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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight

by ElrodW

Chapter 7

Friday, March 16, 2007
Doyle Medical Center

Kayda

I sat at the fire ring, but the flames were low, not at all cheery or warming. The chill of late autumn hung in the air, and here and there, small flakes of snow danced in the air, flickering orange and red as they reflected, for a moment, the light of fire. The moon was obscured by the clouds, making the tepee village an imposing, dark, and almost sinister place. It didn't feel as safe as it usually did.

Mr. Lodgeman sat at the ring near me. He was staring at me, looking concerned. Wakan Tanka sat beside Mr. Lodgeman, looking no less grim. Mr. Lodgeman chanted in some language other than Lakota, while Wakan Tanka prepared some herbal brew.

A third figure strode slowly into the circle and sat down near me but not next to me. It was Louis Geintz, or at least his psychically manifested form.

"Something great troubles you, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said as she handed me the brew. Mr. Lodgeman and Louis stared at her, evidently not understanding what she was saying.

Cautiously, I drank the soothing, feeling its soothing warmth flow through me - except for a couple of spots in my heart that seemed chilled and unable to be warmed by the tea.

"Something you saw this morning greatly upset you and caused you to panic," Louis said. "What were you doing?"

I glanced nervously around the fire ring at the three sympathetic faces, and then gulped. I didn't want to confront my terror. "I was in the showers," I said hesitantly.

"What happened there?"

"I ... I saw ... Ayla," I said, and at the mention of her name, I began to bawl. "She ... she ... her ... penis .... It made me think of what I lost. It isn't fair!"

"And what is that you lost?" Wakan Tanka asked skeptically. "Your manhood? I thought you'd learned from Cornflower that you are a beautiful woman, and had accepted it. Seeing the boy-girl Ayla wasn't a reminder of your change."

"It's something more than that," Mr. Geintz said solemnly after Tatanka translated for him. "There is something much deeper, something that seeing Ayla touched upon, something that Kayda's been hiding even from herself."

"Kayda's mom reported that she was severely beaten twice by her friends because she was a mutant. They almost killed her," Mr. Lodgeman reported. Tatanka was busy translating for everyone.

"You must talk about the attacks," Wakan Tanka said to me. "You must be open about what happened so that you can move past the pain."

I didn't want to talk about those horrible memories. They were painful reminders of what I'd lost in my life, and how my friend had turned on me so viciously. "The first time, my former friends beat me badly the day I manifested, just because I was a mutant," I said in a detached, clinical voice. "They left me for dead, with a lot of broken bones."

"Which touched upon your fear of being rejected socially," Mr. Lodgeman speculated, to which I just nodded.

"There is nothing else significant about this first assault, or the fear of social rejection per se," Louis reported after some considerable thought, during which it felt like he was inside my head with me. "The attack was an anti-mutant rage, directed at Brandon. He was traumatized by it, but not enough to cause the emotional reaction she felt. The fear of social rejection is a little stronger than in most teenagers, but that appears to be due to a traumatic year while Brandon was in grade school. Again, it doesn't appear to be sufficient to have provoked this severity of reaction."

"And the second attack?"

"I ... I did something stupid," I answered. "I was so ... lonely ... after I changed, and I was feeling cooped-up in the house. I'd been isolated from my friends, and when Julie, my one remaining friend, asked me to meet her so we could go see a movie, I ... I impulsively went. But it was a setup by the girlfriend of one of the guys who beat me up the first time."

Louis contemplated the memories and then he frowned. "There is much more here. Please continue."

"I ... I tried to get away when the cars came. I ... I tried to lock my doors, but in my panic at getting my truck in gear, I missed the lock button. They dragged me out of the truck and began to beat me up." I felt tears flowing down my cheeks at the bitter memories of the assault. "I ... I was knocked unconscious."

"No, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said with certainty. "You have more memories that you have hidden from your own mind." She was firm, but gentle, her voice urging me to examine my memories more carefully.

"What else happened?" Mr. Lodgeman asked, glancing warily at Louis.

"They called me gene filth, and said they were going to kill me," I said. I felt uneasy, as memories were stirring, very unpleasant memories that I struggled to push away.

"That's not all, Kayda," Louis said. "You must not push the memories away. They are the source of your fear and your emotional collapse, and you must acknowledge and confront them."

I swallowed hard; it sounded like the darkness in my mind held something that I didn't want to see, but that the trio was going to _make_ me see. "I ... I can't," I sobbed.

"Yes, you can," Mr. Lodgeman said reassuringly. "We are all here to help you, no matter how ugly or bad they are. What did they say about you?"

"They said ... that I was an attractive girl for a mutant," I said, trembling. "And then they said ..." I shuddered, and began to cry. Wakan Tanka slid beside me and wrapped her arm around me to comfort me. "They said ... that it would be a shame to let a cute girl go to waste before they killed me."

Wakan Tanka pulled my head onto her shoulder as she stroked my cheek gently. I could hear her softly chanting what I thought was one of her healing spells.

"And then what?"

"They hit me, and I lost consciousness."

Louis shook his head. "No. You're still blocking out memories of what happened before you lost consciousness. You must acknowledge and confront those memories or they will continue to cripple you psychologically."

Under his mental guidance, which I could feel within my mind, I slowly reached out to the dark spot. Hesitantly, but reassured by Louis' presence, I touched the memories, and recoiled in anguish. "I ... I felt them ... tearing at my clothes," I sobbed, and then began to cry. "They were touching me, and ... and then ...." I wailed as the memories sprang forth from the dark spot, hitting me like a hammer with all their brutality. "Then they ... they raped me!" I collapsed onto Wakan Tanka's shoulder as she continued to stroke my hair and cheek and whisper soothingly to me while I cried and cried.

After I'd bawled for a very long time, while Louis and Mr. Lodgeman sat quietly, I sat back up and took another drink of the now-cold herbal brew Wakan Tanka had made for me. My emotions lessened considerably with the healing tea, so I continued. "I remember eight of them raping me, multiple ways. A couple of the girls were using things from my tool kit to assault me, too. While they were doing this, some of the other kept hitting me, laughing whenever they heard a bone crack, and then I finally lost consciousness." I was spent emotionally; the recall of the brutal sexual and physical assault had sapped every last bit of my feelings and emotions.

"What else do you remember?" Louis asked.

"When ... when I came to in the doctor's office," I said numbly, "Dad was asking him why he wasn't collecting evidence. He said he didn't have the evidence kits. He helped them get away with ... with raping me!"

"So Ayla ...?" Louis asked a leading question.

"When I saw Ayla," I said softly, "her ... uh, his ... thing reminded me of what they did to me. I ... I panicked at the hints of the memories of ... of being raped ... when they ... violated me."

"You had an emotional collapse," Louis said. "Your mind couldn't handle the reminder, so it shut down."

I barely heard what Louis was saying; the emotional release and the herbal tea were combining to make me feel sleepy. It seemed a dream again when Louis turned to Mr. Lodgeman. "She needs rest now. I'll instruct Chief Delarose, Mrs. Horton, and Dr. Bellows that Kayda is _not_ to be left alone at _any_ time until Dr. Bellows gives the okay. Until we're certain that she's okay, she's on suicide watch."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I don't know how long I dreamt; the swirling memories were a hopelessly inseparable milange of my normal dream-space, Papa Sapa, being beaten the first time, and being assaulted the second. The faces of former friends lined up to taunt me and spit on me, while they took turns beating and violating me. Through it all, Tatanka and Wakan Tanka came, pushing away the assailants and assuring me that they would protect me. But it wasn't long until the peace was shattered by another brutal act against me by the boys and girls I'd gone to school with and had once called friends.

Slowly, the frequency of the traumatic dreams waned, while the number of dreams with Debra or Wakan Tanka increased. Always, Wakan Tanka and Debra comforted and reassured me, making me feel safe.

When I woke up in the hospital bed, Toni, who I'd met with Fey outside Poe Cottage, was sitting in the room with me. The strange thing was that she had the chair balanced on one leg, while doing a one-armed handstand on the opposite arm of the chair, and reading her book.

Toni noticed me stirring. "It. Is. Alive!" she said melodramatically as she flipped gracefully into a sitting position in the chair, which was still balanced on one leg. She caught her book without even as ruffling a page.

"Where ... am I?" I asked, confused. I wasn't sure if I was still dreaming or not; I wasn't sure of anything since coming out of the shower. Between the detached feeling and the dream-walks, I wasn't quite sure what memories were real and which were false. I partially uncurled myself from the fetal position I had been in, being careful not to disturb the IV tube in my arm which snaked up to a plastic, liquid-filled bag hanging by the bed.

"You're in Doyle Medical Center," Toni said as if the answer should be obvious. She cartwheeled gracefully to my bed and used the control on my bed to elevate my back and head so I was more sitting than lying, with my knees drawn up protectively to my chest.

"What ... how ... how long have I been here?" I asked hesitantly. I was in a hospital gown, but I didn't remember anything about coming to the center or changing or anything - except for the dream-walk with Fubar and Charlie, and then the absolutely horrific nightmares, the memory of which made me shudder.

Toni winced. "You've been out for almost a day and a half." She did an impossible flip back into the chair, and rebalanced it on the back legs. "The doctors were keeping you sedated."

"And why are you here?" I wrapped my arms around my updrawn knees to help me not also feel exposed psychologically.

"I'm here because the doctors said you can go back to Poe this afternoon, and I drew the short straw to stay with you for this shift."

"But ...." I shook my head. None of this was making any sense. Unless the dream wasn't really a dream. "I'm not sure if I was dreaming, but did someone tell Mrs. Horton that someone had to be with me all the time?"

I heard a voice from the doorway. "You mean, are you on a watch?" I recognized Zenith's voice even before I turned to see here there. "Yes, Fubar did."

"Fubar?" I didn't recognize the name.

"Louis Geintz." Zenith gave a nod to Toni. "You better scoot so you can make your team simulation," she said. "I know you don't want Gunny to be unhappy."

Toni smiled at me. "Take it easy," she said as she flipped her book closed and into her backpack in one impossible motion. She back-flipped off the chair and strode out of the room with an impossible grace and fluidity.

Zenith didn't sit down, but stood by the door looking at me.

"What?" I asked.

"Are you ready to go back to your room?" she asked with a curious smile. "The doctors have released you, pending your cooperation."

"Uh, I guess so." I realized that I'd missed yet another day, including an appointment with my class counselor. "But ...." I sighed heavily, shaking my head as I dropped my gaze to my knees. "What's the point? I might as well stay here for the rest of the term, since I've already missed so much." I was ready to give up, because I believed that I was facing an insurmountable hurdle of trying to catch up in all my classwork, not to mention the social obstacles and the trauma of dealing with the memories of the rape.

Zenith frowned. "That kind of talk isn't helping you at all," she said. "Let's talk about your attitude - what would your friends say if they heard you talking like that?"

I snorted derisively. "What friends? You mean all the girls in Poe I keep pissing off? Or all the established little cliques that I'm too late to fit into? Or the former friends back home who tried to kill me twice?"

Zenith shook her head, scowling. "If you were family, I'd smack some sense into you right now, because you really need to quit feeling sorry for yourself and look at the positive side of things."

"What positive? I lost _everything_! And it's true, isn't it? This is just like any other school, where the 'new kid' doesn't fit into anything, right?" I looked at her, and saw her steely gaze. After several seconds, I dropped my gaze and sighed heavily; what she said is precisely what others had told me. "I suppose you're right. It's just ... I don't feel like I have anything to be positive about."

"Let's start with being alive. And having parents who haven't rejected you for being a mutant, unlike a LOT of kids around here. And not having serious GSD, unlike a LOT of kids around here. And being at Whateley, where you're safe from mobs like tried to hurt you. And with having a lot of girls in Poe who've been watching over you like a sister." She saw my reaction to her comments. "Yes, that's right. We've been taking turns watching over you to make sure you're okay, even during the night shift."

I pondered that for a bit. Despite my misgivings that I'd pissed off the entire cottage, the girls _were_ treating me better than my attitude deserved. I was forced to admit - reluctantly - that despite all the negative things that had happened, there_ were_ things to be grateful for - maybe.

"No one said life was easy. Now are you going to try to get a positive attitude and let the girls help you, or do I tell Mrs. Horton that you'll be staying here another few days?" Zenith asked.

"I'll ... I'll try," I offered meekly.

"Good girl. Now let's get you checked out of here." She disappeared around the corner, and returned moments later with the nurse, who took out my IV line and disconnected some monitors. Zenith retrieved my clothes from a cabinet and placed them on my bed. The nurse closed the door, giving me privacy so I could change out of the skimpy gown than had clearly been designed by someone with a fetish for the derriere.

One thing I discovered when I was getting dressed was that my knife was missing. "Where's Wakan Mila?" I asked sharply, fearing that it had been stolen. I saw Zenith's confused look. "My ... sacred knife?"

Zenith looked evenly at me. "It's been checked into security for ... safekeeping." I didn't like the sound of that, or her choice of words; the implication was that I wasn't trusted to not use my knife to harm myself. As if that would have stopped me if I'd been truly suicidal. There were dozens or hundreds of ways that I could have injured myself if I'd been so inclined, without resorting my knife.

When we got back to my room, Zenith sat down in Evvie's chair and opened a book. "Don't you have something to do?" I asked.

Zenith made a point of glancing at her watch. "For another thirty-five minutes, no." She looked around the room and her gaze settled on my poster on the wall over my bed. "Is that ... Cornflower, er, Debra?" she asked, a bit amazed by the poster of the two of us.

I couldn't help but smile weakly as I glanced up at the picture. "Yeah. You recognize her?"

"Yeah. She was a senior last year." Zenith rose and looked closer at the signature. "She was really something. That's a pretty ... personal autograph," she observed without a hint of criticism or judgment in her voice.

"Yeah , I guess," I said, blushing since I remembered just _how_ personalized it was.

Zenith smiled. "She caught the attention of a _lot_ of girls in Poe. It seemed like she was everyone's dream girl. I can't count how many girls fell head-over-heels for her, because she's so damned cute and sweet and friendly. But she never took advantage, and I don't think she every hurt anyone, at least not deliberately. I think she's even prettier now than when she was last year." She sat back down. "How do you know her this ... well?"

I smiled, and related my entire story from manifesting through my trip here, highlighting my time with Debra. "She's ... a very good friend." Talking about Debra was a good distraction from all the things that threatened to drag me into severe depression.

"At _least_ a very good friend, if you ask me," Zenith chuckled. "I guess that makes you part of the sisterhood."

I could feel my cheeks burning as I broke eye contact with Zenith. Why was it that I seemed to be either embarrassed or dejected whenever I was talking to someone here at Whateley? "I'm ... I'm not sure. My ... change was too recent for me to know."

Zenith laughed aloud. "If this poster and the look in Debra's eyes and her inscription are any hint, then I don't think guys on campus have any chance."

"Not right now," I mumbled. "I still kind of think like a guy."

"Which explains your attraction to Debra. Good. This gives me some leverage. If you don't get your act together, I'll tell Mrs. Horton to call Debra to talk some sense into you. Or I'll call her myself."

"That's cheating," I pouted, realizing that Zenith probably wasn't bluffing.

"Yes, it is." Zenith just smiled. "It's up to you. You can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way." She let her book fall into her lap and stared at me for a few moments, almost like she was reading a book, but instead of written words, she seemed to be reading my feelings. Her eyes popped wide open. "This is about a lot more than just your former friends trying to kill you, isn't it?"

I stared at her for what seemed an eternity, but was only a few seconds, and then slowly nodded. "I ...." I bit my lip. This was difficult to face, let alone talk about, but Wakan Tanka and Mr. Lodgeman and Louis had told me that I needed to confront the facts. And Zenith had been helpful to me. But I couldn't. "I ... I can't .... I don't want ... to talk about it." Admitting that I'd been raped was too big a step for me at that time, mostly because the memory was too traumatic, and I was afraid of how the girls would react to that news, especially the ones who already disliked me. They'd just have one more thing to taunt and torment me with if they knew my ugly secret. The awful nightmares returned in a flash, overwhelming me emotionally. I started crying again, falling to my side on my bed and curling up, shaking furiously as I sobbed uncontrollably at the horrible memories of what had been done to me.

Zenith's eyes popped wide open, and after she got over a momentary shock, she dashed to the doorway. "Get Mrs. Horton," she commanded someone sharply. "Now!" She darted back in and sat beside me, hugging me as I cried. From her reaction, I was pretty certain that she'd read the thoughts and emotions I was probably broadcasting.

The next thing I knew, Mrs. Horton was with me, and Zenith, too, and they held me close and comforted me for quite a while as I bawled uncontrollably. As the two comforted me, Evvie returned to our room with her friend Naomi. Evvie looked warily at Mrs. Horton and Zenith.

"Kayda has had a pretty rough couple of days," Mrs. Horton commented. "Why don't you and couple of girls take her to dinner? After being confined in Doyle, I'm sure she's starving." She leaned closer to Evvie and whispered something to her, which caused Evvie's eyes to widen. She glanced at me, and then looked at Zenith, who nodded.

I looked at Mrs. Horton. What had she told Evvie? That I was dangerous to myself? Or had she spilled my dirty secret? I felt like she'd just betrayed me. I suddenly felt a lot less like going to Crystal Hall. "Uh, I ... don't know how things work in the cafeteria," I objected softy. "With the whole security thing yesterday and late lunch, and then going to the hospital ...." I sighed. "I didn't even get an ID card, which I was told you have to have at the cafeteria." I looked down, feeling despondent again. "Besides, I'm not really hungry. I can just get a snack in the kitchen downstairs if I need to." I was looking for excuses.

Evvie stepped to my dresser and pulled out an outfit. "It's time you start suffering with the rest of us in Crystal Hall. Not optional."

Mrs. Horton rose. "Are you okay now?" she asked softly.

"I ... I don't know," I stammered. To be honest, I didn't know if I'd _ever_ be okay. "I ... think so. Maybe."

"You know how to get ahold of me if you need me," she said. With that, she and Zenith left my room, closing the door behind themselves.

"Okay, let's get you into something clean, and go have dinner," Evvie said as she tossed clothing at me. She glanced at her friend. "This is Naomi Anders. She lives up on the second floor."

"Hi," I said, unable to muster any enthusiasm.

"Hi," Naomi said cheerfully. "It's nice to meet you," she said, giving me a hug. She seemed to be a self-confident, happy girl, with the right looks and curves such that if she'd have been blonde, she would have been probably categorized as a bubble-headed bimbo. Tall, svelte, and brunette, she looked poised instead of air-headed, and she came across as warm and friendly as opposed to cluelessly perky or annoyingly bitchy. Her embrace made me feel a little better, but I couldn't help being wary. At least she wasn't judging me based on all the fight rumors, but she didn't know about the rapes, either. Would her opinion change once she learned that? Would she look down at me as damaged, or some kind of slut? Or shun me as the 'new girl'?

"I'm Kayda," I said with hesitation. I was hoping that Naomi and Evvie weren't going to get too chatty, because I was feeling very self-conscious and not very talkative myself.

I was surprised to find several girls, including Heather and Verdant, walking with Evvie, Naomi, and me to Crystal Hall. Students were slowly converging on the dining facility from multiple directions from the many cottages, so it was inevitable that we'd be waiting in line. I was getting nervous, since a lot of the students were male, and some were giving me more than just a passing glance. My hands were trembling by the time we got to the dining hall and joined the line for food. I didn't know how the other girls could ignore all the lustful, leering gazes from the testosterone super-charged young men all around them. I wished that I had such self-confidence. All I had, though, was sheer terror.

As I had expected, the multi-storied dining hall was stratified along social lines, with some groups that Debra had told me about, such as the Alphas and Capes, having claimed tables in positions of prominence on the upper levels to reflect their status. Not knowing the social pecking order, I just followed Evvie to the line, where I picked up a tray, planning on following her to a suitable table that didn't intrude on any established cliques. Ahead of us in line was an energizer, piling food on her two trays the same way Debra had. That simple thought made me miss Debra immensely, and my eyes misted. If she was with me, I knew I'd be much less nervous and wouldn't feel like such an outsider.

I might have been overly self-conscious, but I was convinced that people were staring at me and muttering under their breath as I passed, my imagination certain that they were talking about the fight and the security incident, and possibly even my breakdown and hospital stay. I stumbled and nearly fell when I had the horrific thought that some might even know about the assault if anyone had blabbed my awful secret. The thought that everyone might look at me as dirty or damaged or slutty was nearly overwhelming.

Trying to check out in line became a complete disaster. I followed the line to the clerk, who summarized what food was on each tray and then scanned the student's ID card, presumably to charge the meal to the student. Alas, I had no ID, and the clerk didn't believe me when I told her that I hadn't gotten an ID yet, even with the other girls backing my story. Consequently, the line behind me began to back up while I argued hopelessly with the stubborn clerk. From the grumbling and mumbling chorus behind me, I could tell that some of the students were getting a little surly that I was holding up the line. I tried to work through the difficulty with the clerk, but she absolutely refused to relent on her 'no ID, no food' stance. In the meantime, the unhappy muttering behind me in the line increased in both volume and tone. One of the guys in line behind us snorted, "Great, the buffalo bimbo is holding up the line, too." Another grumbled in a snarky, nasty tone, "Get your act together, bitch." I don't think they meant for me to hear, or maybe they did, because when I looked, at least two dozen hungry students in line were scowling and glaring at me.

The stress of the preceding weeks had taken its toll, and I snapped under the emotional pressure - again. "It's not my fault," I wailed in distress. In my anguish and anger, I accidentally manifested Tatanka full-sized, and his bulk pushed some of the complainers aside and upset more than a few trays of food. His physical appearance also startled or frightened several students in line, which in turn caused _them_ to drop trays. Some of the students sitting at tables were even startled by the sudden manifestation of a full-sized white buffalo, and his angry gestures and noises didn't help the peace. He snorted at the guys behind me who'd been getting offensive, and I saw people take a step or two back, nervous or afraid. Word that Tatanka had shredded a PK brick had definitely gotten around.

As soon as I realized what I'd done, I recalled Tatanka, and with my eyes watering, I spun from the line, feeling humiliated by the cashier who refused to let me eat, by the guys who'd been mocking and insulting me, and by my lack of control of Tatanka, which had caused a near panic and a huge mess. I accidentally knocked my tray off the checkout table and onto the floor to the accompaniment of even more shattering dishes. Losing a battle against tears, and not caring that I was making a scene, I bolted from the dining room, barely able to discern where I was going through my tear-blurred vision. I didn't care where I went, as long as I got away from the mocking, angry students who reminded me, in their anger and tone, of nothing so much as the mob that had so viciously attacked me outside the locker room all those weeks ago. Without even realizing I'd done it, I incanted the ghost-walking spell to better hide as I dashed away from Crystal Hall.

"Kayda, wait!" I heard Evvie and some of the other girls call. Because they'd been in different checkout lines, without my huge delay, they were already sitting at a table, and probably surprised when I was bolting from the line toward the door before I vanished.

There was a bit of pushing as I shoved my way out the door other students were trying to come in, and then I was outside, running blindly away. There was a general ruckus behind me, and over the top of the minor din, Evvie's voice called out my name again and again until it faded in the distance.

I didn't know how long or in what direction I ran, only that I stopped only when I could no longer see any buildings or any other students. Weeping uncontrollably, I sank to the ground, plopping bottom-first onto a snow-covered spot secluded from any part of the campus. I didn't try to wipe my tears as I cursed the school, security, the administration, the idiot in the cafeteria line, and the stupid other students who were making my life a living hell. I manifested Tatanka again for his company, but in a small size, and I clung to him like a comforting stuffed animal as my tears ran onto his snowy-white fur. I regretted that I'd agreed to come to this awful place, and even that I'd ever been born. I couldn't help but think that it _would_ have been better if my former friends had succeeded on that second night. Only Tatanka and Wakan Tanka cared about me. If not for them ....

Tatanka and I must have sat for nearly two hours, completely oblivious to the melting snow beneath my rear, before I sensed footsteps approaching from behind me. I didn't bother to turn because I was too absorbed in my own misery. Besides, I was ghost-walking, so I knew that they couldn't see me, and I didn't want any one finding me. I just wanted to be left alone in my misery.

"Miss?" a masculine voice called out strongly.

I was startled; the ghost-walking spell must have worn off without me noticing. "Go away!" I wailed.

"Miss?" another voice asked. "Are you Kayda Franks? Does anyone know where you're at?"

"Leave me alone! Nobody gives a fuck about me!" I started to incant the ghost-walking spell again to get away from their disturbing presence. Couldn't they understand that I just wanted to be left alone?

"Stop casting your spell," one of the officers warned curtly as the men stepped closer. Tatanka, though, rose to his feet, turning and growing larger as he did so, until he was full sized. He wasn't sure if I was threatened or not, but he wasn't going to take any chances. He was my defender. The men halted.

I heard a button click. "Lieutenant, we've confirmed that it's the Buffalo Gal, and she's got her creature manifested and in a threatening posture."

I didn't move, sitting with my arms crossed on my updrawn knees. "Just leave me alone!" I cried angrily. Now I had a disgusting nickname, too - at least among the security officers. "Go away!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," one of the officers said. "Your housemother reported you missing, so we have to notify the office of your whereabouts."

"Okay, you know I'm here. Now go away!" I snapped at them angrily.

"It's not that simple," the other officer said hesitantly. "Because you're on watch without a current escort, we can't leave you alone. We have to take you to the security office for a report.

"What if I don't want to? What if I want to just sit here and think of how miserable my stupid fucking life is? Are you going to haul me away again? Interrogate me for hours just because I want to sit by myself? Are you going to lock me up, or have Hartford move me or kick me out?" I shook my head, my cheeks wet with my seemingly unstoppable tears. "Leave me alone. I want everyone to just leave me the fuck alone! My life already sucks enough!" I put my head into my arms and bawled.

One of the officers must have taken a step toward me, because Tatanka snorted and pawed the ground menacingly. "Miss, please control your manifestation. We're security officers, and you need to follow our instructions."

"Thanks to you guys," I blubbered without looking up, "I can't even fucking eat! I didn't get an ID card, and then everyone in the cafeteria got mad at me because I couldn't even check out with a meal! All because some guys attacked me when I first got here and _you_ all blamed me! Just go away! You're ruining my life enough already! Leave me the fuck alone!" I blubbered.

If I hadn't been learning from Tatanka, I wouldn't have known that a girl was approaching the security officers, but I had been practicing, and I could feel the disturbance in the earth spirit as someone walked toward the little standoff. Besides what the earth spirit was telling me, there was something else about her that Wakan Tanka noticed without even seeing her. "Let me handle this," a soft, feminine voice said.

"Uh, I have orders ...." one of the officers started to say.

"I'm a security auxiliary," the voice said sweetly and confidently. "Now please give us some room so I can talk to her privately."

After a moment, I felt through the earth spirit that the men were moving back slowly. I also felt, through Tatanka as well, the girl approaching the white buffalo. She stopped moving, and spoke to him in a tongue I didn't recognize, and to my utter shock, he replied in the same language. A moment later, she eased herself to the ground beside me. I stole a glance, and in the moonlight I saw her long flowing hair and pointed ears. She was the one that Wakan Tanka told me that I would need to be cautious around until we knew if she was a threat. And then the traitorous buffalo spirit had talked to her, and had let her come to me when he knew I wanted to be left alone.

"It's a nice, peaceful night to meditate," Fey observed. "Unless you're trying to run away from something."

"My life sucks and nobody in this stupid place cares about me!" I snapped at her. "Why are _you_ bothering? Don't you have something better to do? Or is it your turn for 'torment the new girl'?"

Fey recoiled at my vehement outburst. "Are you okay?" She sounded genuinely concerned, like Louis and Dr. Bellows had been.

"I got in trouble for something I didn't do, and thanks to security screwing up my check-in, I can't even eat!" I complained. "Not that I have much appetite left after the shitty way I've been treated around here! I need an ID card, but I can't get one until Monday, so they won't feed me! I feel like crap, I left everything I knew, including my ... best friend. My old friends tried to kill me, and then," I blubbered, overwhelmed again by the excruciating memories and unable to say more, especially about my dirty secret. Too many people already knew. I bawled into my arms, shaking violently as my body convulsed with my sobs. "Does that ... sound ... like ... I'm okay?"

Fey pulled me onto her shoulder, holding me closely while I cried some more. "You'll be okay," she said soothingly. "It's gonna be okay." I didn't know how she could possibly sound so confident. "You've had a rougher introduction to Whateley than most, especially with what happened to you. But everything will get better."

After crying for a long while, I let her help me to my feet, and with Tatanka still fully manifested and following me, Fey escorted me back toward the main buildings. I'd run a lot further from the main buildings than I'd realized; in the dark, without being familiar with campus or having a map, I had no idea where I was with respect to Poe. We passed Melville hall, but instead of turning toward our cottage, we turned the other way and headed toward the center of campus.

"Security again?" I asked morosely. I was drained emotionally.

"Yes, unfortunately. They were called out to help find you, so there has to be an incident report."

"Fucking great!" I grumbled. "Two in three days. That'll really help my reputation."

Fey chuckled. "You haven't seen Team Kimba's record from last year. You wouldn't worry so much about yourself own ... meager exploits ... if you did." As we walked, I winced a little in discomfort, which I didn't think was much, but it caught Fey's attention. "What's wrong?"

I frowned. "Besides feeling hyper-emotional because my hormones have changed sides? Besides having to deal with nothing but crap and disappointment and frustration since I got here?" I tried not to snap at her; she was trying to help me after all. "I feel ... uncomfortable. It hurts. Kind of here," I added, placing my hand over my lower abdomen.

Fey sighed. "How long ago did you manifest?"

"Almost a month ago. Why?"

"And you're ... complete?"

I nodded. "Yeah. Burnout sped up my change a lot. I'm ... fully female," I added bitterly.

"You may be about to be introduced to one of the joys of being a woman," she said, sounding sympathetic. "After we get the security report filed, we need to get you over to Doyle. You probably should be checked by a doctor, and they may be able to give you something for your discomfort."

"That's just great!" I snarled, unhappy once more. "Now I'm having PMS, too, and I'm about to ...?" I couldn't bring myself to say it, even though I knew that was what she was insinuating. So far, I hadn't had to think about that aspect of my change.

Fey sat with me while we were waiting for security. For some reason, they really didn't want a full-size, angry white buffalo waiting with us, so I had him shrink to Labrador sized, which immediately got Fey oohing and aahing over how cute he was. Tatanka was quickly becoming enamored with attention from Fey. The big lug was acting just like a puppy. A traitorous puppy.

I got in trouble for running away from the main part of campus into a 'restricted' area, whatever that was, for hiding using my ghost-walking abilities, for not demanifesting Tatanka when the security officers approached me and requested that I do so, and for endangering myself by running away from 'escorts' when I was on a watch.

Chief Delarose didn't appreciate it when I angrily blamed the entire cafeteria incident on security screwing up the investigation two days earlier with my first incident, when I'd obviously been the victim but had been treated as the perp, so that I couldn't get my ID or any other paperwork done, and thus I couldn't even get a damned meal. I also ranted quite a bit about how, thanks to them, I was even two days _further_ behind on classes, because they'd kept me from meeting with my advisor, and wondered aloud why I was even bothering with Whateley, since the place was evidently trying its hardest to ruin my life. I used some rather choice descriptive words and phrases to emphasize my point, sufficiently colorful that I could see Fey wincing at how far overboard she thought I was going with my spiteful soliloquy.

The net result of my angry rant was that I earned a personal lecture from the Chief about getting snarky and sassy to when security was following procedures to ensure the safety of all students on campus, including me. He also very sternly informed me that he was _not_ going to tolerate language such as I'd been using. I was most disturbed that he wasn't angry or yelling, but had a low-key but fiery, determined delivery of his talk that reminded me so much of Dad. When Dad was upset, he sometimes yelled, but when he was furious and I was in real deep trouble, he lowered his volume and his rhetoric into a stern, soft, intensely focused lecture that was almost frightening. Chief Delarose had the same style, and it was very intimidating.

Somehow, though, Fey calmed down Chief Delarose, because at that point, I think he was ready to put me in their 'in house suspension', which was their cute term for a jail cell. What the two of them didn't realize was that I'd had my fill of Whateley's bullshit in just a couple of short days, and I was fully ready to leave this god-forsaken campus, if necessary by foot in the middle of the night. There were some spells that Wakan Tanka had taught me that I was certain would let me easily evade all the security goons, slip through whatever magic boundaries lined the place, and put this nightmare behind me.

I'm pretty certain that my anger and intentions were on full psychic display, because Fey gave me a very disapproving stare and shook her head slightly, enough to get her displeasure across without being obvious, and to let me know that I'd gone way over the line and needed to shut up and listen. I was startled enough to pause my intended verbal riposte, which would have been a very serious mistake had I delivered it.

"Chief," she began in that dulcet voice of hers, which only weeks ago would have melted me like butter, "if you'd been detained, questioned, and accused of something you didn't do, long enough that you couldn't get through even simple check-in steps, almost been railroaded by the administration, missed meals, were hospitalized for a day and half, and _then_ the cafeteria wouldn't feed you because the administration didn't get you something simple like an ID card, don't you think you'd be more than a little upset, too?"

I saw Chief Delarose's expression change slowly as he considered what Fey had said, but she wasn't done.

"It sounds like Kayda is the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, having bad luck, unfortunate coincidences, and some botched coordination by the school. The only question is how to help Kayda so she can do something basic like get a meal?"

Chief Delarose sighed heavily. "You're right, Fey. I _would_ be rather upset if it had happened to me." He looked at me like he was judging my mental state, to see if my anger had abated any. "I'll have the duty staff print you a letter explaining that, through a lapse in procedure, you have no ID yet, but you are officially enrolled as a student. That _should_ get you through the dining hall and anything you might encounter until we can get you a proper ID card on Monday."

"Just fu ... freakin' great," I muttered sotto voce to vent my frustrations without being heard. "Yet another way to humiliate me when I try to get a meal. Like I'm going to embarrass myself in there again before I get an ID! I'd rather freakin' starve!" The thought of being ridiculed and belittled in the cafeteria again made my stomach turn such that the mere thought of food was repulsive.

I didn't know about Fey's sensitive hearing. "You should be getting snarky when people are _trying_ to help you,"

"Yeah? Well you weren't the one who was treated like crap and humiliated in the lunch line, were you?" I clenched my teeth in fury, taking deep breaths to rein in my anger and frustration. After a few seconds, I lowered my angry glare, which had by then diffused to a mere annoying stare, to the edge of the Chief's desk.

"I also made you an appointment with Mrs. Carson for eleven-fifteen Monday morning," the Chief said.

"Just fu ... freakin great!" I exploded. "Now I've got a meeting with a course counselor, all the check-in and paperwork crap, an appointment with Mrs. Carson, and another with Dr. Bellows, I'm going to miss _another_ day of classes, so I'll be even _further_ behind than just two freakin' weeks!" I stared down at the floor, shaking my head. "Why the hell did I even come here?" I mumbled to myself.

As Fey walked me to Doyle, she commented, "You really need to get your attitude straight. You're not being persecuted, and people don't automatically hate you. But that pissy, woe-is-me attitude is _going_ to make people dislike you if you don't watch it."

"Like it fucking matters," I snapped back.

"Were you _always_ this pessimistic, or this big a pain in the ass?"

"How would _you_ feel if you'd been beaten almost to death and gang-raped?" I snapped at her before I could stop the words from spewing forth. I stopped walking, instantly regretting what I'd inadvertently disclosed in my angst.

Fey turned toward me, her violet eyes wide in shock. "What?" she stammered.

My lip quivered as I looked down, ashamed of what I'd admitted. "Wouldn't you be total mess if your old friends had tried to kill you twice and raped you?"

"I ... I didn't know. None of us did," Fey said hesitantly, not quite sure what she should say.

"Nobody knew. I wasn't going to tell you, either. It just ... slipped out." I turned away so she couldn't see the anguish on my face as tears leaked from my eyes. "Now you know. I'm damaged. Defective. I'm ... soiled and stained and ... worthless."

Fey put her hands on my shoulder, and then wrapped her arms around me and held me tight, comforting me. "You're not worthless. Aunghadhail doesn't think so."

After a bit, we resumed walking, but now Fey had her arm around me to offer what support she could. "Please don't tell anyone," I begged her. "I don't want anyone to know how ... damaged I am."

"Aunghadhail can help you, if you'd like," Fey offered. "She's a remarkable healer."

I shook my head. "I have a powerful healing spirit in me already." Based on what Wakan Tanka had told me, I wasn't ready to completely trust her. "Promise me you won't tell anyone."

"You should tell ...."

"Promise me!" I insisted more urgently.

"Okay, I promise." Fey sighed. "This explains why you ... reacted ... the way you did with Ayla."

"That's what Mr. Geintz and Dr. Bellows think."

"You should tell Ayla," Fey suggested. "He doesn't show it, but he's really feeling guilty about what he thinks he did to you. Does Punch know?"

"No. I haven't told anyone, until I slipped up. I don't want people to pity me, or on the other extreme, think I'm broken, or a slut, or something like that."

"Kayda, I think you're making a mistake in how you think the others in Poe will react. I can't imagine that _anyone_ is going to see you as damaged or stained, or think you're slutty because of being a victim of a horrible crime."

We walked in silence for a while as I contemplated what she'd told me, and she thought about what I'd accidentally revealed. Fey broke the silence.

"Aunghadhail knows your buffalo spirit. She thinks she knows your other spirit as well."

"Be honest with her, Wihakaya," Wakan Tanka told me. "She is not against us, at least not at present."

"Wakan Tanka knows her," I said hesitantly. "She told me to be wary of you and her."

"Is that why you blocked me magically the other day?" Fey asked. "You were radiating your emotions pretty strongly, and then they shut off completely."

I nodded. "She's not sure if she can trust you, or the queen in you."

"Why not?"

I suddenly felt Ptesanwi joining with me physically, just as it had felt in the dream-world and when we had saved Debra. We seemed to be standing a bit taller, and with a bit more certainty. There was some kind of ethereal glow about our body, a magic shell that Wakan Tanka told me normal people would only be able to see if we let them. "Because the last time we saw each other," we said sternly, "you argued that we should abandon helping the People, and instead focus on saving what we could of the Sidhe, even as the Sundering tore your old order apart."

Fey straitened, and gained a regal, majestic appearance. "You could have helped against the Sundering," she complained bitterly to us. I could tell that we were speaking to the Sidhe queen, not to a teenage girl. "You could have helped us battle, and maybe to survive."

"You know that we could not have helped. We had no power to stop events that were taking place."

Fey stopped in the middle of the walkway, physically turning me to face her. "You didn't even try."

We felt our anger rise. "And you didn't try to help us, or the People! You have no idea of what we faced. The Nine Queens and the Five-Fold Courts were so busy arguing amongst yourselves about your own struggles that you had no idea that evil powers raised up demons to fight us. Demons came to all the First Nations, in all forms, to destroy the earliest of the People. Wakan Tanka came to the land through us to fight against the demons, and to restore the lands for the First Nations. Your Sundering was not the only attack." We were angry, and a little bitter, at Aunghadhail's self-centered view.

Aunghadhail seemed to recoil from my accusation. "We ... were not aware of those attacks. We were busy fighting our own foes."

We frowned at her. "No, you didn't know. We tried to warn the Five-Fold Courts of the coming danger, but since you had no interest in the People, you chose to ignore us and engage in your petty bickering."

Aunghadhail stiffened. "We were not bickering amongst ourselves. We had very real problems to deal with. The Five-Fold Courts were splintering from internal dissent, breaking up the unity that we _needed_ to survive. We also sensed the attack coming upon us, and were busy trying to keep the Five-Fold Courts united."

"When war came to both of us, many of our heroes and shamans were swept up in _your_ part of the war and the Sundering - heroes and shamans we needed in our own struggles. Heroes and shamans who could have prevented much death and suffering in the People. The demons almost succeeded, because the people were few. Yet you never acknowledged our sacrifices on your behalf." There was definitely bad blood between Aunghadhail and Wakan Tanka, and as Ptesanwi, it was involving Fey and me, too.

Aunghadhail paused, and then looked a little contrite. "We did not mean for our struggles to spread to you, nor to distract your heroes and shamans from saving your Peoples." She paused again. "We are not enemies," she offered, "I hope. We both desired the same thing then as we desire now - prosperity for the land and our people, and safety from dark forces."

We looked upon the Queen of the West, the ancient Sidhe residing in the body of this teenage girl, just as Ptesanwi resided in us. "We still fight for the same goal, and against the same foes." The tension between us and Aunghadhail lessened. "Is there peace between us?" we asked hesitantly.

Aunghadhail gazed at me for a few moments. "Yes, there is peace. What is done is done, and we must move forward. It serves no purpose to argue over the past." We could feel the bitter aftertaste of our old conflict fading quickly until it was but a faint memory.

We smiled at the queen. "If we were warriors, we would seal our peace with a blood bond."

Fey returned as the figure lost some of her regal stature, returning to the youthful exuberance and posture that she'd shown only moments before. "I'm not sure you'd want to be a blood sister to me," she chuckled, "since that would probably extend the blood-sister relationship to the demon who is already my blood sister. It might set a bad precedent."

"You ... are blood-sister to a demon?" I shuddered as Ptesanwi retreated to the dream-world, leaving me standing alone with Fey once more. "I ask that you tell no-one of who and what I really am," I urged. "None of it. It could bring great danger to anyone close to me."

Fey nodded. "I'll keep your secrets." She grasped my hand firmly. "I swear it. Now let's get you to Doyle so you can get your ... issue ... take care of," she added with a smile. "Goddess avatars shouldn't have to worry about minor things like PMS."

Nurse Lipton looked up from her desk and sighed as we walked into the emergency room. "What did you do this time, Nikki?" she asked with a somewhat bored demeanor.

Fey smiled. "It's not me this time."

"Yeah," I added softly. "I'm the one with the problem."

The nurse looked at me. "Name, please," she asked as she turned to her computer.

"Kayda Franks."

Nurse Lipton typed in my name, and then frowned. "We dont have copies of the medical records that should have come with your application packet. This is unusual."

I sighed heavily. "No, it's not. Security ... delayed me getting enrolled, so none of my data is in the system yet. Hell, I can't even get a meal because I don't have a stupid ID card!" I griped aloud, feeling my stress level and temper rising again. Fey's hand squeezing my arm helped me to refocus and push back my anger.

"I was about to ask you for your card," the nurse said. "Do you have any proof of enrollment?" She sounded exasperated, "apart from the record for observation yesterday and this morning."

I shoved the letter from security in her face. "This is the best I've got."

Nurse Lipton took the paper and examined it. "I suppose it'll have to do." She printed a few document, put a label on a folder, and shoved the paper into the folder.

"Hey," I protested strongly when I saw what she'd done, "I need that to eat, because I don't have an ID yet, and the clerks won't serve me unless I have one!" Her short-sighted response was evidence of even more bureaucratic ineptitude on display. "Unless you're trying to be the cause of me being hospitalized for malnutrition because I can't even get a meal here!" Snarky-bitch mode was fully engaged. I was tired of these stupid games.

The nurse glared at me for a few moments, but eventually, she took the paper, made a copy, and put the copy in the folder, handing the original back to me. "Okay, what brings you here tonight?" she asked, sounding bored. I didn't have any visible broken bones or torn limbs, so I was a 'boring' case.

I started to speak, but Nikki interrupted. "Irritability, mood swings, bloating, and cramping," she said without batting an eye, while I blushed furiously.

"So take something and let us know when it's over," Nurse Lipton said, sounding bored. "Unless there are complications."

I gathered that she wasn't interested in my problems as well, thinking that I should be able to handle some PMS on my own. "I ... I manifested less than a month ago," I said softly.

"Okay," she said, confused.

"She lives in Poe," Nikki added, as if that one statement would clear things up for the nurse.

It did. "Oh!" she said, suddenly sounding more understanding. "Is this your first, dear?" she asked with a lot more sympathy.

I simply nodded, feeling my cheeks burning, because she obviously knew my secret, and the subject was more than a little embarrassing.

"Okay, let's get you back to an exam room and get your vitals. Dr. Guitterez is on call tonight, so she'll be with you in a moment."

Fey patted my shoulder. "I'll wait out here until you're done."

I looked plaintively at her. "Can you come back with me? Please?"

It must have been a slow night, because Dr. Guitterez was in the room even before the nurse had finished taking my vital signs. "Okay, let's see," she said as she reviewed the data, "Probable first menstrual cycle, manifested and changed several weeks ago." She nodded to herself. "Looks pretty routine. Can you describe the symptoms you're having?"

"I'm ... I've got some cramps, and I feel a little full. But it's not too bad. Just enough to be annoying," I reported.

"And she's an emotional volcano," Nikki added.

"Bleeding? Sensitivity there?"

I shook my head. "No bleeding, but it feels a little sensitive."

The nurse handed me a gown. "Put this on, and we'll be right back to finish the exam." She, Fey, and the doctor left so I could change. Once I was clad in the skimpy, drafty, embarrassing garment, they came back in.

Dr. Guitterez said, "Okay, let's get a vaginal exam first, and then we'll do a uterine scan to see if she _is_ going into her period." She swung out stirrups from the examining table.

The next thing I knew, I was curled up, with my back against the wall, clutching my knees against my chest with both arms and whimpering in terror. "No!" I sobbed. "No! Please, no! Don't!"

Dr. Guitterez looked, wide-eyed with surprise, at me, and then at Nurse Lipton. As I cowered in fear, Dr. Guitterez looked at my file. It seemed that a light went on for the doctor.

"Nurse, get a shot of ...." She paused, and turned to Nikki. "Do you know if she's an energizer, or an exemplar, or a regenerator? She has no records of powers testing for me to go on."

Somehow, after much talking by her, and whimpering by me, Nikki got my MID card from me. "Exemplar 2, Regen 2," she read from the card.

Dr. Guitterez frowned. "Okay, let's go with three cc's of Tranq-Max," he ordered the nurse. "That should keep her calm for a few hours, even if she is a regen." She turned to me. "I'm going to give you a tranquilizer that the biodevisors have specially formulated for regenerators like you. It should help you relax so we can complete the exam. Okay?"

I nodded, barely, acknowledging that I understood the doctor.

Fifteen minutes later, the intrusive exam and the strange scan were done. It seemed like I was floating above the exam table, watching, and feeling like I was drunk, or watching from halfway in dream-space. I heard the doctor talking to the nurse and Nikki, but it didn't make much sense to me. He also gave Nikki a bottle of pills for me which I was supposed to take to relieve discomfort.

"Can you walk back to Poe?" Nikki asked me as I sat up on the table.

I think I giggled at her as I shook my head. "I'll ride Tatanka."

Fey snorted derisively, shaking her head. "I'll get Jinn to take her back." She didn't' move, so I guessed that she was talking telepathically or via a spell to Jinn.

"I'll just carry her telekinetically," Evvie offered.

A few minutes later, Evvie lifted me up. "Whee!" I exclaimed drunkenly. "I get a flying carpet ride!" Tatanka must have been concerned about my safety, because he manifested again.

On a campus where strange things are routine, the procession of a manifested white buffalo, myself giggling and generally acting drunk wrapped in a blanket and carried telekinetically with Fey walking beside me to keep me under control, with Evvie and Naomi bringing up the rear, was an interesting spectacle. Someone was thinking enough to get a picture, and I when I saw it later, I had to admit that it did look quite silly.

I flopped wearily into my bed, still feeling woozy from the tranquilizer. I don't really remember much of what Mrs. Horton had to say to me, only that she'd been very worried about me, given my emotional state, and that I was NEVER, EVER to run off like that again. I think she made me promise, but I wasn't sure. I do know that the tranquilizer didn't wear off until nearly morning, and I missed being able to dream-walk with Debra.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I woke up very early when the cramps returned. I tried to force myself to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. I tried to focus to have a brief dream-walk before I got up, but the discomfort made that task impossible. I finally got out of bed, being quiet so I didn't wake Evvie. Hearing no noise in the bathroom, I took my towel and toiletries, and after pulling on a robe, I went in to take care of my morning business.

I couldn't see who because of the spray and condensation, but one of the girls was in the shower and obviously using the 'special function', which from the look of things, was exactly what I'd guessed it was, a fact that made me feel a little nauseated. The thought of using that ... function ... on myself made my stomach do flips, contort itself, and try to tie itself in a knot. Despite the way the girl was moving, I didn't hear a sound coming out of the shower, not even the sound of the water spray, so I gathered that she was using the noise suppressor that the second sign warned about.

Shuddering at the thought of that particular shower function, I turned on a shower, hung up my robe, and crawled in. I didn't want to _ever_ use the shower device on _those_ parts! The spray felt particularly refreshing as it massaged my aching back, and I lingered in the shower a little longer than I should have. When I finished, the first girl was still in her shower stall enjoying the 'special function', while Vanessa took my place, glaring angrily at me as she stepped past me.

I'd just started drying my hair with my blow-dryer, not really thinking about much besides getting some breakfast, when I heard the door open. I glanced in the mirror, and froze when I saw Ayla heading toward the showers.

Fighting the rising panic I felt, I yanked the cord out of the socket without even turning off my blow-dryer, grabbed my toiletries bag, and scurried past Ayla out of the bathroom, right past Vanessa, who'd finished her own shower. I barely saw the flicker of dismay on Ayla face, but I definitely noticed the angry scowl on Vanessa's. I was so rattled that I also didn't notice that a half-sized Tatanka had manifested and charged ahead of me to clear the way. My panic and fear were apparently causing him to manifest to protect me.

I sat in my chair in my room, shaking, for a few minutes. When Evvie awoke, she looked at me, sitting in my bathrobe holding my blow-dryer, my face pale, and my hair still very wet. "Blow dryer broken?"

I just shook my head feebly, fighting the terror. When I said nothing in response, Evvie shrugged, got out of bed, slipped out of her nightie and into her robe, and went to the bathroom. After a bit, during which I was able to get my emotions mostly back in check, I plugged in my hair dryer at my desk and finished with my hair. I put on my plainest clothes, and only then did I realize that Tatanka was not with me. I hastily recalled him, wondering what he'd been doing while I'd been trembling with fear and then fixing my hair. I sighed again; he'd probably been running up and down the halls terrorizing my cottage-mates.

Vanessa glared at me angrily when I stepped into the hall, and when Ayla came out of the bathroom, she caught my eye momentarily, and then consciously averted her gaze, just as I avoided looking at her. Ayla had a neutral expression, expertly disguising her emotions, but I could see the hurt in _his_ eyes. Given what had panicked me on Friday, and information from some of the other girls, Ayla preferred, and was equipped, to be referred to as male. As I strode toward the stairs past Tennyo's and Generator's room, Generator came out in her robe, heading toward the shower, and after she saw Vanessa's and Ayla's expressions, she, too, glared unpleasantly at me. I lowered my gaze and hastened my step, wanting to get away from all the judgmental girls I was meeting. They had a close relationship, and for some reason, I was on their shit list at the moment, probably because of the Ayla incident. Or Tatanka roaming in the halls. Or them having to go out looking for me last night. Or having had to babysit me while I was in Doyle. Or .... I realized to my dismay that I'd given my cottage-mates more than enough reasons to dislike me.

Most of the Sunday morning rush to the cafeteria was a couple of minutes behind me, so I didn't have to wait long in line to get food. Walking toward the checkout stand, though, became a test of nerves; I was trembling when I set my tray on the rails by the clerk. She quickly input data from my breakfast into the computer, and then she pointed to the scanner, where I was supposed to scan my ID.

"I ... don't have an ID yet," I said, shaking inside as I expected the worst.

The clerk frowned at me. "If you dont have an ID ...," she began.

I pulled my letter from security out of my pocket. "Security gave me this for the time being," I said meekly. I hoped that she wasn't going to be a bitch about things, but I wasn't optimistic after all I'd been through so far in my short stay here.

The clerk looked at the paper, and then scowled. "Just a moment," she said, stepping quickly toward the back area of the cafeteria, leaving me standing in a line that was rather rapidly backing up. I felt my cheeks burn as other students sighed or snorted in disgust and moved to other checkout lines that were moving. Their snarky, snide, and sometimes insulting comments were difficult to ignore at the very least, and hurtful at most.

I stood at the clerk's station, looking down at my plate in shame, knowing that those going around me were scowling angrily at me for stalling the line and their breakfasts. It felt like an eternity before the clerk came out with an older woman. Once again, I had to explain the issue, and show the letter from security. The older woman looked at me, then at the letter, and then back at me, before she snorted, "It looks okay. Ring her up on the 'overhead' tally." With that, the older woman gave me one final disdainful glare for having upset her routine, and then she stomped angrily to the back, making sure that I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I'd inconvenienced her.

After I got my food, finally, I faced another dilemma. There were three levels, and I'd seen some hint of a social order the night before, so I had no clue which spaces were claimed and which weren't. I glanced at the stairs up to the upper levels, and even that glance was noticed.

"Don't even think about it, freshthing," an older girl sneered at me as she started up the stairway, letting me know in no uncertain terms that the upper levels were far beyond my social status as a new freshman, and that even contemplating going to those levels, let alone dining there, was really looked down on. I glanced around at the tables on the first level. As I moved toward a table that was mostly opened, a girl gave me a withering look, indicating that the table was also considered property of her clique or group. I got the same reaction at three other tables before I decided that many of the tables were already considered reserved, and I had no idea which ones were still 'open'.

Feeling humiliated at being turned away multiple times, I slunk into an out-of-the-way area and simply stood, looking hopefully for a table that wasn't reserved. As the other students walked past me to their tables, some looking down their nose scornfully, others sneering my direction, I felt my eyes watering again, and I quickly chanted the ghost-walking spell, hiding magically from all the rejection and embarrassment. After twenty minutes or so, during which the hot items on my tray cooled to an inedible room temperature while the cool things warmed so as to be equally unpalatable, I saw a couple of tables which were still vacant, apparently unclaimed.

I sat at one of the tables, alone, miserable, and feeling totally out of place as I hesitantly spooned my unappetizingly cold breakfast, which didn't really matter any longer because I'd lost most of my appetite. While the checkout hadn't been as bad as before, it was still demeaning to be treated like I was a criminal whose every action warranted extra scrutiny and suspicion. The fiasco with a simple thing like finding a table reminded me brutally of my non-existent social status. I was getting depressed again.

After a half-hearted attempt at eating, I gave up and carried my tray to the conveyor belt, ghost-walking again, and then dodging enthusiastic, chattering, happy, giggling, and socially interacting students who were actually enjoying their breakfasts. Every so often, I'd see a student without the tell-tale silver aura, some of whom paused and stared at me, making me feel even more self-conscious. I realized that I had yet to eat a meal in the dining hall that seemed normal, let alone even comfortable. In three days, the only real sustenance I'd had was the IV while I was in Doyle, and despite that, the discomfort of the social and ID situations had completely exterminated anything resembling a desire to eat.

Evvie and Naomi walked in with a couple of other girls, pausing in the doorway, Evvie's expression turning into a frown as she looked around. After a quick scan of the lower floor, Evvie stormed up the stairs to a table where Team Kimba sat. Curious and still ghost-walking, I followed her up the stairs. She stood beside the table and was exchanging what appeared to be very harsh words with the girls at the table, and I saw several heads shake, including a few like Ayla who were scowling angrily at whatever Evvie had said. I also sensed that Fey was practically biting her tongue to not say any of what she knew.

When Evvie stormed back downstairs, I followed, and then, because I was still looking at her sitting with Naomi and the other girls, I wasn't watching what I was doing, and I bumped into a boy entering the dining hall. A surge of some type of power coursed through my body. "Hey!" the guy snapped at me, loudly enough that a lot of heads turned to the source of the disturbance. "Watch where you're going, you dimwit!"

I recoiled from the shock and the boy's sharp words, and then I realized, slowly, that the tell-tale silver aura around everyone had vanished. Horrified, I realized that something about the boy had disrupted my ghost-walking spell. I glanced around, and noticed that Evvie was one of those looking toward the source of the disturbance, which was unfortunately me. I turned and scurried out the door, once again fleeing embarrassing and negative attention.

I wasn't really looking where I was going when I suddenly found myself unable to move. I looked up, and found three familiar faces staring at me, although they were keeping their distance. "Leave me alone," I snapped at Nitro, Truck, and TK.

TK grinned, keeping his distance from me. "I think you should apologize for getting my friend Cagliostro in trouble the other day," he said with a nasty smirk.

"He started it!" I snapped at the trio. "Let me go."

TK and Nitro exchanged a knowing grin. "From what? We're not doing anything!"

"You know," Truck sneered, "I think she owes Cagliostro something to make up for getting him on detention. Maybe a date. And a nice makeup kiss."

I glared at them. Without thinking, I manifested Tatanka, who stood between me and the trio, snorting angrily. However, instead of looking intimidated, the guys' grins broadened.

"Kayda, stop!" I heard someone calling from behind me, just as I was about to let Tatanka teach them a lesson. "Don't do it!" It was Evvie's voice.

I managed to turn my body even though my feet remained immobilized. "Why the hell not?" I growled. "These bastards started it."

"Because they're making it look like _you_ started a confrontation so you'll get in trouble," Naomi shouted insistently, running beside Evvie toward me.

I glanced back at the guys, and noticed that their smug smiles had been replaced by scowls directed at Evvie and Naomi, evidence that Evvie was right; it was a setup, and the scene was probably being monitored by security cameras, assuming that the guys hadn't already summoned security toward an incident, thus implicating me and getting me in trouble.

My guess was confirmed when three security officers trotted around the corner of Schuster right toward us. One headed right for me. "Shit!" I cursed.

"Ms. Franks, demanifest your buffalo and come with us." The officer's tone was far from polite.

I glared once more at the perpetrators, and then sighed. "This is a setup," I complained as I demanifested Tatanka. Not surprisingly, I found that I was free to move again. The guys were smart, I had to give him that; this time, they were leaving nothing to implicate themselves, even on security videos.

"What am I going to do with you, Ms. Franks?" Chief Delarose glared at me from behind his desk. I'd had to wait over forty minutes for him to come into the office on an 'off' day, and I was certain that he resented me for it. "This is your third incident in four days! Fourth if you count the fact that security had to show up when your ... buffalo ... wouldn't demanifest in Doyle. At least there, he didn't interfere with the doctors." He shook his head in frustration. "You're well on your way to setting a record, a record that I don't think either you _or_ I want." His door was closed to keep out noise from the outer office, and quite probably also to keep his conversation with me from snooping ears. "Assuming, of course, that you don't do something that gets you expelled, which, given your track record, you're well on your way to accomplishing."

I wasn't about to cry this time; I was too angry for tears, besides which I felt like I'd completely cried myself out the past couple of days and that particular emotion seemed completely numb. What was left was anger. "I just want to be left the fuck alone!" I swore at him, returning his glare. "But everyone seems to have decided it's 'make Kayda miserable' month, including all of the so-called adults who are supposed to be keeping this place safe for me!"

"You're not helping your case here," Delarose said with a frown, shaking his head as he held the reports. "Three formal security incidents, three times your buffalo has been manifested and has been threatening. And according to informal reports, you've had at least two uncontrolled manifestation within Poe Cottage and one in Crystal Hall, but no-one has been injured - so far." He shook his head, his lips tightly pursed together. "I'm starting to think Hartford was right, that you need a UV armband and should be moved to Hawthorne."

"Go ahead," I snapped at him. "You might as well as long since you're going to let everyone blame me for stuff I don't even start, generally screw up my life, and eventually I'll get too pissed to take any more. Or is that what you're trying to make me do? Maybe you don't really want me, and you're trying to convince me that I should just leave this stupid fucking place."

"And go where?" Delarose shook his head, trying to force himself to be a more sympathetic figure to me, knowing I was quite distraught. "And watch your language," he added with a scowl. I know things seem tough for you right now ...,"

"Tough? Like manifesting, changing, being almost killed a couple of times, being ...." I stopped short; I wasn't about to tell Chief Delarose something that would then go into my security file where God-knows how many people would be able to see. "Losing everything, and then finding myself in a place that's supposed to be a haven for kids like me, but turns out to be hell, almost as bad as what I left? Where I'm a social reject because I'm the new kid, and I'm getting an undeserved reputation as a trouble maker? I'd be better off going home and taking my chances if all this place has to offer me is what I've been through so far! I mean, it's not like there's anyone around here who gives a damn about me!"

I'd pushed past the limit with Delarose. "Stop right there, Kayda," he said sternly, his eyes narrow slits. "There are a lot of people around here who care about you. All the girls who were out looking for you when you just ran off last night - do you think they were searching because they were bored? There were a lot of girls who were taking turns being with you when you were in Doyle." He had his jaw set between phrases, like Dad used to do to emphasize his point. "Your roommate and her friend didn't _have_ to stick around and file reports on today's incident. If they hadn't cared, they'd have just let you get in trouble. You _do_ have people around here who care, or who _would_ care, if you'd let them. You need to quit feeling sorry for yourself and get on with life. Just because nobody rolls out the red carpet and begs you to be friends with them or to join their group doesn't mean that you're a social reject or a leper, as you seem convinced you are. _You_ have to do your part to fit in, too."

I just sat in the chair, glowering at him. What made me angriest, right at that moment, was that I knew that he was right.

"This man speaks wisely, Wihakayda. He knows the lesson of pispiza. You would do well to listen to him," Tatanka chided me.

"Shut up!" I snapped back at Tatanka.

"No, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka chided me firmly. "You need to be still and listen to the wisdom of your elders for a change."

After waiting for a reply that didn't come, Delarose continued, but in a far less harsh tone. "I see in your file that you were ordered to get counseling. That's good. The thing that concerns me, however, is that you are on a suicide watch until you're cleared by Dr. Bellows, but despite that, you keep running off alone."

My jaw dropped at that. The fact that my file noted that I was on a watch of some type wasn't surprising, since Zenith had mentioned it, but being the recipient of a suicide watch stunned me.

"There are some people who take your well-being very seriously. It would help me with my job if you could tell me why Dr. Bellows and Fubar are so concerned. The daily duty orders would note what my security team should watch for."

"I'm surprised half the campus doesn't already know," I replied bitterly. "I'm sure it'll be in the afternoon edition of campus gossip daily, if it isn't there already."

"There are some things in students' files that are highly confidential," Chief Delarose replied. "I'm in a tough spot. Based on your actions, I should move you or give you an armband. You haven't given me any reason _not_ do to so."

"Just ask Dr. Bellows, or Fubar. They'll tell you," I said bitterly.

"They _can't_ tell me," the chief insisted, voicing his frustration, but it wasn't clear whether that frustration was due to his inability to access the data, or due to my attitude. "Those are medical records, and by law, I _can't_ see them." He was studying my expression thoughtfully for a few moments. "Would you tell Mrs. Carson?"

I stared at him for quite a while before I looked down, nodding my head slightly. "Why not? She'll know as soon as word gets around."

The chief picked up his phone and punched in a number. "Liz? Frank," he spoke into the phone. "I know it's Sunday and you're busy with paperwork on our supposed day off, but I've got a student who really needs to talk to one of us, and she's not talking to me."

"No, she won't tell me."

"Yeah, it's her."

"Okay, we'll be right over." He hung up the phone and stood, circling his desk and waiting for me to rise as well. As we walked the short distance from Kane to Schuster in silence, I stared at the sidewalk to avoid the stares that I knew were directed my way. It was humiliating to be seen with security so often, as if I were a criminal.

Schuster Hall was mostly dark, but light filtered through the frosted glass door of the administration suite of offices. We walked right in; one desk was occupied by young boy who was busily working on some data entry. The door to Mrs. Carson's office stood ajar, surprising me that she'd be at work on a weekend. Did the administration and staff _ever_ get a break? I suddenly had a flash of insight that taking care of over six hundred mutant students wasn't a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five job. It was probably more like farming - you did the chores when they needed doing and not to some artificial work schedule.

Chief Delarose knocked on Mrs. Carson's open door. "Liz?" he asked simply.

"Come in, Frank," Mrs. Carson invited. She glanced at me, and her expression became carefully neutral. "What's got you in the office on your day off?"

Chief Delarose glanced at me with an unhappy expression. "Guess."

Mrs. Carson sighed. "I saw the preliminary report. Three in four days?" She looked at me. "I get the impression that the only reason it isn't four-for-four is that you spent all of Friday lying unresponsive and sedated in Doyle." She gestured to a chair in front of her desk. "Chief, close the door and wait outside, please." I plopped heavily into a chair and waited for Chief Delarose to leave. Mrs. Carson looked directly at me, her gaze strangely calming. So far, she'd been the only person, apart from Mrs. Horton, that had been helpful in my tumultuous short stay at Whateley. "Now, Kayda, what's going on that's making security take such an interest in you?"

"Is ... this private?" I asked hesitantly.

Mrs. Carson's expression darkened, but only for a fleeting moment. She pressed a button on her desk. "Now it is. Why?"

I tried to look eye-to-eye with her, but lost my nerve. I just couldn't look her in the face while I said what I had to say. "I'm ... I'm afraid."

"Of what?" she asked, her voice soft and sympathetic.

"Of guys," I stopped and swallowed hard. "When I manifested, my ... friends ... tried to kill me. Twice. They almost succeeded. They hurt me pretty badly."

Mrs. Carson nodded without changing her expression. "I saw the report on your admission form."

"There's something that's not on the form. Mostly, because ... I shut out the memories. Dr. Bellows called it traumatic memory loss. When I had a ... breakdown on Friday, they ... found the hidden memories that had caused my ... issue."

"What memories would those be?"

"I was ...." I swallowed again, harder this time, looking down at my hands crossed in my lap. "I ... was ... violated," I finally admitted softly. My words hung in the still air like a dark cloud. "I freaked out Friday morning because of something I saw - on one of the students. It uncovered some of those memories of being ... raped, and I couldn't handle it."

"That would be very traumatic, and would explain your emotional collapse. And because of that, you're ... somewhat terrified ... of boys? And that's why you were frightened of Cagliostro's psychic tricks?" Mrs. Carson speculated quite accurately. I simply nodded, still looking down. Her reaction wasn't quite what I'd expected. It seemed almost like ....

I suddenly realized the truth behind her stoic reaction, and I recoiled as if I'd been physically struck. "You knew!" A second, more horrifying truth hit me like a punch in the gut just a moment later. "And Mom knew, too!" I screamed as I reeled mentally from the implications. "You _all_ knew! And no one told me!"

"Kayda," Mrs. Carson started to reply in a soothing voice.

"And Fubar knew! You all knew, and just left me with this ... thing in my head, and didn't give me any kind of help!" I bawled. "How could Mom do this to me? How could _any_ of you do this?" Half-blinded by tears, I bolted from the chair toward the door. This was my last straw. Now I had nobody, since even my parents had betrayed me. There was nothing left in my life worth living. Everyone had hurt me. I grabbed frantically at the door handle, fumbling blindly for the handle because my eyes were stinging and my vision was obscured by a deluge of tears. "Nobody cares about me!" I bawled, trying to open the door handle that wouldn't budge.

"Kayda, sit down," Mrs. Carson barked her order to me as I struggled with the door that just wouldn't seem to open.

"Why?" I cried angrily, pausing so I could fix my angry, tearful stare on her so she'd _see_ how hurt I was. "Nobody gives a fuck about me! Not even my parents! Everyone _lied_ to me! I don't have anything left!" I spun back to the door and found the handle, fumbling to open the door. And to think - Cornflower and Wish List had recommended this stupid place!

"Kayda, sit down," Mrs. Carson repeated firmly.

I glowered at her. There was no reason for me to listen to _anybody_ anymore, but she wasn't letting me leave, which confused me. I tugged at the door again, but it didn't budge. After several long seconds of silent standoff, I slid back into the chair, slumped down, still bearing my angry, defiant expression as tears poured from my eyes. "It doesn't matter!" I snorted angrily. "Nobody gives a shit about me! Mom probably even told Debra, and told _her_ to lie to me, too! Everyone lied to me."

"Kayda," Mrs. Carson said firmly, trying to catch my attention.

In a renewed surge of blind rage, anger, depression, and feeling of betrayal, I ignored her. "I _knew_ I shouldn't have expected anything to be better! Now everyone is going to tease me about this, or bully me, or treat me like a whore or something!" My rant wasn't exactly rational, given my state of mind. I crossed my arms angrily on my chest, and even that action mocked me. If I'd have been a guy, I would have _never_ had to worry about a situation like this. I wouldn't have been vulnerable and weak. But I wasn't. I was small and vulnerable, and I'd been hideously violated. "There's nothing for me!" I cried bitterly. At that point, the words accurately reflected my mood. "It would have been better if they'd have killed me!"

"No, it wouldn't have, Kayda," Mrs. Carson said firmly, but her expression indicated that she was deeply disturbed by the direction and ferocity of my rant.

"No?" I snapped at her. My emotions were all over the place, spurred by hideous memories and new revelations, of feeling rejected and knowing I was damaged, both physically and mentally. "Nobody in the dorm would hate me anymore! My parents wouldn't care, because their hideous mutant child wouldn't be a problem anymore."

"Kayda, your mother and father and a lot of other people went to great lengths to protect you. They wouldn't have done that if they didn't care about you. They care very much about you. They _love_ you. If you were to do something to yourself, you'd hurt a _lot_ of people who care about you, like your parents, your brother, and your grandmother. And Debra."

I didn't hear her words because I was too busy being angry and full of self-pity. "I should just go back home and go all rager on the guys who did this to me," I said angrily. "I'd get them, and then I'd get put out of my misery!"

"Kayda, that's enough!" Mrs. Carson snapped at me angrily, staring at me with some type of Glare of Supreme Authority that made me want to cower beneath her desk. I shivered involuntarily under her withering look. She waited until I was suitably intimidated, and then her expression softened - a bit. "That kind of violence never helps anything," she said firmly, "and you ending up dead won't help anyone."

There was still anger and a bit of defiance left in me. "So what? It's not like it fucking matters! All anyone has ever done is hurt me anyway!"

"Are you through with your fit yet?" Mrs. Carson asked, having switched to a strangely calm, almost parental voice as she gazed evenly at me.

I stared angrily at her for a few seconds before I dropped my gaze, subconsciously submitting again to her authority, at least temporarily, now that most of my anger had been vented and I was a bit empty and emotionally numb. I dropped my gaze to my lap, my eyes closing for a brief moment. I inhaled and exhaled deeply.

"Kayda," Mrs. Carson's voice was no longer the icy voice of authority, but sounded much warmer and much more concerned. "Your parents knew, and your Mom was worried enough to tell me. Everyone hoped that you were unconscious through your ... ordeal, because you didn't remember, but just in case, your Mom told me what she knew so that we could watch and be ready in case your memories _did_ come back. They were _very_ concerned about how you'd react if you did remember. They were worried that you'd react the way you are, with either anger or suicidal thoughts. Your mom was scared to death that you'd remember and try to kill yourself."

I sat mutely, still staring at my lap and knees, emotionally drained after my furious rant and contemplating what she was saying. I was so angry and upset that I wasn't thinking rationally, but there was still a spark in me that _wanted_ to believe that Mom and Dad really _did_ love me, and that they hadn't deliberately been cruel by not telling me.

"You _did_ have a ticking time bomb in your head," Mrs. Carson continued. "Your parents made sure that we knew about it, so if it did go off, we could intervene before you did something to yourself or to others."

I stared at her, her words not connecting rationally in my angst-filled brain. It _sounded_ like it had been for my benefit, but it hurt so damned much that it didn't make sense that Mom would tell Mrs. Carson before I even knew.

Mrs. Carson continued, "You didn't remember, because your mind blocked out those memories to protect you from psychological trauma. What did you expect them to do, especially with everything else that happened? Tell you what happened and add to everything you were dealing with? Do you really think you could have handled it on top of everything else? Do you think they shouldn't have told me so that _when_ something triggered those memories, we wouldn't be ready in case you tried something stupid like getting violent or suicidal?"

I _wanted_ to believe her. I _wanted_ to think that Mom and Dad hadn't been malicious, but finding out the way I had hurt more than I could describe. I sat, glaring at the desk morosely, struggling to accept what Mrs. Carson had said.

"Your parents are like any other parents - they're not perfect. They made their decision based on their best judgment. You may not agree with what they did, but it was out of concern and love for you. Your Mom and I had a very long discussion, which is why we had you move into Poe yourself. She needed time to discuss this with me, just in case. She and your dad didn't withhold the information with malice or intent to hurt you."

I glanced up, and saw that the hard 'supreme administrator' look in her eyes was gone, replaced by compassion and sympathy. I swallowed hard; I hadn't expected _this_ from her. I'd expected only to get in trouble.

"If you really _had_ been unconscious, would you have been ready to know what happened?"

Her question caught me flat-footed; I hadn't considered that angle at all in my self-pity. "No," I finally said in a tiny voice. "I ... guess not."

"Your mom didn't think so either. I agree with her assessment. That's why Dr. Bellows has you in counseling." She continued, "There are over six hundred students at Whateley. Many of them have had severe difficulties, some, believe it or not, worse than yours. I'm not a counselor, and I don't have time or the training to help every single one who's had problems." I saw the expression on her face; she was genuinely concerned about me, or at least was good at putting on a caring fagade. At the same time, her words were telling me that she wasn't going to take any personal interest in me, any more than she did with any other student. "That's why we have counselors on staff. You need to use time with your counselor to help you so you can succeed at Whateley. You're going to meet with Dr. Bellows daily for the time being, even on weekends." If you allow Chief Delarose to note this in your private security file, it would help ... in case there are future incidents like the two you've already had," she added said in an unexpected motherly tone.

I sighed heavily. "Why not? I had to tell a couple of girls in my cottage, so it's probably all over campus by now," I said bitterly. "And if Mom was telling everyone ...."

Mrs. Carson shook her head. "I'm the _only_ one that your mom told. The only person on campus I told was Mrs. Horton, and I hope you understand why. She is the adult who has the most contact with you, and she needs to know if there's a problem lurking in the shadows. As to other student or faculty talking, I can assure you that if any faculty member does find out, they'll keep their mouths shut. And given the ... unique nature of Poe, I'm certain that nobody there would talk."

She sighed. "I'm going to have the Chief write up this incident as a misunderstanding, since there wasn't an altercation and the exchange was purely verbal, and even though you manifested your buffalo in a threatening manner." She paused, and then looked sternly at me with that fearsome administrator look again. "Don't do it again." A thin smile crept onto her lips. "You've been officially reprimanded. I'll have Chief Delarose take you back to Kane to finish the report, and then have someone from Poe come to escort her back to her cottage?"

"Great," I muttered. "More reason for all of them to hate me."

Mrs. Carson heard what I hadn't intended her to hear. "Why should they hate you?"

I shook my head, looking down. "Because all I keep doing is pissing them off," I said bitterly. "They're all friends, and I don't know anyone, and I made a bunch of them hate me when I freaked out, and I'm sure they _adore_ having to take turns babysitting me ...."

"Perhaps you should talk to the girls about what happened, then," Mrs. Carson suggested.

Terror shot through my nerves, accompanied by the sensation of ice-water in my veins. "No," I begged softly, mortified at the thought of telling _more_ people how defiled and damaged I was.

"It's your choice, Kayda," Mrs. Carson assured me, "but I think you'd find your cottage-mates a lot more understanding and supportive than you think, especially in Poe. Poesies ... stick together and help each other in a crisis." She saw me starting to open my mouth, but was quicker to speak. "And no, I know you weren't _really_ a woman until recently, but several of your cottage-mates are in exactly the same position as you." She pushed a button, and after a click at the door latch, Chief Delarose opened it.

"I ... I guess I'll ... think about it," I said slowly. "About a lot of things."

Mrs. Carson gave me a warm smile, reassuring me that even though she was headmistress, she _did_ care what happened to me. "Good. That's all I can ask you to do. That and meet with Dr. Bellows after lunch."

I nodded, afraid to speak again for fear that I would give further offense to her when she was trying to be as supportive as her administrative role would allow. Instead, I silently followed Chief Delarose out of the office, already dismissed by Mrs. Carson, who had returned her attention to the paperwork on her desk.

"I know that was hard to talk about," the Chief said as we walked toward Kane Hall.

"Do you?" I asked, trying to keep the venom out of my voice.

"Kayda," Delarose said with a heavy sigh, "I know you probably won't believe me, but in my life, I've seen people go through things that would quite possibly make anything you've experienced pale in comparison." He paused, and it seemed to me that he shuddered inwardly at what must have been some particularly awful memories. "I'm not saying that what you've experienced is easy, only that others have picked up their lives after very, very traumatic events. If Mrs. Carson or I didn't believe you could handle this, you wouldn't be here at Whateley, because you would need to be somewhere to get some serious help."

I almost bit my tongue to keep from speaking. From my limited view of life, I had a hard time believing there could be worse things, and yet the Chief's expression and tone told me that he honestly believed there were, that he'd personally seen or experienced things that _were_ worse. He was also saying, in his gruff, security-chief way, that he believed in me.

In Kane, I had to sign the security incident report, and while I was doing that, Chief Delarose called Mrs. Horton to have someone come from Poe to get me. That part made me nervous, because I'd already been a huge imposition on a lot of girls who had no reason to like me, and several had reason to dislike me.

I sat, bored, in the office, waiting. A girl came in wearing a blue super-hero costume, complete with a short skirt and a red letter M on her chest, and I figured she was another security auxiliary. When she went to the security desk, I was certain that she wasn't the one who would walk me back to Poe. I sighed; by security and Carson's orders I wasn't allowed to _ever_ be alone, so I had to sit there, bored and waiting for my 'escort'. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking, and I was going to miss yet _another_ meal at the cafeteria - not that I knew what a normal Crystal Hall meal was, since I hadn't had anything even remotely close to a cafeteria meal and socializing like I'd enjoyed in my old school. Not that I was hungry when I thought about the miserable and humiliating experiences I'd already had in the caf.

I let my mind drift halfway into the dream world, seeking refuge from the crappy way my day was going, and was just getting settled into a restful mountain vista, when my real-world self noticed the girl walking toward me. I snapped myself back to the real-world.

The girl had to be one of the upperclassmen, since I hadn't seen her on the freshman floor, but apart from that logical inference, I had no idea who she was. She was precisely what one would think a superhero girl would be - a blonde bombshell with a perfect hourglass figure and plenty of curves. She looked a bit like Hillary Duff, with cornflower blue eyes, and she wore her long blonde hair lose about her shoulders. "Are you Kayda Franks?" she asked.

I simply nodded.

"I'm Marty Penn, but you can call me Megs or Mega-Girl," she said simply, extending her hand. "Mrs. Horton asked me to escort you back to our humble little abode."

"So you got stuck with baby-sitting duty this afternoon?"

Megs shrugged. "It's a nice break from homework. I was supposed to give you a tour the other day, but security apparently had its own ideas of a fun afternoon." She led me out of Kane Hall.

I winced at her attempted joke. It was a sensitive subject to me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to waste your time."

"I wasn't sitting around waiting," Megs laughed. "When Mrs. Horton told me you were at security, I worked on some homework for tomorrow." She changed the subject abruptly, giving me pause to consider that she might be a little scatter-brained and fitting the blonde stereotype. "I'm going to be a superhero," she said with certainty. "I hope the Future Superheroes of America will notice me. I even tried to battle a supervillain over Christmas." She obviously wanted to talk more about herself than about me.

"I got involved in a battle with a supervillain," I commented. I saw Megs' eyebrows rise. "A minor one, really - the Gemologist, and I didn't do a lot, except heal Debra. Tatanka was the one who took him out."

"Who's Tatanka? Is that the white buffalo they say you manifest?" Megs asked with a smile. "Everyone in the dorm is talking about him running up and down the halls, running over people and scaring everyone half-to-death." She laughed again. "At first, everyone thought it was Beltane. She's does a lot of pranks, and since she manifests things from ectoplasm, everyone blamed her."

I nodded meekly. "Yeah. He's ... interesting." I tilted my head toward Melville. "Is Melville really full of obnoxious, snobby rich-kids?"

"A lot of them are," Megs replied easily. "How did you know?"

A ... friend of mine went here. In fact, she was a senior last year."

"Oh really? Who?"

"Debra, uh, I mean Cornflower."

Megs nodded. "Poise had a lot of good things to say about Debra. She's a pretty tough fighter, too. I fought against her a few times in PE." She chuckled. "At least she wasn't one of the bitchy ones."

"She's ... a very good friend," I said, probably purring more than I wanted to. "I healed her after she got pretty badly injured. It's one of the things I do."

Megs nodded in understanding. "What happened with you and Cagliostro on Thursday?"

"He ... tried to use a psychic suggestion that I should find him attractive for his offer to help me move my luggage to Poe."

MG shook her head. "He'll never learn. So what do you do, besides heal people?"

"I'm not sure of everything. I'm an avatar, and I'm learning magic from one of my spirits, mostly Native American magic."

"Exemplar?"

"Yeah."

Megs sighed. "At least you got a pretty nice BIT out of the deal, unlike me. I'm changing pretty slowly due to my MATD."

"MATD?"

"I ... manifest a shell, which is changing me underneath," Megs replied. "I'm slowly becoming a girl, but without my manifested shell, I'm still ...."

It took a second for me to realize what Megs was saying. "No!" I stammered, irrational, wide-eyed, and backing quickly away from her in a panic attack. "No!" I continued backing up until I was against a tree.

Megs, confused, took a step toward me to help. "Kayda?" she asked, concerned by my sudden distraught state.

"No!" I shouted at her, drawing attention to us. "Don't touch me! No! Get away!'

She backed up a step, unsure what to do. She couldn't leave me alone, but I was terrified of her, and wouldn't let her get close. After more than five minutes of Mexican standoff, during which I cowered against a tree while Megs stood, helpless, not knowing what to do but not wanting to come closer and make my panic attack worse, two girls strode quickly toward us from Poe. Mrs. Horton had been alerted by security that we were on our way, and when we didn't show up at Poe in a timely manner, had sent out a couple of girls to look for me. One of the two, Heather from my floor, comforted me, reassuring me that everything was okay, while Zenith took Megs a few steps away and asked what had happened. Megs looked pretty shaken by what had happened, as if it was her fault.

Heather escorted me back to Poe, at which time she handed off my care to Toni because Evvie wasn't in our room. I could tell Toni was very unhappy about that, but she'd drawn the short straw, so she stuck with it, babysitting me again while I calmed down from another panic attack. We didn't talk to each other at all.

HPARC, Black Hills, SD

Ernst sighed heavily as he slid his cafeteria tray onto the table and then eased himself into a chair.

"What's up now?" a man already seated at the table asked rhetorically. He'd known Ernst for over a decade, and recognized the heavy sigh of something heavily weighing on Ernst's mind.

Ernst shook his head slowly. He could discuss this issue here; in level eight of HPARC, security was more than tight. "We probably have a psychic leak in one of the containment tunnels."

Del Flannery's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "You're shitting me, right?"

"I wish I was. We had some psychic energy that tripped some alarms. It was coming into and leaving somewhere on level ten."

"Holy shit!"

"You said it," Ernst said needlessly. "Hazel over at NACAC looked at it, and she thinks that something that's supposed to be in suspended cryo-freeze is dream-walking, and the psychic energy is slipping through all our shielding."

"Damn. So what are you going to do? Send a team down there to reseal the shields and wards?"

Ernst went white at the idea. "That's not my first preference, no. Some of those things - how would we contain them while we're resealing the tunnels? And how would we keep the workers sane?"

"Reseal a new tunnel, and then shuffle things around, one at a time, resealing behind them."

Ernst nodded. "I thought of that. And even _that_ minimal-exposure idea scares the crap out of my team." He took a sip from the coffee cup on his tray; the subject wasn't helping his appetite at all, even though he _knew_ he had to force himself to eat. "I guess we'll figure out something. Maybe we can get Charlie and someone from ARC to help us when we move things." He picked up a turkey sandwich from a plate on his tray. "What's new in your area?"

Del's eyes lit up. "We're sending a team tomorrow to the near Erie, Pennsylvania. We found a dead Mishibijiw, or rather, some unfortunate soul found a dead Mishibijiw."

"The water panther? I thought they were pretty benign."

Del grimaced. "Not this one. Someone, or something, infused it with some Class X magic or power. The guy who found it and tried to move it is now totally incoherent, and quite probably insane."

"Yikes!"

"Yeah, you said it. According to his buddies that saw the whole thing, he recognized it as an old Algonquin legend, and wanted to try to make some money off the remains. He was okay until he tried to tie a rope onto it to winch it up into his pickup. We've never seen a Mishibijiw, live or dead, but all the stories and lore rate them as class 3 spirits, and mostly neutral." Chris took out his cell phone. "Here are some pictures."

Ernst flipped through the pictures on the phone. "Hmmm. It looks like this thing was in one hell of a battle."

"My section is curious what could kill this thing."

"It looks like, before the guy went nuts, he got something off it. Look how bloody the tail spikes are," Ernst observed.

"That was how they found it," Del countered. "Someone, or some _thing_, knew to take the copper spikes from its tail. According to legend, they have powerful magic in them."

Ernst's eyes bugged out. "Are those also infused with whatever Class X thing we've got on this critter?"

Del shrugged. "We don't know. They might not have been tainted. If they _were_ tainted though, then whoever got them is insane now, or is immune, in which case we have an even bigger problem."

By lunchtime, I'd calmed down a lot from my second panic attack, and I went to Crystal Hall with Evvie and Naomi. After a relatively normal checkout - for a change - we joined some of their friends at a table. "Everyone," Evvie said cheerfully to get people's attention, not that she had to, because the small group was already looking at me, "this is my roommate Kayda. Kayda, this is Laurie, Adrian, Rhiannon, and Vasiliy."

We shook hands after I'd set down my tray; Laurie seemed nice; she was a pretty, curvy, black girl who seemed rather quiet, as though she was analyzing everything around her with slow, measured deliberation.

Laurie sat next to Adrian, and his attention seemed to switch periodically between her and everything else, with everything else getting a far smaller share of his focus. He had that goofy look on his face that I'd seen on guys before which advertised that anything besides Laurie was purely a distraction. The two were so obviously an item. He was an average-sized guy, but there was keen intelligence burning behind his hazel eyes, telling anyone who paid attention that under his semi-unkempt mop of red hair was a mind hard at work. Adrian seemed to contemplate each and every word spoken by those around him, filing away data in case he ever needed it, and responding in a very precise manner. In an odd way, he was a living dichotomy - clearly very enamored with Laurie and emotionally responsive to her, but also cool and calculating with others.

Vasiliy, on the other hand, was gregarious to a fault. He was stouter than Adrian, with close-cropped dark hair capping an angular face that was reminiscent of older movie-stars that were considered to be ruggedly handsome. The odd thing was Vasiliy's eyes -his irises seemed larger, and they had an orangish-red hue that flickered and wavered like flames burning inside them. If he'd have had horns, he would have looked totally demonic. Vasiliy did a half-bow when he shook my hand; his personal attention was unnerving in a way. "Am pleased to meet you," he said in a thick Russian accent.

Rhiannon was the girl Mom and I had met in the administration building, Sanctuary. "I remember you. You and your mom were checking in on Thursday." She gave me a smug little smile. "I heard that you were introduced pretty quickly to the insanity that is Whateley."

I nodded. "Yeah. Misunderstanding. And security got pretty pissed about Tatanka."

"Who's Tatanka?" Laurie asked, puzzled. She got stares of disbelief from the others at the table.

"You haven't heard of the white buffalo Kayda manifests?"

Laurie shook her head. "No. I've been pretty busy."

I sighed, and then had Tatanka manifest himself, Labrador-sized. "This is my white buffalo, Tatanka. Normally he rummages around in my brain, but I can have him manifest, too, in different sizes. I'm an avatar."

Tatanka focused with laser-intensity on Rhiannon. He stepped to her side, and said something in that old language he'd used with Fey.

Rhiannon frowned, and then shook her head. "I ... don't understand."

"I'm sorry," Tatanka said in English. "I thought that you'd speak the ancient language of the Sidhe like the queen does."

Rhiannon's expression became guardedly neutral at the reference to Fey. Maybe there was bad blood between the two of them? Perhaps it was a bad assumption that, since she was Sidhe like Fey, the two got along. Since her reaction had been neither positive nor negative, maybe she was cautiously neutral toward Fey as her expression indicated. I decided to demanifest Tatanka to avoid getting more unwanted attention.

As we sat, Laurie decided to be inquisitive. "Where are you from, and what do you do?"

I felt nervous, but I got a tiny reassuring nod from Evvie. "I grew up on a farm near a small town in rural South Dakota," I said meekly. "I've got Lakota spirits rummaging around in my brain, making me feel a little schizophrenic at times."

"Is that like Sioux Indians?" Naomi asked. In all my interactions with Naomi, the subject of my background and abilities had never come up.

I chose to use the polite response rather than the 'ethnically offended' answer that some automatically chose to try to shame the inadvertent offender who'd chosen his words poorly. "The proper term is Lakota," I tried to smile. "And most people say Native American so they don't confuse us with people from India. Others say the First Nations." I shrugged. "I started out only one quarter Lakota, but ..." I didn't need to tell others; we _were_ at a school for mutants where body changes were quite common. "My spirit mentor has taught me some spells, like ghost-walking and healing."

"What's ... ghost-walking?" Adrian asked, having momentarily diverted his attention from Laurie. His accent was unmistakably British, but not the snobbish upper-crust accent that most Americans associated with England. Rather, it sounded like a working man's accent.

I smiled and then incanted quickly. The others at the table took on the silvery aura that told me that they could no longer see me. It was amusing to watch their perplexed expressions at my sudden disappearance, and even more so when I touched them, one after another, and they could see me as the translucent image that Mom had described. After a few seconds, I let the spell go. "That was ghost-walking," I said. "It's a technique to allow a shaman to escape detection by his enemies."

"Way cool!" Naomi exclaimed, garnering us a little attention from surrounding tables and students. "What else can you do?"

I shrugged, trying not to sound like I was bragging. "I can do some healing, and my mentor spirit is trying to teach me more of her spells." I frowned. "And I've got a special Lakota knife, or at least, I will have if security ever trusts me to handle it again."

Laurie raised one eyebrow, reminding me of a character on an old science fiction TV show. "So you're a mage, too? What type of magic do you use?"

"Wakan Tanka ... uh, my mentor, is teaching me Native American magic, which is nature-based." Damn, I hadn't intended to mention my mentor's name. As Tatanka had told me, I should follow wiciteglega, the raccoon, and practice disguise and misdirection because such skills misled would-be opponents.

"You are learning, Wihakayda," Tatanka said. He seemed a little smug, or proud of what I'd done. I was going to have to figure out a way to get that smart-alec bison.

"What about you guys?"

Laurie glanced around to see if someone else was volunteering to go first. "I'm a healer and an empath. And I'm from Houston."

"If you're from Houston, where's the Texas twang?" I asked wryly.

"All y'all awlways think that us Texas folk taallkkk with some kinda' foreign-soundin' twaaanngg," Laurie giggled in a thick, faux accent.

Adrian tore his gaze from Laurie to look at me. "I grew up in Bristol. I fly, and I'm a telekinet, but not very powerful one."

"What's your story?" I asked Vasiliy, only too late realizing that I shouldn't have asked, because, from the way he was looking at me, he was interpreting my inquiry as interest in him. His flame-like eyes were quite noteworthy, even captivating, or rather, would have been if I didn't have a strong phobia about guys. I notice the large stack of food in front of him. "I'd guess that you're an energizer?"

Vasiliy grinned broadly. "Am from St. Petersburg," he said proudly. "And is correct - am energizer. I absorb energy attacks, and can shoot shock grenades. And am devisor," he added as if talking about the weather."

I wrinkled my nose. "Shock grenades? What are those?"

Vasiliy chuckled. "Is concentrated ball of force and energy that I project. When they expand, is like an explosive shock wave of RPG."

"That sounds pretty cool."

"Would you like demonstration sometime?" Vasiliy asked, looking hopefully at me.

Evvie and Naomi noticed. Fortunately for me, they were in 'protective' mode. "And just what would your little French tart say if she saw you flirting with another girl?" Evvie demanded. Her words cowed Vasiliy, and with a chuckle, she glanced at me. "Vasiliy has his eye on Chat Bleu, er, Monique, but she sometimes pretends that she doesn't even know that he exists."

Vasiliy frowned. "Does know that I exist. Is playing hard to get, but is very attracted to handsome boy from Russia!" The fact that Vasiliy had his eye on another girl calmed my tattered nerves somewhat. We talked some about classes, with me prompting to get ideas and hints for the classes in which I was so far behind.

"I noticed that everyone has a code name. Is it common to talk to people with their code names, or their real names?" I asked, curious to get an answer to a question I'd noted but hadn't had time to ask yet.

Laurie smiled. "My code name is Nursing, because of my healing power. Adrian also goes by Harrier, because he can fly ..."

"Like the jet? And you," I looked at Rhiannon, "are code-named Sanctuary, right?" I smiled at the others. "We met on Thursday when we arrived at school."

"Go by RPG," Vasiliy said, puffing his chest out a bit, "because power is like RPG. After manifested, Russian army and MCO sent troops. Took out three tanks and five BMPs, just like RPGs hit them. Managed to get to American consulate, where was given special mutant visa."

My jaw dropped. "You took out tanks?"

Vasiliy shrugged. "Were older model tanks. Not sure how power would work on newer tanks."

I realized that I'd missed quite a bit of information about one member of our group, so I turned to Naomi. "Okay, you're holding out on me. What's your story?"

Naomi glanced momentarily at Evvie, and then shrugged. "I'm a gadgeteer. Not a very good one, either."

In my peripheral vision I saw movement toward us. Three older students strolling very deliberately our way, looking pointedly at me. In the lead was a boy over six feet tall and as muscular for his size as I had once been, which was to say quite well-built. His features practically screamed exemplar Native American. Flanking him were two girls, the one on the left being a stunningly-gorgeous blonde with green eyes, and the one on the right being a lanky, six-foot girl with steel-grey eyes and russet hair. I suspected some type of theme or group thing going on.

"They're the Wild Pack," Evvie hissed at me, as if I'd know who they were.

"Hi," the tall boy said directly to me. "I'm Adam Ironknife, also known as Stormwolf. You must be Kayda." He offered his hand.

I nervously shook his hand, noting the way his eyes were fixed on me. My nervousness around guys returned with a vengeance; I was fighting to keep from fleeing from Stormwolf.

"I'm Dale Townsend," the blonde introduced herself. "Better known as Mindbird.

"And I'm Diana Ritter, AKA Thunderfox," the tall girl completed the introductions.

Mindbird was staring at me, her eyes narrowed. After a moment, she frowned, and then turned on her tiptoes to Adam and whispered something in his ear. "I'd love to stay and talk more," Adam said suddenly, "but I have other things to take care of."

"Do you mind if we join you?" Dale asked pleasantly.

"Cut the shit," Adrian snorted. "You guys don't dine with mere freshmen on a whim. What's going on?"

I expected an angry reaction, but Mindbird glanced at Thunderfox and laughed. "Not one for subtlety, are you?"

"Not when security - or security auxiliaries - are involved."

"Does this have to do with my ... encounters with security?" I asked suspiciously.

Mindbird glanced at Thunderfox again, and then smiled sheepishly at me. "There are a lot of people who suspect that TK, Truck and Nitro are going to try something again, and they don't want you or your buffalo going medieval all over them. The word around campus is that buffalo can tear the hell out of a brick."

"If they start something," I said in a determined, grim tone, "I'll make sure I finish it."

Mindbird frowned at me. "No, you won't. Not unless you want to get yourself expelled."

Thunderfox nodded in agreement and continued the explanation. "That buffalo of yours has been threatening too many people, including security officers and doctors. You need to start demonstrating some control of him before he hurts or kills someone and you get in serious trouble."

"So security and the administration expect me to just take whatever shit someone hands me? To roll over and be a good target for bullying?" To say that I was bitter and a bit angry about their suggestion was understating things by an order of magnitude. My voice was raised enough that we were drawing attention from surrounding students.

Mindbird shook her head. "Nobody is suggesting that you have to sit still for bullies. You do need to remember a few things, though. That buffalo of yours _is_ dangerous, and people know it. There's no denying what it did to a brick."

"They started it," Evvie protested my defense.

Thunderfox snorted her disagreement. "That doesn't matter. It tore apart a brick! Some people don't think you have control of it and would like to see you moved or expelled. Some of the 'tough guys' might feel like they need to prove themselves against your buffalo. Some of the bullies might think that the security warnings are keeping you from retaliating, and putting a 'free shot' sign on your back. You have to understand that Whateley is full of kids who were victims before they manifested, and now that _they_ have the powers ...."

"So you're saying that I've made myself an even bigger target for the bullies on campus?" I saw Mindbird and Thunderfox exchange a knowing glance. "Just freakin' great."

Mindbird ticked off a third finger as she counted. "You've made a few enemies, like Cagliostro, TK, Nitro, and Truck. You may be able to handle Truck with your buffalo, but TK is telekinetic."

I frowned. "So that's how he kept me from moving."

"He probably held your shoes down telekinetically," Mindbird explained. "It's one of his favorite tricks."

Thunderfox shook her head. "Getting back to the main topic, your worst problem right now is your tendency to go running off alone."

"I like to meditate outdoors," I protested. "It's part of my spirit's way."

"And it's a terrible idea," Mindbird replied, shaking her head. "First, you're vulnerable when you're alone. We've had a few attacks on lone students, most recently when a student was badly beaten and nearly killed."

Naomi and Evvie frowned deeply at that; it was pretty widely known who had been responsible, and the fact that they got away with it angered a lot of the students, including many in Poe.

"You could be on someone's target list, so being alone is a _bad_ idea. It's also a violation for you."

Evvie and Naomi gave me a knowing glance, but Laurie, Vasiliy, Rhiannon, and Adrian looked puzzled. "I'm ... not supposed to be alone," I muttered softly.

"And that's an order from security and the administration," Thunderfox punctuated the point.

"Why?" Laurie asked the question on everyone's mind.

I looked at my plate. "It's ... personal," I mumbled.

When the group looked questioningly at the two girls, Mindbird just shook her head. "It doesn't matter. You aren't supposed to be alone, and you know it."

A change of focus of this discussion was needed to get away from me being on a suicide watch. It was easiest to nudge the conversation back to the attacks by TK, Nitro, Truck and Cagliostro and the threat of future attacks, since it wasn't too far from the topic of the Wild Pack dining with us. "So what are you guys - and security - going to do to protect me from being beaten or killed? Is the idea to put me under some kind of house arrest or protective custody, so someone can keep an eye on my dangerous and out-of-control buffalo? Or am I just a target, and sorry, but we warned you?" I couldn't help sounding snarky.

"What we're trying to tell you is that you need to be careful. Security can't watch every student every minute of every day." Mindbird was sounding a little exasperated at my pissy mood.

"What you're telling me is that, among the bullies, the macho-challenged assholes, and the pranksters, I'm on my own, right?" I snapped back at them. "Because just like real life cops, you and security don't prevent crime but just show up after the fact to take care of the victims and maybe find the perps?"

Thunderfox just shook her head at me. "You've really got an attitude, don't you?"

"I've been a victim enough already," I snarled at the two of them, "even before I came here! My so-called friends tried to kill me twice, and they ...." I caught myself, ending up clenching my jaw so tightly that it hurt, and breathing sharply through my nose as I fought my swirling emotions. I'd almost said more than I intended - again. "They broke damned near every bone in my body. Do you really expect me to put up with more of that stuff?"

"Maybe you should consider a 'pacifist' armband," Mindbird suggested.

"Just how fucking naove do you think I am?" I hissed that them, loud enough to draw more attention from tables around us. "Those kinds of so-called solutions draw bullies and pranksters like shit draws flies. I _lived_ through that kind of crap once in my life. I'm not doing it again."

Evvie changed the subject to our planned shopping trip to outfit me and my half of the room in an effort to keep me from getting more upset, and I was surprised when Mindbird and Thunderfox stayed with us and even contributed suggestions of what I might want or need. I was very certain that their presence was no accident, but had been arranged by security to keep watch on me. Whether that was because of the threat of violence to me, or the fear of me doing violence to myself, or because I'd been bad about following the watch order, wasn't clear, and I wasn't about to ask.

The mood lightened considerably as the meal and discussion wore on, and I was even chuckling a bit at some of the more creative - and harmless - pranks that people were pulling. Eventually, we bused our trays, and Evvie, Naomi, and I started back towards Poe. Mindbird was still with us, leading me to believe that someone thought a threat was imminent. The other possibility was that the administration or security wanted someone closer to my age to try to persuade me to tone down my attitude and follow the rules.

"Can we talk?" Mindbird finally asked bluntly.

I looked warily at her, and then nodded, stopping in the brick walkway.

Evvie and Naomi took the hint. "We'll see you in a bit."

"Remember, you were going to go to the bookstore with me this afternoon," I reminded them.

After the two were a good distance away, Mindbird shook her head. "Why are you throwing off so much anger and fear?" she asked. "I'm a PDP, and I can sense it a mile away. Like when Stormwolf shook hands ...." Her eyes widened as her words stirred a memory flash about meeting him. "You were _terrified_ of him."

"I thought you were protecting me psychically," I complained bitterly to Tatanka.

"I will protect you when you are in danger," he explained. "This one is not a danger."

"Why are you afraid?" Mindbird asked.

I honestly didn't want to tell her, but in my heart, I knew that I was going to have to confront the truth and tell people what had happened. The question was whether I trusted Mindbird enough. But as I was debating whether to tell her, I found myself blurting, "I was raped, okay? Is that what you want to know?" I asked bitterly, not knowing whether to turn away in shame, or defiantly dare her to say something, anything, disparaging about me.

"Oh, God!" she said simply, shocked. "That explains ... everything!" Her expression turned sympathetic, like perhaps she really cared. "Are you getting counseling? Because if you're not, you should."

"I get to visit Dr. Bellows daily," I complained. "And he's the one who put me on ... a watch." I saw a strange look in her eyes. "You guys ... are part of that watch, aren't you?"

Mindbird nodded silently. "They didn't tell us why, only that you were to be watched. We all figured it was because of Cagliostro and Truck. You have my word that I won't tell anyone," she added, guessing my concern.

I turned and resumed walking toward Poe, leaving her scrambling to catch up to me. "Now you understand why I'm such an emotional wreck."

"Who wouldn't be?" she asked. "You've been through a lot."

"And all this happened in the last month. Mutate, get beaten and assaulted, have the MCO all over my ass, get here, get in trouble four times in four days, have an emotional meltdown ... and I haven't even got a class schedule I didn't get an ID, so the cafeteria wouldn't let me eat." I shook my head. "Put anyone through all that crap and see if they're not a complete basket-case, too." I shook my head slowly. "And from what you were saying, I get the feeling it's not over by a longshot."

"How about if you look at it in a little more positive light? If you've gotten through all of that, you should be able to get through some minor bullying and pranks," Mindbird offered hopefully. I don't think she didn't know what else to say.

I was silent for a bit as I considered whether she might be correct. After all, Dr. Bellows had told me that my attitude was an important part of how I dealt with this, and so far, I'd had a very pessimistic attitude. We walked silently for a few moments before I decided to change the subject. "Stormwolf - is that his name? He's Tilamook, isn't he?"

Mindbird looked at me with a curious expression. "I don't know. You'd have to ask him. And how would you know what tribe he's from, anyway? Aren't there like hundreds of different tribes?"

"We call them 'Nations'. As to how I knew, Wakan Tanka, my spirit, told me." I shrugged. "Someone told me that Mr. Lodgeman has a Native American group. Does Stormwolf know anything about that?"

"Yeah. He occasionally goes to some of their gatherings. Why?"

"Can you ask him to send me information about the next meeting? I think that I ... need to get involved in some campus activities. I ... don't think I ... could get up the nerve to ask."

Mindbird smiled warmly. "That's a lot better attitude than the angry mood you had in the caf a few minutes ago. I'll tell him you'd like the information."

The conversations I'd had with Mrs. Carson, Chief Delarose, and Mindbird were spinning through my head as we entered Poe. I thanked Mindbird for her time, and then knocked on Mrs. Horton's door. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I asked meekly.

"Sure," she said, turning away from a pile of paperwork on her table. "What can I do for you?"

When I told her what I was thinking, her eyes were like saucers. "Are you sure, dear?" she asked me.

"Yes. Before I chicken out," I answered nervously.

Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Dan Bear Claws sighed when the phone rang, turning his attention away from the keyboard at which he'd been furiously pecking. As he picked up the phone, he glanced at the caller ID. "Bear Claws," he answered simply. "How is the project going?"

"We had a minor setback," the voice on the other end answered.

"Setback?" Dan roared angrily. "I'm paying for results, not setbacks!"

"One of my operatives got a little ... careless."

"Then you should get better operatives."

"There's only so much I can do to influence them before it becomes obvious," the voice replied. "You _did_ ask for discretion."

Dan sighed. "Yes, I did." He paused to think a moment. "I presume you'll continue trying?"

"Of course," the voice sounded gruffly. "You paid for results. You'll get results."

"Good," Dan retorted sharply. "I want her home within two weeks."

"She'll be off campus by their Easter break." The other end of the line disconnected, leaving a very frustrated Dan Bear Claws sitting at his desk, fuming over the setback. His schedule, and the spring rituals, depended on having the girl there very soon. Otherwise, _his_ credibility as a worthy leader would be in jeopardy. But there was nothing he could do, except trust the one he'd contracted for the job. Unless .... A thought poked into Dan's mind. If he were to visit the girl and make a personal appeal, drawing on the ties of her ancestry ....

Whateley Academy

After an appointment with Dr. Bellows, Evvie and Naomi took me shopping for clothes and some basic school supplies. I didn't know what I'd need for books yet; I'd find out in the morning when I got to my course counselor, but I did need uniforms and other basic school supplies, like a backpack and notebooks. The most important were the uniforms, so I wouldn't so conspicuous. Anyone not in a uniform stood out, and at that time, I wanted to blend in and not be noticed.

I was amazed at the bookstore; it was more like a strange union of a bookstore with a department store. Besides uniforms, there were racks and shelves of lots of clothing, from underwear to parkas, purses, and shoes. There was a section of first-aid supplies, foods and snacks, and household goods like bedding. Finally, there were shelves and shelves of books, neatly organized by department and class, and then a large selection of generic books. Imagine taking a Target department store, grafting on a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and then merging in a supermarket and a Radio Shack-on-steroids, and then sprinkling in a regular school bookstore with a few oddball things like magic supplies. That's what it seemed like, and to fit it all in, the store was built with several levels below ground, so to outward appearances it wasn't nearly as large as it really was inside.

Following Evvie's direction, our first stop was the customer service counter, where I discovered, to my shock, that Mom had deposited almost fifteen thousand dollars in a shopping account for me. Evvie's comment was a delighted, "Oh, goody!" as she rubbed her hands together gleefully, anticipating a very good day shopping.

Shopping was almost as much fun as when the Sioux Falls League girls and I went out; it wasn't so much the shopping as it was time together, not worrying about other things, joking and giggling together, then daring me to try various articles of clothing. In short, what I'd always considered to a stereotypical girls' shopping experience - and the funny thing was that I liked it. It was pleasant, distracting, and downright fun - precisely the psychotherapy that I needed.

I was pretty well set for basic clothing, like jeans, blouses and shirts, underwear, and basic shoes, but Evvie made sure I got a watch and a couple pair of shoes. I objected to the type of watch they picked out for me as being too feminine, but Evvie and Naomi were persistent until I relented. I'd realized that they weren't going to give up, and I couldn't just stall, because they were leading me to the 'accessory' stuff first. It only took a moment to figure out what they were doing, because if I'd have planned such a shopping spree, I would have done the non-essential things first, so my 'target' couldn't spend too much time objecting and arguing about possible purchases and recommendations, because the essential items still needed to be obtained.

As we were shopping, Evvie commented that while I was at my appointment, she'd gotten a note for a mandatory meeting in the common room that evening, and that most of the girls they'd talked to before we went shopping had received the same note. Naomi acknowledged that she'd gotten one, too. I hadn't gotten such a note, which caused them further confusion about the purpose of the meeting. Had someone done something wrong? Evvie even speculated that it was about my buffalo and precautions to take if I accidentally manifested Tatanka, since I hadn't gotten an invite.

I had most of my dorm essentials, but I got a few more toiletries, like more female supplies and tissues, and a few snacks. Evvie strongly suggested that I get a music player, because she wasn't sure that I'd share her taste in music, so I got a multi-purpose player/radio, and that led to picking up a few CDs. Both girls turned up their noses at my music selections, because I liked older music that Mom and Dad always played in the house, and parodies like Weird Al Yankovic. Knowing where I was from, they both threatened that if I got any country music, I'd forever regret it; I knew enough to know that girls played dirty when they were plotting revenge, and that I didn't want any part of that.

Evvie talked me into getting a small coffee-maker, I picked up coffee supplies and snacks, we got some basic school supplies, and then we finally got to the uniforms. I picked up five white blouses, three skirts, two of the Whateley blazers, and a Whateley sweater. The convenient thing about the store was that, at each 'department', we could leave our selections, where they were put into a set of labeled bins for transport up to the main checkout area. It was like a fancy airport baggage transport system, probably created by some devisor or gadgeteer. If the store hadn't had that, it would have taken us five or six trips up and down the escalators to get everything to the checkout line.

We had to borrow a large cart to transport all my purchases back to Poe, and as we tugged it along the pathway, I thought I saw Thunderfox and a friend watching me. I gulped; right at that moment, transporting a lot of things from the store, I wasn't exactly paying attention to my surroundings, and we were quite vulnerable to even simple pranks like a speedster pushing our cart away so it careened down a hill. I silently cast a shield around the three of us and the cart while I mentally kicked myself for not thinking of possible troubles.

On Evvie's and my door, back in Poe, was taped a folded paper, addressed to me. I glanced, and Evvie gave me a half-smile. "You, too, huh?"

I unfolded the note.

"There is a mandatory meeting tonight at 8:30 pm in the common room. If you cannot attend due to conflicts, please see Mrs. Horton prior to the meeting to arrange a makeup discussion."

"Any idea what this is about?" Naomi asked. I could tell her curiosity nearly overwhelming. "From what I've heard, no-one in Boys town has gotten one," she added.

I shrugged. "I've only been here a couple of days," I replied, "and most of that was in either Doyle or Kane. I guess we'll have to wait to see after dinner." I tried to remain philosophical about the unusual meeting when all around me were filled with intense curiosity. I was too tired and too down to feel curious.

After we got all my purchases put away, except for the clothes, which I left on the bed, Naomi and Evvie offered to take the cart back so I could get some laundry done, including washing my new outfits. My laundry basket was nearly full after I added the new garments, so I pulled on my buckskin dress and my moccasins, which I found more comfortable than shoes anyway. For some reason that I couldn't explain, wearing the dress and mocs made me feel a little more comfortable, and at the same time, I knew it made me look a bit more exotic.

Eyes tracked me as I strode down the hall and stairs, carrying my laundry basket. I smiled to myself; the boys were looking at me as a curiosity, and some of the girls had surprised, or even desirous expressions. I simply ignored the gazes and went to the laundry room and began to sort my things for washing. Though I'd hated all those chores, Mom had always told me that I would appreciate knowing how to do things around the house when I was older, though I'd expected the lessons to not be helpful for another few years.

The blazers hung in the wardrobe in my room, since they were dry-clean only. The labels on the mid-weight wool skirts claimed that they, too, were to be dry-cleaned, but I knew from Mom that they wouldn't be ruined if I used a gentle washing cycle with a special detergent and hung them to dry. I put in two loads, since there were two free washers, and went out to the common room to sit and watch TV, not that there was anything useful on. After a few minutes of mindless drivel on the boob tube, I decided to get my history book to read. I was behind on that, and I knew that Tractor would be nagging Cornflower about my studies.

I got stuck on the stairway doing the 'hallway shuffle'; I was going down, and a girl I hadn't seen before was going up. "You're the new girl, aren't you?" The girl speaking had olive skin and wavy black hair hanging past her shoulders, with a strange twinkle in her eyes as if she was amused at seeing a new student. "Kaylee?"

I wasn't sure what to make of this girl; I hadn't seen her in Poe before. "Kayda," I corrected her.

"Oh, sorry. Are you Native American, or do you just like to dress like that?" She sounded curious and a little snooty.

"Lakota," I replied, my tone a bit icy, not really liking her attitude at all. "And this is not just decorative."

"It doesn't look like daily wear," the girl said. "It's quite pretty."

I was disarmed by her compliment. "Thanks. I like it because it's so comfortable and it reflects my heritage." It occurred to me that she hadn't introduced herself. "You are ...?"

The girl smiled. "I'm Semi, but I also go by Sahar. I'm a ... friend ... of Zoe."

I saw a sparkle in her eye when she mentioned Zenith that I'd seen before - in Debra when we said goodbye and I promised to keep in touch. It was also the look that my roommate Evvie and Naomi sometime shared. I couldn't help but wonder if _I_ had that look sometimes when I was with Debra, or thinking of being with her.

"She's helped me out quite a bit in my brief time here," I said with a smile. As Mom always told me, it doesn't take a lot of work to be nice to people. Most people, anyway. I stepped to one side and stood, gesturing that I was ceding the right of way to end the odd little staircase dance.

I'd just finished putting away my laundry when Evvie and Naomi came in the room. Mom would have been proud of the way I'd hung up and folded my clothing. I would never admit it to her, but the lessons in household chores actually _were_ proving to be useful, just as she'd always said when she was nagging me to do them.

"Dinner time," Evvie announced. "Laurie and Adrian were heading over to the caf."

"I'm not really that hungry," I protested. "I got some snacks, so just go on without me."

Naomi took hold of my elbow and tugged me off my bed. "Nope. You're coming with us."

My plaintive look didn't help; all it got was Evvie taking my other arm to keep me from backing out. "Okay, you win."

With only moderate hassle at the checkout line because I had the letter from Chief Delarose instead of an ID, we met Laurie, Naomi, and Adrian at a table, and were joined moments later by Vasiliy and Rhiannon. Within minutes of our sitting down, Thunderfox, in her body armor, joined us, dampening conversation worse than if she'd been merely a wet blanket. Of course, her presence and obvious watch over me stirred up more interest among the group about _why_ security was so interested in me, and it was harder to distract the conversation than it had been at lunch. There was some lighthearted speculation that I was the daughter of a big superhero or supervillain, to which I chuckled despite how hurt that made me feel inside. From the look she gave me, I knew that Evvie had sensed my hurt feelings, and she tried to steer the conversation to something more innocuous.

Most of the group were in beginning martial arts, which was apparently difficult and had two very demanding instructors. I sat quietly for that conversation, since I wasn't yet in classes, and had no desire to take classes in martial arts from asshole teachers.

Thunderfox escorted me back to Poe Cottage, with Evvie and Naomi. Thunderfox was a gadgeteer for the Wild Pack and thus knew Naomi, but she wasn't an esper like Mindbird. She had no reason to know that I was angry or upset during the meal, so she just played silent bodyguard. As Thunderfox turned to leave, her mission complete, I called out to her, "We have to stop meeting like this," trying to sound sultry and seductive.

Thunderfox just rolled her eyes and walked off, shaking her head and muttering about 'crazy Poesies', while Evvie and Naomi were struggling to keep from laughing aloud, and mostly failing.

By the time we got back from dinner, there wasn't much time left for speculation about the meeting. I got a few more unpleasant glares from Jade and Bugs as I walked past them, and when they got to the common room, they sat apart from me. I was very conscious of getting stares, some curious, some disapproving, from the girls as they all gathered. I sat alone at a small table, having come in later than Evvie or Naomi, who were already sitting at a full table. I was feeling more and more self-conscious and nervous at this large gathering.

Girls from every floor, from freshmen to seniors, filed slowly into the room, and the buzz of conjectures and guesses hung over the room like a vocal fog, filling chairs around tables, but conspicuously, no one joined me at my table. I felt like a leper, like I was tainted. It didn't help my feeling of being welcomed or accepted, but added to my sense of isolation and doom. I fought to push those negative feelings aside.

The soft thud of the door closing silenced the room. Heads pivoted immediately, to see Mrs. Horton walking deliberately to one side of the room. Chairs squeaked on the tile floor as they turned toward where she halted and faced the group.

"I know you are all wondering about the meeting," she began, "so let me explain. First, is there anyone missing?"

"Vanessa is doing a makeup lab," a large black girl announced.

"Where's Ayla?" I heard one of the girls ask aloud.

A girl from upstairs that I didn't know didn't interrupt her harsh glare directed my way when she spoke. "Megs isn't here." A murmur circulated through the group as girls considered those two absences.

"I know they're not here," Mrs. Horton said. "I know you all have homework, so let's get the business out of the way." She pasted on a smile. "Since the term began, we've had a new student join us, Kayda Franks. Since Poe is a mutually supportive group, it's important that we all get to know each other. Kayda, you asked for this meeting, so the floor is yours." You could have heard a pin drop at her announcement of why we were having a meeting, and then some low murmurs of disapproval stared in the back of the room.

As I stood, I heard someone in the back wisecrack, "You're the Buffalo Gal who's trying to break Team Kimba's record for security incidents!" That elicited laughter from a lot of the girls, but the words stung. It wasn't my fault that I'd started with a reputation as a trouble-maker.

"That's enough," Mrs. Horton said firmly to stop the laughter. She alone seemed to recognize how much that comment had hurt me. "Remember, what happens in Poe stays in Poe, and Poesies stick up for their own." More hushed talk circulated around the room at her ominous-sounding warning. While she was speaking, Megs was brought into the room and seated alone at a table near the front, much to her bewilderment and that of the other girls.

My knees were wobbly and my hands trembled, and I felt like my mouth was full of cotton. From the looks around the room, I wasn't certain who'd already made up their minds to dislike me, and who might ridicule me.

"I'm Kayda Franks," I began, my voice quavering, "and ... I asked ... to talk to you all." Murmurs filled the room as I paused to try to steel my nerves. I bit my lip as I tried to find the right words. "I asked Mrs. Horton ... if I could talk to you all, because ... I need to apologize ... for all the things I've ... put you through." My lower lip trembled as I struggled to continue in the silence that had descended over the room. "I only manifested a few weeks ago, and I had a burnout, which is why I changed so quickly. My ... former friends ..." I felt tears rolling down my cheeks, "tried to kill me ... twice," I managed to say, "which is part of why ... I'm such an emotional wreck." I wiped at my cheeks in a futile effort to dry them, and I was aware of the profound silence in the room. "I ...." I bit my lower lip again, shaking my head slowly and trembling, and I suddenly found Mrs. Horton's arm around my shoulder.

"You don't have to do this if you're not ready," Mrs. Horton said softly, so that only I would hear.

"I ... need to explain ... why I'm so messed up, why ... I keep accidentally hurting people, and sometimes, I ... push people away," I stammered. Despite my soft voice, there was no doubt that everyone in the room heard me clearly, because there was no other talking - not even whispers. "The second time I was beaten was after I'd completely changed. Besides trying to kill me, ... they ...." I looked down at the floor, fighting tears as the nightmares swirled through my head. "I was ...." My hands were shaking like leaves in the wind. "They ... raped me," I finally blurted out as drops trickled down my cheeks.

A collective gasp echoed through the room. With a near herculean effort, I forced myself to look up toward Bugs and Jade, and I saw a look of profound horror on their faces as they suddenly understood why I'd had my meltdown. Then I forced myself to look at Megs, who also bore a shocked, and extremely self-conscious, expression.

"I'm ... terrified ... of guys," I admitted softly.

I thought I heard one girl in back say, "Good for you!"

The small joke was just enough to allow me to continue this most difficult confession. "That's why ...." I sighed heavily. "I had hidden or blocked those memories, but they were still there. I got in trouble the first day, because Cagliostro was trying to mentally suggest ... things, and I panicked. It's been downhill since then. When I saw ... Ayla ... in the shower, all those traumatic memories came back and overwhelmed me. I ... couldn't handle it."

I pulled myself free of Mrs. Horton's arm and walked over to where Megs sat. I extended my arm, and when she took my hand, I gently pulled her to her feet. "I'm so sorry," I sobbed. "I didn't mean to hurt you." I stood for a few seconds, not knowing what else to say as tears poured down my cheeks. I suddenly felt exposed, having bared my soul, and the feeling of intense scrutiny upon my innermost being became unbearable. I spun, fled the room, and bolted up the stairs to throw myself, weeping, onto my bed.

It was only a few moments later when my door opened. "Kayda?" Jade and Bugs called my name. They came in without waiting for an invitation and sat down on the edge of my bed.

"I ... didn't know," Bugs said softly. "I'm sorry I was mean to you about everything."

"Me, too," Jade added. The two of them gently sat me up, and then, after a prolonged group hug to comfort me and show me that they weren't angry at me any longer, they guided me back downstairs and into the common room where all of the girls were still sitting, talking softly among themselves at what I'd revealed.

When I came back in the room, I was swarmed by girls offering their understanding and support, wrapping me in comforting hugs. Each of them introduced herself, and most of them told me that they'd be there for me if I needed anything, many offering a shoulder to cry on if I needed one. I got the feeling that a few of them would very much like it if I cried on their shoulders. One black girl named Sharisha even made a serious offer to travel home with me to pound the living crap out of the 'male gender-scum who'd done that to me', which got me to smile a tiny bit through my weeping.

Finally only Megs was left. She offered me a handshake, but I knew that wasn't what either of us needed. I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her - carefully. "I'm so sorry," I repeated.

She nodded. "Me, too. Can we be ... friends?" she asked hesitantly.

I nodded. "Yeah," I said through my tears, "friends."

I sat on my bed, with Naomi and Evvie on either side of me, wrapping their arms around me and letting me cry.

"Thanks for being so understanding," I said softly.

"God, I can't even begin to imagine ...." Naomi said, astonished.

I sighed. "The best and worst thing was that I didn't remember anything until ...." I sat silently for a moment. "If I'd have had to deal with this right after, I ... I don't think I could have. I ... might have been ... overwhelmed, or even suicidal."

"And now?" Evvie asked, concern dripping from her words.

"It still hurts," I admitted, "and I feel ... dirty and violated, but ... I think it was good for me to tell everyone." I smiled thinly. "I feel like I've got help and support I really need."

The two girls renewed their enthusiastic hugs at those words to ensure that I knew I had support. After a bit, though, I had to disengage from their comforting embrace. "I think you've got homework, and there's one more thing I have to do."

I pulled on my moccasins and padded down the hall. Now, instead of getting angry or suspicious looks from passing girls, they were showing me concern and support, and even acceptance as a Poesie that needed their unique support group.

I knocked on the door sharply, knowing that if I could do the group thing, I could do this one, too. I hoped. The door opened, and I was facing Ayla. "Yes?" she asked.

I bit my lip. "Um, has anyone from your team ... told you?" I asked hesitantly.

Ayla shook her head. "Toni and Nikki said you might have something to talk to me about, but they wouldn't say any more than that."

I nodded. "Can I come in?"

"Certainly," Ayla offered. The room was furnished unlike any other room at Poe, with the beds stacked for bunks to make room for a refrigerator, a mini-pantry, chairs, and hammocks hanging from the walls. "Sit down if you'd like."

"No thanks," I declined. "This won't take long." I took a deep breath to steel my nerves, which were starting to jangle a bit. "Uh, I'm really sorry about the other day. I didn't mean to hurt you or make you feel guilty. It's .... It wasn't anything you did. It's ... my emotional baggage that got to me."

Ayla nodded slightly. "We all have issues."

"Not like mine. I ... was nearly beaten to death after I manifested," I admitted, and then I quickly continued, cutting off Ayla's response. "The worst part is that, the second time, I'd fully changed, and ...," I looked down, feeling ashamed, "I was ... gang-raped."

"Oh." Ayla almost hid his shock at my revelation. Almost.

I nodded. "I ... didn't remember because of traumatic memory loss until Friday morning, when I saw you in the showers. That's why I was in Doyle for a while - because I had an emotional breakdown."

"And why you're on a suicide watch?" Ayla asked with certainty.

"I'm working with Dr. Bellows and Fubar to come to terms with everything." My eyes narrowed. "How did you know about ...?"

Ayla smiled. "I have information sources."

I decided not to press, because I doubted Ayla would give me any more info. "Toni told me that you think of yourself as a guy, and that I should use masculine pronouns and such when I refer to you." I smiled unconvincingly. "That'll be tough," I said, eying _his_ figure up and down. "Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry. I want you to know that ... I'm going to try ... to not have panic attacks in the bathroom."

Ayla extended his hand in an offering of truce, but I decided to be a girl, and I wrapped Ayla in a hug, careful to embrace him from the side so as to avoid pressing against his crotch. "Apology accepted," Ayla said as he sort-of hugged me back.

As we embraced, I heard the door creak open, and a gasp sounded from the doorway. "What the hell?"

Ayla and I both spun to the girl standing gawking at us. "Vanessa, Kayda just came to apologize for ...."

"Apologize? Is that what you call it?" The shapely black girl sounded more than trifle upset.

"You missed the meeting," I interjected quickly, "or you'd know ..."

"Know what? That you're trying to move in on my two-timing boyfriend?" she demanded.

This girl had pushed my buttons a little too hard. "I was apologizing to Ayla because the other day, when I saw him in the showers, I freaked out, okay? I explained downstairs that I'm freaked out by guys because I was raped, okay?" I think I sounded a little defiant, like I was just asking her to try to challenge me over this silly little hug.

The clouds on Vanessa's face didnt abate any. "That's a hell of a way to show that you're freaked out by a guy."

I took Vanessa's and Ayla's hands in mine, and tugged them down the hall. "I'll _show_ you!" I stormed into my room. Fortunately, Evvie and Naomi were gone, probably to Naomi's room for a little ... studying. I pointed at the picture of Debra and me playing chess. "There! See? That's my _girlfriend_!" I snapped at her. "Read what she wrote to me on that, and then try to tell me that I'm interested in Ayla!"

Vanessa stared at me for a second, and then leaned closer to the picture and read Debra's personalized signature.

I continued while she read. "I'm scared to death of guys. That's what happens sometimes when a girl gets raped. It's hard enough to just ... hug Ayla, let alone doing anything else!" I paused to let her think a moment. "Now do you believe me?"

Vanessa turned back toward me, a sheepish look on her face. "I ... I guess so. I'm sorry. Sometimes, I just get ...." She stopped when she saw Ayla gawking at the poster. "Don't you get enough ogling in the showers?" She took him by the arm and led him out of my room. "You're not supposed to be that interested in anyone but me," I heard her chiding him as they walked down the hall.

I sat down on my bed, leaning on a pillow against the wall. I wasn't trembling any longer. I took a deep breath to center myself, and let my eyes close.

I was sitting beside the warm, flickering fire in the circle of tepees. I glanced up at the star-studded sky, noting the sliver of the moon high in the sky. The Indian summer evening was a bit cool, with a fresh, gentle breeze, but with the fire, it was very comfortable.

Wakan Tanka crawled out of her tepee and sat beside me on a log. "You look well, Wihakayda."

I thought for a moment, and realized that my heart was a little more peaceful. "Yes, Wakan Tanka," I said to her. "I think I'm starting to heal inside."

She brewed up a cup of tea and offered it to me.

After a sip, as the warmth and calm spread within me, I smiled. "It's not easy, but ...."

"It won't be easy," Wakan Tanka admitted. "And you have much to accept about being who you are."

"Being Ptesanwi?"

She shook her head. "Being Kayda. Being a girl. Being a victim who is strong and fights back and who refuses to give up."

I was confused. "I thought you said that I'd accepted being a girl."

"When you were with Debra in private," Wakan Tanka smiled, "you did. But now, you need to accept being a girl in the entire world. It will not be an easy journey, but I will always be here for you, and we will always help you."

I thought a moment, and then I turned and hugged her. "Thank you. I know I'll need your help, and I know you'll always be with me." I was actually looking forward to breakfast with my new friends in the morning. I felt calmer than I had for nearly a month.

Whateley Security, Kane Hall

Lyle Matthews barely controlled his muttered disgust as he hung his gear up in his locker. He was the rookie, the newbie, the new guy who could get all the crap jobs and was the butt of all pranks and gags, and he hated it. The latest was having to do _all_ the paperwork for that stupid girl and her stupid buffalo - again!

An army brat, Lyle had endured hazing and newbie status every time his parents got a change of post, and then, after enlisting himself, the hazing continued with every one of _his_ changes of duty location. The thing about the army, though, was that _everyone_ changed posts about every two years, and there was a steady stream of 'newbies' to hand the hazing-victim baton to. This was worse, because three months after joining Whateley's security forces, he was still stuck as the rookie.

He'd done two tours before someone suggested that he should apply to a very unique private school with interesting and challenging security requirements that would be a challenge for his special forces training. It didn't hurt that he'd be making a lot more money than he did in the Army. Lyle was frustrated; so far, his pay was better than Army pay, but it galled him to see other officers in his pay grade driving newer, more expensive cars and trucks, and living a lot more comfortably. His instincts told him that many of his compatriots were getting some 'payola' from outside forces. Once a straight-laced, stars-in-the-eyes young man, Lyle's view had been jaded by many things he'd seen while deployed to areas where corruption was a way of life, and seeing the apparent blind-eye toward similar things here at Whateley, his willpower to resist becoming tainted himself was slipping. Still, he didn't know how to get in on the gig, and he dared not ask around. One slip, one straight officer, and his career was sunk. He had to wait for someone to approach him, but so far, no-one had.

The worst thing was the duty hours he always seemed to draw. Being single, he didn't have family obligations to 'help' his shift assignment, and being low man on the totem pole, he was often asked to substitute when a more senior officer had a family crisis. In his three months, he'd seen a lot of strange happenings, and by high-school students, no less! But these were no ordinary high-school students. Every one of them was a mutant, and had some kind of powers that could turn a simple squabble into a deadly event.

Lately, his anger had focused on that damned girl with the white buffalo. While he could stare down many of the mutants, there was something about the Buffalo Gal that was disconcerting. She seemed to be controlling some kind of serious power, and that buffalo was scary in its own right. Six feet tall at the shoulder, over a ton, and with those nasty horns and attitude, it was downright intimidating. And the girl? She was angry and unstable, in Lyle's opinion, and he'd had to deal with her twice, and both times she'd been defiant to the point that the security officers feared that she'd make the buffalo attack them.

Lyle also had a personal problem that was in play, but it was one of which he wasn't overtly aware. He'd learned some prejudices from his parents and grandparents, and Native Americans weren't on their list of 'good people', which meant that Lyle had picked up a subconscious dislike of that ethnic group as well. Even as he recognized that the girl was extremely beautiful, clearly in the top fifteen or twenty at Whateley, his prejudice pushed aside any considerations that might have been generous toward her, and instead focused his mind on the things he didn't like.

With some muttered 'byes', he walked out to his older pickup, frowning again as his compatriots got into their newer-model, nicer cars and trucks. He _had_ to figure out a way to get some of the paylola that was rampant in the office.

After a double-shift, Lyle's eyes were closed and he was asleep before his head even hit the pillow. A few hours of blissful sleep, and then he'd go back to the same frustrations all over again.

Something touched his dream, something cold and dark. Lyle recoiled from the evil sensation that was trying to intrude in his rest.

"I know what you want," a disembodied voice called to him out of the inky blackness of his dream-space. "I can help you."

"Who are you?" Lyle asked in his dream.

"I dislike the buffalo girl as much as you. I can help you remove that problem, and also help you gain influence, power, and money in your job." It was a siren's song to Lyle.

"How?"

"I can help you," the voice repeated. "Think of how many unpleasant shifts and tasks you've been assigned to. Think of all the money the others are making, while you aren't. I can help you fix those problems."

Lyle stared into the darkness, looking for a hint of what was talking to him. "Why are you helping me? What do _you_ get out of this?" Even his sleep-addled brain knew enough to watch for tricks and traps.

"I get rid of an enemy that has plagued me from time immemorial, the voice said. "I believe it is a fair trade."

"I'm not going to murder someone," Lyle retorted sharply.

"Oh, no," the voice purred. "Not murder. But where you work, there are many, many accidents. One more could be easily arranged."

Lyle wasn't sure. "Show yourself before I deal with you."

Slowly, a form started to emerge from the darkness and mists of his mind. It seemed to be a giant snake at first, and then he saw the glowing orbs of its eyes, the huge mouth with scimitars for fangs and daggers for teeth. The creature grinned wickedly at Lyle.

For the briefest of moments, Lyle fought the fear and insanity that the creature's gaze caused, but he had no defenses against such an ancient and powerful evil. His mind shattered as what sanity he had fled or was shredded by the onslaught of ancient power.

Lyle's mouth opened in the dream world. "Now, errand girl, you cannot hide from me behind magical barriers. Your end draws near." An evil smile crept across the face of the former Lyle Matthews.