Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Energy crackled up around Debra as she wiped her lip with the back of her hand. With a gesture, energy flowed out and slammed into the girl I thought was my friend Lanie, knocking her at least 30 feet away. The force of the concussive blast would've killed a normal woman, but Lanie only back-flipped and at the top of her arc released an arrow that struck Debra in the throat.
I ran screaming to the redhead, "Stop! Stop! Why are you ...?" I couldn't continue because the banshee had grabbed the back of my head and covered my mouth with a searing kiss; that only enraged Debra as she pulled the arrow from her throat.
"You bitch!" Debbie coughed and choked around her regenerating throat. "Is this how you keep your word? You swore you wouldn't take her!"
"You can't take what isn't defended!" Lanie shot back, bringing up her bow and losing another arrow. This one would have embedded itself in Debra's eye had I not frantically juggled her arm at the last moment. As it was, the arrow tore through Debra's cheek, ripping her flesh before it bounced off cheekbone and clipped her ear. Lanie only laughed and kissed me again . "Patience, my amorous pet, I'll be with you shortly," she purred as she ran loosening another arrow at Debra, this one embedding in her left shoulder.
"You're her friend!" I screamed at Lanie, confused as to why she was acting like a berserker.
Cornflower snatched the arrow from her shoulder in a shower of blood, muscle and gristle as her face contorted in pain and rage. A ring of Lakota people had formed around the two combatants, warriors nervously gripping weapons, but respecting what appeared to be a duel of equal combatants honorably given and accepted.
"I'll kill you!" screamed Debra as she charged at the banshee, but Lanie only dropped her bow, neatly dodged the over-committed haymaker Cornflower threw, grabbed her by the wrist, and pulled her into the knee she lifted wrapping the other girl around her leg. In her rage, Debra had gotten sloppy, and it showed as Lanie outfought her. The breath was painfully expelled from the blonde's body as the banshee locked up her arm in an arm bar, drew her dagger with her spare hand and held it to the girl's throat.
"You're beaten!" Lanie hissed in to Debra's ear. "Submit, and I'll give you mercy ...!"
Despite the arm bar, Debra was able to get her hand onto my friend's arm and fling her away. "Never!" she shouted, her energy field crackling around her.
The two women circled each other as Lanie flipped the blade to her left hand; with the blade pointing out of the grip she could slash or stab with equal ease. The girl ran her tongue down the blade center, an evil grin on her face. "Look death in the face then," she taunted, "and say goodbye to my new lover before I send you to perdition."
"Stop it!" I screamed as I interposed myself between the two women, holding out my arms in a desperate attempt to keep the combatants apart. "I'm not a prize to be fought over!"
"Then why are you jealous of the time I spend with Tansy?" Lanie demanded. "Why did you tell her you loved me? That you were jealous of my time with her? That you desperately craved, even needed¸ someone fighting for you - just like you've always wanted someone to show that you were wanted?"
Blood drained from my face as my words came back to haunt me. "I didn't mean ... She said she wouldn't ..."
Debra reared back from the rage she had just felt at her old friend. "Kayda? Is ... Is this true?"
The hurt expression on Debra's face nearly broke my heart. "Yes ... No ...!" I stammered. "I'm alone! Don't you see? Just like always! Would you really love me if I hadn't accidentally bound us together?"
"How many times do I have to answer this before you believe me?" Debra shouted. "Yes! I love you! Not because you healed me, not because you bound us together by accident, I love you because of who you are! And yes, I will fight for you!"
"So I mean nothing to you?" the banshee demanded.
My face crunched up in torment. "That's not fair! I do love you! You're my soul sister ... but you ... you forgot stuff you'd planned with me! You were ignoring me!"
"Was I ignoring you when you ran off and I called after you? Was I ignoring you when I invited you to spend time with me and Tansy? This battle is your choosing! So choose! Her, or me, or stand aside and let us settle it ourselves!"
A tear rolled down Debra's face. "Do you want to be with her?"
I sank to her knees and began to sob. "I ... I love you Debra! I swear to God I do, but Lanie is like my sister ...!" Debra walked over to me and sank down to her knees.
"You have to realize, Kayda, that she has a right to find her own happiness. You can't be jealous of that! Do you think she would go through this if she didn't love you?" Sobbing uncontrollably, I shook my head. Debra gathered me into her arms and kissed my head. "Then you have to trust her in that love, that no matter who else she shares her heart with. Part of that heart will always belong to you! And that no matter what happens or where I go, I will always love you, and fight for you, and come for you!"
A howl of grief slipped out, and I buried my face in Debra's bosom. Gently stroking my hair, Debra looked up at her adversary and asked softly, "Are we done here, or does there need to be more blood?"
Lanie sheathed her dagger and nodded. "I yield my claim. She is yours."
"Was this really necessary?" Debra demanded indignantly. I feared that she was going to be furious at me for causing this scene.
Lanie picked up her bow and regarded Debra. With a wry smile, she nodded at me. "Ask her," she replied softly, and then walked from the village, her head held high.
Debra held me close, making me feel secure in her love. "Kayda?" she asked after my sobbing lessened a bit.
"I ... I'm sorry," I blubbered. "I ... I've never ... I always ... have been left out. No-one except Mom and Dad ... really ever wanted me around. Even Grandma betrayed me!" I closed my eyes and buried my head in her shoulder. "I ... I've never had a best friend, and ...."
"And you were terrified of losing her?" Debra asked sagely.
"You're ... in Sioux Falls, and I'm at Whateley," I tried to explain; it was tough to find words that fit my thoughts and feelings. "I ... it was like ... in school - when all the kids I thought were my friends weren't really! I ... I was losing my best friend, and ... and ... and I didn't know ...."
"Kayda, this isn't your hometown or your old school," Debra reminded me before kissing my head once more. "You've got some self-confidence and self-image issues that you have to work through."
I looked up into her soft blue eyes, wondering what she was trying to tell me and a bit afraid of saying anything. Was she about to dump me because I was so damaged? Was she telling me she couldn't deal with my insecurities anymore?
"It's not healthy. I want you to talk to a counselor at school about it." She smiled at me. "I know from personal experience how helpful it can be to talk to them. Dr. Bellows is a very good counselor."
My head burrowed into her shoulder again, my eyes fearing to meet hers. "I'm sorry," I sobbed, "that I'm such a mess. I ... I don't know why you put up with me!"
Debra lifted my chin and kissed me deeply, sending a shiver of pleasure and caring and love through me that pushed away some of my negative feelings. "Because you're sweet and caring and loving, and you make me feel wanted and loved," she answered with a smile. "How could I not do the same for you?"
Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
Near Kayda's Village, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Mrs. Horton was becoming concerned as the hours stretched out and still Laneth had not yet returned from her assignment in the village below. This didn't exactly surprised the house parent; being alive was a powerful motivator, perhaps the most powerful of all motivators. By separating that portion of Elaine's soul, Mrs. Horton had taken a serious gamble, and it now appeared that the dice were beginning to roll against her. She needed to collect Laneth and reintegrate her into Elaine's before something serious happened. At the same time, she noticed Elaine's fraught glances down into the village where Debra was still encouraging Kayda.
"Elaine, dear, why don't you go and wake up Kayda?"
The redhead looked confused as she finally pulled her gaze from the village below where Debra was bringing Kayda back into their teepee. "Should Ah?" she asked softly.
Mrs. Horton smiled and nodded reassurance at the young girl. "I'm sure the two of you have a lot to discuss," Mrs. Horton observed.
"But, what about Laneth?"
Mrs. Horton forced a smile she didn't feel. "Oh not to worry," she said as confidently as she could. "I'll wait for her, and will get the two of you integrated together again in the morning. Now, wake up," she commanded. Elaine faded away as her body awoke to the command that the Druidess had given her. Mrs. Horton stood from where she had been crouched, overlooking the encampment. With Kayda being awoken by Elaine, the villagers should take much less notice of her, but there was always a risk. Keeping her wand at the ready, she began to walk down the hillside as stealthily as she could, nowhere near matching the stealth Laneth had shown. Halfway down to the village, a pair of shapes emerged from the darkness, merging from some other dream realm to this one. Recognizing the student and his spirit, she lowered her wand and strode over, surprising them.
"Mr. Cody," she greeted coolly. "Kodiak. What brings the two of you here?"
The senior emeritus startled, but his spirit was nonplussed and bowed his head in greeting. "Mrs. Horton?" Wyatt exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I asked you first," the house parent replied with a smile, causing the large bear to chuckle.
Some nights ago I became aware of coyote tracking inside the wards of the school, the Kodiak replied as he raised his head and deliberately sniffed the air. The boy and I have been tracking him every night since, trying to discover who the trickster is playing tricks on. He's been here, and recently.
A shudder went down Mrs. Horton spine as suddenly a great many things made sense. "I believe he's attacking Kayda," Mrs. Horton declared somberly. "Although attacking may not be the right word. More like deceiving her. Please stay here and make sure this dream space stays secure against him."
"What are you going to do?" Wyatt asked, but the house parent was already fading away having forced her body to wake up.
In the real world, Mrs. Horton rose from her bed and walked quickly to her third bedroom and its working circle. Taking her wand from the case, Mrs. Horton began to chant. Time slipped by and the sweat poured from her brow, but despite having a lock of the Pict's hair from the astral body she had created when she summoned the spirit into the circle the first day, the spirit of the Pict warrior refused to return to her circle, which could only mean one thing. As sirens began to blare outside a cold feeling washed down the back of Mrs. Horton spine and she realized the worst-case scenario was coming true.
Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
The Realm of Dreams, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Laneth didn't bother collecting her arrows as she walked from the camp. She had walked enough hills in Tír na nÓg to know there was no point to it. If she needed arrows she would have them. But as the cries of the girl Kayda lessened in the distance, her own lips burned in remembrance of the kisses she had bestowed on the brown skinned young woman. Both the Druidess Horton as well as the girl who was both her descendent and herself had tried to explain the bond to her, but until she had experienced it firsthand Laneth had discounted it. These were a soft people to her eye, their lives eased by miraculous devices and palatial homes, but she marveled at the power of her daughter-self.
Her chest hurt from the blast of energy the witch Debra had struck her with, and battle bruises were no stranger to the banshee, but as a warrior she also had enough training in the healing arts to know that the blow should've killed her outright. She had reveled in the strength her limbs had strangely gained by being separated from the body of her current life. Some part of her mind whispered strange words, mutation, exemplar, and avatar. She had fought the spirit- ridden before and knew that the Bear spirit her daughter-self bonded to was formidable indeed. She paused again and turned back to look at the blonde witch still comforting the girl they had fought over.
"You feel it too?" Laneth looked down to see a dog like creature sitting next to her, tongue hanging out in following her gaze into the camp. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"
Laneth turned and started walking again, unfazed by a talking dog appearing next to her. It was, after all, Tír na nÓg and stranger things happened here. The dog got up and began to trot after her, bowing down before her once it passed. "Forgive my impertinence, Laneth, chieftain's daughter of Morlock, banshee, one is honored to be in your presence." The dog stood and sat back down on its haunches. "For as long as one can remain in such an honored presence."
The banshee stopped and considered the animal before her. "You know me, spirit, but I've no knowledge of you."
The dog grinned once more. "No one of importance to royalties such as yourself," Coyote replied. "Even Royal slaves rate higher than this humble servant ..."
Laneth eyes narrowed. "Who do you call slave, humble servant?" she demanded.
Reality blurred in a nauseating kaleidoscope of color whirling until it settled and Laneth found herself once more at the edge of the village of Morlock, the smell of the North Sea heavy in the air along with smoking meat and fish; the smells of home. "Royalty," Coyote replied in a subtle tone. "Chieftain's daughter, hearth and home; but this is but a dream. We both know what happened to this place."
The air shimmered and Morlock was ablaze. The stench of burning heather and human flesh sick in the air, and in the harbor below the four dragon-headed long boats that had brought death to walk through Morlock tonight. Laneth saw herself, topless, having run from the bed, raining arrows on the Vikings that were raiding her village. "So unfair," Coyote replied as he sat next to the startled banshee. "That your husband had taken in the daughter of your rapists and vowed to raise it as his own? You haven't had, what? Three months since her birth?"
"Six," whispered Laneth. "I would have given him children," she declared.
"You had already!" Coyote told her as once more Laneth saw her life end by a Viking sword thrust through her belly. Watched herself walk down the blade, shoving it deeper into her body to get close enough to shove her dagger into the eye of her murderer. "You were pregnant with a son too ...!"
Coyote yipped in surprise and pain as the banshee collected a large handful of the scruff of his neck and held her knife to his throat. "Don't trifle with me, foolish spirit! I'm wise to your ways ...!"
"How am I the fool?" Coyote asked as once more reality shimmered and they stood on the window of an impossibly tall building in an impossibly large city. "I did not use you for someone else's ends!" Through the window Laneth saw her barter with the sorceress that had woken her from her life sleep in her new host in a casting circle assisted by a demon possessed witch, saw the sorceress promise her life freedom and vengeance in exchange for bidding. "Do you have life?" the trickster spirit demanded.
"My present self dreams of me, I walk in Tír na nÓg while she sleeps ..."
"But you live at their beck and call," Coyote reminded her. "They call up the chieftain's daughter like a chambermaid when they want her skill and even now you go to be bottled back up until they need you again. How is that freedom?"
"And what freedom can you offer?" she demanded. "Now I am that Smith, and while she may be timid to my taste she has my spirit! And the Norman Princess to bury her face between her legs, and a warrior any banshee would be proud to bear his children."
"All very true," Coyote conceded. "And we both know your present self desperately struggles to wake up and remember being who you are."
"What of it?" she demanded.
"What if I woke her?" Coyote replied. "There's nothing they could do to stop that, there's nothing they could do to undo it. You would be Lannie and Laneth, awake to your true self and remembering all of the love and joy your present self enjoys. Her power would be your power ..."
Laneth reared back, stunned by the prospect the spirit was promising her. As she did so reality shimmered again and she saw the bedroom of her present self's betrothed. "You think to tempt me with her betrothed? You think because he belongs in the stud house that I ..."
"Look closer ..." Coyote urged her. Laneth turned back to see the bedroom shimmer to a familiar space, the bed she had shared with her husband, and tucked under the fur her daughter and Wyatt Cody were sleeping.
"Domnall ...?" she whispered, astonished.
"And we are all connected to each other," Coyote sang. "In a circle, in a hoop that never ends ..."
Laneth snatched her bow tight, her face a twisted mask of fury as a dog crouched down with its tail tucked between his legs. "Liar!" she shouted, drawing the arrow as tight as the string would allow so that it would kill instantly. "You tempt me with images of my dead husband, you tempt me with stealing my own life from myself! Do you think me without honor?"
Coyote weaved back and forth tracked by the arrow in her bow, his eyes intense and blazing. "Who has not been honest with you?" he demanded. "All that I have shown you is true! All that I offer is true! And all that I ask is your wisdom and guidance to your soul sister! Show her how to lead, chieftain's daughter! Put her at the head of the Council I call, and I will give back to you all that cruel fate has taken away!"
"What guarantee have I you'll keep your word?" she hissed in rage.
Coyote's grin was wide. "Let me give you a little taste, to show I speak the truth!"
Monday, September 10, 2007 - Pre-Dawn
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The soft but insistent knock on my door slowly penetrated into my sleep-addled brain, so I pried my eyes open. It was still very dark outside, which meant it was a most unreasonable hour for someone to be awakening me.
Even as I debated whether to answer the door, the sound of the lock mechanism activating surprised me; instinctively, I reached for my protective charm. The door opened, and silhouetted in the frame against the soft emergency lighting in the hall was a tall girl, judging from the curves and hair. I was curious but cautious as I considered activating my charm.
"Kayda?" I recognized Lanie's voice instantly.
"What ... are you doing up at," I glanced at the clock on my desk, "four in the morning? And in my room?"
"We need to talk," Lanie said, her voice resounding with concern.
I glanced at Chou, who was still soundly sleeping - or playing 'possum. "Now?"
"Mah room, so we don't wake Chou?" Lanie insisted. She took my hand and practically pulled me to my feet, then led me to her room. Not knowing what else to do, and having a lot of questions myself, I followed her, and was surprised when she shut the door behind me and wrapped me in an almost-smothering hug.
After a confusing but very intense kiss, we broke apart. "Ah'm sorry," she said, and in her eyes, I could see that she was truly contrite. "Ah didn't mean to make you think that Ah didn't care for you anymore."
"It's okay ...." I started to say.
"No, it's not okay!" Lanie shot back softly. "Tansy told me some of what you'd experienced, and ...."
"What?" I exclaimed in surprise and a flash of anger, my jaw hanging open. "She ... she had no right ...!"
"She was trying to help," Lanie explained, putting her hand delicately on my cheek. "She wanted to make sure Ah never hurt you, even by accident. Ah ... kind of pressed her on the issue, too," she added. "Ah needed to know ... that you and Ah have different expectations about sex."
I opened my mouth to speak, but she put her finger across my lips. "Shhh. Let me finish. Ah didn't know how much you'd been hurt through your life, or how lonely you'd been, or not having a lot of friends. Ah didn't know that, to you, sex is closer to love than to just physical attraction. It's different for me."
I just looked up into her eyes, wondering where she was going with her explanation. I was actually afraid to say anything for fear it might be misconstrued.
"When Ah first saw you, Ah was very attracted to you physically. You shouldn't doubt how attractive you are. Ah wanted to jump you if Ah got a chance, and Ah was lookin' for a chance - until Ah found out you were in a relationship with Deb." She smiled. "Ah thought that was pretty clear at the hot-tub party."
I thought back to that event; she was pretty clear that she'd been checking me out even before we talked - that could only have been physical attraction. I had to admit that I was very attracted to her as well. But after spending time talking and getting to know each other, the attraction was something different, something ... almost like our souls were touching.
She watched my face as I blushed a bit at the memories, and she smiled. "Ah love Tansy - as a friend. As a very good friend. But that's different from how Ah feel about you. Ah ... Ah love you ... as more than a friend, more than a sister." It was her turn to blush a bit. "If it wasn't for Deb and Wyatt, Ah could see mahself in a long-term relationship with you. Ah can't say the same about Tansy - at least not right now. Maybe someday," she added, "but not now."
A pang of guilt assailed me almost instantly. "I'm sorry, too," I said softly. "I didn't mean to hurt you by avoiding you. I ... I was just ...."
Lanie put her finger across my lips. "Shhh. Ah know." Then she kissed me again. "Apology accepted."
"One thing puzzles me, though," I said. "What was all that in dream space about?"
If the lights had been on, I'm sure I would have seen her face turn the same color as her hair. "We - Mrs. Horton, Tansy, and Ah - were concerned at how depressed you were getting."
"So you staged that?" I asked, doe-eyed.
"Yeah," Lanie admitted. "We wanted you to know that you are attractive, that people would fight for you."
I stiffened a bit. "So ... Debra ..."
Lanie shook her head vigorously. "No," she cut me off. "She didn't know."
"But ... what if she'd have lost?" I stammered. "What if she hadn't fought for me?" The possibilities of being rejected by my love hit me like a sledge-hammer.
"She wouldn't have lost," Lanie said, and even though I couldn't see her face in the dim light, I could practically hear her smiling. "We made sure of that. And after spending time with you two in Sioux Falls," she added, "do you think there's any chance she wouldn't have fought for you?" She swept me into another warm, comforting hug.
After basking in her love for a few moments, something occurred to me. Without taking my head off her chest, I asked, "In the dream-world, that wasn't you, was it?"
I felt her tense just a bit. "No," she finally admitted. "It was ... an ancestral spirit that's part of me, the Pict warrior. How did you know?"
"Easy," I said with a smile. "She didn't have your charming Southern accent. She sounded more Irish."
"Kayda," Lanie said, holding me back slightly, "Ah don't want you to ever doubt that no matter what, Ah love you as more than a sister. As a soul-sister. As someone who stole a piece of mah heart. And Ah'll never stop loving you, even though we have others in our lives."
She tilted her head forward almost imperceptibly, and I instinctively knew why. As my eyes drifted shut, I lifted my lips toward hers, toward a deep, passionate, loving kiss that reassured me that my feelings toward Lanie were reciprocated. That she was my best friend - and much, much more.
I felt ashamed that I could have doubted her.
Monday, September 10 - Pre-Dawn
Outside the Network Operations Center, between Laird Hall and Range Six
Whateley Academy held the distinction of being one of the most mystically warded places in North America. There were few facilities or buildings with better protections against magic, astral intrusions, and other supernatural phenomena, most of them belonging to government facilities. But with every complex system, there were always chinks in the armor. In this particular instance, it was the most stereotypical of such weaknesses - the incompatibility of technology and sorcery. The Academy boasted a state-of-the-art network and telecommunication system, connected to the Internet through fiber-optic OC 48 bundles that would be the envy of any startup Internet service provider. The nexus of all of this technology was a small, innocuous Network Operations Center, or NOC as it was referred to. It was here that all the telecommunications, all of the network traffic for the servers, and all of the connections of the campus wide Wi-Fi from its cell tower converged to a single point to the buried fiber-optic trunk that then left the school by the shortest path underground.
The electromagnetic interference created such ripples in the local astral space in the wards that protected the school, it was here that the campus was weakest magically. The mages knew of this weakness, so it was one of the most patrolled areas of the campus, covered by thirty separate cameras that looked from the visual spectrum to the ultraviolet to the infrared. Guards patrolled every five minutes, all in an effort to keep the school safe from those that would attack it from the magical realm. But despite the protections, a vortex of energy flared for a brief second on the concrete in the parking lot just in front of the building, directly over the switching equipment of the fiber network where the wards were exactly weakest. And after the vortex flared, a slip of a girl lay on the concrete, unconscious.
This did not go unnoticed.
An alarm was immediately sounded in the security offices of Kane Hall and four separate squads of guards dispatched to intercept the possible threat. It was only dumb luck that the first person to arrive at the girl was third platoon's officer Gary Trews. Officer Trews found what he took to be a student, collapsed on her side, but breathing regularly. A check of the multi-computer on his wrist told him this particular student did not have her ID on her as it picked up no RFID signal. Muttering to himself he picked up the girl's hand and pressed her thumb against the reader of the unit.
The unit spilled out a complete record of the student in question, her ID number, cottage assignment, name and links to everything the school knew about her. Shaking his head, Trews grabbed ahold of the girl's shoulder and shook her. "Hey," he growled at her. "Wake up, sleepy head!" As she began to stir, the officer's patience dwindled. He picked up the intensity of the shaking and raised his voice, "Hey! Wake up!"
Her unnaturally green eyes snapped open, and faster than the guard could follow, the flat of her hand shot out and struck him in the throat. Trews was knocked over backwards, gasping and gurgling as he held his bruised throat while the girl rolled her feet. "Where am I?" she demanded, looking around in a desperate attempt to gain her bearings.
"You bitch!" Trews croaked while still holding his throat. Coughing and choking, he added, "You damn near broke my neck!" The girl staggered over to him, becoming more stable on her feet with each passing second, brushed aside his feeble attempt to grab her and snatched the ASP baton from its holder on his belt. In amazement, she stared at the device in her hand as comprehension seemed to dawn behind her eyes. Trews frantically grabbed at the microphone of the radio on his shoulder epaulets with his free hand. "Echo Fifteen to Central. Code 7, code 1! Repeat…!"
But the officer could not continue as the girls snapped the ASP open with an expert flick of her wrist and struck him sharply across the temple with it, knocking him unconscious. The blare of sirens began to sound across the campus as vehicles responded to the officer's call of distress. The girl ran to the barrel shaped building closest to her, which seemed to be between the two closest sources of sirens. Arriving to find the door made of glass, she marveled for a moment, then pulled its handle finding it locked. Once again she froze as some new part of her brain stepped to the forefront and analyzed her problem. Looking at her thumb, she saw another reader next to the door similar to the one that had been on the guard's wrist. She pressed her thumb against it and was rewarded with a click of the lock disengaging. She pulled the door again and it opened easily allowing her to dart inside.
She rounded the corner in the atrium, desperate to get out of sight of the responding defenders, seeing a heavy wooden door decorated with the pictogram that appeared to be a woman wearing a ridiculously flared skirt. In here the floor changed from the fabric that lined the atrium she had just fled to some kind of stone she was unfamiliar with. It was obviously a privy, with ridiculously expensive walls made of metal for privacy and a line of basins, but the most amazing thing was at the basin wall was the most perfect mirror she had ever seen. In it, the young woman saw herself cleaner than she had ever been in her life wearing a short tunic that highlighted her figure and was embossed with words in a language she was amazed she could read that read 'Beam me up Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here!' A pair of blue canvas trousers of a type she'd never seen before and the most comfortable shoes she'd worn completed her attire.
But it was her face that caught her attention most. A good ten years was missing from the face she remembered looking back at her from streams and silver mirrors; the two scars she'd caught on her first battlefield had also vanished. She pulled the tunic over her head to find her breasts contained in the strangest looking garment she'd ever seen. More importantly, most of her tattoos were missing except for the knotworks around her biceps that increased her strength and the wreath around her navel that warned her of hostile magic which were still present.
The girl pinched herself and marveled at the feeling of pain. "I'm alive," she whispered. She looked at the telescopic club in her hand and once more the strange feeling reached out and around the device. Somehow she knew it was designed primarily for pain compliance and not as a weapon of war. It was a watchman's billy club, not a Warriors war club. She shoved the point hard onto the stone floor to unlock it and the device collapsed back into itself returning from 2 feet to 6 inches. She slipped the handle in the back pocket of the trousers and pulled the black tunic back on as some part of her knew she would attract attention to herself without it. Her heart began to thunder in her chest with excitement. "I'm alive!" she repeated.
The dog from Tír na nÓg appeared in the mirror. "Of course you're alive," he told her with a wry smile. "I am a spirit of my word. Though you may not stay that way if they catch you…"
A memory whispered across Laneth's mind of a weapon her current self had made and its location in the tunnels below her feet. Without further comment to the spirit, she ran out of the bathroom and to the closest door that would lead her to a stairwell into the tunnels.
Monday, September 10, 2007 - Morning
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Morning!" I said cheerfully as soon as Chou came back from her morning Tai Chi. I'd just gotten back from my very-early discussion with Lanie, discovering that my roommate had gone for her exercise. "And it looks like it's going to be a really nice morning, too!"
Chou looked warily at me as she put Destiny's Wave in its stand so she could shower. "Who are you, and what have you done with my roommate?"
"I'm trying to confuse people," I giggled. "Today, I'm going to be cheery and bubbly-happy!"
"You weren't here when I got up," she said. "Is there a problem?"
"Nope," I said with a grin. "Not anymore."
"Okay," Chou sat down like a counselor preparing for a long session. "Spill. You didn't go to dinner, Tansy brought you home very late and half-asleep, and you were having a long ... talk ... with Elaine this morning. What's up?"
I turned my chair away from my desk and sat down. "I ... had some issues to work through. Tansy helped me."
Chou's jaw dropped. "Wait. Tansy helped you?" I nodded. "Tansy Walcutt? Ayla's nemesis? The Don's sidekick? The bitch of the Alphas? THAT Tansy?"
"She had ... an epiphany," I explained. "Something made her realize she was a total bitch, and she decided she needed to fix herself. Anyway, that's not important," I continued. "She ... well, it's complicated. She and Lanie and I ..."
"Ooooh - this is going to get good, isn't it?" Chou chortled with glee.
"No," I sighed heavily. "There's nothing like ... well, I can't quite say that. Not after last spring. But ... but I had an issue with being without friends, and it seemed like Tansy was taking Lanie away as my best friend, and ... well, I had to get over that."
"So Tansy told you to spend some private time with Lanie? Did she arrange your little midnight rendezvous with our RA?" Chou teased me.
"It was nothing like that," I rolled my eyes at her. "The three of us had some misunderstandings that we had to work out. Lanie woke me up real early so we could talk privately."
"You have a dirty mind! Molly is corrupting you!"
"Details, girl! Details!"
I shrugged. "Lanie and I talked things over, and then we kissed, and then I came back here."
"So what's up with you and Tansy? Are you three now a happy ... trio?"
"Says the one who knows how a three-way relationship works!" I shot back. "But ... no, it's not like that. We figured out that we all need each other. It's ... it's complicated."
"Do you get Elaine on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Tansy gets her Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and you have a three-way on Sunday?"
"You're not going to give it a rest, are you?"
My roommate laughed, shaking her head. "Wait until Molly finds out about this!" When I goggled at her in alarm, she laughed even more. "Gotcha!" She stood and began to slip off her gi. "You're meeting the Ghost Walkers to go over your sim, aren't you? Well, you can tell me and Molly more after breakfast!"
Monday, September 10, 2007 - Breakfast
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Is that trouble?" Evvie worried, watching Tansy and Lanie walking determinedly toward the Ghost Walkers' table.
"Probably not," I said easily, smiling at the approaching girls.
Evvie shot me a questioning look. "Are you sure? Because everyone in Poe knows that things have been kind of tense between you and Lanie."
"And that somehow Tansy is in the middle of things," Naomi added.
I turned to gawk at her in disbelief for a moment. "Sheesh," I said, shaking my head. "Doesn't anyone have a life?"
Naomi grinned. "You know gossip is the cottage's favorite sport!"
"Not just Poe," Laurie said with a smile. She glanced around conspiratorially to see if anyone was listening. "Rumor in Dickinson is that you and Lanie had a falling-out when she insisted that Wyatt join you in a 3-way relationship, and that she replaced you with Tansy after converting her to being bi!"
"What?!?" I practically screeched. "Are you kidding? Some people actually think that?"
Laurie nodded sheepishly. "Actually, that's one of the tame versions."
"Tame version of what?" Tansy asked as she and Lanie stopped behind me, close enough to hear. "Salacious rumors and gossip, I presume?" she added with a chuckle.
Lanie shook her head, smiling and chuckling in disbelief. "Like Ah give two shits what kind of nonsense other people are sayin'."
Tansy reached over my shoulder and picked up my tray. "Come on," she said, smiling pleasantly. "You're having breakfast with us."
"But ...." I sputtered. "We've got to talk about a paper ... from our last sim!"
"Gonna have a discussion about time-share?" Evvie whispered to me, loud enough that Tansy and Naomi most likely overheard, but not others. I blushed beet-red at her comment, but Lanie, who had also overheard, replied like a mature, responsible RA - with a raspberry.
As we walked, I became quite conscious of the number of heads that were tracking us. "You know people are staring, and probably talking," I whispered to Lanie.
"Someone has to give them grist for the rumor-mill," Tansy chuckled. "Just think of all the guys watching us who are having rather salacious thoughts all day long and are going to go to bed with a bad case of blue balls!"
The mental imagery of boys squirming in frustration, of them looking like they were almost physically ill, of them desperately talking to girlfriends or friends who were girls - all in the hope of getting some relief from sudden intense arousal, was easy for me to conjure; I'd been in that position a few times, and I knew how torturous it was. I couldn't help but chuckle softly. When Lanie shot me a questioning glance, I grinned at her. "I'll explain later." Very deliberately, I slipped my arm around her waist. And since I was between Tansy and Lanie and I was feeling a little mischievous, I slipped my other arm around Tansy's waist, drawing the two girls closer to me. I didn't have to be psychic to notice the huge uptick in both curiosity and sexual frustration among the boys.
I was rather surprised when we didn't go to the Alpha table on the third level, but went to the second level's quiet table behind the waterfall, which already had two trays - no doubt Lanie's and Tansy's. I was even more surprised when Wyatt came with his tray, gave Lanie a quick kiss, and then headed upstairs. "What gives?" I asked, quite curious.
Lanie glanced at Tansy, and in that glance, I could see hints of some conspiracy. "We thought we should have a little 'girl time'," Tansy replied. "And what was that huggy stuff while we were walking here?"
"Well, I figured if they're going to talk, we might as well make it juicy," I said with a wicked grin. "Plus," I glanced around to see if anyone was listening in, "giving guys blue balls? Yeah, I'm down for that - and you know why!"
"Think we'll have a field trip today?" Lanie asked as we all dug into our plates. Lanie and I attacked the food with gusto, and while Tansy ate relatively quickly, there was style and grace about her every move.
Tansy noticed me glancing at her and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Habit," I said, looking a little embarrassed at the messy forkful of eggs and sausage I had just picked up. Seeing their curiosity was piqued, I smiled. "Years on the farm - eat fast between chores, especially when there's field work."
Tansy frowned - no doubt my lack of grace offended her sensibilities. "You know," she glanced around to be certain the conversation would remain private, "for those with circumstances like yours, it probably wouldn't hurt if they had a special remedial lessons on feminine grace and charm - things you missed, like fashion, makeup, and so forth."
Lanie nodded. "We know about Reach and Jobe - and there could be more. Ah think Ah'll talk with Mrs. Horton about that idea."
"Of course, the classes would need to be secret," I interjected, "for obvious reasons."
"True," Lanie commented.
"Anyway, a field trip? Probably not today, but I'd expect Mrs. Carson to spring one on us soon." I glanced between the two. "Now what's going on? You didn't drag me over here to talk about fashion and rumors."
"No," Tansy admitted with smile that radiated confidence. "The three of us need to figure out a few things. Like making sure one or the other of us doesn't monopolize Lanie's time," she added with a wry upturn to the corners of her mouth. "Since I'm learning a few things about gadgeteering from Lanie ...."
Lanie perked up. "And since Mrs. Carson told me Ah need to tutor you so you can catch up in your gadgeteering, it'd work out if the three of us can work together in mah lab."
"And since I'm not a gearhead," Tansy continued, "I need to make sure that I don't take time away from the two of you fooling around under your cars."
I gawked at her, and then I glanced at Lanie as her poor choice of wording hit me. I couldn't help but snicker, and Lanie had also caught the double-entendre. In moments, we were near tears with laughter.
"You know what I meant!" Tansy protested with a slight frown before she, too, succumbed to a few chuckles.
"Shall we have a 'Gadget Girls' Night' tonight?" Lanie asked when we'd settled down a bit.
I shook my head. "Can't. Ghost Walkers have a sim tonight. After class, though, I'm going to spend some time working in the lab trying to solve the passivation issue." I noticed that Tansy was trying to seem interested, while Lanie definitely was. "Ayla said as soon as I solve that, it's patentable."
"Go for two patents," Lanie replied easily. Seeing my puzzled expression, she smiled. "You can patent the material, and you can patent the process to passivate and strengthen the surface. The process might be applicable to other materials," she added by way of explanation, "so having a separate patent doubles income potential."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"It's a little trick Ayla taught me," Lanie explained.
At the mention of Ayla's name, I saw a flicker of something - regret maybe? - on Tansy's features. One eyebrow arched as I quickly scanned her features for some clue.
Tansy noticed. "That's another stop on the Tansy Apology Tour I made." She shook her head sadly. "While she ...."
"He," Lanie and I interrupted simultaneously.
"Despite outward appearances, Ayla still thinks of himself as 'he'." Seeing Tansy's puzzled look, Lanie continued. "Everyone knows - or should know - about Ayla's transexed BIT. He still has his equipment, and he prefers to be called 'he'."
"Oh. I didn't know that. I just assumed that, because of the body and name, Ayla went by 'she'." Tansy sighed. It was one more thing she might have done to offend the Goodkind. "Anyway, he let me apologize, but it was pretty obvious that he didn't accept my apology. Honestly, I don't know if he will ever be able to accept it, given some of what I've done." After a wistful moment, she shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs and forced a smile. "That's my problem. Let's talk about what we're doing this week."
That opened the door to a long discussion of our plans, and it seemed like mine was the worst schedule by far. I had three sims Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, plus a meeting of The Nations on Thursday after my sim, and runway practice and a photo shoot with Venus Inc. Tuesday before my sim. After classes, I had to split my time between extra tutoring with Mr. Two Knives and Chou, and working in the labs. Amidst that whole mess, I had to fit in homework, probably tutoring Ayla. At least my work-study was in third period instead of after classes, so I had some free time.
We did plan some time where Lanie and I could work on our cars, some gadget-girls time for the three of us, and we decided to sneak in some horseback riding Wednesday after classes, which made me quite happy; I loved riding my horse, and it'd be fun to share the time. And Lanie was going to book time Saturday or Sunday morning for some sailing in the simulator. I knew we couldn't plan all of our time, but it was reassuring that Lanie and Tansy recognized that I needed solo time with Lanie as well as time with both of them.
Monday, September 10, 2007 - Evening
Arena 99, Whateley Academy
The Ghost Walkers huddled together in a dense office-zoned area of the city a couple of blocks from the museum which was being robbed of artifacts. The police had cordoned off the area, and were relying on us to take down the crooks - with no loss of civilian life.
"What have we got?" Evvie asked, beating me to the question. Harrier had just landed after doing an overflight. He'd gotten some of the color-change paint from Lanie, and had infused it in his training suit, so he blended into the sky a lot better, giving him some stealth.
"I can't tell what's going on inside," Harrier reported. "There's nothing moving inside the police perimeter. It looks like they've got two armored trucks for transport, disguised as money carriers."
"Kayda?" Addy asked simply.
"I couldn't get inside," I reported, frustrated. I'd used my ghost-walking spell to attempt to reconnoiter inside the museum. "They've got the doors barricaded, and at least two guards at each. It looks like they've got booby-traps on the doors, too, so I couldn't power my way through. Any idea how many hostages?"
A rough-looking police sergeant spoke up. "Our best estimate is fifty to sixty."
I grimaced, shaking my head slightly. "What do they want? It can't be money! Artwork? Artifacts? Is there maybe something powered in there, Sergeant O'Malley?" I about choked on the name - this was playing to stereotypes so badly I had to give Gunny crap about it - if we won.
"Well, now, lass," he said in a thick Irish brogue, "they opened a display this week," he dug a very old-fashioned small notebook out of his pocket and flipped through a few pages. "Schliemann's Troy."
"Troy?" Alicia asked, surprised. "Trojan artifacts?"
"Probably. Or Greek" Naomi replied as she dug out a hardened tablet computer. "I'll see if there's anything of interest on the website." A moment later, she looked up. "Nothing that stands out as powered or mystic artifacts. Some gold coins and statues."
"That doesn't make sense," Laurie said disgustedly. "It'd be easier to rob a bank."
"Any contact with the perps, Sergeant?"
"No. They've not said anything. If it weren't for the alarm, we wouldn't have known there was a crime in progress."
"Have you accessed the security cameras?" Naomi asked the Irish policeman. Leave it to her to think of something related to cameras - it was her gadgeteering focus, after all.
"No," the burly sergeant admitted. "We haven't been able to get the camera feeds."
Naomi rolled her eyes, then dug into a belt pouch. "Kayda, can I borrow your charm? Or can you give me ghost-walking spell?"
Three minutes later, she was back, and she plugged another gadget into the tablet. Instantly, the display showed a camera feed. She began to cycle through the different cameras.
"Mon dieu!" Addy groaned. "Tell me that Gunny didn't have Jericho consult on those costumes!" They were awful - alternating-direction blocks of brown and black stripes - no doubt to induce nausea either through the colors or the pattern - and indicative of some kind of themed gang. "Oh, good grief!" she exclaimed when one of the villains turned toward the camera and we could see a large moose-head and antlers on his chest.
"Oh, 'tis the Mighty Moose gang!" the sergeant exclaimed in shock. "We've been tryin' t' catch them for months! They're a dangerous group!"
"Not a herd?" Evvie chuckled, eliciting a frown from the sergeant.
"If I must look at villains, will vomit," RPG said with disgust. "Will just shoot them instead."
I nodded, then watched the rest of the security camera feeds with the team. After we had an idea of where the gang was, I looked around at the team. "Thoughts?"
"Harrier flies top cover, RPG breaches through a wall from the rear while you and Evvie go in two other entrances, with your shield?" Alicia held the tablet so we could all see. "The display is on the first floor, in this area," she pointed to a part of the building floor plan. "
"You don't, by chance, have a mass sleep spell? Or a sleep gas bomb?" Naomi asked hopefully. When I shook my head, she shrugged. "Guess we have to do this the hard way, then."
We split up. RPG was going to breach, and Addy would dash in after him, using her speed. Evvie and Laurie would go through an emergency exit door, with Laurie trailing to look for civilian casualties. Naomi and Alicia, with my charm, would breach another door, while I went in the building's final exit.
"Check." "Ready." "We're set." "I've got top cover."
I took a breath to steady my nerves. "In five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... GO!"
On the mark, protected by a combination ghost-walking and shield spell, I darted toward the entrance. It had been barricaded from the inside, but I shattered the glass with a couple of well-directed tomahawk blows and then vaulted over what appeared to be a reception desk which had been pushed against the opening.
Two mooks reacted to the intrusion at the sound of the shattering glass, but they had nowhere to aim. That didn't hinder one of them - he simply started blasting toward the door with an old-fashioned Tommy gun. The bullets ricocheted harmlessly from my shield, and then my tomahawk found its mark - splitting his jaw by a vicious upward cut. His compatriot got a good sidekick, and a hard thump on his skull from the butt-end of my other tomahawk put him down for the count.
A blast and other gunfire let me know that the other breaching teams had entered the building, and almost as one, we converged from different directions on the gallery of the Trojan artifacts.
The chief villain, and it could be none other than the chief, turned away from working on some kind of hardened display case, grabbing a pair of hostages. "Stand down, or these hostages die!" he snarled, pulling himself erect in a gesture of bravado and machismo. Though attired like the others, he had no moose insignia on his chest; rather, he had a cowl of furry red with some kind of gold-colored appendages - it looked like a four-year-old's cross between the winged helmet of Hermes and a moose-antlered beanie.
It was too late to stop Evvie's brutal attack on one of his goons, but the others pulled up short as the remaining seven or eight henchmen also grabbed hostages as human shields.
"Oh, good God!" Naomi sighed, shaking her head. "It was Jericho doing the costumes!"
"Silence, fools!" the man roared. "Who dares to tangle with," he struck what he supposed was a villainous pose, "the Mighty Moose?" He glared at us a moment, and then dismissed us with a wave. "It won't matter! In a moment, when the acid eats through the duraglass shield, I shall have the Lost Spheres of Agamemnon!"
Laurie looked toward the display case he stood near. "Those? Those plain-looking glass balls?" Standing ready in case one of the mooks decided to attack, she shook her head. "Those look like overgrown marbles, if you ask me! Look - the one on the left looks like an aggie and the one on the right is a cats-eye!"
"What?" Alicia exclaimed. "You mean we're fighting some nutjob because some old dead geezer lost his marbles?" As they spoke, I was creeping around to try to get behind the Moose.
The armored glass case chose that moment to give way, and the Mad Moose turned from responding to snatch the two spheres - about seven centimeters in diameter, from their felt-lined display stands. "It's too late! Now I, the Mighty Moose, possess Agamemnon's Balls!" As he clutched them, they glowed slightly. "Behold the spheres of power! Now I alone will have the power!"
"Another megalomaniac!" Evvie sighed. "Can I take him down, Kayda?"
"Kneel before the Mighty Moose and his power balls!" the man roared at us.
"Ah don't know," Alicia said, shaking her head. "They look like mah grandmama's gallstones if y' ask me!"
"Do you mean we are fighting for oversized gallstones?" Addy asked with a disgusted look. "Yuck!"
"Silence!" the Moose roared, raising the two glass spheres which began to crackle with power. "Non-believers! Now you shall taste the power of Agamemnon's Balls!"
Evvie groaned again. "Dude, do you have ANY idea how bad that sounds?" She was trying to buy me a bit more time.
"Quit playing with your balls! There's children present!" The Cajun girl shielded Vasiliy's innocent eyes.
As he raised the two power-charged crystals together, I saw my opportunity. With a Lakota war cry to distract people, I slashed one goon across the throat while my other tomahawk buried itself in the skull of another. Even as I struck, I'd already mentally discarded the tomahawk embedded in the skull, knowing it'd take precious moments to pull it free. Instead, in a smooth move I'd practiced under the guidance of Mister Two Knives I released the handle and drew my knife for an attack on the villain.
I lowered my shoulder, just as I'd done many times in football practice, and hit the Moose in the chest, while my tomahawk swept up in a cut at his wrist. Startled by the combined attack, he dropped one of the balls, and Addy, darting in from the side, scooped it into her hands even before it hit the floor; she'd used my attack to swoop in to try to get the balls.
I noticed that my tomahawk hadn't cut the villain at all. "Brick!" I called out in surprise to warn my teammates.
RPG hit one of the guards with a very small blast, which burned a hole through his chest before he could manage to harm the hostage he held, while Alicia's focused power dropped two other goons. Evvie launched herself, taking two gunshots in her PK field before slugging two more hench-critters into unconsciousness.
The Moose was stunned, but unhurt. Seeing that the odds were turning, he clutched the other stone tightly. "Fools! You shall never capture the Mighty Moose! And I swear, I'll be back for the other one!" With that, he launched himself toward the ceiling and burst through it.
"Adrian, he's going airborne!" Evvie shouted into the comm gear while Laurie tended to a wounded hostage and Naomi, Addy, and Alicia finished off the goons. Addy ran about madly, dazzling the remaining three henchmen, who couldn't draw a bead on her as she darted in and out among them, and as they tried to track the zooming girl, the other two smacked them down.
Seeing that our teammates had the hostage situation and goons under control, Evvie, RPG, and I dashed outside in time to see Adrian dive on the Moose, only to bounce off harmlessly. Almost immediately, RPG began to shoot bursts at the moving villain, while I watched helplessly.
"Evvie! Dive bomb?" Adrian asked frantically in his comm gear as he regained stability.
Adrian dove in a near-perfect stoop toward the ground, spreading and arresting his mad descent just before he hit the ground so that he landed with picture-perfect style, while RPG's bursts were making the Moose turn in circles to avoid being hit. No sooner had Evvie leaped on Adrian's back than he zoomed skyward once more.
What happened next is impossible to accurately describe; you really had to be there. RPG's 'triple-A' bursts, lighting the sky like fireworks, had tumbled the Moose a couple of times, slowing him, and he'd guided the Moose to turn a 180, which the villain may not have even realized. Meanwhile, out of his eyesight, Adrian and Evvie soared high above the Moose, and then, tipping down, Adrian screamed into a very steep dive. Vasiliy changed his aim slightly, and used his airbursts to keep the Moose flying mostly straight.
Evvie released herself from Adrian's back only a few meters above the Moose, and using her arms and legs to steer herself, she smacked hard into the Mighty Moose, spreading just before impact so she could grab onto the villain.
The impact and odd center of gravity caused the Moose to tumble badly, and without much altitude to work with, he came down to the ground - hard, with Evvie clinging to his back. It took Evvie a second to shake off the impact, while the Moose was slower - so slow that Sergeant O'Malley and his team dashed in and cuffed him with brick handcuffs.
The Mighty Moose glared at us as the police hoisted him to his feet and began to man-handle him into a car, but we barely noticed as we high-fived each other. It hadn't been pretty, but it had been fun, and more importantly, we'd won.
"I would have gotten away with it," the Mighty Moose screamed aloud as he was forced into the back seat of the car, "if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!"
Arena 99 Briefing Room, Whateley Academy
Gunny just glared at us and shook his head, muttering under his breath, as we grinned and chuckled. It had been a fun simulation, but Gunny wasn't impressed in the slightest. Then we were surprised when Hank entered in the Mighty Moose costume and sat down, grinning.
Needless to say, we all got reamed by Gunny for our performance, even Hank, but that didn't spoil his silly grin. After being threatened by Gunny that we were going to face a Kobayashi Maru scenario sooner or later, we all walked out.
"Hank, you know that was some of the worst monologuing I've ever heard!" Evvie chuckled. "Balls of power, indeed!"
"You've got a dirty mind!" Adrian laughed. "You know that, don't you?"
Hank blushed. "I ... I got carried away."
Even Gunny's warning couldn't spoil our good mood at having won, no matter how unconventionally or how much homework Gunny gave us. We were in such a happy mood that we detoured to "Sweet Dreams" where I bought dessert and fresh ice cream for everyone, and I was in such a good mood that I didn't really protest when Hank had five bowls of ice cream, or when he got a couple of servings as take-out to share with Lily.
Tuesday September 11th - Pre-Dawn
Near the Triumph of Engineering Display, BroadWay Tunnel, Whateley Academy
It went against Laneth's nature to hide, but the banshee knew the difference between when to be bold and when to attack from stealth. She had spent a restless day avoiding people in the extensive tunnels below the school and a just-as-uncomfortable night dodging security. Her belly was complaining about its emptiness but she finally had found herself in front of a glass and metal display case.
In her memory, the memories that she shared with her current host, she marveled at the very concept of a motion picture. The tale of a bard, no matter how fantastic, could somehow be made and then shown. It was lazy in a way, because it did not require the audience to use their imagination, everything was put forward in front of them, but that made it seem like even more powerful magic! To watch a knight battle a Dragon in perfect safety but to be thrilled and terrified just the same made for an interesting juxtaposition. It inspired the imagination precisely because it didn't use it.
And one of these moving tales, told nearly two generations ago, had so inspired the apprentice Smiths that had come through the school that emulating its weapon had become something of a rite of passage for them. Every year the designs were pitted against each other while the Masters who instructed them graded the work and sat in judgment as to who had come closest to creating a fictional weapon; the most magical of magic swords.
Laneth knew that her hostess had built one in her first year at this place, knew that it had been judged the third-best of the year's efforts of which her daughter self was justifiably proud. The banshee removed the ASP from her back pocket and snapped it open in preparation of opening the display case in a very permanent fashion. Before she could do so, yet again the mongrel from Tír na nÓg appeared once more in the glass, grinning his sly grin. "My goodness!" the dog observed. "We are considering rash things. You know, the weapons in this case are more dangerous to the wielder then they are to the target."
The banshee frowned. "I know how to use a sword," she protested, but the dog only growled.
"This isn't a sword, girl," he scolded her. "This is trying to grab a lightning bolt, and just as dangerous! But, I can provide you with something far more to your liking and sensibilities…"
Laneth angrily put her fists on her hips. "You've been so forthcoming so far! Without agreement or warning you fling me from Tír na nÓg back into the real world in a body ten years younger… How did you do that…?"
The dog's expression was cagey. "The revelation of wonders are but one of my many talents. The body you wear is identical to the body of your daughter self, the only difference between the two of you is the binding of the spirit Grizzly, though while you live now, that body I have made for you is not permanent. So, do you like being alive? Will you accept my offer?"
"What happens to my daughter?"
The dog's eyes narrowed. "Your daughter died the better part of 1000 years ago. Just like you did. Let us be clear - the body called Elaine Nalley possesses one soul, you. And as you have ridden the wheel of life over and over you acquire different names and different memories of these different lives, but the only you we are talking about is you. So the you who lives now and calls herself in Elaine, merges with you and you remember being Elaine and all of her memories, and you remember being Laneth and all of her memories."
"Is that is so, then why are there two of me now?" she demanded, but the dog rolled his eyes.
"I could lecture for an hour over the metaphysics and deep magics involved and still you would be as ignorant then as you are now." Coyote replied nonchalantly looking away and back sidelong at the Pict girl. "But neither of us have that kind of time to waste. I have reanimated you and gave you a new body but that is not a permanent thing. This is The Foreigner's creation and while many of us can bend His rules, none of us may break them. So, for three days you will walk the world of men once more - one of which you have spent down here. That leaves you two to accomplish what you must in order to remain awake and alive. To do that you must convince your current self to bond back with you on your terms, and not the terms of her teachers. That is, she must kiss you. Not just any kiss, the kiss of true acceptance. If she does, I have restored to you life and will restore the rest of that which fate has taken from you. All I ask is that you must guide your soul sister and teacher to lead."
"What if I don't do that?" Laneth asked. "What if she doesn't kiss me?"
The ears on the dog rotated backwards. "Well, it's not as if the world will end. Oh, well for you it will. Laneth, daughter of Joan, died on a Viking sword in 784 CE. Her bones were laid to rest and rot to this very day in the hills above what was Morlock and is now the town of Montrose. And when the soul energy that had been Laneth, daughter of Joan, was reborn on the wheel of life, it should have forgotten being Laneth, daughter of Joan. The fact that it did not was a defect a defect that can be corrected."
"What is your name, spirit?" she demanded. "A being as evil as you must have been equally infamous name…!"
Coyote bared his fangs. "I have many names, Pict daughter, none of which would mean anything to you. But I am a creature of my word and that which I have promised I will fulfill. All you must do is rejoin with yourself. And to aid you on that quest, look behind you." Laneth turned to see the catwalk high up on the wall of the tunnel leading into a second tunnel away from this larger one. "In your current self's private room around the corner, you will find weapons more to your liking, and more importantly, less dangerous to both of you." Coyote vanished from the display plate glass, leaving a confused Laneth behind. She thought hard for a moment, before she turned and mounted the stairs up to the second level.
There she found the door labeled Loophole and another of the thumb readers next to it, which obligingly open the door for her. Inside she saw many devices that made no sense to her, but most importantly she saw one that she remembered very well. On a manikin in the corner was the red armored clothing that had been bound to both her soul and her current self, the armored clothing the sorceress had named Wicked. And with the clothing was the strange and powerful bow and the exotic, practically magical arrows that did far more than kill.
Laneth thought only for a moment before she peeled off the tunic she had been wearing and began to strip the manikin of the armor.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Nervously, I opened the frosted-glass-paned door into the administration suite, glancing inside. I had no idea why I'd been called out of class, and given my reputation from the spring term, I got a lot of looks from my fellow students when the announcement came over the PA that I was to report to Mrs. Carson's office.
Elaine Claire noticed me peeking. "Come in, Kayda," she said in a friendly tone. Of course, unless a student was accused of a felony, she'd be polite and nice, so that didn't set my mind at ease in the slightest. "Have a seat. Mrs. Carson will be with you in a moment."
I stole a glance toward Ms. Hartford's desk, and the peculiar look she was giving me - a mixture of a haughty glare and an amused smirk - only made me more nervous as I sat down, wondering exactly why I'd been summoned. I didn't recall having done anything flagrantly wrong, at least not nearly on the scale of the spring term's events.
Not more than two minutes passed - two very long minutes of me pondering my fate for an as-yet-undisclosed offense - before the door to the executive conference room opened. "Come in, please," Mrs. Carson said, and I saw some expression that gave me hope that I wasn't in trouble. Not too much, anyway.
Following her in, I paused at the doorway, gawking. It wasn't unusual for Mr. Lodgeman to be involved in my woes and troubles, since he was Native American, sponsor of The Nations, and a shaman who occasionally helped me with shaman magic. Nor was I surprised that Mr. Two Knives was present, since he was my primary martial arts tutor. What really caught my attention wasn't even the presence of three men and a woman in very formal business attire, or the old Lakota man sitting next to my tutor. What really got my attention was the fact that Chief Dan Bear Claws sat at the table between Mr. Two Knives and the woman in the suit. I couldn't help but stiffen involuntarily; he'd been involved with Grandma Little Doe - Gray Skies - in trying to chase me out of Whateley the previous spring, a scheme that had nearly resulted in my death several times.
Chief Dan rose, looking embarrassed and contrite at the same time. "Cante waste nape ciyuzapo, Kayda," he said formally.
"Wakan Tanka kici un," I replied formally, almost sternly as I eyed him suspiciously.
Mr. Two Knives and the old man rose and half-bowed toward me. "Greetings, Ptesanwi," the old man said. "Cante waste nape ciyuzapo. I am Charles Whitetail, chief of the Oglala." He smiled warmly, as if delighted to meet me. "I was in the hospital when you visited our tribe, so I didn't have the pleasure of meeting you personally this summer," he apologized.
"I must beg your forgiveness for my involvement with your ... with Gray Skies," Mr. Bear Claws said, switching to Lakota. "I ... allowed pride and greed to cloud my judgement. She was a much stronger shaman than I realized."
"Many people underestimated her," I found myself saying without even thinking.
"I will not make that mistake again," he said somberly. "I would like to atone for my mistakes by helping the Ptesanwi, if you would permit it. But I understand if you would rather not let me help."
Chief Whitetail and Mr. Two Knives looked at me. "It is our way," Whitetail said gently. "When an offender has been punished, the People will treat him as if he'd never committed the offense," he reminded me.
I stared at Chief Whitetail and Mr. Two Knives for a moment, then looked long and hard at Chief Bear Claws, before I finally nodded. "Okay." Though it was difficult, considering what he'd been party to putting me through, I walked over to Chief Bear Claws and gave him a traditional handshake, an act a little different from a normal European-American handshake.
Mrs. Carson shot me a small nod of approval. "Now that that's out of the way, can we begin?"
Of the suits, one was older, seriously balding, and thin, giving him a stern, hawk-like appearance. The second man was about Dad's age, and his face was very carefully schooled, as if incapable of any expression of emotion. The third was slightly younger, but he scrutinized me with a huge frown. The woman was almost unreadable, but from her short, very unfeminine hair and unflattering glasses, my first guess was that she was probably a bitch. Though they tried hard not to show it, three of the four were very confused that these two old chiefs were deferential to a mere high-school girl.
Perplexed by the situation. I looked at Mrs. Carson. "What's ... what's this about?"
"We want you to represent the Seven Council Fire in dealing with the government," Chief Whitetail said bluntly, getting right to the point. To say that I was stunned would have been a serious understatement. "You are the Ptesanwi. You have already shown your courage and your wisdom and your concern for your People."
"It is foretold that the Ptesanwi will bring prosperity back to the People," Chief Bear Claws added. "You could best help us dealing with," he shifted back to Lakota, "the untrustworthy white men in the government."
The old hawk-faced man frowned deeply at their words. "This is highly irregular! The Bureau of Indian Affairs is the official representative of the Nations to the government!"
"Your policies do not help the People prosper," Chief Whitetail said sternly. "Your assistance keeps the people dependent on the government. You do not allow the People to make their own decisions, to control their own lands, to build their own industries. Everything we do must have the approval of the BIA."
"We are tired of being treated thusly," Bear Claws added gruffly.
"This is highly irregular," the woman practically spat. "We have agreements with ..."
"Which have been repeatedly broken," Chief Whitetail growled.
Mrs. Carson stood abruptly, leaning forward on her fingertips on the tabletop, her command presence more than asserting itself. "Enough!" She glared at the BIA bureaucrats and then at the two chiefs. "While she's here, I have the same responsibility and authority for Kayda's well-being as her parents, and I agreed to this discussion with the expectation that it wouldn't degenerate into bitter accusations." She glanced around the table using her glare-of-supreme-authority, which I was only too familiar with. It was actually interesting to not be on the receiving end.
"Mrs. Carson," Chief Whitetail spoke somewhat contritely while he kept giving the stinkeye to the bureaucrats, "I apologize for my outburst. But I hope you can understand why we might be skeptical of the government."
"We have the interests of the Native American peoples at heart," the woman said brusquely, her demeanor and the deference of the men making it clear that she was the top-ranking bureaucrat in the room.
"We haven't heard Kayda's view on the subject," Charlie Lodgeman said with a small knowing smile. "What do you think of Chief Whitetail's suggestion?"
All of the people turned to me, and the hostility from the BIA officials was oppressive. "What do I think?" I asked, trying to come up with an answer. "You want me, a sixteen-year-old girl, to represent the Seven Council Fires, to represent the Lakota People, to the federal bureaucracy?" I snorted in disbelief. "Sure, sounds peachy! I'll give it ago - tilting against the windmill of the impersonal federal monstrosity of stupid policies and special interests! Of course, I don't have any experience, so I'd probably make a total hash of it, but what the hell? Can't be worse than it is, can it?"
"Kayda," Mrs. Carson cautioned me with a single word.
"But ... Wakan Tanka ...." Chief Bear Claws started to say in protest.
I shot him a warning glance to shut him up, and he got the message. "I can't do that! I don't know enough!"
"You can help the People!" Chief Whitetail protested.
The BIA bureaucrat smiled smugly, and I noticed. For some reason, her demeanor pissed me off. "That doesn't mean that I approve of your bureaucracy," I snapped at her. "You sit around in your Washington DC palaces, formulating one-size-fits-all policies that you think will apply equally to the swamps of the Seminoles to the woods of the Iroquois, from the deserts of the Hopi and Navajo to the prairies of the Lakota and Cheyenne. You make rules as if you're tending to children instead of a proud, independent people - and you never stop to see if they're even working because you're too busy building your bureaucratic empires!"
"Kayda!" Mrs. Carson's warning was for me.
"I'm sorry if I'm speak my mind," I apologized to the headmistress, "but you asked for my opinion. I've seen the results of too many bad policies from inept bureaucrats who don't seem to care about helping the people who suffer under their incompetent rules!"
For over an hour, the Chiefs argued with the bureaucrats, recounting past broken promises and bad treatment of the Lakota, while the bureaucrats countered - unconvincingly - that they had the budget and the authority to help out the People, which was in everyone's interest. Through all that, I tried to stay out of the conversation, which was difficult considering that the two Chiefs kept asking for my opinion. And I was trying my best to duck what the tribes wanted from me, and I was perplexed at the strange looks I was getting from Mrs. Carson and Mr. Lodgeman, and at why they were letting the conversation go on for so long.
"You won't represent the tribes?" the two Chiefs finally asked, somewhat astonished that I'd pass on this responsibility. "We have petitions from every chief from every tribe. The People want you to represent the Lakota - and not just here, but the Canadian First Nations as well!"
I read the disappointment in their expression, the feeling that I was letting down not just them, but all of the People. "But ... but I ... I don't know how! I wouldn't want to mess it all up, to make things worse for the People."
"Even as a symbolic leader?" Mr. Two Knives offered hopefully.
"Maybe," I said, wincing, "maybe I ... I could do that. Be a symbol of hope for the People - for now."
"And give the advice of ...?" Chief Bear Claws didn't have so say another word to get his meaning across. He no doubt hoped that with I would at least listen to proposals and offer advice, with Wakan Tanka's word as part of the advice.
"Um, maybe? I mean, I'm not ... I don't have ... I don't understand ... politics," I spat the distasteful word. "I don't know how I'd be any help with that stuff."
"But you do understand what the People need. At least she does!" Chief Whitetail countered in protest, trying to persuade me.
I winced; I really didn't want to mention Wakan Tanka in front of these DC bureaucrats; somehow, though, I think they suspected something, as their eyebrows all lifted with curiosity, but two of them seemed to have a knowing look about them. That made me very nervous - if they knew about Wakan Tanka, they might get some idea to try to use me to control the People. I'd have to be on guard against that. "I ... I suppose I could consult her for any policies and stuff."
Mrs. Carson and Mr. Lodgeman nodded. "I think you have your answer," she said to the two chiefs. "Kayda is wise enough to know you're asking too much of her."
I saw the smug looks on the bureaucrats, and it pissed me off - a lot. "Don't get complacent," I snapped at them. "I know the tribes need to build their political power, to seek connections to keep pressure on you guys. It is the Ptesanwi's wish that all the Nations unite for their common good." Their eyes bulged slightly; they knew that if the People united as I'd just stated, it would be a political force that would be hard for them or their handlers in the executive or legislative branches to resist.
There wasn't much more to discuss, so Mrs. Carson called for Elaine Claire to show the BIA agents and the chiefs out. Which left me with her, Mr. Lodgeman, and Mr. Two Knives - and me expecting trouble for being so snarky to the government.
"Well?" Mrs. Carson began, one eyebrow cocked questioningly.
I gulped nervously. "I ... I'm sorry," I began. "I didn't mean to be so ... blunt and rude, but ... but I've seen what the BIA has done for the Lakota - and all tribes. They're ... they're ...."
"Incompetent?" Mr. Two Knives said with a smile.
"Dad says that all bureaucrats care about is their jobs and their little empires," I explained cautiously. "That if they solved the problems they've been given, they'd be out of jobs, so they really, deep-down, don't care about solving them. And that's the problem with the BIA."
"Your dad is pretty sharp," Mrs. Carson said with a chuckle.
I noticed something in all their expressions. "You ... you all knew what I'd say, didn't you?"
"Yes, dear," Mrs. Carson practically beamed. "I suspect the chiefs thought that your connection with your tribe would have persuaded you, but after watching you for the past several months, we knew that you would realize how daunting a task it would be for you to get involved in politics."
"But you do realize that as a figurehead, you'll probably be traveling quite a bit, and attending a lot of tribal events," Mr. Lodgeman cautioned me. I gulped at that - I hadn't considered that angle.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - After Lunch
Office of the Headmistress, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"God damn it, Bella!"
The headmistress's hand came down on her desk with the volume of a shot gun blast. The house mother of Poe cottage winced as her boss vented her tightly controlled anger. "Six months! Six months of dancing around the Mages' Code of Ethics like a Flamenco dancer and not exactly lie and make certain enough of the truth is left out by omission to prevent a dangerous obsession from becoming reality! Six months that you've undone in a single weekend over something as trivial as a lover's spat! What do you have to say for yourself?" the headmistress demanded.
Mrs. Carson blinked in surprise. "Oh dear?" she demanded. "Oh dear? That is your answer to the destruction of six months of work?"
Bella Horton swallowed and raised her chin with dignity. "No, Mrs. Carson that is not my answer to the destruction of six months' work. That is a cry of concern."
Mrs. Carson crossed her arms over her blouse and frowned. "Concern of what?"
"Concern, Mrs. Carson, that you haven't read my full report."
"And how do you know that?" the headmistress demanded.
Mrs. Horton sighed and turned her head to meet her boss' fearsome gaze. "Because if you had read my complete report, Mrs. Carson, you would be swearing at me like a Drill Instructor. And since you maintain your legendary composure, I am very certain that you haven't read the whole report."
Wearing the most puzzled look on her face that Bella Horton had ever seen, Mrs. Carson stood from where she had been leaning against her desk and circled behind it. She called up the document on her computer and quickly began to read. Within seconds her eyes widened and the glasses everyone knew she did not need slipped off her nose.
"Oh ... Fuck" she breathed. She turned and once more fixed her gaze on Mrs. Horton, her face flush with tightly contained anger. "What ... Were ... You ... Thinking?!" She demanded. Elizabeth shot to her feet and stormed around the desk angrily gesturing at the office behind the wall and chair Mrs. Horton sat in. "Under my very nose, my assistant is actively recruiting into an international criminal cabal one of the students that gives me the most recurring nightmares, and not only have you revealed that I have all but lied to her about the source of her dangerous fascination, but then you call the creature up in a casting circle and let the two of them converse ...!"
Mrs. Horton raised her chin a moment and folded her hands neatly in her lap. "If you are that disappointed with my judgment I can have my letter of resignation on your desk within the hour ..."
"That's not very damned funny!" Carson snarled, storming over to her window and looking out over the fixer's patio. "As if I would let you off that easy!" she added over her shoulder. After a moment of contemplating the view out the window she turned back into her office and demanded, "You got me into this mess. What is your recommendation? How do I get out of it?"
Bella looked away. "You don't want my recommendation ..."
"I need you to be serious," Carson snapped returning to her desk. "I can't just ..."
"You asked for my recommendation and you have it! Bring the girl in here, have the decency to look her in the eye and tell her the truth! You allowed Amelia to alter her combat final knowing Lifeline would react the way she did!
"I'm not a clairvoyant," she started. "I had no way of knowing ..."
Bella Horton shot to her feet. "Don't lie to me, Elizabeth Carson!" she shouted." You knew damned well how terrified Maggie Finson was of Elaine's spirit. Did you know she would swear a blood oath? I don't hold that against you, but you knew it be the end of their friendship! Don't you whine to me about Amelia Hartford and the game she's playing in this school! If she does anything on this campus you're not aware of, I'll eat my hat!"
Carson sighed, shook her head, and forced a smile at her long-time friend and one of her confidants. "You don't have a hat, Bella ..."
Horton sniffed in disdain. "I'll borrow that witch hat from Eliza Grimes." Still her anger cooled and she returned Carson's smile. "What can I say? I'm a traditionalist ..."
Elizabeth sighed and retrieved her glasses from where they had fallen on the floor, placing them on the desk. "You really think I should call her in here and ...?"
"Yes," the house parent replied. "What's more, I'll be here with you, to vouch that you're finally being honest with the girl and that what you're saying is so."
Carson closed her eyes, taking a very deep breath through her nose as she slowly shook her head in frustration and concern. "Set it up," she ordered as she slowly exhaled.
"I'll be happy to," Bella replied. She stood and sighed heavily. "But you still haven't finished the report."
Carson's head shot up, the expression somewhere between fear and anger on her face. "There's more?" she demanded.
"Laneth," Bella replied. "They haven't found her yet."
Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - After Classes
Behind Holbrook Arena - Whateley Academy
"See how it's done?" Mr. Two Knives asked as he reined his horse to a stop in front of Chou and me. Unlike last spring, he had his own horse this fall - a handsome chestnut stallion that was a hand taller than Summer. He held a lance in his hand, the tip pointing skyward. It wasn't a war lance; the one Mr. Two Knives held was adorned with feathers and colored banding, more like a ceremonial lance. In combat, such adornment would impede a warrior's use of the weapon. But Mr. Two Knives wielded it with such extraordinary skill and dexterity that the decorations didn't hinder him at all.
Chou and I sat atop our horses, each holding a lance aloft. "Sure - it's that easy," I said, trying not to sound too sarcastic.
The target was a man-sized dummy set on a pole; our goal, as he'd just demonstrated for the fifth time, was to charge on horseback, thrusting the lance tip into the target, then pulling it back before the lance was ripped from our grasp or we were unhorsed.
"Do you feel like Lancelot yet?" Chou asked with a grin.
"Not so much," I replied. My first attempt had been clumsy - I'd only nicked the target before the lance was ripped from my hands. The second try wasn't much better, except that I ended up on my backside on the ground. My third try skewered the target, but I lost the lance when it embedded too deeply into what would have been the opponent's chest.
"Okay, give it another try." He gestured for me to go.
Reluctantly, I nudged Summer, and she trotted quickly toward the target. Unlike Mr. Two Knives, I was not going to try spearing it from a full gallop. Falling once was once too often. Even at just a trot, though, the target seemed to be coming at me quickly, and I fought to keep the tip balanced and on target as Summer and I bobbed up and down with her motion. "Relax your wrist and elbow!" Mr. Two Knives called from the sidelines. "Don't fight it - let inertia work for you!"
I tried to follow his advice, but even at a trot, I was moving toward the target too quickly to adjust my grip. Just as I neared the dummy, I thrust the heavy lance forward, then immediately pulled back to free the lance. Of course, I missed the timing, so the blow was only a glancing one, and I nearly lost the lance in the process.
I pulled Summer to a halt beside Mr. Two Knives while Chou made an attack. I know I should have watched her, but I couldn't help looking at Molly, who was sitting next to Danny and excitedly talking about something. From the expression on his face, the subject of discussion was probably Wondercute; all we'd heard on the second floor of Poe was Jade enthusiastically trying to recruit Danny.
He'd been bullied a few times, which wasn't surprising, given how bishi he looked, but Wondercute had bailed him out on two occasions, seriously thumping a couple of the freshies who were slow learners.
"They'll learn not to mess with the power of Cute!" I heard Molly said gleefully. "Just like Jericho and Razor did last year!" I couldn't help but roll my eyes at how blatantly she was trying to recruit him. Danny looked quite dismayed as he listened; he'd seen the tape of Wondercute's combat final, evidence of just how crazy the girls could be. And he'd overheard me regaling the Sioux Falls League and Deb with even more stories of the team in the simulators and on campus.
Chou glanced at me with a gleeful expression. "He's doomed," she proclaimed. "You know that, don't you?"
"I'm not sure. Angel and Ros have taken a serious interest in him, so they might be able to save him from that fate," I mused.
"Not a chance. Even they're terrified of getting on the wrong side of Cute!" she laughed. "Better get going - it's your turn!"
"You better not laugh - again!"
"We'll see. Depends on whether you fall or not." She shot me a wicked look as she waggled her eyebrows.
After a few more tries with the lances, Mr. Two Knives switched to hand-to-hand combat; today, his goal was primarily to evaluate Danny's ability so he could customize a training regimen for my brother. I called up my shield, which we already knew could stop anything Danny or Wihinape could throw at it.
Then we sparred some, with me just parrying his attacks. In his normal male form, he wasn't very impressive - yet. He had the potential to be very quick; in testing in Sioux Falls, they'd measured his agility and reflexes as being far beyond that of a baseline human, but he was untrained, and he telegraphed his punches and kicks, so I didn't even need my shield to protect me.
Much to the delight of Molly, who was a kitten lover, Mr. Two Knives had Danny shift to Kitty-Boy form. "Oooohhh!" she squealed excitedly. "Bunny and Jade would love this!"
"So would Lindsay and Misty," Chou added. "But I think you make Anna nervous!"
"Anna?" Danny was curious about Chou's comment.
"Avatar, with the spirit of Zica," I informed him. "She'll probably be very nervous around you."
"But Lindsay and Misty will be cool," Chou shot back.
The horrified look on Danny's face was precious. Before anyone could object, Wihinape manifested in her cat-girl form. "I sensed that some here had the spirit of Zica," the spirit being channeled spoke, but I doubted that Molly and Chou could tell the difference, even though I knew from experience that it was no longer Danny speaking. "There are many interesting spirits near here. Are they all bound to students?"
"Anna has the spirit of Zica," I answered.
"You will arrange a meeting in dream-space, Ptesanwi," Wihinape commanded. "She must understand that we are no threat to her spirit or her friends, so that we may come to an accord if my host is to spend time with those girls."
Danny shifted back to Kitty-Boy form. "I hate it when she does that," he grumbled. "And who said I'm going to spend time with Wondercute?"
"You do want us to help stop all those mean boys, don't you?" Molly asked with a friendly smile. "The power of Cute will protect you! Even Razorback won't tangle with us!"
"And I think Clover, Mischief, Pally, and Abra really like you, too!" Chou giggled.
"You might as well give up now," I said with a smile. "You know they're not going to quit!"
"And I bet Venus Inc. would like to have you model, too!" Molly said enthusiastically. "Hank models for them sometimes, you know, so you wouldn't be alone."
"And that's not even counting Amelie!" I added. Danny goggled at me, so I nodded with a knowing smile.
"Amelie was asking about you the other day. I think she's interested. Of course, there's always Ros, and Angel, or ...." Danny's astonishment turned into a grimace.
"Can we get back to training?" Mr. Two Knives asked with an amused chuckle. "That is why we're here, isn't it?"
"Sorry," we all said simultaneously.
As Kitty Boy, Danny wasn't any quicker than his base form, nor stronger. Next, Mr. Two Knives had Wihinape manifest. Danny was still rather clumsy in combat, even though his reflexes had been measured as significantly faster in the cat-girl form, and his strength was in the range of high Exemplar-2. Still, he was untrained and not used to the form.
Finally, Mr. Two Knives tested his cougar form. To say that was a disappointment was an understatement. "I thought that form fought better." Danny looked a little hurt and confused by the comment; he was obviously unhappy that he hadn't done better.
"Danny, let Wihinape have control," I suggested.
"Let the cougar run free."
We tried again, and this time, the mountain lion was positively vicious; without my shield, even with my enhanced speed and training, I think she would have shredded me. Wihinape was very experienced, and it showed. Finally we finished for the afternoon, and Mr. Two Knives rode his horse, leading Chou's and mine, to the corrals.
"You can shift back now," I said to Danny.
Looking uneasily at Chou and Molly, Danny shifted back to the Winihape form, but since he'd been in cougar form, his clothes were in the ground, so the cat-girl was stark naked. Even turning his back to them, we knew that Danny was thoroughly blushing as he scrambled to get some clothes on, while Chou smiled at him, and Molly gazed on his female form with a mixture of envy and amusement. After he'd gotten his clothes on, which were ill-fitting on the Wihinape form, he shifted back to normal.
"You're going to need to spar with someone like Ayla or Hank or Mule," I suggested as we walked back. "Someone who can handle your claws if you go full-out Wihinape."
"Only if I let her be in control," Danny said glumly. "If I'm in control, I suck at fighting."
"You'll get better," Molly chuckled. "We all started the same way you did."
"Yeah," Chou added. "That's why you're in basic martial arts."
"With the evil midget," I snickered. "And Mr. Two Knives is a thorough tutor."
As we walked through the quad, a couple of the idiot bully-boys snickered. "There goes Poe's gay-boy," Buster said with a sneer. A couple of his friends laughed.
"You won't be laughing when you have to face Wondercute," Molly snapped. "Unless you want to be found tied up in pink ribbons with squirrel bites from head to toe!"
At the mention of the squirrels, Buster blanched a little bit, but he didn't back down. "We don't like your kind around here! Why don't you take your fairy ass back home so you aren't stinking up the whole campus?"
Danny started to shift, no doubt to fight, or at least look more defensive, but I put my hand on his shoulder as he shifted into Wihinape form. The guys' eyes bugged out at the shapely cat-woman who'd taken Danny's place. "Don't," I cautioned Danny.
"I think you're just jealous because all the girls think he's cute," Chou said to the boys with a smirk. "He's got more girls who want to cuddle with him than you could even dream of!"
"Just 'cuz girls like pet kittens," one of the guys sneered.
"Well, now," I said with a knowing smile, "how would you like it if Wondercute found out that you'd been harassing him?"
All of them glared at us, but they slowly turned away when a roving security patrol noticed us and started walking our way, no doubt curious about the gathering, since Buster - a known bully - was involved. Seeing them leave without any fights or other trouble, the officers went back to their usual patrol route.
"You know," I observed wistfully, "you might really want to think about joining Wondercute. If I remember, Misty and Lindsay are still available, so you might get a girlfriend out of the deal, too!" I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth. "They have a reputation that would help you avoid a lot of trouble."
"But Wihinape can fight!" Danny protested, a worried frown on his face.
"And you already know what kind of trouble you can get into. Do you want a UV armband?" Chou asked somberly, which made Danny pale and gulp nervously. "I hate to encourage them, but Kayda's probably right."
Danny sulked the rest of the way back to Poe, which meant he probably figured we were right with the advice. And he didn't like the idea. Molly, though seemed to be energized by the thought of Danny in Wondercute.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - After Classes
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Charlie Lodgeman's office in Kirby was small; Ms. Grimes, Mr. Lodgeman, and I almost filled it. I hadn't realized he had an office here; I thought his only on-campus space was in Schuster. Thinking about it, though, it made sense, since he was a shaman and he would most likely have been the resident expert on shamanic magic.
And that was my dilemma. According to the traditions of my tribe, shaman magic was positive and healing. Supposedly, it could be used offensively - after all, Chief Bear Claws reported that my grandmother had used a shaman curse to cause his heart attack - but I could find nothing in tribal literature about that, nor could I locate anything in the other libraries. Further, when I'd asked Hazel Two Bears if there was any such literature in the libraries at HPARC or in the Crazy Horse Native American College and Cultural Center, she got very evasive, which led me to the conclusion that there was something, but that it was considered 'forbidden knowledge'.
"You want to learn some offensive spells?" Ms. Grimes asked, only an inkling of surprise showing on her face.
I nodded cautiously. "I can do defensive spells," I noted, "like my shield and Ghost Walking. But ... most of the magic-track students have magic which is ... more suited for combat."
Mr. Lodgeman cocked an eyebrow. "Are you planning on getting in fights?"
I cringed at the way he'd asked about my desire. "Um, Sensei Ito and Sensei Tolman said that if you have to fight, you're supposed to hit fast ..."
"Hit first, and hit hard," Mr. Lodgeman finished with a smile. "Good point."
"It's ... like the Boy Scouts' motto - be prepared," I added to emphasize my point. "Are there offensive spells and magic in shamanism?" I asked hopefully.
Mr. Lodgeman shot Ms. Grimes a concerned glance, possibly thinking I wouldn't notice, and then he smiled. "Shamanism is about healing - both the body and the spirit."
"But ... Grey Skies used some kind of shaman magic to hurt Chief Bear Claws," I protested. "At least that's what he claimed."
The two exchanged yet another concerned look. "There may be," Ms. Grimes said carefully, "but it's ... considered very dark magic."
"It's not something you should study," Mr. Lodgeman said with a frown. "It's ... like the ... like the dark side of the Force," he explained carefully. "It's addictive, like a drug. Once you start using it, it makes you want to use it more. It'd be far better to learn how to cast spells from the more mainstream magic traditions. And there are probably ways to use the defensive magic in more offensive ways."
"I don't understand."
"Okay, let's take Lancer as an example," Ms. Grimes said as she suppressed a small smile, grateful to change the subject, I thought. "Lancer has a PK field. Is that offensive?"
"No," I replied, frowning. "It's ... it’s a defensive field."
"And yet, Lancer knows how to use it offensively. He can focus it into a thin, razor-sharp edge. In fact, it's sharper than a razor - he can use it with paper to make a devastating weapon. An offensive weapon."
"But ..." I was confused. "I don't have a PK field."
"No, but you do have a shield spell," Mr. Lodgeman said, smiling. "Have you tried to manipulate your shield?"
"No," I started, but then I paused. "I did combine it with my Ghost-Walking spell, and made it more form-fitting." I couldn't help but cringe at the memories. "I got tired of being bounced around like a ping-pong ball."
"Okay," Ms. Grimes smiled, "so you can change the shield. How much can you manipulate it? Can you make it expand? In real-time?"
"How fast?" Mr. Lodgeman immediately caught on to Ms. Grimes' train of thought. "Could you expand it nearly instantly, so it pushed an opponent away very rapidly?"
A light dawned. "I don't know." I knew I was going to have to try it. And if it didn't work as it was, I was already starting to think of how to modify it.
"Can you focus its expansion in one point - so it'd be like a fist? Or even a spear or sword?"
"I never thought about that."
"I'll talk to Sensei Ito and Mr. Two Knives - I think they'll agree that you need to exercise your defensive magic and learn to use it in unexpected ways," Mr. Lodgeman said.
"And ... maybe ...," I began cautiously, "the exercises that students with PK powers do - in powers lab - maybe they can help me?"
The two teachers smiled as they nodded. "When Fey joined you fighting the snake demon, what was her most effective offensive spell?" Ms. Grimes asked.
Okay, so everyone in the faculty seemed to know the details of that summertime bit of excitement. "Um," I had to think a bit, "her ... her sunlight spell." Another lightbulb went on. "So ... sometimes a simple non-combat spell can be the best, right?" The smiles of Mr. Lodgeman and Ms. Grimes let me know that I'd gotten their point.
"How did Fey's offensive spells work out against the snake demon?"
I thought back to the battle - it had seemed like her powerful Sidhe magic hit a huge damping field and they fizzled; snakey was unaffected. Only her indirect attack - the sunlight that Snakey was sensitive to - had harmed him. And then I realized that they were being a little too much like Sensei Ito.
"And the spells that the ... that Clover and her friends have been teaching you - you can probably find offensive uses for those," Ms. Grimes agreed. "If you're giving them your tea, you might as well get something useful, right?"
"Please schedule a meeting with me or Mrs. Chulkris once a week to review your progress in magic," Ms. Grimes directed. Great - more tutoring.
"And I'll work into your schedule with Mr. Two Knives for working on your shaman magic. Molly and Chou still train with you?" I simply nodded. "I think that Molly might benefit from some varied magic training as well."
"Okay." There was no need for further discussion, and I could tell that they weren't going anywhere near the topic of offensive shaman magic. Maybe the library had something that could take advantage of my natural shaman magic. It couldn't hurt to look.
Wednesday September 12th 2007 - After Classes
On the path to Poe cottage - Whateley Academy
I was walking alone toward Poe, looking forward to relaxing a few minutes by myself. Like I often did, I was reading a book as I walked, and only peripherally aware of the earth and air spirits. Where I was on campus, there were seldom any disturbances, and besides I had my charm which I could invoke in case of trouble.
Startling me, a tall figure stepped out onto the path a few feet in front of me. "Kayda," she called out firmly. She wore an armored costume, with a face mask which was lowered around her neck so I could see her face.
I recognized her, and grinned. "Lanie! What are you ..." I stepped toward her to give my soul-sister a hug, and to satisfy my curiosity about what the heck she was doing here attired like she was.
"I mean you no harm, but don't run. I am…"
I felt the color drained from my face. "…Not Lanie," I gasped. "Oh God, you're that Pict banshee…!" Instantly and reflexively, my hand reached up towards my shield charm, but faster than I could follow, the banshee had snap-drawn an arrow and had it nocked.
"Put your hand down, slowly," the Pict girl ordered. "I will not harm you unless you give me cause. I would speak with you as an equal, after which you are free to go."
I looked at the sun glinting off the stainless steel of the serrated triple blades of the hunting arrow I was staring at, knew the amount of damage it could cause if it struck me, and wondered if I could get my charm in my hand and invoke the spell before the arrow could be loosed and strike me. I didn't doubt for a moment that the banshee would hit me at this range and my estimation of my ability to get the spell up before being seriously or mortally wounded was equally grim.
Slowly, so as not to startle the girl into shooting me, I lowered my hand away from the charm to my side. "You know I'm a shaman, and I don't need to move or speak to cast a spell."
The Pict girl removed the arrow from the bow and returned it to the quiver. "I gave you my word I would not harm you without cause and I meant it," the banshee replied. "Will you honor our truce?"
After a long moment of consideration, I slowly nodded. "What do you want to talk about?" I demanded. "And how are you in the real world? You're a spirit, a part of Lanie! How could you be real?"
The banshee made a gesture and led the way off the trail into a copse of trees. In the privacy of them she sat down and gestured for me to do so as well. As I settled in the grass, the Pict girl's belly rumbled loudly. Cocking my head to one side, I asked her, "Are you hungry? When was the last time you ate?"
The banshee shrugged. "I was cast back into the realm of men three mornings ago, and I have not eaten since."
"You can't go three days without eating!" I protested.
The banshee laughed a hollow laugh. "You are a soft, fat people," she replied. "This is not the first time I have had to go days without eating."
I put my books down slowly so as not to alarm the girl. "That may be, but we won't speak until you've had something to eat. You're a part of my soul-sister, and I owe you that much." I hoped she'd take my word. "I'll go get you something. You have my word that I will return - alone."
The banshee nodded slowly and made a gesture at the compound bow by her side. "Woe to anyone with you if you break your word," she cautioned ominously. "This bow is practically magic and will kill from a fearsome distance."
I nodded in understanding, and then dashed to the cottage. In the kitchen, there were many vending machines different from those in the rest of the cottage. Because the school understood the unique needs of energizers, the machines were stocked with actual dinners and full MREs. I had no idea what a banshee would like, since her customary food would have been rather bland, but then again, since she seemed to have some of Lanie's memories, maybe not. I grabbed a brick of mild cheddar cheese, a quarter loaf of French bread, and a couple of beef stew MREs.
Fortunately, no-one saw me, or if they did, they didn't ask any questions, so I trotted back to the copse of trees. As I expected, the banshee was waiting bow in hand. Seeing I was alone, she put it down.
"Start with these," I suggested, handing her the bread and cheese. I was about to explain the MRE packaging, but the Pict girl froze for a moment, staring at them, then she opened the plastic pouches as if she'd been dealing with them all her life. Realization dawned on me. "You ... you have Lanie's ... my soul-sister's ... power!" I said, jaw hanging in surprise.
The banshee looked up, her mouth full of cheese and bread. "If by that you mean do I have some magic spell that explains this world to me, the answer is yes."
I pressed the little button that activated the chemical heater that was embedded between the layers of the pouch of the stew. "Lanie special power was that she understands systems, any system. I… I cost her that power when I bound her spirit to her."
"You're a powerful sorceress indeed if you can create spirit-ridden!" the redhead complemented her with her mouth full. I took the spoon off the pouch and peeled it open before passing it across.
"Be careful, it's hot." I watched the other girl nod and tuck into the stew with a vengeance, obviously not caring how warm it was. "What is your name?"
The banshee sat up a bit straighter. "I am Laneth, daughter of Joan, chieftain's daughter of Morlock, banshee. You are Kayda of the clan Franks, lover of my daughter-self. You're awfully dark skinned for a Frank. I have fought them, and Saxons too," she added, as if that would impress or intimidate me.
I smiled and shook my head. "I'm not Frankish," I replied with a chuckle, though some of my ancestors were from France. "I'm mostly Native American, of the Lakota tribe." I looked long and hard at her. "Why do you want to talk to me?" I asked the question which had been nagging at me since she drew her bow on me.
She tore off another hunk of bread and chewed thoughtfully. “I know no-one else but my other-self, and I require your assistance,” Laneth said bluntly. “Since the Druidess Horton summoned me and commanded me to fight your mate, I have thought much about how to approach you. I needed to talk to you alone,” she added with a tone that seemed to indicate that she’d been prepared to use violence if necessary – perhaps even kidnapping me.
“But … why don’t you simply talk to Lanie? You’re part of her. You belong with her!”
“I cannot risk her rejecting me,” Laneth replied through a mouthful of cheese and bread. Her eyes were steel, conveying the seriousness of her quest. “So, Kayda of the Lakota tribe, what is it of you that interests a mangy dog spirit of Tír na nÓg?"
My eyes narrowed and the corners of my lips turned down in a scowl. "What was that phrase you used? I don't speak that language."
"Tír na nÓg?" Laneth asked. "It is a land of perpetual youth, home of the Sidhe and the Unseelie, some call it the March of Dreams..."
"Ah, the dream realm!" I replied. "Where you fought Debra?" The banshee nodded. My face clouded over and I became angry. "Why did you do that?!"
"Was I unclear?" Laneth demanded. "Because my daughter-self and I, now that I've seen you, desired you." I felt my skin flush as I blushed. "I do not normally take orders from others, but I was compelled to do so, or face oblivion by the Druidess Horton. But this is unimportant. What interest is it the dog holds in you, that he would offer me a bargain?"
"Dog?" I asked, perplexed. "What dog?"
"He would not give me his name," Laneth said. "The dog threw me into the real world, and he does take an inordinate interest in you and desires that I tutelage you in leadership so that you may lead your people and some Council he is calling."
My eyes blinked in surprise. "Are you talking about Coyote?"
Laneth rolled her eyes. "Now I must plead that your word means nothing."
"Sorry, of course it means nothing to you. Coyotes are native to North America." I whispered a few words of magic, and a transparent illusion spell appeared between us. "Is this the creature you saw?" The banshee nodded which caused me to lean forward intently. "Tell me everything he has said to you …!"