postcard.

And yet, it was troubling. I was no closer to finding answers to my question than when I'd started, and even here, in my dream-space, I felt the gnawing hunger that I'm sure I'd have felt if I slipped back into the real world, where Tatanka stood guard over my physical body. In the older times, during hembleciya, members of the tribe would keep watch from a distance over the one undergoing the trial and quest, because with the herbs and fasting and fatigue, the person doing hembleciya was vulnerable. And so Tatanka stood guard over me, although that was a bit of a risk; if Dad or anyone else was looking for me, a large white bison would be a dead giveaway.

I wasn't worried so much about that, though; Mom understood the need for the vision quest, and its importance, and so unless there was a dire emergency, Mom wouldn't let Dad interfere.

Above me was a veritable swarm of birds - Wabli the eagle, Ceta the hawk, Tanagila the hummingbird. Ducks of all kinds, geese, swallows, owls, pigeons (okay, rats with wings), jays - more than I could count and some which I didn't recognize. It was odd to see the pigeon and other small birds flying in the company of large birds of prey, their natural enemies, but in the world of spirit animals, normal rules didn't apply. I held my arm up for Wabli to land, but he continued to circle with the others, seemingly oblivious to me. Tearing my eyes away from the airborne spectacle, I started looking around the forest; surely if the sky was full of birds, the ground would be covered with animals. Puzzlingly, though, there were none. I expected the bear, deer, elk, snake, and all the other animal spirits I'd seen before, but the forest was empty; the only spirits I saw were in the sky.

Presently it occurred to me that hembleciya was about a vision, and the fasting and medicines were to get one's spirit to soar above his or her body and earthly confines. Did that mean I was supposed to fly? But .... I chided myself; with the right magic, I could fly. I cast the magic spell Wakan Tanka had taught me.

To my astonishment, as I started to float off the rocky crag, my body began to change. My arms grew longer and more delicate, and feathers sprouted, while my feet turned to talons. Without thinking, my arms - wings - were beating against the air, and I was really soaring, climbing free of the earth to my brothers in the skies.

"Wabli," I called as I neared him, "what is this?" I was curious, but not alarmed; this was dream-space where many thing were possible, and my physical body was under the influence of some powerful herbal medicine.

"I do not know, Ptesanwi," Wabli answered. "It is your dream quest, not mine."

"But ..."

"What is it you seek, little one? What do you wish to gain from your hembleciya?" Magasapa, a fine specimen of a Canada goose, asked as he fell in beside and slightly behind me

"I ... I want to find out who I am!" I cried back. "I ... I'm supposed to be the Ptesanwi, but ... now I don't know."

"What does it mean to be the Ptesanwi?" Ceta the hawk asked, flying beside me.

Instead of answers, I was getting more questions. Tears started to moisten my eyes. "I ... I don't know!" I said, almost sobbing. "I want to find out - that's why I'm here, but you just ask more questions."

"What does it mean to be the Ptesanwi? What were you told you must do?" Wakiyela the pigeon added to the many questions being tossed at me.

"I ... I was told ... that Ptesanwi's coming was supposed to bring prosperity to the People," I replied, giving the pat answer that Grandmother had told me.

"What is prosperity?"

I opened my mouth to reply, but then my brain caught up and I closed it again. Was that a trick question? The way it was phrased seemed to indicate that they expected more than I'd thought. "It means the People grow in number and well-being. It means the people are happy."

"You talk of material prosperity," Ceta scolded me, "and spiritual prosperity. Happiness and physical prosperity are not the same, are they?"

"Aren't they?" I was getting more confused rather than less.

"Come, Wihakayda," Wabli said, and he led me flying toward the prairie. It was a short journey to our destination, a Lakota camp of two dozen or so tepees. Smoke rose from small cooking fires, children ran and played, women gathered to gossip and do their chores, men practiced their warrior and hunting skills. To the west, men on horseback were riding in, and as we circled, watching, much of the camp ran out to greet them, eagerly taking their deer carcasses from their ponies.

"Is this band prosperous?" Wabli asked me with a knowing tone in his voice.

"Um," I winced; this wasn't so straightforward. "By ... by the standards of the white man, no. It is a small band, and they live as they did hundreds of years ago."

"Are they at peace?"

I shook my head. "No. Not from what I know of history."

"Are they spiritually prosperous? Are they happy? Are they enjoying their lives?"

I stared at the People. It was hard to say that they weren't happy. The children were laughing and playing and running wildly about in their games, the women were enjoying each other's company in their daily tasks, and the men laughed and joked as they went about their daily lives. "Yes," I finally answered.

Wakiyela flew up beside me. "Follow me, Wihakayda." He beat his wings faster, and I struggled to catch up. As I neared him, the landscape changed radically. We were not over the prairie, but now over a large metropolitan area, crowded with skyscrapers and roads and highways, with a brownish tint to the air which settled over the city like a smothering blanket. We flew lower, toward a multi-story building that, while very old, seemed quite fresh and new, like an old factory that had been converted into upscale lofts. Wakiyela landed on a window ledge, so I alit beside him.

"Are these people prosperous, Wihakayada?" he asked me.

I looked through the glass into a well-appointed loft apartment. Below on the street were nice cars. The steel and glass skyscrapers in the distance gleamed in the sunlight. "Yes."

"Are they spiritually prosperous?" he asked, turning to look down to the street below. "Are they at peace?"

The honking and shouting among cars and drivers as the congested traffic inched along made it clear that, at least in rush hour, they weren't happy, even though there was no major conflict like war - at least not at that moment. Wakiyela took off again, and I followed; as we circled one of the skyscrapers, I could see the people inside in their little offices and cubicles. They looked far from happy, even though there were occasional smiles and jokes. Wakiyela led me around more; it was painfully obvious to me that, though physically prosperous, the residents of the city were far from spiritually prosperous as they went about their daily grind. No doubt some were quite content or even happy, but from outward appearances, the lives below were lacking the joy that I'd just seen in the village.

It was the turn of Zitkatogleglega, the jay, to lead, and so I followed. We went back to the prairie, then over a small, dusty town in a rather brownish, barren-looking landscape. I gasped aloud - I recognized the town from its layout; it was Grandma's home town of Mission on the Rosebud Reservation.

Following the jay, I looked over the town; it was far from materially prosperous, and the people we observed seemed to lack the joy that we'd seen in the tepee village. I'd seen their happiness before, in the celebration they'd given me, but at that moment, it seemed that all festive airs had been squashed from the lives of the People that lived here.

"Are they prosperous here?" Jay asked.

"Not physically," I replied. "Not compared to the city. And ... not nearly as spiritually prosperous as the village."

"Even though they, too, are at peace? Why do you think that is?" Jay asked, and as I pondered the question, I was back atop the spire in the Black Hills.

"I ... I don't know. Why?"

Wabli circled lower. "You must answer that question for yourself, Wihakayda," he chided me. "If you don't know the answer, you will not know what prosperity means, and you will not be able to bring it to the People."

Sunday, August 5, 2007 - Around Mid-Day
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

They dropped off Sandy on the way toward the Franks' home, which also took them away from the direct route and approaching the farm from a different direction. That was fortuitous - a truck that looked like Tyler's was driving slowly down the road on the direct path.

As soon as Lisa pulled into the huge circular driveway / parking lot between the Franks' house and the other farm buildings, Lisa started honking the horn to get someone's attention. June stepped out onto the porch to see what was happening, while Pete and Steve did the same from the shop.

"Tyler shot Danny!" Lisa called frantically. "He's hurt!"

That spurred all to race to the car, where Lisa had opened the rear hatch.

"Danny!" June cried when she saw the mountain lion prone on the floor of the hatchback.

Pete pushed forward and looked at the big cat that was his son's shifted form. "You're bleeding!"

"What happened?" June demanded. "We've got to get him to a doctor!" she added needlessly.

"Not like this," Danny said with a heavy sigh. "And I've gotta change first, or they'll send me to a vet!" The feeble attempt at a joke fell flat.

"Why didn't you change already?" June asked, astonished that Danny was still in her cougar form.

"Because when Danny changed," Lisa volunteered, since she'd been a witness, "his clothes mostly fell off, and if he'd have changed back, he'd have been naked. Sandy and I picked up his clothes and stuff," she added.

"How bad is it?" Danny asked her dad.

Steve was beside Pete and looking at the wound. "You've got two holes, so it looks like the bullet went through, and it didn't hit anything serious, or it would have flattened and left a bigger exit hole," he reported. "It's not bleeding much, either."

"Can we ... wait to go to the doctor?" Danny asked. "I'm ... tired, and I'm not sure I can change back."

Pete winced, but June nodded. "Kayda and Grandma left some healing herbs, so that might help. And Kayda left one of her pain mixtures."

Pete frowned. "I don't like it," he declared firmly. "You need medical care! It's not as serious as it could have been, but you are still bleeding!"

June was listening, and she made a decision. "Danny, I want you to change back, and then we'll take you to Mitchell, to Dr. Martin." She felt the questioning look from Pete. "Not the emergency room. I know Dr. Martin is discrete, and the wound isn't that bad."

Pete grimaced, but nodded. "Okay."

"Um," Danny said shyly, "can I have some privacy, please?"

The others stepped away from the hatchback, and after a couple of moments, a female voice called out, "Mom?" The voice was distressed and practically pleading.

June shot her husband a nervous glance, and then went to the back of the car. "Oh my!" she declared in surprise, goggling at the person in the back of the car.

Danny nodded sheepishly. "I'm ... I guess I'm too tired ... to change all the way. Can you ... help me get clothes on?" She sounded totally exhausted, which she was.

After June had pulled Danny's pants on him, she called to Pete. "Can you carry ... Danny?" she asked, hesitating momentarily and biting her lower lip before saying his name.

Pete was surprised, but didn't show it much, as he picked up Danny - stuck in his Wihinape form - and carried him into the house.

Lisa's jaw dropped. "Danny?" she asked in astonishment.

Danny nodded, blushing. "Yeah," she said weakly. "This ... is one of the forms my spirit gave me. She's the spirit of the mountain lion; that's another form I can change into."

Lisa's mouth flapped once or twice as she tried to say something, following beside Danny to offer friendship and support. "Wait! You said 'she'?"

"My spirit is female."

"That explains it," Lisa said, a smug grin spreading slowly across her face. "I thought something was odd."

"Explains what?" June asked before Danny or Pete could.

"Why the mountain lion form was female," Lisa grinned. She saw Danny's shocked expression. "Yeah, I noticed the lack of ... certain parts," she smirked. Then she puzzled a bit. "Are you ... you know? Like Brandon? Changing into a girl?"

Danny gawked at her. "No!" he denied. "I'm not ... changing."

June smiled. "Lisa, there's something going on with Danny's avatar spirit," she explained as they came into the house. "Sue, can you get something to protect the sofa? Danny is hurt and bleeding!" She turned back to the girl. "Danny has to spend part of his time in this ... kitty-girl ... form, or he gets really bad headaches. Something to do with his spirit not fitting his hallow, or whatever that is, and it puts pressure on his physical body."

After Sue got a blanket and garbage bag to protect the cushions from any blood, Pete laid Danny on the sofa.

"I'll have to take your pants off to see how bad it is," June said calmly to Danny. She looked at Pete and Steve; her meaning was clear, and they scurried out of the house.

Ten minutes later, after taking some herbal medicine Kayda had left, and having his wounds bandaged with antibiotic ointment, Danny fell asleep on the sofa. Smiling with relief that her son was okay, June took Lisa into the kitchen.

"Would you like something to drink?" June offered. "I just made a pitcher of lemonade."

"That would be nice, thank you," Lisa said, sitting at the table when June gestured for her to sit.

June set a glass of lemonade in front of Lisa and sat down with one for herself. "This is ... awkward ... for Danny," she said carefully.

"Because he's ... sometimes a girl?" Lisa asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yes. You know that would get him a lot of trouble," June replied. "Just like it caused problems for Kayda ... er, Brandon."

"I won't tell anyone," Lisa promised. "Danny's been my friend since first grade. I wouldn't do anything to hurt him."

"Thank you," June said, the gratitude in her voice genuine.

"If," Lisa added mischievously.

"If what?"

"If ... I can go shopping with him?" Lisa grinned. "When he's in girl form?"

"I think that'd be nice," June agreed with a smile. "It'd be nice for him to have someone his age when he's shopping for ... girl things that he'll need. And we need to go shopping very soon to get him things for school next year. Maybe after going to the doctor tomorrow?"

Sunday, August 5, 2007 - Evening
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The noise in the auditorium, the only building that could hold all the assemblage of men of the tribe, was normal; many men wondered why they were present. Others knew, and were eagerly sharing gossip and news and their thoughts of the unusual gathering, contributing to a muted background roar that forced the attendees to raise their voices a little more. Eventually, people would have to shout to be heard as the noise kept increasing, but then it suddenly became deathly silent, as if a switch had cut off all speech, and by the main doors of the gym, the gathered group parted like the Red Sea.

An older man, moderately tall and a little overweight, with his skin tanned and wrinkled by outdoor living, darker than that of many of the men gathered despite all being Lakota. White hair poked out from beneath a huge bonnet of feathers that tailed way down his back. Clad in traditional leather breeches, his shirt and moccasins adorned with decorative bead, quill, and bone-work, he walked as if on air, making not even a rustle of cloth as he strode deeper into the gym.

In silence, the chief walked through the men to half-court of the gym's basketball floor, where a ceremonial artificial fire was lit by electric lights. Circling the fire, he squatted down on the floor cross-legged between two other men who were also in traditional dress.

"I am Red Eagle, chief of the Sicangu," the old man stated formally in a deep, resonant voice. "I have heard the outcry of the warrior societies and shamans, and after smoking on it, I have agreed to call a council fire." He looked solemnly around the room. "Who will speak?"

One man, wearing the trappings of the White Marked society of warriors, stood, five feathers in his headband. "I am Lame Bear, leader of the White Marked. I will speak for my brothers."

"Very well," the old man replied.

"We all know of the coming of the Ptesanwi," Lame Bear said, garnering nods of assent; none in the tribe hadn't heard the news. "We also know of the brutal assault and rape by the boys in Ptesanwi's town." A few murmurs circulated through the crowd; not all had heard that story. Lame Bear waited a few moments so that all could ponder what he'd said.

"Shaman Grey Skies asked those of us who are Ghost Warriors to attend to the safety of the Ptesanwi. Grey Skies also told us that we should punish the guilty in accordance with tribal law, since they had assaulted the Ptesanwi." He waited another few moments. "The Ptesanwi and her father told us no, that the white man's justice would punish the guilty ones." He paused for dramatic effect. "It did not!" he hissed angrily. "Like all of the treaties and pacts of the past, the white man's word is not to be trusted. They did not give the boys the punishment they deserved. In fact, some received no punishment at all!"

Not all had heard, and even among those who had, howls of outrage rose in the building. Lame Bear smiled grimly; his rhetoric and inflammatory language had the effect he desired. "That is not all," Lame Bear added. "I received news only an hour ago that the white men of the town shot and wounded the brother of the Ptesanwi!" As the crowd erupted in a new wave of angry gossip, Lame Bear raised his voice. "We must have justice! If the white man will not give it, we must make it ourselves!"

Red Eagle sat still, statue-like, seemingly oblivious to the cries of outrage and anger and revenge going on around him. He let the men give vent to their feelings for a few minutes. Then he slammed a stick he'd been carrying sharply down on the floor; the slap of wood on wood carried above the din, startling the crowd, and within a second, silence had returned. "What would you ask, Lame Bear?" he said simply.

"We must take the boys and bring them here for justice," Lame Bear said with determination. "Only that way can we ensure that there is justice." Several men around him nodded in assent, including Earl Smoking Pipe and his poker-playing rabble-rousers, who sat as a group to make their influence seem larger.

"What of the war that will start?" Red Eagle asked. "The government will not look kindly on such actions."

Lame Bear was ready for that line of questioning. "We will bring our complaint to the United Nations, where it will be made public. All of the world will know that the US government is not trustworthy and mistreats the Peoples of our land. It will shame the US government into accepting our terms."

Red Eagle was unimpressed. "And if the UN will not hear our grievance?"

"They will hear it. Arrangements have already been made through nations which already do not trust the United States," Earl Smoking Pipe chimed in.

"Do you expect the world to be outraged at the rape of one of our women?" Red Eagle demanded.

"The Ptesanwi is the prophet of the Great Spirit! She is sacred to the People! They will be outraged. Friends have already begun to contact representatives to explore the reaction." Tom Small Horns was as passionate about the subject as Lame Bear.

Red Eagle frowned with extreme anger. "You act without the consent of the chief or the council." He was unnerved by the vehemence of the arguments of the group; Smoking Pipe was old and not at all happy, so his position was understandable. Sam Jumps-the-Creek was a radical, in Red Eagle's view, so his support was not unexpected. Runs-Quick, Small Horns, and Short Bear surprised him with their support. But the support from Ben Three Tails startled him. He'd expected Three Tails to be a moderating influence, but he seemed to have caught the same 'vengeance fever' that the younger men had.

"We have only made ... inquiries," Ben Three Tails replied with a smug smile.

"You answer to the chief and council," Red Eagle challenged the group. "Not a dead shaman!" Seeing that the upstart had backed down a little, Red Eagle continued, "The Ptesanwi is sacred to all the People. In this matter, I must ask for a Seven Council Fire." He knew he'd be able to stall a little bit, but it was only a matter of time before the hotheads decided to take matters into their own hands. "After we call the other tribes to request a Seven Council Fire meeting, the tribal council will smoke a pipe on the matter tonight," Red Eagle said solemnly, reminding all in a none-too-subtle way that the tribe still had procedures and rules. He abruptly stood, and the two men on either side of him stood as well. "Until then, any actions taken are outside the laws of the tribe." The group walked regally between the men out of the gym. Inwardly, Red Eagle was shaken that someone respected like Lame Bear would have the nerve to start a new Indian war. Such an action, he knew, would be disastrous for the tribe in a way that would make the Japanese and German defeats of World War 2 look like triumphant victories.

Monday, August 6, 2007 - Morning
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

"Where are we going?" I asked the eagle as we soared above the ground, which was passing us at a tremendous rate, almost like we were flying supersonic speeds. Also, spots of the land seemed to change as we flew; towns slowly shrank as buildings were deconstructed, roads were unpaved, and eventually, pristine earth was left - like we were also traveling back in time I suddenly realized.

"Ah, Wihakayda," Wabli said with a knowing tone in his voice, "you understand."

"But ... why? I don't get it!"

"You will see."

On and back in time we flew, until we were near the Atlantic Ocean in New England. The scene looked tranquil - Native Americans trading with white settlers. "It looks peaceful," I quipped.

"And yet ..." the scene blinked and shifted, to one of war - the Native American battling the settlers, "King Phillip decided the new European settlers were taking all the land the Nation thought was its own. He decided it had to stop."

"So he declared war," I said. "Yeah, I know. I read that in a history book a couple of years ago."

"The tribe didn't want to assimilate the European ways. They fought to protect their own ways - and in the end lost both lives and their heritage." We circled over a battleground. "Your history is full of examples of broken promises and worthless treaties."

"But ... not all whites are like that!" I protested.

"Of course not, Wihakayda," Wabli grinned. "If we went further afield and further back in time, I could show you countless examples of treaties that were signed and then reneged upon, by all races. And usually, they all come from one thing."

"Greed," I said firmly, knowing the answer.

"Or lust for power. The cause is usually not important. What is important is that a treaty or pact will not last if one side is not genuinely trustworthy, if the two sides don't share deep-seated mutual respect."

We flew over more times and places, where Indian Treaty after Indian Treaty had been broken by the whites, or where two of the Nations had a peace pact that one had then broken. Wabli was right - it happened to all, even Native American against Native American. It was quite sobering.

"So," I finally asked as we flew from another scene - the awful spectacle of Cherokee and other Nations on the Trail of Tears, "are you showing me that the government can't be trusted when dealing with Native Americans?"

"Can you name any government which you would trust to deal with any group or neighbor?" Wabli asked. "Or is it in the nature of governments to be despotic and greedy?"

I started to answer, but then shut my mouth as the full impact of his words hit. It wasn't just the Nations who'd been affected by bad treaties, though I was particularly sensitive to that aspect. Grandma had taught me that there were over five hundred treaties signed with various Nations, and every single one had been broken. To me, it seemed what Wabli was confirming to me was that no treaty was worth the paper it was written upon. That was a very sobering thought.

Monday, August 6, 2007 - Afternoon
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Chief Red Eagle looked around the gym slowly, noting which of the men - all members of one warrior society or another - seemed to be inflamed by Lame Bear and his rhetoric. On either side of Red Eagle sat former chiefs, including Dan Bear Claws, numbering nine in all. With them were chiefs and former chiefs of other nearby Lakota and Dakota tribes, all summoned urgently to the council.

"It is most unusual to have a Seven Council Fire," one of the visiting chiefs, Crying Wolf, noted. "But your request was quite unusual."

"True," Red Eagle replied. "But let us begin in accord with our tradition - with a blessing from a medicine man, that we may reason wisely and be prudent in our actions."

Two shamans in full regalia entered, followed by girls from three of the warrior societies. In the corner, drummers began to beat rhythmically on their massive drum, while the girls chanted and the shamans performed their rituals, including sprinkling blessed herbs on the fire in the center of a ring of chiefs, a real fire made possible by a portable grille. The pungent, sweet smell of the various herbs wafted with smoke into the massive gymnasium, slowly filling it with light, aromatic smoke.

Once the opening rituals were completed, the shamans went to a corner and sat, while the girls retreated from the gym; the Seven Council Fire was an affair for the male heads of families and bands and clans.

Red Eagle stood. "Lame Bear, you asked to address the Seven Council Fire?"

Lame Bear stood and walked to the circle. "The white man has violated the Ptesanwi, and then broke their promise to bring justice to the perpetrators," he said bluntly. There was no surprised outcry; all had heard the news before and had been briefed by Red Eagle about the calling of the Council. "The same group recently attempted to kill the brother of the Ptesanwi, the holder of an important spirit guide." He looked around the council fire. "This is an insult to our people that cannot go unpunished."

"What would you have us do? Summon a war council?" a visiting chief demanded.

"Yes," Lame Bear replied without pause. "We must take justice on the offenders. It is demanded by our laws and traditions."

"We cannot win," Bear Claws said flatly.

"It is better to die as warriors than to live as slaves!" Lame Bear replied acerbically.

"A little long on the rhetoric," Red Eagle observed wryly. "Why should we incite a war?"

"It is our tradition," Lame Bear had come prepared. "What would Red Cloud do? Would he have allowed such an insult to go unanswered?" He glanced around the room, a defiant look on his features. "We know he would not have. When the white man tried to force a flawed treaty on us in 1868, Red Cloud forced them to withdraw their forts. He stood up to a much more powerful government and forced them to make concessions."

"Which didn't last," Bear Claws added sarcastically.

Lame Bear ignored him. "How about Crazy Horse? Or White Bull? Or He-Dog? Or Lame White Man?"

"We know our history," Red Eagle snapped at him in an attempt to put the impudent radical in his place.

The attempt failed. "Our history is one of leaders who weren't afraid to make tough decisions to fight for the good of the People!"

"Most of the battles were lost," a chief observed. "As will this one. The army has powerful weapons and many men. We are few."

"That didn't stop Crazy Horse or Black Elk. That didn't stop Touch the Clouds or Hump."

"It would be suicidal."

Lame Bear grinned. "We know delegations to the United Nations that would be quick to condemn the US and bring public pressure to bear against the corrupt government. We know congressmen who will be delighted at the opportunity to shame the government of the other party."

"I have something to say," another man stood to get attention. Seeing the chiefs nod, he continued. "I am Hunting Dog, of the Oglala. We are as insulted as any over the way the Ptesanwi was violated. For too long, we have lived meekly, in shame, like cowards kneeling before a master. My clan wishes to avenge the insult to the Ptesanwi, and if we die in the process, we shall die as warriors." He sat as many of the men in the gym applauded. The gathered chiefs, however, were silent and stone-faced, refusing to betray their feelings.

Another man stood. "I am Broken Tail, of the Yanktoni. I will not support going to war." He looked around. "I served in the Army. I know what they are capable of, what equipment they have and what they are well-trained to use. If the Army is called out in response to our actions, it will be like Wounded Knee. We would not last long enough to get publicity to shame the government."

"They would not call out the army," Lame Bear retorted angrily.

"Do you all know that the Ptesanwi is a mutant?" Broken Tail ignored Lame Bear's taunt and brought up another bit of information.

"She is our Ptesanwi. It doesn't matter," Lame Bear snapped.

Red Eagle loudly smacked his stick on the floor to regain order. "The fact that she is a mutant will matter to the white men and their press," he snapped. "As is her brother. It will be difficult to gain public sympathy when that becomes known."

Monday, August 6, 2007 - Morning
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

Lisa burst happily and enthusiastically through the door. "I'm ready, Mrs. Franks," she declared. "Where's Danny?" she asked, looking around the room. "Isn't Danny ready?"

June shrugged. "He's up in his room sulking." She smiled. "I don't think he wants to go shopping." Lisa started toward the stairs. "And can you tell him to hurry up? We've got an appointment with Doctor Martin in less than an hour before we go shopping in Sioux Falls!"

Grinning, Lisa pranced to the door to Danny's room and knocked. "Danny?" she asked.

"Come in," Danny said sullenly.

Lisa goggled at him when she opened the door. "You're ... you're you!"

"Yeah. So?"

"So," Lisa chided him, "we're going shopping! You have to change into girl-form for that, silly!"

"I don't wanna," Danny groaned. "It's ... embarrassing. Besides, I don't have girl clothes to wear." He was so embarrassed that his body changed into his kitty-boy form.

Lisa glanced around. "Yes, you do." She picked up lingerie from Danny's dresser, then found some jeans and a blouse in a corner. "Wrinkled," she said, turning her nose up in disgust, setting it aside and rifling through Danny's drawers, to his growing horror. Finding nothing, she picked the blouse back up. "I guess it'll have to do." She held it up in front of Danny. "And it's cute!"

"I don't wanna be cute!" Danny whined, turning away in a combination of anger, humiliation, and hurt feelings.

"Aw," Lisa said, slipping up behind Danny and putting her hands on his shoulders, her arms rubbing his and her breath hot on his neck, "don't be like that! I wasn't trying to be mean!" She gently turned him around, her lips inches from his. "I just thought we could have some fun shopping," she purred seductively, "and then ..." She pulled him close and began to give him a very involved French kiss.

Danny melted like butter in a hot frying pan. "I ... suppose," he said sheepishly when Lisa pulled back from the kiss.

"Can I see you change?" Lisa asked, brushing her lips against his ear lobe. "Into her?"


"Please?" Lisa purred again, kissing Danny's neck and earlobe.

Under assault by Lisa's feminine wiles, Danny held out longer than an average teenage male would have. Slightly longer. All of about five seconds. "Okay," he finally muttered. "But ... I'm not taking my clothes off!"

"Are you ashamed of our body?" Wihinape asked Danny, half-pouting.

"No," Danny muttered. "It's just ... it's embarrassing!"

"Why would it be embarrassing?" Wihinape thought a moment. "I can save you from the embarrassment if you'd like."

"You can? How?"

"Leave that to me."

To Danny's utter horror, he felt Wihinape take control of their body, and she quickly shucked off his shirt and let his pants drop around his ankles before stepping out of them, leaving Danny in just his underwear. Then he felt the change happening - the pressure in his hips as they reformed and reshaped, the pressure of a tail growing, the change in his eyesight, and as tawny hair fell about his shoulders, he felt the familiar and highly embarrassing weight of breasts sprouting on his chest. To Danny, it seemed that Wihinape was taking her time to put on a show for Lisa.

And suddenly, he was back in control of his body. "Dammit!" he muttered angrily toward the ceiling through clenched teeth, "I told you it was embarrassing!"

Lisa looked at him in shock, as if he was chiding her, and when Danny saw her reaction, he shook his head. "No," he explained softly, "it's my ... spirit! She took control for that little ... show." He frowned angrily. "She does that sometimes, I think just to embarrass me."

"That sounds ... complicated," Lisa said hesitantly, not knowing quite what to say. "But ... damn! You're stacked!" She couldn't help staring at Danny's boobs, and then glanced down self-consciously at her own smaller breasts. "It's not fair!" she pouted.


"You ... being cuter and having a better body and bigger boobs!" Lisa complained.

"Well I'm less happy about it than you are," Danny shot back.

Lisa shrugged, then grinned. "Let's get you dressed so we can go shopping!"

Mrs. Franks smiled at Danny when they got to the bottom of the stairs. "I was hoping you could get her to at least try to look nice!" she complimented Lisa, which made Danny blush again. "Sue is ready, so let's get on the road." She glanced over her shoulder at Danny. "Get your purse, dear," she reminded him.

Monday, August 6, 2007 - Evening
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

Hunger gnawed at my belly, and I was so tired that, coupled with the herbs, I felt a little euphoric. It was a thoroughly unique experience as Mato led me across the prairie, going I knew not where. "Can we stop?" I complained.

"Over the next hill," Mato growled, never looking at me but fixated on his destination, whatever that was.

Over the next hill was a large Lakota village, with dozens and dozens of tepees and hundreds of men, women, and children. Several of the women were attending to meat they had recently butchered and were drying for jerky. Ominously, though, in the camp was a detachment of Army soldiers, led by an officer who seemed more than slightly arrogant, an interpreter, and a fur trader. Even I could tell that the interpreter seemed rather drunk; as we neared, I could hear his mistranslations and insults to the Lakota chief, Conquering Bear.

It seemed to me that the officer was spoiling for a fight, as he became more and more demanding that the chief hand over a man who had killed a Mormon settler's wandering cow, while the chief was trying to placate the army by offering a horse and one of the tribe's own cows. Being annoyed with the so-called interpreter, the chief asked that the fur trader - an acquaintance of the tribe in good stead, because his wife was Sioux - negotiate for them, but by that point the situation was well out of hand. The warriors of the village were armed and on edge, the soldiers were on edge, and it was inevitable that something would happen, and it did. A soldier mistakenly fired, hitting the chief. The response from the Indians was swift and fierce.

With dust from the fight stinging my eyes, and tears at the senselessness of it all, I turned to Mato. "Why?" I demanded. "Why are you showing me this?"

"It's your dream quest, Wihakayda," Mato replied. Reaching out, he turned my shoulder, and we were suddenly in a clearing overlooking a village. "Do you recognize this place?" the bear asked. Without waiting for a reply, which he sensed I didn't have, he continued. "This is Blue Water Creek." He pointed to a nearby encampment, with many tepees, populated by women and children along with their warrior men. A group of soldiers was at the edge of the camp involved in discussions of some type.

Something seemed off, not quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. And then several Lakota men ran into the camp, excitedly announcing that there was another, larger force of soldiers closing on the camp from the other side.

The attack by the US Army was swift and merciless, although it seemed to drag on forever. No matter which way I turned, I couldn't escape the horrific view of men, women, and children being slaughtered - women and children trying to take refuge in caves and being systematically cut down. Tears stung my eyes; I hadn't expected this scene in my vision quest. I didn't know what it meant, either.

As I sank to my knees, weeping for my People, Mato sat beside me. "Who was at fault?" he asked.

"The goddamned Army!" I spat angrily. "They slaughtered the People! They killed indiscriminately - women and children! Innocent, helpless children!"

I was suddenly kneeling on a prairie again, watching the burning remains of a settler's wagon train, dead men strewn about like pincushions, they had so many arrows in them. A couple of women lay among the dead. Warriors were loading their ponies with loot stolen from the dead settlers, including captive women and children. Unexpectedly, I saw one Lakota man kneeling over a body, his torso trembling. I rose and drew near, and I could see that he was weeping over a dead little girl.

I looked at Mato, confused. "Why?" I demanded of the bear spirit.

The warrior turned and looked at me, his cheeks wet. "She has no parents now. I would have made her my daughter." I was startled that he saw me and was responding to me; in the first two visions, I was purely an observer.

"The People are not blameless," Mato said to me in his gruff but somehow tender voice. "Many settlers have died."

"But ... they started it!" I protested.

"Mistakes were made on both sides," Mato continued. "Misjudgments of how the others would react."

"The People had to defend themselves against the Army!"

The warrior shook his head sadly. "Does not the white man's religion you learned teach that an eye for an eye leaves the world blind?"

I was shocked by his words, speechless as he and the whole scene faded from view, leaving me and Mato back in the Black Hills in a mountain meadow.

"If all you remember is the wrongs done against your ancestors," Mato said softly, "you and the People will never find peace."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Morning
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

"What about Two Moon?" Short Bear demanded. "He fought many battles against the Army."

"As did Chief Gall," Three Tails added. "They fought for the People!"

"And it did no good!" Broken Tail rebutted sharply. "Hollow Horn Bear knew that fighting the white man's army would be disastrous to the People. Iron Nation and Little Crow had the right idea - there were too many whites to fight. It was better to seek peace."

"Which led to treaties," Runs Quick said with more than a hint of snark and sarcasm. "All of which the white men broke!"

"They promised us the lands in their treaties, then they stole Paha Sapa. They stole most of the remaining lands for their settlers. They have proven over and over that they cannot be trusted, and the shameful treatment of the Ptesanwi demonstrated that once again," Three Tails said, his voice full of hatred for the way the People had been treated.

"If we don't trust them, they will have no reason to trust us," Dan Bear Claws said. "Killing Eagle and Iron Nation knew that we had to live with the whites, not against them."

"Lame Deer, Big Mouth, and Sitting Bull knew that we would have to fight to keep what was ours."

"And in the end, the white man got the land, and the People were allowed to live," Red Eagle intoned.

"In shame and poverty on the reservations, forced to give up our culture and ways of life!" Small Horns spat venomously.

"How would you propose we return to our nomadic, hunting way of life?" Broken Tail asked sarcastically. "The People together do not have enough land to support the herds of buffalo it would take to sustain us!"

"We must demand all our lands back," Three Tails pronounced. "We must demand Paha Sapa, and that the terms of the treaties be honored."

"The government would never give that to us," Red Eagle said, his voice deceptively calm.

"They will be shamed into it after we expose their behavior with our Ptesanwi!"

"We will take a break," Red Eagle announced, "and the chiefs will smoke on the matter." He slapped his stick sharply against the wooden floor, signaling to all that the time of talk was done, at least for the moment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Morning
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

I stood in a broad valley, a prairie hill to my rear, and far ahead of me, a tepee village full of women and children by a bend in a creek or river. The sound of a bugle on the right caused me to frown, and that frown turned to a mixture of anger and terror as a large troop of cavalry appeared on a hill to my right, looking down on the village.

There was a noise behind me; I spun, and was relieved to see a line of hundreds of mounted braves on the ridge of the hill, many armed with Henry repeating rifles.

The thunder of hooves drew my attention back to the hill, from where the cavalry was charging, very obviously intent upon the village of innocents, who were about to be slaughtered, as at Blue Waters and Wounded Knee.

"We must save the People!" I screamed to the band of warriors, then turned and raced toward the charging cavalry. It would be a classic cavalry engagement; the Lakota warriors had an advantage with their Henry repeating rifles, while the Army cavalry was equipped with single-shot 1874 Trapdoor rifles that took time to reload. But they had revolvers and sabers, which were good for close-in fighting.

When the cavalry heard me, half of them wheeled toward me, taking aim, but I invoked a shield which protected me. Into the midst of them I charged, looking for an officer, someone in charge who I could speak with, while around me, the cavalry forces clashed, rifles and pistols firing and men and horses screaming when hit by the flying lead. Both sides wavered under withering fire, but surprisingly to the Cavalry, the Lakota forces had more discipline and coordination in battle than their reputation allowed.

Bullets bounced off my shield, and I swung with my tomahawks to force my way through the troopers. "Colonel!" I yelled at the top of my lungs when I recognized an officer's uniform in the mass of horses and men; somehow, I knew his rank was Colonel, but I didn't know how I knew that. "Colonel, that village has only elderly and women and children! You must stop the massacre!"

Around me, the fallen warriors rose, phantom-like, translucent and marked with wounds in their ghostly skin, no doubt from where they've received their fatal wounds, but the ghosts no sooner tried to hit their real opponents than they vanished. Against the risen dead of the US Cavalry, their blows were more effective, but every vanished ghost reappeared to fight anew, even as more living troops trickled into the battle, so that the field was becoming clogged by the battlefield specters, adding to the confusion and chaos. It seemed as though the battle would never stop as the forces came on and on unceasingly.

The colonel heard my yells, and he wheeled his horse toward me, his eyes widening. "That one!" the colonel roared, pointing his saber at me. "She is the leader! Kill her!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Late Morning
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Chief Red Eagle stood slowly and looked around the room. "Who else would speak?" he asked, sounding weary. So far, dozens of men had spoken, and most were sick of their poor standard of living on the reservations, the lack of jobs, the lack of a perceivable future, and consequently, they wanted to do something, anything, to try to force the issue. More, they felt the calling of their culture, long denied to them by the government and forced assimilation, and wanted to regain their heritage.

To no-one's surprise, the gathering continued to grow as men drove from Pine Ridge, Brule, Standing Rock, Yankton - indeed all of the Lakota reservations. As the morning had progressed, more and more had spoken, and the arguments in favor of taking action far outnumbered the calls for caution and prudence. All the chiefs were growing concerned.

When the young man from the Flandreau-Santee reservation finished speaking, Red Eagle stood again. "What we have heard of our history is true. Many, many chiefs fought with Sitting Bull against the cavalry and army. But even Sitting Bull knew when the fight was hopeless, and he surrendered."

"After he and many chiefs and their bands tried to live free in Canada," Three Tails rebutted, interrupting the chief in a serious breach of protocol. "They had to return in humiliation, begging for their lives, corralled like cattle to the reservations, because the white man had slaughtered the buffalo, taking away the ability of our people to be self-sufficient!"

"When we could no longer hunt," Lame Bear spoke up, "our People were forced to beg the government for food, which they used to control our tribes, forcing us to forget our heritage, becoming slaves to their so-called generosity! And even that was in violation of the treaties!"

Dan Bear Claws leaned over and whispered something to Red Eagle, who nodded and stood. "We will take a break to eat. The women have been preparing a meal of traditional food, which seems fitting considering how long it's been since we had a Seven Council Fire and the subject of our meeting."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Late Morning
>Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

Another bullet pinged against my shield, but I had long since quit looking for the shooter; probably somewhere around two hundred rounds had splattered against the magical protection, from both rifles and pistols, and that was to say nothing of the sabers that had tried to slash into me. Most of those who'd tried close-range fighting - sabers, bayonets, pistols - now lay dead on the grass which was splattered heavily with blood, while the ghosts of the fallen rose and fought on against the phantoms of their fallen opponents..

I had no idea how many troopers I'd struck down, and nor did I care. I had to stop the cavalry one way or another, and since the commanding officer wasn't listening, I had to stop them some other way - which was to use my martial skills and magic to cut a path through them. I had my exemplar endurance, but that was wearing thin, as was my magic, but still the ranks of the cavalry were replenished, so that it seemed an impossible task.

In frustration, I screamed a war cry and charged toward the cavalry; somehow, I had to get through to the village, to try - somehow - to stop the massacre of the women and children. It seemed an impossible task.

Still, I couldn't stop. I wouldn't stop - not as long as the women and children - my People - were in danger. I had to find a way to save them.

It struck me suddenly that I might be trying to do by brute force that which I should do with finesse. I stopped in the battlefield and reinforced my shield, ignoring dozens and dozens of bullets smacking against it, and began to incant.

As I held my arms outstretched, a mist began to form, then flow out from my hands, through my shield. As it came over the cavalry troopers, they gasped and collapsed, overcome by the paralyzing gas which my spell had created. But if I expected an easy solution, I was stymied; a breeze blew up, dispersing my neuro-gas, so that only part of the battlefield was affected as the wind carried the gas away from the main melee. Eyes watering, I screamed in frustration, cursing the fates and the cavalry and anyone else I thought was even remotely responsible for my seemingly insurmountable situation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Afternoon
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The small set of chiefs and their immediate predecessors sat on the ground around a fire circle that wasn't burning due to the afternoon heat, while the other men socialized and discussed among themselves. Chief Red Eagle took a long draw on a pipe, then exhaled the fragrant smoke of tobacco and herbs slowly, passing the pipe to Dan Bear Claws. "How do we restrain the young, impulsive warriors?"

The chiefs all looked old and tired. "The hot-heads are many and loud," Crying Wolf admitted, "and the poverty of our people makes their call to arms like a way to escape."

"They will all be killed," Dan Bear Claws said, shaking his head as he exhaled the pipe-smoke and passing the pipe along. "There can be no other outcome. The whites will not stand for violence against them."

"But how do we stop the madness?" Red Eagle asked wearily. "The more they talk among themselves, the more young warriors listen to them! The invoke tales of great victories, like Greasy Grass, while neglecting to mention the horrible defeats like Blue Water Creek and Wounded Knee."

A chief from the Pine Ridge reservation frowned. "I support their call to put on the war paint. We have suffered too long, neglected, victims of broken treaties. It is time to demand respect, and this action will show that we have legitimate grievances." He looked around defiantly, as if to challenge is compatriots to argue against him.

"I have heard from the Bureau of Indian Affairs agent that the Justice Department is bringing federal civil rights charges against the boys," another chief, from the Standing Rock reservation said. "The people of the Ptesanwi's hometown cannot protect the criminals from that justice."

"Through the element of surprise," Red Eagle said solemnly, "a war party will gain an early advantage, but the governor will call in the state police and the national guard, and they will outgun our warriors significantly."

"While our warriors hold hostages," Crying Wolf countered between puffs on the pipe, "they cannot attack. That will give our other agents time to complete the political work."

"Army snipers can kill from over a mile," Dan Bear Claws spoke slowly. "Do you know the area? The army can get snipers within a few hundred yards of anywhere in the town. We don't have enough warriors to control the whole town. Our men will die one-by-one in a futile battle."

"If a few men sacrifice themselves to bring attention to our plight and gain more respect and aid from the government ...."

An old, white-haired chief, just shy of ninety years of age, drew deeply on the pipe in turn, then cleared his throat. "I have lived many years, and have seen many tribulations of our People," he intoned slowly. "Even in the best times, the People suffered the indignity of being enslaved to the generosity - or lack of generosity - of the government. Our women were forcibly sterilized. Our religion was taken from us, replaced by the white man's. They tried to steal our language, even punishing the children who learned from their elders and dared to speak it in the schools." He looked around solemnly. "We waited long for the Ptesanwi to bring the fourth age, to return prosperity to the People, to relieve our suffering." The old man took another draw of the pipe. "And when she comes, the white man violated her, like they did with many of our women, and tried to kill her."

"What do you think?" Red Eagle asked.

"Since the massacre at Wounded Knee, there has been no event that I have considered a good reason to put on the war paint." The old man looked around solemnly. "Until now."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Afternoon
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

Screams of rage howled around me as I took a lance from a fallen Lakota warrior, still in my shield, and took out a handkerchief, tying it on the lance as a white flag.

"What are you doing, Ptesanwi?" one of the warriors screamed at me. "You cannot surrender! Not to these blue-coat devils!"

I spun on the angry warrior. "I am not surrendering," I replied angrily. "I am asking for a truce, to talk to try to speak to their officer."

"Bah! These demons will not listen, and if they do, they will lie to you in reply! You would be wiser to trust a den of rattlesnakes to not bite you!"

"Would you give your life to defend your wife and children?" I demanded. When he reacted, startled, I continued. "Beyond this group is another troop of the cavalry about to massacre the women and children in the village. I must do something to try to save them."

The warrior and his mates goggled at me, slack-jawed. "But ... you are the Ptesanwi!"

"Yes, I know," I growled.

"Surrendering is cowardly!" the man spat angrily, "And I must put the good of the people ahead of my own life!" I turned my back on the warriors, knowing that I was being deliberately disrespectful, but the warriors were far less important than the village. Looking around, I spotted the colonel, and I raised the lance with its white flag, waving it.

Bullets splattered off my shield again and again, but the fighting around me went on.

"Stop!" I yelled in Lakota to the warriors. "Do not attack. Defend yourselves, but do not attack!" I ordered them.

Slowly, the ferocity of the battle waned, but at the cost of several warriors' lives, as they quit attacking but the skeptical troopers kept assaulting the Lakota men. But slowly, the cavalry troopers, too, began to hold back as they gawked at my improvised flag.

A man rode up on a dashing white horse, his face a mask of rage. "Fight!" he screamed at his men. "Kill the savages!"

"I will talk with you, Colonel," I yelled angrily at the man, startling him. "I am under a flag of truce. If you are a gentleman, as officers of the Army claim to be, then you will honor my flag of truce!"

His lips curled up in an angry sneer. "What does a mere woman do on this battlefield? Why should I listen to you? I have a job to do - to stop these uprisings!"

"By dishonoring your uniform with an attack on unarmed women and children?" I spat at him. I really, really didn't like this man. "Is that what you call honor?"

If the man could have gotten any redder with anger, he would have glowed like iron in a forge. "Damned Injuns!" he roared, pulling his pistol and shooting at me at point-blank range.

If he expected me to cower or flee, he was greatly disappointed. I stood erect, solemn expression on my face, sneering at his cowardly act. When his pistol was empty, he threw it aside and spurred his horse forward, drawing his saber to attack me.

Compared to Snakey and Officer Matthews, this man was a puny, insignificant gnat. I knew that I had the power to squash him like a bug, and then unleash my magic on the other troopers, but I held back.

His saber rebounded from my shield, shocking him, and then I put an electrical charge into my lance, thrusting it forward to touch his mount. I didn't want to harm his horse, but to make a point. When the lance touched the white steed, it crumpled as if it had been hit with a military-grade taser, and the colonel tumbled to the ground.

"Take her into custody!" the colonel screamed, almost frothing at the mouth in rage. "Kill her!"

I reached forward with my lance, to the collective gasps of all the cavalry troopers and the warriors, and pointed it at the throat of the fallen colonel. "I come under flag of truce," I hissed. "I expect you to honor that as an officer of the US Army!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Evening
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The chiefs filed ceremoniously into the silent gym, all eyes on them as they did their best to remain inscrutable. As they circled the fake fire, they sat down.

"The Seven Council Fire has smoked and considered the request to go to war to avenge the honor of the Ptesanwi," Red Eagle, evidently the designated spokesman for the group since he'd been the one to call the council. There was silence in the room.

"For many years, we have been passive under the thumb of the whites in Washington, ignoring insults against the People. For decades we have waited for the Ptesanwi to come, to restore the People to prosperity." He looked around his fellow chiefs. "Now that she is here, the whites attempted to kill her, and they violated her. It is natural that our warriors would seek to avenge her honor since the whites will not punish the criminals."

The silence as he paused was almost oppressive as the warriors waited for the decision of the Seven Councils Fire.

"The Seven Councils cannot agree to go to war," he answered, which elicited howls of outrage from Lame Bear and the other radicals.

"We all know of the insult to our Ptesanwi," he said, "but the Ptesanwi herself told our Ghost Warriors to stand down. The council as a whole backs her wish."

Crying Wolf rose solemnly. "I do not agree with the Council," he said. "My tribe will go to war with the whites."

"As will mine," another chief said, rising.

Red Eagle took a deep breath. "I do not agree with going to war," he began, "but those who wish to be part of a raiding party I will not seek to expel from the tribe." There were some shouts of joy from Lame Bear and his compatriots. "You act without the approval of the Rosebud tribe."

The other chiefs spoke as well. The Yanktoni and Sisseton tribes would not go to war, but would respect the decision of the council and the wish of the Ptesanwi.

As the chiefs rose and filed out, at least those who opposed war, the members of the crowd who also opposed taking revenge followed them, leaving only the hotheads in the gym, even though they were in the majority of those who'd attended the Seven Councils Fire. Looking around, Crying Wolf, one of the two chiefs who wanted combat, grinned. "Get your weapons. Put on your war paint. We will meet at Fort Thompson tomorrow morning and then we go to war."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - Late Evening
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

"You are going to stop the slaughter, Colonel," I hissed at the still-defiant cavalry officer.

"Why? You are all just a bunch of savages and murderers!" he snarled in reply, ignoring the knife at his throat and my hard grip on his arm, holding him partway off the ground. If he was surprised at my exemplar strength, he wasn't showing it.

"What of the treaties your government signed, that we signed in good faith, or under duress, that you violated? What of the massacre at Blue Water Creek? What of the atrocities you committed against my People?" I demanded. I really, really didn't like his attitude of superiority and moral righteousness.

"What of the settlers and troopers you savages murdered?" he counter-demanded.

I twisted him until I was looking in his hate-filled eyes. "Do you feel no shame or regret when you go to your chaplain, colonel," I asked him with an angry glare. "Do you not feel the burden of sin for having murdered women and children? Or have you conveniently forgotten the Gospels, of the commandment to love your neighbors as yourself? Have you forgotten the advice to the tax collectors and soldiers who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven to not extort, to not cheat, to treat everyone with respect?"

He goggled at me, surprised at what I, a mere teenage Lakota girl, was lecturing him about his religion. No doubt he didn't expect me to know the tenets of his faith. I couldn't help but smile to myself; all those times Mom and Dad had made me go to Sunday School were useful after all. I just was never going to tell them that. "You have the audacity to lecture me about my faith? You and your type are nothing but heathens!"

As we walked, a medicine man moved to intercept us. "Ptesanwi," he said respectfully, "I beg of you - please summon the cloud to destroy the white men who attack our women and children."

I turned to the medicine man, sighing sadly. "And then what? The white man's army will be angry that we won, and the next time they will send even more men, angrier men, who will kill more of our People." Based on the medicine man's reaction, I could tell that he hadn't thought of that. "The white men are like a swarm of grasshoppers, who come in and consume all in their path. There are too many for us to stop. We must try to live with them."

"And their broken treaties?" he asked sarcastically.

"We must keep trying. We must show that we are honorable, and we will use their politics and their newspapers to show that they are not." I turned back to the path to the soldiers who were going to attack the village, surrealistically frozen in place as if to wait for my actions. "Keep moving, colonel."

"I won't help you," he spat. "So you might as well kill me now."

I glared at the man. "Do you value your life that little?" I shook my head, then I cut his hamstring, eliciting a scream of pain as he collapsed. "Do you know how I could prolong your death? How much I could make you beg to let you die?" The medicine man grinned, while behind me, the cavalry troopers were readying their weapons again.

"We are not the animals you believe us to be," I said angrily as I opened my pouch. Bending over, I began to chant as I applied herbs to his wound, and quickly, his flesh and muscles and tendons knitted themselves back together, leaving only a bloody cut on his pants to show that anything had happened.

The colonel flexed his leg experimentally, his mouth agape in confusion. "Why?" he stammered. "Why did you wound me and then heal my wound? Why didn't you kill me?"

I closed my pouch and sheathed my knife. "To show you that I'm not a barbarian. I'm a shaman, a healer, but I fight when I have to. Just as you'd fight to protect your family. Just as you once fought to defend your nation. So too it is with the Lakota. I will not start a war," I added, "but I will defend my People."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Early Morning
Crow Creek School, Ft. Thompson, SD

A few at a time, trucks and SUVs and cars pulled off highway 249 into the parking lot. The teachers who were arriving at school to start preparations for a new school year weren't puzzled by the gathering; the school parking lot was a good meeting place. They were confused by the painted faces and grim expressions.

Some of the teachers were Native Americans, but when their non-Indian counterparts asked them, they shrugged, not telling the white teachers the meaning of the paint, but inwardly, they shuddered, dreadfully certain that the men were going to war and afraid of what the ramifications would be to the tribes of South Dakota. They'd seen similar grim-faced, painted men before the occupation at Wounded Knee and other American Indian Movement troubles in the 1970s. The religious among them began to say silent prayers.

Lame Bear looked fierce in his war paint, standing stoically in the bed of a pickup truck, arms crossed on his bare chest, watching with grim satisfaction as more and more men arrived, all carrying rifles and pistols. Most also had sheathed knives at their belts. He looked at his watch again; no more men had arrived for the last fifteen minutes.

"Okay," he said loudly to the group which numbered about a hundred fifty men. "Short Bear - report."

William Short Bear nodded. "Everyone is properly armed. Every man has at least a hundred rounds of ammunition. Every man has four days' worth of food."

"Do you have a roster?" When Short Bear nodded, Lame Bear continued. "Send an encrypted copy to someone you trust, then delete it from your phone."

Short Bear complied while Sam Jumps-the-Creek began passing out papers. "This is a list of the attackers," Lame Bear continued, "with known directions to their houses. Four of the boys and two of the girls live outside of town. We will get six teams of four to apprehend them at their homes, and then bring them into town, to the armory. We'll put teams at points A through F - the main entrances to the town. Block the roads and let no-one pass except our own teams. We will have eight teams of four making the apprehensions in town; your assignments are listed. Every team has at least two society warriors as leaders. Find your groups now."

There was a little chaos as the groups separated into little clusters, and the men stacked their gear with their team leaders.

"Okay, every apprehending team should have a vehicle. The remaining warriors will take as many vehicles as we need, and will take control of the school and courthouse. We will also have a reserve force ready to move out if needed. We need hostages, not just the criminals. The judge and sheriff, the priest at their church - which is next to the school, and any businessmen we can round up." He looked around. "Many of the people will have concealed carry firearms, so we need to be careful. We want living hostages; we cannot afford to leave a trail of bodies. Public opinion will be against us if anyone dies needlessly. Understand?"

The men all nodded grimly.

"Okay. Gather around." He held up a large board on which was pasted a satellite map of the town and surrounding area, with colored markings. With the precision of a sergeant, which wasn't surprising, since Lame Bear had served in the US Army infantry, he went over the plan.

When he was done, Short Bear stepped forward. "We had an opportunity several months ago, when Grey Skies supplied the Ghost Warriors with her special charms. We still have two of the ghost charms, and we will use them as needed. Any questions?"

When there were none, Short Bear tilted his head back and let out a blood-curdling war cry, joined immediately by all the men in the parking lot. Inside the school, the Lakota teachers shuddered as they redoubled their prayers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Early Morning
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

With the Colonel at my side, against his will, we walked into one of the skirmish lines of cavalry that surrounded the village. The men held their guns across their knees, ready to fire at any provocation, looking very nervously at the two of us. I still had the lance with the hankie on it, but it was clear they didn't exactly trust me. "Colonel?" I prompted the man.

He looked angrily at me, but then turned to the men. "She comes under a flag of truce," he announced, his voice full of bitterness and hatred. "We are US Army. We will honor the flag, until she proves unworthy," he added. "Watch for any of their tricks."

"You know I can understand you," I said sarcastically to the Colonel. "Where is your adjutant or executive officer?"

He glared at me for a moment, perhaps hoping that I'd think he was the sole officer, which would excuse many actions of him and the cavalry unit if they should prove necessary. "Major Peterson," he barked over his shoulder.

A man in a neat uniform, quite unlike the dusty blue uniforms of most of the men, rode up, saluting the colonel crisply. "Yes, sir!"

"She wishes to surrender her warriors!" he announced curtly to the Major.

"You duplicitous son-of-a-bitch!" I snarled angrily at him. "I came under a flag of truce to try to save the women and children of the village."

The major curled up his lip into a sneer. "What women and children? I see a village full of armed braves who look like they're going to fight!"

"Is that the lie you intend to tell?" I demanded of them. "After you slaughtered innocent women and children? Or did you intend to rape and carry off the women for your sexual pleasure?" My anger flared white-hot like a sun. "You will not do that to my People!"

"Well, now, young lady, you might be a brave girl, but I don't see how you're gonna stop us," the major said with an evil chuckle.

"If any of your men touch any woman in that camp in a disgraceful way, I will kill all of you," I snarled. When the Major chortled in amusement, I frowned heavily. "Go ahead. Try to shoot me."

The major looked questioningly at his commanding officer, but that was a bluff to distract me. Thinking I wasn't paying attention, he rapidly drew his pistol and let off two shots at me, both of which splattered on my shield. His jaw dropped when he saw me stand smugly in my shield, his shots no more effective than if they'd have been blanks.

Some kind of disturbance caused the cavalry troopers to part, their eyes bulging in surprise and their mouths hanging open. I looked, and from within the village, two men strode through the gap, one white-haired with a high forehead and a neatly-trimmed white beard in a gray suit, and the other man with a significantly receding hairline and clean-shaven. The second man looked severe, even hawkishly unpleasant. I recognized neither.

The bearded man frowned heavily at the two officers. "Major, surrender your weapons. You too, Colonel."

He must have been important, because the two officers who'd been so cocky and arrogant became meek as sheep, unbuckling their pistol and saber belts and letting their weapons fall to the ground, their eyes burning with hatred of me but still following the newcomer's orders.

When he saw that the two cavalry officers were disarmed, he turned back to me, and he seemed to now have a little sparkle in his eyes, and he smiled at me. "Do you know who I am?" he asked me, while the soldiers, including the two officers, stood rigidly at attention.


The man smiled. "I'm President Harrison, and this is an advisor of the Indian Affairs office, Rev. Henry Whipple." He extended his hand to shake mine, looking warily at the knife at my belt and the lance in my hand, even though it still had the white handkerchief. "Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?"

"I am Wihakayda, a shaman of the Lakota tribes," I answered simply. "And Ptesanwi, the prophetess of Wakan Tanka."

"Why are you here? What do you seek?" the President, or at least his vision, asked, curiosity displayed plainly on his grandfatherly features.

"I seek to help my People," I replied. "I seek fair treatment of the Lakota by the government, and a stop to this," I looked around at the cavalry, "senseless slaughter. I seek redress from a government that has made many treaties with the Lakota, and has broken all of them. I seek that my People be allowed to retain their culture and language, that they not be cheated of food and money and lands by greedy white liars and thieves."

Whipple nodded, turning to the President. "The government's policy toward the Native population is dishonorable and disgraceful."

"Perhaps some more thought on dealing with the Natives is in order," the President said, scratching his beard. "Would your people accept you as representative, since you do seem to be important to them?"

Confusion flooded my mind. Me? Represent the Lakota? "Why? To listen to more lies, to hear more false platitudes, to be swindled again and again of our birthright and heritage? While you whites try to destroy us and our way of life?"

"Then why are you here?" the two men asked.

I glanced around the field, to the armed standoff - a very tense and temporary standoff - between the Lakota warriors and the cavalry, and at the thousands upon thousands of ghosts of fighters who'd died, fighting on as spirits to remind all of the cost of hatred. I shut my eyes and took a slow, deep breath, then opened them and looked at the pair of men. "Because ... because it's better to try to negotiate an honorable, lasting, mutually-beneficial peace than to continue this ... terrible warfare."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Lunchtime
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

Military precision, the operation was not. Haphazard but mostly effective better described the invasion. At Scott Hollings' house in the country, the Native Americans stormed into the house, guns showing, and demanded to know where Scott was. Learning he was in a field working, two of the team held the rest of the family at gunpoint while the others had the father lead them to Scott, whereupon they bound and gagged him, and with the rest of the family, high-tailed it for town.

At another kid's house, they knocked politely, guns hidden, and asked where JJ was. When he appeared at the door, the guns came out and the family was subdued. At yet another home, the peaceful approach was taken, and the boy was in town - probably at the malt shop. Without betraying their intent, the team politely thanked the mom and drove to town to find the boy.

Highway 34 through town was blocked on both ends, multiple pickups forming a barricade across the road, while on the other smaller roads, a single vehicle and team was all that was needed to isolate the town.

The Ghost Warriors had done their homework; a team swooped in to the quaint little county telephone exchange and isolated the town from outside phones. Warriors broke through the glass panel on a door into the gym and National Guard armory, and as hostages began to trickle in, they took them, some with their hands bound, into the main gymnasium, while other warriors opened large doors and brought in their supply vans.

Another group of Lakota stormed into the courthouse, taking the county judge and the deputy sheriff in control, but the sheriff was somewhere in town on a call. Worse for the team, one aide in the sheriff's office was in the rest room, and upon hearing the shouting and commotion, hid until she could sneak back into the office. She managed to radio the sheriff and warn of the intrusion before being discovered and caught. The element of surprise was gone.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Lunchtime
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

The river plain, with the thousands and thousands of ghost warriors and ghost cavalry and the real cavalry and warriors fighting an eternal pitched battle for supremacy which could never come, faded in a dizzying swirl, and I found myself sitting at a fire ring inside an unfamiliar tepee village, with the sun on the horizon. Not knowing the directions, I didn't know if it was sunrise or sunset, dawn or dusk. It was quite disorientating.

I was alone, which surprised me, because there was meat roasting over the fire, and rocks heating for tea. Around the camp were signs of life, but no people - as if the residents had been suddenly snatched from their homes without time to tidy up. It had kind of a Chernobyl feel to it, which made it creepy.

A bear roared nearby, and I leaped to my feet, my hands holding my knife and tomahawk. I couldn't tell if it was Mato or another spirit, if it was real or not. After what had happened so far, I didn't want to take a chance.

Between two tepees, Wakan Tanka walked regally, with a huge grizzly bear by her side. "Grizzly?" I asked hesitantly. "Lanie?" I didn't know if it was Lanie manifesting her bear form, or Grizzly herself, or possibly some other spirit or figment of my visions.

"Greetings, Ptesanwi," the bear said with a grin. "It is I, not my host, and not some residual hallucination of your medicines."

"Why are you here?" I asked, puzzled. "You're supposed to be with Lanie, protecting her!"

"I am," Grizzly answered. "In the March of Dreams, I can be in many places at once, as you have yet to learn."

"You didn't answer why you're here," I said warily as the three of us went back to the fire circle. "And you," I gazed upon Wakan Tanka, "haven't said why you're interfering in my hembleciya. Grandma said that didn't happen."

Wakan Tanka smiled, gesturing toward the gourds and rocks to indicate that I should brew some tea and serve it. "Your grandmother wasn't the Ptesanwi. Did you stop to consider that rules for you are - and have to be - different than the rules for the other People?"

That comment rocked me back on my heels, figuratively speaking of course. I'd kind of forgotten that, as far as the People and spirits went, I was special. To me, dealing with Wakan Tanka and Tatanka in my dream world seemed so routine that I hadn't considered how unique it was. "Why are you both here? I'm not done with my hembleciya."

Wakan Tanka smiled. "Actually, Wihakayda," she said with a twinkle in her eyes that made me a little nervous, "you are almost done. You have seen all that you need to see. You have all you need to determine your course of action, your role in the world."

"All I saw," as I placed a hot rock into a large bowl of water, releasing a burst of steam as the water flash-boiled from the rock's hot surface, "was that the People have been constantly at war with the whites, that every treaty the white man made has been broken because of greed by them."

Grizzly chuckled, which was a strange mix of contralto female laughter and bear growling. "Did you not see the Pacific tribes? Or the remains of the Five Nations on the east coast? Did you not notice that they are more assimilated with the white men?"

I nodded cautiously. "In some parts, the reservation system is less pronounced, and the People live among the whites. But they've lost most of their culture!" I added in protest.

"Wihakayda," Grizzly asked with the look of a tutor who was trying to lead her pupil to a conclusion, "what does the 'melting pot' mean? Why is that part of your history?"

"It means," I said carefully, wary of verbal traps, "that immigrants came and became part of the American culture, leaving their native cultures behind."

"Not quite," Grizzly chided. "Why do your Christmas celebrations include elements of French, German, English, and other national traditions?"

I stopped to pour three gourds of tea and pass them out to Wakan Tanka and Grizzly, and then taking a big sip myself. "I'm not sure I follow."

"Does it not mean, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said after a sip, "that the American culture is a blend of elements of all the cultures which came together?" I nodded slowly. "Why would you think, then, that elements of the traditions of the various People would have to be abandoned? Is it not, instead, an opportunity to teach the rest of Americans the traditions of the People, to help integrate things into a blended culture?"

"That sounds like an admirable goal," I answered carefully, "but ... it's ... impossible."

"You are the Ptesanwi," Grizzly answered. "You can succeed with things that the average Native American chief or shaman can't."

I frowned and thought. "And that would make me a bigger target - to the disenchanted People and to the whites - than the average Native American. And to the enemies of the Lakota." I added. "The Lakota and the Crow have been enemies for centuries; how am I to represent them? Especially after what a Crow tried to do to me?"

Wakan Tanka and Grizzly exchanged glances. "You must work with us," she began hesitantly, "to unite all the People, all the Nations."

"What if they won't accept me?" The task sounded impossible, like these two spirits were asking the impossible.

"You must find a way to unite the People," Wakan Tanka repeated, "or the Nations will disappear. Together, they are strong. Divided, they are weak, and if the People cannot work together, they will vanish from the country, at least as any political or cultural force."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Afternoon
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

Pete frowned when the phone rang, interrupting his break. He ignored it and sipped his cup of coffee while June answered it.

"Uh huh," his wife said, her voice becoming concerned. "He's here now." She took the phone to Pete. "It's Roger. He's at the dealership. He said there's something going on in town."

Pete took the phone. "Hey, Rog, what's up?" As he listened, his brow furrowed with concern. "Uh huh." His frown deepened. "Okay. How many?"

"Are you sure?"

"Do you have any idea what they're after?"

"Uh, huh. Okay. Stay hidden there and hunker down. Don't try anything stupid." Pete hung up June's cell phone. After a deep sigh, he looked at his wife. "As best Roger can tell, there's a war party of Native Americans in town, and there's been some shooting."

June's eyes bulged in shock. "What?"

"They're rounding up people. Roger was in the back looking for a part for a customer, so they missed him, but they're rounding up some people."


Pete shook his head. "The boys and girls - and H1?" he speculated.

"Oh, God!"

"Danny!" Pete yelled, turning toward the living room.

"Yeah, Dad?" the boy replied, running into the room in response to the urgency in his Dad's voice.

"Go find Kayda," Pete ordered. "You're going to have to use ... her ... tracking skills, but you have to find her now!"

Danny hesitated; his dad's request was quite unusual. "But ..."

"Now. It's very, very, very important. I know she's on a vision quest or whatever it's called, but you have to find her!"

Gulping nervously, Danny nodded and transformed his body, flowing through his kitty-boy form, through the Wihinape form, and directly to the mountain lion form. Stepping out of his clothes, he walked to the door, pausing so June could open it, and then bounded off.

"Do you think he can find her?" June asked, her voice dripping with worry.

"I hope so," Pete replied uneasily, his fingers on the butt of his concealed carry pistol. "Think about it - warriors come here, looking for H1 and a select group of boys and girls - they're here to take revenge for what happened to Kayda." He stood and walked to a gun cabinet in his office off the kitchen, extracting a second pistol and holster and strapping it on his thigh, and then taking an AR-15.

"Could it be that bad?" June worried her lower lip.

"Say the sheriff gets a radio call to the State Troopers. The Governor finds out, and he calls out the National Guard, and they'll call out the FBI and the regular army. The next thing you know, we've got another Wounded Knee incident. Or worse."

"But ... you aren't going to town, are you?"

Pete nodded grimly. "As Kayda's father, I might have a little sway. I hope." He downed the rest of his coffee. "But Kayda might be the only one who can stop this. If we can't find her, though, this might be the start of another Indian War."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

By the time the Native American groups got to the east part of town in their search, the sheriff, alerted by the radio call, was driving west, toward the disturbance, lights flashing. Just before he got to an old, unused railroad crossing, a pair of older pickups skidded in front of him to block the road, and men scrambled from the cabs, carrying guns that they pointed his way.

Stamping on the brake, he tossed the car into a skid, and as gunfire erupted, bullets striking glass and sheet metal and tires, he gunned the engine and tried to speed away from the ambush. His direction, though, was off, and he got about sixty or seventy yards east before his patrol car went up over a sidewalk and into a tree. Shaking off his momentary daze, he scrambled from the car, and using it as a body shield, darted away from the ambush toward a coop service station, where men were already gathering outside to see what the commotion was about.

Franks Family Farm, South Dakota

Famished and exhausted, and yet feeling a little euphoric from the vision and the after-effects of the hallucinogenic herbs, I was walking slowly back toward the farm, trying to figure out how I could possibly fulfill the role that Grizzly and Wakan Tanka had insinuated was mine to play, when I saw a big cat in the distance that seemed to be running toward me, pausing to track, and then bounding a few tens of yards before repeating the process.

"Danny!" I yelled, figuring that it had to be him, since the cat was tracking unerringly the path I'd walked to the site of my hembleciya and the path which I was returning home.

The cat looked up, looking around, so I yelled again. This time, it began to race toward me. As a precaution, in the unlikely event it wasn't my brother, I raised my shield.

"Kayda!" the cat said between breaths in a husky, female, feline voice when it was within thirty yards, "Mom and Dad say you have to come now!" Because of my semi-euphoric state, I chuckled as I wondered if Danny knew just how completely sexy he sounded in cat form.

"Why?" To say that I was puzzled would be an understatement.

"Dad said there's something going on in town!"

My eyes bulged out at that news, and the euphoria vanished. "What?" I knew I had to get home pronto, but it was still miles away.

"Some party of Lakota or something. I didn't hear the rest of it."

"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said urgently, "use this magic to summon the spirit of Wabli so you can fly home faster." She recited a spell, and I practiced it once before she nodded in satisfaction. Exemplar memory was useful.

As Danny came to a halt, I began to incant the spell Wakan Tanka had taught me. I felt my body flowing, and I couldn't help but wonder if this was what changing felt like to Danny. It was a most peculiar sensation - not uncomfortable, but definitely not familiar. "Get home as fast as you can," I said as my body finished transforming. "And be careful!" With that, I stretched out my arms - wings, actually - and felt them bite into the air. Flapping awkwardly, I gained altitude and speed with each beat of my wings, but I felt totally unstable and unbalanced.

"Wihakayda," the voice of Wabli said in my head, "do not fight me. Let me guide your movements."

"Oh ... Okay," I replied.

Wabli chuckled as I mentally let go, and suddenly, my flight was much smoother. "In time," he said, "if you practice, you will learn to use this form naturally, but for now, it is unfamiliar, so I must help you."

"Wakan Tanka?" I asked, hoping she was still with me in dream space.

"Yes, Wihakayda?"

"Will I be able to ... transform like this to any spirit animal form?"

"Sometimes," Wakan Tanka said. "The spell is powerful, but it takes much essence."

I landed on the porch, and then incanted again, shifting my body back to my normal form. I felt drained of essence from the combination of the hembleciya and the shifting spells, so I trotted to the kitchen, where Mom was fretting at the table, while Dad was rummaging through his ammo stash.

"Kayda!" Mom cried, throwing herself around me in an almost-desperate embrace. "I was worried about you."

"I'm fine, Mom," I replied, "but I'm really hungry, and I need some tea to boost my essence." I turned to the kitchen, but then, almost as an afterthought added, "Danny is on his way back. I told him to be careful, since he doesn't have any clothes and has to stay in cougar form."

Dad heard me and came in, an ammo-can in one hand and a rifle in the other. He had a grim expression on his face, kind of like when Mom and I had to flee the farm months ago when the mob came to do me harm. He quickly briefed me on what he knew of the situation.

"I'll be back in a second." I darted upstairs, to my jewelry box, where I drew out three charms, and after another thought, I took a fourth for Dad. On the way out the door, Mom gave me a quick hug and a sandwich, bless her.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Afternoon
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

Short Bear thumbed the walkie-talkie he was carrying. "Grouse checking in. The Sheriff has evaded capture," he growled, annoyed at himself for the fact that his party hadn't apprehended the H1-favoring lawman. "He fled on foot from the Cenex building, and he had a party of men he'd collected."

On the other end of the radio link, in the gymnasium which was slowly filling with warriors and hostages, Lame Bear frowned. "All parties, watch for the sheriff. He may have men with him, and they may be armed! Avoid casualties if at all possible."

"Raven checking in. Our target is not at home, repeat, our target is not at home. His mother reports that he went to the clinic."

"Copy. Owl, take your team to the clinic to apprehend the boy."

The man beside Lame Bear, Ben Three Tails, nudged him. "Get the doctor, too. He treated the Ptesanwi, but was an accomplice in destroying evidence to cover up the ... incident. I'll go lead that raid."

"Owl, did you hear that?"

"Affirmative. Get the doc, too."

"Bluejay! The sheriff and about eight armed men have worked their way across the tracks and are approaching downtown! They are armed, and they have shot at us!"

"Robin checking in. Our target is not home either."

"Yellow Water, take your team to the Malt Shop. Take everyone there to the gym. Falling Rock, take your team to the swimming pool. Take all of them to the gym as well." Lame Bear was both pleased and frustrated; pleased that so far, they'd captured eight of the twelve boys and girls, including five of the six who lived in the country, and they'd secured the town and telephone. He was frustrated because the sheriff had rounded up - and probably deputized - a party of men who were willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

East Edge of Kayda's Hometown, on Hwy 34, South Dakota

Dad touched my arm as I drove toward the blocked road, perhaps silently suggesting that I should slow down; in my anger, I wanted to smash through the blockade, but I knew Dad was right, so I eased off the throttle.

"I see five," Dad began. "No, six. All armed." His hands were on his .45s, but I knew that would be too little. He was easily outgunned.

I nodded, and slowed even more, so I was idling toward the men. When I was about twenty yards away, I stopped and put the truck in park. "Dad, touch the center of your charm." Dad gave me a curious look; I probably rolled my eyes like a typical teen would when trying to explain tech stuff to a parent. "It invokes a shield."

"Okay," Dad said hesitantly.

"It's the same shield spell that saved me from Officer Matthews and Snakey," I explained, but I could see he wasn't impressed - yet. "It stopped a dozen or so .30 cal rounds." That got his attention. "You'll have a few minutes of shield. If this goes well, touch it again to deactivate the shield so you can save it for later - in case."

"Can you recharge it?"

"Yeah, but it'll take a while. I'll explain it later. Our friends are getting nervous." I slowly opened the door and stepped out - which was a big step down for me, since the truck was a 4x4 that was also lifted a few inches.

I got the reaction I expected, and indeed was counting on, when they saw my buckskin dress with Lakota beading, and my hair in two braids with Lakota beaded hair bands. "Stand down," I said firmly.

The leader of the little group shook his head. "We are on the warpath to bring justice to those who have shamed our People," he said firmly. "We will stand down when we complete our mission."

"What's your name?" I asked as I walked calmly and slowly toward the men.

The man looked uneasily at his companions, and then back at me. "I am called Hunting Dog," he said.

"You are not Sicangu," I stated with conviction.

"No," he replied. "I am Oglala."

I looked over the others. "You," I scowled at one of the men, "are Dave Runs-Quick." He nodded solemnly. "You are In'oka and Akicita." Again he nodded. "Then you know who I am."

"You ... are In'oka," he said. "And ... you are the Ptesanwi!"

"Who leads this raid?" I demanded imperiously, to the shock of some of the men. "Take me to him."

Runs-Quick winced. "I ... am not supposed to leave my position."

"Then tell me where he is, and let my father and me drive through your blockade." I was nervous about the confrontation and how much more serious it seemed to be than Mom and Dad had thought.

The men were exchanging very worried glances; I only recognized Runs-Quick, which meant the others were from other tribes and probably didn't recognize me. I was getting impatient; one mistake somewhere was going to cost lives, and I was not about to let that happen if I could. With that, I manifested Ptesanwi, growing in stature and taking the glow characteristic of her manifestation.

"I said, let me pass," I said firmly but calmly, and my voice sounded different from when I wasn't Ptesanwi. It took the men by surprise, but they were now frozen with uncertainty. With a sigh and a shake of my head, I summoned Tatanka, full-sized and angry.

"I am Ptesanwi," I declared sternly to the men. "Let me pass." As an added touch, I invoked a small cantrip so that I levitated several feet off the ground.

The effect was electric. All of the men were face down, prostrating themselves before me.

"I do not approve of these actions. Stand down, and let me pass." When one of the men scrambled into a truck, starting it, I glanced over my shoulder and nodded to Dad. He scooted into the driver's seat and eased my truck forward, through the gap and into town.

"They are gathering hostages and the guilty in the gym," Runs-Quick stammered nervously.

I nodded. "Follow me there." Then I saw the hand radio. "Call the others and tell them that I am here, and that I command them to assemble at the gym."

When I crawled back in the truck, letting Dad drive - just in case - I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I realized that I was shaking, so I clutched the armrest to hide it from Dad.

"I don't know exactly what it was you did," Dad said, talking to try to relieve a little of the tension and my nerves, "but it sure got their attention."

Gym and National Guard Armory, Kayda's Hometown

The gym was an only-too-familiar setting, and I shuddered involuntarily as we strode inside. The last time I'd been there, my so-called friends had tried to kill me and had dumped me in the snow to die. When I turned away from the hall where I'd been so badly beaten, I saw about a hundred fifty of the townspeople clustered on the center of the basketball court, guarded by a large number of armed warriors. Many of the warriors, the ones from Rosebud, recognized me and gawked; whispered comments spread the word through the other tribes' warriors, until all of them were looking at me, awestruck. I really didn't like the attention.

When I saw Scott Hollings, I couldn't help but scowl angrily. He had hurt me so badly, physically and psychologically, and I felt anger toward him burn within me. He, recognized me, and the fire of raw hatred burned within his eyes. If looks could have killed, he no doubt would have killed me. Then he noticed the deference all the Native American warriors were showing me. He rose angrily to his feet, "You bitch!" he yelled at me. "I should have known you were behind this!"

Instantly, two warriors were on him, one pinning his arms behind his back, while the other whipped out a knife and held it to his throat. Gasps of shock and fear erupted in the hostages.

"Stop!" I ordered loudly and as firmly as I could. The warrior with the knife reluctantly lowered it, but the other held onto the boy. I strode angrily to him, until I was only inches from him. "You can't hurt me anymore, you son-of-a-bitch!" I snarled at him. I drew my own knife, which elicited gasps from the Lakota warriors when they recognized it, and held it toward his belt. "I could ensure that you never rape anyone ever again!" I hissed angrily at him, loud enough that most of the townsfolk heard. "You deserve it!" I could read the fear in his eyes. I glanced around the hostages. "And you," I pointed to JJ, "and you," I gawked at Shelly, Scott's girlfriend. "And you, and you, and you." I continued until I had menaced every one of my rapists who were in the gym. Except one.

I walked over to Rich, deliberately sheathing my knife. "Not you," I said. "Even if you did hurt me badly, you at least admitted your wrong and accepted the consequences like a man. You have the honor of a warrior." I looked around the crowd, then at the leader, Lame Bear. "But that's not why I'm here."

"Why have you come, then?" Lame Bear asked, puzzled.

"I have come to stop this," I said evenly. "Before it gets out of hand and starts another war on the Lakota."

"We have the right to see justice done!" he snapped back. "After they ..."

"I have the most reason to see justice done," I snapped back furiously, manifesting Ptesanwi again and cowing him a little. "I have every reason to hate them, and the ones in the town who backed them and allowed them to escape justice for rape and attempted murder." I looked around, letting everyone see my anger in Ptesanwi and dwell on the crimes I had accused the kids of. It was a very awkward silence; from their expressions, I could tell which ones were ashamed of what had happened and which didn't give a rat's ass. I let the silence hang ominously, letting the guilty ones stew in fear.

"But I will not let my People suffer and die in a war that should not happen!" I finally said firmly, making sure I noted that it was the People who I was protecting, not the town.

I turned back to Lame Bear. "This is not the time to put on the war paint. This is no time for a new Indian War that would destroy my People."

One of the hothead Humanity First men, Ted Jergens, a friend of Doc Robinson, thought he had a chance since all the warriors were focused on me, and he foolishly launched himself at me, perhaps hoping to take me by surprise while taking my knife, so that he could either kill me or hold me at knifepoint to force the warriors to back down.

Only it didn't work. I felt the spirits telling me of his attack, and as he reached for me, I twisted and elbowed him in the side of his neck, snapping his head to the side. Simultaneously, a tomahawk flew across the gym from an alert warrior, digging deeply into the man's shoulder. With a scream of pain, Mr. Jergens crumpled to the floor, blood spurting from the massive wound.

The warriors all tensed like coiled springs, hands on weapons, some snarling, perhaps hoping someone else would be dumb enough to resist so they could vent some of their anger, while on the floor, women and girls screamed at the sight, and several of the men seemed to be having second thoughts about the seriousness of the situation. Several people were sick.

Mrs. Jergens, a tiny woman who taught me in fifth grade, dashed to her husband's side, gasping in horror at the deep, bloody wound in his shoulder. "We've got to get him to a hospital!" she cried, turning to me with tears of anguish streaming down her cheeks. I half expected her to attack me, as did most of the warriors, but instead, it was like she held her husband responsible, not me or the Lakota men, and she was begging for me to save him.

"His wound is deep," I said as I knelt beside the H1 bigot. He flinched from me, but that motion brought him a wave of agony that almost made him pass out. Invoking a small spell, I examined the wound. "The blood vessel to his arm is torn." I glanced at my father. "Dad," I said, interrupting the gruesome spectacle and tense silence, "get my wooden cup from the glove box and fill it halfway with water."

As he ran outside to my truck, I knelt down beside the injured man, opening my medicine pouch and beginning to take out the herbs I needed.

"You've got to get him to a hospital!" Mrs. Jergens pleaded urgently, trying to interpose herself between me and her husband. "Please!"

"He has no blood flowing to his arm," I replied calmly, looking straight into her eyes and trying to be compassionate; that was difficult considering that he was H1 and hated me because I was a mutant. "By the time you get him into surgery in Huron or Mitchell, his arm will have been without blood for over half an hour. The tissue will have begun to necrotize. Either let me heal him, or he will at the very least lose the use of his arm, if he doesn't lose his whole arm."

The woman's eyes bulged out at my words. "You ... you can heal him? You would heal him, despite everything?"

"Take off his shirt," I commanded. While Mrs. Jergens and another woman took off the man's shirt, I took the cup from Dad and mixed up the potion, infusing it with essence. Once Mr. Jergens' chest was bare, I began to paint the ritual markings on and around the injury. With everyone watching, I incanted again, pouring the mixture into the open wound. Mr. Jergens gasped loudly, convulsing in two mighty spasms, and then he fell back to the floor, unconscious.

While I knew what would happen, no-one else did, and the effect on the crowd was electric, seeing the hateful man healed by the very one he wanted to attack and kill. As the magic worked, bone, tendons, and muscles knitted themselves back together, the wound closing slowly. I hadn't given him the full regen-type healing spell; part of me was bitter enough at the town and H1 idiots that I wanted him to carry a permanent scar, a mark of what his stupidity had earned him, and a reminder that a mutant had healed him.

"You shouldn't heal him," Lame Bear snarled. "He attacked you."

"I am a shaman, a healer. Not a butcher," I chided him, using English so all could understand.

Main Street, Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

From behind a parked car with its windows shot out and multiple bullet holes in the body, Ben Three Tails looked down the now-deserted street toward a building which was part of a row of adjoining buildings. "What's the situation?" he asked, having just arrived on the scene.

"The sheriff and eleven others are holed up in the clinic with the doctor," a warrior reported grimly. "They managed to pick up arms and ammunition while they were dodging our men, and they worked their way back to this side of the tracks, to the clinic. They tried to sneak out the back when they realized we were here, but another team has that blocked. They're shooting at anything that moves," he added unnecessarily before looking at Three Tails. "We could just keep them pinned down."

Ben shook his head. "No. The doctor is one of the worst H1 members. He was key in letting the perpetrators go because he didn't collect evidence, and he did not treat her injuries properly."

"The sheriff?"

"No," Ben shook his head again. "He's an H1 member, but he wasn't sheriff when the incidents happened."

"We should bring all the Humanity First garbage to the gym." He looked back at the building, which had the front windows shot out. "Do we rush them?"

Ben Three Tails shook his head. "No. That might be brave, but it'd be suicidal." He looked at the top of the building's front façade. "Hmmm." He pointed at the adjoining buildings. "Get someone up on the roof. Let's see what we've got."

"Burn them out?"

"Too dangerous, and it's a bad political move." Ben thought a moment. "See if we've got access hatches or vents or air conditioning," he ordered. "I'm going to get a few things, and then we'll smoke them out. I'll get the ghost-walking charms from Short Bear."

Gym and National Guard Armory, South Dakota

When I was sure that Mr. Jergens was no longer in danger of losing his arm, I put away my medicine bag and stood. It was only then that I realized how many people were gawking at me, and many of them had expressions I couldn't quite read. If they hated me, well, I could hate them too. Frowning, I forced myself to ignore them, to not look at them, and instead looked around at the warriors, and then walked to Lame Bear, who was discussing something with a couple of other men.

"This ends now," I said firmly, interrupting him.

Lame Bear ignored me. "Smoking Pipe, take twenty men to the doctor's clinic," he ordered.

"What's going on?" I demanded.

Lame Bear frowned at me, quite unhappy with my decision, and while he had my attention, Smoking Pipe and others practically ran out of the building. Based on the expression on Lame Bear's face, I started to worry. "Dad!" I yelled across the gym to where Dad was talking with one of his employees from the implement dealership. He looked up at my call. "We've got to get downtown!" I yelled, already walking across the gym.

Two warriors nervously moved to block me, but they backed off when they saw the determination on my face. Lame Bear was pissing me off royally. I paused and manifested Ptesanwi. "If any of these people are harmed," I said loudly in what I hoped was a sufficiently commanding voice, "I will hold you all responsible, and you will all regret it." To a man, the warriors gulped nervously, intimidated, as I'd hoped. "Keep them here for their protection," I added, "in case this turns into a battle. Give them food and treat them as our customs require we treat a visitor to our camp. Do you understand?"

Most of the warriors nodded nervously. To emphasize the point, I fingered and activated the charm on my neck, and suddenly, everyone had a silver aura. Gasps of surprise came from the warriors and the townspeople, so I strode to the door, pausing to look back at Dad, who was a little bit confused as to where I was. I fingered the charm again, deactivating the magic. "Come on, Dad," I said, visible once again, then turned strode out of the gym to my truck.

I let Dad drive, while I rode in the back, in case I needed to act quickly. As we turned onto Main Street, a shot rang out, and I heard a bullet smack into my truck. "Stop!" I yelled, royally pissed that someone had shot at my truck. I also chided myself, because I should have expected something like that, even though I wasn't sure who had shot at me. It could as easily have been the sheriff as one of the warriors who over-reacted. I invoked my shield and decided to climb down to the street.

I had a right to be worried; I could see smoke coming from Doc Robinson's clinic, pouring through the broken windows in front. I ran down the street, hoping I wasn't too late. "Stop!" I yelled to the Lakota, hoping they heard me and that they would obey.

A hail of gunfire erupted from inside the clinic, mostly as suppressing fire to keep the Lakota down under cover, but several rounds splattered on my shield. The reaction was immediate; many of the Lakota began to fire at the building. I took off at a run toward the clinic.

"Kayda!" Dad yelled, barely audible above the roar of gunfire which had erupted, "Stop! It's too dangerous."

I looked over my shoulder, still running. "Use the charm to protect yourself," I yelled to him.

The gunfire impacting my shield increased in volume; I was drawing attention from more and more of the men inside the clinic, but at least the gunfire from the Lakota warriors was decreasing for fear of hitting me. I stopped directly in the middle of the street in front of the clinic; dozens of rounds per second smacked harmlessly into my shield.

"Stop!" I yelled again at the Lakota warriors, then turned to the clinic. "This must end."

"You started this, you filthy mutant!" Doc Robinson's voice yelled from the clinic, his voice distinct and very stressed. A gun appeared in the window, with a shadowy figure behind it, and several shots rang out against my shield.

I remanifested Ptesanwi and levitated a couple of feet. "This. Ends. Now!" I said again. Showing contempt for their weapons, I turned my back on the clinic, ignoring the gunfire. "Put away your weapons!" I ordered the Lakota warriors. "Wipe off your war paint. This is not your fight! I will not permit you to start a new war."

Ben Three Tails peeked out from behind a car, his location shielded from the clinic by my own shield. "How will you make them stop?"

I started; he had a very valid point. As I pondered it, I felt ... something ... through the earth spirit. Frowning, I touched the ghost walking charm. While auras appeared around everyone else, two figures without the telltale silver auras appeared on the sidewalk creeping toward the front of the building, one carrying a Molotov cocktail.

"Stop!" I roared at the two. They glanced at me, and then continued creeping forward, obviously not familiar with the ghost-walking magic. Seeing them moving undeterred, I invoked a small spell, casting a fireball to the sidewalk a few feet in front of them, making them jump backward a few feet, startling the one enough that he dropped the flaming bottle so it shattered on the ground, erupting in flames. "Yes," I said sternly, "I can see you. Stop NOW!"

No sooner had he become visible again than a new burst of gunfire erupted from the clinic, at the warrior; two shots hit him and he went down with a cry. Immediately, the Lakota warriors began to shoot at the clinic again.

"Fuck!" I swore loudly at my stupidity. By revealing the warrior, I'd made him a target. Without dropping my shield, I ran the few steps to him and bent over, trying to see how badly wounded he was because of my mistake.

"I made a mistake," I said as I knelt down. His upper chest was bright red with blood, as was his thigh, but a quick probe with my magic showed that neither wound was immediately fatal, but the shoulder one might become very serious if I didn't heal him quickly. I focused on some magic to slow the bleeding, a spell with some herbs which didn't require water - the same one I'd cast on Debra months ago. That thought startled me. Was it really only five months since I'd manifested? It seemed like forever. Between healing the wound and the sudden recollection of my manifestation, I was completely oblivious to the occasional smack of a bullet on my shield. Thankfully, I had the charm, because my regular spell would have long since been exhausted. But I had a new worry - how long would the charm last?

"Keep shooting, you fools!" I paused to look at the clinic as I shouted at them. "The more you shoot at me, the sooner you'll run out of ammo!" Two more shots hit, and then the guns were silent as they considered how futile it was to shoot at me.

Finished with the healing, I picked up the fallen warrior and carried him slowly and deliberately, possibly even provocatively, down the street and around the corner, where two Lakota warriors took him. "He'll be okay," I pronounced. "I'll give him a full healing when I stop the fighting."

"Good luck with that," Short Bear snapped at me. "I don't think they'll stop until they or we are dead."

Damn, I swore to myself, he was right. The sheriff and his group weren't going to back down now. Kind of like the MCO.

The MCO? Of course! I had a sudden idea of how to handle the situation. With a knowing smile, I walked to my truck, inside Dad's shield - noticing to my dismay that some kind of fluid was leaking to the asphalt from the engine compartment! - and took a cup and poured some water into it. With a few herbs and some minor magic, I had the brew ready, and I poured it into a small bottle with a cap, and taking a porcupine quill from my medicine bag, I invoked my special spell - the combination shield and ghost-walking spell. Over the summer, I'd tweaked it until it was a form-fitting shield, not a sphere. I figured I should save the charm, or whatever was left in it, for an emergency.

Sporadic gunfire between the warriors and the clinic had resumed, which wasn't unexpected, so I had to work quickly before someone was killed. From the sidewalk, I jumped to the remains of the glass window, flinching as I shattered some glass and alerted the men inside that something was happening. I landed on my side among shards of glass, and I just lay quietly there, because the men inside were smart enough to think that something or someone had come through the huge window. I didn't want to make any more noise to alert them.

Eventually, they must have concluded that it was a barrage of shots which had broken some of the remains of the window, so they quit looking around inside the clinic. Using the sound of gunfire as a cover, I slowly rose to my feet, grateful that I had my moccasins to help silence my steps. It would be much easier if Jade was here, but I could do this on my own. I hoped.

The warriors had gotten something into the building in their attempt to smoke out the sheriff and his men, but it had been moved - somehow - into the building's furnace, so the smoke was now going mostly up the chimney. I was relieved to see that the men were that clever; if they'd have run out because of the smoke, many of them would most likely be lying dead or dying on the streets.

I unscrewed the cover to the liquid, dipped the quill in it, and crept toward one of the men. A tiny jab, and I moved on, while he swatted at the spot as if a fly or mosquito had bitten him. In a few moments, he yawned and slowly slumped over, asleep. Nobody noticed him since their attention was focused outside the clinic, and I crept to the next man.

About halfway through knocking out the sheriff's contingent, one man noticed that a few of the men in the back room - covering the back entrance, were asleep. I stepped up the pace, and as I jabbed the men - and the nurse who was also carrying a pistol - a few of them yelped with surprise at the tiny jab.

"Who's there?" the sheriff demanded, his voice stressed and a bit frantic. I watched him cautiously as he swung the barrel of his pistol around the reception area up front, eyes darting nervously, confused by random shadows and noises. His gun barked a couple of times as he shot at the noises. "Come out!" he cried out frantically. I ducked down - just in case.

I crept around the perimeter of the room, darting another two men, and as they slumped, the sheriff unloaded a few more shots. There were only three men left standing by that point. I slipped back to Doc Robinson's office, where he was sitting, worried and pointing a gun toward the door. No doubt he was afraid of vengeance for his treatment of me and his role in covering up my rape, which he was probably - rightly - convinced that the Lakota knew.

The floor creaked as I crept around his desk, and I froze as the gun barrel swung around. I wasn't afraid of a shot - mostly. I'd never pushed a shield that hard or long, and I might be running out of essence. This would be a really crappy time to find that out. I crouched down, just in case, and, seeing under his desk, I got an idea. Slowly, quietly, I laid down on the floor and I held forth the quill between the legs of the desk toward Doc's leg. With a grin, I jabbed him, taking a rather cruel delight in causing him discomfort. In a way, I wanted to do more. I wanted to make him suffer.

I pushed those thoughts away. That type of thinking would only lead to trouble, and figuring that the state patrol was on its way to town, I didn't have time for some sadistic pleasure. Nor would Mom, Dad, or Wakan Tanka be happy if I indulged in a little revenge.

Doc's reflexive kick hit my arm, and though the shield was up, my arm was between his leg and the desk, so it stung a little, just like Snakey and Mishibijiw had done to me through my shield. In a few seconds, he slumped down and was snoring, so I straightened myself and took the gun from his hand, safing it and taking the magazine. Cursing my foolishness, I crept around the back rooms, doing the same with all the other guns, collecting the ammo so that the guns were useless lumps of metal and wood. I hid the ammo in one of Doc's desk drawers - just in case, - and then went back to the front reception room.

It was time to end this. I might not have much time left, so I had to be bold and quick. I jumped across the room to one of the two awake men; he heard me and was looking frantically to see what was making the noise. He waved his gun, shooting three times randomly at noise and shadows when I jabbed him, and then he sank to the ground. Another quick move and the sheriff was down as well.

Just to be safe, I checked around the clinic one more time, and certain that everyone was taking a nap and their guns were empty, I dropped my ghost-walking shield, then invoked the shield anew and stepped out of the building.

Some of the Lakota warriors were a little nervous; two bullets spattered on my shield before they recognized me and they stopped shooting. "Lame Bear, call your men. There will be no fighting today."

"The white men won't agree," he started.

"The white men cannot fight any longer," I shot back. "Put down your weapons and gather by my truck."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Gym and National Guard Armory, Kayda's Hometown

The sheriff's team, all disarmed, bound by the wrists - just in case - and awakened by the antidote to the sleeping brew, sat with all the other people from town on one side of the gym. The warriors were all gathered on the other side, and both sides were looking warily at the others. Given the time of day, food and water had been passed out among the warriors and townspeople. I was exhausted, but I had to press on. I hadn't had any sleep since I started my hembleciya, and I had eaten very little. Worse, I was single-handedly keeping a very fragile truce in place between the two sides of the gym. I was running out of essence, and if fighting had broken out, I would not have been able to stop it. I was exhausted, and I knew it and Dad knew it.

While Dad had called Senator Jennings to let him know what happened, I called Hazel Two Bears from HPARC. I'd talked to her several times since the incident with Grandma; she was very concerned about how I was dealing with that whole situation. Both of us were certain that the hostage situation and the fallout were going to get really, really messy. Dad had been advised to keep all the people together and to wait for the state police. Given the almost palpable animosity inside the gym, I fervently hoped that the troopers arrived very soon.

While I was talking to Hazel, there was banging on the side doors, so I opened them. Not surprisingly, several State Troopers were outside in a formation to cover each other and make a forced entry if necessary. Fortunately, it wasn't necessary.

"Kayda Franks?" the lead trooper asked.

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Everything still under control?"

"Yeah. There are no weapons in the gym. All the warriors and the ... hostages and ... culprits are inside, too. And the sheriff's men." I saw him glancing at the knife and tomahawk at my belt. "Except my personal weapons," I chuckled.

I don't think they quite believed me, because they came into the gym with entry tactics, guns drawn and ready. Seeing things were calm, the trooper in charge went to Dad while the others fanned out to keep the entire crowd covered. "Senator Jennings' office gave us a report. He and the governor are on a helicopter on their way."

"Now what?" I asked.

The trooper chuckled. "That's way above my pay grade."

Within half an hour, the governor, attorney general, Senator Jennings, and several other important politicians arrived, and still no-one was allowed to leave. I had to go with all the important people - Dad, the sheriff, Doc Robinson, all my attackers, the mayor and county judge, Lame Bear, Short Bear, and all the other leaders of both sides - including the politicians, into a classrooms at the front of the building. We talked a long time, and there was much animosity - but the troopers present in the room kept things under control.

All of the townspeople were extremely incensed and in no mood to let things just drop. Similarly, the Lakota warriors and Hazel - by phone - were adamant that the rapists and assailants - and Doc - had to be punished. I had to give the governor credit for moderating the debate - heated argument actually - and not letting things get out of hand.

It didn't take long before the news media from Sioux Falls were outside with their satellite trucks and anchors and cameras, and agents from the FBI and the BIA were demanding to be let into the gym. The troopers, though weren't letting them in. Not until the governor was satisfied that we'd all come to term which were mutually agreeable. And that was going to be very difficult. I was glad it was the governor's job and not mine. Since the troopers were there, I sat to one side of the discussions, eating some of the rations the warriors had brought.

"Kayda?" Someone was saying my name over and over and shaking my shoulder. I tried to roll over, but the shaking continued. "Kayda? Wake up."

Recognizing Dad's voice, I pried my eyes open and struggled to sit up. The room was empty except for me and him. "Wake up, honey," he said again.

"What happened?" I asked, shaking the cobwebs out of my head.

"I think it's over."

I let my head fall back against a wall, sighing with relief. "Good. Can we go home now? I'm tired."

"Not yet," he answered. "The governor wants to talk to you."

"Okay." I struggled to stand, so Dad helped me. Tottering as I continued to wake up, I held his arm as we walked into the gym.

Only a few of the original hostages were present, primarily the leaders and the clock said it was almost two - in the morning, I reasoned. The sheriff and Doc glowered at me, while others in town had unreadable expressions. The kids - all of whom were still there - avoided looking at me, which didn't surprise me, even though I'd just saved their asses.

The governor and attorney general looked up, and both simultaneously rose and came to me. I was wary, and still half asleep, but the governor smiled and clasped my hand in both of his. "I can't say enough to express my thanks, on behalf of the state, for preventing a war." His voice was choking with emotion.

"What's going to happen now?" I asked, my brain a little foggy. "The FBI and BIA ...."

The attorney general grinned. "Leave that to us. We've got it handled." At that point, I was so tired that I didn't care as long as the solution didn't involve the MCO.

Outside, the media circus was still in full feeding frenzy despite the late hour, and as Dad and I stepped outside, the reporters swooped in, thrusting their microphones in my face and almost blinding me with the lights for their cameras. A few state troopers were trying to keep the reporters away, but that was like trying to grasp air in one's hand. Somehow, though, we got through the media gauntlet without me saying much - mostly because I knew so little of what happened after I fell asleep, and as cautioned by the governor and his media aide, I got away with yawning and saying "I don't know" a lot.

Thursday, August 9, 2007 - Evening
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota

It felt very odd to sit in the malt shop with friends, like I had less than half a year earlier, but it was also different. The number of friends was fewer, as many of the townspeople refused to deal with me since I was a 'filthy mutant'. It didn't help that there was some small amount of anti-Native-American bigotry in South Dakota, especially east river. I was sitting with the girls - Leslie Norton, Denise Strickland from my class, Amy Miller from a grade ahead of me, and Raquel Johnson and Lorie Taylor from a grade behind me. For me, being with a group of girls was no longer a big deal, but for them, I suppose that it was still awkward. With time, perhaps, they'd come to accept me more as just 'one of the girls'.

Danny was here, too, sitting with Lisa and Sandy and Trisha and Megan; they obviously had him embarrassed, because he was in kitty-boy form, and from the look on his face, he was both highly embarrassed and relaxed as they stroked his light fur, causing him to purr.

We were still getting dirty looks from some of the kids present, but they kept to themselves, whether out of fear of what they'd heard of my powers or out of fear of disapproval of those in town who genuinely appreciated that I'd stopped what could have been a very serious incident, and likely saved lives.

"So, Bra ... Kayda," Raquel started, snapping my attention back to the girls I was with, "are there boys at that school you go to?"

"Yeah," I answered with a smile. "It's co-ed."

"So ... do you have a boyfriend?" Lorie cooed.

They saw my incompletely-suppressed shudder. "No," I said quickly, and I could see on their faces that they realized that they'd asked an insensitive question.

"But I've made some very good - and interesting - friends." I smiled, thinking of all the good friends I had at Whateley. "Adalie is from France, and my other best friend Alicia is from Louisiana."

Denise leaned toward the center of the table, her voice lowering conspiratorially. "Are there any, you know, mutants there?"

I laughed, but for different reasons than the girls knew. If they knew it was a school for mutants, and that every student there was one, they wouldn't understand. "A few, I think," I said non-committally. "Even without that, the kids there are ... unique."

"Oooh," Raquel responded. "I wonder if I could go there!"

"What, and leave all this behind?" Amy laughed.

"Besides," Lorie giggled, "if you go, someone else would claim Kent as a boyfriend!"

Denise waggled her eyebrows. "On second thought, you should go there!"

"You just want to claim Kent!" the other girls accused with giggles.

"So what do you do at that school? It's a boarding school isn't it?"

"Yeah. It's in the mountains, so the weather is cool - even in late spring. It gets a lot of snow, but since I only started in March, I don't know how harsh the winters are." I smiled. "I hope they're not as cold as here." I thought a moment - how to answer the question without sounding like I was being evasive, but at the same time not giving away any secrets. "We study, go to classes, try to stay out of trouble - you know, the usual stuff. A lot of pranking, the normal social circles and stuff." I shrugged. "Normal school, I'd say."

"Um," Leslie said hesitantly, "are you ... you know ... all the way girl?" I stared at her, one eyebrow arched curiously. After a moment of thought, she blushed; of course I was all the way a girl if I could be raped. "I mean," she stammered, trying to recover, "do you have ... you know ... periods?"

The other girls stared at me with renewed interest, their curiosity piqued by Leslie's question, which no doubt all of them wanted to ask but weren't brave enough to.

"Yeah," I admitted, blushing. "The first one was the worst, because I didn't know what was happening, and I kind of freaked out." I glanced around to see if anyone was listening in. "And then, at the clinic, they were kind of 'okay, take something for the discomfort' like it was no big deal. I was so embarrassed when I had to tell them that, you know, I'd changed and didn't know anything about it!"

Lorie had been sipping her soda, and she laughed so hard that she spewed soda everywhere. The other girls were chuckling, too.

"It's still not fun," I admitted softly, "and since I'm a mutant, normal things like midol don't work, so ... it gets pretty uncomfortable!"

"I never, ever thought I'd hear a guy say ...." Leslie started.

"Careful!" Amy hissed softly, interrupting the conversation. "Cassie is coming this way."

I tensed involuntarily. Cassie was one of those who'd participated in the rape and beating.

She stopped beside the table, looking down at our table, and the others were staring at her. Slowly, cautiously, I looked up. Her expression was quite puzzling.

"Why?" she finally asked, expressing a ton of emotion and questions in that one simple word.

I shrugged. "I ... I honestly don't know," I replied softly. "I ... I hate ... hated ... all of you. A couple of months ago, I ..." the admission came hard to me, "I would have been cheering them on."

"You could have let them do anything," Cassie said. "You could have had your revenge. I don't understand why you didn't."

"I don't know either. But ... I couldn't let it start. It would have gotten out of control, and I was afraid a lot of innocent people would get hurt."

Cassie nodded slowly as she chewed on my words. "In the gym yesterday, you said 'your People'. You said something like, you couldn't let your People die in a senseless war. Who were you talking about? Us? Or the Indians?"

"My tribe," I answered slowly. Seeing her frown developing, I knew I had to continue. "They accepted me. They protected me. You guys didn't. You hurt me instead."

Her gaze dropped in shame, acknowledging that every word I'd spoken was true. The other girls were looking down, too - mostly. My words had struck a nerve in all of them.

Eventually, Cassie nodded, and without looking, continued. "I'm ... ashamed that I got ... caught up in what happened. I ... I feel bad about what happened. I'm ... sorry."

"And you should," Amy snapped angrily. She was winding up to say more, but I put my hand on her arm to calm her.

"I ... I don't know if I can forgive you," I said haltingly, my voice cracking. "I don't know if I ever will. It hurt too much."

"That's fair," Cassie nodded, her eyes sad. She had been a friend once. Now - it seemed that bond had been forever torn asunder. She started to turn away.

"But ... I don't hate you. Not anymore."

She turned back toward me, nodding in acknowledgement of what I'd said. "Maybe ... maybe someday ...."

"Yeah. Maybe." That's all I could say. Maybe someday the hurt would be gone enough to forgive them and accept their friendship again, at least the ones who were truly sorry. But I doubted it. I might never be able to get past the hurt. I watched her go, feeling like parts of my life were leaving, but they were taking pain with them. And maybe that wasn't a bad thing.

After a moment, I turned back to the girls, who were all watching cautiously. "Anyway," I continued, trying to regain the fun atmosphere, "our cafeteria has a couple of French chefs as cooks."

"Oooohhh! That sounds fab!" Amy cooed.

"But they serve the good stuff to the faculty. We all eat plain old cafeteria food, so it's not that special. And since the campus is kind of remote, it's not like we can walk down the street to a Pizza Hut or Subway, either!"

Denise laughed aloud. "And we can?"

"You've got this place," I said, looking around the malt shop. "

"Are you ... you know," Raquel asked hesitantly, "are you going to come back now? Since this is kind of ... over?"

I shook my head. "No. There are some - like Doc Robinson - who will always hate me, and I don't think I'd feel safe in school ever again. I ... I feel like my school is my home now." I felt at peace to say that. It mean that I belonged at Whateley, that I fit in. And that put a smile on my face.

Thursday, August 9, 2007 - Evening
Whateley House, Whateley Academy

"The war of words between the FBI and the state of South Dakota over jurisdiction of the Sanborn County Incident continues," the television blared in the voice of a bleach-blonde newsreader who probably had never heard of South Dakota before it was on the teleprompter. Mrs. Carson caught herself with that thought; it wasn't fair to the woman that she looked like an airhead blonde.

"The Governor of the state spoke at a press conference earlier today." The video cut to a clip. "The incident in Sanborn County was not, contrary to FBI claims, on Reservation lands. It was entirely within the jurisdiction of the State of South Dakota, and will be handled ... by the State of South Dakota." The screen image looked over the mic and pointed to someone. "Yes?" "Some reports say that mutants were involved. Doesn't that give authority to the MCO?" "The governor frowned. "Whether or not mutants were involved, the MCO has no authority in the State of South Dakota except for the federally-mandated transportation safety role at airports or when the Attorney General of the state lawfully requests their assistance." "So mutants were involved in the uprising?" "That's not relevant to the incident." "But you said ..."

"Idiots!" Mrs. Carson spat over the rim of her coffee cup. She punched a button to activate her phone and dialed a number. "Charlie? Are you watching the news?"

"Yeah," Charlie Lodgeman answered, his voice echoing through the speakerphone, activated by the headmistress so that she could continue to sip her coffee without a handset pressed against the side of her face.

"The governor's got moxie, I'll give him that. Ten to one the FBI and DPA steamroller him and take charge of the investigation." Liz perked up as the scene on the television changed back to the newsreader.

"Not a chance," Charlie replied with a chuckle. "He's part-Lakota, so he's got a dog in this fight. He's not going to give in."

"The FBI spokesperson had this to say." Again, a scene change to a well-dressed and stern-looking man standing behind a podium that bore the logo of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The criminal activities that occurred involved Lakota Native Americans, which automatically grants the BIA and the FBI authority in the case. The crimes include kidnapping, which is a federal crime."

The television cut back to the blonde. "The state Attorney General noted that the FBI's statement is false, and that the federal government has jurisdiction only in matters on reservation land. The county judge and state's attorney were curiously silent on the matter and wouldn't respond to our requests for interviews, only releasing statements denying that any kidnapping occurred and that the multiple reported gunshots were accidental, and that no-one was hurt."

Liz Carson nearly spilled her coffee laughing. "Charlie, do you have any idea how they got the whole town to keep quiet?" An ominous thought occurred to her. "You don't suppose she ...."

"No, Liz, you know her magic isn't strong enough - yet - to influence the whole town," Charlie Lodgeman replied with a chuckle. "If I'd have to make a guess, I'd say that Hazel and Ernst from HPARC got to the governor before the FBI did, and they came up with something that'd persuade everyone in town to toe the official line."

"Mmmm, I can see that. Threaten state investigation of H1 activities and membership with hints of criminal prosecution of anyone with ties to the agents in Sioux Falls, find additional laws broken in the assaults on Kayda, threaten state sanctions or funding cuts to the county judiciary, threaten to provide state backing of a civil lawsuit against the perpetrators and the town? Yeah, I suppose they could intimidate the town enough to keep the Feds out."

"The girl who appears to be at the center of this incident," the TV cut to a clip of Kayda in her Lakota outfit leaving the gymnasium and armory building very late at night, surrounded by reporters, microphones, cameras, and state police running interference, "is reportedly an important Lakota medicine woman, not just to the Rosebud Tribe, but to all Lakota Indians."

Liz nearly spat out her sip of coffee. "Charlie ..." she started to say.

"I heard, Liz."

"We were unable to locate the girl or her parents for an interview about the incident or her role in the tribes, and the Tribal spokesperson for the Rosebud Reservation is not commenting." The image cut back to the reader. "We found a nurse and a retired tribal chief in Mission who both voiced the opinion that the girl should represent the Lakota people in dealing with Washington DC instead of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, because she actually understands the needs of her people, unlike Washington bureaucrats."

"With all the mystery, Katie," the male co-anchor said, "I wonder if she's like a new Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull to the Indians?"

"If so," the woman replied with a chuckle, "maybe we should by stock in companies that make bows and arrows?"

"Charlie," Liz sighed, disappointed at the stupidity she was seeing on the television. Of course, one expected stupidity from newsreaders, but this blatant racism and bigotry?

"I heard Liz. Anchors will be stupid."

"Not that," Liz said, shaking her head even though Charlie couldn't see. "I've got a bad feeling that Kayda's going to get dragged into DC politics for her tribe, and who knows what that will bring?"

"She's not ready for that, Liz," Charlie said somberly. "You know it and I know it - and I hope she knows it."

"But with her importance to the Lakota tribes, they will try to involve her - if only for the symbolism" She sighed heavily. "Why do I have a sudden urge to retire before the fall term starts?" After a moment, she chuckled. "Just to be clear, Charlie, you know I'm not serious. But sometimes girls like Kayda Franks and Elaine Nalley really make life ... interesting."



+1 # Podracer 2016-10-11 17:20
I can't remember whether Mrs. Carson has any grey hair yet.
Kayda has come a long way, and stepped in when it became necessary.
Cheers for bringing this excellent episode to us :)
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0 # DocSavage 2016-10-12 00:55
Quoting Podracer:
I can't remember whether Mrs. Carson has any grey hair yet.
Kayda has come a long way, and stepped in when it became necessary.
Cheers for bringing this excellent episode to us :)

I started getting grey hair while still a teenager so it's possible, especially with the mayhem that school puts her through. Team Kimba alone probably caused half of them. ^_~ Given her apparent age (not her actual age of course) I don't think she does though.
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0 # alisa28 2016-10-15 21:41
Great story!!mmmmm..government, politics right or wrong :zzz :-x :zzz Not interesting reading
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0 # Dpragan 2016-10-29 21:30
I have the distinct feeling that Kadya will find many Political Science courses in her revised schedule, possibly with Ayla as a TA?
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0 # PhaineOfCatz 2016-12-09 19:20
Political Science with Ayla would be spectacular. A good spectacle or a bad one is the question...

This was good reinforcement for Kayla's development as a healer and shaman, not to mention some interesting development for Danny/Danica.
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0 # riking 2016-12-05 02:57
Came back to read this again now that #DAPL has been halted - or at least, paused.
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