The Riddle of Sappho (Canto V)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Riddle of Sappho
by EE Nalley & ElrodW
Now she runs away, but she'll soon pursue you;
Gifts she now rejects--soon enough she'll give them;
Now she doesn't love you, but soon her heart will
Burn, though unwilling.
Hymn to Aphrodite, Sappho
Tuesday, May 8th, 2007 - Early Morning
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Good morning, Mrs. Carson," Ethan Moore, the Attorney General of the state of New Hampshire, greeted pleasantly on the telecon.
"Good morning," Liz replied, feeling rested for the first time in several days. "I've got Director Atley and Ty West of the Department of Paranormal Affairs on the line as well, with Ms. Norma Lewis, senior attorney for the DPA. In my office with me are Sam Everheart, my deputy security Chief, and Mrs. Michiko Shugendo, Dean of Students."
"Good morning," Roland Atley said. "What's up, Liz?" he asked bluntly. "I thought we were going to tie in to the hearing in an hour?"
"We are," Liz Carson said calmly. "But we had a development late last night that we need to discuss before we get in the hearing."
"And that would be ....?" Atley prompted, intrigued.
"Based on late evidence, we apprehended a suspect," Liz said. "He confessed and sang like a canary when we presented him our evidence - even pointing a finger at the student who was the planner and brains in the whole thing."
"That's good news," Ty said. "But ...?"
"Now there's the rub," Liz said. "He asked for a deal to get the information."
"What kind of deal?" Attorney General Moore asked warily, not sure he liked which direction this was going.
"We keep him out of the hands of the MCO," Sam said bluntly.
"We can do that," the AG said.
"No capital punishment, and no life without parole," Sam added.
"That's a pretty extreme deal given the evidence I've seen." It was obvious that the Attorney General was unhappy at them having promised a killer a deal like that.
"It's in line with how DPA would prosecute a minor, isn't it, Roland?" Liz asked.
"It depends," the DPA lawyer, Norma Lewis, replied. "But yes, it is a reasonable deal."
"The kid who did this is a follower, not a leader. And the kid who set up the whole plot is a projective empath. He can psychically influence others. It's not clear that the killer would have acted if not for that influence," Mrs. Shugendo said.
"In those conditions," the DPA lawyer, spoke, "the DPA would use psychic scanning to check for such influence, and the presence of psychic influence would be a mitigating factor in both the charges and the sentence."
"I see. That type of evidence is not admissible in a New Hampshire court." Attorney General Moore was silent for a bit. "Okay, I'll agree to that deal. What about the mastermind he supposedly fingered?"
"We did a search for him, but he's missing from campus," Sam reported. "His ID card was found on a tray in the cafeteria, so we had no trace of him. However, our sensors did note that another student - an acquaintance who owed a number of favors to the mastermind - disappeared from campus for a few minutes and then reappeared. When questioned, he admitted to warping the mastermind off campus."
"An accomplice?" Roland asked.
"The killer didn't finger him, so we think the mastermind called in favors in a desperate act to escape apprehension."
Shugendo spoke up. "We'll get the details of the young man to your office immediately so you can start a manhunt. The warper took him in the direction of the Canadian border."
"And we do not have a deal with him," Liz added ominously, bluntly implying that she didn't care whether, if apprehended, the state of New Hampshire fried Speakeasy.
The implication was not lost on the AG. "Okay. That's fair. So we'll drop the investigation of the girl?" he asked.
"Agreed," Ty, Roland, and Norma answered concurrently.
"And that brings us to the next problem," Liz continued. "Have you had a chance to review the information I sent last night?"
"Yes," the state Attorney General replied, his voice grim. "Are you certain of your sources?"
"Dead certain," Sam confirmed without hesitation. "We cross-checked everything to be sure."
"So part of the deal is that we don't want Hervik within fifty miles of the prosecution of our student," Liz said bluntly. "And to ensure the integrity of the prosecution in sticking to the deal, we want a DPA lawyer in all proceedings."
The Attorney General's wince was almost vocal. "Agreed," he answered after a moment's deliberation. "Is it acceptable that I take the case in my office rather than the county prosecutors?"
"Ty?" Liz asked about the integrity of the New Hampshire Attorney General with a single word.
"That's acceptable," Ty replied.
"We'll detain him until your representative can take custody," Sam said.
"And Hervik?" the AG asked.
"He's your problem, not ours. I just don't ever want him on any case that involves my school."
May 8th, 2007 - Breakfast
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
The normal buzz of conversation didn't quite stop, but it did significantly lessen, and heads turned toward the doors as Kayda walked in with Lanie and Cody, trailed by Mindbird, the designated security auxiliary. Lanie kept chatting with Cody as if nothing was going on, but Kayda flinched, knowing she was the center of attention, or at least the subject of a lot of rumors and gossip.
Trying to hold her head high, like Lanie was doing, Kayda walked smartly toward the food serving line, which was reasonably crowded.
"See? They're doing everything together!" a girl's voice whispered. "I told you they were having a 3-way affair!"
"No way! She got raped! She wouldn't let Cody touch her!"
"Too damned bad she's a lezzie!" a guy's voice said, barely loud enough to be heard over the slowly-increasing chatter and noise. "Yeah!" a few guys with him agreed, all gawking at Kayda.
"If it was me, I'd die of embarrassment!" another girl whispered to her friend.
Lanie just held Kayda's arm loosely, like a friend would do, and led her to the food counter.
"They're all talking about me!" Kayda whispered insistently to Lanie.
The redhead shrugged, her smile never leaving her face. "So what? Half the girls - even the ones who claim to be totally straight - are jealous of us, and after last night with Slash, the guys are scared to death of trying to talk to you."
"What ... happens when Kody isn't here?" the shorter girl asked nervously.
"Give it a couple of days. Something else'll happen, and nobody will be talking about you anymore." Her eyes narrowed as she fixed her gaze on someone approaching.
Kayda noticed, and turned abruptly - and saw Wind Runner stopping a couple of feet from her. "Doli," she said in cautious greeting.
"Kayda," Doli stammered, not quite sure what to say, and her embarrassment and confusion reflected on her features, "I ... I want to say ...." She shook her head, not quite sure how to proceed. Instead, she wrapped her arms around Kayda, pulling her close. "I ... I heard the news," she said softly. "I ... I'm sorry I was such a bitch. I ... I had no idea ... of what you'd been through."
"Nobody did," Kayda admitted. "I ... was too embarrassed to tell anyone."
"I'll be nicer and back off at The Nations," Wind Runner said, ashamed at how she'd opposed Kayda. "I guess you need a place that seems normal."
Kayda eased herself out of Doli's embrace. "Don't you dare back off!" she chided the Navajo girl, eliciting a look of stunned surprise. "I wasn't trying to take it away, but to make it more and better. I expect you to compete one hundred percent with ideas to keep making it better and better." She smiled.
"I didn't think ...."
"It's not my group, Doli," Kayda repeated. "It's all of our group. If you think I'm doing something wrong, the best way to help me is to tell me. If you have an idea, the best way to help me is to share the idea, and help the group implement it. The same is true for everyone." She held the Navajo girl's hand. "I don't expect you to suddenly try to be my friend - especially out of pity."
The Navajo girl looked Kayda in the eyes, reading her heart as she digested the Lakota girl's words. "I ... understand."
"And if we're rivals, I want to be cordial, friendly rivals, not bitter enemies." Kayda shuddered involuntarily. "I've had too many ... enemies ... in my life. I don't need more."
Doli nodded. "Okay. I ... I can do that." She stepped back a half step, awkwardly wondering how to continue - or discontinue - the unexpected conversation. "If there's anything ...."
Kayda shook her head sadly. "Thanks, but there isn't anything you - or anyone else - can do to erase what ... happened." She glanced around and saw a lot of girls staring at her, reminding her that due to news and rumors, she was on display. She glanced at Lanie, looking for an escape from the increasingly awkward encounter.
The redhead noticed; she'd been watching Wind Runner like a hawk protecting its nestlings. "Do you want to sit up on the third tier this morning?" she interrupted, breaking the uneasy silence and giving Doli Peshkali an excuse to leave.
"I ... I think I'd like to sit with my friends," Kayda replied uneasily, knowing that on the first floor, she'd be subject to more stares and thus gossip and speculation, but at the same time, it might help reduce the rumors about her and Lanie. She snorted to herself at that thought; until she was formally released, Lanie was her Siamese twin - which would fuel rumors no matter where the two sat.
"Okay." Lanie whispered something to her big fiancee, who simply smiled and continued to load his plate.
It was shocking to all in the caf when Wyatt Cody, the head Alpha, the premier Big-Man-On-Campus, eschewed the stairs and elevator and instead followed Kayda and Lanie to the table of Kayda's friends. "Do you mind if I join you today?" he asked with an affable smile, as if anyone with sense on campus would tell him no,
No sooner had she set her tray down than Kayda got a swarm of hugs from the girls, all trying to reassure her and offer whatever silent comfort they could. All of the Ghost Walkers knew her secret, and no doubt the girls had discussed with the normally-clueless boys what they should and shouldn't do and say.
Lanie sat down beside Wyatt across from Kayda, allowing Alicia and Addy to sit next to her temporary charge. She glanced up at Wyatt. "She's got some great friends," she said softly.
"Yeah, I noticed," Wyatt smiled back, "including a very special soul-sister." Under the table, he gave her hand a squeeze, inadvertently squeezing a diamond-capped metal band into the ring finger of her left hand, reminding the shapely redhead just how much Wyatt was devoted to her. He turned to the group. "I understand you guys are forming a training team."
The broaching of a normal topic was a breath of fresh air to the group who were very nervous about what they could and couldn't say in front of Kayda. "Yeah," Adrian answered. "A couple of us were going to be assigned to teams by the end of the term, and the others would get assigned soon anyway, so we figured we might as well make a team."
"We're calling ourselves the Ghost Walkers," Laurie added.
"If we're lucky, Kayda can make us some ghost-walking charms like some warriors were using back at 'er 'ome," Addy said enthusiastically. "That should give us a little edge."
Wyatt exchanged a knowing grin with Lanie. "You'll find out soon enough how sadistic Gunny Bardue and the simulator team can be," he chuckled.
"Can't be worse than Ito," RPG replied.
Wyatt laughed at his comment. "Actually, the two of them have a running contest to see who's the biggest, baddest son-of-a-bitch in the student training department."
"And since Kayda has the attention of our beloved Headmistress, Lady Astarte," Lanie added, noting the Lakota girl's look of dismay, "I guarantee that she'll take an interest in your training as well."
Evvie and Laurie exchanged worried looks, and Adrian gulped nervously. "Um, it can't be that bad." He saw the amused look on Wyatt's face. "Can it?"
"Keep tellin' yourselves that when y'all go into a sim and find yourselves facin' Lady Astarte with what seems like an impossible scenario," Lanie chuckled. "Ah'd strongly suggest you get someone to learn the rules really well, just to make sure."
"And by the time you get some sims under your belts," Wyatt added, "Kayda'll be pretty experienced, so she should make a good team leader." He winked at the dusky-skinned girl. "She's doing sims with the Nations, with Team Phoenix, and with you guys."
"Kayda?" Evvie gasped. "When ... when did you get put on Team Phoenix?" She looked up at Wyatt, then at Lanie. "You ... you aren't trying to poach ...."
Lanie shook her head. "Actually, it was Mrs. Carson's idea," she chuckled. "Somethin' to do with the little ritual Kayda and Ah did, and Mrs. Carson insisting that we had a few things to learn." She smiled. "Who has heard the news about the remodeling of Poe this summer?" she asked, glancing around the table. Evvie and Naomi nodded, but none of the others did. "One thing they'll be adding," Lanie explained, "is Resident Advisors, one per wing of rooms, to kind of help out Mrs. Horton. Ah'm goin' to be one of the RAs, and Mrs. Horton thinks that Ah can keep you two and the Kimbas out of trouble," she glanced between Evvie and Kayda.
"Is impossible job," Vasiliy chuckled. "Easier to destroy T-90 battle tank with bare hands." He paused, thinking reflectively. "Wait - I do that. Hmm - maybe is not impossible job."
"Well," Wyatt replied with a grin, "it'll be handy because Kayda's going to be tutoring Lanie in magic, and Lanie'll be tutoring Kayda in gadgeteering."
Evvie frowned, glancing around to see if there were prying ears nearby. Seeing no-one obviously listening in, she leaned closer to Kayda. "You both know that's going to fuel the rumor mill," she cautioned.
"Like Ah give a shit what pinheads think," Lanie replied. "Besides, Ah've got mah man," she continued, leaning on Wyatt's shoulder and grasping his hand. "Ah'm not in the market for a girlfriend."
The burly senior decided to change the subject, both to avoid embarrassing Kayda and the others, and to distract them from the upcoming hearing continuation. "When you start training, if you need help or advice, you come to me. I'll help you any way I can."
"And you'll need help," Lanie smiled. "Ah remember one sim - we were supposed to avoid capture by Lady Astarte for forty minutes. Ah was captured, like almost everyone, but Ah had to remind her that the only reason she caught me was that she spotted me in a crowd of high school girls because Ah was wearing a mask as required. But the fact that she used the mask to spot me was technically cheating." She chuckled at the memory. "Ah can tell you, she wasn't too happy to be reminded of the rules."
That got Wyatt talking about a different simulation run by the sadistic Gunny Bardue, with running side-notes from Lanie, which led to her telling of a third harrowing simulation experience. And as they talked, chuckling in hindsight at the forced lessons they'd absorbed in the rather brutal simulations, the kids of the newly-formed group looked around at each other nervously, wondering if perhaps they'd bitten off more than they could chew.
All in all, it was the perfect way to distract Kayda from the continuing gossip and rumors, and nervousness about the upcoming continuation of the hearing.
May 8th, 2007 - First Period
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Like the previous day, the classroom turned hearing room was beyond capacity, the innate curiosity of a school full of teenagers exceeding their duties to attend classes and other such matters. Janice Talbert shook her head as she looked around, walking down the central aisle toward 'her' table. She couldn't really blame the students; a gruesome murder and a rather salacious alibi would have gotten her attention when she was these kids' age. Still, the intense interest - with the resulting gossip and rumors - was going to make life difficult for Kayda.
Across the aisle, Assistant State's Attorney Hervik and MCO Agent Dougan sat in quiet conference, neither looking too pleased nor too smug. They were here for blood, and Janice understood why after last night's briefing in the administration wing's conference room. For Hervik, it was general anti-mutant principles, immersed as he and his wife were in the Humanity First! organization.. For Dougan, it was personal; he no doubt blamed Kayda for ending his friend's career in Sioux Falls. They were not going to give up easily.
At precisely two minutes before the hour, Kayda entered the room, escorted as before by two armed security guards and her arms shackled, followed closely by Dr. Bellows. She held her head high, despite knowing that she was the focus of every gaze and stare in the room. She was going to emulate her hero, Lanie, no matter how humiliated she felt.
No sooner had Kayda and Dr. Bellows taken their seats than the supervisors and Mrs. Carson filed in, silently taking their seats. Mrs. Carson sat, then nodded to a computer technician at the end of the long table. Four holographic images flickered into existence - three on one end of the table and the fourth at the other end. Hervik gasped audibly when he recognized the person in the fourth holographic image.
"We are currently on-line in a holographic conference with Attorney General Ethan Moore of the State of New Hampshire," Liz gestured to the solo figure, "and Director Roland Atley, Mr. Ty West, and Senior Attorney Norma Lewis of the Department of Paranormal Affairs." She indicated the other three, all the while looking impassively at Agent Dougan and Attorney Hervik. Neither looked happy, despite their best efforts to appear unfazed.
Liz looked deliberately around the room, and then continued. "Yesterday, based on accumulated evidence, this panel determined that the evidence exonerates the accused student, Kayda Franks. As the appointed representative of the Department of Paranormal Affairs, Assistant State's Attorney Hervik requested a Rule 8.C review of the evidence by the Department of Paranormal Affairs." She turned toward the holographic projection of the three DPA agents. "Director Atley, has your team conducted a review of the evidence?"
Roland's image nodded. "Yes, Dr. Carson," he replied. "Ms. Norma Lewis, Senior Attorney in the Legal Affairs Department, conducted a review of the evidence."
"And your conclusion?"
"The Department of Paranormal Affairs agrees with the determination of the evidentiary board. The submitted evidence - all of it - is on the whole exculpatory of the accused. The appeal is denied."
Hervik rose. "Madam Chair, based on the standards of evidence of the State of New Hampshire, the evidence is sufficient to convene a Grand Jury. Under the standards of the severity of the crime, standard procedures are to take the accused into custody to protect the general public during the investigation and Grand Jury proceedings."
"In your rush to judgment, Mr. Hervik," Liz Carson drew upon her considerable talent at appearing and sounding exquisitely imposing, "you are looking to detain and indict a girl who evidence shows is innocent. We will not allow such a miscarriage of justice to occur. Especially in light of further evidence."
"What additional evidence?" Hervik demanded angrily. "How can you make a decision without presenting all the evidence to the representatives?"
"The evidence is extremely exculpatory," Janice said with a wicked grin. "We have a student who was apprehended last evening and who confessed to the murder."
"What?!?" Hervik and Dougan demanded at the same time. Dougan actually turned and glared at Kayda, no longer disguising his personal interest in seeing her turned over to the MCO for the crime.
"Ms. Talbert, would you please present the evidence?" She looked impassively at the two agents. "Which, by the way, the Attorney General and the DPA have seen this morning before breakfast."
"What?" Hervik was astounded that the AG had seen the evidence before him. It was not a good turn of events, he realized slowly.
Janice touched a computer control, and a picture was displayed behind the trustees, who each had a monitor in front of them to see the evidence. "We noted a discrepancy in the RFID tag between the security camera showing Miss Franks arriving in the cafeteria, and her ID card arriving in the cafeteria." She pressed a control, and the video began to play the security camera footage. At a point, the video stopped. "At this point - please note the time - Miss Franks' ID showed her arriving through the door. However," she fiddled with the controls, causing the image to zoom in on the doorway "if you will note, she is not coming through the doorway with the small group of students who are entering." She touched a control, and the camera went back to its original moving view. "Now we watch," she touched a control and the video went to fast-forward view for a few seconds before she set it back to normal speed, "and ... there!" She paused the image and zoomed the video in. "Notice at this point that Miss Franks is entering the cafeteria with Miss Nalley and Mr. Cody."
"We saw that yesterday," Hervik said impatiently, anxious to get past whatever stalling tactics they were using.
"Yes, but this video clip is important to set the stage for the evidence of importance." She smiled at the trustees. "If you recall, Miss Franks indicated that her ID card was not where she usually kept it. This video shows why - it was not in her possession. But later, it was in her purse when she was detained. Why?" She grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Look at this section of the security video." She touched the control. "Notice ... here ...," she paused it, "someone bumps into Miss Franks and Mr. Cody." She zoomed in the video until the student was mostly recognizable.
After waiting a few moments, she touched the control again. "A piece of video was brought to the attention of the administration last evening. It shows two students applying some substance to papers, glasses, and soda cans in a room where other students were lured. One of those two students is the same one who bumped into Miss Franks - and we believe used that momentary contact to replace her ID card in her purse."
"But how ...?" Hervik was confused. His airtight case was falling apart before his eyes, embarrassing him in front of the state's AG.
"The video clip made available to the administration is evidence of a 'dry run', a test to see whether the substance could have the desired effect to ensure that Miss Franks' alibi was so humiliating that she would not speak of it. Suffice to say that it did have the effect."
Chief Delarose stood. "Based on the evidence of these two video clips, last evening we apprehended Edward Rutherford. When confronted with the evidence, including a magic amulet found in his room - an amulet which is confirmed to render a wearer invisible, he confessed when offered a deal."
Hervik was on his feet again. "You have no right to offer prosecutorial deals ...."
The image of the Attorney General frowned. "No, but I do. I agreed with the terms of their deal based on the evidence."
"Lieutenant Reynolds," Chief Delarose called. The rear doors opened and a figure in both leg irons and handcuffs was led in by armed security officers until he stood before Mrs. Carson.
"Mister Rutherford?" Mrs. Carson prompted the boy, "do you have a statement for this hearing?"
"Are you going to keep the deal?" Quickdraw asked, sounding humbled by events.
The AG nodded. "Yes, the State of New Hampshire agrees to the terms."
"Okay," Eddie said softly, looking down. He took a couple of deep breaths. "I ... killed Heyoka," he confessed. "It was Darren's idea - he has some kind of racial hatred for Heyoka and Kayda. He ... got obsessed with getting them off campus. He came up with a plan, and then I ... I used the invisibility charm to kill Heyoka - in the arena."
"And Miss Franks?" Delarose prompted.
"I swiped her ID card at lunchtime so the security system would think she was the one. I put it back in the cafeteria at dinnertime. Kayda and Elaine were lured to the sweat lodge so their excuse would be too humiliating to use."
"Mister Hervik," the Attorney General spoke again, much sterner this time, "your investigation of Miss Franks is complete. With the signed confession I saw this morning, there is no evidence that she committed the crime."
Hervik winced visibly. "Yes, sir."
"Further, as a condition of the terms with the Department of Paranormal Affairs, this case will be prosecuted directly from within my office. Is that clear?"
Hervik grimaced; this could be really bad for his career. "Yes, sir."
"Mister Dougan," Director Roland said from the other holographic projection.
"Yes, sir?" Dougan was on his feet, facing the image.
"You are hereby ordered off the premises of Whateley Academy. You will not set foot on the Academy grounds again without the express, written permission of the Headmistress, her assistant, or the Department of Paranormal Affairs. Is that clear?"
Dougan paled. "Yes, sir."
"Good," Mrs. Carson said. "Chief, please return Mr. Rutherford to his cell until the Attorney General's designated agent arrives to take custody." With but a nod from the Chief, Lieutenant Reynolds led Eddie out of the hearing room, picking up guards on the way.
"Miss Franks." Kayda stood, no longer feeling nervous, but just tired and rather humiliated. "You are hereby exonerated of the charge of murdering Student Heyoka. All rights and privileges are hereby restored." She looked at Chief Delarose, who strode, smiling, to Kayda and personally removed the shackles, and then shook her hand.
To say that pandemonium erupted in the hearing room would have been an understatement. All of Kayda's friends were hugging her, some crying with happiness, but none more-so than Lanie, who, like Kayda, was in tears that the ordeal was over.
"Ahem," Mrs. Carson cleared her throat in such a manner as to cut through the celebratory and congratulatory noise, instantly garnering the attention of every person in the room. Once she had the quiet she desired, she continued. "Your magic will be unsealed in the Magic Arts department, as it requires some procedures which we aren't prepared to do here. Is there any further business for this panel? If not," she glanced around, "then we will adjourn. Miss Franks?"
"I would like to see you and Miss Nalley in my office in ten minutes. Is that understood?"
Lanie exchanged a worried glance with Kayda. "Yes, ma'am."
As dignified as could be managed among a throng of students, half of whom wanted to congratulate Kayda while the others filed out of the room to trudge to their next classes or other destinations, Mrs. Carson led the board out of the room.
May 8th, 2007 - Morning
Hyatt Hotel, Minneapolis-St Paul
The phone rang once before June grabbed it and silence the tone, glancing out of habit over her shoulder at her husband, who was still asleep. "Hello?" she whispered softly so as not to disturb him.
"June? Michiko," the Whateley Dean of Students introduced herself. "Good news. It's all over. Kayda is officially cleared."
"What?" June's eyes were wide open as the news processed through her brain. "She's cleared?"
"Huh?" came a groan from beside her.
"A boy confessed to the whole thing. She's cleared and free of restrictions!"
June's eyes started watering. "Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she gushed with heartfelt gratitude. "Tell her we'll be out there late tonight, okay?"
"I will. Now you can relax, and I'll get back to normal school business. I'm sorry we had to put Kayda through all of this."
"I know these things happen. Thanks, and bye." June hung up her phone.
"Who was that?" Pete groaned beside her, only partially awake.
June put her phone down and rolled over to face him. "That was Mrs. Shugendo from Whateley. Kayda has been officially cleared."
Pete's eyes popped open. "What? She's cleared?"
"Free as a bird." June smiled. "Why don't you call Debra? I'm sure she'll want to know. I'm going to go ... freshen up." She slipped out of bed and sauntered into the bathroom.
Pete nodded and picked up his own cell phone. A few seconds later, a shriek of joy could be heard from the adjacent room after he told Debra the good news. Hanging up the phone, he sensed something, so he turned to look. June, wearing a rather flimsy nightie, stood in a seductive pose by the bathroom door.
"Since our flight isn't until this afternoon, I thought maybe we could ... sleep in a bit?" she asked in a sultry, suggestive voice. "To ... celebrate."
May 8th, 2007 - Morning
Mrs. Carson's Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Led by Mrs. Carson, the small group filed into the administrative conference room - Ms. Hartford, Mrs. Shugendo, Sam Everheart, Chief Delarose, Janice Talbert, Ms. Grimes, and Dr. Bellows, followed by Kayda.
"You two may wait outside for the time being," Mrs. Carson interrupted as Lanie and Wyatt started to follow Kayda inside. "I'll call you in a few minutes."
"With all due respect, ma'am," Lanie said, standing her ground in the doorway, "Ah haven't been properly relieved of mah duty as a security escort, and Ah'd be negligent in mah duties to not stay by mah charge's side."
Mrs. Carson sighed, shaking her head, while Chief Delarose and several others simply rolled their eyes.
"Your devotion to your friend is admirable, Miss Nalley, but as of the dismissal of the charges, strongly denoted by the removal of her restraints, Miss Franks is no longer in custody. Therefore, your services are no longer required."
Lanie let her jaw flap a couple of times trying to come up with a suitable rejoinder, but judging from the bemused look on Mrs. Carson's face, she wasn't quite sure what would be appropriate. "She's ... she's mah friend," she finally said. "And Ah'm concerned about her."
Mrs. Carson glanced around the room, noting the smile on Janice Talbert's and Dr. Bellows' faces. With a sigh, she relented. "Very well. You and Mister Cody may come in." As soon as Wyatt was through the door, she continued. "Please shut the door and have a seat."
Lanie was already sitting beside her Lakota friend, her hand atop Kayda's on the arm of Kayda's chair. Wyatt sat down on the other side of Lanie, taking her free hand in his massive paw.
"Let me remind you two that this is an administrative affair, and while we probably will not be discussing private data relating to Miss Franks, I am confident of your ability to not disclose any of this data. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," the two echoed, while Kayda gulped a bit. She was still hurting inside by the loss of contact with her spirits and her extinguished spark of essence; it had been far too long without feeling those, and she was emotionally rattled, even though the fear of prosecution had been removed.
"Let me begin, Kayda," Mrs. Carson said, startling the girl by using her first name, "by saying that I'm very sorry you had to go through this ordeal. It was never our intention to incarcerate you or seal your magic, which I know is a very traumatic event."
"Then why did you ...?" Lanie began, unable to control her curiosity and sense of protectiveness of her friend.
Mrs. Carson glanced at Chief Delarose and then sighed. "Our hands were tied. The Assistant State's Attorney was tipped off to the crime somehow, and he managed to get a DPA authorization to act on their behalf during the investigation. And he brought in the MCO agent as his 'assistant'."
"Kayda," Chief Delarose continued, "they got access to your security file. They knew that you'd tried to run away from campus last week."
Lanie's jaw dropped, staring at Kayda. "Ah ... Ah never heard that!"
"With that knowledge, you were a flight risk. As a mage, you would be considered dangerous. With the DPA authorization, they could have taken you into custody - off campus."
Kayda's, Lanie's and Wyatt's eyes widened at that revelation.
Mrs. Carson nodded to confirm what Delarose had said. "We had to do everything we could to pre-empt them, to deny them the ability to get you in their custody." Kayda gulped again; she and the others knew that a mutant taken into custody by the MCO had very little chance of freedom again. "I ... had to give Franklin ... Chief Delarose ... the order to arrest you and confine you."
"I'm sorry it had to be done in the cafeteria," Delarose added. "I know it caused you significant embarrassment to be arrested in public. I wish there had been another way.
"I'm sorry that you had to be under a cloud of suspicion and confined for so long. They were pushing for a 24-hour turnaround on an evidentiary hearing. I got 24 business hours. Those extra hours - as hard as they were for you - enabled us to gather all the evidence."
"I ... understand," Kayda said softly, her expression devoid of blame or resentment.
"Even then, it was a close thing. When they found out about your PTSD episodes ..." the Chief said.
"We were placed in a situation where we had to remain absolutely neutral," Mrs. Carson explained. "I always back my students, and I would have backed you, but my hands were tied. The same for Chief Delarose." Mrs. Carson looked straight at Kayda. "If you'd have been classified as a rager, we couldn't have stopped them."
Kayda glanced at Dr. Bellows, who nodded his confirmation. "Kayda, losing self-control in a fight or combat is one of the symptoms of being a rager. Attacking without thinking, in a blind rage, is another. You are very close to being classified as a rager because of your PTSD."
"We did consider that, Kayda," Chief Delarose acknowledged. "I'm very glad we decided not to; if we had, you wouldn't be here right now." He grimaced. "They had access to your security file, and they saw the incidents that you've had. The MCO agent was pushing very hard - including a call to the DPA - to get you classified as a rager so they could take custody."
"The upshot, Kayda," Mrs. Shugendo explained, "is that you must do something to get these episodes under control. If something happens again, we might not be so lucky. You have to have a clean security file, for your own protection."
"Miss Franks," Janice added, "Kayda - there is a reason agent Dougan was so interested in you. He had very strong ties to one of the MCO agents in Sioux Falls who was arrested for their misdeeds. It is very likely that he blames you. He will be watching for another opportunity. You can't give it to him."
"I understand," Kayda said softly. She glanced at Dr. Bellows. "I suppose we'll be having a lot of counseling sessions?"
Dr. Bellows' smile was friendly and reassuring. "We'll do whatever it takes."
Mrs. Carson stood abruptly and circled the conference table, stopping to take Kayda's hand and gently guide her to her feet. Before she knew what was happening, Kayda found herself wrapped in a warm, motherly embrace. "I'm so sorry we had to put you through this. I'm so sorry I couldn't stand up for you."
Kayda nodded, enjoying the secure feeling she got from the headmistress. "I know."
After a moment, Mrs. Carson released her embrace, walked back to her chair, and sat down; Kayda followed suit. "We have one more matter to consider here."
Kayda gulped at the stern expression on Mrs. Carson's face, and she shot a sideways glance at Lanie, who shared her concerned expression.
"Ah suppose this is the part where you'll be expellin' us for violatin' certain rules," Lanie deadpanned.
"What violations of what rules?" Mrs. Shugendo asked with a wry smile on her face.
Kayda and Lanie glanced around the room, getting more and more puzzled by the roomful of bemused looks they were getting. "Um, we ... you know," Kayda said.
"As a matter of fact," Ms. Hartford said, "we don't know."
Janice smiled to herself at the confused looks the two girls bore. "We have a statement from you two that you engaged in some carnal relations - which was your alibi."
"And you've got the tape!" Kayda added, confused.
"Well, now that's the rub," Sam said, joining the conversation for the first time. "Technically, we possess a recording of something, but as you two are under the age of eighteen, we can't legally view it."
"And if we can't legally view it, we have no grounds on which to expel you," Mrs. Shugendo concluded, "since all we have is your statement with no proof to back it up."
"Well, Ah'll be ...." Lanie muttered to herself.
"I thought you'd be impressed by the complex rules involved in our little dilemma," Mrs. Carson smirked at Lanie.
"Because of the fact that it was an open hearing, you will be subject to some harsh gossip, rumors, and insults," Mrs. Shugendo said. "Unfortunately, this campus is full of anti-gay bigots, and your ... interaction ... in the sweat lodge is now public knowledge."
"I know," Kayda said, nodding her head as she blushed.
"It was also testified to that you had most likely been exposed to serum from a lust demon," Mrs. Shugendo explained. "And we have a signed confession from Mr. Rutherford about how he and Mr. Haskins summoned a demon, got the essence, and then applied a dose to the tent flap of the sweat lodge."
"Someone," Mrs. Carson continued, giving a special focus on Lanie as she spoke, "brought me a video file from an anonymous source that very clearly showed a 'test run' of the demon serum. There are other students on campus who were similarly affected. A statement to that effect could reduce some of the bigotry to which you might be exposed."
Kayda glanced at Lanie, reading the redhead's expression, and then she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled to calm her nerves. "After yesterday, everyone knows Lanie and I had ... had sex." Blushing slightly, she glanced at Lanie, who shot her a tiny smile. "And unfortunately, everyone on campus now knows that I suffered a ... gang rape ... when I manifested. Or they will when the rumor mill gets moving."
"Yes," Mrs. Carson said, wincing. "It was unfortunate that that information came out in public."
"I'm a lesbian. I'm not ashamed to admit that," Kayda said boldly, "at least not after all of this. Any idiot who has heard about my ... ordeal ... and doesn't understand is too stupid for their opinion to matter." She glanced at Lanie, who nodded approvingly. "I know it'll make life difficult for me at times. I accept that." She shook her head. "But what I won't accept is trying to weasel out of a little potential embarrassment by making others suffer the same indignity."
Mrs. Carson and the others were staring at her, almost in amazement. "It could get rough."
"I'll have to put up with that regardless, because some narrow-minded bigots wouldn't believe the truth about the lust-demon essence anyway. True?"
Several of the adults present nodded, confirming her assessment.
"Then it's not worth making others go through it, is it?"
"That's amazingly mature of you, Miss Franks," Ms. Hartford said in a cool but admiring tone.
Kayda shrugged. "Dad always taught me that I can't try to blame others for my own problems." She winked at Lanie, smiling. "Someday, I might even be as good as Lanie about turning comments around on other people to make them look stupid."
"Very well, Kayda," Mrs. Carson said. "We're done here, unless you have any questions." Seeing none, she continued. "I believe you and Miss Nalley have some paperwork to take care of in security." She saw Kayda's puzzled look. "At the very least, I should think you'd want to get your knife back!" She glanced at Lanie. "And I'm sure Miss Nalley has better things to do than serve as your private security escort."
"Ah probably should go to mah classes," Lanie admitted with a sheepish smile, and then she grinned to Kayda. "Not that Ah mind helpin' to protect mah ... sister!"
"Admirable, but you do have to keep up your studies, Miss Nalley," the headmistress chided her. "Now you two walk on over to security with Chief Delarose and get all that straightened out, and then you need to go to Kirby Hall." She read Kayda's puzzled expression. "You do want to have a certain charm removed so your magic and your spirits are released, don't you?"
"Yes, ma'am!" Kayda said, eager to get the hated charm off her neck. She followed Chief Delarose out of the office, followed closely by Lanie. Wyatt, too, stood to go with the girls.
"Not so fast, Mister Cody," Mrs. Carson said, causing him to pause in the doorway. "Please close the door and have a seat." As he sat down, she continued. "We need to discuss a very important role you still have to play."
May 8th, 2007 Mid-Morning
Circe's Office, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
It was a brisk, beautiful morning in New Hampshire. Outside, the sky was clear and blue, birds were singing and the trees were coming to life again. While it had just dipped below freezing the night before, it was already in the fifties and the day was well on its way to eighty. Circe kept a 'public' office in the outward-facing part of Kirby Hall, where, due to the building's round shape every outside edge office was a 'corner' office as it were. It was on the eastern side of the building so the morning sun gloriously shone through the large windows that dominated the back wall of the room.
Perhaps in spite of her history, Circe eschewed the diaphanous, flowing gowns of Greek antiquity she was normally portrayed in, preferring instead more sensible skirt suits of fairly durable fabrics. There were rumors that she actually owned a tweed traveling suit. Ironically, however, today she was actually wearing jeans and blouse. "When this is released," she cautioned Kayda while pulling on a pair of silk gloves, "your magic and the ties to your spirits will return almost instantly. I warn you, it's a very intense feeling, almost like manifesting once again. Are you ready?"
Kayda licked her lips a bit fearfully and nodded. She sat in the chair the teacher indicated and careful to only touch the charm and its necklace with the gloves, Circe removed the necklace from her neck. Kayda tensed and had a sharp inhalation as she grabbed the arms of the chair for support.
The air around the girl exploded in a shower of rainbow colored sparks, phantasm images of people, places, animals and nightmares as the connection of the essence in the charm was returned while the power it blocked sucked in essence from around her. This was like a pair of dams opening floodgates into the same spillway, creating a maelstrom of excess essence poured off as hobgoblins and cantrips and simple illusions that the experienced mages in the room brushed aside with ease. Ms. Grimes, holding a crystal near Kayda to 'read' her magic, worried her lip for a few seconds until she saw Kayda's inner essence re-light safely, and she sighed with relief. Sealing a mage from essence was always a very chancy thing. Sometimes, the essence wouldn't re-light, and magical ability could be lost forever. In Kayda's case, that would be doubly-devastating, because it was her magic that allowed her to commune with her spirits. Fortunately, Kayda wasn't so affected. Her core of essence glowed brightly for a moment, sucking back the essence the charm had stolen and the flood from around the air, then settled back into the normal, soft glow she'd had when Ms. Grimes had first met her. "She's alright," the teacher proclaimed, letting the spectators all breathe again.
Kayda's eyes filled with tears and leaked out as she finally opened them. "My...my spirits! I can feel them again!"
The ancient sorceress smiled. "Yes, that will be a bit overwhelming until you're used to it again, so you're to take things easy the rest of this week." She dropped the charm into a metallic box whose carvings glowed briefly as it was closed, then she picked up a pair of slips of paper from her desk and presented them, one to Kayda, the other to Elaine. "These are excuses from class today. She doesn't leave your sight," she ordered Elaine.
"Now, I believe young Mr. Cody and his spirit have a ritual that may be of some use to you, Miss Franks." Kayda looked at Lanie and back to the sorceress.
"You...you aren't worried...?"
A thin eyebrow ascended the classic Hellenistic face. "That the Kodiak will try something?" she asked with a nasty looking grin. "No, not with every teacher in Magic Arts and Psychic Arts and the headmistress watching. If your behavior alters even a smidgeon, we've made him aware we'll consider it his fault."
Ms. Grimes held up a small jar with a couple of tufts of hair in it. "I'm certain he'll behave," she opined with a particularly wicked smile. "Unless he wants a much less pleasant visit to my formal casting circle."
Elaine placed a hand on Kayda's shoulder. "We're all watching him," she assured her friend. "And he was a healer. What Wyatt was talking about should help you." Kayda weighed that for several moments.
"Ok," she finally admitted. Turning back to Circe, she asked, "Should I go now...?"
The sorceress grinned. "Shoo!" she proclaimed with a dismissive gesture. "And take it easy!" she called after the backs of the departing girls.
Elaine couldn't help but smile as the younger girl all but bounced all the walls with excitement and energy. It was a welcome change from the depressed, listless Kayda that she had tried to help for days, ever since this whole mess got started. Lanie just smiled and nodded, letting the girl babble excitedly in a stream-of-consciousness tsunami as the Lakota girl rode the high of restoration by trying to talk about everything at once.
Fortunately it was a short walk to Melville, though the enthusiasm dialed down several notches as they waited in the elevator lobby for the car. "Do...do you know what it is he wants to do?"
Kayda looked up in time for Lanie's posture to change ever so slightly and her eyes went brown. "It's not anything to worry about," Grizzly said through her host. "PTSD is the brain reacting to new triggers in the same way as old stress. You were hurt badly and it's natural to want to avoid being hurt again. But sometimes, this response is fooled, innocent things seem to be what caused the hurt, or somehow remind us of what caused the hurt and we react the same way, even if the trigger is harmless and the reaction is inappropriate. There are ways to 'show' your brain these triggers that 'seem' to be the cause of the old injury aren't."
"Kodiak will be in my mind?" she asked somewhat fearfully.
"Yes." There was a predatory nature to Lanie's smile that it normally didn't have. "So will I. Don't worry, so will your spirits." Kayda forced herself to remain calm and rode the car in silence. The door opened to a strobe light flash of a camera that had both girls blinking in surprise, partially blinded.
"Kayda!" shouted a voice. "Now that you've beaten the Heyoka Murder rap, are you and Loophole on your way to a celebratory orgy...?"
"Peeper!" snarled Elaine in a voice Kayda had never heard her use before. Blinking back stars, she found Elaine holding the somewhat rotund freshman against the wall by his throat in her human form, one arm cocked behind her ready to deliver a blow. "Give me one reason why Ah shouldn't beat the taste out of your mouth!"
I had no idea she was so strong! Kayda finally got her vision cleared and laid a cautioning hand on Elaine's shoulder. "Let him down, Lanie," she told her sister softly. "He's not worth it."
"Let me just catch you pulling a stunt like this again," she growled, throwing the boy into the elevator and pressing the ground floor button. "See if Ah don't tan your hide!" she shouted at the closing doors. "Gutless little turd," she muttered as she led the way around the corner to Wyatt's room and knocked.
"Are you ok?" the Lakota girl asked softly. The redhead shook herself and forced a smile and a nod. The door opened on the imposing bulk of Wyatt Cody wearing a pair of loose, jersey shorts and a Gold's Gym Rat A-shirt.
"Good morning, Ladies," he practically purred. "Do come in."
Kayda wasn't sure what she was expecting by Wyatt's room; nothing ever seemed to fit him. He was big like a jock and one would have thought that there would be sports teams logos and posters everywhere, but he wasn't really 'athletic' in that way. Nor was it about body building or other 'jock' obsessions. Despite his reputation, his bed was a simple full-size rectangle with cotton sheets, not king-sized with satin sheets as one might expect. There was a fire place and a bear skin rug, but it seemed more for being comfortable than for homage to his being Alaskan or the school's most accomplished Don Juan.
Ironically the only poster on the wall was of an airplane of some kind. Kayda wouldn't have pictured him as the 'aviator' fighter jock type, he was too big, and the plane seemed to be a civilian model anyway. "Sit down on the rug," he invited, sinking down onto it himself after he and Elaine shared a 'hello' kiss. His eyes were intense, but also concerned.
"Kayda, this is going to be hard on you," he cautioned. "You'll have to be strong, you'll have to see things you don't want to see, hear things you don't want to hear."
She nodded, a bit apprehensively. "Oh...ok..."
"Face things you have not and don't want to face," he finished. "Everything that follows, is done with love, alright?"
"Maybe we shouldn't pile up..." she started, but his hand shot out and touched her forehead. He was much faster than he looked.
May 8th, 2007 - Morning
The March of Dreams, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
It was black, everywhere and everything, an endless darkness, there was no up or down, no left or right, just the inside of one's eyelids in a pitch black room. Then, suddenly, the Kodiak was there, reddish brown fur glistening with health, eyes dark and endless as the blackness that stretched from here to infinity. Hello, Brandon.
Brandon started, conversely confused and elated to find himself tall again, strong again, normal again in the endless darkness, while a shadow self, his Kayda self, stood to one side looking on. "I..." he said, surprised and shocked. "Why? Why did you do this?"
What makes you think I control this? The spirit asked, ambling up in a deceptively long gait. This is your mind. Why is it empty? Why do you think you're male?
"I don't...I mean, I...I'm just here...You..."
I am a guide, the Kodiak retorted. Wakan Tanka told you about how spirits guide humanity to Truth, hasn't she? And so I will guide you. He sat, and his eyes were still on the boy's level. What we see, you control, not I.
In a flash the blackness was the alley behind the honey factory, a group of boys gathered in a circle, cheering on a horrific crime. "Fuck that mutie bitch!" one sneered, even as he drove a pile-driver of a fist into the helpless victim's ribs.
"No!" shouted Brandon, whirling away from the horrific scene. "Don't show me this!" Beside him, the Kayda shadow-self cringed at the brutal memory as well.
You show me, the bear retorted. Is this why in your heart you are not Kayda?
"Stop! Please!" wailed the girl in the memory.
"Save me some ass!"
"Stop it!" screamed Brandon at the spirit. "You monster! Stop showing me this! Wasn't it bad enough...!"
The Kodiak reared to his feet and towered over the boy. I do NOT show you this! You live here! You hide here because you think you could have stopped this!
The boy pointed an accusing finger at the girl who stood by mute. "This is her fault! I could have stopped this if wasn't for her! I wasn't strong because she made me weak...!"
You were powerless; they were many, and you were emergent and untrained. Why do you cling to this notion you could have done something?
"If I had been Brandon.... I was strong! I was a starter on the football team! It was her! I ... I was ...!"
Foolish boy! Enough! roared the spirit. He swept aside the crowd and Brandon saw himself, Brandon, not Kayda, beaten, bloody, in the act of being abused. See! Look and see the truth! Male or female, you were powerless!
"No!" he shouted, once more whirling in rage to face the girl he had become instead of the bear that rubbed his nose in what he saw as his failure. "It's not true! It's not! Kayda! Kayda is weak! Kayda is a girl! She was raped because she wasn't strong!"
The spirit waved his arm, and the scene changed to the gym, to the corridor where Brandon fled, chased by a mob of angry students, catching him and then beating him mercilessly.
"Kill the mutant!"
"We don't want your scum around here, Mutie!"
Blow after blow rained down on Brandon, curled up and trying desperately to protect his face and abdomen from the unceasing hail of punches and kicks. Pain exploded out from every impact, causing Brandon to whimper in pain, begging for mercy.
Were you strong here? demanded the spirit. You were Brandon, but you couldn't stop them because they were too many! Even as a male, you were powerless against the mob that was trying to kill you.
"No!" Brandon cried out to the spirit. "I ... I should have been able to ...."
Even as Brandon, you were helpless! roared the spirit. Why can you not see the obvious?
"I ... I could have ..." Brandon whimpered softly. "She..."
She? The bear demanded. She was there your whole life! She gave you strength not of body, but conviction. She helped you see what was right and what was desire masquerading as virtue. She would tell you now if YOU did not keep her silent, choosing to live here and wallow in this fetid memory! While you hold her silent and cling to the misguided notion that you could have somehow prevented the rape, you harm your Kayda-self the Kodiak growled. You make her overreact or keep her from acting because you cannot accept the truth, but live in these memories.
"I ... I don't believe you!" Brandon cried out, eyes wide to realize now that the image of Kayda that was standing nearby actually had her hands tied and was gagged by his own bandanna, the spirit bandanna the whole football team had gotten together to show their loyalty to each other. "No," he whispered, fighting the realization he knew now was true.
The scene shifted to the parking lot at spring break, and Brandon saw his female self inside her magic shield, protecting her friends from eight .45 caliber shots fired at very close range. He saw Kayda deflecting blows from attackers, fighting like a dervish, besting multiple attackers with speed and grace and determination that Brandon could never hope to match. He saw Kayda taking down her principle foe, and then being held from a killing blow. "Kayda did stop them. Could Brandon have done that?" asked Elaine who was suddenly by his side.
Who is stronger? the Kodiak demanded. Brandon cringed, looking away from both the spectacle of the memory and from Kodiak. The bear reached down, taking Brandon's chin in his massive paw and turning Brandon to face him. Who is stronger, boy?
Brandon's lip trembled, and tears started to leak from his eyes. "Kayda ... is stronger," he sobbed.
"Kayda is a sorceress," whispered Lanie. "A shaman, an exemplar, and an avatar. Kayda could stop them. Kayda did stop them."
"They..." Brandon whispered. "They were my friends..."
Friends do not do what they did, whispered Grizzly.
You were powerless, the Kodiak told him softly. Not anymore. Why do you cling to this conceit that you could have done more than what Kayda has? Why do you cling to the fantasy that Kayda is not you, that Kayda is somehow inferior to you?
"They ... they hurt her! They ... they raped her!" Brandon cried out in anguish and began to sob as truth penetrated his stubborn conceit and he sank to his knees, his face buried in his hands. "They ... they raped ... me!"
A soft glow penetrated the darkness and Tatanka ambled softly up, a regal nod of acknowledgment as he passed the Kodiak. "Child, will you now accept my gifts? You and Kayda are one. You are Winkte - Two Spirits. You belong together. Joined, you are strong. Come, leave this dreary memory behind, once and for all." The mighty white buffalo nudged the Brandon spirit toward the Kayda-spirit.
Hesitantly, Brandon pulled himself to his feet, his uncertain gaze darting back and forth between Kayda and the white buffalo, and he stepped toward her, reaching out slowly to fumble with the knots to release the girl and then touching the other half of his Two-Spirits self. "I...I'm sorry," he whispered to which Kayda only smiled and reached up to hold his face in her hands. Glancing nervously at Tatanka, who nodded affirmatively, the Brandon spirit stepped deeper and deeper into the Kayda spirit, until the two merged and were one. As they did so, the blackness of Brandon's nightmare faded away completely, leaving them in a familiar, tranquil mountain meadow.
Kayda threw herself around her friend the buffalo spirit, burying her face deep in his shaggy white fur and her arms as far around his neck as they would go. "Come, child," the buffalo told her. "You don't have to be afraid anymore. The Kodiak has shown you the truth - that you are more powerful, more capable now as Kayda than you were before. What you feared before, you need not fear now; what hurt you before cannot hurt you now." Kayda lifted her head and stared at the buffalo, looking in one of his soulful eyes. "Search your feelings; you know it to be true."
There were still tears to join the flood Kayda had cried, but at long last some were tears of acceptance. The musky smell of her spirit filled her nose and at last the week caught up to her and when the darkness came again, there were no ghosts of Brandon, but only welcome sleep to a weary young woman, a Two-Spirits who had finally overcome the last barrier to completely accepting herself.
May 8th, 2007 - After Dinner
Between Boston and Dunwich, NH
Pete drove the car at a casual pace; thanks to the morning's news, all sense of pressure and tension was gone, and this was just a trip to visit their daughter - and for him to see the school he'd heard so much about. In the back seat, Debra was asleep; some girl had called and told her that Kayda wanted to dream-walk. Having done so himself with his daughter, he understood.
Beside him, June rested, having put up her magazine when daylight faded. With a bit of road construction, it would be well after midnight when they finally got to Whateley, but that was fine. There was no sense of urgency anymore.
With a glance in the mirror, he saw the peaceful look on Debra's face. He wondered if she wasn't already dream-walking with Kayda. Instinctively, he reached out and touched June's hand. "I knew having kids was going to be a challenge," he said softly so as not to wake Debra. "But this?"
"Did we do the right thing - sending her here for school?" June asked, still fighting her anxiety over the whole affair.
"I think so. There are good people looking out for her. They can take care of her in ways we can't, or don't know how to," Pete answered. "So yeah, I think so."
May 8th, 2007 - After Dinner
The March of Dreams, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
Wakan Tanka sat by the fire, tending a little pot, smiling as she felt the spirits approaching even though they weren't visible yet. Eventually, four figures - two humans and two large bears - approached the tepee circle, stopping outside an unseen ring.
"Cante waste nape ciyuzapo," the she-bear intoned formally, her gruff voice nevertheless warm and unthreatening.
"Join us," Wakan Tanka replied, not looking up but instead pouring tea from a large clay pot into several cups. "And you need not be so formal."
Lanie crossed her legs as she sat down. "Ma'am," she said in her dulcet voice, "mah ma taught me to be respectful, and Ah wouldn't feel right just comin' and goin' without bein' polite."
"You set a good example for your takshi, your younger sister Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said with a smile. "It is no wonder she loves you as her cuwe, her older sister. Because of your bond as soul-sisters, you may come and go in her dream space as you wish, the same as her soul-mate Debra."
"How is it that Ah understand you, but you aren't speakin' English?" Lanie asked as she accepted a clay cup of tea from Wakan Tanka.
"Your spirits understand," a gruff voice came from behind Lanie, between two tents, as a shaggy white bison ambled to the fire circle, "and so you understand."
"How is she?" Lanie asked, worried about her friend who'd been sleeping on the bearskin rug in Cody's penthouse all afternoon, missing both lunch and dinner. She'd forsaken going to eat so she could watch over her friend, while Cody got them to-go meals, even though Kayda's had gone uneaten.
Wakan Tanka looked at the large bear who was awkwardly lapping his tea from his cup. "The healing the Kodiak did was very fatiguing to her. With the added stress of being locked from us and from her magic, and her panic attacks, she is doing remarkably well. Debra, her tawicasa, is with her, comforting her as she rests."
Lanie was grateful to hear that Debra was helping Kayda, and that the young Lakota girl was resting and improving, but a part of her couldn't help but be jealous; she didn't know if it was because she'd become so close to Kayda during the young girl's ordeal, or if it was because they'd been lovers, or if it was because she'd so enjoyed caring for Kayda like a sister - or child - at the movie. "Good," she replied simply.
"It felt like a demon touch when ...." Wakan Tanka said, looking uneasily at Lanie as she spoke, gauging the reaction of the redhead.
Grizzly nodded. "I felt it as well in my host."
"There is a student who is the daughter of the lust demon," Cody replied. "She is the Kellith. She is most likely the source of what our hosts felt."
Lanie nodded. "Apparently, she is missing. The boy who confessed to killing Heyoka also admitted that his friend summoned her, but never released her from the summoning circle."
Wakan Tanka nodded grimly. "Summoning a demon without releasing it? He deserves all that he gets when she frees herself. Her revenge will be ugly and eternal and painful." She shook her head. "What do you know of this demon-girl, the Kellith? Will she now be an enemy of us as well? Have we earned her enmity through this?"
Wyatt shook his head. "Sara is ... unusual ... but pretty cool. As long as she's been on campus, I've never heard of her blaming the victims, but she has the ability to be merciless with the perpetrators. Darren and Eddie are in serious trouble if or when she shows up again."
"It would be very bad to have such a demon as an enemy," Wakan Tankan said, sounding relieved by Wyatt's observation.
"Indeed," the Kodiak nodded.
There was silence around the fire circle as the group sipped - or lapped - at their tea. Finally, Wakan Tanka spoke again, her voice sad and reflecting disbelief. "Killing the host of the Heyoka ... who could do such a thing?"
"The boy who planned this all is Crow," the Kodiak said, frowning.
"That figures," Wakan Tanka snarled. She spat into the fire in disgust at the ancient enemies of her People. She looked at the Kodiak. "I told you that some will never be ready to join as One People and accept our place with the White Man. Some tribes will never let go of their ancient hatred. The Crow are among them."
"But you will nevertheless support a call to the spirit council to call the Nations to peace?" Grizzly said, sounding confident of her supposition.
"Yes," Wakan Tanka said, staring into the fire, her eyes narrowed in anger. "I will do what I can to bring peace, so that prosperity may be returned to all the People of all the Nations." She continued to stare silently, trying to contain the fire raging behind her eyes that matched the fire burning in the circle. "But I will have a very hard time forgetting that a Crow tried to destroy my prophet," she said through gritted teeth. After a long internal battle, she took a sip from her cup.
Lanie started to stand. "I'm going to check on the girls," she said. "Kayda has been resting without food nearly all day, and Ah'm gettin' a little concerned about her."
"Let them be," Wakan Tanka ordered in a voice that couldn't be ignored. "Wihakayda needs much rest, and their souls need time to heal and reconnect." Abruptly, she stood. "Come with me, Pict Daughter. I feel the need to stretch my legs, and your company would be welcome." She offered a hand and helped Lanie to her feet. Silently, the two walked between the tepees and out of the camp. After walking thirty or forty yards, Wakan Tanka stopped and turned her head skyward and gazed at the stars, the magnificent hazy, milky band that was the Milky Way. "What do you see when you look skyward, Pict Daughter?" she asked Lanie.
"Do you mean literally or figuratively?" she asked hesitantly. After a long moment of the spirit refusing to answer the redhead nodded and took a guess. "Figuratively, Ah see the future of mankind. Ah see space stations and mines and colonies and star ships. Ah see a time when humanity won't be in danger of being wiped out by a stray rock traveling at a hundred miles a second."
The spirit woman smiled an inscrutable smile but said nothing. Elaine shrugged and continued. "Literally? Ah see ... Ah see billions of stars. As far as the eye can see, nothing but stars." Lanie answered. "And Ah'd prefer it if you called me Lanie instead of Pict Daughter. It is mah name, or at least it's the nickname Ah prefer."
"And yet, Lanie," Wakan Tanka emphasized the girl's name, "if you look at the sky, your eyes are drawn to a few of the stars, is that not true? Stars which stand out as special, attracting your gaze."
"Ah know that," Lanie said, trying not to sound curt or condescending. She did know a lot about space, after all.
"You and Wihakayda are special, like stars that stand out in the night,"
"Supernovae stand out," Lanie observed sardonically, "and they burn out quickly. Like comets and meteorites."
"Are you a comet or star that will burn out quickly?"
Lanie stood there for a moment, gawking at Wakan Tanka and trying to figure out how to respond. "Ah ... Ah hope not," she finally said. "Ah don't want to ..."
Wakan Tanka gazed at the sky, staring at a spot. "Do you see those two stars, Lanie? The two bright stars close together?"
Lanie looked up. The view did not match what she should see in early May in early evening. Another paradox of the dream world. "Those are the 'twins', Castor and Pollux, in the constellation Gemini."
"When I see them, I think of you and Wihakayda - two stars shining in the night, close by each other." She smiled at Lanie. "You and Wihakayda are very much alike, Lanie, much more so than either of you want to admit. You are both adventurous to the point of being reckless. And yet you believe yourselves not to be so. You both want to learn. You are both a little insecure. You are both seeking to find who you really are inside - on your vision quests." She chuckled softly. "You two should have been born twins, like the two stars in the sky."
"Why are you telling me this?" Lanie asked, confused. "You're her spirit guide, not mine."
"Are you ashamed that you and Wihakayda were lovers?"
"No," Lanie snapped instantly. "Ah only regret the harm Ah did to Debra."
"Will that memory stop you from being her friend? Or Soul Sister? Will it stop you from helping her deal with the consequences of your having been lovers because it embarrasses each of you? Will it make you more cautious or more distant from her?"
Lanie's eyes widened as she thought. "Ah ... Ah don't want it to. No, Ah won't let it," she concluded with stubborn certainty.
"Even though you find her attractive? Even though she tempts your two-spirit half?"
"You are Two Spirits. You love women. You love men. You have both a male spirit and a female spirit in you; although your female spirit is stronger, you have a male spirit." Wakan Tanka said.
"You mean Ah'm bi,"
Wakan Tanka smiled, shaking her head. "That's a ... white man's concept, Lanie. It is much more than that. It is how you see and live life. Wihakayda can help you learn what Two Spirits means." The smile vanished. "Will your two-spirit nature make you keep Wihakayda at a distance for fear of getting too close, of being too tempted or too attracted?"
Lanie shook her head. "No. She's ... more than a friend. Kayda is ... like the sister Ah never had." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Ah need her help ... to learn who Ah really am inside - even if that means Ah'm two-spirit, or whatever that is."
Wakan Tanka clasped her hand on Lanie's shoulders, looking up into the redhead's eyes. "Wihakayda chose her best friend and sister well." She smiled as Lanie's eyes widened when Wakan Tanka called her Kayda's best friend. "As much as you need her as a friend and Soul Sister, she needs you to be the same for her. You two have much to teach each other."
"Ah'll ... try to be a good sister," Lanie said, her voice choking slightly.
"You will be a good sister. I know that. I can see it." Wakan Tanka took Lanie's hand. "After the healing, Wihakayda has a difficult road ahead of her. She has pain to overcome, and much to bring into herself to fully accept being two-spirits. You, too, have things to learn. You can help each other. You must help each other."
"Ah ... Ah'll try," Lanie said. "But how can Ah help Kayda? She knows more about this two-spirits thing than Ah do."
"You know more than you think." She grasped Lanie's elbow. "Come. Let us go back to the fire circle. Wihakayda is waking."
"Ah have a question," Lanie said as the two women walked. "Why do you call her Wihakayda, and not Kayda, her real name?"
"Wihakayda means 'little one'," Wakan Tanka said with a smile. "It is fitting, is it not?"
The two women walked back to the fire circle; the first thing Lanie noticed as she neared was the smell of meat cooking long before they got in view of the fire. As they came between the last tepees nearest the circle, she saw a large rack of ribs cooking over the fire, and a chunk of what looked to be a huge steak on an improvised 'grill' cooking. Wyatt had another such steak in his hands and was enthusiastically chowing down. Across the circle, the Kodiak was ravenously tearing into a large chunk of meat.
As Lanie sat down by Wyatt, confused, she glanced around and saw that Tatanka was no longer in the circle of spirits. She frowned at him, and seeing her expression, he just shrugged. "I was hungry. What can I say?"
No sooner had he spoken than the tent flap opened and Kayda came out with Debra. For the first time in days, Kayda looked rested and at peace, although she wasn't completely awake yet from her yawn and the way Debra supported her.
Deb and Kayda trudged to the fire circle and sat down on a log, taking cups of tea that Wakan Tanka proffered. Lanie took the opportunity to scoot a couple of feet over and wrap an arm around Kayda's shoulder supportively. "How are you feelin'?" she asked, her simple question conveying all her concern for her friend's well-being.
Kayda took a sip of tea, and then let her head rest on Lanie's shoulder for a moment. "I ... I can't ...." She sighed. "I don't know I could ever repay you for all you've done to help me." The corners of her eyes moistened at the memories of how much Lanie had stood by her side, supporting her, giving her strength to carry on through what had been the toughest ordeal she'd ever faced.
Lanie smiled and kissed the smaller girl on the forehead. "Anything for my little sister." She relaxed her arm, consciously not prolonging the hug so Deb, on the other side of Kayda, wouldn't get even the slightest hint of a wrong idea. "Just like Ah know you'd do the same for me."
"I think the ribs are almost done," Wyatt announced, interrupting the reflective moment of friendship. "Want some? I've got another chunk of steak cooking, too."
"No, I'm ...." Kayda's eyes narrowed as she looked at the rack of ribs cooking over the open fire, suspended by an improvised frame of sticks. The steak was cooking on a forked branch that was leaned across a rock and over the fire, a second large rock providing a counterweight so the stick and meat wouldn't fall into the flaming wood. From having grown up on a farm/ranch, Kayda knew meat. "Is that ... beef? Where'd you get it?"
"Close enough," Wyatt replied. "Funny - I always heard it tasted just like beef, but I didn't believe it."
"What did you do?" Kayda fairly screamed at Wyatt.
"I got hungry, so I had to cook something!" Wyatt protested. Without a second thought, he looked at Deb. "How do you like your steak? Medium? Medium-rare?"
Kayda's eyes were round. "Where's Tatanka?" she demanded, her voice frantic.
Kodiak looked up from the chunk of meat he was devouring. "He's around," he answered simply before going back to eating.
"Could use a little A-1, though," Wyatt said reflectively, not really talking to anyone in the fire circle. "And I wish I had some barbeque sauce for the ribs. Mom taught me a killer recipe for barbeque sauce. You'd love it."
"Where is he?" Kayda screamed again, staring horrified at the rack of ribs over the fire.
Lanie frowned at Wyatt. "What did you do?" she demanded.
Wyatt got a 'who, me' look on his face. "What? I knew Kayda would be hungry, so I was just trying to help."
The Kodiak looked up from his meal. "We didn't have time to organize a hunt," he said. "We had to make do with what was on hand."
"Where's Tatanka?" Kayda demanded, starting to feel a little panic-stricken at the absence of her buffalo spirit and the meat cooking on the fire.
Wyatt shrugged, finished chewing the bite in his mouth, and turned to Debra. "We probably should talk about next fall. In fact, the whole school year." There was uncertainty, hesitation in his voice, like he knew something that Debra probably wasn't going to like.
Debra glanced at Kayda, then at Lanie, and finally back to Wyatt. She wasn't sure she liked the looks on any of their faces. "What's going on next year?" she asked hesitantly.
"What did you do to Tatanka?" Kayda demanded from Wyatt, her eyes shooting daggers at him.
Lanie winced, glancing at Kayda. "Um," she began softly, "Mrs. Carson assigned Kayda and I to a special class on extra-dimensional things."
Kayda tore her angry gaze from Wyatt and looked at Debra. "Kind of punishment for doing rituals and bindings without really knowing what we were doing," she chimed in meekly. "And because Lanie has to take Intro to Mystical Arts, Mrs. Carson assigned me to tutor her."
"You know, Wakan Tanka," Wyatt interrupted, "a good Merlot or Cabernet would go really well with these ribs. I don't suppose you have anything like that. Or any kind of red wine?" His comment was rewarded with glares from the girls.
"Wyatt Cody!" Kayda fairly screamed; if Lanie and Debra hadn't been holding her arms, she'd have leaped to try throttling the big senior. "Where's my buffalo?"
"And I'm supposed to tutor Kayda in gadgeteering and technology," Lanie added, watching Debra's face starting to register shock at how much time the two girls were going to be spending together.
Debra nodded slowly, then she turned to Kayda. "That's not all, is it?" she asked knowingly.
"There's more," Kayda added, wincing at how she expected Debra to react. "Mrs. Carson ... assigned me to Team Phoenix," she said.
Debra shrugged. "Being on a training team isn't unusual. But ... didn't you're friends and you agree to your own team - what was it, the Ghost Walkers?" She read the expressions on the other two girls. "Unless ...."
"I'm on two teams, thanks to Mrs. Carson," Kayda said glumly, still glaring at the senior happily chewing a chunk of steak.
"Wyatt is the team captain of Team Phoenix," Lanie explained. "And Ah'm on the team, too."
Wyatt leaned forward and tugged at the rack of ribs over the fire. "Yup, they're done." He tore a couple of ribs and meat free. "Who wants one?" he asked, waving them toward the girls.
"Oooookaaaay," Debra said cautiously. "So ... you two are going to be ... together a lot next term."
"We both want to keep our friendship," Kayda said, worried by Debra's reaction enough to not focus on Wyatt or her missing buffalo. "Lanie's ... like a sister. But ...."
"But you both know that you'll be tempted, right? Because you've both acknowledged that you're attracted to each other?"
"If it hadn't been for the lust demon essence ...," Kayda started to say.
Wyatt interrupted. "Make sure you tell her all of the story," he cautioned. He took another bite of the meat he was chewing. "Mmm. This is really good! Are you sure you don't want some?" he asked the girls.
Debra looked at him, and then her eyes narrowed as she alternated her gaze between the two girls. "What else is there?"
"Poe is getting remodeled this summer," Lanie began.
"And they're adding in positions of student Resident Advisors to help Mrs. Horton manage the ... chaos," Kayda continued.
"Ah ... was offered the job of RA in Poe - for the group that'll be the sophomores," Lanie explained, wincing. "Which includes Team Kimba."
"And it also includes Kayda?" Debra asked cautiously, already afraid that she knew the answer.
"Yeah," Lanie and Kayda answered together.
"But the RA room has a private bath. Ah won't be sharing a bathroom with Kayda," Lanie added hastily, "so that'll take away mah temptation."
Debra stared at the two girls, her lower lip trembling, her eyes getting misty. Finally, she could take no more, and she jumped to her feet and bolted from the camp. As soon as the shock wore off, Lanie and Kayda were chasing her. They caught her just outside of camp when she collapsed to her knees, burying her face in her hands as she began to wail aloud in anguish.
Kayda knelt beside her love, putting her hand on Deb's shoulders. "Debra, honey?" she implored, "what's wrong?"
Debra shook her head, struggling to not cry aloud. "I've ... I've lost you!" she cried, consumed with grief and heartache. "I ... I can't compete - not with as much time as ... as ... you'll be with ... with ... with Lanie," she finished, her sobs choking off her words.
Kayda pulled Debra's head onto her shoulder, scooting awkwardly in front of Debra so she hugging her at the same time. "I love you, not Lanie!" she said firmly, trying to reassure her sweetheart. "I shared my soul with you, not with her! I ... I want to spend the rest of my life with you!" She pushed Debra back a little from the tight embrace and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. "I am going to spend the rest of my life with you!" she declared. "Not Lanie."
"But ... you two ... will be together all the time," Debra sobbed. "I ... I won't be there ... when you need a hug or when you want a kiss or a cuddle!"
Lanie squatted down beside Kayda. "Debra Louise Matson, listen to me," she said sternly in an almost-parental tone, turning Debra's head gently to look at her. "If it hadn't been for the demon essence, Ah would not have given in to temptation!" She saw the uncertainty in Debra's eyes. "Let me tell you something about that hot tub party," she continued. "Ah had mah eye on Kayda, Ah'll admit it. But mah friend Ayla told me about you and her bein' lovers, so Ah backed off."
Debra's eyes widened, fearful and hopeful at the same time. "I don't understand."
"Ask Kayda - at the party, Ah gave her a birthday kiss, and from how she reacted, if Ah'd have wanted to, Ah'm sure Ah could have talked her into leavin' the party with me." She glanced at Kayda, and though the color of the shorter girl's cheeks were hidden by the dark of the evening, Lanie knew that Kayda was blushing.
"But nothing!" Lanie cut off her protest. "Kayda and Ah clicked - after we got past a little misunderstanding. But we clicked as friends! Did she tell you what we talked about?" She saw Debra glance hesitantly at Kayda and then shake her head. "We talked about our cars. We talked about classes in the labs. It was geek lab-talk, not whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears! And when Ah left early, Ah knew that if anyone at the party had a chance with her, it was me! Wyatt and Ah had broken up. Ah was unattached. And Ah still left the party early because Ah knew you two were in love!"
Debra's eyes widened with surprise, and Lanie could tell that Kayda was astonished at the revelation as well.
"That's right. No matter how tempted Ah was, Ah was not going to come between you. And God knows Ah was tempted! But Ah knew it'd be wrong. Ah couldn't hurt mah friends - either mah old friend or mah new one!" She smiled thinly. "So Ah left the party early rather than letting mahself get more tempted."
"Deb," Lanie said sadly, "Ah tried to stop. We both tried to stop. We couldn't. But that wasn't us - that was the demon essence. We fought it the best we could. Ah can't speak for Kayda, but Ah know Ah've never fought something so hard."
Debra sat silently, digesting what Lanie had said. Finally, she looked at Kayda. "Lanie said that once it wore off ..."
Kayda couldn't fight the tears that memory brought back. "I ... I hated myself for betraying you," she said softly. "I ... I couldn't stand the thought that I'd done something that would hurt you." She was sobbing softly. "I ... I was terrified that you were going to hate me and leave me because I couldn't stop myself."
Debra nodded slowly. "I'm ... I'm scared. By how much time you'll be spending together," she said. "With all the classes and training and being her RA, and then all the tutoring."
Lanie smiled. "About that last one. Wyatt had a good idea, and Ah think you'll like it." She saw that she had piqued Debra's curiosity. "Since we're all going to be very busy, Wyatt suggested that we could do some tutoring in dream space, because time here is different than in the real world." She saw the older girl's puzzled look. "If we do that in dream space, it'll be all of us -, me, Wyatt, Kayda, Wakan Tanka, and you. Ah'd feel better, in fact," Lanie continued, "because you'll know for certain that Kayda and Ah are behavin' and you won't have any reason to doubt either of us."
"I don't want to lose Kayda," Deb said softly to Lanie.
"And Wyatt and Ah don't want to lose each other," Lanie countered. "The only way Ah could see me getting' together with Kayda is if Wyatt and Ah broke up and both of you were amenable to making a happy trio!" she added with a chuckle.
Debra stared, open-mouthed, at the redhead, and then she couldn't help laughing, softly at first and then increasing until she was chuckling aloud. "Don't think I wouldn't be tempted ...." she said with a smile, wiping at the tears on her cheeks.
"Deb!" Kayda protested to her girlfriend, shocked at what she'd heard.
Deb turned and gave Kayda a quick kiss on her forehead. "Don't try to convince me that you wouldn't be tempted too." That elicited a deep blush from the Lakota girl.
The trio of girls clustered into a group hug, the tension having been broken. And then, somehow, Deb gave Lanie a kiss of gratitude, acknowledging that she trusted the redhead and was grateful that they were still friends. It wasn't a quick peck, either, but it was far from the lip-lock Kayda and Lanie had exchanged at the hot-tub party. Lanie turned and Kayda flinched, suspecting that this was some ritualistic thing, a sealing of a promise and mutual friendship. When Lanie leaned closer, Kayda glanced nervously at Debra, and then lifted her lips to Lanie's.
A few moments later, feeling breathless from the depth of feelings involved, Kayda pulled back from Lanie's kiss, blushing slightly, but then Debra leaned to her and began to passionately kiss her girlfriend, sealing the three-way bond of trust and the love of friends. Only in this case, it was far more - the two clutched each other tightly, losing themselves in their exuberant kiss, exchanging their love with their lips and tongues. Time stopped in their perfect expression of love, and their surroundings blended with the background into a bland nothingness, unable to distract them from the depth of feelings they were sharing.
When they broke their kiss some unknown time later, it took a while for the two lovers to realize that Lanie was gone; that Kayda and Debra were kneeling at the edge of the tepee circle, clutching each other tightly, holding with the tenderness of a mother holding her newborn and the strength and desperation of a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.
Eventually, the two rose, and arm in arm, walked back the fire circle, barely able to take their eyes from each other, their love reassured. For a few moments, they were the perfect couple, Kayda's head on Debra's shoulder as they walked slowly to a log, where they slowly sat down, still holding hands as if unwilling to let go.
Lanie sat next to Wyatt, chewing on a large hunk of rib like he was. Eventually, Kayda noticed them, and her eyes widened.
"Want some?" Wyatt asked, reaching to the much smaller rack of ribs still over the fire.
Kayda goggled at the sight which had been momentarily forgotten. "Where is Tatanka?" she fairly screamed. "If you hurt him, I swear I'll ... I'll ..." She stammered, unable to finish the thought.
"Calm down, Wihakayda. He did not hurt me," a gruff voice sounded from behind Kayda. The girls spun toward the sound, startled, and as soon as Kayda recognized the speaker, she practically leaped up and wrapped her arms around the furry bison, still glaring at Wyatt.
After a few seconds of listening to the others chuckling - except Debra - Kayda let go of her shaggy friend, and as she backed away, she noticed that he was chuckling as well. "You!" she said, open-mouthed. "You were in on this, too!" she accused him. She glanced around accusingly. "You were all in on this!"
Wakan Tanka smiled. "They were; I was not."
"But you didn't' say anything," Kayda retorted angrily. "So indirectly, you were in on it."
The goddess shrugged. "I didn't feel like defeating the Kodiak today."
The bear's head popped up, and he changed into the form of a massive, barrel-chested warrior. "Oh, so you think you could do that?"
"You? Yes," Wakan Tanka replied dismissively. "But I do not care to fight the Grizzly as well, and no doubt she would come to your aid since you and Grizzly are bound to the two lovers."
"I don't know," Grizzly said after changing into her 'Amazon biker chick' form, "it might be amusing to see him get smacked around."
"Ah'd pay to see that," Lanie giggled, earning her a stare of disapproval from Wyatt.
"We are here for healing," Wakan Tanka said, "not for fighting. Healing relationships, healing old wounds."
"Besides," Wyatt chuckled, "the look on your face as you stared at the ribs was priceless!"
Kayda scowled at the burly senior. "I will get you for this," she promised.
"Wyatt," Deb snickered, "when a woman says she'll get you, worry."
Wyatt thought a moment, and then held out some ribs to Kayda as a peace offering. "Have some. They're really good. But there's no barbeque sauce," he added with a shrug.
Wakan Tanka stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then shook her head. "Remember where you are. Remember the nature of the spirit world." Seeing his look of puzzlement, she continued. "Where did you get the meat to cook? Your mind created it. In the same way, your mind can create this 'barbeque sauce' that you seem to desire."
Wyatt thought a moment, and then focused; a bottle of A-1 steak sauce appeared in his hand. "I ... forgot," he admitted sheepishly. He thought again, and, completely out of period and setting, a bottle of wine and some wine goblets appeared. "Perfect!" he said. He poured the wine and passed the goblets around
After eating some of the barbequed buffalo and drinking some wine, Kayda looked tired. "I think I want to rest some more," she hinted to Debra. She also shot a longing glance at Lanie, who in turn glanced at Wyatt with her unspoken question.
Kayda clambered to her feet, offering a hand to Debra and helping her stand. Wearily, the two trudged into a tepee. Behind them, Wyatt and Lanie likewise stood, and with Lanie leading the way, they entered the same tepee.
Wakan Tanka sat at the fire circle, sipping her tea, for several minutes. Finally, she stood. "Come," she said to the two bear spirits. Following her, they went to the tepee the kids had entered, and Wakan Tanka pulled back the tent flap.
The four high-school kids were spooned together, with Kayda snuggled up tightly behind Debra. Lanie snuggled behind her, sandwiching the fatigued girl between them, and Wyatt cuddled up behind Lanie, his meaty hand on her hip. All seemed to be asleep. Wakan Tanka let the tent flap close. "They are all tired," she said to the bear spirits. "It has been an ordeal for all of them, and they need their rest." Without another word, she walked back and took her place at the fire circle.
For several minutes, the trio of spirits sat silently, the dancing orange and red flames reflected in their eyes as they were each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Wakan Tanka broke the silence. "I know of your conspiracy to draw the two together," she said simply. "You used them to further your own vendetta against the Bastard," she accused the Kodiak.
"The Bastard is a threat to all of creation," the Kodiak replied easily, as if those words alone justified his actions.
"That may be true," Wakan Tanka said, "but does it give you the right to meddle in the affairs of Lanie and Wyatt?"
"As if you have room to talk, old woman!" the Kodiak snarled.
Wakan Tanka looked stunned. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Yes, you do," Grizzly joined in. "You know it was to be Brandon's daughter who was your next prophetess, the next Ptesanwi! But you couldn't resist once Brandon manifested as an avatar. You just had to move in, take up residence, and change him - against his will!"
"You couldn't resist the temptation to appear early," the Kodiak accused. "Did you force him to be Two-Spirits, too, to further your goal?"
"You know that he was always Two-Spirits!" Wakan Tanka hissed. "Kayda was always part of him, about a third of Brandon. It would have helped him be a good father," she added lamely. Her lie was obviously transparent. "
"And you saw to that, too - so he could better raise your prophetess," Grizzly said evenly.
"This from one who tricked a girl into accepting your spirit?" Wakan Tanka counter-accused. "At least Brandon remains as a part of Kayda - so she remains Two Spirits. How much did you change or influence Wyatt and Lanie so they'd accept your goals?"
"We did what we had to. Without Lanie by his side, Wyatt would have been too distracted, pining for her, and he would fail at his task of defeating the Bastard." Kodiak defended.
"So you mess up their lives to further your agenda?"
"And you don't?" Grizzly countered sharply.
"The enemies of the people are awakening! It was necessary to ... to fill his avatar hallow, to speed up the plans." Wakan Tanka defended.
"They awaken only because you brought Ptesanwi back," Kodiak said evenly.
Wakan Tanka glared at the two angrily, and then looked back into the dancing orange flames of the slowly dying fire. "You ... will not tell Kayda of this?" Wakan Tanka asked softly, pleaded actually.
"And you will not tell Lanie or Wyatt of what we did?" Grizzly asked in reply.
"It sounds as though we are agreed. What's done is done. We will keep our secrets from our hosts, and only help them go forward," Wakan Tanka said grimly. She glared at the white buffalo, who simply nodded his agreement.
"And we will speak of this no more," Kodiak added grimly.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2007, Early Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The knock on the door sounded like cannon fire, it was so insistent. Kayda squinted against the early morning sun rays peeking through the slats in the blinds and looked at her alarm clock. "Six o'clock?" she asked herself, puzzled.
She looked around, and her heart felt like it was dancing a jig. She recognized her room, and Evvie snoring softly across the room. A quick turn of her head showed her precious poster on the wall, personally autographed by Debra. It seemed so - normal! Had she been dreaming all of this? Was it merely some sick, twisted nightmare?
The warm sensation of her core of essence and the extra-warm sensation of her spirits clinging to her, as if hugging her extra tightly in the spirit-world, told her that it had happened, that she had been detained for killing Heyoka, that her magic had been sealed, and that she and Lanie had ....
Kayda couldn't help feeling her cheeks burn at that memory, and yet, she felt herself flush, felt a warm tingle within her. It had been absolutely glorious - at first - and she could still almost feel Lanie's hands on her body, the taste of the hot redhead, Lanie's tongue .....
Kayda snapped herself out of that train of thought. She hadn't even realized that her hand was drifting toward her nether regions of its own accord, while the other gently cupped her own breast, her mind thinking of Lanie's hands instead of her own. But that line of thought was dangerous. She had Debra. She loved Debra. She was soul-bound to Debra.
That still left the mystery of how she had gotten back from Melville, the last place she remembered being, resting after an emotionally exhausting dream-walk with Kodiak to help her heal. Had Lanie or Wyatt carried her? Had Lanie tucked her in? And ... had she really healed, or started healing? She didn't feel different inside.
The insistent knock destroyed any further reminiscence of those memories. Instead, she pulled back the covers and, pulling on her robe, walked to the door, her eyes still only half-open.
The soft shriek of delight was loud enough to cause Evvie to groan in protest and pull her pillow over her head. "Ohmygod, ohmygod, onmygod!" Kayda squealed over and over, leaping into Debra's waiting arms, her lips eagerly seeking those of her soul-mate. Their kiss was long and passionate, a tender and yet frenetic renewal of their mutual love.
"Ahem," a voice sounded beside Debra, interrupting their reunion after a couple of magical minutes.
Kayda backed off from Debra slowly, unwilling to let go of her partner, or to cease feeling her lips caressing Debra's and vice-versa. But she knew, from the interruption, that Debra was not alone. "Mom?" Kayda asked, goggling at her mother who stood patiently in the hallway, watching Debra and Kayda's enthusiastic reunion with a bemused smile.
"Did you save any hugs for me?" June asked wryly, stretching out her arms toward her daughter.
In response, Kayda reluctantly left Debra's arms and let her mom encircle her as only a mother could, her hug showing love and comfort and safety. "What ... what are you doing here?" Kayda asked when her brain caught up.
"If you think I'm going to stay at home while my daughter ..."
"And my girlfriend," Debra interrupted to add.
"... is under investigation and suspicion, then you're crazy." June clung tightly to Kayda again. "When I heard what you were going through ...."
"Wait," Kayda interjected, her eyes narrowed. "You know? Who told you?" She shook her head. "Mrs. Carson couldn't," she noted, "because of the neutrality requirement."
"I know. But someone from the school was still required by policy to contact us. Michiko ... er, Mrs. Shugendo ... told me all about Mrs. Carson's position when she called to tell me what was going on."
"The question is," Debra added, clutching Kayda's hand like she never, ever wanted to let go again, "how are you doing?"
"I'm fine," Kayda replied simply.
Debra frowned and looked knowingly at her. "You weren't 'fine'," she said. "You had your magic sealed and lost touch with your spirits. That's pretty serious. So how are you really doing?"
Kayda sighed, half-smiling and shaking her head. "I ...." She closed her eyes, recalling some of the awful moments, and an involuntary shudder coursed through her. "It was hell!" she finally said, her voice trembling as she fought tears from the memory of the horrible feeling of being alone. "I ... I felt so lost and alone, and so terribly vulnerable."
"You're okay now, sweetie," Debra said, hugging Kayda again.
A couple of doors down, a girl in a robe emerged and, her eyes on the trio in the hall, walked to the bathroom.
"I suppose we should step in the room, but I'm afraid of waking Evvie," Kayda said, wincing at the two bad options. "On the other hand, in a few minutes, this place will be Grand Central Station with girls heading for the showers."
"Then we'll go back to the guest cottages where your dad is catching up on the news," Mom announced definitively. "So we can get ready for breakfast, and you can get ready here. Then we'll meet you at Crystal Hall."
May 9th, 2007 - Early Morning
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Why were all the boys and girls staring at you?" Dad asked as they sat at Kayda's usual table. None of the Ghost Walkers were there yet, so it was just the four of them. "I can understand the boys; after all, you are a very lovely young lady ...."
Kayda drew a deep breath to steady herself; despite all her efforts, it was still so hard to emulate Lanie and not care that she was being stared at. "The ... rape ... came up in the hearing, so pretty much everyone at school knows now," she said softly, feeling her cheeks flushing. "And ... my alibi ...."
Debra put her hand on Kayda's, squeezing it lovingly and reassuringly. "Kayda and our mutual friend Lanie were lured to the sweat lodge," she explained, saving Kayda the embarrassment of having to tell her folks that she'd had sex with the redhead. But it was still awkward coming from Kayda's girlfriend. "They were exposed to lust essence from a demon, and," she winced at the mental image of Kayda and Lanie in a sixty-nine position, pleasuring each other, "they had sex."
"Darren - Speakeasy - set it up and taped it to humiliate me. According to the kid who killed Heyoka, he wanted to shame me into leaving Whateley even if I managed to get out of the murder rap." Kayda winced.
"I presume, from your reaction," Dad said without criticism in his voice, "that also was revealed in the hearing?" Kayda nodded mutely.
Debra rescued the mood by taking Kayda's cheeks in her hands. "So if everyone knows you're a lesbian, I can do this." She pulled herself into a serious lip-lock with Kayda, who promptly blushed so hard that she was afraid she was glowing red. But she returned the kiss, because she couldn't refute Debra's logic.
At a table across from them, three boys sat, one of whom had a red demon-looking girl hanging all over him. The largest boy - a solid-looking brick that Kayda knew as truck, wrinkled his nose. "Oh, get a room!"
Debra fully expected Kayda to flinch or otherwise be embarrassed by the none-too-subtle comment. Instead, she held her head high and looked straight at Truck. "After classes, maybe," she said, not giving him the pleasure of intimidating her.
A moment later, a boy and girl walked up to the table, looking nervously at the adults seated with Debra and Kayda. "Morning, Laurie," Kayda greeted the girl cheerfully. "Adrian. Please join us. These are my parents," she introduced Mom and Dad. "And you know my girlfriend Debra." She turned to her parents. "Adrian and Laurie are on my training team."
"Which one?" Debra asked with a knowing smile.
"The Ghost Walkers," Kayda answered as four more girls walked up and plopped down.
"Good thing we got a big table," Evvie chuckled. "I presume these are your parents?"
"Is Vasiliy coming, or is he off chasing Chat Bleu again?" Kayda asked with a light laugh.
"He's with the Berets," Adrian answered with a chuckle. "He said some guy thing that was pretty stupid, she got upset, and now he's trying to make amends to her."
"These are my parents," Kayda said to everyone. "Mom, Dad, these are most of the rest of my training team. Evvie is my roommate," she began.
"We've talked a lot," Mom said. "It's nice to finally meet you in person."
"And Naomi, who's a sophomore. She's a gadgeteer like me."
"I'm just a Gadgeteer-1," Naomi protested. "Not a 5 like you!"
Kayda laughed, as did Adrian and Laurie. "Don't let her false modesty fool you. She's known as Freeze Frame for a reason - she's a wiz behind a camera, and she makes fantastic gadgets and inventions for photography."
Kayda continued around the table. "You know Addy, and this is her roommate Alicia Thacker - Headrush."
Mom's eyes widened and she smiled. "Are you the one Kayda is going to spend part of the summer with?"
"Yes, ma'am," Alicia replied with a huge grin. "It's nice to meet y'all. Mah parents and Ah are lookin' forward to Kayda visitin' this summer."
Mom looked around the table, and it was clear that her eyes were misting. "I ... I want to thank you all for being such wonderful friends for my daughter," she said, her voice choking. "I've heard so much about you before all of this ... stuff, and I know Kayda couldn't have a better group of friends supporting her."
Kayda's cheeks flushed. "Mo-om!" she protested, "you're embarrassing me!"
Pete Franks laughed aloud. "That's a parent's job," he said. "So you'll have to deal with it."
"What are you going to do while I'm in classes?" Kayda asked to change the subject.
"Michiko suggested that we follow along since we're here," Mom explained. "I was worried about disrupting everything, but she said that since we know all about powers and stuff, it'd be a green flag day - whatever that is - and nobody would really care."
A dour expression came over Kayda's face. "You're going to embarrass me!" she protested.
That elicited a chuckled from Debra. "Oh, so you're not embarrassed kissing me in public anymore, but you are embarrassed of your parents tagging along?" The others got a hearty chuckle, while Debra squeezed Kayda's hand under the table reassuringly.
"I'm ... I'm glad you came," Kayda said, feeling her own voice crack. "It's ... it's a little easier to think of all I went through when I know - now - that you were trying to get out here for me."
"You're our daughter," Pete said firmly and proudly. "We couldn't have done any less."
May 9th, 2007
Laird Hall, Whateley Academy
"Wait up, Kayda!" The call was from behind the Lakota girl, so she paused and turned to see who was calling after her. The trio of Franks and Debra turned almost as one to the sound.
"Hi, Adalie," June Franks said warmly as the speedster hurried to catch them, quick-stepping would have been a full-out sprint for a baseline. "Don't tell me you have the same class as Kayda?"
"Oui, Madame Franks," Adalie said in her sexy French accent. She couldnt help it; she could be yelling angrily at a person and it would have sounded sexy. "And Alicia is in our basic martial arts class, too."
June's eyebrows rose. "The same Alicia from breakfast? The Alicia you're traveling with this summer?"
Kayda nodded. "Yeah."
"I hope you aren't planning to have as much excitement in France this summer as you did in South Dakota on Spring Break, are you?" June asked in rusty but passable French.
Addy's eyebrows arched. "Kayda, you never told me your mother could speak French!"
Kayda was gawking at her mother. "Huh?" she stammered. "Mom, why didn't you tell me you spoke French?"
June shrugged. "It never came up," she said. "Besides, my high school French is probably pretty atrocious. I haven't used it in years."
"Non, Madame Franks," Addy said, wide-eyed at Kayda's mom, "your French is quite good."
"Much better than the Cajun-accented French Alicia speaks," Kayda added with a chuckle. "They speak a variant of French in her home in Louisiana - it's quite ... unique."
Pete Franks held open the door to Laird Hall for the women, following behind them as they entered the gym. A swarm of students was about to leave, and behind them, on the sidewalk, another herd was approaching in the inter-period rush-hour.
Debra gently took Mrs. Franks' elbow and turned her toward a set of double doors. "We'll go into the gym to watch; the girls need to get changed first."
Inside the locker room, Kayda found herself wrapped in Alicia's arms. "Ah'm so glad you're back in class wit' us," she said. Her smile and hug were as genuine as her thick Cajun accent.
"We better hurry and get out to the mat so we don't get in trouble," Kayda reminded her friends. They quickly changed into their gis and scurried out to the edge of the mat, getting into seiza position with about fifteen seconds to spare. Kayda glanced nervously toward her parents and Debra, managing to give them a smile despite feeling nervous, like she always did in martial arts.
"I see our resident dyke decided to grace us with her presence," Long John, one of the less bright and more bigoted students sneered just loud enough that Kayda would hear.
If he'd been intending to get a reaction, he succeeded, but not the one he intended. Alicia and Addy were indignant; Alicia was starting to make a move like she was going to rise but Kayda put her hand on Alicia's arm, shaking her head to dissuade the girl.
"I always heard that guys with fancy code names were compensating for something," Kayda replied, her voice trembling a bit but determined to emulate her hero Lanie. "With a name like Long John, I think we can all figure out what you're compensating for."
"Ooooh, burn!" a couple of people chuckled, while some of the girls giggled at the way Kayda had slammed Long John.
"When we spar, I'm going to make you regret those words," Long John, his face practically glowing cherry-red, snapped furiously, "you muff-diving bitch!"
One of the very hetero girls winked at Kayda before turning to the offending asshole. "Dude," she hissed at Long John, "I think it's safe to say that any of the straight girls here like me would happily take an x-rated, lesbian romp with Kayda before even kissing a cretin like you!"
"I'll ...." Long John started to stand.
"Do you have something you wish to share with the class?" Sensei Tolman demanded as she and Ito walked out onto the mat, catching Long John completely by surprise. "Or are you volunteering early for a demonstration?"
Long John goggled at the instructors. "I was just .... she .... they ...," he stammered. When it finally sank in that he was looking foolish, he sank back to the mat. "No, Sensei," he mumbled, realizing belatedly that those were the safest words to say.
"We will begin with sparring to see how well you learned your lessons from the past two days," Ito said. "Count off by threes and go to the appropriate circle." As Tolman watched the students counting, Ito walked directly to Kayda. "After your ... ordeal, are you able to spar today?"
Kayda nodded. "Yes, Sensei," she said a little nervously.
"You learned the techniques two weeks ago in the advanced class, so you will not be at a disadvantage."
"I understand the ramifications of what this weekend may have done to your powers and to you physically and emotionally. You will go with Headrush. If you feel any unusual ... aftereffects from this weekend, you are to stop immediately. Do you understand?"
"Headrush, I expect you to watch Pejuta. If you sense anything wrong, you are to stop the match. Clear?"
"Yes, Sensei," the Cajun girl said hesitantly. She realized that she was responsible for Kayda's safety, and she gulped at the implications of that.
When they got to the third sparring circle, the girls each joined a separate line. One student from the head of each line went into the ring, and the two students went through drills breaking grapples, as they'd been taught, with each student alternately playing the attacker and victim.
When it was Kayda's turn, she saw that her opponent was Alicia. She relaxed a bit - doing this drill with Alicia wouldn't be stressful at all. Bowing to each other, the two girls assumed their positions, with Kayda as the first victim.
"Y'all okay?" Alicia whispered as she got into position.
"I never thought I'd be glad to be in this class," Kayda retorted with a smile.
"Hajime," the drafted 'referee' called out. Before she even knew what happened, Alicia was on the ground, one arm stretched out almost painfully and Kayda's elbow in her windpipe. She dutifully slapped the mat.
"Reverse positions." The two changed roles, and when the ref called out 'hajime', Kayda grappled Alicia from behind. It took her a bit longer to break the hold. After doing the other two grapples, the two bowed out of the ring for the next pair of students.
Kayda pulled Alicia to the side. "Anna and Ayla showed me a trick in fourth period," she said softly to her friend. She proceeded to demonstrate how to shift one foot, thrusting her hip into the attacker, to get more leverage.
The students went through another round, and because the lines weren't the same length, the opponents were being changed with every round. Kayda was pleased to see Alicia had paid attention, and she was able to almost instantly break the first grapple. She got up from the mat grinning, giving Kayda a thumbs-up.
The next pair of students went to the ring to demonstrate, and Kayda looked across at the other line. Long John stood ready, a look of grim determination to get revenge on his face. For a brief moment, Kayda felt a chill through her as the panic started to rise.
"We are one. Together we are strong," she said to herself in her dream space. Her Brandon-self stood, looking paralyzed with fear. But her Kayda-self reached out to take his hand. "Together we are strong," her Kayda-self repeated. Hesitantly, her Brandon-self took her hand and stepped toward her Kayda-self, stepping into the Kayda-self until they were again one.
Kayda came out of her dream space feeling eerily calm. She closed her eyes a second and took a breath to center herself, and then when the 'ref' indicated that it was her turn, she stepped into the ring.
Long John knew he'd easily win. The dyke always freaked out when she had to fight guys, and now everyone on campus knew why. All he had to do was to grapple her and she'd be paralyzed by fear, and he could then slam her around as retribution for her insults. He'd show the bitch.
When Kayda turned her back, as the form required, Long John grinned. At the call of 'hajime', he moved quickly, cheating a bit by stretching even though powers were not supposed to be used. The girl was in his grasp, and he felt her tense - a prelude to her panic attack. He slipped his hand down her chest, deliberately and provocatively cupping her breasts to drive her completely into her panic attack.
It should have worked. A day earlier, it would have worked. What no-one but Wyatt, Kayda, and Lanie knew was that the Kodiak's healing, though emotionally difficult, had helped Kayda immensely.
After a brief moment of terror at being groped, Kayda forcibly pushed away the threatened PTSD panic attack and reacted with a bit of an edge since she'd practiced these moves in her advanced tutoring, albeit with girls. Faster than he knew what was happening, Long John was on the ground, his arm stretched quite painfully, and Kayda's elbow was pressing hard into his throat. "Don't do that again," Kayda hissed very softly but very menacingly in his ear. Startled, he slapped the mat.
Alicia, monitoring Kayda, saw Long John copping a feel, but even as she was starting to react to protect her friend, Kayda turned the tables on the offending boy, flattening him to the mat in obvious discomfort.
Kayda played her role as attacker, and Long John demonstrated that he had much still to learn, but he did manage to clumsily break the grapple. Feeling more confident, Kayda lined up for the second form. This time, Long John was genuinely angry. The dyke had to be humiliated for insulting him so impudently. No matter what it took, she was going down!
When the ref called 'hajime' again, he moved quickly, his stretching helping him grapple more quickly and more tightly. This time, though, to thoroughly humiliate the lesbian bitch, he got her in a tight hold across the chest with one hand, his hand firmly cupping her breast, and his other hand slid down toward her crotch.
Having defeated a PTSD attack moment before, Kayda simply reacted. This time, Long John flipped onto his back, but instead of rolling him over her hip as normal, Kayda put a little extra into the move, tossing him instead, one of his arms firmly in her grasp. As he fell toward the mat, she stretched his extended arm, twisted her own body, and brought her knee down firmly on the boy's outstretched arm. The sickening crack was audible to all in that sparring circle, and the kids flinched from what they'd seen, even as Long John screamed at the sudden pain of a shattered arm.
"Yame!" Alicia cried as soon as she saw the boy copping a feel again, followed a moment later by the 'ref' saying the same when he heard the bone snap.
"What's going on here?" Sensei Tolman yelled as she dashed to the third ring, drawn by the scream of pain from an injured student. The students parted like the Red Sea to let her through.
"That rug-munching bitch deliberately broke my arm," Long John screamed, his eyes watering from the pain.
Kayda stood as calmly as she could, still fighting to prevent a panic attack at how she'd been deliberately groped. "Yes, I did," she said in a shaky voice to Sensei Tolman. "I warned him the first time he inappropriately touched my breasts. When he touched me inappropriately the second time in the practice, I did as you instructed and took corrective action." She glanced to the side, to where her parents and Debra were watching. She saw the horrified looks on her parents' faces, and knew she was going to hear about this. At the same time, though, Deb gave her a quick nod to acknowledge her actions and then leaned close to Mrs. Franks to explain the situation.
"Ah saw him ... tryin' to cop a feel," Alicia spoke up, pushing her way to the front. "And it looked like he was goin' to touch her ...." she broke off, a little embarrassed.
"That's a lie!" Long John protested, his good arm clutching at the broken one.
"I saw him doing it, too" one of the other girls spoke up. "He does it to the rest of us all the time." A couple of other girls nodded their agreement.
"That's not true," the boy protested.
"You have a choice right now," Sensei Tolman said, looking down on the offending boy. "You can continue to deny what they say you did, which will result in the instructors and a security team reviewing the tapes which, due to prior incidents, now record all of the class. If the statements from the girls are accurate, you will automatically fail this class, and you will be at the very least given significant detention." She let that soak in for a moment. "Or you can admit that you inappropriately touched Kayda, apologize, learn a lesson, and go to Doyle to get your arm treated."
Long John glared at Kayda, but as his brain processed his options, he realized that he really didn't have a choice. "Sorry," he grumbled, not looking up at the girl.
Sensei Tolman glared at him for the insincerity of his apology. "This will go into your training records, so if there is a repeat offense, the girls are justified in reacting to counter the unwanted contact." She looked around and saw the boys gulping. Satisfied, she pointed to Moebius. "Take him over to Doyle for treatment."
As Moebius helped the stricken Long John off the mat, Sensei Tolman looked around. "Boys, take a lesson here. Martial Arts is not an excuse to cop a feel - or otherwise inappropriately touch any of the girls. Accidents happen. When it's deliberate, though, a girl so touched has the choice of reporting the offense to me or applying her own countermeasures." She saw them all saw them pale, while some of the girls smiled wickedly. "Girls, a warning - accidental contact will occur. If you take this as license to injure one of the boys, you will be punished instead. Clear?"
It was the girls' turn to gulp. "Yes, sensei," they said nervously.
"You have to use your judgment. If you aren't sure, tell one of your instructors. But if it's clearly deliberate and repeated ...." She looked at the boys. "Many of these girls can apply sufficient force that even your ... cup ... won't protect you. Remember that."
She looked around the students. "Okay, resume the exercise. Kayda, a word."
Nervously, Kayda glanced at Alicia, and then quick-stepped to the instructor's side. "Yes, Sensei?"
"Was this a result of a panic attack?" she asked, gazing evenly at the Lakota girl.
"No, ma'am," Kayda replied meekly, still trembling a bit from the encounter. "The first time, I warned him. The second time, when he started reaching for my ... crotch, I very deliberately decided to correct him. I ... I fought off a panic attack," she explained, slowly getting her shakes under control. At least now, though, she now had some confidence that she could control them.
Sensei Tolman arched an eyebrow. "Are you implying that your PTSD is cured?"
Kayda winced. "I don't know for sure, but I think so. Mosty." She read the dubious expression on her instructor's face. "The Kodiak helped me - in my dream space. To directly confront the cause."
"Very well. After what happened today, I would prefer you not spar with any boys until Dr. Bellows authorizes it, but from the description of the event, I'd say you've made remarkable progress."
Kayda nodded. "Mrs. Carson noted that I was almost classified a rager because of my PTSD episodes. If that had happened, the MCO ...." She shuddered involuntarily at the 'what if' scenario.
"I understand. Then Mr. Cody has done you a very big favor."
"Yes, Sensei." Kayda glanced at her parents and Debra, and saw her mother give her a tentative nod, acknowledging if not fully understanding what Kayda had done. Debra was talking to her dad, explaining to him what she'd just explained to her mom. While they were no doubt startled how she could so deliberately injure the attacker, she realized from the look on Deb's face that eventually they'd understand. Then again, given her dad's lessons on bullies and fighting back, maybe it wouldn't take long at all.
"Then get back to practice." Sensei Tolman watched with satisfaction as the girl gave her a quick bow and hurried back to the sparring circle. Good progress, indeed.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2007, Late Afternoon
Arena 99, Whateley Academy
The kids sat in the chairs behind their tables nervously. Even Stonebear, as big and powerful as he was, found the situation intimidating - which was precisely the effect that Gunny Bardue intended.
"So it's similar to the scenario you ran on Sunday - a traditional buffalo hunt." He glowered at Kayda. "Who's in charge?" he demanded, looking alternately between her, Mule, and Stormwolf.
"Don't look at me," Stormwolf said with a wry grin. "I'm a part-timer with the group, and I'm only here because hunting buffalo sounded like fun."
"Um," Kayda winced under Gunny's blistering gaze, "where are we hunting?"
"Where are you hunting?" Bardue exclaimed. "What difference does that make? You're hunting goddamned buffalo! Does it make any difference if it's in Central Park or outside Kansas City?"
"Yes, it does," Kayda replied uneasily. She was beginning to have second thoughts about sims with the Nations and agreeing to be on the Ghost Walkers after she'd been assigned to Team Phoenix. She was going to get a triple-dose of Gunny's sadism. "Whoever is most familiar with the area should be leader."
"Mule?" Gunny demanded.
"Standard procedure would be that person would be intelligence officer for the operation, providing information as required to the leader," the Grunt replied curtly.
Kayda frowned. "Last time I was in a sim, you got mad that I wasn't leading, because the setting was in the plains that I was familiar with."
"So just because I say something, it's automatically true? You don't have to think and research and make your own decision based on your own situational assessment?" Bardue demanded.
Kayda wilted under his brutal commentary. "I ... I'm not a military tactician," she said defensively.
"No, but you're a campus leader, aren't you?" He saw a tiny nod from Kayda. "Then lead! Who's in charge?"
"I ... I am," she replied uneasily. "Where are we hunting, so I know who to count on for intel?"
Gunny arched an eyebrow. She was learning. "Yellowstone basin territory near the Tetons."
"Wyoming?" Kayda glanced around. "Lupine, you're intelligence lead."
"Your objective is to kill at least four bison to feed your tribe, which is waiting at camp, hungry and anxious to eat what you manage to kill. Loss of more than one warrior is unacceptable casualties."
"What other tribes are in the area that we might bump into?" Kayda asked, her eyes narrow.
Gunny shot a quick glance at Sam; this girl learned her lesson from her last simulation. "No other tribes."
"Others? US Cavalry? Trappers or traders? Any other humans?"
Gunny drew himself up to full height, giving a withering gaze to Kayda. "No commander has ever gotten perfect intel of a situation before an engagement. What makes you so special that you think you're entitled to it?" He glared at her for a couple of seconds, long enough for her to flinch from his chastisement. "Do you want me to promise you won't bump into a wagon train heading to Oregon, too?" he added sarcastically.
Kayda winced at his sarcasm. "Lupine? What might we face?"
Lupine, in her human form, looked at the gunnery sergeant. "What time of year?"
"Bears will be at higher elevations, then," Lupine reported her outlook on the situation. "Elk and deer aren't in rut, so they should avoid our party. Calving is over for the bison, but the mothers will be very protective of their calves. Biggest danger is probably rattlers."
Kayda nodded and then looked back at Bardue. "Limits on powers?"
"Lupine's shifting, your shaman magic, and brick strength. Others - no."
The kids collectively winced. They knew from his reputation that if he was okaying brick-level durability, this was not going to be a routine buffalo hunt.
"Any other questions?" He looked around the room with a stare that almost dared someone else to ask another question. "You'll be mounted, with traditional weapons. Bows, lances, tomahawks, knifes." He pushed a button on a remote and a display came to life on the front wall. "You're starting here," he pointed at a spot on the map. Kayda frowned - the expedition was in a mountain valley in a meadowed area on either side of a large stream.
"Shit!" Hardsell swore softly in the back row.
"You have a comment, Mr. Hershel?" Gunny glared at the boy.
Hardsell gulped at the sudden unwanted attention. He hadn't intended that his muttered oath be overheard. "Uh, yes," he said hesitantly. "That setup is a perfect trap - and I don't mean for the buffalo."
Gunny smiled a particularly evil smile. "Nevertheless, that's where a herd has been spotted, and your poor, starving families back in their tepees are counting on you to bring back some food." He looked around. "Any other questions?" Seeing none, he continued. "Okay, go to your sim suites."
With nervously eager smiles, Kayda, Mule, Pristine, Lifeline, Hardsell, Lupine, Stonebear, and Stormwolf noisily pushed back their chairs and filed through the door toward the A set of sim suites. Gunny waited until all of them were inside their suites before he closed the door to the corridor.
Sam clicked on a button. "Did you hear?"
"Every word," came the answer.
"You have to give Kayda credit," a second voice said. "She's learned pretty quickly that you're sneaky and devious."
"Well, we are supposed to be teaching them to be on their toes," Sam commented dryly.
Gunny sat down and fiddled with the keyboard. "Are these acceptable insert points?"
There was a momentary pause. "Yeah, that looks good. She won't risk trying to stampede the herd up the canyon. Trapped bison turn into a ton and a half of horns, hooves, and real bad attitude. They'd be too dangerous if they got cornered."
"I'd say 'have fun', but I know you will," Gunny chuckled.
The mountain-fresh air, wafting on a gentle breeze down from the upper slopes, the sun warming their faces in the still-cool late morning air, the splendor of the snow-capped, pine-forested mountains as a backdrop - all of this combined to distract the team as soon as they appeared in the sim scenario. It was an idyllic situation - their sim a perfect replica of the mountains around the Yellowstone and the Tetons which reached up from the flatter ground of the Yellowstone basin to the northeast.
Kayda immediately looked around, suspicious that such a setting was a clever trap laid by Gunny Bardue. She looked around quickly to ensure that the entire party was present, and then having satisfied herself, she reached out to the sky spirit and the earth spirit to 'feel' if there were any dangers nearby.
"Gunny is up to something," she said softly.
"Of course he's up to something," Mule replied as if it was a dumb question. "It's Gunny."
"It'd be just like him to have a cavalry detachment trap us, or another tribe's raiding party catch us here." Lupine shook her head. "I don't like being hemmed in on the sides like this. It feels ... confining."
"Well, he did say no other people would be in the simulations," Pristine added to the discussion."
"No, he didn't," Stonebear corrected her. "He very specifically didn't answer that question."
"We should get some scouts out," Mule brought the discussion back to the situation at hand.
"Your thoughts?" Kayda asked the more experienced tactician.
"A scout on the hills - there," he pointed to one side of the canyon, "and there." He pointed to the other. "The south side looks pretty steep though. And that hill should give us a view up and down the valley."
"Agreed. Hardsell?" Kayda pointed to the south ridge. "See if you can spot anything. Mule? The north side?" The two designated scouts nodded and urged their ponies on. "Lupine, can you scout up the canyon? Not more than a mile." She looked to another team member. "Stonebear, scout down the canyon about a mile."
Stormwolf dismounted and walked toward the stream that ran down the valley, studiously examining the ground and vegetation. In a few moments, he came back. "Bison tracks," he said curtly. "Going upstream. I didn't see any coming back down."
In another minute or two, during which Kayda felt the air and earth spirits, Lupine came back down the valley. "I didn't see them, but with the wind coming down the mountains, I could smell bison. And the tracks going upstream are pretty fresh."
The group waited until the scouts returned. "Nothing downstream."
"Can't see anything from the south ridge."
"Nothing from the north ridge, either."
"Okay, let's go up the canyon," Kayda decided. "Stormwolf, Stonebear, you go along the ridges to flank them. Mule, Pristine, you hang back a bit - just in case Gunny pulls something nasty from behind us. Lupine, scout ahead of us."
After the scouts dispersed to their assigned locations, Lifeline, Hardsell, and Kayda began to ride slowly up the valley. After a minute or so, Kayda gestured to Hardsell to move ahead a bit.
"I'm waiting for Gunny's surprise," Lifeline said in a low voice. "He wouldn't just give us a simple exercise."
"Yeah, so I've heard," Kayda answered. "Since we've got a bit of privacy, what's going on with you and Lanie?"
Lifeline stiffened visibly on her pony. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"She's your best friend," Kayda wasn't going to let this opportunity go.
"Lanie was. That ... evil thing ... that possessed her isn't." There was no mistaking the vehemence in Lifeline's voice and her disdain for Grizzly.
"Grizzly is not evil, Lifeline," Kayda tried to reassure the girl.
"Bullshit!" Lifeline said angrily. "She's fooled you, too! Just like she fooled Mrs. Carson and Circe. But I know - and I'm going to get proof so Lanie can be saved!"
"Lifeline," Kayda pleaded gently, "do you think a spirit would be able to fool Mrs. Carson? Or Circe? Do you honestly think that Mrs. Carson wouldn't apply a can of whoop-ass on a spirit if it had ill intent toward Lanie?"
"Did that thing tell you to convince me that it was harmless to her?"
"It is harmless!" Kayda countered. It was like arguing with a tree. "I know! I met Grizzly when we dream-walked! Grizzly swore an oath, binding herself to the contract of Solomon, that she wasn't going to harm Lanie."
"And you got tricked into helping so she could be possessed," Lifeline accused. "But I know you thought you were helping her because that thing tricked you, too. So I don't blame you. It's all that thing that possessed her."
Stung by Lifeline's erroneous - and hurtful - accusation, Kayda nonetheless continued. "As a shaman, I can help you dream-walk so you can meet Grizzly, so you can see that Lanie is still Lanie and isn't possessed."
All the color drained from Lifeline's face. "If you think I'm going anywhere near the spirit world after that ... that ... that thing possessed Lanie, then you're crazy!"
"Lifeline," Kayda tried to reason with the girl, "you know the shaman traditions. Dream-walking has been done for thousands of years by shamans. It's perfectly safe." The scowl didn't abate in the slightest. "You can see for yourself that Lanie is still herself, still the enthusiastic, legalistic, sometimes reckless bundle of energy she always was."
"At least talk to Lanie," Kayda urged. "Please? She's still your best friend, and you, of all people, should know how terrified she was after Kodiak messed with her mind, changed her memories, and got her to do nasty things to someone last year. She needed to feel safe from that ever happening again. Grizzly gives her that protection so she's not afraid anymore."
"You're just trying to defend your lover," Lifeline tried a different tack to counter.
Kayda sighed heavily. "You know Lanie better than that!" Kayda said sternly. Maybe the stern parent approach would get through to her.
"I know that she was shagging Songbird all last year, so her taking you as a lover isn't surprising to me!"
"She is not my lover," Kayda repeated, stronger. "It was the lust-demon essence, just like was explained in the hearing." She sighed. "She still loves you as a dear, best friend, and she's hurting terribly inside because you're rejecting her."
That thought actually seemed to make Lifeline pause to think. "It's all an act by that bear-thing," she reasserted. "Someday, you'll see how wrong you are, how you've been fooled. I just hope it's not too late for her, that I can save her in time." She kicked her horse's flank lightly, urging it forward toward Hardsell and away from Kayda, who was shaking her head slowly. Lifeline was being so stubborn, but she didn't understand why.
Further thought on the subject was halted when Lupine and Hardsell stopped, signaling for quiet. In moments, Mule and Pristine caught up, and shortly after Hardsell made a bird call, Stormwolf and Stonebear joined them.
"Fifteen adults, three calves," Lupine reported. "They're just around the bend ahead."
Kayda bit her lower lip as she thought. "What do you think?" she asked, looking first to Stormwolf and then to Mule. "Should we chase them up the valley?" She winced. "Not knowing the terrain, that one bothers me - we might end up chasing them for miles."
"We do know the territory we've been on," Stormwolf said, looking around. "This would be a good place to ambush them," he said. "It's wide, mostly flat, and would give us room to maneuver our horses."
Mule nodded in agreement. "Yeah, get a couple of scout to circle them and stampede them downstream, and we can ambush them here, where we're at least a little familiar with the terrain we're fighting on. I'd hate to corner them somewhere and have those things turn on us. You should have seen the last time we tried this. Those things are dangerous when they get riled."
"You picking up anything unusual?" Lupine asked.
Kayda closed her eyes for a moment, better to concentrate on the sky and earth spirits. "Nothing but normal wildlife." She frowned. "I thought I sensed the bear Mato, but it was fleeting." She shook her head. "I can't be sure, but there might be a bear around here."
Lupine frowned. "They should be in the upper elevations now."
"Okay - Mule, circle to their left to get behind them. Lupine, to the right. We'll back into the tree line so we're hidden, and once they start running downstream, we'll hit them from both flanks." She looked around. "Remember, the goal is four bison down, and no losses. Let's move out."
Hardsell, Stormwolf, and Lifeline wheeled their ponies toward the tree-line on the left, while Kayda, Stonebear, and Pristine moved to the right and the two scouts - Mule and Lupine - moved upslope to circle behind the herd.
The slope was steeper than Mule had anticipated, and he debated for a moment leaving his horse and going afoot. But then he'd have to get his horse, and he'd be too slow to help with the kill once the herd started moving. Carefully, he guided the animal to where he thought the slope would be easier, giving the horse enough rein that it could choose its own path.
His horse was skittish, and it suddenly stopped. Mule heard something from the massive boulders to his left, but before he could do anything, a massive bear darted, startling the horse, which reared and threw Mule. Before he could clamber back to his feet, the bear reared up over him.
Mule tried to draw a knife or tomahawk, but the bear grinned at him. "You lose," the bear said, and in a sickening instant, Mule knew what had happened. Still, he tried, but a massive swipe from the bear's paw smacked into him, knocking him brutally into the rocks. His simulator helmet went black.
Lupine arrived at the upper end of a small meadow, behind the small herd, and she waited for Mule to join her. After several minutes, she frowned. Could something have happened to Mule?
Something about this smelled like a setup. Dismounting, she changed into her wolf form - and immediately she smelled something. She barely had time to react to dodge the charging bear, and when it continued to chase her, she figured the only thing was to go back to the group and get more firepower. She darted downstream, the bear close at her heels, right toward the buffalo herd.
One of the herd saw the approaching wild animals - both of which could be dangerous, and it bellowed, turning instinctively to run away from the oncoming threat. Others followed, and the herd began to stampede down the canyon, away from the wolf and the bear.
Kayda heard the thundering hooves almost at the same time she sensed the oncoming herd through the earth spirit. Immediately she made a bird call to alert her team. She shifted her weight on her horse, eager to run in the chase. It would only be seconds now. The buffalo came into view, running wildly right into their trap.
Just as she spurred her horse into motion, Kayda sensed Mato the bear on the other side of the small meadow - behind the other half of the team. And it was right on top of the team. "You son-of-a-bitch, Gunny!" she screamed in frustration
Across the meadow, the other trio were waiting for the signal when their horses skittered. Stormwolf heard - or sensed - something behind them, and he spun his head around to face whatever was behind them. He was startled - like his compatriots - to see a massive bear charging.
Without thinking, Stormwolf shot the arrow he had nocked at the bear, and though it stuck in the bear like a needle in a pin-cushion, it had no other effect. "I'll hold this thing off," he snarled as he vaulted off his horse, a tomahawk already in hand. "Go for our mission objectives!" The bear took a massive swipe at Stormwolf, which he dodged, countering with a mighty blow from his tomahawk on the bear's shoulder. It didn't seem to have had much effect other than to anger the bear - and to distract it for a brief moment, which gave Stormwolf enough time to switch the tomahawk to his left and draw a vicious-looking, long knife with his right.
"You wanna play rough?" the bear asked with a bemused grin, ignoring the blood on its fur. "Okay. Game on."
Stormwolf had a sinking feeling that he knew who the bear attacking him was. Screaming a warrior cry, he leaped, blades flashing, toward the bear, even though he knew it was probably hopeless.
As the herd thundered by, five riders converged from both sides. Kayda sat on her mount, guiding it with knee pressure as she picked out a large bull bison. Riding on a converging course, she drew back her bow, arrow nocked, and when she was certain, she fired.
The feather-fletched arrow, topped by a razor-sharp flint arrowhead, flew true, penetrating the tough hide, tearing up internal organs, and coming to rest in the animal's still-beating heart. The next beat of the animals heart contracted muscles onto the still-sharp flint, tearing the vital muscle even more, and the animal's motion jostled the arrow around, causing still more damage. In the space of a few seconds, the animal lost so much blood to internal bleeding that it crumpled to the ground.
Kayda wheeled her horse, already knocking a second arrow and looking for her team and trying to assess the situation. The roar of a bear carried over the thunder of hooves and the war-cries of her team; she stiffened. She _had_ sensed a bear. A quick read of the earth spirit revealed to her a battle between a warrior afoot and a very large bear across the meadow.
Startled by the appearance of a bear from seemingly nowhere, and urged on by Stormwolf, Lifeline spurred her pony out of the tree line and onto the meadow, charging toward the bison herd. She drew back the bowstring as she charged, feeling rather than seeing that Hardsell was right by her side. The duo headed toward the closest animal, and in the panic of the surprise bear attack and the adrenaline rush of the bison hunt, they failed to notice that the animal they'd selected was a cow - with a calf at her side.
Two arrows flew toward the buffalo cow, but neither Hardsell nor Lifeline were as accurate with the bow and arrow from a riding position as Kayda was; neither had really had time to practice. The arrows found the animal, but one stuck in the shoulder and the other stuck in the belly.
The wounded buffalo cow turned on her attackers, and while Lifeline was able to wheel, Hardsell, being close to Lifeline, wasn't so lucky. The cow's horn tore into Hardsell's horse, and a second angry flail of her head knocked Hardsell off the fatally-injured horse. His sim helmet went black as he cursed his own stupidity at being sandwiched between Lifeline and the buffalo cow.
Kayda wheeled to help Pristine, who had seriously wounded a bull, but she'd had to pull away when it charged at her. Her arrow flew, but she missed any vital organs, instead tearing into the huge animal's neck. It bellowed in pain, and as it thrashed about, the damage from Pristine's two shots took its toll; the animal slowly sank to its knees and then toppled.
Giving herself a moment after the second animal went down, Kayda looked around, and her heart sank. Lifeline was chasing a wounded cow, but behind her, Hardsell lay bloodied and still on the meadow beside his dead horse. Then she heard a bear roaring, but unlike the one she'd heard before, this one came from behind the herd. She turned, spotting Lupine running for her life, chased by a large reddish-brown bear.
Kayda knew instantly what Gunny had done. "Sunkce!" she screamed to no-one in particular, wheeling her pony and drawing a 'special' arrow. She fired over the top of Lupine, toward the bear. When it struck, not penetrating or doing serious damage, a brilliant flash of light erupted, dazzling the bear and temporarily blinding it.
While the bear staggered around, Kayda drew her bow and fired, and again, and yet a third time; all three arrows hit the bear, but none seriously. It was like throwing darts at an elephant; they stung and annoyed the bear, but did little real damage. The bear looked at her, changing direction from Lupine, and Kayda thought she saw a wicked grin on the bear's face. She had a sinking feeling; she was pretty certain that she knew exactly what Gunny had done to them.
Kayda hastily threw up her combo shield and ghost-walking spell, leaping from her horse. The spell wasn't big enough to protect both, and as long as she was on a visible horse, the bear would know precisely where she was. Tomahawks in hand, she moved a bit to the left of her horse and then charged the bear.
In the control room, Sam looked at Gunny. "Sunkce?" she asked.
"I've probably been called worse."
A quick look-up in the computer produced a translation for Sam. "She just called you dog-shit."
Gunny nodded. "Yup, I've been called worse." He grinned sadistically at how the simulation was unfolding.
Despite the invisibility cloak, the bear came almost unerringly toward Kayda. "Damn," she thought - it must be the bear's sense of smell. Pausing, winding up, she expertly threw a tomahawk, embedding it in the bear's shoulder as she drew Wakan Mila, her sacred knife.
"Dammit, Kayda, that hurt!" the bear roared, confirming for Kayda who she was being forced to fight.
She charged in toward Lanie, and she ducked below a wild swing from the bear, poking her knife viciously into the bear as she chopped with her tomahawk at the bear's skull. She'd heard that grizzly bear skulls were extremely tough, that even large-caliber pistol shots ricocheted off them, but she had to try. True to the stories, while she cut the bear across its forehead, she did almost no serious damage.
A real bear wouldn't have known how to triangulate two attacks and know where the invisible attacker must be. Lanie wasn't a real bear. She swiped with a massive, clawed paw, which impacted Kayda's shield. She realized, too late, that she'd invoked a spell that she'd meant to modify but hadn't yet taken the time to do so. The combination invisibility and shield protected her in a sphere, and like a billiard ball that had been struck, Kayda caromed across the meadow away from the bear, impacting on a large outcropping of rock.
Kayda was morosely shaking her head as the team filed into the debriefing room. Lifeline seemed ambivalent, Hardsell was pissed that he'd been killed, and Lupine and Mule were chuckling at how things had gone down. Pristine seemed quite contemplative, while Stormwolf and Stonebear seemed to be already mulling over the simulation and how they could have done things differently.
Moments later, Lanie and Wyatt came in, chuckling and high-fiving at their little fun adventure. When Maggie heard others coming in, she turned to look, giving Kayda hope that maybe, just maybe, she'd realize that Lanie was unchanged. But Maggie's posture stiffened, and she turned away deliberately, making sure her back was to Lanie. The redhead couldn't help but notice the intentional slight, and her smile inverted into a sad frown, her mood suddenly tempered by the knowledge that her former best friend was still distant and emotionally cold to her. Wyatt noticed the whole non-verbal exchange, and he carefully clasped his hand atop Lanie's, offering whatever support she could draw from his touch.
"Okay," Gunny barked from the front of the room to get attention, "that was the saddest performance I've seen in a long time. How the hell did Native Americans survive if that's the best you can do? Can one of you please tell me what the hell you people thought you were doing?"
Kayda glanced around her group nervously, and then sighed. "You gave us a scenario which was completely unrealistic."
"Oh? In what way?" Gunny asked, his eyes laser-beam focused on Kayda.
"Bears are territorial and are never encountered in groups. Kodiak bears are not native to the continental US, and further, at the time of year in question, bears migrate to the upper mountains to eat freshly-emerged vegetation and animals emerging from hibernation."
"Oh, so you're a wildlife expert now, are you?" Gunny asked sarcastically.
"No, but my spirit is, and after Lanie 'killed' me, I had time to speak with her in the spirit world while I was waiting for the sim to end. And I communed with Mato, the bear spirit. Your scenario was unrealistic."
"Interesting," Gunny said, looking thoughtful instead of delivering the verbal lashing that Kayda expected. "Okay. Five-hundred word analysis of the flaws in the scenario, due before your next sim or in one week, whichever comes first." Kayda's jaw dropped in shock. "Is there anything else you wish to note?"
"Yeah. How the hell did you expect me to stop a seven-and-a-half foot rampaging grizzly bear?"
Hardsell, seated on the opposite side of the room from Wyatt and Lanie, snorted derisively. "As soon as you knew it was Lanie, you could have started making out with her to distract her!" he said sarcastically.
On the other side of the room, Lanie giggled at the thought, while Wyatt scowled at Hardsell, letting him know non-verbally that he'd stepped way over the line. In the front row, Kayda's cheeks burned from embarrassment.
"Hardsell," Gunny boomed from the front of the room, "would you care to write a thousand-word essay analyzing the ways traditional Native American weapons could kill a grizzly bear?"
Hardsell flinched. From the reactions - most of which were a bit hostile, he knew he'd really stepped in it. "Uh, no," he said quickly. "I'm sorry."
"Too late for that," Gunny said with the mother of all frowns. "That's your assignment. Same deadline as Kayda."
"Let's look at the results. You were supposed to kill four bison and lose not more than one of your party," Sam took over the debrief, playing the 'good cop' to Gunny's 'bad cop'. "Instead, you killed two bison and lost five members of your party, and the rest had to flee, so in essence, you really got none of the game, correct?"
Kayda nodded glumly. "Yes."
"Where was the simulation?"
"In the Tetons, near Yellowstone," Lifeline answered, still stiffly turned away from Lanie.
"And what kind of bears are native to that area?" Sam continued the interrogation.
"Grizzlies," Kayda muttered angrily. "I checked the sky and earth spirits, and there were no bears in the area."
"What's the range of your ... spirit check?" Sam asked.
"A little over five hundred yards," Kayda replied.
"Call it five hundred yards. And assuming a grizzly bear is running at top speed, which is thirty miles per hour, how frequently would you need to check for bears?"
Kayda solved that one in her head. "Every thirty-four point oh-nine-one seconds." She saw Sam winding up with a follow-on. "But since they were spaced out, a bear could easily approach and attack a remote member before I had time to recognize its presence." She crossed her arms on the desk and dropped her head into the resulting cradle, shaking it slowly. "So I fucked up big time and it cost us the simulation," she muttered, angry with herself for a poor performance.
Sam sighed to herself; it was difficult to watch students being so hyper-self-critical when they were still learning and couldn't be expected to know and prepare for all situations. In a way, Kayda reminded Sam of Ayla - a student who was way too self-critical for her own good.
"Let's talk about what you guys did right," Sam continued, "before Gunny's surprise hit you."
"You should have seen the look on your face when you realized it was me!" Lanie giggled, walking between Wyatt and Kayda on their way to meet Kayda's parents in Crystal Hall for dinner. The sim had been squeezed in, and as such, they were a little late already, and rules prohibited the Franks from sitting in on the debrief.
"I did a lousy job," Kayda said, still moping over the critical assessment. "Anyone would have done better than me."
"You're still learning," Wyatt said, still in a light-hearted mood. "Nobody expects you to be perfect."
"Ah remember mah first sims," Lanie said, smiling. "Ah really messed up a few times, and Ah thought the team was going to throw me off." She chuckled. "Like the time Ah blew up New York City. If Ah hadn't been put on the team by Mrs. Carson, they would have thrown me off."
"Well, you have to remember that we'd had a big fight and you were still pretty pissed at me going into the sim," Wyatt reminded her gently.
"You've just gotta learn to expect the unexpected," Lanie said, wrapping her arm around Kayda's shoulder and pulling her close for a quick side-hug. "You won't make that mistake again, Ah guarantee it!"
"I'll just make one of thousands of new mistakes," Kayda said with a heavy sigh. She looked up at her redheaded friend. "And if I'd have remembered to modify my combo shield, I think I might have been able to take you instead of being bounced around like a ping-pong ball and knocked unconscious."
"Maybe we'll have to give that a try sometime," Lanie chuckled, which in turn elicited a soft laugh from Kayda. At least Lanie had broken through her self-doubt.
But Kayda was still mulling over what she'd done wrong as they walked silently for a bit. Including her attempted discussion with Lifeline. She knew she had to tell Lanie. "Um, Lanie?" she asked hesitantly.
"What?" Lanie couldn't help but notice the nervousness in Kayda's voice.
"I ...," Kayda began, but wasn't quite sure how to say it. "Um, when we had our scouts out," she cautiously continued, "I had a chance ...." She fidgeted a bit. "I, um, talked to Maggie," she blurted out, "and tried to explain to her that Grizzly wasn't possessing you, but that she was bound by the contract of Solomon, and that Mrs. Carson would have ripped Grizzly up if it meant you harm, and that you really hadn't ...."
"Whoa," Lanie said, raising a finger across Kayda's lips.
"I ... I hope you're not mad, but I wanted to try to make things right between you and Maggie, and I even offered to help her dream walk so she could meet you and Grizzly in the spirit world so she'd know that you were okay, because I feel like it's my fault, and ...."
"Hush," Lanie said. "Ah've tried to talk to her, too. She won't even come near me, let alone talk to me; she has her mind made up that Ah've been deceived and possessed. Worse, though," Lanie glanced around the tunnel, "is that Ah woke up manifesting Griz, and it terrified her. She has a bad phobia of GSD mutants, you know."
"I'm sorry if I did something wrong, but I know it hurts you, and I wanted to help ...."
Lanie nodded sadly. "Ah know. To be honest, Ah figured that the note to come to the sweat lodge was because you were goin' to try to fix things up between me and Maggie."
Kayda blushed at that memory; while parts of it were glorious, it was also quite humiliating. "I ... I might have."
Lanie gave Kayda a big side-hug. "Thanks for tryin'," she said warmly. "Ah know you care, and that means a lot to me, sister." She gave the shorter girl a quick peck on her forehead. "While you were restin', Wakan Tanka talked to me." She felt the Lakota girl start at that news. "She told me, and Ah quote, Wihakayda chose her best friend and sister well unquote." She smiled at the startled look on Kayda's face. "She told me you look up to me as your older sister, Ah think she called it cuwe, and you're mah taksi, mah younger sister." Lanie got a far-off look in her eye. "If you're mah sister, Ah wonder how mah mom is goin' to take the news that she's got a new daughter?"
Kayda goggled at Lanie's irreverent humor, and then started to smile. "Does this mean that Ah have to learn to talk with a Southern affectation to mah voice?" she asked, giggling.
"Or Ah could just start wearin' war paint and buckskin," Lanie giggled back. "Ah think Wyatt might like it if Ah wore buckskin the way you do."
Kayda slapped Lanie's arm playfully, noticing that Wyatt was looking at the redhead, waggling his eyebrows as he visualized Lanie in a short buckskin dress with a low-cut neckline. The mood lightened considerably, and the trio walked further toward Crystal Hall. Then Kayda thought of something. "You aren't going to start calling me ... Wihakayda ... like Wakan Tanka and Tatanka do, are you?" she asked, a little worried.
"Well, Ah might slip up now and again," Lanie chuckled. She saw the look of horror on Kayda's face at the thought of that nickname getting out. "But Ah promise Ah won't say it in public, okay?"
Kayda breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay, cuwe," she said with a contented smile. Her stomach rumbled softly, reminding her how late she was for dinner. "I hope they're serving something good," she mused.
"You want to know what's for dinner?" Lanie interrupted the silence with a grin. "'Cuz Wyatt and Ah can tell from here what they've cooked up."
"Assuming there's any left after the locusts went through the line," Wyatt chuckled.
"If your team has already eaten, come up to eat with us," Lanie invited.
"Okay," Kayda said. "But people might talk ...."
Lanie and Wyatt burst out laughing at that. "Ah heard how you put down that idiot Long John in martial arts. Ah think you can handle yourself if someone does say something." She gave her friend another squeeze of her shoulders. "Ah hope there's some meatloaf left," Lanie said. "After a workout like that, Ah'm starvin'!"
"Yeah, me too. Dad loves meatloaf." She smiled at Wyatt. "You two are going to love them."
"Won't it be a little ... awkward?" Lanie fretted. "They do know, don't they?"
Kayda shrugged, still smiling. "We're in high school. They think we're supposed to do stupid stuff. So yeah, I think they'll understand." She grinned at Wyatt again. "As long as neither of you puts a move on my girlfriend!"
Wyatt and Lanie exchanged a quick glance. "Deal!"
"At least not in front of your parents," Lanie added with a naughty grin, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
Kayda started at the redhead's suggestion, and then she got a sly grin. "Unless she gets bored with you and it's the three of us girls," she chuckled, watching Wyatt's eyes widen at the thought of a lesbian three-way, while Lanie laughed out loud.
May 9th, 2007 - Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"That was an easy training simulation?" Pete Franks stammered, his jaw practically dragging in his plate of food. "From where we were watching, it looked pretty ... vicious!"
June shuddered to recall Kayda fighting Lanie in her bear form. "And you kids like doing that?"
Kayda shrugged. "Most of the time. It's just when Gunny gets into a sadistic mood ..."
"Which is always," Lanie interrupted from across the table. The group - Kayda and her parents, Lanie, Wyatt, and Debra, were seated at the Alpha table on the top level of Crystal Hall. The Franks had been very impressed by the view, and when they learned it was Wyatt's idea and that he'd led the project to remodel and add levels to Crystal Hall, they were doubly impressed.
Kayda chuckled at her comment. "Yeah, that's true."
"And you don't get in trouble for calling him sunkce?" June asked, one eyebrow arched in puzzlement while the other eye was narrowed in the 'mother look'.
Wyatt's curiosity was stirred. "What's sunkce?" he asked Kayda, who was by now blushing furiously at being called on her little slip of the tongue in the sim.
"Dog ... droppings," she said, wincing and trying to make it sound less offensive than it really was.
"You called your instructor 'dog shit'?" Pete gawked at Kayda, but Wyatt, Lanie, and Debra were practically roaring with laughter.
"He's been called a lot worse, trust me," Debra offered by way of explanation. "In my day, I came up with what I thought were really creative epithets and curses for him." She grinned. "Then I heard J A - he was a senior last year, too - cursing at him."
The grin was contagious; immediately Wyatt joined her. "Now that was poetry in motion," he said almost reverently. "He took cursing at Ito and Gunny to a whole new level." Seeing the puzzled looks around him, he continued, "When he got on a roll, it was incredible to hear. He stopped several sims and fights just because people wanted to listen to his ... creative cursing. You'd walk away thinking that you'd just heard the ultimate in prosaic, filthy, creative insults. And then he'd outdo himself the next time. They had to blank he audio during his combat finals because it was so totally inappropriate."
Kayda looked at her parents with a bit of defiance, as if to say, 'see, what I said was nothing.' But the withering look she got back from her mother let her know in no uncertain terms that June considered cursing at her teachers - no matter how creatively - a serious no-no.
After a bit, the group carried their trays to the dirty-dishes conveyer, and then walked out into the crisp spring air. They walked for a bit, chatting about campus life in general, avoiding the subject that hung over them like a Damoclean sword, until June whispered something to her husband.
Pete nodded in acknowledgement. "Say, Wyatt, I'm feeling like a cup of coffee. How about you?" The effort was transparent; every single person understood what June wanted.
"Sure. There's a nice coffee shop in Melville."
"We'll catch up to you in a bit," June said to her husband, effectively dismissing the two men. As they strode away, she eyed a couple of benches and tables in a little walled sitting area. "I think it'd be nice to sit down and enjoy this lovely evening for a bit, don't you?"
Kayda followed her mom and the other two towards the little walled area, and after they sat, she turned directly to her mom. "Okay, Mom. What's on your mind?"
"Can't a person just want to enjoy the evening?" June asked, feigning hurt that Kayda could doubt her intentions.
"Yeah," Kayda acknowledged, "but that's not how you operate. So what is it?"
June put her hand gently on Lanie's arm. "I want to thank you for all the help and support you've given Kayda through this whole ordeal. I don't think she'd have made it through without you."
"It was mah pleasure to help mah ... best friend," Lanie said, a bit choked up as she acknowledged that her old best friend Maggie might never be her friend again. Still, she'd gotten a new best friend - and a sister - out of the deal.
"I'm just worried," June continued, "because of, well, things...."
"Mrs. Franks," Lanie began in a soothing, understanding tone, "Ah dream-walked with Debra, so she knows everything. Yes, Kayda and Ah had sex. And yes, Ah find her attractive, and Ah enjoyed the intimacy with her." She looked at Debra, a wry smile on her face. "Debra knows that Ah'm engaged to Wyatt ...."
"You're ... bi?" June asked, surprised.
"Yeah," Lanie answered matter-of-factly. "But Ah've made mah choice, and it's Wyatt. Despite that, Ah can't deny that Ah find Kayda attractive, and she's fun to be with."
"But Debra is the one I share a soul-bond with," Kayda interjected. "I like Lanie - as a friend. If we weren't both involved ...." She shot a glance at Debra to reassure her, a heart-melting, totally-loving look of adoration and devotion. "But we are, and neither of us want to mess up our friendship or our current relationships."
"Kayda and Deb share a very special bond," Lanie added. "Not Kayda and me."
Kayda nodded. "Debra is more. Much more." She put her hand lovingly on Debra's. "She is tawicasa, my love. She is my very wiconi, my life."
"I think you're wrong on that count," June replied with a knowing look in her eye. "Both of you. You two do have something special."
Kayda stared at her mom for a moment, and then nodded. "Wakan Tanka said that Lanie is my cuwe, my older sister, and that to her I am her taksi, her younger sister."
"So, Mom," Lanie said, her eyes twinkling with mirth, "Ah hope you won't mind if Ah bring mah boyfriend home on breaks."
June goggled at the redhead's sudden humor.
"Yeah, Mom," Kayda jumped right in with a wicked grin. "Do I have to share a room with my sister?"
"Or worse," Lanie giggled, "a bathroom?"
"And how awkward is it going to be when Debra visits if we have to share a room? Would we make Lanie sleep on the sofa so Debra and I could have some ... privacy?"
"But it wouldn't be so awkward if Lanie wanted to join us for some cuddling!" Debra chuckled, enjoying watching June's startled reaction.
Mom was giggling by that point. "You girls are all bad!" She scooted until she could gather the girls in a group hug. "I know you girls all love each other," she said, her voice trembling, "but I can't help worry that one or more of you are going to get hurt."
Kayda glanced at her friends in their little huddle. "I don't want to hurt Lanie or Debra," she said solemnly.
"Neither do I," Lanie and Debra chimed in almost simultaneously.
"We'll be extra careful that we don't," Kayda said solemnly, which drew nods of agreement from the other two girls.
Mom looked pleadingly at Kayda. "If ... if you need," she said, "you can talk to me. Either of you. I promise I won't judge or criticize anything."
"After you paid for me to fly to Whateley so your daughter and I could have sex, you think I'd worry about you being judgmental?" Debra guffawed.
That broke the somber mood, as Lanie stared in disbelief at Kayda and June. "Please don't tell anyone," Kayda asked when she saw Lanie gawking at her.
"And I hope you know that means any of you," June added. "You two are like family to Kayda, and that means you're like family to me."
The girls nodded, and then the redhead grinned. "Where's mah allowance?" she asked with a giggle.