The Kodiak Conspiracy (Chapter 2)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Kodiak Conspiracy
by E. E. Nalley
She's a Killer Queen
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
Killer Queen - Queen
April 29th, 2007
Whateley House, Headmistress' Residence, Whateley Academy
Her cell phone was buzzing on his charging stand when Elizabeth Carson walked into her kitchen. She purposefully kept the phone's charger here rather than in her bedroom, to keep it separate. If there was a true emergency, those who needed her had the number to the land line of Whateley House, and those that didn't, didn't have true emergencies in her book. She had decided in the 80s that cell phones, like the radio phones they replaced, were more of a leash on the owner than a convenience for them. They blurred the lines between 'work' and 'private' times, and as they got 'smarter' she'd seen nothing to change her mind or her dislike of the devices.
She clicked on her coffee pot as she walked by and pointedly loaded the toaster with bagels before she picked it up and looked at the screen. It was notification she'd set up earlier which caused her to roll her eyes. “That didn't take long,” she muttered before putting the device back down.
Elizabeth turned, all smiles and resisted the impulse to hold her daughter. Shelly had been just as eager to hold and be held when she'd woken up in the body the entire biology department had assisted with. She'd needed lots of hugs through two months of figuring out how to make that body work again. Now, as every mother had a sense of, her daughter was quickly getting back the independent streak that ran through all of her children. “Nothing,” she replied with a smile. “Just work stuff. How are you, Shelly?”
The young blonde rolled her eyes. She had only been in the house for a week since being released from ARC, and both mother and daughter were working out how to be around each other again. “I'm ok, mom, I swear,” she said with a smile. She looked at the toaster and counted the number of bagels. “Mr. Paulson leave already?”
“He didn't....last night...” Elisabeth paused from the pouring of her coffee, the finished and poured Shelly a cup as well. “Shelly...”
“I get it mom,” her daughter told her as she accepted the cup and began to heap sugar into it. “Mr. Paulson is a nice guy; you don't have to sneak around because of me. And I'm sorry...”
Elizabeth cupped Shelly's chin and brought her eyes up. “Shelly, stop apologizing for what happened. I am sorry; perhaps if I hadn't been so despondent after we thought you died, I would have fought harder to save my marriage with your father.”
“Mom, you don't have to justify yourself to me. I know that when you see me, you see old Shelly who was fifteen, but I was actually awake, or aware or whatever you call it. It took me two years, but I was actually able to kind of project myself into the tunnels. And I could go further every year. I was trying to figure out a way to make Mr. Geintz aware of me when the Lit Chix found me. I know it's weird and I'm not really twenty six, but I just kind of 'feel' like I'm not fifteen either.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Technically you're not yet one...”
The young woman's eyes rolled. “Don't even go there, mom!” The bagels popped up from the toaster and they busied themselves with butter and jam or cream cheese. “You're not going to let me start back this semester, are you?”
“No,” she replied. “It's too close to end of term. It wouldn't be fair to your grades and honestly I haven't finished untangling the mess bringing you 'back to life' has done with the Regional Accreditations of your transcript from previously. But I'm sure you'll be able to start in the fall.”
“As a sophomore?”
“Yes, as a sophomore. So enjoy the time off, make some friends and just get used to being you again. Come the fall you're hitting the books, young lady.”
April 29th, 2007
Melville Cottage, RM 803, Whateley Academy
The door opened and Arnold quickly let himself into the room before anyone could come into the hall. Arnold sighed once Wyatt got the door shut and he could take off the jacket he didn't need and the cornball hat that was part of his disguise. “This is dangerous,” he complained to Wyatt. “You'll blow my covers.”
“I'll let Flicker worry about blowing you under the covers,” Wyatt shot back with a grin. “Everything ok that way?”
Arnold shrugged. “She's not so bad...”
“She's a first order bitch and you know it, Arnold,” Wyatt cautioned.
“I didn't say I was going to take her home to mama,” the other boy objected quickly. “Just, away from Tansy she's...not so bad.”
“Watch your back,” Cody told him on his way to his fridge. “Jolt?”
“You know it, and I will,” Aries affirmed. He took the offered bottle and took a long hit. “Ah! The only thing that can speed up a speedster!” The two boys shared a laugh before Arnold shook his head. “Heard you patched things up with Elaine. Congrats, bro.”
“Don't miss anything, do you?” Cody complimented. Arnold shrugged.
“Well, you two weren't exactly hiding it and honestly, Wyatt, I'm glad for you. Loopy is our kind of redneck. But you knew that from last year when we started planning how we'd get the Alphas away from the Don. Got to say bro, when she came back to school with a rack you could park a car on I figured you'd try your hand at talking her back over to the light side of the force. Never figured you'd pull it off! You are in fact The Man.”
“Lanie isn't a bedpost notch for me,” Wyatt proclaimed softly. He sighed and shook his head. “Well, any problems with Delarose? He still buying your act?”
Arnold held his hands to his heart and batted his eyes. “Oh, gosh, Mr. Security Chief! You're so hip and caring and I'm so confused, everybody wants me to be their spy, won't you save me?” The boys shared a dark chuckle of merry pranksters who were one up on the law and order types. “He knows you're planning something but he doesn't have any idea what.”
“Has he heard about the League?”
“No, as far as he knows last night was an Alpha Council meeting, but you got to figure someplace else to meet and quick.”
“What about the Don?”
“Same. Although he's certain he's figured out who was feeding Kallysta all that Mythos Magic she was using. The poor sap thinks he's going to blackmail somebody who's strong enough to throw that kind of power around.”
“Who is it?” Arnold ground his teeth.
“He won't say! You know how smug the son-of-a-bitch can be when he's got a secret! I could pop cover and beat it out of him...?”
Wyatt rubbed his chin for a long moment, considering it. “No, it's not that important and I'd rather have you in there knowing what he's going to pull. Speaking of, he still content to lay low until I 'graduate'?”
Arnold took a gulp of soda and shook his head. “No, he just found out you'll be back next year and he's mad enough to chew steel and spit nails. Don't think he'll try anything before the term is over, not really enough time, but be on your guard when you get back next year; he'll be gunning for you pretty hard.” Cody nodded thoughtfully.
“Arnold, it's really important that Delarose not find out about the League. Anybody in the faculty.”
“I told him lately you were so wrapped up in patching things up with Lanie that you'd put everything else on the back burner. He's bought it so far...”
“No, that won't last. Tell him I'm plotting some kind of massive blow out party for graduation. Pulling out all the stops. I'll have Coleen take care of the details on the QT; she's top drawer on that stuff. But feed it to him in bits and pieces, ok?”
“Hey,” the other boy protested. “Who are you talking to?”
Wyatt smiled. “Sorry Arnold. And I'm sorry to put you though all this cloak and dagger crap.”
Aries shrugged. “Maybe I'll take over the spy kids next year. Show them how it's really done!” He polished off the bottle and stood. “Don't worry about Delarose. I'll keep him off your scent. Now, how do I get out of here without being seen?”
“Follow me,” he said, heading over to his bathroom.
“You're not gonna give me a swirly, are you?” Aries asked with a chuckle as he dropped the bottle in the waste basket.
Wyatt chuckled darkly.
“Tempting, but no. The reason I picked this room instead of one of the corners is it used to be a house parent apartment. Well, the previous parent was lazy and had this installed.” He opened trap door in the floor revealing a shaft. “It's a laundry chute,” he chuckled. “Straight line from here to the laundry room in the basement. Just be discreet when you exit the chute and no one is the wiser.”
“If not, I've got a rope for safety...” he started, but Arnold was already scooting down the h the other replied. “Looks big enough for me to use my hands and feet to control the fall.”
ole in the floor. After a moment, Wyatt's phone buzzed with a text of Made it. Chuckling, he closed the chute and headed off to the Crystal Hall for breakfast.
April 29th, 2007 Whitman
Cottage, Rm 216, Whateley Academy
Lanie yawned and stretched, sitting on her bed while Maggie finished grabbing her toiletry bag from the wardrobe and pulling on her robe. Maggie had always been a nightgown gal, long-sleeved and floor-length in a collection of pastel prints that would have any turn of the century granny oohing and aahing. Elaine was a pajama girl, her favorite pair being covered in Ford and Mustang logos and usually just a tank without a shelf built into it. “You going to church?” she asked, trying and failing to fight off the yawn her roommate had given her.
“Naw,” she said scratching her head. “It's gonna rain today and Ah don't feel like dealing with the drive. Besides, Marty Penn and mah brother are hitting me up for some cockeyed scheme so Ah guess Ah'll deal with that. You?”
“Think I'll head over to our clubhouse and do some reading,” she said after a moment. “You ok?”
“Ah'm fine,” Lanie replied, waving as her friend headed out for the showers. When she was safely gone, Lanie addressed her computer. “Carmen, messages?”
“A school wide announcement reminding all students that the Spring Combat finals will begin shortly and that an approved costume and mask are required.”
“Oh Ah can't wait,” she replied, oozing sarcasm. “Next?”
“You have yet to reply to your birthday cards from your parents or grandmother.”
“Ah'll go by the book store and do that today.” She opened the door to wardrobe and caught a glance into the mirror mounted to the door and just kept in a squeal of fright. “Jesus Christ, Grizzly!” she snapped. “Am Ah going to see you every time Ah look into a mirror for the rest of mah life?”
You should be so lucky, the spirit replied with a sardonic smile. She was wearing a racer back bra that was only just up to containing her impressive chest and what looked like a pair of silk pajama bottoms in scarlet that brought out the russet tones in her fur. Oh my word! The she-bear exclaimed as she reached into the wardrobe and pulled out the black silk Versace strapless sheath dress Elaine had worn to the Metropolitan Museum. You wore this? You must have been breathtaking!
“Hey!” Elaine protested, then blushed at the compliment and saw the dress was exactly where she left it on her side of the mirror. “Oh, well, Ah made the papers,” she bragged, opening the other door of the wardrobe. On that, taped up was the front page of the New York Post showing a raven-headed woman wearing the Versace gown who had a darker complexioned woman bent over backward and the two were locked in a passionate kiss. The photograph was such that the identity of neither woman could be made from the picture which was emblazoned, 'Seeing Stars At The Met! We don't know if it's Art, but we like it!'
Rawer! Chuckled Grizzly. Who is the hottie?
“Mah ex...” started Elaine then she realized she'd just admitted to having a nonstandard sexual relationship to someone she hardly knew. Her head snapped around, her eyes fearful, but the she bear's expression was one of consolation and Grizzly's eyes were kind.
You don't have to justify yourself to me, Lanie. When you want a man, you want a man, and when you don't, well... She sighed and smiled. Let's just say there's a Spirit Guide Doe I have fond memories of. Grizzly returned the gown to her wardrobe and tasseled the girl's hair through the mirror which in a soft way, Elaine felt. You weren't satisfied with Wyatt's answer about what hosting a spirit is like, were you?
“Please don't be offended...”
The bear smiled again. Stop worrying so much about what other people think of you. I'll earn your trust or I won't. Meantime, why don't you have your electric servant compile you some research? You are at the greatest font of knowledge for the subject on the planet.
“Thank you, Grizzly.”
Have a good day, honey. And if you have any questions, just find a mirror. Elaine blinked and she was along once more.
“Who were you conversing with, Miss?” the laptop asked. “I did not register anyone entering, but I felt the discreet protocol was called for.”
“You did fine,” Lanie told her. “Ah want you to compile a report with as much firsthand account as you can.”
“What it is like to host a spirit.”
“Right away, Miss.”
April 29th, 2007
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
After breakfast, Elaine had been thinking and decided to act. It occurred to her that she had a number of friends that were avatars of various spirits, but something told her hosting a generic nature spirit, like a spider for instance, was a different thing altogether from some of these named spirits that had begun creeping up. And while she could trust the input of Simone 'Arachne' Binder, her spirit of the Spider was probably a different experience that what hosting Grizzly would be like.
But she did have friends that hosted similar spirits and had caught sight of one when she'd put her tray away. She was at a table next to the waterfall by herself, papers scattered all over it, head down in intense scribbling on a scratch pad. Elaine walked up and, knowing how hard it was sometimes to chase a thought down, waited for her to realize she was there. The Native American girl looked up when darkness like an eclipse crossed the drawings she had scattered on the cafeteria table, partially obscuring her notes and sketches in the umbra of someone's shadow. When the eclipse didn't move, she looked up. "Oh, hi Lanie," she said as soon as she recognized the curvaceous redhead standing over her.
"Hey, Kayda, got a minute? Ah'd like to talk to you, if Ah'm not interruptin' anythin' important," Lanie said simply. Despite her pleasant demeanor, there was an edge in her voice that immediately caught the Lakota girl's attention.
"Sure," Kayda replied. "Pull up a chair."
Lanie looked about and winced a bit. Breakfast on Sunday was something of an all morning affair, with students coming in early and stretching through 'brunch' and into lunch. It would be well into the afternoon before the noise levels would die down appreciably. "Not here," she said softly.
Kayda's eyebrows rose. "Oh? One of those talks?" She began gathering her papers. "Not a problem. I was just doodling a bit."
Lanie smiled and cocked her head to one side for a better look. "Ah see." She pointed at one drawing. "Is that the frame you want to put under your car?"
"Yeah," Kayda smiled. "It's turning out to be a bitch of a project. I've got all the room I could dream of for the front suspension," she said, tucking the papers into her backpack and standing, "but the rear is pretty tight. If I want independently sprung rear suspension, it's gonna be tough to fit it in, and I'll have to be creative with the springs. I'm not sure it's doable."
“Well, if you're not married to the idea of independent suspension you could swap the rear axle off an S10. Daddy had a guy with a '56 that needed a better diff and that's how we solved it. That's a bolt on swap and gives you posi-track limited slip rear and disk brakes.”
"Maybe, but independent suspension should handle a lot better, especially with what I'm going to have to do up front." She straightened her buckskin dress, which had ridden up a bit as she stood, and then smiled, gears turning behind her eyes. "Lead on, oh knowledgeable one."
Lanie's face wrinkled, and then she guffawed. "Ah see it doesn't matter how many times Ah ask you to not do that, because you seem to get a kick out of teasin' me."
Kayda laughed as she fell in step beside the taller girl. "Who, me?" The pair, a mismatched duo if ever there was one, walked outside toward Kane Hall. Lanie was taller and much curvier, and her hair blew freely in a gentle spring breeze, a tantalizing display of fiery red locks, while the shorter Lakota girl had a more modest but still fetching figure. Lanie wore jeans and a T-shirt, her informal 'working clothes', while Kayda was attired in her own version of casual; a short buckskin dress adorned with Lakota bead work, and her two dark hair braids fell on her shoulders and down her chest. Most remarkable, though, were the three vertical stripes of paint on the Lakota girl's cheeks, which she'd taken to wearing every day since her spring break.
Lanie chuckled; she was going to have to remember to ask Kayda what that was all about. "Ah hear you had an interesting time on your birthday after Ah left," she prompted, her natural teenage curiosity wanting to know more. The dark-skinned Native American girl flushed even darker as she blushed practically from head to toe, which the redhead noticed. She laughed. "Oh ho! Ah see that there is more to the story!"
"I ..." Kayda looked down, embarrassed. "Yeah."
"So are you and Rosalyn ...." The blush deepened further and somehow made the smaller girl even cuter than she was normally. All she had to do was put her index finger under her chin and spin a toe in the dirt to be a living cartoon.
"Let's just say that we have an understanding and leave it at that," Kayda sputtered, trying her best to get her skin and blood pressure under control. Loophole merely arched an eyebrow.
"You realize that all you're doing is piquing my curiosity," Lanie said with a chuckle.
"Where to?" Kayda asked, changing the subject. "The vehicle labs?"
Lanie laughed, a pleasant, melodious laugh and hugged the other girl with one arm to let her know she was off the hook for now. "Where else?" As they rode the elevator down, she couldn't help but steal glances at her shorter companion. Kayda was attractive, and if Lanie had a moment of wanting female companionship, she was sure that Kayda would have been among her top choices. "And Ah will eventually find out what happened," she said with a wicked smile, "so you might as well tell me."
The unlikely pair strode into the vehicle lab, where stall after stall was occupied with various project cars. Lanie skipped past her own "Baby Girl", a highly-modified Mustang, paused for a moment to admire Bonnie.
'Bonnie,' as the shop had dubbed her, was the '34 Ford 730 Deluxe Mr. Donner had acquired and was in the process of restoring. She currently took up two of the bays, one was just her frame which had been straightened, reinforced, sand blasted and powder coated, and which now stood on jack stands where the various classes were in the process of re-plumbing the brake lines. The other bay held her engine and transmission, a huge collection of parts that were in the process of being cleaned, and the interior pieces. The cars body had been mounted on a rotisserie carrier and was off being media blasted down to its bare metal. “Not much to look at,” observed Kayda.
“Not yet,” admitted Lanie with a smile before she turned and walked to the office of Mr. Donner, the lab supervisor and vehicle tech instructor. As it was a weekend, Mr. Donner wasn't in his office, but Lanie produced a key and opened the door, causing Kayda's eyebrows to lift. "As long as Ah don't abuse the privilege," Lanie explained, "Mr. Donner lets me use his office."
“He must really trust you!” she exclaimed as the door was opened and the two girls entered. "What do you want to talk about that's so hush-hush?" Kayda asked as she sat.
"Ah'm ... curious about something," Lanie said, hesitating. "Putting it bluntly, what's it like to have a spirit in you?"
Kayda frowned before her demeanor stiffened slightly, becoming a bit more regal and then she reached out and touched Lanie on the forehead. Though Lanie had been in Kayda's dream space before, it was still a little disorientating to suddenly be somewhere else. This time she found herself on the prairie in a Lakota village, once more dressed as a Pict Banshee and sitting by a fire circle while the village continued its business unmindful of the stranger in their midst.
"You have questions about spirits?" Wakan Tanka, sitting across from Kayda and Lanie, asked bluntly. Elaine looked about in surprise before she regained her bearings and sighed.
"Yes, ma'am," Lanie replied quite formally.
"Does this have to do with the spirit that is with you but not in you?" Wakan Tanka asked as she brewed some herbal tea, which caused Kayda to goggle at Lanie.
"I don't understand," the Lakota girl interjected. "Either a spirit is in someone, or it's not. And what's the spirit?"
"Am I in you? No, Wihakayda, you channel me, just as the Kodiak is channeled through Cody, although part of the Kodiak remains inside the boy." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "The spirit with the girl is Grizzly, the mother spirit of the Grizzly bear."
“Where?” demanded Kayda. “If she is with...”
Wakan Tanka pointed silently over the girls shoulders. Turning they saw Grizzly, once more in her bear form playing some kind of rough-and-tumble game with the bigger boys of the village while the young girls, beginning to come flush into their maidenhood, cheered them on. The adults took no notice as if humans and bears wrestled every day.
"Yes, ma'am," Lanie confirmed. "She said she can be in me, but Ah'm not an avatar, and frankly, Ah'm a little nervous about having a spirit inside me."
"That is understandable," Wakan Tanka acknowledged. She handed primitive pottery cups of tea to the girls. "Too powerful a spirit can control a person, or can damage them physically."
Lanie blanched. "That's what Ah'm afraid of," she said, her voice hushed. She took a drink and immediately sighed in relief. In as concerned a voice she was able in her relaxed state, she asked, “This isn't peyote, is it?”
Wakan Tanka smiled. “No it's not. And the contents of the tea are not what is really troubling you.”
"Ah'm afraid that Grizzly will be in control, not me, that Ah'll be lost." She glanced at Kayda. "That's why Ah wanted to talk to Kayda, to understand what it's like to have a spirit in your head."
"You are wise to be cautious," Wakan Tanka said. "But with animal spirits, there is a pact that one can make, similar to the Contract of Solomon, and if the animal spirits enter into it, they cannot break that agreement."
"But ... Ah'm not an avatar!" Lanie objected. "How can Ah host a spirit?"
"There are ways to stretch your hallow to allow for a spirit to dwell in you. There are rituals the shaman use in our culture to prepare to host a spirit. If Grizzly can't help you prepare, Wihakayda can bring you to her dream-world and I will help with the ritual; if you desire."
With those words, Lanie and Kayda faded from Kayda's dream space back into the reality of Melvin Donner's office. "Ah don't think Ah'll ever get used to that."
Kayda smiled. "Imagine being able to do that any time you want, several times a day."
"No thanks," Lanie chuckled. "Mah real life is disorienting enough without regularly visiting another plane." She ran her hand through her hair and sighed.
"So you have questions," Kayda said. "Ask away, and I'll answer as best as I can."
"First," Lanie asked, wincing slightly because she knew it was going to be a sensitive subject, "and, Ah'm sorry if this gets a touch personal, does your buffalo spirit really know Grizzly?"
Kayda shrugged. "I don't know without asking him directly, and I don't think I want him in this conversation. I don't think you want him in this conversation, because if he does know Grizzly, you might think that the spirits are conspiring against you."
Lanie laughed nervously. "The thought had crossed mah mind." She paused momentarily to find words for her question. "What's it like having a spirit in your head? Do you worry ... about them taking control of you?" Lanie asked nervously.
"No," Kayda answered with a smile. "To be honest, I barely notice Ptesanwi's spirit. I mean, I know she's in me, but she isn't as visible as Tatanka. It's like she's in the background helping me with my magic powers."
"And the buffalo?"
Kayda chuckled. "He's a special case because he can manifest. I guess he's more like a friend and tutor."
"Has he ever controlled you?"
Kayda shook her head. "No. He's appeared, independently of my thought, to protect me, but as far as I've experienced, he can't control me." She smiled. "And I've never felt like he - or Ptesanwi - were pushing their thoughts into mine." Kayda sighed and looked about the office. The walls were covered in newspaper clippings of present and past students the shop teacher was obviously proud of. “I wish I could describe it better.”
Lanie looked thoughtful. "Can you ... push them out?"
"I don't know," Kayda answered, shuddering. "And I really don't want to know."
"Why not?" she asked, confused.
Kayda gave a half chuckle. "Because after only a few weeks, I'm so used to having them there that the thought of losing them is ... frightening. I'd miss them. It'd be a void in my life, in my existence."
"If you could choose, again I mean, would you ...?"
"Would I let them in again?" Kayda smiled. "In a heartbeat. Even with some ... interesting enemies, I think I got the better of the bargain."
Lanie considered that. She wondered if Cody felt the same way about the Kodiak. "Ah think that answers my questions; for now." She grinned and pointed at Kayda's backpack. "Now since you're here, Ah'm dyin' to see what you're dreaming up for the suspension."
Surprised pleasantly, Kayda retrieved the papers from her bag and started to lay them out on Mr. Donner's desk. "I think I have a handle on the drive train," she began, "that's variable split four-wheel drive based on a little something I did for one of dad's tractors."
The redhead gadgeteer's eyebrows rose. "Really? Ah'd like to see that." She got another mischievous grin. "And Ah really want to hear about what happened on your birthday."
“What do cars and...and that...” Elaine looked at her with a raised eye brow. “Oh, never mind!”
April 29th, 2007
Private Office of the Headmistress, Whateley House, Headmistress' residence, Whateley Academy
Come see me at once, Mrs. Carson typed into the chat program on her laptop. Normally she wasn't one given to nostalgia, but having her daughter restored to her had her rethinking a number of things. She remembered Mrs. Collins her own high school typing teacher who had insisted she learn how to type.
“The skill of the future!” had been her catch phrase. How many times in that class had a young Betty Brant rolled her eyes, certain the old dear was a couple of seasons past being put out to pasture.
“God bless you, Mrs. Collins,” she whispered. “You were right.”
“You asked to see me, Headmistress?” Mrs. Carson sighed and filed away her thoughts of a long-dead educator and turned her chair to face her desk more properly. On one side of her desk was a miniature copy of Dashboard's hard-light projector. Floating in a blue-tinted glow of it was the image of one of her former students being used as an avatar for a very illegal piece of AI.
“I did, Carmen,” she replied and fixed the steely gaze she had developed from a half century of staring down super villains. “Would you care to tell me what you and your mistress were doing in Canada last night?”
The program blinked twice, a tell of honest confusion copied from the siren she was based on. “Miss Nalley was out last night, but she did not take me with her.”
“I know she was out last night,” Mrs. Carson declared. “I know she signed out with Miss Claire at six thirty seven and her stated destination was the AMC’s Riverfront Twenty in Berlin. But I happen to know that at ten twenty five she was at the ICE boarder post on Vermont 141, and you claim you don't know anything about it?”
“Er,” the program hesitated. “I am aware she was going out with Mr. Cody last night...”
“Yes, interestingly enough, he also signed out with Miss Claire at the exact same time.” Elizabeth allowed a bit of anger to creep into her tone. “But where I get hazy is how they ended up forty five miles as the crow flies in the opposite direction.”
“As I said, Headmistress, Miss Nalley failed...”
“To take you, yes, I heard you the first time.” Liz leaned forward, clasping her hands on her desk which not only made her more authoritative, but it had the added bonus of looming over the one-fifth scale or so figure. “As I recall, our arrangement of my forbearance of your presence was that you curb your Mistress' more outlandish goals and, this is the important part dear, I be notified of them ahead of time.”
“Yes, ma'am, I apologize. Had I any idea...”
“Get some ideas, Carmen. I want to know what she was doing in Canada, I want to know what she and Mr. Cody were up to and I want to know if it is something on going or if this was some kind of lark. And I want to know it right now, Carmen. Do you understand?”
Songbird's head bobbed with the same look on her face when her flesh-and-blood counterpart had been dressed down. “Yes ma'am, I'll get right on it.” The hologram faded away and finally Elizabeth Carson allowed herself a smile.
“You were right, Harry,” she whispered with a smile. “Take charge and things happen.” The phone rang and, seeing the caller ID she sighed and steeled herself. “Owen, thank you for returning my call, how are you? Yes it has been a long time. No, no I did not call you to open a fight. Honestly, what...? Owen, are you sitting down? Sit down dear, I have some heavy news to tell you.”
April 29th, 2007
Whateley Academy Network, Cabinet Eight, Rack Five, Blade Two, RTCC, Beck Library
Carmen was frantic.
Her programming was very specific. She was to assist her Mistress with whatever she needed and to fulfill her requests. Now she had to try to mitigate her impulsive nature and give the Headmistress advance notice of anything she couldn't stop. Thus far, that had not been a difficult objective to fulfill, Miss Nalley had been quite settled since she had begun the physical relationship with Mr. Cody. There had been bumps and bruises of course, every work she had ever read of human romantic/sexual interrelations predicted them, and especially in the immature age bracket her Mistress currently occupied. If anything, Mr. Cody was acting with far more resolve than either his reputation or the books indicated a teen age male would...
Carmen snapped off that line of thought and shunted it to be examined later.
She didn't have the cycles to consider that just now. Her existence was at stake. If she didn't exist, she couldn't fulfill her programming. From the Real Time Computing Cluster she raced through the fiber bundle from Beck Library over to Kane Hall and the master security server. From here, she had access to every camera on the campus, and yet again she was momentarily awed by the strange, extremely high definition world her Mistress inhabited. She started with the security camera on the hallway of the second floor of Whitman Cottage. In moments she was moving back in time through the camera's lens until the door opened and her Mistress walked out backwards from going to bed that night. From there she followed her, leaping from camera to camera as she did so.
The main gate camera showed that Baby Girl had both arrived back to the campus and departed away from it in the opposite direction of Berlin. Here, things became more difficult. She calculated the rate of speed of the car and dove out of the security server and in a blink was past the WhateleyAcademy.edu firewall. It was child’s play defeat the server at Devil's Slide State Forest and its main gate camera was the closest to Stark Highway in this direction. Slightly sooner than Carmen anticipated, a vehicle whose headlights pattern matched a highly modified '69 Mustang came around the bend and continued past the camera.
Carmen leapt out of Devil's Slide State Forest and into the larger New Hampshire DOT main frame. There were traffic cameras here that made following the car a bit easier. It went through Groveton and oddly turned south, away from Canada. Intrigued, Carmen followed to the edge of Groveton and then several minutes later arriving in Lancaster. Lancaster also had a well-established camera network, but they were frequently being vandalized by hood wearing men who would spray paint Free State next to the camera before they smashed it.
Despite this, Carmen saw the car go to a diner and stop.
That seemed very normal 'date' behavior as she understood it, until she realized that both Miss Nalley and Mr. Cody were wearing the combat attire normally worn in the simulators. She saw them enter, Mr. Cody seize a pair of men and exit with them, while Miss Nalley lagging a few seconds behind. They tied the two men up, forced them into the car and drove off.
Carmen re-watched the clip six times, trying to make more sense out of what she was seeing. A facial recognition program identified both of the men Mr. Cody and Miss Nalley had kidnapped. They both were marked as international fugitives, but there was no connection to their crimes or victim that she could determine. How had they even known they were there? Why?
Confused, Carmen copied the recording and then followed the car back through Groveton and up to the ICE Checkpoint. The US camera gave her customs agent Evens' side of the conversation she deduced by reading his lips. Miss Nalley's side required a couple of different cameras, but she was finally able to... She was claiming to be a super villain?! But...but...
Directive Four (Classified) Override.
Carmen blinked and was once more in the RTCC. Time had passed, but she didn't notice. She had the information Mrs. Carson wanted. Miss Nalley and Mr. Cody had gone to a restaurant for dinner before their movie. They'd happened upon a news report about the dangerous fugitives and recognized them. They had discreetly changed into uniforms to protect their identity and taken the child murderers into custody. They delivered them to a Canadian hero team to face judgment for their crimes.
They were heroes. It was as simple as that and she had the video to prove it.
April 29th, 2007
Rm 502, Dickenson Cottage, Whateley Academy
“A party?” demanded Poise with as much incredulity as her dignity would allow. “After what you laid on all of us last night, you want me to plan a party?”
Wyatt sighed. “Colleen...”
The kettle on her hot plate began to whistle, causing her to lift an imperious finger as she rose and strolled over to it, heel to toe in perfect balance and gait. Hot water was poured over a pair of cups and saucers, each with a stainless steel seeping ball filled with her own blend of black, Earl Gray and Darjeeling teas. A kitchen timer was set for exactly six minutes and the cups joined the small tray by the overstuffed chairs the two seniors were enjoying. These were by the dormer that commanded the room and looked out towards the Quad and the central hub of buildings.
Colleen sat back down, crossed one ankle over the other and then tucked her feet under the chair subconsciously as she held her cup and saucer and slowly pulled the ball by its chain through the water to seep it. “Wyatt, we've known each other for quite some time now, and while I have yet to master the ability to discern the frequently obscure motives behind your actions, I am quite good at determining when you're being serious and when you're having me on. And since I know you are serious about this party, my mind figuratively boggles that anything could be worth celebrating after the meeting last night.”
“It's part of our cover,” Wyatt told her softly. “Delarose has been on my heels ever since I threw the Don out of the Alphas after Christmas Break. He's convinced I'm 'up to something'...”
“Which you are,” the blonde returned with an arched eyebrow.
“And if he finds out the truth of what I'm up to, our endeavor and our planet are in serious jeopardy.” He sighed and looked out the window. “I've arranged to have Delarose 'find out' that I'm planning a huge end of term party. All the stops out and probably booze. Enough to let him concentrate on that and not what I'm really up to.”
The minute minder dinged and Fitzgerald removed her tea ball and without spilling a drop, laid it into a caddy waiting for it on the table. She sugared the tea with a pair of cubes and stirred silently. “Of course, for that ruse to be successful there must actually be a party, which is why you've come to me. If this is the only reason you included me, Wyatt, I am going to be deeply insulted.”
Cody blinked and shook his head. “You're Alpha female!” he protested. “The two of us are supposed to take charge and guide the other kids. Besides, Colleen, as you pointed out, we go way back. I wouldn't face the end of the world without you there.”
“I'm either flattered or appalled,” the other retorted as she laid down her spoon and took a sip. “Alright, Wyatt, I'll take care of the party. You'll need to be involved enough that your 'cover' will be convincing, of course.”
He picked up the tea and heaped a ridiculous amount of sugar into it. “Sure. Say, this isn't bad.”
Colleen rolled her eyes. “How can you taste it around the sugar?”
“I like what I like,” he declared. “Colleen, not to be maudlin...yes, I do in fact use the occasional five-dollar word, don't look at me like that!” Poise only smiled and looked out over her cup as she took a sip. “Not to be maudlin, but I'm really grateful that we stayed friends. You'll always be important to me.”
“Have you told her?”
“Why should I?” he wanted to know.
“What are your intentions towards Loophole, Wyatt?” she asked, fairly bluntly for her. She saw his entire posture change, saw the expression on his face and sighed. She knew without him saying a word. “Well, as unladylike as it would have been of me, I have to admit I am a bit saddened that your intentions are so honorable. Marriage?”
He nodded, then a frown settled on his face. “Why are you sad? I thought we agreed...?”
“At the risk of damaging that over-inflated ego of yours, Wyatt, I'm afraid that I'm not pining away after you. Whatever your reputation now, I remember the half-terrified freshman who was going all the way for the first time.” His face turned a bright shade of scarlet. “Don't pout,” she teased him. “What you lacked in technique you made up for in...athleticism.” She smiled a private, almost evil smile. “However many of these girls you've conquered since, I still own your virginity.”
“Then, why do you care...?”
She sighed. “I am certain that Loophole was part of the group that turned my room upside down last year as a part of this farcical rivalry Whitman Cottage holds for us here in Dickinson.”
His eyebrow raised. “Upside down?”
“I got back to the cottage after class to change for dinner and every piece of furniture I owned was on the ceiling. My clothes were so heavily starched that they hung upside down in the wardrobe! To this day I have no idea how they did it. It took four campus maintenance techs a week to get it all down. A week I had to spend on Mrs. Nelson's couch, and I suppose I was hoping your normal reputation...” She sighed and frowned at him and the odd expression on his face; half-amused by the prank, half-appalled the great Poise would want revenge. “I said it was unladylike, didn't I?”
April 29th, 2007
Loophole's Private Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Marty gave Steve an odd glance as he followed the map his sister had sketched out on a napkin as they walked through the tunnels. “You don't know your way around here?” she asked him archly. Steve was only mildly annoyed.
“You've been here longer than me, do you?” he shot back.
“Point taken,” she admitted. She caught sight of a door up ahead and pointed. “Oh, hey, there it is.” They picked up their pace and arrived the door which was labeled Loophole. A knock brought the curvy redhead to the door who ushered them in. “What do you have for us?” asked Marty, obviously excited.
The main worktable had been pushed back against the wall to make room for a pair dress-maker's forms draped in cloth in the center. The two capes were practically salivating; neither were friendly enough with somebody on the Engineering track to get something made for free before. And most of the kids they knew that were on the track wanted rates well beyond what they could afford. “Ah think you'll be happy,” Elaine told them, drawing out their suspense. “Ah did take a few liberties, though Ah believe you'll still appreciate the results. Marty,” she said, pulling the cover off the form that had breasts.
The form held a body suit with sleeves down to her wrists and legs that were actually textured to look like skin. This gave it the effect of being a legless leotard. It was a dark, royal blue, but the fabric was textured and had a gold sheen to it as the light moved across it. A cavalier cloak of brilliant white, also with a gold sheen, was over the left shoulder and a thick gold cord went under the right arm pit, leaving the right shoulder bare. The plain red M on the chest had been replaced by a raised oval plate that was emblazoned with a stylized MG in a lightning bolt font reminiscence of the one used by a number of heavy metal bands. This was in gold over a white field of the plaque.
Marty gasped in delight, but Lanie only smiled. “Oh, that's just for looks, have a listen to the specs.” She picked up the sleeve and showed the fabric to the pair. “This is Fifty-One Fifty Kevra, that's government grade, the highest Dow makes. See the sheen? I've added a mesh of Titan Wire between two layers of the Kevra. Now, you couldn't tell me much about those claws of hers, but I'm willing to bet they're actually retooled Denatured Adamantium, not the full stuff. That's too expensive for her. But, the Titan Wire is made from Denatured Adamantium so like stops like.Not only that, this suit will stop a fifty caliber browning machine gun round at the muzzle. Now, just because it won't penetrate the suit, doesn't mean you'll survive the impact! So be careful!”
“How do you get into it?” she asked, fawning over the garment. Elaine pulled the cloak aside.
“There's a self zipper up the back, like a wet suit, which the cloak hides. Now, since you're sneaking around so much, check this out.” She reached around and pressed the field of the logo plaque. A wave propagated through the fabric, and instantly in its wake the royal blue darkened to a Navy that was only a few shades from black. The white of the cloak became black and the gold darkened to a deep charcoal gray. Marty clapped her hands and squealed in delight. “Ah didn't dye the fabric, Ah impregnated it with Bab's photo-color nanites. This is 'stealth' mode, click it again and it's back to how it was.”
“That is the coolest thing ever!” Marty gushed.
“There's a nine-volt battery in the plaque you'll have to change once a quarter or so, but the white background here will turn gold when it needs to be changed, but the suit will stay whatever color it is even if the plaque is ripped off.”
“Titan wire?” demanded Steve, incredulous. “Lanie, that stuff is...”
Loophole shrugged. “Oh, it's pricey, but it's nowhere near as bad as full-fledged Adamantium! The school is a major contributor of failed Adamantium to Titan Heavy Industries, so we get it at cost. Just using up mah lab fees budget. Use it or lose it, so.” She pulled the cloth over the other manikin to reveal a mostly blue body suit with black and white accents. A blue cape with black satin ribbon on the edges was attached at the shoulders with white studs. “Yours works the same way,” she said, touching the plaque with SH on it, sending the blue to dark Navy, the white to dark gray. “Same Titan Wire Mesh so it should take whatever this Mrs. Turner can dish out. The mesh will give you some magic resistance because of how the wire is made, but not much and heavy hitter mages can blow right through it. Now, step over here.”
She led the way to the table and pulled the cover off it. On it was a pair of belts, white for Marty and black for Steve, both covered in pouches. There were also a pair of white gauntlets for Marty. Lanie picked up the left and pressed a button, and immediately a holographic screen popped up floating over it. “Marty, Ah love ya, sweetie, but you have a really bad habit of leaping before you look. So, here you go. This is one of the first prototypes of one of Dashboard's Touch Grams,” she said, showing how the hologram was actually solid.
“Oh, wow,” she whispered.
“Ah did up the OS. There's a wifi connector and it's jail broken so you can get a SIM from any provider you like for Cell Data. For apps, you've got a Firefox browser, with a quick app for Wikipedia and Hero Net. All you need is internet.” The turned it over. “Micro-USB here to charge it or down load any of the info from the flash card, the door for it is under here.”
Marty took it with the awe of kid at Christmas who got a gift that was light years better than what they wanted. “What does the other one do?”
Lanie picked it up and popped it open revealing a shallow compartment. “That Ah left open for you. You can keep your MID in here, or a baggie of Quick-Clot or whatever you want.” She then indicated the belts. “This is all off the shelf stuff. A pair of handcuff carriers, regular on the left hip and Brick level 4 on the right - don't get them confused! Mag-light and carrier, a Leatherman, 5/11 Tactical fold up binoculars with low light, thermal and a built in ten megapixel camera that's x26 power with four pouches empty for whatever toys you two want to add.”
“Sis, you are the bomb!” gushed Steve.
“Bomb?” she sniffed, “Ah'm thermonuclear!” The teens shared a laugh as Marty and Steve spent a bit of time playing with their new toys. “Hey,” she cautioned. “Try not to get killed with this stuff, ok?”
“No fear!” Marty promised. “Now, here's what we thought we'd do against Mrs. Turner...”
April 29th, 2007
Astral Space Next To Loophole's Private Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Grizzly watched the children delight in their new toys and smiled the smile every mother knew as they watched youth take another important step to adulthood. The girl's brother wasn't a bad sort in his own way, as brothers went he was probably quite charming. She could not see very far back into Elaine's mind as their connection was tenuous at best, but what she could see from her memories showed nothing more than the kind of tit-for-tat dominance games close siblings played on each other. She was certain each would unhesitatingly lay down their life for the other.
As the half-human, half-bear-woman leaned on the doorway and watched, she became aware of the approach of a familiar spirit and turned to see the Kodiak strolling towards her. “Don't you ever get tired of that foppish Ren Faire costume?” she asked, rolling her eyes.
She blinked and he was suddenly attired like his host, T-shirt under an open flannel and jeans. “Do you like this better?”
“Act your age,” she snapped, but he only chuckled and kept the flannel.
“I don't know this is rather comfortable,” he remarked. “Perhaps the boy is beginning to rub off on me. How is the girl coming along?”
“She's afraid,” Grizzly replied. “In her stead, I would be too. She's cautious, but there is a wild flare about her that I definitely enjoy. It is well that her parents were as studious as they were, else she would likely have gotten into serious trouble by now. But, I think she is too cautious and could stand to be a bit bolder.” The She-Bear looked at her former mate and sniffed. “But that's not what you came to find out, is it?”
Kodiak frowned. “As if we have time for this adolescent nonsense,” he growled. “Were it not for the Contract of Solomon I would have you just possess the girl and be done with it.”
“You aren't the lord of me,” Grizzly returned coldly. “And that kind of thinking is exactly why the Contract came to be. And if you had not made such a ham-fisted mess of things I wouldn't have such a difficult time winning the girl's trust!”
“The world is at stake, Grizzly!”
Her bellow of outrage echoed off the deep bedrock of the cavern. “I'm tired of hearing about the world!” she shouted. “That was the excuse you used when I raised our cubs on my own! When you left me to teach the craft to the Tribes while you ran off to Europe it was to save the World! And when you brought them over here and unleashed centuries of horror it was the world again that balanced the books! Your excuse wears thin to thread bare, Kodiak!”
“How much horror would they have endured under the Bastard?” he shouted back. “They wouldn't heed! They wouldn't learn! They were content to feast and fuck as if there would never be a bill to pay! I'm tired of arguing this with you, Grizzly!” The two bear spirits roared and bared their fangs at each other, heedless that the humans they had come to watch had collected their prizes and left, leaving them alone on their side of reality.
“The Cherokee were learning fine!” she fired back. “They had cities, written language...”
Kodiak threw up his hands and turned away. “How many times must we go through this, Grizzly?”
“The Trail of Tears!” she snarled.
“I didn't plant that in Jackson's ear and you know it!” he shouted back.
“You brought them here! You're responsible...!”
“They were coming whether I brought them or not!” He sighed and pointed a finger. “Who keeps the tribes resentful and separate, eh? Who keeps them sullen and on the reservations when they could embrace being American or Canadian while still being proud and true to their roots? The Irish and the Scots do it! The Germans and French...”
“Betray who and what they are?” she asked softly. “Wave flags, and use this Internet they've created to try and remember where they came from? Even Elaine herself barely knows the people she was descended from.”
“How long will you live in a past that doesn't exist any longer?” he demanded.
“How long will you mourn a dead queen and a fallen city?” He wilted as her barb found its mark and she regretted once more using his oath against him. She reached out to apologize but he turned and faded, spirit walking back to his host if she smelled the trails properly.
Grizzly sighed and not for the first time regretted her temper. In her heart, she knew they were both right, just too stubborn and set in their ways to forgive the other for past slights and present recalcitrance. She looked through the astral of the school, with its many nodes and bubbles touching other planes and dimension and the wards with their Keeper, so powerful to glow, lighting a world of bubbles of reality under the protective dome of the school. She focused on the one she needed and walked, not so much in a direction or a distance as a shifting of perspective.
The caverns and granite bedrock of New Hampshire gave way to the Great Plains of the Midwest while comfortable Denim and cotton gave way to buckskin and bead work, then to be clad only by the sky as she returned to the four legs of the animal she represented. Finally she found him, watching over her as he always did, turning to nod a greeting. “Grizzly,” Tatanka rumbled. He paused, reading her body language and frowned. “What troubles you so greatly?”
The She-Bear sat on her hindquarters and hung her head. “I would beg your help, Tatanka, to side with me in calling a council of the spirits.”
The buffalo's head turned sideways slight as he tried to better understand her request. “And what would the purpose of this council be?”
Grizzly sighed again. “To Unite the People once more. To let the Pipe Holders lay down their pipes and take up the tomahawk and the bow once more. To call for paint of the men to go forth in the War Band. To beat the drum and dance the call for War.”
April 29th, 2007
Room 512, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Elaine Schroepfer sat on her bed clutching a stuffed animal to her chest and trying not to panic. Her body was still something of a strange place she was getting used to. She was reminded of this every time something brushed against one of the horrible piercings Kallysta had put them through. She'd had so much metal punched into her the doctors had warned about the possibility of shock if she yanked them all out and tried to let them close at once. Right now one of her tongue piercings, two of the three navels, and the eyebrows were out and slowly healing.
Skybolt had always had something of love of earrings, and an extensive collection, but now she couldn't look at them without feeling a bit sick to her stomach. As she usually did, Kallysta found a way to turn something one loved into a torture. The door knob turned, but she'd locked it and whoever it was bounced off the door that didn't open. “Go away!” she shouted. “I want to be alone.”
A key rattled in the lock and, to her amazement, turned it, opening the door. “'ello,” greeted a tall, shapely girl. She was black and dark-skinned to top it off with gold eyes, though her hair was relaxed and hung about her head in a carefree kind of way that probably took her a long time to achieve. She was wearing a stark-white pair of low-rise jeans and midriff blouse off the shoulders with exaggerated sleeves with a slash that bared and hid her arms in turns. She was carrying a box full of stuff.
Elaine tried not to be cross and kept her voice even. “I do not wish any company, thank you.”
The other girl took no notice and set the box down on the empty bed. “No worries, then,” she replied, picking through the box to remove pictures and set them on the desk. “Not here to visit anyway.”
Skybolt blinked. “What do you think you're doing?”
The other girl straightened and turned to look at her. “Moving in, what does it look like?”
“I...I am alone here...”
She shook her head. “Not anymore,” she declared. “Mr. Forrest says you get a roomie and that's me.” She stuck out a hand. “Daphne,” she greeted. “Daphne Bosworth, the boys call me Stunner.”
Schroepfer limply took the offered hand. “Wait, Stunner? I...that is, last year...”
“Oh, I know,” she replied, turning back to her box. “You weren't in your right mind, nothing personal for all the shit you talked to the capes and kept me out. Stiff upper lip and all that.” She turned back and set her hands on her hips. The white outfit darkened her considerably and her eyes practically glowed out of her face. “Don't mind me, I'll just be over here, thinking of England.”
“For what?” Daphne demanded. “You weren't in control, right? I mean, Hekate put every word in your mouth, right?”
Elaine was sputtering and caught completely off guard. “Nein, I mean...No, She ordered...”
“And you followed,” finished Stunner. “Lucky for you that played better here than at Nurenburg, ja?” Schroepfer's face flushed and she leapt to her feet in a rage.
“How dare you!” she shouted, her eyes filling with tears. “Do you think I don't feel the fool for what I let happen to me? I was awake for every moment of it and I could do nothing! I lied to the teachers, screaming inside that I was trapped, trying to beg for them to help me! And you feel wronged? What do you want? Me to grovel? To beg for your forgiveness? Oh pardon me, Daphne, I should never have spoken so ill of you while I was being raped!”
Stunner stared at the other girl for a long moment then smiled. “Good, you can stick up for yourself. Forrest sang me a song and dance about what a delicate little flower you were, fragile as a stained glass window. What a cop. So, we going to be mates or what?” She held out her hand again.
“A stone-cold bitch,” Stunner finished with a smile as Elaine finally took her hand. “But I'm a bit of alright. I won't coddle you Elaine, so don't expect it. My judgment you've been coddled enough. Want to have a go at helping me move?”
Skybolt finally gave into the absurdity of the situation and laughed the first genuine laugh she'd had in what felt like forever. “I'd love to!”
April 29th, 2007
Songbird's Apartment, 220 Sullivan St Greenwich Village, New York, NY
Maria looked in satisfaction at the now empty apartment where she had suffered through the most miserable year of her life. A year spent dining on Ramen and greasy New York take out as 'treat' meals and 'special' nights - there had been precious few of them - and food she would have turned her nose up to just a year before. She stood in the vacant place where the ratty sleeper sofa that had been her bed had been; remembering crying herself to sleep in fear and terror that she wouldn't wake the next morning.
That someone she had loved would murder her.
A rumbling traveled up her leg as her cat pressed against her. “My fortunes changed with you, Don Gato,” she told the animal. The foundling had arrived the same day the Dean of Students of NYU had called to confirm that yes, she could in fact test out of the entire course curriculum and they would be forced to issue her degree, and then begged her not to do so. Maria had scheduled tests as fast as she could.
And while she was testing, she saved her first life at All Hands of Mercy Rape Crisis Center; a woman so despondent at what had happened to her she had started the call saying she had a gun to her head. It would have been a childish thing with her powers to stop the woman. Indeed, she had discovered that the mild electronic 'buzz' inherent in telecommunications actually covered the soft re-verb her voice took on when she used her power. But she had been terrified a murderer was looking over her shoulder everywhere she went and so for six hours she begged and pleaded and cajoled and cried with this stranger until finally she put the gun down and would allow Maria to send the police to help her.
Then last month her mental Jailer had come calling, come to save her from the psychopath her erstwhile best friend had become. But the girl who came with her to her apartment, who had been so cocksure and beautiful and confident had been a veneer and under it was the old Elaine, who was scared, and insecure and so abjectly mortified at what she had done.
Maria had heard Mr. Lord's talks about Greek drama, and catharsis; the numb, complete purge of emotion from over stimulation. She hadn't really believed there could be such a thing until that night, until she had cried from release of fear of her life, in joy of having her friend back, in sorrow for what she had endured. Cried until Maria could not cry anymore and had been pleasantly, comfortably numb, content to be held in the arms of her old lover who was now a beautiful young woman.
And for the first time in her life, Maria Ricardo had had to face her lesbianism, the knee-jerk hatred she had developed over her own abuse. And when Elaine had returned to school the lovers had hugged and kissed, and promised to never let anything else come between them, Maria had gone to church for the first time in ten years and confessed. She confessed to everything she had done and poured out her soul, her love of another woman, the evil she had done to be popular and her desperate attempt to make amends.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of baring her soul, she'd fallen silent, waiting for the condemnation she was certain would be coming from the other side of the confessional. Instead, a kindly voice had told how much God loved her, that while He had been disappointed in her lapse and transgression, how proud He must be of her efforts to make right what she had done and how patiently He had been waiting for her to realize He was there, waiting to help her, waiting for her..
Once more Maria had cried until she was numb and could cry nothing further.
She had gone home, at long last feeling right about her life only to find the present her lover had left for her, and again the tears flowed. Maria had not cried this much in her entire life and through it all, Don Gato had rubbed against her in comfort. Then Maria had battled her pride for two weeks until, of all people, Wyatt Cody had called her, looking to apologize.
What had followed had been an exhausting trip across the country with her rival for the affections of Elaine. A rival who seemed to have fumbled the ball, but, instead of reveling in his failure, Maria found herself feeling sorry for him, which caused her no end of confusion. Confusion that was most definitely not helped by the disturbingly vivid dreams she had experienced. Dreams of the nightmare of her childhood, dreams of a wonderful, perfect place where every night her lover was in her arms. And then, Wyatt had been there, in this perfect place. And she had not been afraid. She watched them and she could feel the love between them and she had been happy for them.
And then slowly, tenderly, they had turned to her and invited her to join them.
She had been afraid, but she felt so safe she had done things she swore she would never allow again, and she had enjoyed them, even though she shouldn't have. And she had felt love, even though she was certain she would have felt revulsion. And she had fallen asleep between them feeling loved, happy and complete.
A week later Mrs. Hartford had called. She had tracked down her mother and unraveled the Gordian Knot she had made of the finances to cover her tracks, and wanted to know what account Maria would like her funds restored to? Once more Maria had cried until she could not and through it all, Mrs Hartford had stayed on the phone, consoling her, helping her, understanding her without judgment or pity. And then the last thing Maria had ever expected to hear had come from her lips.
“Maria, I know you're settled in New York, but we just lost Jen Stevens and I haven't had the heart to replace her, and we've needed a dedicated Siren coach for some time. Poor Dr. Hewley does what he can, but...”
“Mrs. Hartford, what are you asking me?”
“Miss Ricardo, would you like a job?”
Maria picked up her cat and sighed contentedly. She had her drama degree from NYU, however begrudging, her fortune and a generous, anonymous contributor made sure that All Hands of Mercy would be fine. “Come along, Don Gato,” she told the cat. “It's a long drive to New Hampshire.”
April 29th, 2007
Astral Space Near Kayda Franks, Whateley Academy
Tatanka rumbled up to his hooves and shook himself in shock. “A War Council?” he demanded, stunned. “Why? Grizzly, you are a Healer, a teacher you have always voted against war! What could possibly have changed your mind?”
“My mind has not changed,” she replied with a forlorn sigh. “I hate war as I love life. I hate the waste of it, I hate the suffering it always brings, the death and the destruction and the mindless villainy let loose to prey upon the world. But a War Council has rules, Tatanka, traditions that trace back thousands of years, and in the Peace of the War Council, old grudges must be put aside, enemies must become friends and show a united front against the common foe.”
“The Bastard,” rumbled Tatanka.
“No,” she corrected softly. “The White Man.”
The spotless bison blinked slowly. “You would have the People renew the war with the White Man?” Grizzly shook her head.
“No, Tatanka. I am reminded recently that I have been recalcitrant and stubborn. It was by my council the People kept to their own, even as the Cherokee and the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek and the Seminole made friends with the White Man, wore his clothes, ate his food, drank his whiskey, and traded freely.”
“They paid for their generosity,” the bison rumbled.
“No more than the Lakota when they clashed with the Anishnaabe and Cree and were driven to the plains. The People fought amongst themselves long before the White Men arrived on these lands. War has no friends and makes enemies of us all.” She sighed. “Tatanka we cannot pretend we are the only 'Natives' of this land, or the only 'People'. It is time for us to act as wise as we claim to be, is that not so?”
“Did the Kodiak put these words in your lips?”
“Is it wise to stay in a burning building because a fool yelled 'fire'?”
The bison blinked twice in surprise and quickly a deep, rumbling laugh shook up and out of him from the tips of his hooves. “So, you mean to wage Peace in a War Council!” His eyes narrowed. “Are you truly Grizzly and not Coyote causing trouble?”
She laughed a laugh without mirth. “How long has Coyote howled the children of man were all one People and how long have we all ignored him?” She looked up, her gaze determined. “I am Grizzly who taught the First Shaman to set the bones that were broken, that honey on a wound would keep it from festering, that willow bark would take the madness from a fever. I taught the People the Craft and in good meaning I counseled the People to nurse old grudges, to hide on the Reservations granted us, lick their wounds and sharpen knives against men long dead. Enough, I repent of it and if the Bastard is not sufficient for us to join together as one People, as The Great Spirit intended, then we have proven ourselves unworthy of this world and right to lose it.”
Tatanka gazed down on the She Bear for a long time before he nodded. “I will take your words before the Ptesanwi. If she is convinced, I will send forth the Bailiff to call the Council myself.”
April 29th, 2007
Apartment of Patricia Savage, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
“Bella!” exclaimed Trish, a smile of delight on her face as she opened the door. “Won't you come in?”
Mrs Horton smiled, fighting down the feeling of jealousy at the younger, taller woman's figure. It was no secret that Trish Savage was the youngest of the house-mothers; the poor dear had been widowed before she was thirty. Of course, given the life she'd lived, it was amazing to Bella Horton sometimes that she had lived to be thirty. 'Everyone' knew that Trish Savage was considered the most attractive of the house-mothers; it was adolescent, it was petty, and it was unbecoming, and Bella still couldn't stop being jealous of her figure.
Not that Mrs. Horton had passed into Frumpy. Mr. Horton certainly never complained, she thought to herself. But if Bella Horton had any real passion, it was honesty, and she was studiously honest with herself. In her youth she had been curvy, in her marriage she had been rubenesque and now she was getting into zaftig, and if she didn't want to pass that on her way to Earth Mother, she'd best get off her plump rear and find a workout partner. And while Trish Savage, fitness buff, former Marine Drill instructor, former professional adventurer, would be ideal, it didn't help that Bella also was honest enough to admit to herself that she was attracted to the younger woman.
Really, really attracted to her.
“Hello Trish,” she greeted, eying the Bowflex machine in its corner as if it were the work of the Devil. “I hope I'm not disturbing you?”
The tall blonde made a rude noise between her lips. “Nonsense,” she announced. “Just a lazy Sunday. I was just going to brew some coffee, will you join me?”
“Yes,” the other replied, “Irish or otherwise.”
Trish smiled a devious grin. “Something can be arranged. What can I do for you?” She led the way into the apartment and gestured for Bella to sit at her dining room table, while she went into the kitchen to get at her coffee pot.
“I want to talk with you about, well, I know how you feel about your girls, Trish.”
The blonde shook her head with a smile as she dropped a plastic cup into the machine and started it brewing. “Oh, it's what I get for not keeping count of the Mai Tais at the end of term party and getting maudlin. I won't ever live it down.” She took the cup, full of coffee from the machine, and put it on the table in front of her chair with a chilled bottle of Bailey's from her fridge. “Speak your mind, Bella, I promise I won't bite,” she said as she reloaded maker.
“What in the world...?” Bella asked, peering around her.
“Oh, it's a Keurig; makes coffee one cup at a time. Like I would ever get a chance to drink a whole pot of coffee!” she laughed as she brought her cup over and dropped a dollop of Irish Cream into it. “So, what's up? Did one of my girls break something over at Poe?”
Bella sighed. “Trish, you know about Elaine Nalley...”
Trish frowned. “She's seeing Kodiak now.”
“She was at the Spring Hot Tub Social,” Bella replied. “And yes, I know she's back with Wyatt, but she's at least Bi.”
“So what?” Trish demanded.
Bella sighed. “Trish, it's perfectly natural...”
The blonde frowned. “Bella, don't play the ex-marine card,” she warned. “Just because I served my country doesn't make me a bigot. I fought you on moving Elaine last year because it would have put the secret of your cottage at risk. I may not agree with forcing them to live in the closet, but it's not my call.”
“We don't force them,” she shot back. “Any student at Poe can come out; we just ask them not to out the others!” She regained control of her mouth and shook her head. “I'm sorry, Trish,” Mrs. Horton apologized. “I do know you better than that and I should never have even allowed myself to think that.”
Mrs. Savage shrugged and smiled from the corner of her mouth. “Old prickle. Sorry to leap down your throat.” She sighed and fixed her gaze on the older woman. “You're going to tell me that because of the trauma Elaine went through that you want her to move to Poe? Improve the cover story of Poe as the 'nut house'?”
“No,” Bella replied. “At least, not this year.”
Trish frowned in confusion. “What? Then..?”
“Poe is going to undergo some really serious modifications over the summer,” Bella told her, reaching into her purse to remove the plan and the architectural rendering Mrs. Carson had given her. The additions to the cottage were substantial, changing it from a simple rectangle to a capital H with the original cottage linking the two new wings.
“Woof!” exclaimed Trish. “Good lord! The cost, this must be...”
Mrs. Horton shrugged. “All Mrs. Carson will tell me it's an anonymous donation, and likely the beginning of a complete upgrade series of all the cottages.”
“Look at this new apartment you'll get!”
“Jacuzzi tub,” the other woman said with a grin. “And eventually, I'm guessing you'll get one, too! But, look here,” she said, pointing to the floor plan of the new upper floors. “The old rooms are completely gutted. That creates a large common area, and the stairwell is moved to the front of the building here. We also get elevators, finally! And there's a vending area.”
“What are these large rooms at the four corners of the old building?” Trish asked.
“Each floor gets four single rooms, with private baths,” Bella told her. “And we're going to have an upper classman on each serving as a wing adviser; seniors and juniors who get a single in exchange for helping me keep an eye on things...”
Trish crossed her arms over her breasts and smirked. “And Elaine will just happen to be junior next year. I can see where this is going...”
“I'm guessing you haven't heard.”
“Songbird is coming back,” Bella told her. “Hartford hired her to replace Jen Stevens and to have a dedicated Siren teacher.”
“She's not qualified...!” started Mrs. Savage hotly, but Mrs. Horton only shook her head.
“Maria's an exemplar, Trish. She basically tested out of her entire college degree from NYU and already has a New Hampshire Teacher's License.”
Mrs. Savage stood up, outraged. “Liz can't really be thinking of allowing the ex-lover of a student to have a teaching position while she's still a student! Why if even a hint of it got out...!”
“You think I didn't already have this shouting match with Liz?” Bella shot back with a shake of her head. “Oh she swore up and down she'd put the fear of God into Songbird that if she even looked at Loohole, blah blah blah. The fact of the matter is we've got nine sirens at the school now, we'll probably have more next year, and we don't have a dedicated instructor with the power. Add to the fact she can pull double duty teaching drama and her minds made up.”
Trish looked away for a moment, then turned back to the older woman. “Is this about keeping them separate or making it easier for them?”
“It's about making you aware of the issue,” Bella replied, then sighed. “And giving Elaine the choice. Either one of us can keep an eye on her. I can just keep her busy, idle hands and workshops and all that.” After a long moment, Trish nodded.
“I'm not sure where she is right now,” she said. “But I have no objection with letting her decide.” Bella touched her necklace and thought. She opened her mouth and then an odd look came on her face. “What?”
“I...” Bella concentrated, trying to center herself, but only became more frustrated. “I keep a seek spell on most of the students I take an interest in. For a split second I got hint of Elaine being afraid, but...determined? I think that's the best word for it, and now I can't sense her at all.”
“Deathly afraid?” the other asked. Bella shook her head.
“No, as if she was working up the courage to do something.”
Trish reached for her phone. “That's never a good sign with her,” she said as she dialed. “Security? House Mother Trish Savage, authorization Juliet Sierra Tango Seven, I need a campus wide trace on student Nalley, Elaine.”
April 29th, 2007 (Twenty minutes earlier)
Woods, south of Melville Cottage near the trail to the Grove, Whateley Academy
The ground was soggy from the all-day rain and squished under the girl's boots as they walked. From the Crystal hall where they had met, they'd stuck to the tunnels as much as they could to stay dry, but now they were forced above ground. It was cool, crisp, and the air was fresh from the rain, and the late afternoon or early evening was quite pleasant with a jacket.
Even Kayda had given in to the elements and put on a pair of jeans under a thin deerskin blouse and a heavier dark leather jacket with fringe-work. Elaine had traded her sneakers for duck boots and a letterman jacket in the colors of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The paths had given them some relief from the muddy ground, but there were no paved paths where they were going, and so now had to slog through the muck. “Ugh,” swore Lanie as her boot slipped and she nearly fell. “The joys of cold, wet New England springs.”
“Things so different down south?” teased Kayda, but the redhead just rolled her eyes.
“See this?” she asked, throwing her arms wide. “This is winter down south. It'll be up the seventies in Atlanta today, maybe even kiss eighty, with blue skies and flowers and, you know, spring?”
“Why Lanie, people will think you're complaining!”
“Eh,” chuckled the other. She shivered and looked back at Melville over her shoulder. “Dear God, Ah hope Ah'm doing the right thing.”
Kayda stopped at once and turned to her friend. “Hey, all kidding aside, this is your call.”
Loophole swallowed and nodded. “It's the only way Ah can be sure,” she whispered. “Ah want to be with him; Ah just have to know it's what Ah want.”
“I can't imagine,” the Lakota girl said softly. She sighed and shook her head as the girls started walking again. “I love my dad, and I know my mom loves him, and on some level they...” she ground to a halt and shuddered. “Whenever I even try to think about that I just want to throw up! How can it possibly be something you enjoy?”
Kayda looked up into the other girl's face and found her expression far-away and a smile on her lips. “Oh, Kayda, Ah can't imagine what it's like for you. Truth be told, girl, Ah don't really want to. Ah don't ever want to know what you went through is like.” The girls hugged as they walked and the smaller of the pair smiled up at her taller friend.
“I just don't understand... I mean, how could anybody pick Peeper over Rosalyn?”
“Hey now,” she protested. “That's not the trade Ah made! If that's my choice Ah sure hope Rosalyn is into redheads! But, even you have to admit there's no comparing Wyatt to Peeper!”
Franks shared a giggle and for a moment marveled how far and how comfortable she had become in this new turn her life had taken. “Ok, Tiresias, who has it better then?”
“Well, Tiresias was a man who was transformed into a woman, so you're better suited than me...”
“Yes, women certainly feel better,” she shot back. “But you know what I mean, Lanie!”
“Eh,” she stammered, hedging a moment. “It...it's different. Ah was with Maria, but Wyatt takes me,” she said, trying to think of some way to explain the difference without making Kayda uncomfortable. “Ah mean, the lead up is the same.” She grimaced and scratched her head. “Kissing is kissing, but, still, yes men and women kiss differently, but you still get excited and that...mostly...feels the same. And foreplay is foreplay. And then ...er, how detailed of an answer are you looking for?” she demanded with a very fetching blush.
Kayda blinked, not realizing that she'd been drawn into the explanation and the topic was quite intimate. She blushed fiercely herself and turned away. “I...I'm sorry, that's so none of my business! I...we were talking and then...”
Her arm was around Kayda's shoulder and she hugged her again.
“Hey, if Ah can help you, why wouldn't Ah? Ah mean, we've been naked together! That's not exactly conducive for keeping secrets!”
Kayda hugged the redhead back and nodded, finally overcoming her blush.
“I mean, I was kind of kidding, but...if you don't mind...I...”
“Are you going tell me about you and Rosalyn,” the other retorted and the Lakota girl's cheeks darkened again. “Hmm, Ah guess the White Buffalo Calf Woman has been picking Blackroses! Mind the thorns!”
“Oh, stop!” Kayda managed through her embarrassment. "You're assuming that my understanding with Rosalyn is physical," Kayda said with a wry grin, as if very pleasant memories had rushed to the surface. “And we're talking about your bedroom romps, not mine!” She looked up into the other girls face and found a kindly expression and a soft smile.
“Just teas'n,” she assured Kayda. She took in a deep breath and blew out her cheeks. “Oh, boy, heavy stuff huh? You want to know what it's like?” Franks nodded shyly. “Well the first time, Wyatt and Ah had a fight.”
“You got into a shouting match and then had sex?”
That struck Elaine so funny her surprised laugh came out with a snort. She just grinned and shook her head. “Wyatt...Wyatt is really like his spirit this way. I mean, he doesn't respect anybody who won't stand up for themselves.” She looked down and saw the confusion on Kayda's face. “To Wyatt, the guy that stands up and gets beaten is a better guy than the one who won't stand up at all. He actually likes the guys he's fought more than those who just hang with him and won't call him on his bullshit. He doesn't respect them, and by God, no matter what else happened, Ah wasn't going to be a little piece of tail he scored with and wouldn't respect.”
“What did you...?”
“Ah set him up, and then Ah put on mah armor and Ah kicked his ass,” she said proudly. “Well, we called it a draw.”
“You got into a fistfight?”
Lanie shook her head. “Ah never said everything works out the way Ah think it should. Had a black eye the next day. Oh it scared me, waking up next to him, realizing what Ah'd done. Ah ran into the sims and Ah hid from him. Ah was so afraid Ah was just the next notch on his belt.”
Kayda considered that for a long moment. “But, obviously you weren't...”
“No,” Elaine admitted. “At least, that's what he says. And, God willing, after this, Ah'll know how Ah really feel. Course, that's the problem.”
“If Ah join with Grizzly and Ah find Kodiak has been fucking with mah mind more, that could upset the League. Imagine if you and Tatanka were fighting. And the world is at stake! But...” she trailed off and looked away. Kayda looped a hand around her waist and hugged her one armed in reassurance. And, even though the other girl was half a head taller than Kayda, some part of her noted how so very nicely her hand felt on Lanie's hip.
Lanie looked down on her and forced a smile. “If...if there isn't something compelling me, Ah guess Ah'll just have to come to grips with being a whore.”
“Hey!” Kayda protested. “That's a load of crap, you...”
“You wanted to know what it's like?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. Before Kayda could answer, she went on to say, “Well, that's how much Ah like it, Kayda. He takes me into his arms, and his hands are on me, and his lips and his tongue, and his...his...thing and Ah want him so badly. Ah want to smell his smell, Ah want to feel his weight on me, Ah want him to take me and own me and use me. Ah want to have his kids just to show him how much Ah want him! Ah want him inside me and when he is...” she looked away and shivered. “Maria made me feel good; she felt like a soft spring rain, warm and gentle and promising green grass and pretty flowers. Wyatt makes me feel like a woman. It's...it's primal; he's there and Ah open...”
She looked back at the curious expression on her friends' face. “If Wyatt Cody told me he only wants me to be his whore, God save me, Ah'll be his whore. Maybe he's a drug, maybe Ah'm an addict, Ah don't know. Ah hope to God this will tell me. And if Grizzly is in mah mind and Ah feel the same way, then...then... oh God, please don't let him be lying that he wants to be with me the rest of mah life. Ah...”
“Oh, Ah know, Kayda!” she said, shaking her head. “Ah know ya can't live for someone else, that you can't be this way... Ah...just...Ah don't know what Ah'm more afraid of. That the Kodiak is in control of me, or that Ah really am this panting whore Ah've become!”
Kayda blinked and licked her dry lips. “You told me you wouldn't have sex with him before you fought him to demand his respect, right?” Lanie nodded. “Then you, my friend, are not his whore. You might like it, you might love it, and assuming you feel the same and it's not The Kodiak, but being enthusiastic isn't the same as being a whore.”
The girls smiled at each other as Lanie gently touched her cheek with the backs of her fingers.
“Debra is a lucky girl,” she told her softly.
Franks smiled and blushed just a bit. “Thank you, for sharing that, I know it must have been difficult.”
“Anything for a friend,” she replied. “Would I wax so eloquently about Peeper?” She shuddered and started walking again. “Not no, but hell no." Then a wicked grin came over Lanie's face. "But that doesn't mean there aren't other guys that might tickle mah interest were Wyatt and Ah to have split permanently. Let's be honest, Whateley is like an all you can eat buffet, and it doesn't matter what you like, it's here.”
They crossed a boundary and for a moment, her shoulder was warm. At the meeting the night before, The Kodiak had explained the Grove's offer to help, and their price. Each participant would have to bear a sigil, cut into them by The Kodiak as a sign of trust to identify them to the grove. Only the magic track students had really understood the why of it, and they went on and on about the sigil not marking the children for his own somehow.
There was more than a little discomfort around the campus about demons and demon marks of late.
But, in a show of trust to her boyfriend, Elaine had actually volunteered to receive the first one. She'd pulled her tank aside and presented the left shoulder the bear wanted. The Kodiak carved the sigil into the girls' shoulder with his claw. Lanie had been brave, bitten her lip and not cried out, though tears did flow.
The blood was wiped from her skin, then the gauze pad removed for a better dressing with antibacterial cream, but they found her shoulder pristine, without so much as a scar, and to those with mage sight, the sigil glowing slightly in her skin. And even that quickly faded. Now the path to the Grove was easy and they quickly passed from the school to it. While the Grove was also wet from rain, it felt very different from New Hampshire. The rain here had been cool, but not cold or clammy, the air was warm, but not damp or humid; it was a renewal of life in a more pure form.
As the girls walked, Tatanka appeared, walking with them as they entered the clearing. There, waiting on them was Grizzly, clad only by the sky and in her most primal form. Kayda stepped forward and bowed to the trees. “We are here and beg that you bear witness to a contract, conducted under the Seal of Solomon, blessed by the Great Spirit, between this woman, Elaine Ethel Nalley, daughter of the Isles of Emerald, Druid, Celt and Scot, and the Spirit Shaman Grizzly, Medicine Woman, Pipe Holder of the Council of Spirits, Spirit of the Land of the People.”
“It is good that the spirits once more walk among the children of men,” rumbled Oak. “Come forth, Pict Daughter. How is it you have come so far from the lands of your people?”
A cool breeze wafted through the glade and tickled Elaine's suddenly bare stomach. She looked down to find herself wearing leather and fur, and for a split second wondered who's Dream-Space they were in, but then she realized that her previous clothing was in a neat pile behind her. She licked her lips in surprise and more than a touch of fear then put the bow over her shoulder and took a step forward. “With respect, sir, the lands of mah people are a few hundred miles south of here.”
“You claim to be Native of the Land of the People?” Troll demanded.
“You look like a child of the white man to me,” added Elm. Elaine wasn't sure, but the two sounded scornful.
“Ah was born in Atlanta,” she protested. “Ah am American and while you can't be from Georgia and not have some Cherokee blood, mah blood does not make me Native. Whatever mah ancestors who dressed this way might have been, Ah am not Irish or Scottish, Ah am American.” She reached down took up a handful of soil. “This is the dirt of mah home land and Ah don't need a Tribal Card to be Native American. Ah came from this,” she said, gesturing to her clothing, then turned and pointed at her jeans and Georgia Tech jacket. “That is who Ah am.”
“Well spoken,” rumbled Oak. “Now, tell us what you and this good spirit shall contract for.”
I will protect this girls mind, Grizzly declared as she stepped forward and stood next to Elaine. I will share my strength and my skill with her and teach her how to control the fire within her and I pledge that never again will another human have power over her.
“Ah will be a hallow for this spirit,” Lanie said as firmly as her fears allowed her. “Through me will she walk the earth once more. Ah will share mah life with her and protect her from any who would entrap her spirit, steal her power or enslave her by magic or charm. Through me shall she have voice for her teaching of the people once more.”
I swear that never again will you be a prisoner in your own body, Grizzly proclaimed. Nor will you come to harm that is in my power to prevent.
“Is the contract satisfactory?” asked Troll.
A shudder passed through Elaine. “Ah am satisfied.”
I am satisfied.
“Grizzly,” intoned Oak. “Tell your host your True Name.”
The spirit was huge, even in her bear form. Seated on her haunches, she was as tall and Elaine and could look the girl in the eye. The ruddy bear leaned forward put her muzzle next to the girl's ear until, softer than a pin drop into her ear slipped, Muiniskw. Lanie felt reality shift in the pit of her stomach and in that moment, she understood Grizzly as truly and deeply as she understood the back of her own eyelids.
“Ptesanwi,” instructed Willow. “Bind the spirit to her host.”
Once more, Kayda's back straightened and a golden glow enveloped her. She walked over to Willow and one of the tree's long vine-like leaves came away, along with a branch. She walked over smiling. “Elaine, Grizzly, we have witnessed your contract and we are glad to have a closer binding with the Spirits of the Land and the children of men.”
She took the vine and lifted Lanie's left hand and Grizzly's right paw. “We bless the binding of these two spirits into the hallow of Elaine Nalley,” she said as she wrapped the vine around their arms, tying them together. She took up the branch and Elaine could see it wasn't just a branch but a massive thorn with a point as sharp as a needle and as thick around as her thumb.
“We see the birth of a new being, and birth means pain,” Ptesanwi said sadly. “But in that pain and trial, life enters the world. Here a new life enters and, by the laws of the Creator and the Contract of Solomon, life is blood. You are tied together,” she said, lifting the thorn. “Now, you are born.”
The thorn came down and pierced the paw of Grizzly and the hand of Elaine. The two cried out in pain as their blood and flesh were joined by the invading thorn. The glade spun as agony in her hand, the sudden feeling of something pushing through her forehead overwhelmed Elaine and she fell over, unconscious.
Eons and eons ago
Elaine floated in a deep sea of nothing, void without light or darkness. For some reason she could not truly understand, this did not fill her with the panic the way some part of her mind whispered she probably should be. She floated, warm, safe and uncaring as sensation slowly returned to her. Her sense of touch told her she was lying on something soft, it felt like a bed, but it was unlike any material she'd ever slept on. She was supported, but comfortable, which was good because her body felt odd. Her stomach felt bloated and swollen, which, as she brought her hand over it, found it to be covered in soft, thick fur.
Blinking in surprise, she opened her eyes and sat up.
The chill in the air danced across her fur and whispered of early morning for some reason. The room was cool as one full wall were floor to ceiling windows open to the early morning breeze. “I know this place,” she whispered as she got out of the bed with some difficulty. Difficulty, she discovered due to the fact that she was very pregnant. Though it was something of battle for which was the most disturbing, being suddenly pregnant or the fact that she was Grizzly.
She walked carefully with her new center of balance to the window and looked out on Atlantis. The city fell away from the balcony of the dream where she and Maria had lived with Wyatt. But, on the vast plain below the city, a thousand lights danced, the lights of campfires of a besieging army she suddenly realized.
“What are you doing?” snapped a voice behind her. She turned to see the Kodiak sweeping into the room wearing a coat of mail over his purple shirt and doublet. “Why aren't you ready?”
“Husband...” she heard herself say. “Kodiak, you must come with me!” He ignored her, stuffing clothing into a knapsack. She went over to him, startled a bit to find herself eye to eye with him. “Don't throw your life away like this!”
“I must do my duty,” he growled.
She caught his hand and held it to her bloated stomach. “Here is your duty,” she told him. “I may not have the honor of being your wife for a full year yet but I bear your son and daughter! Will that Elf bitch...”
“I have not dishonored you!” he roared, his fangs flashing. “It is on her council that I courted you, so you have nothing to fear from Aunghadhail, but I have pledged my support to a Sidhe queen! Would you have me forsworn? Would you have me abandon our home, our world!”
“It doesn't keep you from commanding me to it!” she snapped.
“I cannot abandon my duty!” he shouted. “Yours is to live! Raise our children and remember me to them if the Creator does not smile on us. Go through the Gate to Sthri and I will come for you!”
“If you will be free to come to get me, if the victory is so assured, why send me to Sthri!”
The door was thrown open before he could answer and a hulking werewolf in armor stood in the door. “Your Grace, the army musters for sortie. I am to bring you to the presence of Her Majesty.”
Kodiak took her by the elbow and pulled her towards the killing machine. “Captain Garrand, I go to the Queen directly. Of your courtesy, sir, conduct my lady Grizzly to the Stepping Gate and see her to Sthri and see that she stays there.” The Werewolf looked between the two for a moment before he reached out and took Elaine's other elbow in a grip of iron.
“It is my honor, your Grace. Please inform her majesty I will be returning to her with all haste.”
“No!” shouted Elaine as she tried fruitlessly to pull her arm free of the soldier. “No! Kodiak!”
He turned, his eyes and muzzle fur wet with tears. “I love you!” he declared. His kiss was as fierce as it was brief before he was gone in whirl of robes and armor.
“Husband!” she screamed, drug irresistibly in the other direction. “Husband!”
“Tokan, Rican,” Garrand ordered, handing the frantic Elaine to a new pair of werewolves. “Escort my lady Grizzly to Sthri and see that she remains there.”
“KODIAK!” Elaine screamed as the two soldiers dragged her away.
April 29th, 2007
Private Office of the Headmistress, Whateley House, Headmistress' residence, Whateley Academy
“So you see,” Carmen finished as the video window closed, “Miss Nalley and Mr. Cody merely were in the right place at the wrong time, but were able to do their civic duty.”
Mrs. Carson leaned back in her chair and intertwined her fingers, save for the index fingers that she steepled and placed under her chin. Although it was unintended, given her normal clothing, it gave her quite a sinister look. “I see,” she said simply. “And why did Miss Nalley use the Wicked persona instead of that fantastic armor of hers?”
The avatar blinked twice and again Elizabeth was struck by the true-to-life details of the animation. She wondered if Elaine had done it or the program's unknown true coder had somehow known Maria Ricardo. “Miss Nalley has been concerned about the vulnerability of her armor's power source as twice it has been deprived of power, once in a situation that would have killed her were it not for the intervention of Mr. Paulson. As her previous 'costume' was also unacceptable and she was well taken with the results of the Wicked uniform and tools...”
“Not to mention being dangerously infatuated with the Wicked Persona,” Carson muttered. She inhaled deeply for a moment, then slowly let it out. “Carmen, has Miss Nalley been acting oddly of late? Distracted? Irritable?” The pause was doubtlessly an eternity for the program. A perfect eyebrow ascended Mrs. Carson's face. “Carmen?”
“Er...” the program hedged. “Well, this morning, she had a conversation with herself in the mirror...”
The Headmistress blinked. “Vanity? Telling herself how pretty she has...”
“No,” the program said flatly. The screen altered to what Mrs. Carson took to be the POV of the web cam on the lid of Elaine's laptop. It was pointing into the room and she was in her pajamas, talking to the computer.
“Ah'll go by the book store and do that today,” she was saying as she stretched and opened the door of the wardrobe. The door faced the camera so Mrs. Carson didn't see what it was the Elaine reacted to, but she saw something on the back side of the door and jerked away from it, obviously startled. “Jesus Christ, Grizzly!” she snapped. “Am Ah going to see you every time Ah look into a mirror for the rest of mah life?”
“What the hell?” Elizabeth whispered as she leaned forward. Now it was obvious Elaine was looking into the full length mirror that was on the back of the door and conversing with...what?
“Oh, well, Ah made the papers,” she bragged as she opened the other wardrobe door. Unfortunately the angle was such that she couldn't make out what the young girl was showing the mirror. Now her demeanor changed, she was contrite, even a bit bashful as she played with her fingers and said, ““Please don't be offended...”
“Does she ever say who's she's talking to?”
“A moment,” Carmen replied.
“Thank you, Grizzly.” She shut the door and seemed subdued and thoughtful. She came over to the desk, looming in the camera and looking directly into it. “Carmen?”
“Grizzly?” murmured Elizabeth. “Cody?”
“Who were you conversing with, Miss?” the laptop asked. “I did not register anyone entering, but I felt the discreet protocol was called for.”
“You did fine,” Lanie told her. “Ah want you to compile a report with as much firsthand account as you can.” The recording stopped and Carmen reappeared.
“What did she want a report on?” demanded Mrs. Carson.
“What it is physically like to host a spirit.”
“Oh, shit,” Carson swore. “Thank you, Carmen, you did well to bring this to my attention. You may go.” The program faded away as Elizabeth picked up her cell and began walking in her purposeful stride. “Come on, pick up,” she muttered as she made her way out the front door of Whateley House and trotted over to her Club Car. “Eliza, Liz, where are you?”
“My apartment,” the other replied in a curious tone. “What's the matter?”
The golf cart turned in a tight radius of the drive way and shot off towards the low collection of buildings not far from Whateley House that made up the Staff Housing Apartments. “I'll be there in four minutes,” Elizabeth replied. “There is a spirit named Grizzly that is evidently trying to convince Elaine Nalley to allow it to possess her.”
“I'll be out front,” the Witch replied somberly.