The Kodiak Conspiracy (Chapter 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Kodiak Conspiracy
by E. E. Nalley
I like lots of cash on hand
And dirty jokes about the fuller-brush man
I like stuff I understand
Like sneakin' around with you
You know, I like a thrill that has no strings
Friendship that don't ever change
And laughter from the joy of things
And sneakin' around with you
Sneakin' Around - Dolly Parton
April 28th, 2007
Melville Cottage, RM 803, Whateley Academy
Wyatt awoke gently and with a smile on his face for the first time in weeks. His head was clear, he was well rested, indeed he felt more alive than he had in a long time. It was as if he had finally paid off the karma debt he owed and had begun accruing a positive balance. He opened his eyes to find her sitting with her legs crossed next to him, looking into the fire in the fire place, her chin propped on her hand and her elbow on her leg. Her back was to him so he reached up and ran his hand along her spine as he sat up.
“Morning beautiful,” he greeted. She sighed heavily.
“Ah am such a whore.”
He flinched as if he he'd been struck, so unprepared for her comment was he. “Excuse me?” he demanded.
“Ah'm sorry Wyatt, Ah don't mean to string you along like this. Ah shouldn't have allowed mahself to lose control like that.”
Ice ran cold down his spine. “You didn't want...?” he started, dreading her answer. “Did I...?” She heard the tone in his voice and her head snapped around, concerned.
“No baby, you didn't...!” she sighed again. “Did I want? Oh, lordy, yes. Should I have? Probably not. Ah don't want to hurt you and Ah ain't keen on getting hurt mahself.”
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead. “I won't hurt you, Lanie,” he promised. “At least, never on purpose. And if I ever slip up I'll make it right as soon as you tell me.”
She gathered her courage and held it to her. For all the enlightened thought of the world, there were still some stigmas, some taboos that hit people on a primal level. She had no doubt that her mother or father would intervene if they were ever to come across someone being taunted for being 'queer', but having to face it in their own child was something that still terrified her. And doing was much easier than admitting and owning. “Wyatt,” she said softly. “Ah am bisexual.”
“So what?” he demanded. “Like I didn't know that considering you were with Maria all last year?” He paused and hugged her a little tighter. “Or...are you saying you want to patch things up with Maria?”
She sniffed, half sad, half humorous. “Like she'd have me back after what Ah did.”
“You know, Maria came with me on my little spring break adventure,” he said softly. “And the impression I got was all you had to do was say the word. Which, honestly is a little odd considering how you blossomed.”
“Huh?” she asked, confused.
He found that funny and laughed as he stood and stretched. He walked over to the little kitchenette he'd assembled and raised both an eyebrow in question and the pot to his coffee maker. She nodded eagerly. As he busied himself preparing the coffee he asked, “You never wondered why Maria came after you?”
Elaine frowned and stood to stretch, which ceased his preparations until she was finished. “Coffee!” she commanded. “You can oogle later!”
“As my lady commands,” he replied with a theatrical bow.
“Ah know Ah wasn't much to look at...” she admitted. “Ah...Ah never really thought about it. Ah was so flattered...” She looked up, confused as the pot began to gurgle and he joined her at the table she'd sat down at. “Did she tell you?”
Wyatt nodded with a goofy grin. “Maria has a thing for tomboys. She's Catholic, not, you know, super devout or anything, but it is important to her. I think some part of her believes being gay is 'wrong' and so she's always hooked up with less 'fem' girls. Can't say for sure, but my guess is it's some kind of way of pretending they were boys or something. And yes, I do know how much of a man-hater she is. Though you, she told me, she did out of protection. She saw the way Freya eyed you when you spilled your tea on her. She thought Freya wouldn't mess with you as much if you were her toy.”
“Interesting, but what has that got to do with the price of tea in China now?”
“Sweetie,” he said with a smile. “You really haven't caught on to the fact you're hot, have you?” He pointed to his wardrobe. “Go look in the mirror. And don't see yourself, put your 'bi-glasses' on and check out the girl you'd like to score with.”
“Mah, bi-glasses?” she demanded with a raised eyebrow.
“Just go,” he chuckled as he stood to pour the coffee that was finally ready. Deciding to humor him, she got up as well and padded over to the mirror that was in the wardrobe door. She closed her eyes and concentrated on remembering what it was like to have been Wicked
She had perfect recall of everything she'd done and said, but catching a hold of that cocky, self-assured feeling Wicked possessed was hard. She'd even asked Mrs. Carson to put it back while leaving the rest of her looks and personality, which caused her to be graced with the strangest look the Headmistress had ever bestowed on her and a firm statement of “Not on a bet!”
Still, she let her body relax, did her best to 'feel' like Wicked mentally and opened her eyes. She found herself staring into a pair of deep emerald eyes with little flecks of gold throughout. They were set into an oval-shaped Scots/Irish farm girl face with an enviable peaches and cream complexion and a slightly upturned nose that was too big for 'button' and too small for aquiline, over a generous mouth with full lips that were meant to smile - or kiss. It was all framed by scarlet hair that was darker than the orange-tinted 'ginger' but not by much. It fell in thick waves to tumble down her shoulders and hang mid back.
The young woman was tall, well-proportioned to her height, with strong hands and cunning fingers. Because she was so well-proportioned, people were surprised when she admitted to her one-hundred forty-five pounds, but that was due to dense muscle and hard, thick bones. Her figure was a classic pinup, a generous bust over full, 'birthing' hips and toned well defined legs that were rather long for her torso. The woman was strong and the muscles showed under her skin, but not in the 'cut and ripped' fashion of a professional bodybuilder. Just someone who worked, but was healthy and well fed.
The mirror showed a woman that easily compared to Maria, but not in her exotic, mysterious way. This was a woman who was beautiful in the way of the classic movies Elaine loved so much and the great beauty queens of Russell, Hayworth, O'Hara and Mansfield. A woman her inner self-confidence, or lack thereof would say was out of her league. “Wow,” she whispered.
He came up behind her, as unselfconsciously nude as she was to hug her close from behind. His lips sought her neck and were gently sensuous there. “Told you,” he said with a soft chuckle. “Lots of words describe you now, girly, but tomboy won't ever be one of them again.”
She was deeply enjoying being held, but through the feeling of a new portion of him touching her, she realized so was he, and so she chuckled and stepped away. “Coffee!” she demanded. “Before you start thinking with the wrong head!”
“That would imply I stop thinking with that head!” he countered, but let her pass. She found her clothes from where they had been discarded the night previously and pulled them on. As she was finishing, she was caught off guard by him hugging her from behind again kissing her head next to her ear. “You are not a whore,” he told her earnestly.
“Stop,” she chided him softly. “No matter how much Ah enjoyed last night, what Ah did was selfish and mean. Ah don't want to hurt you...”
He spun her around and his yellow eyes were intense. “Then don't,” he commanded quietly. “Don't let him come between us. Don't be afraid of him, because I'll watch him like a hawk for the rest of my life and I will never, ever let him hurt you again. Don't let fear define you. The Elaine I know isn't a coward, she fights head on and I'd be honored to fight alongside her.”
“Don't you ever get tired of fighting?”
“I will when I die, I suppose,” he answered philosophically. The pair sat down at the table and she stirred in cream and sugar for her coffee he'd provided.
“Ah don't want to live mah life fighting, Wyatt. Ah want to be with someone Ah trust. Ah don't want to be on guard all the time. That's no way to live, let alone have a relationship.”
He took a long drink and sighed, looking out through his French doors. “I understand so much more about him since we've joined,” he admitted softly. “I watched Aunghadhail die on the battlefield. Baby, you can't imagine how horrible that field was, bodies piled up on bodies, blood, sh...and worse everywhere. Then that thing sank into the ground and out of reach and Pangaea was broken. I saw Atlantis destroyed, sweetheart. I wish I could explain how perfect that place was...”
She snorted. “You're only saying that because you got to sleep with me and Maria you letch!”
He blinked in astonishment and put his mug down. “What?”
She laughed and made a dismissive gesture. “What? It was just...a....dream...” she trailed off. “A couple of weeks ago, Ah dreamed that you, Maria and Ah were in a palace, like something out of a Cecile B DeMille Picture...”
“The Ten Commandments,” she snapped. “Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner ?” He nodded, finally catching the reference. “It was marble with this bed, oh mah Gawd, the size of it! And we...” she closed her eyes and remembered, feeling anew the joy of the dream, then felt his eyes on her and disguised her embarrassment by taking a gulp of coffee. He grinned, but quickly stifled it. “Ah'm sure you can imagine what we did! We woke up and talked about...something... Ah can't remember...”
She took another drink and looked out the window. “But Ah won't ever forget that place. It was so perfect, like everything everyone always imagined heaven on Earth would be like. I felt like there was no one hungry there, or going without, that people were happy.” She looked up into his face and realized. “You had that dream too, didn't you?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I thought it was just my subconscious, or the memories of Kodiak or something trying to tell me how important the fight was.” He sat a bit straighter in his chair and called out, “Kodiak? We need to speak with you.”
Don't I at least rate a please? The spirit demanded as he came into being next to the table. I'm not your servant boy, to be called and dismissed...
“You're right,” Wyatt agreed. “You're my probationer and I'm your parole officer and when I say jump, you'd best not be asking how high till you're in the air!” The being sat down sullenly and looked away.
What do you want?
“Did you make us share a dream?” asked Elaine softly.
Yes and no, the bear answered. Yes, I was responsible, but it was part of the spell the piece of me Wyatt subsumed planted in him, to try and make him understand how important it was. At the time you had the dream, Wyatt and I were separate, so I haven't broken my word.
“Why did Ah need to have the dream?”
The bear crossed his arms before he churlishly looked away. He sighed as Wyatt made what sounded like a growl in the back of his throat. Everything I do is to build him allies, Kodiak thought at her. The spell actually reached out to you and Maria because you were both on his mind and it was trying to make him understand. In a sense, you wove the dream because you were all in it. But, I would be lying if I said I didn't have hopes for you to have a life after all of this, and some measure of happiness. Call me sentimental but the three of you make a lovely family, and your genetics are very compatible.
“Did Maria have the dream too?” Wyatt demanded flatly while Elaine blushed so badly her skin nearly got to the shade of her hair.
Kodiak looked up, confused. Of course. Why would that be an issue?
“Because she was raped, you hairy moron!” Wyatt thundered.
And I showed her not all men were rapists! That there can be love and tenderness from a man just as much as from a woman and that her hatred of her abuser was misplaced on all men. And I did it in the safe environment of a dream so she could face her fear and still have the comfort that she was only dreaming. You two fantasized about having your cake and eating it too, I helped heal a hurt soul. The Kodiak bared his fangs in an impressive display. Because I am a healer and it is what I do!
“That wasn't your decision to make,” Elaine told the spirit softly, making a calming gesture at Cody.
“And you wonder why you never married,” Wyatt added.
The Kodiak sniffed in disdain and turned away. I was married to my work, he retorted loftily. And since you can't stop wondering, NO, I did not have a physical relationship with Aunghadhail. Some people can be friends without exchanging body fluids!
Wyatt blushed and drank his coffee under the withering stares of his would be wife and spirit. “Do Ah want to know?” she asked drolly.
“Just something Maria said in the dream,” he shot back.
“Kodiak,” Elaine said softly. “Do you not understand how incredibly invasive and intimate being in someone's mind is? Ah have to call Maria and make sure she's alright now!”
“She seemed ok on the trip,” Wyatt said. “I had the dream that first night at her place.” He saw the flicker in her eyes and quickly added, “Where I spent the night on the floor and nothing happened between us.” Lanie forced a neutral expression on her face and shrugged.
“We weren't together,” she remarked bravely. “It's not mah business what or who you did.”
Sell it to someone who's buying, the spirit rebuked her with a bit of humor in his tone.
She shook her head. “Gawd, only at Whateley could your rebound be your ex!”
Wyatt chuckled and replied, “No, that happens lots of places. Here you have your rebound before she's your ex.”
She paused in her sip of coffee and arched an eyebrow. “Was that a physics joke?”
“Dr. Yablonski is a good teacher.”
April 28th, 2007
Whateley Boulevard, by Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy
It was still dark as Elaine walked towards Whitman Cottage. Daylight savings time had started early this year and even though that had happened back in March, no one seemed to be used to it. The sun was threatening to peek up over the trees so the all night kids and the wannabe vampires had turned in, but it was still too early for the regular day crowd to be about.
It was the perfect time to do some thinking.
She stopped and looked back at Melville to the balcony off Cody's room. His lights were still on, but they weren't the only ones on that side of the building any more. She let her mind calm and her thoughts settle on the previous night's activities. Through her memories, she relived and relished the strength of his hands on her body, the feel of his lips, the taste of his skin and the incredible high of their lovemaking. Despite the cold in the air, she felt warm, warm in her soul as if she had been a precious jewel, caressed and polished by an exceptional jeweler.
For a long moment she stared at the light in the window and weighed those feelings, that warmth, against the cost she would pay for it. The constant, nagging fear that somehow she was still a puppet, dancing to the pull of her strings by The Kodiak. For years she had worn the face of the perfect daughter, obedient, diligent, studious, and she had tried so very hard to make that face who she was.
But Mrs. Carson and Aunghadhail before her had shown her there was another side to herself. A side long-suppressed, caged and prowling, desperate to get out. A wild side that cared only for those that cared for her and not a whit or jot for anyone who didn't. Aunghadhail had called her Pict Daughter, Elisabeth Carson had called her Wicked, but by whatever name, it was fire that burned inside her, long banked like a coal fire, but now being stoked by brief moments of freedom and the hands of Wyatt Cody.
It was a side of her she liked feeling.
Elaine turned on the toe of her boot and directed her steps towards the dark, looming shape of Dunn Hall. The brooding, vaguely L-shaped building of poured concrete in the Brutalist Style that seemed so hip and modern when it was built, now a harsh contradiction unlike any of the other buildings on the quad. The RFID in her student ID opened the door for her and the clack! of her stilettos on the tile echoed as she walked purposefully to the elevator bank in the center of the upright of the L. There a car took her down into the sub-basement with its access to the campus tunnel system.
The tunnels were where she began to see the first students, bleary eyed, staying below ground for the warmth as they made their way towards the Crystal Hall and breakfast. She nodded to a friendly face or two, but no one marked anything unusual in her going into the Student Long Term Storage Facility.
The Student Long Term Storage Facility, or The Locker as the student's tended to call it, was a cavernous room of floor-to-ceiling shelving systems, fenced cages, bins and lockers and crates. It had been a natural aquifer at some recent point of history, geologically speaking, but was dry now and the floor smooth and level, only the walls and ceiling betraying its origin. It was a place that always put Elaine in mind of the warehouse at the end of that old movie about the treasure-seeking archeologist with the whip.
She borrowed a cart from the collection of it's fellows by the door and began pushing it to her section. The Locker was here for students to store old projects, bits and odds and ends, things that they didn't intend to use even on a monthly basis but they weren't prepared to throw away. Supposedly the lockers and bins were to be emptied upon graduation, but rumors persisted of things still here from previous students, some perhaps all the way back from the school's founding. That made it a great source of legends to terrify the engineering-track initiates in late-night fabrication bull sessions.
A key opened her bin to reveal a collection of plastic Rubbermaid storage totes that had been neatly arranged in the space to organize it. It wasn't hard to find the one she wanted; it was the newest in here. She took off the plastic lid and stared down into the contents: a neatly folded Kevra body suit in dull red, a utility belt, innocuous looking strips of wood, spring steel and wire that would combine to become a re-curve bow with a three-hundred pound draw, a quiver and a collection of arrows that did more interesting things that just carry steel warheads, though they did that, too.
“Wicked,” she purred as she touched the body suit and felt the magic lying dormant on it reconnect to her soul. She closed the lid and put the tote on the cart in preparation to wheel it to Whitman. Now that she had Wicked, soon she could be Wicked.
April 28th, 2007
Rectory, Dillon Chapel, Whateley Academy
Reverend Englund paused in the writing of his notes for his sermon the following day and rubbed his eyes. Lately, forgiveness, repentance, and overcoming one's Old Nature had been a running theme in his sermons, doubtlessly wasted on the small number of students and teachers that attended them. He knew a growing number were going down to St. Barnabas in Berlin, but doggedly continued in his work; winning souls for God wasn't a contest, nor was there a prize for the most gathered.
Still, the distraction of the knock at his door was welcome. “Come in,” he called, expecting Night Bane or one of his other students who hadn't abandoned him in his disgrace. Still, though a student opened the door, it was the very last student he expected to see. “What do you want?” he demanded crossly.
“I want to do you a favor,” the other replied as he let himself in, shut the door and sat down without being invited. He wore his trademark cocksure grin and the self-satisfied air of a man who was sure he was about to get what he wants.
“Is that so?” the Reverend demanded archly. “Hell must have frozen over for your shadow to darken the door of a church.”
“Actually my mother is a Methodist and I tend to consider myself the same.”
“Methodists are Baptists that can read,” sneered the preacher. “I'm not convinced you can.”
The cocksure grin didn't waiver. “I'm not here to debate theology with you, Reverend, but if it helps for you to think of me as a devil, that's fine. I even have a deal for you. I know you are on the outs with the rest of the faculty and that you want back in so bad you can taste it.”
The old man rolled his eyes. “Opening the gates for the barbarians does tend to put one out of favor with the city's residents; high-minded, noble intentions or not.”
The boy leaned forward to press his point home. “Maybe, but I have a way for you to get in better odor with Mrs. Carson and the Trustees. After all, nothing breeds bygones faster than success. And saving the world is at the top of the success list.”
Englund sniffed in disdain. “Since when do you concern yourself with anything other than sating your lusts, Mr. Cody?”
“Since I got a front row seat to The Sundering,” the big Alaskan replied.
Englund leaned back in his chair and stroked his long chin with a gaunt, bony hand. “Yes, I read Dr. Bellows report about your history lesson, and your little artifact finding expedition.” His eyes flicked to the boy's wrists, obscured by the flannel shirt he was wearing. “Show me,” he commanded.
Wyatt stood and pulled off the shirt, revealing the two gleaming bracers on his wrists. He undid the clasp of the one on his right and removed it, offering it up for the preacher's inspection. Englund leaned forward, old hands reaching out to the metal the boy offered. It was warm, and not just from his skin, but warm with deep enchantments and heavy, old magic. For a brief moment he caught sight of tall, sharp-featured woman with long white hair and cold blue eyes wearing Cirque's face. “Aunghadhail wore this?” he whispered.
“They were made from the armor I had cut from her body the day we met,” the boy replied in a newer, deeper, more powerful voice.
Once more the old wound opened and the pain made him gasp. He handed the artifact back to the big young man and tried very hard to get the image of the women out of his mind. “Why are you here, Wyatt?” he rasped, feeling very tired and old. “What do you want from me?”
The boy retrieved his gauntlet and returned it to his wrist. “You know about the Bastard,” he stated as fact, not a question. “The thing that destroyed Atlantis and nearly the whole world. You know it's still alive and you know it's begun to stir.”
“That's not something you should concern yourself with...” he started, but Wyatt put his hands on the preacher's desk and leaned forward.
“I will kill the Bastard,” the new voice growled within the senior. “Not you, nor that pathetic little whore Nightbane you have fawning over you and not one of your laughable little Goobers. I will avenge Aunghadhail and I'm willing to give you the credit for it.”
An eyebrow ascended the gaunt face. “Oh? Out of the goodness of your heart? And of course assuming I want the credit...?”
“Oh you do,” Wyatt growled. “Because when you have it, when you've saved the world, what choice will Carson and the Board have but to welcome back the Prodigal son? How you leverage your comeback is your problem, I only promise you the bargaining chip.”
Englund centered himself and opened his mind to The Lord. He could now see the spirit that rode the young man before him, a powerful one indeed, far more so than Wyatt Cody had ever seemed to have the potential for before now. He realized that while the two were doubtlessly overstating their case, they at least had a case. “Alright,” he drawled softly. “What is it you want from me to give up this bargaining chip?”'
Cody reached behind his back and pulled a manila folder from his waistband and dropped it on the desk. It was marked Atlantean League. Englund frowned and opened it, finding a simple request for club registration and official recognition, with his name listed at the club Faculty sponsor. “I'm not foolish enough to believe I can take the Bastard on my own. I'll need allies. For that we'll need a place to meet and other resources from the school; being an official club gives us that, and for that, we need you as the faculty sponsor.”
“Why not go to Charlie Lodgeman?” he asked, flipping through the form that had a number of interesting blanks in the lines. Not the least of which was a lack of a list of members. “I hear he admired your little impromptu concert the other evening.”
“Because you're in tight with Hartford,” Cody replied. “You can convince her to wash this through and keep it quiet and mostly off the books. Everybody knows how much she hates Totem, so that's a nonstarter. Hartford is the gate keeper to Carson. If Hartford doesn't want Carson to know something, she doesn't find out about it. And Carson doesn't need to know about this.”
The Reverend licked his dry lips, impressed with the boy's logic and deviousness. “And why don't you want our beloved Headmistress involved? Why not go to her directly? You're in reasonably good odor with her. Why involve me?”
The boy's face clouded over. “Because kids are going to die doing this,” he stated with finality. “Carson isn't stupid, and the moment she realizes what I have planned, she'll do everything in her power to stop me. I don't have time for that kind of distraction.”
Englund closed the folder and locked the young man with his most determined gaze. “Alright, say I agree. Who do you have in mind for this?” Wyatt snorted.
“Anyone. Everyone. Everyone I can talk into it. I'm not stupid enough to think I won't need every hand I can get...”
“Not Fey,” the preacher declared with absolute finality. The spirit rose up in the boy and frowned.
“The vessel of Aunghadhail...”
“Is off limits,” the old man said, rising to his feet. Darren Englund had just turned ninty-one, despite looking to be a man considerably younger, he was old and felt every day of the life he had lived, but despite that he spoke with authority and finality. “You will not approach or recruit Nikki Reiley into this, Wyatt Cody. Moreover you will do everything in your power to see that she neither learns of it nor takes any part of it. If I hear of so much as an idle whisper of imagination of her becoming a part of this, I will undo you and every one of your followers!” he thundered.
The boy's form blurred and the spirit that rode him came to the front, towering over the fire and brimstone preacher who never the less held his ground. “Aunghadhail was blood- sworn to end the Bastard and Soul-Bound to me to see it done and so her vessel is blood sworn. Under the Contract of Solomon you cannot...”
“If you are Atlantean, then you predate Solomon and his Contract and we both know it,” the Preacher thundered. “I will not debate this with you, Spirit, and I will not live through another Vessel of Aunghadhail's death! The price of my compliance is Nikki Reiley will have no part of this and it is final.”
The Kodiak bared his fangs but Englund didn't even flinch. “So be it,” the spirit finally growled. Darren nodded and sank back into his chair while the spirit withdrew and only Wyatt Cody remained. The preacher quickly scratched out a list of names and handed them to the senior.
“If you are wise, you'll avoid all of these.”
“Why?” he demanded. “Some of these are pretty heavy hitters.”
“Bladedancer serves only her fantasy of balance, she's unpredictable. She may slay the demons, or she may turn her blade on you. If you're smart, you'll think of some way to neutralize her in case that happens. Tennyo is the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb.”
“A weapon of last resort?”
“A weapon too powerful to use,” the preacher snapped. “What use is a saved planet if everyone is dead because of the weapon you used?”
Cody chuckled darkly. “Plenty if you're an alien.”
“You're not,” Englund reminded him. “You'll be tempted to recruit Carmilla, and fighting fire with fire will seem wise, but the demon isn't on your side. While she is neither Great nor Old, she is one of them. She might not be on The Bastard's side, but the Bastard is family to her. You aren't.” He sighed and shook his head. “I don't suppose I can talk you out of this?”
The bear snorted. “It's your time, waste it however you like.”
April 28th, 2007
Range Four, North of Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
The club car rolled to a stop in the small parking area behind the firing range. Its occupant, a trim, attractive blonde in a plaid shirt and jeans, didn't need it to get around, but rules were rules. It was a red flag day and that applied to the Headmistress of the school as well. She inhaled the faint, lingering smell of cordite that every range seemed to have in the air and smiled. Anytime on the range was good time.
Mrs. Carson slung her range bag over her shoulder, a weight that would have staggered most, but she didn't notice it, and carefully picked up the long hard case that had been next to the range bag, and started walking towards the firing line. She had expected to have the range to herself; it was still fairly early on a Saturday morning, and without instruction, the kids normally slept in. However there was a figure of a girl on the firing line, holding a bow and aiming downrange at a standing target a significant distance away. She loosed the arrow and it joined a clutch of them already imbedded in a clump on the bull's eye. She turned, hearing Mrs. Carson place her hard case on the range table and smiled. “Good morning, ma'am.”
“Good morning, Miss Nalley,” the Headmistress greeted as she clicked open the case and removed the well-loved shotgun from inside it. “Taking an interest in Archery?”
The girl walked over and placed her bow on the table. “Trying to recapture a feeling.”
Carson pointed the shotgun down range and flicked it open to make sure that the double barrels were still empty before she sat it down once more on the bench. “Be yourself, Miss Nalley,” she cautioned, glancing up to lock eyes with the young girl. “You can't be anyone else, so there's no real point in trying.”
“Who was Ah when Ah was Wicked?” she asked.
Elisabeth sighed noisily as she removed a clay pigeon thrower from her range bag and set about unfolding it. “Did you forget the long talk we had about magic not solving your problems and there always being a price to be paid?”
The girl crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “Magic must be solving somebody's problems or else why would anybody study it?”
The Headmistress effortlessly cracked open a box of clays and began to load them into the hopper of the thrower. “If you feel that way, you're welcome to take the magic classes and find out for yourself. I began practicing magic in 1968.” She stopped caught her student's eyes again. “Thus far it's cost me three marriages, a husband, and a daughter. If you ask me if I think it was worth it, you probably won't like the answer.”
She went back to loading the thrower while Elaine played with her fingers. The hopper finally full, Elisabeth sighed again and demanded, “Go on, ask; it's written all over you.”
“If...” Lanie started, then stopped and checked to make sure the Headmistress was still smiling. “If the cost is so high, why do you keep practicing?”
Carson shrugged as she selected the choke tubes she wanted from a velvet-lined case and began to screw them into the barrels of the shotgun. “Why does an alcoholic keep drinking? He knows all his problems will be there when he sobers up, the booze is just costing him money he could be solving his problems with, but he keeps drinking anyway.” She took a T shaped tool from the case and used it to make sure the tubes were seated tightly. “Maybe I keep telling myself if I find enough magic, if I become a powerful enough sorceress, it will be worth what I've given up.”
“It gave you back Shelley,” Nalley reminded her softly.
Elisabeth crossed the table and gently forced her student's chin up to meet her gaze. “And it took her away in the first place. And I still have the eleven years without her, don't I? People are always looking for the quick fix, Elaine, the easy answer, when the truth is, there isn't one. You just have to put in the time, do the work, and be yourself.” She smiled as she squeezed the younger girl's shoulder. “Now, do you sporting clay?”
Lanie gave her teacher a wry grin and accepted the shotgun, re-clearing it as she did so. She deliberately picked up two shotgun shells from the bench, dropped them into the barrels, and snapped the gun closed. “Pull.”
April 28th, 2007
Arena 77, tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
“That doesn't belong to you,” drawled Stronghold. He struck a heroic pose in a shaft of moonlight coming through the skylight overhead of the New York Diamond Exchange, purposefully making himself a target. The Lynx turned from admiring the fifty-odd caret Eye of the Eagle she'd just stolen and turned to flash the young hero a smile full of fangs while narrowing yellow cat's eyes.
“Are you going to stop me, boy?” she purred, secreting the gemstone into pouch in her belt.
“I am indeed,” the younger Nalley drawled, keeping his attention on the lithe and curvy master thief in front of him. He knew Marty was in the shadows somewhere, working to flank their target so it fell to him to keep her focused on the obvious threat. “Of course, you could just surrender and save yourself the beating.”
“Oh, so you're a misogynist as well as fascist,” the thief replied as she stalked away from the pedestal that had previously held her treasure. “Do you get off on beating women, bully-boy?”
“You can come quietly, or you can be taken loudly, your call,” he shot back, angling to cut off her escape and working closer. For a split second, it seemed like she was going to surrender, then she folded into a tuck and roll, just as Marty passed through the space her torso had been a split second before. The roll elongated into a launched kick that lodged her foot painfully into Marty's abdomen, emptying her lungs in a barked cry.
The Lynx was back on her feet and caught the girl's hand and used it to fling her towards Stronghold. It was a favorite maneuver of the thief, and for once, they were ready for it. Steve launched himself forward and caught the human missile coming at him and twirled in midair. For a second he locked lips with his lady, forcing air back into her lungs, and reversed her flight, back towards the thief.
Marty's foot crashed into Lynx's jaw, knocking the cat-woman head over heels even as her hand ran down her flat stomach and snatched her utility belt from her hips and flung it away. “Hah!” she exalted, as she landed on her feet and came set into a fighting crouch.
The Lynx tumbled to her feet and wiped the blood from her split lip on her face with the back of her hand. She grinned, sending a chill down both students spines as a set of deadly looking claws grew from the gloves. “So, you want to play rough? Fine.”
She threw herself into a melee, attacking both youngsters in a frenzy. Marty made the mistake of using her arm to block the claws only to scream in pain and draw back her arm bloodied with deep cuts. Her amazement that her shell had been pierced caused her to hesitate just long enough for the Lynx to lock up her head and good arm in a judo grasp. “Snap!” she yelled. “I've just broken your girlfriend's neck, boy! You lose!”
“You're not strong enough!” shouted Steve who was furious at Marty's pain. He gathered himself and launched at her, white hot rage sufficed in his face. The Lynx flung Marty aside as Stronghold collided with her.
“Steve! No!” Marty shouted, but it was too late.
The bodies rolled and somehow the Lynx was on top and Stronghold was face down, his left arm up behind him in her grasp, twisted and painful. She came down on her knee and the snap of his humerus was loud enough to be heard over his scream of pain. She stood, immediately releasing him to reach up and remove the mask as the boy writhed on the floor. “Now you know I am that strong,” Mrs. Turner told him as she caught her breath. “This isn't a game, you two!” she yelled. “Is this what you're so hot to be a part of? Broken bones and death!” She mastered her temper and looked to the roof. “End program!” she ordered. “Banned Aides! Get in here!”
The Diamond Exchange faded away as the main door opened, revealing the young man who rushed in towards Stronghold. “Marty first,” he grunted through the pain. Then he turned and squinted up at the teacher. “Ah swear to God Ah...”
The yellow eyes narrowed. “Don't finish that threat Mr. Nalley,” she warned. “You two were the ones who wanted to come at me full power. Well full power means wounds!”
“You broke mah arm on purpose!” he shouted.
“And you attacked me out side of the training scenario!” Mrs. Turner shouted back. “You had lost and the training was over! That's an expulsion offense, Stronghold!”
“You hurt Marty!” He scrambled to his feet, broken arm or no, causing the New York belle to flee Banned Aides' care and put herself between her boyfriend and their teacher.
“And I'm fine!” she told him. “Look!” she showed her arm, and while the costume was a ruin and blood soaked, the cuts were gone, leaving only pink marks that were rapidly fading into the tone of her skin. Mrs. Turner stepped forward and locked eyes with the recalcitrant southerner.
“Do I need to have you labeled an ultra-violent?” she demanded. “Are you incapable of controlling yourself where Miss Penn is concerned? If that's so, the two of you should seriously rethink any partnership. You'll get people killed!”
“This is going to sting,” Banned Aides murmured as he took hold of Steve's arm and began to apply his power. Stronghold grunted in pain as the broken ends of his arm pulled themselves back together.
His eyes smoldering, he said through gritted teeth, “You didn't tell us you were going to...”
“What?” Mrs. Turner demanded. “Not hold back? Why should I when both of you felt like you were! Do you think a real villain is going to play by some stupid code?” She held up the claw, still red with Marty's blood. “Adamantium! Which, among its other interesting properties does not conduct electricity! Which means what?”
Marty sighed. “It will penetrate most Telekentic fields as they're almost all electromagnetic.”
“Did you think I'd go up against a pair of TK Supermen without an ace?!”
“You didn't know...” protested Stronghold, but that just caused Mrs. Turner to roll her yellow cats' eyes in disgust.
“Tell me you don't think the villains don't keep track of what heroes they're likely to face in the course of a job!” She paused and sighed before she retracted her claws and laid a hand on each student's shoulder. “Now, that reversal you two pulled, tell me about it.”
“Steve noticed you like to knock the breath out of someone, so we decided to see if someone could 'put the breath back' so to speak,” Marty replied earnestly.
Mrs. Turner locked her eyes on the redheaded young man and caused him to blush.
“You deliberately knocked the wind out of your girlfriend to see if you could put it back?” she demanded with an arched eyebrow. Steve shrugged and concentrated on what Banned Aides was doing. “I am impressed,” she admitted. “And that was excellent stealth work to get behind me, Miss Penn. Alright, we'll call this a lesson learned and a draw. I should dock you both points, but I think I've made my point, yes?” The two nodded without making eye contact.
“No activity tomorrow,” Mrs. Turner told them. “Get your heads on straight and we'll start again Monday.”
April 28th, 2007
Tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
Steve was muttering curses under his breath while rubbing feeling back into his arm that was still numb from Banned Aides power. “Damn it, this was my best costume,” Marty complained as they walked. “My dad is going to kill me for hitting him up for more cash. I barely have enough clothes as it is.”
“I'm sorry,” he told her as he put an arm around her shoulders. “I shouldn't have suggested we try this, it's my fault.”
“No, I wanted a piece of her too,” Marty told him chagrined. “Age and guile over youth and strength as they say.” She shook her head. “We should have realized she'd have an ace or two.”
“Hey, I could hit up Lanie to see if she could cook you up a better uniform...?”
“Oh, I'm showered with gifts!” she retorted with a giggle. “No wonder you Rhett Butler types are such scoundrels!”
“Frankly my dear...” he started in a most lamentable impersonation when the two turned a corner and stopped short in surprise. “Lanie! What...?”
“You two want to keep playing in the fantasy league, or are you ready for the real deal?”
April 28th, 2007
The Grove, south of Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Hidden, deep in a forest only vaguely attached to the Northumberland Watershed Forest a grove of ancient trees stood and while it was overcast and only forty-seven degrees at the school, these trees warmed in the early spring sun. The blackened remains of the bonfire were already over grown with vines as the forest reclaimed and healed from the ritual fire. It was in this clearing the spirit of the primal bear appeared, not clothed or man shaped as he frequently wore, but here was nude, hulking and all that was glorious and terrible in the animal he represented.
“Oath breaker,” whispered the leaves of Ash.
“Traitor,” echoed the limbs of Oak.
“Murderer,” trembled the vines of the bonfire.
The Kodiak reared to his hind legs and bellowed his challenge that echoed throughout the wilderness. I stand by the oaths I have sworn! I fought with the Queen, I gave battle to the Bastard, to the enemy of life, and yet do my spawn hold the woods in terror of the man creature! I am not forsworn!
“Enough,” The Troll ordered. “Why have you come, Healer? We tolerated your presence even though your schemes wrought the destruction of the Queen of the West. What more than our forbearance would you demand of us?”
Have I not blood enough on my hands? He demanded. That you would soak my fur with hers? She who was but legend to you, I fought for her life! I stood at her side at the breaking of the world! You can neither know nor grieve her more than I!
“What do you want?” pressed Oak. “You would not risk our wrath if not in pressing need.”
Now my host is awakened to the danger, he answered, dropping back to all fours and swinging his head around the grove, to address each tree of the circle. At long last, though the hour is late, hope is kindled and he rallies the children against our enemy.
“What can children do?” demanded Ash.
“The armies of Atlantis were broken by the Bastard before he created the abominations that plague us now,” Birch added. “The corruption of the skin-changers and the last of the Man Creatures that honor the old ways.”
“The saplings will wither before the firestorm,” the Troll affirmed sadly.
We cannot choose the soldiers that rally to our banner, we can only aid them! The Kodiak affirmed. Offer up your limbs for arrows and clubs, give comfort and protection to their numbers and we of the animal kingdom offer up our own to feed them to the betterment of all.
“Long have you walked the streets of the Men and Elves,” Oak accused with great weight. “You and yours amuse their children, inspire their leaders and kinsmen and you lend your likeness to their banners. Who can say if you truly are among the Kingdom any longer?”
A rustle of agreement ran from leaf to limb and tree to tree throughout the glade. The Kodiak held up his bloody paw and growled at them. I am blood-sworn to the death of the Bastard! By the Great Queen herself, who among you has offered up twig or sap during the eons I pushed and pulled man back from the Sundering?
“It is a dangerous game you play, princeling,” the Troll opined finally in the silence that fell. “Mind that the sparks of resistance you strike do not kindle a wildfire to burn us all. Very well, we will do our part. Let the children have the first taste of pain of the battle they rally to by your own claw, Kodiak. Those who bear your mark we will succor, they may come and go as they need and we will give them shelter as we can.”
The bear nodded heavily in acceptance of the pact. “More?” demanded Birch. “What more would you have of us?”
Let the bailiff of the grove summon my opposite, for I must crave favors from her.
Disdain rumbled through the limbs of the Oak as the Raven flew from his limbs, circled the Kodiak and flew off unerring. “It is a dangerous game you play indeed, Healer.”
April 28th, 2007
House Parent's Apartment, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Horton opened the door to her apartment because of a somewhat timid knock, to find a red-headed girl stammering there. She didn't stop to listen to the stammers; she'd been around teenagers long enough to know what they really needed, and instinctively swept the girl up into a hug. The girl only protested for a second before the hug was returned with strength that revealed her exemplar status, and an excess of nitrogen gas in the cartilage between Bella Horton's fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae. The pop of her back was loud enough for the two women to step back from each other with a bit of nervous chuckling. Bella laid a comforting hand on the girl's face and smiled at her. "I'm so happy you're alright now, Lanie," Bella told her.
Elaine sniffed to clear her sinuses and flashed an embarrassed grin. "Ah wanted to say thank you in person, Mrs. Horton. Zoe told me what ya'll did for me and Ah'm so grateful."
"I'm just glad you're alright," Mrs. Horton said with a relieved tone of voice. "Even if you are still playing with fire by continuing to associate with Mr. Cody." The redhead opened her mouth to protest, but Bella merely waved her finger and shook her head. "Oh I'm sure you have your reasons and that they all make perfect sense to you. I was young once too, you know!"
Bella took the girl by her shoulders and gave them a squeeze. "Promise me you'll be careful?"
The older woman nodded and sighed. "Alright, that's all I can ask. Now, I know you didn't come all this way just to be polite, so what can I do for you?"
"Well, Ah would have," the girl protested, "but Ah am multitasking. Ah need to have a word with Kayda. Do ya'll know where she is?" The house-mother paused and touched her necklace as if thinking.
"I'm fairly certain she's in the library," she said finally, wrinkling her nose. "With her Native American magic shields, sometimes it's hard to be certain. You remember where it is?"
Elaine nodded as she hugged the older woman again briefly in goodbye, and then wandered back out into the hall and headed down it the stairs. From there it was a short trot up the stairs and a walk across the floor to the small library and solarium on the far side. As promised, the green-eyed native girl was sitting on the floor, a book open in front of her as she held her hands up in a strange-looking gesture that the tome was evidently illustrating. She walked over and sat down on the floor opposite with a grin. "Boy, Ah hate it when Ah have an itch Ah can't get at!"
Kayda rolled her eyes, but smiled. "No, Mrs. Chulkris has me doing a paper on Western Occult Tradition, broadening my horizons or something. It's so obsessed with finger movements!" She sighed and closed the book with an authoritative thump. "What's up?"
Lanie sighed and looked around. They had the room to themselves and so she turned back to her new friend. "Ah come with an invitation."
"Does it involve hot tubs and being naked in groups?" Kayda asked archly. "I try to limit those to once a week."
"If only," Lanie replied. "Though since there'll be boys present, for your sake we'll try to keep everyone's clothes on." The other girl shuddered, but it was a small, passing thing, not the larger displays she had been having. "No, it's a lot more dangerous," Lanie continued. "Worse than the Class X problems you've been having."
Kayda blinked in astonishment and slid the book from between them. "Now you have my complete attention. But we shouldn't talk about that here." She stood and offered her hand. "Come with me."
It was a short walk back to her room where her roommate was in the process of pulling on a jacket. "I need the room, Evvie. Is that ok?"
The other girl's eyes darted between the two. "Rosalyn is going to be jealous," she said with a chuckle. "I'm going, I'm going!" she quickly added as Kayda's already dusky skin flushed.
When they were alone once more, Lanie asked, "What difference does one empty room or another make?"
"Sit down," Kayda ordered with a smile. "And relax. This is going to be a little weird the first time." She reached forward and touched Elaine's forehead and suddenly Elaine was standing on an endless prairie looking out over herd of grazing buffalo. She looked down to find a long bow in her hands, and her skin was pleasantly confined in leather pants and boots and her breasts were once more being cushioned by a familiar fur top. Her arms and bare belly were marked in swirled, knotted and geometric tattoos and over that was another layer of designs in blue. It was the same Pict Warrior garb Aunghadhail had dressed her in when she had inhabited the minds of Cavilier and Skybolt.
"I didn't know you had native blood...!" Kayda's voice started as she laid a hand on Lanie's shoulder, but when she turned to look at her, Kayda squealed and stumbled backwards. "War paint!" she gasped, "Why...why are you wearing war...wait, it's blue? What?"
Elaine reached up to touch her face and once more found her eyes were ringed by the mask of blue mud. She sighed and offered a hand up to the shocked other girl. "It's called woad," she replied. "Evidently Ah'm descended from a tribe of Celtic or Caledonii savages called Picts. As you see me, based on what Ah could discover Ah am apparently supposed to be a, female Pict Archer, a, well we don't know what the Picts called them because their language is extinct, but the Gaels and the Galics called them Bean Sith, and to the Irish we were Bean-sídhe which eventually was anglicized into banshee."
"You're part fairy?" she asked amazed. "Like Fey or Selkie?"
Lanie shook her head and snap drew an arrow from her quiver and drew it. "The banshee can kill wherever her gaze falls," she said before returning the arrow and drawing the dagger from its sheath on her thigh. "And is deadly with her one sharp tooth." She pulled at the armor she wore that was obviously a hodgepodge of other pieces. "She washes blood from the clothes of the fallen and her wail announces death. They probably entered battle screaming."
"Pict?" Kayda asked.
"It means 'painted people'..."
"Hence the tattoos and, woad did you call it?" Lanie nodded and a nervous titter escaped Kayda. "Well, it scared the 'woad' out of me!"
"Ah should sic Rosalyn on you for that!" Elaine chuckled.
"That would be different from now, how?"
Elaine cocked an eyebrow; there was something in Kayda's voice that spoke of a secret. "Oh? You don't seem to mind that thought. Are you two ... you know?" She couldn't help but be curious; after all, she was a high-school girl.
Kayda smiled coyly. "Let's just say that things worked out, that we have an understanding, and leave it at that." There was something in her smile that practically begged Elaine to badger Kayda to find out that hidden tale, but Elaine managed to refrain. Instead, she looked out onto the vista. "It's called my Dream-Space," Kayda explained. "Part of the astral world. It's a Native American shaman thing - my own private place where Wakan Tanka and the other spirits communicate and commune with me. We are safe and can't be overheard here."
The redhead admired the Native Girl's attire - a fairly daring wrap about miniskirt and a halter top that left her midriff bare. Despite the beadwork and the tooling in the leather, it was obviously not something a 'period' Lakota would have worn.
Lanie turned and suddenly there was a fire in a fire pit, split logs for benches and earthen pots the other girl was busying herself making tea with. "We're on a prairie," she said as she laid the bow aside and sat down. "Is there a bitch'n night club rave you're on your way to in that outfit? And, while Ah'm asking questions, where did these great big logs come from?"
"Oh hush," Kayda scolded her. "Not everything is about the rational world." She finished brewing whatever it was she was doing and handed a clay cup to the other girl. Lanie took an appreciative sip, closed her eyes and sighed as a tension she didn't know she was carrying seemed to fade away. "Now, what is this about?"
"There is a creature," Lanie replied softly, "The Kodiak calls it the Enemy of Life. It's a servant of unspeakable evil who nearly destroyed this world once before. Cody will have the big speech, but Ah wanted to ask you to come to this meeting tonight and hear it. We'll need all the help we can get to stop it."
"What is the faculty doing?" Kayda asked in an uneasy tone.
"Has the faculty taken any of your warnings about the Class X threats you've faced seriously?" Kayda shook her head, her eyes filled with fear at the unsubtle reminder of her recent battles. "What makes you think they will this when it's so much worse? Aunghadhail fought it before, and The Kodiak with her. They put it to sleep. It's awakening. We have to kill it."
Kayda shuddered and took a drink from her own cup. "Can we?"
"If we can't, Ah promise you won't care," Lanie told her darkly. Kayda stared at her in shock, trying to suss out if the other girl was exaggerating.
"Tell me you're overselling this...?" Kayda started, but was interrupted.
"She is not," announced Tatanka as the spotless white bison joined the two girls at their fire. "The Enemy of Life is known to us. Raven was at the breaking of the world, and from his heights, saw the warriors of Atlantis give battle to the Enemy. He remembered and taught us of the Enemy, for he saw that the Enemy was not defeated."
"I'll come." Kayda promised immediately without bothering to consider her options. She trusted Tatanka that much..
"Ah thank you."
The bison stood ponderously back on its hooves and shook its fur free of the twigs and leaves from when it sat. "I will leave you alone," he announced as he turned to walk off. "The discussion of women and their affairs has never interested me."
"What is that supposed to mean?" demanded Elaine.
The beast turned back to stare at her, cocking his head momentarily toward Kayda. "She denied herself because she feared her nature. You indulge your nature and so fear yourself. Drink the tea," he ordered, before turning to Kayda. "Give in fully to what you are and do not be afraid because no one can harm you here. Help your friend." He turned back to Elaine. "Drink. The. Tea." he ordered. "And be honest, or she can't help you." Then he ponderously walked off.
"What was that all about?" demanded Elaine as she dutifully finished the cup and handed it back to be refilled. Kayda blushed fiercely as she busied her hands making tea. Finally she decided she realized why she trusted Tatanka and swallowed her fear.
"Normally he says that when I...resist...becoming a woman," she whispered, looking up to steal a glance at the redhead across from her. She blinked slowly as her brain processed the statement.
"Ah guess that means you...?"
"Weren't always one," she admitted.
"And now some of your aversions make so much more sense. Ah'm not judging you," Lanie told her quickly. "And Ah probably would never have known if you hadn't told me, so don't worry about that." Kayda smiled as she stood and brought the new cup over to sit next to Elaine.
"I appreciate that, but I'm supposed to be helping you. So drink, relax, and tell me what's bothering you." Lanie took a sip and shrugged as she looked away and sighed. Kayda waited patiently as the tea loosened her stress and relaxed her without her realizing it.
Finally, Elaine sighed again and said, "You can't help me not be a whore."
The Lakota girl sputtered in surprise, "What are you talking about?"
The blue masked face turned back to stare at her, gold flicked green eyes uncomfortably and unblinkingly direct.
"Ah am a whore," she repeated. "Ah talk all this shit at the hot tub about not wanting rebounds and trying to be considerate of mah partners and...and..." she sighed and looked into the dirt. Kayda reached out and rubbed her shoulder. Finally Lanie started talking again. "Ah have no self-control," she whispered. "Ah talk this great game, but the moment Ah'm alone..."
Kayda reached down and gently used the older girl's chin to make her face her. "Elaine, help me understand so I can help you. You're a wonderful person and I'm so glad you're my friend and it's obvious you're upset, but I don't understand..."
"Wyatt," she said softly. "You may or may not have heard we were together?"
Kayda suppressed a shudder and remembered she was safe and helping her friend. "The boy you broke up with and you were talking about at the hot tub, right?" She nodded. "What happened?"
"He...he asked me to his room, to recruit me for this, the way Ah am recruiting you." Lanie took another sip and sighed. "Ah swore Ah was going to be professional, in, talk about whatever he just had to say and out. And then he laid this on me, and Ah...Ah was so scared. Scared in a way that makes all the other fears Ah had seem so petty and small. How do you compare anything with the end of the world? And Ah didn't want to be scared and Ah didn't want to be alone, so...Ah slept with him."
Again Kayda repressed a shudder and squeezed the despondent girls shoulder. "We all make mistakes, Lanie," but she stopped when the redhead let out a laugh without mirth.
"You don't understand," she said around another sip of the tea. "This wasn't a mistake, Ah didn't slip up. Ah wanted him, so Ah took him and Ah used him and God save me, Kayda Ah want to keep on using him. That's why Ah'm a whore! Ah shouldn't love him! Whatever love Ah felt his spirit probably put in me, and Ah don't care if Ah love him or not! Ah feel like Ah love him, Ah feel like Ah want to have his damned kids! But it's all a lie, and Ah don't care! Ah just don't want to be alone!"
The girls' shoulder's shook as the image of the formidable warrior broke into a thousand pieces and the Banshee wailed out her grief and sorrow. She curled against Kayda and sobbed while the Native American girl desperately tried to think of something to say. As she opened her mouth to try to console her friend, a new voice cut her off. "It is not a lie!"
"You!" she snarled and rolled onto her feet and in an eye blink had her bow nocked and ready to kill. Kayda stood to see a pair of spirit animals approaching, both bears she quickly saw. The one Elaine was enraged at was a male, but something about the other made her think she was female. This was confirmed when the two spirits reared to their hind legs and seemed to melt before taking on forms of spirit guides - half human, half animal.
The male wore purple and was dressed in a European, medieval way like something out of a storybook, with a floppy beret on his head that he doffed and bowed with. The female was like the embodiment of womanhood, as curvy as a mountain range and just as hard and strong. She was dressed as a shaman herself in buckskin and beads. "She hates you," she told the male. "I like her already."
The male ignored her. "We are honored to stand in the presence of the Ptesanwi," the male said from the depth of his bow. "May we join you?"
Kayda's brow furrowed in anger, and she seemed to straighten, growing slightly taller and starting to manifest a soft, golden glow. "You have no right to enter our dream space!" she declared angrily to the bear.
“We claim no right,” Kodiak replied evenly, “Which is why we ask permission.”
Kayda reached out to poke an outraged finger into the bear's fur. "For planning to ask permission, you're awfully damned far into our dream space already!" she declared in a snarky tone.
The big bear bent over to be more face to face with the Lakota girl and grinned his fearsome grin. “Well, I wouldn't want you to feel that I penetrated too far...!” The she bear barked a bellow of offense and cuffed him sharply on the side of the head.
"It's The Kodiak," Elaine snarled, sniffing mightily and lowering her bow.
Kayda glowered at the bear, but she still recoiled from the bear's comment, her eyes wide with fear and shock at the double entendre. "We know. We don't trust him. Not after our last dealings."
Lanie nodded, her face schooled in an emotionless gaze. "That makes two of us. But the only reason Ah haven't made a rug out of him is that he's the last being to fight the Enemy we have to face."
The she-bear laughed a musical laugh. "I do like you, Pict Daughter!" She turned and held out her paw to Kayda. "Cante waste nape ciyuzapo," she intoned formally.
"Wakan Takan kici un," Kayda replied warmly. "Please, join our circle and be welcome." She stepped in front of the Kodiak and scowled up at him. "If you bring discord you are not welcome."
"Actually," the Kodiak replied, "I bring a solution to the problem you ladies were just discussing."
"And what is that?" Elaine demanded. The Kodiak indicated the She-Bear who had already entered the circle.
"Not what, who," he replied. "Grizzly, my wife."
April 28th, 2007
Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“Good morning, Dr. Hartford.”
Amelia sighed as she looked up from her computer, drawn by the dry, reedy voice to take in the gaunt, black smocked figure at her desk. “What can I do for you Reverend?” she asked, annoyed at the interruption, but for once she had to admit the preacher didn't seem quite so...preachy. Even his dogged formalism seemed almost friendly. For him.
The old man look over his shoulder at the ladies working around the room and then past her desk to the closed door of the Headmistress' Office. “Dr. Carson is not here?”
“No,” Hartford replied. “She has a lunch with group of Alumni who are organizing a charity benefit for the school. Shall I tell her you stopped by?”
“No,” the Reverend replied, gesturing to the door. “Perhaps we may make use of her office so I might speak with you in private?” Amelia frowned, but her thumbprint opened a drawer on her desk from which she removed a key and unlocked the door.
Once they were behind closed doors, she crossed her arms and frowned. “What is this about Reverend?” she demanded. The priest produced a folder from his cassock and presented it.
“I need a favor, Amelia,” Englund told her gravely. “And your discretion.”
She opened the folder and flipped through it. “You're sponsoring a new club?” she asked. “The Atlantean League? You know half this form is blank?”
“No,” the priest assured her. “I am not sponsoring a new club. At least, not so far as the occupant of this office is concerned.”
The blond's eye brows ascended her forehead. “I see. And how 'discreet' does this project you're not sponsoring need to be?”
“Very,” he replied. “The system needs to not question its requests as though it were in full standing, but the fewer people who are aware of it, well, the better all around, don't you agree?”
“And if I have any questions?”
“Mr. Cody is the club president, or whatever they decide they're going to name the position.”
“Well then, as I have some...chores...that need taking care of, I'll make Mr. Cody aware of the...difficulties...of his expedited application. Does that seem fair to you, Reverend?”
“The Lord could not ask for more, Dr. Hartford.”
April 28th, 2007
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi, The March of Dreams, Astral Space
Elaine looked at the she bear in her outlandish garb. Her figure was practically Amazonian - she stood better than seven feet tall before the motorcycle boots and their two inch heel. And while it was obvious the creature was dangerously strong, and beautiful in a way many female body-builders try for and fail at, there was a softness, a 'motherhood' about her that belied the biker leathers and general bad-girl air about her. She was easily the most dangerous bitch in whatever gang she rode with, but was likely the gang's mother too.
"Your ... wife?" Elaine asked in astonishment. "Is this going to get any weirder?" She looked at her friend, who was still standing regally and sternly staring down the Kodiak. "Kayda, what's with that glow thing? And why are you saying 'we'?" Elaine asked, her eyes darting back and forth between the bear she didn't trust and the friend who'd just manifested something very strange.
The Kodiak tilted his head back and roared with laughter. "Have you not told her who you really are?" Without waiting for Kayda to answer, he looked at Elaine. "She is the Ptesanwi, the prophetess of Wakan Tanka."
"Walking Tonka?" Elaine asked, a bit perplexed and bordering on being over-awed.
"Wakan Tanka," the Kodiak corrected her with a smile. "In Lakota, it means, 'Great Spirit'."
Elaine's eyes grew as big as saucers. "The ... Great Spirit?"
Kayda's regal aura vanished, and she seemed more a teen girl than a prophetess. "It's ... a long story," she explained, wincing. "And I'd really, really appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone."
“Who, me? Who would believe me?” Elaine stared a moment, and then smiled. "Ah knew Ah was askin' the right person. We've got the heavy artillery on our team. We're sure going to need it." She sighed and shook her head before turning back to the big she-bear. “Ok, Ah'll admit Ah'm stumped, how are you the answer to mah problems with his host?”
“You don't trust him,” Grizzly replied as she walked over and took the girl's face in her paw and examined her. “And you have good reason not to. You have strength, but you doubt yourself, and you worry he will deceive you again. Am I right?” Lanie nodded. “Know, then, that Kodiak is my ex-husband, and I trust him even less than I could throw him.”
Elaine swallowed and looked up into the dark eyes of the spirit. “Then why did you marry him?”
Grizzly chuckled. “Because he's a fantastic lay, cares about our kids and is trying to save the world.” She saw the doubt in the girl's face and sat down to be eye to eye with her. “Where do you think Wyatt learned his way around a woman's body?”
Kayda shivered and blushed at the same time. “Can we talk about something else?” she demanded.
“One second, Kayda,” Lanie hedged and then asked, “Then why did you divorce him?”
“Being an incarna of the Natural World, 'divorce' really isn't the right word, but we'll use it for simplicity. And normally I'd say that's none of your business,” the she bear replied. “But in the interest of being open saving the world doesn't leave a lot of time for many things, family life, tact, politeness, common fucking courtesy...”
“Grizzly!” Kodiak growled. “Now is not the time...”
The she bear closed her eyes and visibly counted to ten. “Fine.” She opened her eyes and turned a kindly gaze on Elaine. “He wants me to prove to you from this point forward your actions, your feelings will be your own. Having looked at you, I judge your spirit to be strong, and the fire that burns in you burns brightly. I will protect your mind from him and all others who would dominate you, I will lend you my strength when yours falters and I will teach you to bank the fire so it does not consume you, but rather warms and sustains you for all your days. I find you acceptable; you shall be my host and I your spirit, if you so choose.”
“Ah'm not an Avatar!” she protested, but Grizzly only chuckled.
“Everyone is an avatar, dear.” She made a gesture and a window opened in the air next to her, showing Elaine and Kayda sitting on the floor of her dorm room, cross legged and holding hands. “That is your body,” she said before she reached out and tapped the redhead in the forehead. “This is you. You are a spirit, you have a body, and every 'body' is a hallow for the spirit that owns it. Some much more than others," she added, staring directly at Kayda. The Native American girl squirmed at the pointed reminder that some knew how powerful she was. The she-bear continued. "Some are not, but like any muscle it can be exercised to become greater. Is that not so, Ptesanwi?
“Such a ritual would be a great undertaking,” Kayda replied. “Not something done lightly. I...I'm not sure that I am ready...”
“Whoa!” shouted Elaine as she stepped back. “Let's not get ahead of ourselves! Ah don't trust him in mah head, how would you help that? That's robb'n Peter to pay Paul! No offense, ma'am, but Ah don't know you from Adam! And you want me to invite you into mah head, mah body, on just your say so? Do Ah have stupid written across mah forehead?”
Grizzly bared her fangs in a terrifying grin. “Now I'm certain I like you!” she gushed, not in the least offended. “Trust should be earned. So be it. But you have other errands to make, youngsters. Time you should be about them.”
The Banshee played with her fingers like the awkward little girl she also was. “Ah don't mean to offend you, ma'am. Ah hope Ah haven't.”
“If I were offended by wisdom I'd...well, it doesn't matter,” Grizzly replied.
“Where will you be?”
“Never further than your skin.”
Elaine blinked and found herself staring at Kayda across from her on the floor of her dorm room. “Why can't mah life be more boring?” she asked quietly. “Lots and lots more boring.”
April 28th, 2007
Alpha's Dais, third tier, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
“Kayda will be at the meeting,” Elaine told Cody at the small table they were sharing next to the waterfall. “Ah'm pretty sure she'll be all in.”
“What did you tell her?” Wyatt asked around a spoonful of potato salad. The redhead shrugged and poked at her salad, isolating a chunk of chicken to nibble.
“The truth, and pretty much all of it, Ah guess. Sorry to spoil your thunder.”
“You didn't,” he assured her with a drink of his tea to wash the previous mouthful down. “We'll need a heavy hitter to replace Fey.” She looked up, startled.
“Fey said no?”
He shook his head, obviously angry. “We can't ask her,” he growled. “If she finds out and helps us on her own, Englund will...”
“You told Englund about the League?” she demanded, stunned.
“No,” he answered calmly. “I made a deal with him that's mutually beneficial. We get recognition status off the books and under the radar and he gets the credit for it so he can get back into the sunshine of the Trustees. But his price is we can't involve Fey.” He sighed, mastering his temper and turning back to face her. “Evidently he knew a previous vessel of Aunghadhail and isn't over it.”
“Creepy,” she replied with a grimace on her face. “This is why Ah go down to St. Barnabas. Was there anyone else we have to hamstring ourselves by not asking?”
“The Section 33 girl, what's her name?”
“Tennyo is the codename,” she replied instantly. “Ah think her real name is Billie. Makes sense though, considering.”
“He also advised us to stay away from the demon Sara. I may not see eye to eye with the preacher man on much, but I think I'll take his advice there. The other problem he mentioned was Bladedancer.”
Elaine cupped her chin. “That sword of hers is supposed to cut through anything. Be tough to figure a way around it without being able to test. And you can't test without her knowing.”
Wyatt shook his head. “Don't fight the sword. The sword is worthless without the wielder. Fight the normal human. Area effect weapons, those even work on Ito's pet, Chaka. And as a backup, gas weapons I'd guess. She's got to breathe, right?”
“Far as Ah know.” She munched on the lettuce and dressing for a moment, then as casually as she could said, “Ah spent a little time in Kayda's 'dream-space' - it's like her own little slice of Astral Space.”
“Oh?” he asked around a bit of his sandwich. “Anything interesting?”
“Kodiak was there.” She looked up into his face and realized she had his attention. “And Ah met Grizzly, his wife.”
Wyatt frowned. “He told me he never married.”
“If you're referring to the conversation we had this morning, what he said was he was 'married to his work,' and that ain't the same thing. More to the point, Grizzly made a point of saying she was his ex-wife.”
The big Alaskan guffawed at that and shook his head. “That figures.”
“Wyatt, what's it like?” she asked softly. “Being an Avatar, Ah mean, having him...in you?” Wyatt brought his left arm up on the table and propped his chin on his fist as he took in the girl he was eating with.
“Did he say something...?”
“No,” she replied quickly. “Ah'm just curious.”
“Until I met you, he was my best friend,” he said philosophically. “Sure, he could be exasperating some times, but I always knew he was on my side.” He laughed and shrugged. “Maybe that's part of why I'm so confident, because I always knew he had my back. That it didn't matter about anything else, he would be there, helping me out. When I manifested, he kept me calm and didn't let me freak out. Sure I'd heard about H1 and all that, who hasn't heard of the Klan, right? But it didn't apply to me, and then suddenly it did and he was there to keep me calm, telling me it would be alright, that we'd get through it together.”
He sighed and took another spoonful of potato salad. “That's why everything I've learned lately hurts so much. To be betrayed by the one guy you just knew would never stick it to you, it hurts.”
“You don't trust him anymore?”
“No, I trust him,” he said quickly. “Or, maybe I just want to. I mean, he says he fucked up. You want to forgive a guy that owns up to his mistakes, you know? Give him the benefit of the doubt, a chance to prove himself again.” He put the spoon onto his tray and caught her eyes. “Why, baby?”
She didn't want to meet his gaze and he didn't want to let her not. Finally she sighed and sat back in the chair and stared at the waterfall. “Grizzly,” she said quietly. “She...she offered to join with me, so that mah mind would be protected the same way yours is.”
Wyatt blinked in shock. “A spirit just came up and said, hey I like you, let's team up?”
“No,” she said quickly, then chuckled and shook her head. “Well, kinda. She did say that Kodiak had asked her to, so that Ah could be sure of mah feelings about you.”
He smiled a cockeyed smile. “And what are your feelings about me?”
“Ah don't know that Ah have any,” she answered softly, making the grin falter. “Ah mean, all of mah falling for you was things Kodiak did, so you would have an ally and a pretty toy.”
“Hey,” he started, clearly upset, but she just held up her hand.
“No, Wyatt, Ah've made mah decision. Ah am going to stay with you. Ah don't know if Ah truly love you or not, but Ah decided Ah don't care. Ah feel like Ah do, and Ah guess that's enough for me. Ah hope it is for you.” He leaned forward to take her hand and was about to say something when the school's PA system blared to life.
“Wyatt Cody, Student Wyatt Cody, please report to Mrs. Hartford in Administration.”
“What is that about?” she asked.
He shrugged and stood.
“Dunno, guess I'll go find out.” She started to rise, but he held up his hand. “Finish your lunch and keep an eye on mine, would you? This shouldn't take too long.”
“Alright,” she agreed, catching sight of her brother and Marty coming her way. She sighed and had a sip of sweet tea. “What can Ah do for ya'll?” she asked.
“We want to beat a teacher,” Marty said earnestly.
“And we need your help to do it,” Stephen added.
April 28th, 2007
Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The ladies were all typing furiously at their computers as Wyatt entered the administration office, though whether they were actually working or just surfing was impossible to tell. Though, it did beg the question of how people looked busy while goofing off at work before the invention of the computer. Mrs. Hartford saw him enter and rose from her desk, beckoning him to follow as she made her way over to the conference room on the other side of the office. “Mr. Cody,” she greeted as she shut the door firmly. “I understand from Reverend Englund you're founding a new club.”
Wyatt licked his lips and kept a firm grip on his temper. “Yes ma'am, that's right.”
“I have some questions,” she declared, waving him to one of the high backed leather chairs that circled the table. “The first being, why?”
“I explained all this to Reverend Englund,” the boy replied evenly. “And the need for discretion on his part.”
“He was very discreet,” Hartford replied. “Of course, so much so that a great portion of your application is blank. It's very...difficult...to expedite applications and settle matters with gaps of information. I suppose such gaps could be excused, for other remunerations.”
Cody crossed his arms and frowned. “Like what, supposing?”
“Mr. Cody, life is made easy by the number of...friends...one has and how those friends help each other out from time to time. Such a network...or syndicate, you could say...is a valuable thing to possess.” Wyatt's frown deepened, but he remained silent. Mrs. Hartford slid a piece of paper across the table. “Some good friends of mine, attempted to negotiate in good faith for a pair of...new members... to secure the safe return of...someone they found. Unfortunately, it turned out these men were actually kidnappers and not only did they take the 'reward' money my friends were able to negotiate on their behalf, they killed the child as well!”
Wyatt blew a raspberry through his lips and rolled his eyes. “Mrs. Hartford, I know I'm something of a jock, and being a 'brick' on top of it doesn't exactly give me the reputation of a man of letters around this campus, but I'm not stupid and I find your couching of this little scenario insulting. Now, you want to play straight with me about what you want or do we have to keep playing cutesy innuendo?”
Mrs. Hartford appraised the rugged young man across the table from her for a long moment. “Very well, Mr. Cody. These two men kidnapped a child in Montreal, contracted through...a neutral third party I am familiar with, to handle the ransom and return the boy. Only they killed the boy, and fled to Lancaster where they've been seen at that address.”
“No doubt not paying their share of the ransom to the third party, right?”
“The Third Party took their fee up front,” she retorted. “But by killing the child...”
“They lose Rep so now they're pinging us because we're close enough to put hands on them,” Wyatt finished. “If you think I'm going to lay hands on somebody and hand them over to leg breakers...”
“The Montreal hero team Les Sentinelles will take custody of your prisoners at Canadian Border Post on State Route 141. They're well known white hats and have a web site bragging about how good they are. Look it up so you know who you're dealing with. I will arrange a rendezvous once you have them in custody.”
“I'm supposed to hump two murderers forty miles to the border? On foot?”
Hartford's eyes narrowed. “You're a resourceful young man, Mr. Cody. I'm sure you'll think of something. Meantime, I have a club to enter into our database, don't I?”
Wyatt stood. “I'll get right on that, I guess.”
April 28th, 2007
3rd Tier Ladies Room, behind the Waterfall, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Lanie looked up from washing her hands into the mirror to squeal in surprise and nearly leap out of her skin. Staring back at her in the mirror was Grizzly, checking the lay of her fur. Easy, easy! The spirit's voice in her head cautioned.
Elaine looked around but she was still the sole occupant of the room on this side of the glass. “You about scared me half to death!” she told her reflection and the spirit in the mirror.
Sorry, didn't mean to startle you! The Spirit's apology seemed genuine as she adjusted the lay of her impressive bosom in her tank top. She'd traded in the biker leathers for a black tank and low-rise jeans that showed off the four or five caret jewel hanging in her pierced navel. The fur on top of her head she'd spiked up into something halfway between a Mohawk and a pompadour. Your thoughts seemed troubled so I thought I'd check in and give you a sounding board. Everything alright?
“Just mah brother being stupid,” she muttered, causing the bear to roll her eyes.
That's what they're best at. Still, you don't get to pick family and you have to help them when they ask. She rested her weight on the counter top as Elaine fished her lipstick from her purse and touched it up. Who is Wicked? She asked after a long moment.
“Ah wish Ah knew,” Lanie groused. “Ah went to save mah ex-girlfriend from some trouble she got into and to do that, Mrs. Carson cast a spell on me. 'Wicked' was the cover Ah adopted, she was a professional thief, super villain...”
The 'don't give a damn what you think of me' part of yourself, Grizzly finished. The Banshee you're descended from.
“Gawd, Ah wish that spell hadn't ended!” Elaine forced herself to control her emotions and dabbed at her eyes so her mascara wouldn't run. “You don't know what that was like for me, Grizzly! Ah wasn't afraid! Ah was confident, and beautiful and...”
You're beautiful now, the spirit told her. As for the rest I do know what that's like, it's how I live my life!
“You can!” the sophomore conceded. “Big, powerful spirit like you...!”
What makes you think you can't? Elaine stammered for an answer for a moment while the bear, satisfied with her appearance, tsked between her fangs and shook her head. If you were half the sniveling little coward to paint yourself as, do you honestly think I would have anything to do with you? Could you improve? Sure, who can't? But you aren't nearly as far gone as you think either! Grizzly faded away from the mirror before Elaine could frame a suitable response.
She considered the spirit's words for a long moment, then exited the rest room to find Wyatt back at their table and Marty and Stephen gone. “Everything copacetic?” he asked as she approached and sat down.
“Fine,” she assured him, “Mother Nature just calling collect. What did Hartford want?”
He laughed a gallows laugh. “You won't believe me.”
“Try me,” she replied. A brief summation of his meeting had her shaking her head. “Point taken,” she admitted. “Want some help?”
He grinned a lecherous grin. “I'm always happy to see you in something skin tight, baby.”
She remembered the words and spirit and leaned forward on the table, emphasizing her bust to his immediate attention. “Well, Ah'll just have to see what Ah can put on to make things a bit tight for you,” she purred. He grunted and was forced to discreetly adjust himself as her taunt found its mark. She relished the feeling of power at having turned his tease back on him, and filed it away inside what she began to think of as her inner Wicked.
April 28th, 2007
Room 216, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
“Elaine,” greeted Ayla with a smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The redhead's green eyes darted past him to check that they were alone and nodded. “You won't think it was a pleasure when you hear what Ah have to say,” she cautioned. That brought a frown to the young mogul's face.
“Please, come in and let's talk then,” he invited, stepping to one side. “You're not thinking of withdrawing from our business dealings, are you? In fact, I've been meaning to see you. I just got a call from Bob Talvin, he's the lead attorney working with your Afterburner. We started with Ford as you asked and they're very interested...”
Elaine shook her head. “No, Ah'm very pleased with how you've handled the business side of things. And, even if Ah was unhappy about that, Ah'm sure Ah could bring any issues to you and we could work to a good compromise.”
Goodkind frowned ever so slightly, it wasn't a tell, but rather an emotional cue of one half of a negotiation looking to understand the other sides' position. “Then how can I help you?” He walked deeper into the room and gestured to his refrigerator. “May I get you something to drink?”
Loophole suppressed a laugh. “Ah'd love a beer, but Ah'll settle for a coke.”
“Are you a beer devotee?” he asked as he opened the fridge and fished out a bottle. “My uncle Theodore has always been fascinated with brewing. He owns a handful of micro and craft breweries...”
“Ah'm a redneck, Ayles,” she interrupted softly. “Mah dad is a small businessman so he's better off than the rednecks he grew up with, so he drinks Sam Adams instead of Budweiser. And since that was what Ah stole from the fridge, Ah drink Sam Adams.”
The bottle opened with a hiss of escaping pressure as he replied, “My apologies, I don't mean to open a sore spot. Glass? Ice?”
She frowned. “You stock coke in the glass bottles?”
“From Mexico,” he said with a smile. “They still use sugar instead of corn syrup there. I'm not a great fan of soda, but I appreciate the classics.” She took the bottle and took a sip, smiling appreciatively. “People love to tease me for being a 'foodie' but I believe the ingredients do affect the final product.” He reached back into the fridge and helped himself to a bottle and opened it. “And while you may be from Georgia, and your accent is quite charming, we both know you're none of the things associated with the term 'redneck'. Now, what can I do for you?”
“Ah have two things. First, an invitation to a meeting this evening.”
“With whom and concerning what?”
“Wyatt is running the meeting. There will be a number of folks there, mostly club and team leaders, but we're inviting some of the campus heavy hitters directly. You're the biggest wallet on campus and, likely, we'll need some of that analytical thinking you're famous for too. Only problem is, it's a secret and there's friends of yours Ah need your word you won't tell anything about this to.”
The young man frowned again and rubbed his chin. “You're not normally secretive, Elaine, so I'm understandably concerned. Based on what you've said and how you've said it, you're quite worried about this, so I appreciate your desire for discretion, but before I can offer my word, I'd like to know who I'm supposed to be keeping secrets from and the rational for why.”
She took another drink and nodded. “That's fair, I suppose. I would like you to not inform Fey, Billie, Chou or Sara about this. And, the reasons are different for each one. Fey because our 'sponsor' won't allow her to become involved and will work against us if she does.”
Ayla offered her his desk chair and when she declined, sat down in it himself. “I gather that if she did know about it she would interject herself then?” Loophole didn't need to answer for him to see that his surmise was in fact true. “Nikki doesn't normally do anything rash, so if she would act, chances are excellent we would be the better for her help. We would have to balance that against whatever this 'sponsor' is giving your group.”
“He has the power to put a stop to our efforts and, if he does so, the world could be in jeopardy.”
Goodkind conditioning kept a look of astonishment off Ayla's face. If anything, Elaine was prone to undersell the things that she acted on and had to be convinced of the importance of things. He remembered the conversations they had had about her afterburner and was astonished she hadn't seen the business opportunities of the product, beyond a vague concept of an aftermarket performance product. If she felt the entire world might be in jeopardy, whatever she was concerned about just became the complete focus of his attention. “I...see...” he allowed finally. “Alright why Billie and Chou? If this is as dire as you obviously think it is...”
“Section 33,” she replied. Then asked, “Do you know whose side the Tao is on?”
“I see your point,” he admitted. “No way to know until you ask, and if the answer is negative, you have a major problem. And something similar for Sara I'm guessing?”
“You'll understand when Cody gives the speech, but that's enough for now,” she said softly. “Do Ah have your word?”
Ayla stood and closed the distance between them, offering his right hand. “You do.” She took it in a firm, but gentle grip. Her skin was soft and warm he couldn't help but notice and his heart ached about Vox. “When is the meeting?”
“In a few minutes. Ah'll take you directly, but Ah do have another question on an unrelated matter.”
He smiled. “Of course.”
“Let's say someone produced a product, and at that time, such a product was...frowned upon...by certain portions of our government.”
“Would these portions have badges and guns?”
“They would,” she admitted. “But, for the sake of argument, let's say that the product was no longer so frowned upon by those same portions, but still fairly heavily regulated. Could something that was made extra-legally be perhaps retroactively made legal to be sold?”
Goodkind fetched his jacket from the clothes press and held the door for her as they began walking towards the stairs. “Assuming the product was still fit for sale, there are always paths to 'correct' accidents of paperwork filings, amended filing of non-filed taxes or fees, mediation of penalties for acting in good faith, those types of things. What kind of product are we talking about and is there a market for it?” She took a small collection of folded papers from her jacket and handed them to him. He flipped through them, as always impressed with her thoroughness to the nth degree. He'd kill to have her working for him as a lawyer and head counsel but that would be a complete waste of her technical talents.
“Difficult, but not impossible,” he admitted. “Of course the challenge won't be legal, but marketing. And this product is still good?”
“If you look at the last page...”
He flipped over and read. “Alright then. Now it's just a question of branding. And my fee of course.”
“Of course,” she replied with a smile.
April 28th, 2007
Alpha Prime Clubhouse, Penthouse, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
The prime club house in the penthouse of Melville cottage was nominally just a special event room that could be reconfigured in a number of different ways. When the Council met, it was generally set up as a board room with a long table and comfortable leather chairs, but that wasn't its only configuration. Just now it was in its 'Informal Party' mode. Chairs lined the walls, with a buffet table along the windows that the concierge had done up with cute little seven-ounce cans of soda, cookies, and a plate of finger sandwiches.
Not that anybody seemed to be hungry now.
There were three dozen people or so in the room, club leaders and seconds mostly, but other students who had particularly powerful abilities or talents had also been invited. They stood in a rough semicircle around Wyatt who had spent the last thirty minutes talking constantly, every now and then interrupted by The Kodiak who was completely manifested into the room, a rare event that drove home the seriousness of the situation. The expressions of the members had been amused at first, more than one had teased Cody about wanting a grand exit as the year was winding down.
No one was smiling or joking now. Ironically, it was Poise who spoke first as the silence threatened to drag out into a pregnant pause. “I...I believe I'm going to be sick,” she said softly then with great dignity turned and walked quite calmly over to the trash can by the buffet and wretched once or twice. She opened a can of ginger ale, rinsed her mouth, then drained it to settle her stomach.
Finally satisfied she would keep her dignity, she turned and living up to her code name, walked back over to Wyatt and looked him in the eye. Poise was a tall, elegant blonde, and in her heels was nearly as tall as Wyatt was. “No,” she said finally, “you're not lying and this isn't a prank.” She sighed. “Alright, why are we not involving the faculty with this, Wyatt? Or the National Guard for that matter?”
“Time,” the big man returned bluntly. “We have precious little of it, Coleen, and it could take from now till the end of the school year to convince the faculty, and anybody want to hazard a guess how long it would take a group of kids to convince our lovely government the end of the world is upon them?”
A murmur of disgust and pointed comments rolled through the crowd, but no one else brought up passing the buck. Coleen 'Poise' Fitzgerald calmed the murmurs with a soft gesture and continued to give the Alpha Male the gimlet eye. “So, what are we going to do?” she demanded.
“We're going to train,” Wyatt replied. “We're going to hit the sims like it's going out of style. We're going to train in five and six and seven-person teams coordinating with each other and swapping members a lot, so everyone can work with everyone else. We're going to recruit. I need all of you to go back through your organizations and start tapping those who can handle what we're talking about and bring them in. Seniors, any of you who will continue to make yourselves available after you graduate, we'll work out a way to quickly get you back here or where ever we deploy from. Techies, we need you guys on your A game. We'll need secure communications, a way to rapidly respond, and any kind of big gun you thought about, sketched out on the back of a napkin, or wondered if you could, now is the time to build it.”
He sighed and began to walk around the group. “You wizards and sorceresses, we'll need charms and protections, we'll need armor spells and every heavy hitter damage spell you've ever dreamed of. But, more importantly, we'll need intel. We have to find this Bastard and we have to bring the fight to him. We need to be able to track him once we find him and make sure he can't go to ground and we'll need protection for our minds. This is a GOO servitor we're going up against and they're worse than what you've heard about from Demons.”
“Worse,” growled the Kodiak, “The Bastard is native to this plane of existence and predates the Contract of Solomon so much of what we would like to use will not apply or affect him.”
“Above all,” Wyatt finished. “We need secrecy. If Carson gets a sniff of this she'll do everything in her power to shut us down. We don't have time to win her over, or deal with her delays and we can't risk some of the idiots on this campus turning this to their advantage. I don't care if you recruit a Cape or a Mastermind, a goober or a Bad Seed, what's important is they're with us and they can keep their mouths shut.” He sighed and shook his head. “And just so everyone is on the same page, the only people I'll ask you not to approach about this are Fey, Tennyo, Bladedancer and Carmilla. In fact, better all-around if they don't ever find out about it.” He locked eyes with Ayla. “If any of you need my reasons, come see me after and I'll be happy to let you know.” He sighed and let his eyes travel again. “I won't lie to you, guys - some of us are not going to make it through this. But if we don't try, I guarantee none of us will.”
He made a point to look into each face, gauge the determination there and nods, approving of the gazes that returned to him, some were scared, most grim, all determined. He nodded. “Alright, let's get to work.”
April 28th, 2007
State Route 141, 2 miles south of the Canadian Boarder, VT
There was something soothing about the growl of a V8 engine that made even the most mundane of drives interesting. Of course, even at night, Vermont 141 was an interesting kind of road, two lanes and rural that begged to put one's foot down and let the horses loose. Of course, considering the two occupants of the front seats were wearing masks and the two occupants of the back seats were bound and gagged, tempting fate and avoiding having an interesting conversation with the local police made sure that Baby Girl was under the speed limit.
Capturing the two kidnappers had been a complete nonevent. For being a pair international fugitives, their spatial awareness was effectively nil. Wyatt, in his full costume, had merely walked into the diner where they'd been having dinner, grabbed both by the scruff of the neck, and marched out with them while Elaine had paid their bill and left a generous tip. But as Lancaster was a hot bed of the Libertarian Free State Movement, no one even blinked. They'd been hogtied and thrown into the back seat, begging for their lives until shop rags had been shoved into their mouths and duck taped in place, and now were just whimpering in the cramped back seat of the vintage muscle car as it traveled north.
Not that they would have found the relatively mundane conversation of the front seat occupants particularly interesting. “Ah'm just saying, that if we are going to be serious, ya'll might want to get the meet-the-parents bit out of the way early.”
Wyatt shook his head. “You know baby, it's funny, I've never actually met any parents...”
“Well, there's a first time for everything,” she replied drolly, her tone reminding him of her own first times with him. “Ah'm sure you and dad will likely hit it off, though mah mom can be hard to read. She could hate your guts and you'll never know it; we southerners are just polite that way.”
“So I'll know if your dad hates me?” he demanded with a grin.
“Oh Ah'm sure you'll get a tour of his gun safe,” she shot back with a grin. “Daddy can be a bit over protective, but he means well. Ah'm sure most of it won't even penetrate your skin anyway.”
“Daddy has a very extensive collection,” Elaine commented. “All Ah'm suggesting is you come down for a few days before you head back to Alaska. We have plenty of room, we'll have a barbeque, you can shake hands and meet and greet, and that will put you on a better footing for later.” She sighed and stole a glance. “Unless that isn't what you want...”
“I'm not a liar,” he retorted quickly. “I figured it might be a little early for talk about rings and shit, but I meant what I said about spending the rest of my life with you.”
“We're here,” she noted, her heart pounding. She reached up and threw a switch on the dash board that caused a metal plate that was marked simply MID Holder to cover her license plate. She dimmed her headlights to just the parking lamps and rolled slowly to a stop by the officer that was waving her forward.
He was wearing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement uniform, and so was not with the MCO, as was his partner who was coming out of the small building, a sub-machine gun in his hands. Elaine had already lowered the window of her door and was sitting with both hands on the top of the steering wheel. “Good even...” the agent began, then jerked when he saw the occupants of the car.
“Good evening, sir,” Elaine responded politely, her eyes fixed forward. “Whenever you're ready, Ah will present mah MID.”
The click of the safety coming off the machinegun was loud, even over Baby Girl's Engine. “Ste....Step out of the car!” he ordered.
“Ah will comply,” Elaine responded carefully. “This is a manual transmission, Ah have to turn the car off. If you want, Ah will not move until you can track mah hands to see that Ah am not reaching for any weapons.” From the corner of her eye, Elaine could see them man's Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down and she really wished he would find a neutral direction to point that machine gun.
“Turn it off!”
“Alright,” she acquiesced, opening her hand and carefully moving to the key. The growl cut off and the silence was somewhat intense. She removed the keys and laid them on the dash board before she reached out the open window to work the car door. With it open she slowly rose, keeping her hands at shoulder level. The man was sweating profusely despite the cool, practically cold air. “Ah won't hurt you,” she said and instantly regretted it.
The man's face suffused red with rage and it didn't help that she was head and shoulders taller than he was. “Hands on the hood!” he ordered.
“No,” she replied without moving. “You have no probable cause to search me and Ah refuse to be searched.”
The machinegun came up and his eyes narrowed. “What did you say to me, gene freak?”
“Do you want to see mah MID or not?”
“Who do you think you are?” he growled. Elaine noted his buddy moving forward, ironically his machinegun more pointed at his partner than her. She sighed and fixed her gaze on the functionary in front of her, using her best approximation of the gaze her mother had used on her with so much success all through her life.
“Ah think Ah'm bulletproof,” she growled in a low and dangerous voice. “What's more, Ah think Ah'm more than a match for both of you, and Ah think mah patience with your bad case of little-man's disease and 'respect mah authority' is on it's very last nerve, but hey, Ah also think Ah have lawyers on speed dial and you and Tweedle-Dum over there who is actually pointing his machinegun at you are probably both in the GS-11 or GS-12 pay grade so you'll likely have LOTS of expensive toys for me to sell after mah lawyers sue you for everything you own for violating mah civil rights. Now, do you want to look at mah MID, you dickless little fuck, or should Ah call the sharks in Armani suits now?”
A muffled snickering came from the passenger side of Baby Girl.
The muzzle of the MP-5 found a slightly less threatening direction to point. “MID?” he demanded. Elaine slowly snapped open the pouch on the baldric that ran across her chest and removed a thin, plastic card. She had no idea how or why Mrs. Carson had been able to supply her with a complete set of identity documents for their little rescue down in New York and she didn't care since the Headmistress pointedly had not asked for them back and, based on the discreet snooping Carmen had done, they were very good.
The agent took the card and stared at it. “Wicked, huh? Hey Mike,” he called. “You ever see one of these with a red border? What's that mean?”
Wicked grinned a predatory grin. “Super villain,” she purred. What color there was drained out of both men's faces. “Don't point that popgun at me again,” she threatened, once more in her menacing voice. “I've done my time and I'm going straight. Run the damned card, I don't want to be out here all night.”
The thus-far-unnamed agent whose nametag proclaimed him as Evens produced a Goodkind Gatekeeper hand scanner and ran the card through it. A green light came on and Elaine read the upside-down words 'Valid, No Wants or Active Warrants. Holder aware of proper procedure and is litigious, caution advised.' 'Evens' frowned and leaned over to 'Mike' and whispered. Unfortunately for him, Elaine's hearing was excellent and she clearly heard him ask, “What does ligament mean?”
“It's pronounced litigious,” she informed him with a smile. “And it means I truly love to sue people who try to deny my rights.” She held out her hand and Evens returned her card as three men and two women landed on the road, studiously on the Canadian side of the border. “Bonsoir mes amis . Vous êtes Les Sentenials?”
“En effet , Mlle . Depuis que je suis certain que vous n'êtes pas Le Kodiak je me attendais , que dois-je l'honneur de parler?” The speaker was a tall galant, with a uniform like something out of a pirate movie with a buccaneer hat and boots and a puffed sleeve shirt that was open to his navel revealing a well-muscled chest. A perfect smile dazzled from a screen idol's face with a domino mask and an Errol Flynn mustache as highlights.
“Wicked,” Elaine purred, pausing to open the door and pull the hog tied passenger on her side. Wyatt slowly got out himself and fished out his as well.
“Madame Prudhomme will be proud,” the big man chuckled as they pushed past the stammering border guards. “Epéiste?” he asked. Wyatt was broader than the French Canadian, but they were about the same height.
“None other,” the other man replied with a flourish filled bow. “You have my...how do you say, miscreants?” The two bound captives were shoved across the border into the hero's waiting companions. “Tres bien.”
“See that they pay for what they've done.”
“My only regret, my large young friend is that they will not face justice in your Texas...” One of the women snapped something angrily and he replied as fast, evidently an old argument. He took Elaine's gloved hand and kissed it. “A distinct pleasure to meet an American so fluent in la belles Français.”
The sound that rattled in the back of Wyatt's throat wasn't quite a growl, but they were certainly kissing cousins. Epéiste, obviously an experienced tomcat. glanced quickly back and forth between the two youngsters and smiled a broad smile. “Ah, young love! Is there a more beautiful thing, no? I wish you both a long and happy life!” he exclaimed with a gleam in his eye that advertised he was certainly available to console if it was neither long nor happy.
Wicked, however, absently rubbed Wyatt's thick arm while staying all smiles to the Canadian hero. “Mon étalon est juste besoin d'être monté pour lui rappeler qu'il est mon préféré.” The two women gasped and even Epéiste had to clear his throat in shock. He bowed as the team departed with the kidnappers.
The two teens walked back to the car, ignoring the customs agents, and in short order were moving back towards the school. After several long moments, Wyatt looked over at her as she pulled the mask down her face to bunch around her neck like a turtle neck and asked, “I'm your stallion, huh?”
Before Wicked, having been caught in such a risque double-entendre would have reduced her to stammering denials while blushing the color of her hair. Likely, she would have lost control of the car at least for a moment, but being back in this costume was having an effect on Elaine, as though looking like the persona she'd adopted made it easier to think and act like her. She sat a bit more comfortably in the car and smiled at her boyfriend. “Based on your anatomy, it seemed an apt analogy.”
“So who is Wicked?” he asked with a huge grin. “I'm starting to like her.”
“Wicked is a professional thief Mrs. Carson conjured out of thin air,” she shot back. “She's twenty-three, has a Communications Degree from Kennesaw State University, and is a Graduate Gemologist. She's got pinched once, early in her career, but not since, and has a reputation in the trades as a professional who gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. She's an exemplar three and there are rumors she might be a sorceress or an energizer and somehow kept it off her MID. Outside of the biz, she's Jennifer Kelly, and Ah have her driver's license, diploma, MID and passport.”
“Mrs. Carson is nothing if not thorough.” he drummed his fingers on the car door for a moment then looked back at her. “I note you lost your accent while you were pretending to be someone else. She built you an alternate ID that complete and didn't ask for it back once you were done in New York?”
“Gift horses and mouths,” she cautioned. “And poor little Elaine isn't enough for you, stud - you've got the hots for an older woman?”
“I have the hots for you,” he shot back. “And I don't particularly care what you call yourself.”
She let her gaze linger over him for a long moment and smiled a lurid smile. “Ah'm kind of liking this end of the world stuff,” she purred, tucking a finger under his chin. “Mmmm, the things Ah'm gonna do for mah planet...”