The Bear, the Bitch, and Everything (Part 3)
A Whateley Academy Story
The Bear, the Bitch, and Everything
by E. E. Nalley
Why not think about times to come,
And not about the things that you've done,
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be here, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.
Fleetwood Mac, Don't Stop
September 8th, 2007
Range Two, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
The Colt Wolverine was an interesting failure.
It had been developed in the mid-80s when the Army was looking to replace the aging 1911 with a new, more modern sidearm. The Wolverine was a machine pistol, capable of burst and full auto fire, packed into a frame that was about the same size and shape as the pistol it was replacing. The double-stacked 9 mm magazine made the pistol grip somewhat thicker than those who were used to the aging 1911, but allowed for a 20 round magazine to fit completely within the pistol grip. They also produced 30 round stick magazines that extended below the pistol grip and a little 50 round drum as well. The Army felt that the fully automatic mode was not needed in a pistol and so decided to go with Beretta's entry, which would go on to become the M9.
So, Colt began shopping the pistol to various police agencies around the United States, and while beautifully manufactured and machined, it could not be made as inexpensively as Austria's polymer framed Glock, and again the burst and full auto features were frowned upon by police departments. Becoming desperate, Colt began to market the pistol to the civilian market as an inexpensive, entry-level machine gun. But at $1000 each plus the $200 NFA tax stamp, both the Mac 10 and the TEC-9 were less expensive, simpler to care for, and lacked Colts expensive machining and precision manufacture.
Refusing to give up, Colt began to produce customized versions of the pistol, tightening its already incredibly precise tolerances, tuning it with the crispest and sharpest of triggers, and doubling down on the machining of the barrels - ending up with a machine gun that could be as accurate as a competition pistol. The changes tripled the price, but Colt finally found a market for the pistol as the perfectionist's machine gun. While this kept sales low the profit margin was sufficient to keep it on the market.
Tansy decided to buy a matched pair of the expensive pistols for those times when her force pistols might prove inadequate. She had bought them in a right and left-handed configuration, the left-handed pistol reversing the controls, with threaded barrels and a pair of Illusion 9 suppressors. With Staff Sergeant Wilson's instruction, she had become used to the way the pistol jumped in her hand as it spat three bullets faster than she could blink. Since she knew that she would be using both pistols at once, she practiced that way using two separate targets in the lane, one for each pistol.
She hadn't believed him at first when he said that firing a machine gun was an almost completely different skill from regular pistol marksmanship, but she learned her mistake very quickly, having to adjust to the increased recoil and the faster bullet counts. The old joke about machine guns being rich men's toys because of the expense of keeping them "fed" was proving itself to be more accurate than she had imagined. Twenty rounds would go through the pistol on six trigger pulls in burst mode, and in full auto mode the pistol would empty itself in under three seconds.
Even though Tansy had bought seven magazines per pistol, she was still spending far more time loading magazines than putting rounds down range. This gave the blonde time to think, which with Mustang's help was not such a bad thing. She was beginning to learn to let go of the mistakes she had made in the past and concentrate on her future.
She had been surprised to find Ayla and Adalie taking the combat pistol course - in fact, the whole faculty nearly keeled over with heart attacks when the pacifist-wannabe Adalie signed up for the pistol course - though the look that flashed across his face before his carefully-schooled neutral expression returned to his face showed that he had been dismayed to find her there. She would've thought that he would leave security measures to professionals, but then she suppressed a chuckle at her own naïveté, realizing that Ayla's thinking was identical to her own.
Completely depending upon others for one's safety was asking to be helpless.
With Adalie Vitesse at his side, as seemed to be nearly always the case, Ayla entered the soundproofed loading room at the back of the range, allowed the safety officer to clear their weapons, then picked a bench as far away from Tansy as they could before removing their hearing protection and setting about loading magazines. Tansy looked about, realizing that with the exception of the safety officer, the three of them had the room to themselves; there probably would not be a better time for what she knew she had to do. Putting down the magazine she'd been loading, she walked over and stopped at a respectful distance. "May I speak with you?" she asked.
Tansy felt a quick train of emotions flow across the younger mogul's mind - annoyance, disgust, and anger - before he mastered himself back to a cool neutral aloofness. From the French girl who was only too obviously Ayla's girlfriend, Tansy felt jealousy and intense anger, no doubt having heard Ayla's "Tales of Tansy" or even fearing that the exemplar beauty was going to make a run at Ayla. Turning to face her, Ayla declared, "While I cannot stop you, I must state that I have nothing pleasant to say to you, and I would much prefer it if we could continue to ignore each other."
Walcutt nodded, licking her lips before she said, "Well, that was certainly more pleasant than I expected from you, and frankly, better than I deserved. Truth be told, you don't have to say anything, but if you would just listen for a moment, I would be grateful."
Ayla's body posture became tighter, and he allowed a frown to pull down the corners of his mouth. "Very well," he replied tersely. "Say what you feel you have to."
"In private?" Tansy asked, glancing warily at the French speedster. Ayla nodded and glanced at the Gallic girl, communicating volumes in a tiny glance.
"I will be outside," Adalie said icily, glaring at Walcutt, "in case she becomes unpleasant." With a final withering look at Tansy, she slid her pistol into a holster at the small of her back, gave Ayla's hand a squeeze, and strode out of the loading room, glancing warily over her shoulder at Tansy.
After a sigh to clear her emotions, Tansy looked the feminine-looking boy in the eye and declared, "I hate your sisters." Goodkind's eyebrow ascended his forehead, but he remained silent. "They teased and humiliated me for years, and despite trying to sort my life out, I'll be honest that if I were to find myself in the same room with either of them, I can't promise there wouldn't be violence. But my hatred of them doesn't excuse what I did to you. In trying to get my revenge, I realize that I turned into my own tormentors because they were out of my reach, and you were accessible and related to them. I don't say this to excuse what I did, but I can honestly say that I regret that I tried to put you through what I went through. It was neither right nor fair, and you have my deepest, and most abject apology for my actions."
Ayla's eyes narrowed slightly. "I suppose you want me to be astounded at this change in your personality and immediately forgive you?"
Tansy shook her head. "I don't expect you to believe me, nor do I expect your forgiveness. To be perfectly honest, I probably don't deserve it. In many ways, I suppose, this isn't about you so much as it is me. If I'm going to truly change myself, I have to own up to all the bad things that I've done as part of rehabilitating myself."
"A twelve-step program?" Ayla asked, one eyebrow climbing a couple of millimeters.
Tansy nodded. "And that means I had to say this. For what it's worth, I am sincere and I am genuinely sorry for how I abused you. I can only hope that that gives you some measure of closure. Thank you for listening."
The expression on Goodkinds face changed from a hard to a soft neutrality, and his eyes seemed full of questions that the set of his mouth showed he was not going to give voice to. "You're welcome, and you have my thanks for having the courage to say that."
Tansy nodded and returned to her workbench to continue loading magazines.
September 8th, 2007
Data Center, Action Tactical, Inc. headquarters, Blue Ridge Mountains
"There's no question about it," the technician was saying. "This is not the boy's original phone."
Mr. Lewis turn the device over in his hands. "How can you be so certain?" He asked.
The technician rolled his eyes. "It wasn't easy," he admitted. "We had to penetrate several different layers of encryption on the OS, which showed a series of markers consistent with a copy clone. Once we were certain of that, I began a trace of the device and of the serial numbers of the main chips on the board. While none of the phone carriers keep such specific records, Gizmatic himself is particularly anal-retentive about record-keeping. That phone," the technician said indicating the one in Mr. Lewis's hands, "was manufactured three months ago, but Verizon's records show your principle upgraded his phone to a device in this family eight months ago. It was well done, but it's impossible for this device to be his phone."
Mr. Lewis considered this for a long moment. Laying the device down on the bench, he asked, "All right, so if the original device was cloned onto this one, how much is copy and how much is original meant to mislead us?"
"The video of the event is the actual video. It's undoctored," the technician affirmed. "You were right not to listen to the recordings; most of the fabrication was in the Nixon app. The other major changes are in the phone logs - what numbers the phone dialed out and when."
"So," Mr. Lewis remarked, "someone is attempting to throw us off their scent, or possibly there's a third-party at work trying to frame someone else. What can you tell me about the video of the demand?"
The technician led the way further into the center and tapped a keyboard causing the monitor behind him to light up with a picture of the hooded figure demanding blackmail money. The face of the hood was covered in little symbols and as the technician typed, the image split into two; the hooded figure on the right and then an animation that gained more and more realism as he tapped at the keys. "Based on the width of the shoulders, there is a 72% likelihood that the person under the hood is male. We're in the process of creating a 3-D model based on the fact that every time he moves his head, the hood brushes against his face. This should hopefully give us a complete picture. We expect to have that done Monday. We have learned one thing that is quite interesting."
Mr. Lewis frowned. "What's that?"
"The dialogue for the footage is not what the figure is actually saying."
"It was run through a filter to get that artificial voice sound effect that was used?"
The technician shook his head. "No, sir. The two recordings aren't even close. Based on how the figure is holding his head and the way the fabric is distorting around his mouth as he speaks, I can't get any portion of the ransom demand to match up with the gestures I'm seeing of the figure. I don't know what the figure is saying, but it has nothing to do with the ransom demand."
Mr. Lewis nodded. "All right, who were they trying to frame?"
"Michael Anderson, chapter president of the St. Louis branch of Evolution Rocks!"
"That's a nonstarter," Mr. Lewis replied. "If Evolution Rocks could out a member of high society of Miss Walcutt's standing, they'd do so in a heartbeat without bothering with a ransom demand. She fits their agenda too well. Anything else?"
The technician nodded. "Two things. An analysis of the boy's computer hard drive showed a ridiculous number of photographs of Miss Walcutt from various fashion shoots. Based on the date and time stamps, these seem to be legitimate. It would appear that the boy himself recognized Miss Walcutt because he's a fan. Secondly, I pulled the logs from all the cell towers in the region and compared them with the MAC IDs of all the phones, specifically looking for the boy's original device, and I found several phone calls from the original handset to Goodkind International in New York."
Mr. Lewis straightened subconsciously, realizing that his task had just become an order of magnitude more difficult. "I want those calls substantiated, and I want to know who he talked to."
September 9th, 2007 - Predawn
The March of Dreams
Elaine lay in the hollow of her husband's shoulder, making a pillow of his chest. His arm, heavy with muscle and bone, held her against him while her own arm lay across his abdomen just above the scar of the wound that had nearly cost him his life. The couple lay on her own bed, warm under her own furs in the house he built for her. There was no order to the house - her things and his placed in clumps and piles so that the couple could quickly take residence.
Twice he had taken her this night, coupling with the urgency only those who live side-by-side with death could know. While she was well satisfied and drowsy, she was awake, watching his chest rise and fall with his breathing in the low flickering light of the fire that was keeping them warm. She'd shared a bed with her husband enough to know that he was also awake, doubtless thinking thoughts as heavy as her own. Hoping to live up to her vow, she kissed his chest and whispered, "What worries you, husband?"
He sighed heavily and bent his neck to kiss the top of her head. "How well my wife knows me in so short a span of days," he muttered. His arm around her shoulders tightened to draw her close, then his strong fingers worked the muscles of her back. "Do my spinning thoughts keep you awake?"
Her laugh would only have been in place on a gallows. "Never in my life have I entered a battle with a full night's sleep behind me," she admitted. "Father Ardan says that God has fixed the time of our ending and that we should not fear death, as there is no road we can take to avoid it." She sighed and kissed him again. "I do not fear dying, only not dying well."
"Truly," he replied with a chuckle, "I wonder if death has the courage to come for you." After a long moment of silence he whispered, "Though I cannot help but worry that we go to battle and my seed may have taken root in you."
She snuggled against him and pulled up the fur so as to cover them both better. "On that thought I may ease your mind," she told him. "For I am as regular as the tide and I did not pick the day of our nuptials by chance. I wanted to enjoy my husband before I began to fulfill my contract." She rose a bit on her elbow so she could reach his mouth to kiss him. "I will bear your children Domnall, but not yet."
He grinned a roguish grin and replied, "While I have many vices, and few virtues, patience is not one of them."
Still looking down on him, she gently caressed the dark hair from his eyes and said, "We are only called to assemble at Obar Dheathain. It is not certain that war is in the offing. There have been times on the battlefield the Kings reached accord and no blood was spilled."
He smiled up at her, taking hold of her hand to bring to his lips to kiss. "May we be so fortunate!" He gently pulled her down against him and kissed her forehead. "For now, let us sleep, as we have a long voyage tomorrow."
Her hand found his manhood under the furs and she grinned at him. "Must we sleep?" She demanded.
"What a wanton I've married!" he cried, but no one, him least of all, believed his complaint.
Sunday, September 9th, 2007 - Afternoon
The Fixers' Patio, back quad near the Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Miss Wall…Uh, Tansy? Can I talk with you for a minute?"
Tansy looked up from her Gizmatic Personal Audiovisual Display Device, or PADD as it was known, and smiled at the awkwardly-hesitant young man standing on the other side of the table. She tapped the screen and put it in to standby mode and gestured for him to sit down. "Of course, Danny!" she told the somewhat effeminate-looking young man. "What's on your mind?"
"Dump Truck," the younger boy replied as he slid in to the seat.
Walcutt seemed actually surprised. "Still?" she asked.
Danny nodded with a surly expression on his face. "Apparently, since Wihinape put him in the hospital, he feels like he's got to come after me to prove he's better, or something." Looking up from the table Tansy recognized the expression on the young man's face from years of wearing it herself. "I'm at the end of my rope! I feel like either I turn Wihinape loose and let her cut him into ribbons and take a murder rap, or I'm going to be this little faggy bitch the rest of my life!"
Tansy held up a perfectly manicured finger. "Okay, first of all drop the homosexual slurs. Some of my best friends are gay for one thing, and for another it makes you just as bad as him."
Danny made a placating gesture. "I'm sorry! I'm not dealing with this very well."
Out of the corner of her eye, Tansy saw Kayda standing at the edge of the fixers' patio. She smiled and made a gesture of invitation, hoping she would join them, but Kayda turned suddenly and began walking in the direction of Poe. Before the blonde could think to stand and go after her, the tone of Danny's voice stopped her. "Oh, shit! Here they come!"
Walcutt turned to see three scruffy-looking boys walking up; the leader a burly tough growing out of baby fat and wearing a leather bikers vest over a band T-shirt she didn't recognize. Fingerless leather gloves contributed to this fashion atrocity, along with his indecency at being seen in public with his wild dirty brown hair cut into a mullet. With the glee of a bully sighting his favorite victim, he led the trio over and gave Danny's head a shove calculated to be just below the metric of simple battery. "Hey! Peter Pan! You practicing to be the beautiful girl's gay friend?"
Tansy shook her head in disbelief. "Oh… My… God…!" she declared in dumbfounded amazement. "It's like Peter Jackson called for more trolls, and central casting sent you three!"
"Piss off, Dump Truck!" Danny snarled.
But the biker want-to-be only chuckled. "Or, what, Tinkerbell?" he demanded, thumping Danny's ear with his middle finger. "Is your girlfriend here going to beat me up?"
Tansy smiled an evil smile. "I'm considering it," she replied. "I wonder if you scream like a girl?"
The boy's face flushed with anger and he turned from Danny to the blonde exemplar. "Watch your mouth, bitch! Or I'll slap you back into the kitchen!"
"Oh I don't think so," Tansy replied. “What is that? Did you steal your daddy's biker vest from his days of being somebody's bitch? And the mullet? Really? The 90s called, they want their tough guy look back! I swear! If you three were any more white trash, Fred Sanford would be along to take you to the junkyard!"
Dump Truck was around the table like a shot as the patio went deathly silent, his scream echoing off the walls, "Don't talk about my dad, you filthy cunt…!" He grabbed Tansy's blouse, his hand cocked back for a punch, then it became difficult to follow.
Almost faster than Danny could see, Tansy's hand came up and grasped the meaty part of Dump Trucks hand between the thumb and index finger. She twisted the hand hard so that it released her blouse and the wet snap of a breaking bone cracked like a gunshot, followed closely by, as predicted, a quite girlish scream of agony. Dump Truck sank to his knees, his right hand flailing as Tansy controlled him by the left and the bone she'd already broken. "Now," Tansy declared with a smile. "That's assault, and if you look over my shoulder, you'll see the security camera that caught you accosting me and me defending myself. So when we end up in the headmistress's office, I'll walk and you'll have detention."
"Please…!" squealed Dump Truck, "please let go!"
Tansy leaned forward to get into the younger boy's face. "Fresh-things do not impress me," she hissed. "Bullies, least of all. Now if I can put you in this much pain sitting down, just imagine the can of whoop-ass I could open up on you when my oh-so-perfect designer jean-covered ass gets out of this chair." She let go of his hand, immediately causing him to cradle the wounded limb protectively against his chest. Standing to tower over him, Tansy turned to his friends and declared, "Take your little girl to Doyle Medical," she ordered. "She'll want to have that arm looked at."
The two other Bad Boys collected up Dump Truck and skidded off in the direction of Doyle. "That," breathed Danny, "was… Awesome!"
Sunday, September 9th, 2007 - Before Dinner
Headmistress's Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Carson turned the screen of her computer around so that Tansy could see it. On it was an X-ray of an arm with a jagged break very close to the hand. Mrs. Carson's gaze was steely and her lips were firmly set in a thin line of disapproval. "It may interest you to know, Miss Walcutt, that you broke Mr. Thatcher's ulna so close to his hand that were he not an exemplar with regeneration, his arm would be in a cast for two months and then he would likely have weeks to months of painful physical therapy to restore full use of his hand."
Tansy crossed her legs and sat back in the leather chair she was sitting in that faced the headmistress's desk. "Oh, so he won't go through all that?" she asked innocently, then a slow smile of triumph spread across her face. "Pity. Perhaps it would've taught him a lesson."
Mrs. Carson's frown deepened in dour disapproval. "Miss Walcutt," she began tightly, "there are not words for me to properly frame my disapproval…!"
Walcutt's voice became slightly more sincere. "I am sorry to have garnered your disapproval, Mrs. Carson," she declared. "But as the security cameras clearly show, 'Mr. Thatcher' laid his hands on me and was preparing to strike me. I defended myself."
The headmistress steepled her fingers as she sat back in her chair. "That footage also shows a heated exchange, and though there's no sound, I'm certain there are plenty of students who will testify to provoking language before Mr. Thatcher laid hands on you."
"Oh, I'm certain," Tansy replied. "I would actually be one of them; there were obscenities, innuendo of homosexual activity, and completely blunt and harsh critiques of poor fashion choices…"
Mrs. Carson's eyebrow ascended her fore head. "Do you think this is funny, Miss Walcutt?" she asked icily.
Tansy shook her head. "No, ma'am, I think it is a tragedy that humanity seems to feel the need to generate bullies. Perhaps it is a failure of our DNA. But as you have pointed out on many occasions, words, no matter how offensive, are not an excuse to lay hands on someone or engage in violence. If you're asking if I regret defending myself, I will truthfully answer no, I do not. If you're asking me if I feel bad for injuring Mr. Thatcher? I must truthfully answer no, I… do… not. My only regret is that he will not be in more pain for a longer period of time. He's been riding Danny Franks constantly since the start of term, in addition to everything else that poor young man has to put up with from his spirit. In my opinion, Danny is at his breaking point, and if breaking the arm of a two-bit thug pulls him back from the edge, then I'm only too happy to manipulate the little son-of-a-bitch into a place where I can do so and not have to pay for it."
Mrs. Carson sighed as she stood from her desk. "There is a fine line, Miss Walcutt, between self-defense and entrapment, between justice and vigilantism." She walked around the desk to stand in front of the young woman, then leaned back against her desk. "It is incumbent upon us who have greater ability to not misuse that ability against our fellow man. For all Mr. Thatcher's faults, and I'm sure they were legion, you are not Blind Justice, and it is not your place to put him in his." She held her hand out. "Give me your left hand."
Ice flowed down Tansy's spine. "Are we reducing ourselves to an eye for an eye?" she asked.
"Your left hand, Miss Walcutt," Mrs. Carson ordered. Despite her fear, Tansy set her face in a determined expression and stared unblinkingly into the headmistress's eyes. She offered up her left-hand which Mrs. Carson took a hold of. "Whenever you think yourself the arbiter of justice I hope you'll remember what you are feeling at this moment so you can be sure your motives are pure."
Mrs. Carson slapped Tansy's wrist with her left hand sharply, just hard enough that even with her exemplar status, the young woman felt the sting of the strike. The headmistress allowed a smile to pluck at the corner of her lips. "The next time you feel the need to give a bully his comeuppance, Miss Walcutt, try not to be so obvious about it." She released the young woman's hand and gestured towards the door. "Stay out of trouble," she ordered. "Please."
Sunday, September 9th, 2007
FUBAR's Tank, Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
Come in, Miss Walcutt. I don't normally have guests that aren't serving detention. Please excuse the mess…!
Tansy checked the top of the tank as she walked around the scaffold to the stairs, but the tank had been recently cleaned and the water was free of the thick mucus that often clogged the system. As she stepped down the stairs, the young blonde said, "Please forgive me for calling so late, Professor."
At the bottom of the stairs, a dapper looking, swarthy skinned man in an expensive suit appeared, gesturing toward the table and chairs set up in front of the tank. "Not at all," the mental projection replied. "I was just catching up on my Voltaire. May I get you something?"
Tansy smiled at the projection before she turned and faced the horrific creature in the tank. "Please, don't feel like you have to… Well, I'm not sure what the right word would be. Pretend?"
The dapper man faded away and the strange, horrific creature in the tank swam over to the edge next to where the blonde stood. You are in a strange mood, aren't you? Tansy shrugged as she gestured at the chair the projection had offered. Please, make yourself at home.
The chair was on rollers which facilitated her moving it over to the edge of the tank, where she sat down. Tansy looked up into the face of the creature that Louis Geintz had become, and only his eyes still seemed human. "I… I had a strange encounter, with another student and I suppose the first thing I should do is admit to breaking most of the Psychic Canon of Ethics."
Dr. Carstaires is the ethicist…
Tansy shook her head. "Dr. Carstairs won't accidentally read my mind and emotions and know my intent the way you will. I'm trying to be completely honest in the only way I really know how."
Interesting… And what parts of the psychic Canon did you not break?
Tansy laughed a hollow laugh. "Nothing I did was for personal gain."
Well, that's something. Why don't you tell me what happened from the top, and who was involved?
"Kayda," the blonde replied. "Kayda Franks. The top?" She sighed and shook her head. "Okay… The top." Tansy looked up at the monster's face and tried to concentrate on the human eyes and doing her best to keep the emotion of pity from her mind.
The mental voice chuckled. Thank you. Please proceed.
"I learned that Kayda was having an emotional outburst from my mentor. Since she was using her invisibility charm to hide from everyone, I attuned myself to the emotional flow of the school and went looking for a void."
Very clever! Louis complemented sincerely. Not many would've thought to use her invisibility against her.
Tansy nodded while licking her lips. "When I got to where she was, she was in hysterics, babbling about being alone and losing all of her friends. It didn't make a whole lot of sense at the time, but looking back on it, it makes several of her earlier reactions at our encounters make more sense. I tried to get her angry, so she would talk to me at least, but that backfired."
Anger is an emotion few people can hold on to for any length of time. How exactly did it backfire?
"She…" Tansy buried her face in her hands and rubbed her temples. "I'm… I'm going to get expelled for this, aren't I?"
The Cthulhu-like creature in the tank gave an almost human looking shrug. I am a licensed counselor, and this would seem to fall under counselor patient confidentiality. However if it comes to light by other means, I can't guarantee that some corrective action might not be taken. Based on the emotions I'm sensing from you, I doubt very seriously expulsion would be on the table. However, you and I may be spending more time here than you would like.
Tansy nodded and puffed out her cheeks as she expelled a long sigh. "That's fair," she admitted. "Anyway, it backfired because she collapsed and broke down into a sobbing fit. Granted she had just threatened to kill me, and I had offered myself up as a sacrificial lamb in hopes of shocking her out of whatever it was she was trying to keep from me. It shocked her, just into hysterics. This would be my first breach of the canon of ethics."
Use of emotional powers or active empathy to deceive another, Louis intoned. As a matter of professional curiosity, how did your glamour get around the psychic protections of her spirit?
Walcutt shrugged again leaning forward to lay her elbows across her knees so she could clasp her hands in front of her. "She was such an emotional basket-case that she had no mental discipline at all. It didn't matter that the spirit was protecting her mind, she was leaking like a dam that was in the process of failing. My glamour took on the likeness of her girlfriend and she was so relieved she threw herself into my arms and… My powers work best with touch. When she kissed me I was able to go right around the spirit and go directly in her mind and draw her into my mental space."
Forceful unwanted telepathic contact, Louis ticked off. How did you appear in the mind space?
"She clothed me in this hyper- sexualized version of my combat armor. Normally when I join minds with a girl that's intimidated by my beauty I become plainer, not… Sexier? Is it a lesbian thing?"
I probably shouldn't speculate without having spoken with Miss Franks, but if you would force me to guess I would say yes. And it's quite likely that she has some amount of sexual fixation on you. What form did the environment take?
Walcutt nodded as she worried her hands, forcing herself to remain calm and open to the superior telepath to show her intentions were honorable. "That's where this takes a real left turn at Albuquerque," she said. "I seemed to arrive at a football field at a high school. It wasn't a game night, it was a practice and in the stands I met one of the two personalities that inhabit Kayda's body."
The humanlike eyes were genuinely surprised in the horrific face. Miss Franks has multiple personality disorder?
Tansy looked up and shrugged. "I… I'm not sure. And I'm betraying something of a confidence here…"
As you know, as a member of the faculty anything told to me will be strictly confidential and if you are aware of something that is causing a student physical or emotional distress you have an obligation to divulge it to those who can assist. Louis paused for a long moment and then swam in a gentle circle. Oh, my…!
The blonde nodded needlessly to confirm the teachers reading of her mind. "Yeah, here I met Brandon who was how Kayda was born and grew up, and then he manifested and turned into Kayda. The female that we see here on campus is the representation of the other personality. When that personality realized I was talking to Brandon, she became incensed and tried to separate us. What's odd though, is that Brandon understood that he was Kayda, so I don't understand how it could be multiple personality disorder?"
That will be for Dr. Bellows or someone from his department to decide. So you were able to stay with Brandon and keep him separate from the Kayda personality?
"I had him show me where this fear came from. It turns out that in 3rd grade, he was new to the town that he grew up in, and he arrived after all of the friends and social cliques had formed so that he was always an outsider. By getting into football in junior high, he gained some acceptance, which is why I presume the mind-space dwelt on the football practice as that's where he was happy."
A reasonable assumption.
"He'd been alone his whole life, and friendship had seldom come easily to him, and he usually lost those friends. He thought I was doing the same thing with Elaine."
How does Miss Nalley figure into all of this?
Tansy suddenly felt the need to pace, and so stood from the chair and began to walk back and forth in front of the tank. Louis stayed in the middle, making slight adjustments to his floating bulk to follow her with his eyes. "Elaine and Kayda have a really special bond. It started at a… social event… And it was strengthened because of the incident at the sweat lodge…"
But Miss Franks is involved with someone off campus, Louis observed softly. And she interpreted your… relationship… with Miss Nalley as a threat?
Tansy spun to face the creature, tears in her eyes. "Please, Mr. Geintz, please don't think less of me because…"
The humanlike eyes widened slightly. Miss Walcutt, speaking as someone resigned to be celibate my entire life, I wish you all the joy and happiness no matter who you choose as a partner. That is a joy that I cannot share, and I certainly would not begrudge you following your heart.
Walcutt nodded as she came back to the chair and sat to look up at the professor in his tank. "That's, that's when I realized what I had to do. I had never been so deep in someone's mind before and I realized the horrific damage that I could've done."
The professor's voice was stern. Even with the best of intentions, Miss Walcutt, using mind control on another person to convince them of your sincerity, to manipulate their emotions to back up this control… There is a reason for the Canon of Ethics, and I think you discovered it. Did you implant any other suggestion, command or trigger besides your solemn vow that you were not attempting to separate Miss Nalley from Miss Franks?
"No sir, I swear!" The creature made a gesture that would look like a sigh had he been in the open air.
Miss Walcutt, you have placed me in a very indelicate position. I can see in your mind your sincerity in the truthfulness and completeness of what you told me. That you have admitted to your breaches of the Canon is admirable, and I'll be certain weighs in your stead. But because of the nature of this, I am required, by law you understand, to report this both to Dr. Bellows and Mrs. Carson. That said, you may rest assured I will be your advocate and see that your intense desire to only do things in Miss Franks's best interest is taken into account. That may not keep you and I from spending more time together than you would like.
Tansy raised her chin and looked the creature in the eye. "I understand, sir. And thank you for listening to my side."
Think nothing of it. Now, it is getting late and I think you should be getting back to your cottage. The dapper dressed gentleman reappeared by the stairs. May I accompany you?
The blonde stood and smiled, taking the elbow the projection offered which felt solid to her hand. "I would be delighted for the company, and to hear your thoughts on Voltaire…?"
"I think, therefore we may discuss," the projection replied as they mounted the stairs.
September 10th, 2007 - After Breakfast
Headmistress's Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Tansy wasn't surprised that the administrative offices were open already so soon after breakfast, though she was a bit surprised she had beaten the headmistress to her office and was sitting on the bench outside it waiting for her when Mrs. Carson, coffee cup in hand, came through the frosted-glass-paned door from the hall into the administrative section. The Headmistress' eyebrow ascended her forehead as she walked up and put the cup down to fish her keys from her purse. "Are you getting started early, Miss Walcutt?" Mrs. Carson demanded as she found the office door key and inserted it.
Tansy sighed. "You probably have an email about me from FUBAR, but that's not why I'm here."
"Come in," Mrs. Carson commanded. "Shut the door behind you." She laid her briefcase, purse and coffee on her desk to free her hands to remove her coat, which she hung on a hook in one corner. "If you're not here in an attempt to head off Louis' email at the proverbial pass, why are you here?"
At the headmistress's gesture, Tansy sank into the chair facing the desk and waited for Mrs. Carson to get comfortable. "I… I don't know if you knew this or not, but Kayda Franks was born male and became female when he manifested."
Surprise draped itself across Mrs. Carson's features. She took a sip of her coffee while one hand absently turned on her computer. "Yes, I am aware," she replied. "The phenomenon is called changeling, and it's more common than you might think. Why do you bring it up?"
"Well, Kayda and Lanie and I had breakfast this morning and it occurred to us, me mostly, from watching Kayda eat, that she never got the upbringing of being a girl that you and I and Lanie take for granted. Knowing how to sit and how to walk, take care of our hair, use makeup…"
"How to be ladylike?" Mrs. Carson asked sardonically.
Tansy nodded. "Well, I know about Reach and Jobe and Kayda and I thought perhaps a class might be helpful, if… if there isn't one already and I don't know about it."
Mrs. Carson gave the computer the passwords it was asking for and booted up her email. "We've experimented in the past with mixed results, but there is not a formal class right now." She held up a finger while she located the email Tansy had referenced and called that up to read. After a moment she sighed and turned back to the student. "Were it not for Louis Geintz's constant and strident assertions as to the purity of your motives, the almost accidental nature of your violation of the Psychic Canon of Ethics, and my own eyes seeing Kayda eating with you and Miss Nalley and happier than I've seen her all semester, I would seriously entertain the notion of expelling you."
Tansy hung her head. "Yes, ma'am, I understand."
Mrs. Carson shook her head and sighed. "I don't think you do," she declared softly. She brought her head up to spear the student with her steely gaze. "Because quite honestly, Miss Walcutt, I do not understand you. Every time I think that you have finally taken these lessons to heart and are on the road to true repentance and self-betterment, you throw it off the rails with a stunt like this! Are you trying to see how far you can push me?" the headmistress demanded.
Walcutt shook her head vigorously. "Honestly, Mrs. Carson, I'm trying so hard to fix myself, but this… crap like this just keeps happening! It's like God, or Fate, or something doesn't want me to figure myself out! I only went looking for Kayda to try to help her, and the next thing I know I'm so deep in her mind that I'm freaking out!"
Mrs. Carson frowned. "You don't have to convince me of your motives, FUBAR's already done that." The headmistress sighed and looked at her hands on her desk before she reached over and took another sip of her coffee. "Last year, I was concerned that your apparent recovery was an act that you are putting on to somehow achieve something. Slowly, I became convinced that your intentions were sincere and you were in fact attempting to turn over a new leaf as Mr. Cody has done. I will admit that I'm not perfect and there have been times students have fooled me. There are not many and my response to their shenanigans was very, very unpleasant. So I warn you, you do not want to join that club, so if you are playing games with me this is your opportunity to come clean and change the direction of the ship of your life."
Tansy met the teachers gaze with her eyes watery with suppressed emotion. "Mrs. Carson, I swear to you I am not playing games and I am trying, desperately, to undo what I've become because you can't hate it as much as I do."
Elizabeth Carson's stare was legendary. It had reduced grown men to tears, reduced cowards to incontinence, and once had meekly sent an extra dimensional terror back to its own dimension. She trusted that stare more than some trusted their own weapons because she had cultivated it over six decades of being a superheroine. Tansy Walcott met her stare, and while tears leaked from the corners of her eyes to roll down her cheeks Mrs. Carson was certain she saw no lie in her students face. The Headmistress took in a deep calming breath through her nose and slowly exhaled it. "Tansy, I believe you. However, since I cannot allow this breach of the Psychic Canon of Ethics to go uncorrected, you will go to Mrs. Horton, who will arrange your punishment for the transgression. One night a week for the rest of the semester, you will teach this class of deportment."
Tansy frowned in confusion. "Why Mrs. Horton?"
"She'll explain it to you. For now see my secretary about a pass to your first class and report to Mrs. Horton before dinner. You may go."
September 10th, 2007
Arena 77, Tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
As she walked from the changing rooms to the foyer of the arena, Tansy made a mental note to herself to buy Celia Rogers more jewelry. When she first received the combat armor in the spring, she had been extremely pleased with how it supported and hugged every curve, taking her impressive figure to magnificence while still protecting better than most sets of full-body riot armor. Still, it had been a bit stiff in places since the fabric was new.
She had worn it several times over the summer and now, to her amazement, she found the fabric had been "broken in," for lack of a better word, and moved flawlessly with her. In fact, except for where the belt and straps for her holsters made her aware of being held firmly in place, she had the complete body freedom of being naked. That, she was certain, deserved matching earrings for the necklace she had already given the talented seamstress.
Arriving at the doors, she found sensei Ito and Ms. Hartford waiting on her. Ms. Hartford had a folder that she handed Tansy. As the young woman opened it and began to flip through the contents, Ms. Hartford declared, "Pop quiz! In the folder you'll see a photograph of a mystic stone that has been set into a magical necklace. This artifact is referred to as Le coeur de la mer."
Walcutt raised an eyebrow. "Am I diving on the Titanic?" she asked, looking at a photograph of the famed prop from the movie.
"Not everything we test you on is so directly connected to the real world," Ito told her smoothly. "As luck would have it the artifact is in the possession of a completely mundane lawyer."
Tansy's other eyebrow joined its fellow at the top of her fore head. "He just has a thing for magical artifacts?"
Ms. Hartford chuckled. "No, he has a thing for bringing down the powerful. He hounded the wizard that owned this artifact into bankruptcy, slapped chattel liens on all of his properties, and picked up this particular artifact for a song at auction. At this low point of his life, the wizard was killed by other magic users for his essence, and while the insurance-savvy know where this mystical artifact is, the mages have no idea. Thus there is a window of opportunity."
Tansy rolled her eyes. "Jesus! Did this guy kill his puppy too? Sounds like a real piece of work."
"Your mission," Ito continued, "is to infiltrate the lawyer's apartments, locate and collect the artifact, and remove yourself to an extraction point. How you accomplish this is up to you, and you may use full force as everything in the simulator is either a hologram or an ANT."
Walcutt looked at the two instructors sardonically. "And I don't get the weeks or months that planning a heist this important would take because…?"
"Window of opportunity," the two chorused with evil smiles on their faces.
"The other mages may learn of its location at any time!" Ito warned her.
Again Tansy felt her eyes rolling at the delight the two teachers were having at her consternation. "So how long do I get to plan this?" she demanded.
The two instructors turned and began walking down the corridor. "As long as it takes us to walk from here to the booth and open the door in front of you," Ito told her over his shoulder.
"What does this have to do with SMI2LE?" Tansy yelled after them. If either teacher answered her Tansy didn't hear them. She flipped through the folder until she found what she hoped she would, a schematic of the apartment. As she was studying it the door to the arena slid open revealing what appeared to be a rooftop in the heart of Midtown, New York City. Tansy sighed and shook her head. "Showtime."
September 10th, 2007
Vehicle Shop, Kane Hall tunnels, Whateley Academy
Elaine stood and stared at the selection of sockets, nestled in their molded keeper in the drawer of the tool chest. They were manufactured by Snap-On, a brilliant mirror-bright chrome and arranged smallest to largest. This drawer held an Imperial set along with extensions and adapters for the half-inch driver handle to be able to snap on the smaller sockets. Because of Baby Girl's age, the car was entirely Imperial in its nuts and bolts which made things both easier and more difficult. While it was getting harder and harder to find Imperial parts, several of the cars in the shop were a nightmarish combination of imperial and metric, making it impossible for a mechanic to know what would be needed until one actually came across the bolt in question. She felt a pair of large hands take a hold of her shoulders and turned to look up into the concerned face of Melvin Donner.
"Doc? You okay?" He asked, his tone jovial but concealing worry under it. "You've been standing here staring at the sockets for five minutes."
The redhead looked down at the driver handle in her hand, back into the drawer of sockets, then back up at the teacher. "Ah ... Ah forgot what Ah came over for…" she muttered. She took a little stutter step and was obviously unstable on her feet.
The shop instructor closed the drawer, relieved her of the handle which he placed on top of the rolling chest of tools, and helped the student back to his office and sat her in a chair while he picked up the phone and called her cottage. "Bella? Mel Donner. Is something going on with Elaine that I should know about?" he asked quietly, looking from his desk to the student who was staring listlessly off in to space. "Well, if I didn't know better, I'd swear she was stoned. She's staring off into space, I just caught her standing in front of the tool cabinet for five minutes staring at it, then she said she forgot what she'd come over for! Should I take her to Doyle…? Okay… All right… No, I'll bring her, myself."
The big teacher carefully shepherded his favorite student to the golf cart that was sitting beside his desk on the shop floor. Then he came around and sat in the driver's position to the complaint to the leaf springs on the cart. A press of the remote control caused the roll up door on the far side of the shop to open, showing the grassy space and parking lot behind Kane Hall. "Skids!" he called as he rolled by. "You're in charge. I'll be right back."
"Okay, Mr. Donner."
September 10th, 2007
House Parents Apartment, Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
Bella Horton sighed as she returned the phone to its cradle. She'd been afraid something like this might happen. Separating such a large chunk of Elaine's soul had been dangerous, but she thought she had taken every precaution. She had a sample of the hair of the astral body of the Pict banshee that she created for her, a precaution she thought would be sufficient to guard against betrayal from the spirit. It should have called the astral body from any of the hundred realms to Mrs. Horton's circle, but despite summoning for twelve straight hours, her circle was still empty.
When Elaine had come this morning to be re-integrated with the other portion of her soul, she'd made excuses and sent the girl off on to her classes. Not being a whole person, not having a whole soul, was a taxing experience; most normals would already be in a coma, but Elaine was a fairly high-level exemplar and Bella honestly thought she would have more time before the girl began to show symptoms.
Poe's house-mother snatched up a balloon filled with sand and began to squeeze it. She'd used this as a crutch to keep her temper on a short leash for years. It didn't make any sense! It didn't matter what realm, or what ethereal plane the banshee was on, she had a material link to the astral body. Every law of magic said she would be forced into the casting circle in the real world… Bella's gaze fell on her coffee table on which sat one of her favorite books, the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes as they had originally been printed in The Strand magazine, with Sidney Paget's original illustrations.
Across the press of years, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's greatest creation, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, whispered in Bella Horton's ear, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
If Laneth, daughter of Joan, chieftain's daughter and banshee were in the astral realm she must answer the call and return to the casting circle. Because she did not, there was only one other possibility - that Laneth was not on any of the astral realms at all. That meant that somehow, Laneth daughter of Joan had managed to find herself back in the real world. Bella felt the color drain from her face as she realized the magnitude of her passing thought, and exactly how much harder her job had just become.
September 10th, 2007
Arena 77, Currently Appearing to Be Midtown New York, Whateley Academy
Tansy cautiously made her way through the dark, extremely-expensive apartment of a nameless lawyer who evidently had a predilection for preying on magic users. The schematic of the apartment had shown her where all of the exterior, load bearing, wet, and energized walls were in the apartment, which quickly eliminated most of the places one could hide a safe. On the only probable remaining wall, she found a large painting of a wilderness scene that she quickly discovered was on a hinge.
Behind it, as she expected, was the door of a safe - a Diebold Spartan 7 wall safe, their top-of-the-line consumer model. It boasted an electronic lock with a thumbprint reader for quick access, a 12 place keypad with hundreds of millions of possible lock combinations, and was rated to be able to stand up against a burglar for 7 hours before failure. It was literally one of the most secure safes money could buy. Tansy pressed on the logo, which cause it to pop out and twist to the side on a hinge. From a pocket of her armor, she removed her ring of locksmith's keys, and finding one stamped Diebold, she inserted and turned it.
The lock beeped indicating that it had gone into diagnostic mode. With a smile Tansy input the default code of four zeros and turned the handle, listening with satisfaction to the half inch steel bolts retract into the door, and she swung it open. It was a large safe, containing bundles of cash, a handgun, and a rather large black velvet box. She removed and opened it, marveling at the magnificent necklace for a moment before slipping it into a pocket, closing the safe, and retrieving her key.
It was, of course, at that moment the lights went on and a deep voice demanded, "Who the fuck are you?"
Tansy spun, freezing with a bit of deer-in-the-headlights at her reaction to the figure she saw behind her by the light switch. He was older, dressed in a magnificent suit that had obviously been made specifically for him, but there was no hiding that seven and a half foot frame or the blonde hair he was covered with. "Montana!" Tansy exclaimed.
The creature's features set in a rage. "Tansy…!" he hissed. "You just can't leave this high school shit alone, can you? Banned-Aids isn't here to save you this time!" he snarled. Sebastian crossed the room in two massive strides and lashed out with the back of his hand, which struck Tansy across the face and flung her into the floor-to-ceiling picture window, shattering it into spiderwebs from the impact, but not breaking it. "I'm going to enjoy beating you to death, bitch!"
The breath knocked out of her, Tansy struggled to get to her feet, but Sebastian was on her before she could shake off the hit, and a massive fist was driven into her midsection. Had she not already been winded, that blow would've done the job. She threw out a hand, trying to beg for mercy or at least a pause in the combat, but he used her arm as a lever to fling her to the other side of the room.
Tansy felt two ribs crack as she hit the wall and slid to the floor in a heap. Desperately trying to draw in breath, Tansy only got to her knees before the massive hands closed around her throat and hauled her up to the massive creature's eye level. Her feet dangling, her vertebra began to pinch on her spinal cord and send agony throughout her body. The massive thumbs folded over her trachea and closed off her windpipe as a murderous gleam lit behind Sebastian's eyes. Tansy kicked out with her feet but Montana only grunted and his grip didn't slack. "Payback's a bitch, ain't it?"
Her hand flailing Tansy found a handle on her utility belt and pulled, flipping off the safety as she did so. "You got," she gasped weakly around his thumbs, "what you deserve!" In a single, swift move, Tansy brought the pistol up and shoved the muzzle under the man's jaw. She pulled the trigger and the pistol spat death. The first three nine millimeter Hydrashock rounds reduced Sebastian's brain to liquefied mush, killing him instantly, but the seventeen other rounds followed so quickly that the creature's head literally exploded, sending blood and gore and gray matter everywhere. Tansy and the headless body fell together, as his heart continued to pump blood in a fountain out of the stump of his neck.
Seeing the horrific things she had done, Tansy Walcutt dropped the handgun she had mistaken for her force pistol, curled into a ball, and tried desperately to cling to what little bit of sanity she retained as she wailed abject horror at what she had just done.
She didn't notice the room fade away into an empty white void that was the hard-light room's default state. She didn't hear Ms. Hartford come running in, nor feel her gather up Tansy into her arms. In her mind, she was hiding in a Norman castle, and Mustang was soothing her from the horrific act that she had just committed and that would inevitably haunt her nightmares for years to come.
September 11th, 2007 - predawn
The March of Dreams
The Mead Hall of Drest mac Talorgan was full of angry men.
Tempers were fraying at a rate the barmaids would soon not be able to keep up with. If tempers continued to flare, there would be blood, but such was the discourse of politics in the Iron Age. Every headman, chieftain, and clan head in the kingdom of Circinn was present, each of course with a retinue of his best men. As was their place, the representatives of Morlock sat at the first table to the right of the high table. Elaine's father sat in the center, his wife to his left hand, his sister the Druidess at his wife's left-hand. Elaine sat at his right hand, her husband beside her, her brother on the far side.
The hall was primarily a timber structure with a stone foundation, its floor covered in flagstone and its roof expertly thatched against the weather. Elaine could not hear herself think for the din of conversation, which was punctuated by shouts of arguments and disagreements and the baying of dogs that ran about looking for scraps from the tables. Just before it seemed shouting matches would turn to drawn blades, one of the Prince's men blasted a horn that echoed throughout the room, causing silence. "Here it comes," muttered Elaine's father under his breath.
Drest was a hard warrior, getting past his prime as the gray began to streak through the red of his beard. He was still a dangerous man in a fight, but his mind was still as strong as his body ever had been. He stood in front of the high table, his eyes sweeping the room, daring anyone to challenge his mastery of it before he shouted, "There will be no blood under my roof this night." He gestured at the sword laying on the table behind him. "He that draws first, I'll run him up to the hilt!"
There was a rustle throughout the hall as tempers instantly cooled and seats were retaken. Satisfied, Drest lifted his goblet from the table and walked forward to the fire that was burning merrily in the pit in the center of the room. He raised it over his head and shouted, "Talorc, son of Mordeleg, King of the Picts, is dead!" He dumped the goblet onto the fire and it flared as the alcohol was consumed.
Even the dogs seem to settle as the somberness spread throughout the Mead Hall at the declaration. As one, all of the guests of Drest raised their goblets to their host and drank. One of the maids refilled the Prince's goblet and he took a sip as he walked around the fire, giving meaningful glances at each table. "Priestesses of ash and oak," he intoned, "holy fathers, and brother monks - be welcome under my roof. Clan chiefs, village chieftains, my hospitality is yours. Warriors, bean sìth, brothers and sisters of the blade, you are called to elect a new king who will meet the threat on our southern border."
Bishop Colin stood from the high table and walked around it, his linen robes rustling as he forsook his staff and left it by his chair. "In accordance with the law, the elects are gathered under the hospitality of Drest mac Talorgan," the heavyset man declared, his ruddy complexion made nearly scarlet by the light of the fire he stood next to. "It is spoken and agreed our King is dead. Do you, Drest mac Talorgan, lay claim by lawful right of blood and kin to the crown of the Picts?"
The Prince breathed a heavy sigh as though a great weight had settled on him. "I do, Your Grace."
The Bishop looked at the assembled. "And who challenges the right of Drest mac Talorgan to that crown?" he demanded. The Priest's voice was drowned out by a cacophony of shouts from the assembled. Elaine's father took a drink from his goblet and settled back in his chair.
"It's going to be a long night," he observed.
"How will it end?" Elaine asked her father.
The chieftain of Morlock was a hard man; there was more gray than red in his beard, and while this hairline ascended his forehead, his arms and hands were strong and covered with the scars of living a hard life. It was his green eyes that Elaine had inherited and he gave her a meaningful glance in them as he reached up to undo the ribbon that held his still flowing hair at the back of his head and retied his ponytail. With a crooked smile he replied, "Oh, my daughter wishes to skip to the end? Well, when could I not indulge you? Drest mac Talorgan will be the next King of the Picts, on that you may wager your purse."
The chieftain clicked his teeth and took another sip of mead. "I've coddled you, that you spend all your days shooting arrows, and what has it gotten you?"
Elaine matched his grin and clinked her goblet against his. "Recognition as the deadliest archer in Pictland."
Her father wagged his finger at her, but his face glowed with pride in her accomplishment. "That's no small thing," he admitted. "Now turn that mind of yours to statecraft, as Morlock will be yours when I'm gone. Drest mac Talorgan will be King of the Picts, but there's a lot of shouting to do between then and now, and a lot of horse-trading of favors promised and cashed both. What has the Prince done that will serve him in good stead in his ambitions?"
Elaine considered for a moment, leaning back against her husband to use him as a backrest. After a long moment she rubbed her chin and said, "The Prince called all of this under his roof and so establishes authority in hospitality. He feasts the elect and opens his mead barrels to buy favor from the undecided. He has some arrangement already with the Bishop or he would not have so quickly invoked the law and begun the Challenge of Succession. Because the bishop favors the Prince and the challenge, it falls on those who would unseat him to prove their claim better than his, putting the onus on them and solidifying his own position."
The chieftain beamed with pride in his daughter. "Know what the price for the church's support was and know who owns the favor of the King," he told her. "There are many ways to kill a man, my daughter, you have learned and studied well the honest ones. Time now to be as diligent in learning the dishonest ones."
"Any man who calls you dishonest will find my arrow in his throat!"
The chieftain looked at his daughter sidelong. "Politics and honesty work at cross purposes my daughter, never forget that. You may be honest on the battlefield, but on the field of this contest?" He gestured to take in the entire Mead Hall. "Honesty will cost you a very heavy price indeed."
Elaine considered that for a long moment, then asked, "So if the Prince has deals with the Bishop for the support of the church, what profit does Morlock gain for your support?"
The chieftain grinned widely and kissed his daughters fore head. "I'll make a queen of you yet!" he bragged.