Tuesday, 22 February 2022 01:00

A Dragon's Tail (Part 1)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

A Dragon's Tail

by

Astrodragon

 

Part One

 

Monday 7th November, Thulia's Workroom, Plane of Fire

 

Thulia hummed a happy tune to herself as she half-danced over to her bench to check her messages. Bruce watched it with barely-hidden amusement, remembering how worried she'd been yesterday about meeting Morgana.

"So, can I assume yesterday went well?"

Thulia gave him a beaming smile and nodded. "It went great! We spent all our time there together. It's been so long since we've been able to do that, and this time we weren't worrying about what was going to happen next!"

"What, no attacks by evil wizards, giant robots, alien invasion? Sounds way duller than those movies you watched."

Thulia showed the increasing maturity of her responses by sticking her tongue out at Bruce, which merely made him grin even wider. "Well, no. The only worry was the number of people there and the way some of them looked at me, but with Morgana there I could cope with that."

"The way some of them looked at you?"

She nodded at Bruce's questioning tone. "I'm not that expert at evaluating human expressions yet, but Morgana told me that some of the boys were leching on me."

"And that didn't worry you?"

Thulia blushed a little. "Well, she also told me it was because I was so beautiful and sexy, and as long as they just looked, to realise she thought I was too, and she wasn't going to let any of them annoy me."

Bruce smirked openly "Told you she'd like the dress!"

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"Oh, by the way, a package arrived while you were off enjoying yourself, I put it aside for you."

Thulia looked over to where Bruce was pointing. "Oh! I've been waiting for that!"

She rushed over, claws expertly slicing the FedHex delivery box open as she reached in and brought out a long, hollow sort-of-spear made of some dark metal. She grinned and brandished it enthusiastically, making Bruce take a step back just in case.

"That's very nice, I'm glad it's come. Just what is it anyway?"

She smiled, ignoring the imp's sarcastic tone, and placed the spear carefully down on a workbench, resisting the urge to pat the razor-sharp serrated edges of the long blade. "It's part of the new weapon I've been working on, one for my combat form."

"Another weapon? What about your bow and knife?"

She shrugged. "They're fine, and the bow is a useful ranged weapon, but I'm fed up with having to get so close to things that want to bite me to use my knife! I mean, it's a useful weapon, but I wanted something with more reach."

Bruce gave her a gravelly chuckle. "And with a few extra features?"

"Well, of course, I needed a few little extras!"

Bruce just rolled his eyes at the total failure of her tone to project anything resembling innocence. "Oh, of course you did. So where did you get that thing from anyway?"

She ran fingers along the hollow shaft, smiling possessively. "From the Dwarves. They do the best things with their steel." She pouted a bit. "Mithril alloy would have been even better, but the cost...!!"

"Uh-huh. And how did you pay for that anyway, those guys don't work cheap."

"Oh, actually that was thanks to Master Siveth. Since I finished my experiment" - her face clouded over for a moment, before she shook her head to clear it and continued - "on Morgana, my computer array hasn't been tasked very heavily. So rather than just have it sitting there twiddling its quantum thumbs, I traded some time sharing on it with the Academy, and they arranged to get me this in payment! It's going to be so amazing once I finish it!"

Bruce looked at the weapon. "Finished? What are you going to do to it?"

Thulia spun around, kneeling to slide open a long storage drawer under one of the benches, before standing up with a nearly six-foot-long stave, its dark red crystal glinting under the lights.

"This will be the core. I've been working on it off and on for a few months since I ordered the metal, so it's pretty much ready to fit in the spear."

Bruce eyed the staff. While made of the same crystal as her wizard's staff, this one wasn't as thick, and was polished to a smooth cylinder. He could see some gold-coloured runes and spells inside it, but only a few - nothing like the thick multiplexed layers of inbuilt spells her usual staff contained.

"So you're going to add some spell stuff? I thought you couldn't use magic in that combat form?"

She carefully put the crystal core down next to the metal shaft. "That's not quite how it works. It takes pretty much all my essence draw to power that form, and the energy density in the cells makes it hard to use complex magic with the essence I do have. But this is mainly to help my close combat. Some power storage, a structural integrity field to stop it from getting damaged, something to keep the edge sharp, and a few simple, basic spells just in case. Nothing much, really."

Bruce decided not to comment on what she considered simple and basic additions. Where Thulia was concerned, that usually led to peering into large smoking holes in the ground.

Thulia happily ignored the slightly worried look on her companion's face, as she started to measure the two parts. "Now, I have to meld these together, make sure it's all correct and then charge up the core."

"So what's wrong with using your sword in that form?"

Thulia kept on with drawing runes around an ellipsoid shape long enough to hold the spear. "Well, nothing wrong - I mean, it's a great sword - but, well, I haven't been able to spend the time to get good with it, just the basics so I can use it against something. And it's actually designed to take on magic and immaterial creatures, rather than something material. But this isn't too different from using my staff in close combat, and I'm pretty good with that. So I can start from a higher skill base, then I just have to learn the differences. And besides, if anything happened to the sword, my father would be really mad at me! So I'll keep the sword for when I need it for a specific threat."

Bruce looked at her preparations and shook his head. He was pretty sure of the real reason for making this, and that had far more to do with the simple joy Thulia found in creating new things than any need to replace an existing weapon. Still, anything that helped her survive was a good thing; her recent adventures had made him think that whatever her future had in store, dull wasn't going to be an accurate description.

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Wednesday 9th November, A secret meeting room, somewhere on the Plane of Fire.
(yes, it's still a secret!)

 

The flames in the cressets flickered as they cast a glow over the robed figures sitting around the table. All rather pointless, the members of this group knew who each other were, and the light wasn't important when they were using computer pads to examine the data. Still, it was traditional, and they were rather strong on tradition.

"So, we have the initial reports we requested?"

One of the robed figures nodded, and touched his pad, bringing up two files for the hooded figures seated around the table to inspect.

"The first one is the report we commissioned from Faryngagrax. As you know, we asked him to investigate just what the purpose of this Whateley Academy is. Fortunately, while that information turned out not to be widely disseminated, it wasn't too hard for his contacts to get hold of. He found that while the public is not aware of the school's purpose, or even of its existence, various government and non-government organisations are well aware of it."

There was a pause of a few minutes as the group read through the report before the second speaker resumed his commentary.

"It seems that it's a school for some of their mutant children. Mainly it would seem the more powerful or dangerous ones. My initial assumption was that its purpose is to teach them how to fight with their abilities, but it seems the school insists its training is merely to allow them to survive after they graduate - you may know that humans in many of their countries are hostile to mutants. The fact that the school is well known in certain circles would seem to back up that statement, and given the number of groups who know about it, the production of warriors would be impossible to conceal."

One of the other members commented thoughtfully. "That seems a better course of instruction than I had thought they would have. While teaching control of powers is a reasonable and sensible act, I was worried they might just be trying to turn the children into fighters. As a general point, doing that to our candidate would not be particularly ethical on our part."

There was a chuckle from one of the members. "While I agree with your principles, have you seen Thulia's record?! She's hardly a delicate flower when it comes to combat."

"True, but that isn't actually what we were looking for." The speaker looked around the circle. "We aim to embed some of our children into Earth society to give them a good understanding of human attitudes and their current views from an inside perspective. Of course, the ideal sociological solution would be younger children, but we can hardly do that to our youngsters. Thulia is a teenager, she's demonstrated she's mature enough to take care of herself in most situations she's likely to encounter, and still young enough to absorb the human cultural experience."

"Do we foresee any difficulty with her on being selected for a placement?"

The second speaker smiles, a flash of teeth in the shadow of his hood. "Ah, yes. Here, read the second report, the one covering her recent visit."

There was another pause as the circle perused the details before he continued.

"As you can see, while we only have brief details so far, it seems to have gone well, and the girl seemed very happy. Given that a placement will allow her to be close to her lover, I doubt if we will see any major objections on her part. She is, after all, a teenager."

"We still need to arrange it with the relevant authorities, as well as the school itself."

"Yes, I have been working on that. The school seems to depend on donations from various sources, including tuition fees, for its funding. So we can cover her costs, plus an additional donation, that should make the school happy to accept her. The government is a rather different matter. We don't want to involve the country the school is set in, we feel that would give them too much access and influence over the girl. However the adjoining country to the north" - he checked his pad again - "Canada, actually owes some favours to our people. It's a cold country, and help given to deal with some of their ice and cold monsters over the years have been appreciated. We've been in contact, and they are happy to arrange for the necessary paperwork for the girl."

"I'm still concerned about her safety. Our initial plan, I believe, was to place some suitable children with families, families that we had long dealings with that we could trust, and who would look after them well. Putting her in a school seems impersonal, I worry it would be a problem."

"That is true, and we are still looking at those types of arrangements for other candidates. The school, however, has one unique advantage - it will let her live and interact with mutants. There are a steadily increasing number of these manifesting on Earth, and some are of very considerable power. Putting Thulia with a family wouldn't give her that level of contact. I agree there might be some issues, but there are several points that I feel cover that. First is that Thulia is very well trained for her age, and our analysis suggests she should be capable of handling any threats she is likely to encounter. The school itself is protected from direct action, as are the students. The fact that her lover already attends makes us feel that it will give her additional stability in what will initially be a strange environment. Finally, her recent experiences have shown she is unlikely to be too unfamiliar or scared by Earth. If things change, of course, we can bring her back at any time."

While there was some discussion of the details, the general mood of the group was to go ahead. The girl's family would be consulted next, to get their approval, once that was given then Thulia would be told about the placement arrangement.

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Thursday Nov 10th, Plane of Fire, The Home of Thulia's parents

 

Thulia stepped into her parents' reception room and halted in surprise at who was sitting there waiting. Her parents she'd expected to meet, but the sight of Master Siveth wasn't, and the most worrying was the fourth person, an older man who bore the emblem of the Order of the Flame on his shoulder. She tried to make a polite greeting while frantically trying to remember what she'd done recently that might have got her into this amount of trouble.

Her father gestured to a chair. "Please join us, daughter. There is a matter we need to discuss with you."

She took the offered seat, sitting gracefully as she kept wracking her brains for what she'd done wrong recently that they might have found out about. She couldn't think of anything, but this was hardly an accidental meeting, surely? Which exercise caused master Siveth to chuckle slightly - he'd recognised that look from years of having her as his pupil, and thought it best to put her out of her misery.

"Thulia, please don't worry. You haven't done anything wrong, although this meeting is connected with some of the things you've been doing."

That brought a puzzled frown to the girl's face, as she took a quick look at her parents. They didn't seem annoyed, but if anything her mother, in particular, looked troubled, and she wondered why that would be. Her father gave her what she guessed was supposed to be a reassuring smile - it failed miserably - and gestured to the stranger. "I think it would be best if Acolyte Grenstxaripotx explained why we are all here, to give you the basic information."

Thulia turned her attention to the man. An Acolyte was a fairly senior rank in the Order of the Flame, what had she done to draw their attention? He smiled at her, which didn't reduce her level of worry in the slightest. All her experiences over the last few months had given her a rather more paranoid attitude towards the unexpected.

"Thulia, it's a pleasure to finally meet you." That 'finally' raised a warning flag inside her. Just how long as whatever-it-was been going on then? She kept her face as expressionless as possible, just in case.

"As I am sure you are aware, I represent the Order. We have been examining many projects over the last few years, and are starting to put one of them into action. That is why I am here today."

She must have looked puzzled enough for him to notice, as his lips quirked in a thin smile. "Let me explain the one that we have been evaluating you as a candidate for, and I think you will understand why you are a candidate. For some little time now - a century or two - we have been keeping a much closer watch on Humans as they both developed their technology and started to show much greater numbers of mages. Now we have no hostile intent here, but it does behoove us to take note of their capabilities, just in case. Their technology is fairly easy to keep track of, as are the number of mages. But that isn't what the particular project has in mind.

One of the greatest causes of conflict between powers is the misunderstanding of the aims and culture on each side. There is a regrettable tendency to assume the other side has the same aims and ideas that we do, and when this is not the case, conflict can happen even when neither side wants it to. These mistakes also cause problems with things like mutual trade, areas of concern, all sorts of matters."

Thulia's brows were still creased in confusion, "Sir, I guess I understand that, but what has it got to do with me?"

He gave her another smile, which she didn't believe either.

"We are creating opportunities to try and avoid these situations by placing some of our people on Earth, allowing them to immerse themselves in some of the major local cultures so that later on they can advise us on how they would be likely to react in certain circumstances. Ideally, we want to use young people, likely teenagers such as yourself, so that you are not set rigidly into our ways and can accept the differences you find in human culture.

Now the initial idea was to send some of our youngsters to stay with families we have worked with for a long time and can trust to look after them. In fact, we are still arranging to do this. But this leaves out a small, but important, part of their culture. Mutants. Their powers are varied, often unpredictable, and some are quite powerful. They are one of the major reasons for the increase in the amount of magic used on Earth. We need someone to be placed where they can interact with these mutants, and get an understanding of their aims and what drives them."

Thulia suddenly realised her mouth was slightly open and closed it quickly. Could he be talking about...?

"The largest and most accessible concentration of young mutants is at a school called Whateley. I believe you are familiar with the place."

She nodded dumbly. He was talking about Whateley!

"Now we would like to arrange for you to attend the school. We realise that this sort of environment is likely to be more stressful than just living with a family, but the advantages make us think that it will be worthwhile to us. And we understand you have a friend there who would help you cope with the stress."

Thulia could barely keep from bouncing out of her seat and screaming 'YES'. After all the trouble she'd had just arranging occasional visits to Morgana, this would let her be close to her ALL the time! And best of all it was being pushed by the Order, all she had to do was say yes.

"Thulia." She calmed slightly at the serious tone in her father's voice. Surely he wouldn't object, she knew how much respect he had for the order. He waited until he had her full attention before continuing.

"Now while I agree in principle with what the Order has in mind, and the reasons for doing it, you are my daughter. Putting you into a strange school is one thing, but this is on a different plane, and while the school authorities have agreed to take care of you, I am worried. I know your leman is there." - His lips twitched in a half-smile  - "but please don't let that be the only thing you consider while you think about this. As I understand it, you will be away for months at a time, and any opportunities to visit home will be very limited. So I want you to think very seriously about this before giving us your opinion."

The sober tone in her father's voice for once made her consider his words more carefully. He hadn't actually said he was opposing it, in fact, he sounded like he wanted to hear her thoughts on the matter. So she sat there for a few minutes while she worked it all through in her own mind. Obviously, she wanted to be with Morgana, but there were other things to consider. Finally, she had got her thoughts in order. Now to arrange things so she could do what she wanted to do anyway!

"Father, Acolyte. I am honoured to have been considered for this. I can, I think, see what you hope to gain from my attendance. Yes, I realise that attending the school will likely be stressful, and not too much like my schooling here. But I do have a little understanding of it thanks to my conversations with Morgana, and I do have some experience with Earth. I would like to do this, but I do have a few questions?"

The Acolyte nodded. "Of course, I will do my best to answer them."

"Thank you. If I do this, will I be expected to act as your spy or agent while I am there?"

He gave her a considering look. "Not as such, no. The whole point is to get a better understanding of how these people think and what drives them, being a spy would make this more difficult. We would expect you to attend an interview occasionally to tell us how things were progressing, and what you have discovered, probably in the school vacation periods, but we aren't looking for you to do more than that."

She nodded. That was good, she really didn't think she was cut out to be a spy, her experience with the Cult, trying to work around and behind them to save Morgana, had been traumatic, she really didn't want to do that again any time soon.

"If I find I cannot continue for some reason, can I pull out?"

"Yes. Obviously, we would wish to talk with you about the reasons, but the final decision is yours. There would be no point in having an unwilling person there."

She turned to look at Master Siveth. "Since you are here, master, I would like to ask about my academic work, how it would be affected by this."

Master Siveth chuckled. "Thulia, one of the reasons you have been considered is that your academic work is excellent. Frankly, you are ready to start on the sort of advanced work that is self-driven, so that not being at the Academy wouldn't have too much effect on your personal development. That was why we were looking at some non-academic learning for you in any case. As you might expect, we have been talking to the school's teachers about all this. I have had an initial talk with them about the sort of curriculum you would have there, and I think it would be useful to you. Some of it is subjects you might not take here - mainly those dealing with humans and their culture and technology - but they also teach magic. Now what they teach is rather different from what you are used to, but the broadening of your knowledge would, I think, be beneficial to you. Especially given your penchant for experimentation..."

She gave him a sharp look at the word 'experimentation', but Siveth was far too experienced to appear to have even noticed, and it was only their long acquaintance that let her spot the gleam in his eye..

"In any case, once an initial course of studies has been determined, I would ask to check them to make sure you weren't being adversely affected. But overall, I think you will find the new aspects of magic interesting. It is rare for one of our people to have the opportunity to be taught these properly, especially at a young age."

"There is one final thing. My... background. Would it affect this?"

Her parents and the Acolyte exchanged looks before her father spoke.

"Thulia, while we know you have had some issues with people over your family background, there are two reasons why we don't think it will be an issue. First, the humans won't consider it, because they will likely see you as a visitor from somewhere exotic. Second..." he cast a worried glance at her mother "There is some evidence that you might be a mutant yourself, in the human sense of the word."

She blinked. Twice. She knew there were oddities in her genetic background, with the mix of entities involved it was hardly surprising, but she hadn't spotted what the humans described as the markers for mutation. However her genome - even allowing for the obvious fact she was only 1/8th human - could have expressed things differently, it was hardly standard. She wished for a moment she had a few months to examine the possibility, it would be a fascinating experiment. She grabbed hold of that thought, putting it back in its box for a more appropriate time.

"I haven't seen anything in my genome to indicate that?"

Master Siverth was the one to answer, her parents still seemed embarrassed about the issue. "We honestly don't know, but there is circumstantial evidence. Your ability to extrapolate and derive advances is extremely uncommon in our society, at least at the level you show. A human mutational trait would explain that. Of course, it might not be the case, but the school has indicated they will do a full set of tests on you, both to determine your abilities and, if possible, spot our equivalent of a mutant ability. In which case, attending a school for mutants would be quite appropriate!"

"Thank you, Master." She turned to face them all. "Yes, I would be proud to be selected for this position. Just let me know what I have to do."

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"Acolyte, I have a few questions, now that this project will be taking place."

Grenstxaripotx turned to Thulia's father. "Of course, how can I help."

"Given what she will be doing, which could be considered acting as your agent, will there be pressure from you to have her join the Order? Either now, or in the future?"

The man strokes his chin as he considered his answer. "Not directly, no. We did consider it, but it was felt that being one of our agents would bias the result of the experiment. Of course, if it goes well, we might offer her a position later, in any case, the knowledge she would have gained would make us wish to use her at least as a consultant, but that would all be voluntary."

"I see. The second question I have, which I notice you didn't bring up in front of Thulia, was if you would be asking her to undertake any specific tasks other than just attend the school and learn."

This time Grenstxaripotx gave the question more thought. This was a potential issue, and he'd been reluctant to discuss it in front of the girl. "That isn't our intention at the moment. However, in the past, certain things have happened that have led to us taking action, and there is always the possibility that she might have some useful input. But as I have said, she is not under our control, and we have no plans for any sort of specific involvement in anything except the experiment itself.."

"That sounds acceptable." He gave the Acolyte a serious look. "She is young, and my daughter. I hope your people will understand that." He left out the implied threat of what might occur if they didn't, but it was quite obvious in his tone."

"Of course, we do realise her age and the position she would be in. We will take all reasonable precautions concerning her safety."

Grenstxaripotx was grateful Miraz seemed satisfied with his answers. While true, they hadn't encompassed all the issues that were involved, and which the Order didn't want public, at least for the moment. There were several reasons why Thulia had been selected, and while of course nothing might come of the ones not discussed, it would be best if the girl and her family knew nothing of them yet.

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Saturday, Nov 12th, Whateley Academy, Headmaster's Study.

 

"So, Mr. Smith, perhaps you could tell us what this rather private meeting is about, and why you requested Ms. Grime's presence in particular?

The DPA agent looked around at the curiously guarded expressions and considered his argument carefully before addressing the three teachers.

"First, thank you for agreeing to see me so promptly. The DPA has a request it would like you to consider. Not an instruction, you understand, we realise that we cannot give you orders, but if you could see your way to agreeing to our proposal we would be most grateful.

Mazarin eyed the man. True, the DPA wasn't in charge of them, but their connection had often been useful, and he was at least minded to hear what they had to say.

"Then please, enlighten us as to how we can help the DPA."

Agent Smith winced almost imperceptibly at the hidden irony in the Headmaster's comment. Still, at least they were being polite.

"We have had a request from... a foreign agency... for a student to attend Whateley. We were hoping you would agree to take her."

Turner rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I see. So what is so unusual about this girl that you needed to come here and ask us to take her?"

"To keep it simple - she isn't fully human. She is, you might say, a very foreign student!"

The three teachers exchanged glances, and Smith was rather surprised at how well they'd taken that rather explosive statement. This time the lead was taken by Ms. Grimes.

"I think we need more detail than that. As to exactly what she is, what her powers and origin are, and why we should take someone that isn't a mutant."

Smith reached into his briefcase and pulled out a rather thin folder. "This has the details, but I can summarise fairly quickly. The girl is from another plane, and for a number of reasons - which I'm not free to discuss right now - they have asked if we could arrange for her to attend Whateley. We agreed to see if we could arrange this. As to what she is, my understanding is that she's a dragon, or more precisely a part-dragon." Oddly he saw Ms. Grimes eyes narrow sharply at that, but he carried on. "As to the mutant issue, we aren't sure. Her people say they think she may well be, although they admit they aren't completely certain. Presumably, Whateley's famed Powers Testing facility could help to clarify this."

Mazarin looked amused at the attempt at flattery. "I see. So what does the school get out of this, apart from the gratitude of the DPA?"

"The girl's fee will be paid in full. In addition, a considerable sum will be paid to, shall we say, sponsor her, which should aid your finances."

He couldn't read the Headmaster's face at all, he knew the man's background, of course, but he was even better at hiding his thoughts and emotions than he would have expected.

"I see. The details are in the file." Smith nodded, putting the file in question down on the table. "Thank you. Now, you did mention earlier that your people would appreciate a prompt answer, so I would suggest that we go through the file and discuss it." He looked at the clock and nodded. "Perhaps after lunch, we will message you when we are ready to discuss it with you. Will that be satisfactory.

"Perfectly, Headmaster. I am at your disposal for any questions I can answer, of course, but I think all the relevant data is in the file.

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"Very well, Elizia, you know something relevant, don't you?"

Elizia Grimes chuckled as she picked up the folder and started to flick through it. "I think I do, Geoffry, otherwise it would be a rather large coincidence." She finally found what she was looking for and held up a photograph. "Yes, I was right."

The two men looked at the photograph of a teenage girl, then both gave the woman questioning looks.

"You remember recently I asked for permission for an entity to visit the school, once we had taken the necessary precautions? Well, it was this girl. She came and visited Morgana Jones last weekend."

Robert Turner blinked. "Did you know she was a dragon?"

"Ah... well, originally we thought she was a demoness or part demoness. As you know, we have had experience with such beings before, and our Artificer made a suitable amulet to ensure she wouldn't be a problem. As to her being a dragon... well, she did tell Caitlin and me what she was, but we swore not to disclose it."

Neither man was so gauche as to point out that she had pretty much admitted the girl was a dragon, while not actually revealing the secret, but given the file contents it was now an open secret, at least among themselves.

"It does seem terribly convenient they want her to attend the school. And why would they want her to in the first place?"

Elizia kept looking through the file. "I must admit, those questions puzzle me as well. The request might be as a result of her visit - from what I've heard, it went well - but that doesn't answer why they asked her to attend in the first place." She finally found something interesting in the paperwork. "Hmm, it mentions 'cultural enrichment' and 'enabling better relations'." She turned to the Headmaster. "That sounds like your area of expertise."

Mazarin sat back in his chair and thought. "Those statements could cover a multitude of things, of course. On the face of it, neither of them are things that we would object to in principle. I am concerned about the fact the girl in question might not be a mutant."

Elizia Grimes looked slightly amused. "Headmaster, this would hardly be the first time we have taught children who arent normal mutants. And even non-human ones - we did, after all, arrange to teach The Kellith, and this girl is hardly in the same class."

Robert Turner nodded. "True. You've met her, how do you feel about her?"

"She was polite and attentive. I was impressed by her skill in magic, but it might be interesting to see how she would take to some of the different forms and techniques we use. She caused no problems on her visit, and I see no reason why she would be more of a problem than our other students. Also..." Elizia looked thoughtful again. "The idea of cultural enrichment works both ways. We could learn a considerable amount about her and her people if she was here."

"That isn't exactly our remit, Elizia, although I'm sure the Magic faculty would find it fascinating."

"True, however, there is also the possibility the girl is a mutant. Studying a non-human mutant would add to our knowledge of mutation. I accept such research isn't our primary aim, but our research and findings have borne valuable fruit over the years. And on purely mercenary terms, the sum they offer is considerable, especially given the temporary tightness in our finances. It will pay for some students who cannot fund themselves. Finally, given who I suspect her backers are, the goodwill of powerful people is always in the interests of Whateley."

Mazarin nodded. "Robert, do you have any issues?"

"Not really. I don't disagree with Elizia, and I see no substantial problems. Even if the girl isn't a mutant, at the worst she's funding other students while allowing our people a chance to study her. I see no reason not to teach her."

Elizia coughed quietly, causing the two men to turn to look at her. "There is one issue we need to bear in mind. This is the girl who was responsible for, hmm, causing Morgana Jones to manifest as she did. While we can ask her to keep quiet about this, you know that it will come out at some point. I worry that some of the students, especially those with bad GSD, will try and get her to modify their BIT's."

Mazarin raised his eyebrows. "Do you think she could!?"

"No, I don't. And from discussions I've had with Ms. Jones, I don't believe she does either. I would suggest we ask her to swear not to try it, just in case, although obviously I would like to discuss the matter with her first. She was quite amenable to the restrictions we imposed for her visits, so I don't think it will be a problem."

Geoffry Mazarin looked at his colleagues. "So, the general opinion is we allow her to attend the school, possibly with some precautions after Elizia has spoken to her, and tell the DPA we agree, on the condition that we can expel her if we find it necessary, and that decision is purely down to us."

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Monday Nov 14th, Plane of Fire, Thulia's Home

 

The person the Order had assigned to handle her arrival at Whateley was, she decided, a boring and pedantic beaurocrat of the worst sort. She was sure she'd have been able to arrange things much better left on her own.

"So I'm not going to arrive at Whateley directly? It would be much easier for me to just use their portal, surely?"

"While that would be easier for you, there are a couple of reasons why we aren't going to do that. We would prefer if your arrival looked normal, and magically appearing on their campus might raise interest we'd prefer to avoid. Second, we need to provide you with certain documents and other arrangements to cover your stay on Earth, and the government providing them has requested you do that in person. So we are going to gate into a convenient location, then you will travel by vehicle to collect your necessary documentation, following which you will proceed to the school. It's not a long trip, after all."

"What about clothes, belongings, that sort of thing?"

"You will be able to take a couple of these 'suitcases' they use; we will provide funds for you to purchase your clothing and academic requirements from their onsite store, so I would suggest bringing what you need that you can't easily get there."

Thulia smiled at the thought of the spoils of her earlier shopping trip. She was certainly going to take those clothes as well as a few of her usual ones just in case. She wasn't sure of what she'd need, but she was sure Morgana would be happy to tell her. She'd take a minimum of equipment; after all, she could always use the school's portal to access her workroom if she really needed something, and Ms. Grimes had seemed a reasonable teacher. And having the authorities pay for another, larger, shopping expedition, rather than have to pay for it herself, was always good. She'd seen the figure they'd allowed her, and it was much more generous than she'd expected. She still had the balance from her summer visit as well, not that she was going to mention that to anyone.

"Sir? What should I tell them about who I am and where I come from?" While she didn't want to get the reputation of being a demon, she wasn't sure if admitting to being a dragon would go down much better. When she'd talked to Morgana's friends, the issue about what she was had been politely ignored.

He gave her a thoughtful look. "It's something I think is best left to your judgment. If you feel it necessary to reveal more - after all, you will be interacting closely with the other students, keeping everything secret is likely to fail, not to mention getting people digging into your secrets - I would suggest admitting to being a dragon is probably the easiest thing to reveal. That way they won't start assuming you're a demon or something else, knowing what you are is usually less scary than something unknown. It might be best, if possible, not to mention you come from another plane, just admit to being a foreign student and be vague about the rest, at least in the beginning. The administration knows, and if you are uncertain you could always ask their advice."

"Is there anything else? I'd like to start working out what to take with me." Actually, and despite how interesting all this was, she was barely restraining the urge to yawn at his dry and pedantic delivery.

"Actually there is. We are arranging to get you a full set of the documents the humans use for identification, traveling, financial arrangements, all that sort of thing."

She gave him a 'yes, and so?' look, at which he sighed.

"Humans use more than one name. We need a suitable name to put on your documents. Thulia will work as your first name, for obvious reasons you wouldn't want to use your full name, but we should have a second one. Otherwise, it might raise questions."

"A second name? Oh... give me a minute, then."

He waited patiently while she gave the matter thought. She was vaguely familiar with the thing about human names, but up till now, it hadn't seemed to matter to her. Something suitable, then. She frowned, thinking up a name on the spur of the moment was hard, but the man was already looking impatient. She had the horrible feeling that if she didn't come up with something soon, they'd think one up for her themselves, and she was certain she wouldn't like it. Finally, she got an inspiration.

"Firedrake. Thulia Firedrake."

He gave her a look, then shrugged with a severe lack of enthusiasm. "As you wish, we'll arrange to use that name."

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Monday 14th Nov, Whateley Academy, Headmaster's Office

 

Jeanne McDonald knocked on the door of the Headmasters office with a little trepidation. She couldn't think of any reason why she'd been summoned, and while the new Headmaster hadn't done anything so far to indicate a villainous bias, he was ex-Syndicate after all. It wasn't the same as being called in by Ms. Carson.

"Come in, please."

Making an effort to calm herself, she stepped into the office. Her initial worry was immediately tempered by the presence of the assistant headmaster. Still, why would both of them want to see her, she was sure they were both very busy people.

"Please sit down, Ms. McDonald." The Headmaster looked up at her as he indicated one of the chairs in front of his desk. Seeing her nervousness he smiled to reassure her. "Please don't be worried, you aren't in any trouble. We've asked you to come here because we have a request to ask of you."

She gave him a confused look as she found a chair and sat down. While his tone seemed friendly enough, the office itself, fitted out in immaculate dark, polished wood, was a little intimidating itself.

"Me, Sir?"

Mazarin chuckled. "Yes. Ms. McDonald. We have an assignment we think you could help us with, and while it's not a compulsory assignment, we would be appreciative if you could help us out."

Well, now she was wondering what was involved. Although earning some brownie points with the administration never hurt, so if it wasn't too onerous...

"Perhaps you could explain what you want me to do, Sir?"

The Headmaster glanced down at a document on his desk for a moment, then looked at her again.

"The basics are fairly simple. We have a new student joining us soon, and for several reasons she needs to visit some government offices in Ottawa first before she arrives here. So we are arranging a car to pick her up and drive her over. We were hoping you would agree to escort her on the trip here, help introduce her to Whateley, and start to familiarise her."

She blinked as she processed the request. It wasn't unheard of for late arrivals to be escorted, although normally it was from Berlin, to make them feel a bit more welcome when they arrived on their own. Still, she also knew that another reason for an escort was for kids who might be a problem, and she wanted to be sure what she was getting into. She wasn't sure she was up to being a rager escort.

"It seems simple enough, Sir. But... can I ask, is there anything special about this student that she needs an escort?"

The two men exchanged glances, and Robert Turner nodded. "Yes, Ms. McDonald, there is. While she is coming in via Canada, which is why we thought of you, she is a rather unusual student." He held up a hand as he saw the worry start to cloud her face. "No, she's not a rager, or dangerous." He turned to the Headmaster. "I think it would be best if we told her what the full situation is. It's only fair."

Mazarin nodded. "I agree, Robert. Ms. McDonald, for several reasons which will likely become obvious, the full explanation is secret. Do we have your oath not to reveal any of this until we agree to let you do so?"

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Jeanne. But the two men knew what they were about, there was no way she could just leave and not know what was going on. "Very well, Sir, you have my word I won't reveal anything about this."

Mazarin nodded. "Very well. The reason is that this student is rather more unusual than most, and not because of powers. While she'll be arriving via Canada, she isn't a Canadian citizen, although the Canadian government is providing her with papers and a passport."

Jeanne looked a little confused. "So she's a foreign student? But surely we have them at Whateley already, what's so special about this one?"

The Headmaster smiled. "A perceptive question. The reason is she's a very foreign student indeed. She's only part human, and only has limited familiarity with our culture."

Jeanne realised her mouth was slightly open and closed it. "She's not human?"

"Only partially. Please don't worry about her being dangerous because of that, it's more than we hope you can help reassure her about what will be a lot of new experiences for her. And a car trip with a sympathetic girl like yourself will be less stressful for her than getting through the usual customs and MCO rigmarole."

Robert Turner stirred. "Actually, Ms. McDonald, you may have seen - or at least heard - of her already. You are the assistant leader of the Commonwealth club, so I suspect you've heard of the visitor one of you members had recently?" He held out a photo, showing a slender girl in a rather revealing outfit, walking alongside a student she knew.

"Oh! Do you mean the girl that visited Morgana Jones? I didn't see her, but" - she looked at the picture again, and coloured slightly - "some of the boys in the club got photos, and talked about her." She wasn't going to tell the teachers exactly what their comments had been, particularly when they had thought they were out of earshot of the female members of the club. Personally, she wasn't sure if she'd have the nerve to wear that sort of outfit around the school, given the number of horny and perverted teenage boys on Campus, but, to herself at least, she had to admit the girl looked smoking hot in it.

 "Exactly. That was just a visit, but as a result of some subsequent events, it's been decided she will attend Whateley as a student. Although her background is very different, we believe she probably qualifies as a mutant, although she still has to go through Power testing. As a Canadian, you can help if there are any issues with your civil service over her paperwork; we don't believe there will be any difficulties, but I'm sure you're aware of the little things that can cause issues in these circumstances. And for the trip itself, we think it better for you to answer her questions rather than have Ms. Jones accompany her. Ms. Jones currently only has a provisional MID, and you will be crossing the border. The last thing we need is any issues caused by one of the passengers not having a full MID, and while she will have Canadian paperwork to clear her through, we'd prefer to reduce the chance of an upsetting incident."  He left unspoken the other reason Ms. Jones wasn't meeting her friend; while it seemed that currently there were no repercussions from the Cult or their agents, for the time being, it was considered better to keep her at, or at least close to, Whateley, in the company of teaching staff.

She had heard about how close the two girls had been on that visit, and smiled to herself. More likely if Morgana had been tasked for this trip, the two would have done anything other than discussing mundane things like Whateley.

"I think I understand, Sir, I'd be happy to help escort the girl."

Mazarin nodded. "Thank you, Ms. McDonald. The Canadian government will be arranging a car to take you to Ottowa tomorrow after lunch, you'll stay the night and return with the new student the following morning; assume you'll be back early that evening. We'll message you with the exact times tomorrow."

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Tuesday, Nov 15th, Plane of Fire, Thulia's Home

 

Thulia looked at the two open cases in front of her, then at the pile of clothes and other items she'd like to bring, and shook her head gloomily.

"Not gonna fit, Bruce. Not even if I get you to sit on the cases."

Bruce gave the pile his own appraisal and grinned. "Never does, kid." He took a look at it again and rubbed his chin. "Tell you what. Pull out the Earth clothes and the stuff left over from our summer trip that would be useful, and see how much space is left. You probably can get away with a few of your usual outfits, and if you really need something later, ask them if you can portal back to collect it. Besides, they're giving you an allowance for buying stuff, aren't they?"

Thulia nodded with a big grin. "Oh yes, quite a large one, as well as one for the usual academic stuff! I wonder if it's to help persuade me to go?"

Bruce chuckled. "Wouldn't surprise me! But that means you can get a lot of stuff you'll need once you arrive, right?"

"Yeah, I can. OK, your idea makes sense, let's start splitting up the pile."

"So how much magic are you taking?"

Thulia looked thoughtful. "Not as much as I'd like! Now I wish I'd worked harder at storage pockets, as it is I'm limited to not much more than keeping my major tools in them. I really need to reorganise things, I'll have to find some time after I get to Whateley."

Bruce carefully refrained from pointing out that most people would say 'weapons' rather than 'tools'. In any case, he didn't want Thulia to arrive on Earth defenceless, while their summer visit had been pretty quiet, they'd been keeping themselves secret as much as they could, this wasn't going to be possible this time.

"Still..." she tapped her chin. "Morgana did say they had a good magic store, she got all the things she needed for her mirror there, but what I don't know is which things are hard to get or expensive there compared to here. So I'm going to make a guess, and if I'm wrong I'll beg to make a supply run. Best to do that after I work out what to keep stored where, though."

"You're still going to be studying while you're there?"

She nodded. "Oh yes, but I assume that their store will carry the stuff needed for that. It's anything I do on my own I worry about the materials for. It's a shame I can't just ask Morgana, but I promised to keep this all secret until I arrived. I don't quite know why, but they were very insistent on that."

"So how will I keep in contact with you while you're away?"

Thulia looked at Bruce, whose face showed his concern. She smiled at patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, I've thought of that! I don't want you worrying about me." Bruce's face made it clear that even if he was in regular contact, he'd still be worrying about her, so she thought she'd better explain.

"Two ways. First, I'm setting you up so you can use the internet connection I set up. I can email you over that. Second, I'll attune the message bowl to you - Morgana won't need her part of it once I'm there, so I can borrow it if I want to chat. An email will tell you when, I don't know yet if a regular time will work, I have no idea what my schedule will be like."

Bruce nodded thoughtfully. "OK, that will work, but what about your parents and Tanau? You know they'll worry too, and after the summer it might be diplomatic to call them occasionally!"

"Yeah, got that covered too." She held up an oval mirror, the frame made of a chain of dragons. "Standard magic mirror, my parents and Tanau have some. I'll need to get permission to use it - it's not like the bowl, using this will be noted by their wards - but it's just to call home, I don't see a problem with that. If the wards do become an issue, I'll just slip outside them to call, like Morgana did the first time she contacted me."

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Wednesday, Nov 16th, A Portal outside Ottowa, Canada.

 

There was a shimmer of fire outlining a circle in the air, through which Thulia stepped and was immediately glad of the warning that it might have been cold when she arrived. While nothing like the biting cold of Ultima Thule, it was hardly what she'd consider a pleasant temperature, and she drew a little more fire into herself. The day was overcast, thick grey clouds hanging low above the field, as she picked up her two cases and looked around. Ah, there was a large car of some sort, she assumed that was her transportation. Even as she started to walk over, a tall girl slid out of the back, waving an invitation.

"Hi, are you Thulia?"

She nodded, which made the girl smile, before shaking her head, making her long ice-blue hair almost cover her face. "I'm Jeanne McDonald, I'm you're official greeter and escort." She took a look at Thulia's thin t-shirt, and her eyebrows rose. "Surely you can't be comfortable in just that shirt?"

"Oh... it's OK, I can handle the cold." The girl held out her hand for a moment, feeling the warmth emanating from Thulia.

Jeanne's eyes widened slightly."Oh, I see. Well, let's get your stuff in the car and we can get on our way."

Thulia turned for a moment to look back, as the portal she'd used shrank into a pinpoint of fire before closing. Somehow watching that made her feel a bit more nervous than when she'd visited Earth of her own volition. Well, if she had to she could always open a portal home for herself, but she wasn't going to do that unless she had to. And unless she could drag Morgana through it with her!

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"So what happens next?"

"Well, the next big thing is we have to visit some government offices. They are going to set you up with papers, ID, a passport, that sort of thing. It should all be pretty straightforward."

Thulia nodded. "And after that?"

Jeanne smiled. "Then we get something to eat and get driven back to Whateley. Where no doubt they will grab you and make you go through filling out yet more paperwork!"

From the expression on Thulia's face, the idea didn't exactly thrill, and Jeanne could sympathise. So she reached over and patted the girl's hand. "Don't worry, they should have got most of it from your sponsors, but there are a few things you need to get immediately, like your student ID and such. Then someone will give you the quick tour, and take you to your cottage. They told me you were going to be in Dickinson, so it probably won't be me."

Thulia looked a trifle wistful. "I'd hoped they might have put me in Poe."

Jeanne raised an eyebrow. "You look far too sane to be put in there!" She grinned at Thulia's expression. "Your girlfriend is in Poe, isn't she?"

Thulia nodded. "Yes, that's why I'd hoped..."

"And that's why they put you in a different cottage, I expect. Don't worry, it's not as if we don't visit our friends in the other cottages all the time."

Thulia gave a deep mournful sigh. "I guess so."

"Now... we need to make you blend in a bit more, dear."

"Blend in? Don't I look human enough like this?"

Jeanne examined her a bit more closely. "No, physically you look fine. Can you change the same way Morgana does?"

The girl nodded. "Well, yes. But they told me to look as human as possible, this is the way I looked when I visited the other week."

"The look is fine, but if you walk around like that, people will wonder why you aren't freezing!"

"But I don't get cold, my power keeps me warm."

"I know, but I can feel how warm you are. We'll make a quick stop and get you a coat or something, that way it will keep you comfortable, and people won't wonder why you feel so warm."

Thulia thought for a moment. "I guess that makes sense. Morgana did tell me to blend in as much as possible."

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Jeanne looked around at the foyer of the government building - lovely, no wonder her parent's taxes were so high -  and gave a sigh of mixed boredom and relief.

"Well, that was a bit more involved than I expected!"

Thulia looked up from going through her new documents and nodded. "I didn't realise how much your people loved their paperwork!"

Jeanne groaned. "Oh, tell me about it! I guess I didn't realise just how much you need when your starting from nothing, all I ever had to do was apply for my passport."

Thulia smiled. "Well, I hope I won't have to do that again soon. Especially if all the photographs they put in these passports make me too so awful!" She held up her new credit card, admiring it, particularly pleased that the balance on her account was provided by someone else. "So what happens now?"

Jeanne looked at her watch. "Hmm, almost 11.30. It's about a five hour run to Whateley, so I suggest we get off, we should be there not too late. I still can't believe they gave us one of those diplomatic escort drivers!"

Thulia shrugged. "I have no idea what they are, so... is that special?"

"Well, it isn't usual. They drive important people around, government types, that sort of thing. Hopefully, that will mean a quick border crossing." She looked at Thulia thoughtfully. "They must think you're special." She didn't mention the fact that she'd recognised the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs in the background during the meeting. It had worried her a bit, but it was probably nothing. It wasn't like she had much experience of this sort of thing anyway.

The girl blushed prettily. "I don't think I'm special!"

Jeanne laughed at the expression on her face and patted her shoulder. "Don't worry about it. At least he's a good driver, it's a nightmare driving around Ottowa. We can stop on the way and grab some lunch from a drive-through."

"That sound's good. Uh.. what's a drive-through?"

"Oh boy..."

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Wednesday, Nov 16th, Apparently abandoned Warehouse somewhere east of Windsor, Quebec.

 

Pale Wendigo walked into the room the gang were using as a restroom and shook his head in disgust. "Don't you ever stop eating?"

Loup-Garou looked up from his poutine and gave him a dirty look. "Some of us aren't walking corpses, and I need a lot of food to keep my wolf form going."

The other man sighed. His emaciated, skeletal look made it obvious he ate rarely, and the comparison between the two villains was very stark. While Loup-Garou was currently human, his dark and rather hairily unkept look made him look like a violent refugee from a biker gang, a misconception the man was quite happy for his enemies to make. Besides, seeing their faces when they saw him change always brought a smile.

"Whatever. I think we need to move the bank job up a bit."

Loup-Garou gulped down the last of his food before replying. "Any particular reason?"

"There's an early blizzard moving through this afternoon and tonight. It will be easy to get into position during it, using it as cover. It's forecast to finish sometime overnight, so we hit the bank in the morning and get away while the roads are still blocked with snow."

The other man thought it over. They'd been planning on hitting the Magog CIBC in a few days anyway, so they were pretty much done with their preparations. And their vehicles were far better at moving in snow than the usual police vehicles, an easy getaway was always a bonus.

"OK, that doesn't sound bad. I'll get the boys onto checking the vehicles and making sure everything is ready."

"Do you need to refresh them?"

"Hmm. I was going to do that tomorrow anyway, but I'll do it this afternoon. That way they'll all be at their best. Although if it all goes as planned all they'll have to do is look scary and keep everyone away while we empty the bank."

Pale Wendigo just nodded. For himself, he was more than happy to play with any locals who got too close, he enjoyed what his powers could do to them, but first things first - if the robbery went smoothly then he might indulge himself a little.

Loup-Garou gave him an annoyed look - he knew what that expression meant, and while he wasn't too concerned about civilians, and even less about the police, he wished his partner was more interested in successful jobs than indulging his rather perverted appetites. Still, he moved into the main area of the warehouse and looked around at the parked vehicles. His men were sitting playing cards, so he decided to get them started on a final check of their gear, then start feeding them some of his blood

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5 pm, A.des cantons-de-l'Est highway, Quebec

 

Thulia peered out of the car window, trying to see through the snowstorm. It had got pretty dark outside, Jeanne had told her the sun had set a little while ago, and with the growing storm, it had been pretty hard to see even before that. The headlights weren't helping that much, they just showed the snow swirling around them for a moment before the wind hammered it against the front of the vehicle. She bit her lip as the 4x4 lurched slightly as the wind caught it. This wasn't the fun sightseeing trip she'd imagined on the way to Whateley.

She turned to the girl next to her. "Is this normal around here?"

Jeanne shook her head. "Not really. We do get these storms every so often, but this is early for a really bad one like this." She looked down at her phone to see where they were, before addressing the driver.

"This isn't getting any better, is it?"

"No ma'am. The weather report says it will keep going overnight, and they are advising traffic to get off the road unless it's an emergency. I think it would be prudent to find somewhere to stop and stay for the night."

She looked at her phone again. "I think we should find somewhere to stop rather than trying to plough through this. Better to arrive safely tomorrow than risk this. Maps says there's a town a few miles ahead, they probably have somewhere we can stay for the night."

"Yes ma'am, Magog; looks like about 15 minutes in this weather, I suggest we stop ther and wait out the storm."

Jeanne nodded firmly. "OK, I'll see if I can find us somewhere with some rooms, then we should be able to finish the trip in the morning." She turned to Thulia, giving her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry about this, it's really uncommon so early into winter. But getting in a day late won't hurt anything, and the last thing I want is your introduction to be a car accident!"

Thulia nodded. She was rather glad at the idea of stopping. She didn't like snow at the best of times, and the way the howling blizzard was making the heavy car rock in the gusts was making her very nervous. At least as if she was flying she'd only have to worry about the cold, this vehicle didn't seem safe at all. Although given how poor the visibility was, she would have been flying blind. Still better than at the mercy of a vehicle like this one, but the choices had been made for her. She just had to make the best of it, and it wasn't as if it was Jeanne's fault, after all.

"That's OK, this weather does look really bad." She was disappointed it would be tomorrow before she got to see Morgana again but at least making that a surprise would mean she wouldn't be worrying about her being late.

Jeanne nodded. "It's best not to take risks with these storms. It's not just us, some idiot could drive into us no matter how careful we were. I'll find us somewhere in that town and book rooms for us."

Thulia looked over at the girl. "Uh..didn't you say you had cold and wind powers?" She gestured at the snow being blown against the windows. "Can't you...?"

Jeanne shook her head. "Not really, a storm has way too much energy. I could ease it off a little just around us, but that wouldn't help the road, or stop someone running into us."

Thulia nodded, then took another look out at the howling wilderness of snow and ice that Canada seemed to consist of, and wondered if maybe she should have brought some of her clothes from her Ultima Thule trip after all.

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Thursday, Nov 17th, A small hotel in Magog

 

Thulia peered up from under the covers at Jeanne's cheerful exclamation. The Canadian girl was standing by the window, the curtain pulled to one side so she could look out.

"The storms finished, and it's a lovely day. Well, sunny anyway."

Thulia shivered slightly. While the room wasn't that cold, and she was firmly cuddled up under a duvet and all the spare blankets, it wasn't what she was used to thinking as comfortably warm. She sighed to herself - no doubt she'd acclimatise, but right now she wasn't entirely convinced by Jeanne's morning cheerfulness. She hadn't wanted to draw too much heat into herself last night, just in case of an accident; right now she was thinking maybe she should have risked it.

The far-too-cheerful girl in question walked over to her side of the room, grabbing her toiletries bag. "Come on. Let's get showered and then we can get some breakfast."

Breakfast. Thulia's stomach gave a medium-loud rumble at the idea. So she nodded and started to work herself up to getting out of bed and surviving what humans considered a comfortable temperature, while Jeanne took over the small en-suite shower. A small amount of her power should make her a bit more comfortable.

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"So, now we're up...?"

Jeanne kept working on her phone as she heard the obvious question in her companion's voice as she finished dressing.

"Well, the car's ready, but the driver says the road to the highway won't be cleared for an hour or so, they're working on it now. I'm thinking we go out and get a leisurely breakfast, and by then it should be OK to get started. We should be at Whateley this afternoon, the roads aren't too bad."

Thulia had already perked up at the sound of the magic word. "I'm looking forward to seeing what your breakfasts are like."

Jeanne just laughed at the obvious eagerness in her voice. "OK, then I'll find us somewhere I think you'll like."

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Despite the coldness of the air against her face, Thulia was staring around at shops and people along the street with interest. Some careful manipulation of her fire had made sure she was personally nice and warm, even outside, but the clouds of breath from the mouths of the people she passed was somehow fascinating. The crunch of half-frozen snow under her boots was a change too - Ultima Thule had been a lot colder, but it was also a very dry place, and the amount of snow here was far greater than she'd seen there. She gave a small gasp of pleasure at the sight of some icicles, the early morning sunlight sending shards of colour through the display. While she still didn't approve of the cold, she had to admit it was rather lovely at times.

Jeanne was doing her best to hide her amusement. For the Canadian girl, snow and ice were all very well and could be pretty, but as far as she was concerned they could leave and go back on the Christmas Card they belonged on once the initial newness of it all had worn off. Which for her was an hour or two at most. She wondered cynically how much enchantment Thulia would find once it all turned to dirty slush.

She touched Thulia's arm lightly, slightly startling the girl as she got her attention. "Food." She pointed at the iHop sign a few shops in front of them, and couldn't hide the grin when Thulia actually sniffed the air and broke out into a big smile. "Smells nice.  Is that where we're having breakfast?"

Jeanne nodded and steered Thulia in, opening the door for her as a waft of warm pancake and bacon-scented air blew past them for a moment, making her own stomach rumble slightly in appreciation.

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9 am Route 112, Magog.

 

Sergeant Villeneuve was starting to think that this was not going to be a good day for the Sûreté du Québec in Magog. His 'day' had started last night, with him and his men on the roads trying to deal with the traffic that had been caught out in the unexpected early-season blizzard. That had been trying enough, given the concerted ability of the local drivers to have forgotten how to handle the first serious snowfall of the year over the last six months. Still, it was all routine work, and by the morning the snow had stopped and they were ready to head home to bed as soon as the ploughs finished clearing the stretch of road leading to the highway. Luckily the blizzard hadn't lasted as long as the initial forecasts, and the dump of snow was proportionally less, or they'd have been tied up here for much longer.

His men had been drinking a well-earned coffee in the centre of town when all hell had broken loose. There had been no real warning, the first signs of trouble had been the screams from the direction of the bridge over the river. His men had looked at each other, then piled into their cars - the bridge was only minutes away, and their sirens at least alerted the civilians that something was going on.

He'd cursed volubly in a mixture of French and English as his driver skidded to a halt, almost rear-ending a parked car as he lost traction on the snow. This was the first time he'd seen what had to be an attack by supervillains outside of a training film, and he could have done without this one. Still, their training was clear; his men fanned out from the cars, attempting to move back the crowds - fortunately very light this morning after the storm - to allow them to form a perimeter around the attack. There was a group of men fanning out around the CIBC bank, with the obvious aim of stopping anyone getting close, and the door of the bank itself - wasn't there any longer. He thanked god that it was too early for the bank to have opened, and gestured to his men not to try and close the building. Their instructions in this sort of situation were clear - form a perimeter, clear civilians back to safety, and if there were any signs of superpowers, do nothing unless backup arrived. Money could be replaced, the civilians and his men couldn't be. At first glance, the robbers looked like part of some biker gang, but then he saw the wolf-like features and his blood chilled as his worst suspicions of supervillains were realised.

"Did anyone get a look at who went in the bank?"

A harassed looking man was almost bouncing in agitation as he so obviously wanted to speak to the Sergeant. He gestured to him to come forward, making sure they were behind the cover of one of his police cars. "You are?"

"I'm John Hendricks, I'm the bank manager. I was just about to go in and get ready for the day when these monsters appeared!"

"You didn't see how they arrived?"

He shook his head. "No Sergeant."

That's not very helpful, thought Villeneuve, as he looked at the opening where the bank doors had been "Did you see anyone go inside?"

The man shivered, looking pale as he had to remember what he'd seen.. "Oh, they certainly did! A real monster as well as a few of those men. I don't think I'll ever forget what it looked like! It was gaunt - so skinny, and its skin looked like dead flesh. And there was this horrible smell...like a decomposing animal."

The Sergeant looked behind him, where one of his men had the phone from the second car in hand. "Sound like anything we know, Francis?" The man thought for a minute. "I think so. It sounds like the Pale Wendigo. Those thugs look like Loup-Garou's minions that follow him around. The pair of them have been reported as running around north of here recently."

Villeneuve gave a deep sigh. "Wonderful. What's he listed as?"

"High C class. Nasty customer, he doesn't seem to care about killing people, in fact, he actively enjoys it. Loup-Garou isn't quite as bad, but he doesn't care about damage when he gets going. He's also listed as high C class."

"Did anyone spot Loup-Garou? He's too big to miss"

"No Sergeant. But he might not have changed his form yet, he could just look like one of his gang right now."

"We'd better assume he's here then. Call despatch and tell them, we aren't going to get close unless we get some decent backup. And tell the men to keep an eye out for a big werewolf."

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The girls had taken longer over breakfast than Jeanne had intended, but until the roads were clear there wasn't much point in setting out. And it had allowed the two hungry energisers to consume an impressive amount of pancakes and side orders. While they had received some odd glances from the waitress, she hadn't said anything, and Jeanne was thankful for that. Thulia had been enthusiastic about pancakes, and Jeanne had reassured her that yes, Whateley provided these for breakfast, as well as a lot of other choices. The only disappointment had been the strength of the coffee.

Finally, Jeanne got an alert on her phone.

"Ah, the road is about to be reopened. So we'd better finish up and get going." She was glad their driver seemed to be on the ball, but then she guessed his usual protection detail work needed him to be. "I'm sure they're getting fed up with bringing us food anyway."

Minutes after they exited the iHop, the relative peace of the town was interrupted by the wailing of police sirens. While of course the sound of sirens really should have been the sign that you should be heading in the opposite direction, the girls had been constitutionally unable to resist taking a look at what was going on, and it had been easy to go with the people equally interested in all the commotion. They had stopped well behind the police barrier, but close enough they could see what was happening.

"What is it?"

Jeanne stood on tiptoe to get a better look past the crown and the police. "I could swear it's someone robbing the bank!" She shook her head in disgust. "I mean, come on! Who robs banks anymore??"

Thulia looked at her. "A bank?"

Jeanne frowned, then realised she might well be being serious. "Yeah. We keep money in them, so looks like these crooks are making an unauthorised withdrawal. Hence the police surrounding the building."

Thulia thought about it, then nodded. "So are the police going to stop them?"

Jeanne shrugged. "I guess. They seem to be just covering it, though...I wonder if... Nah, why would a supervillain be robbing a bank here in the middle of nowhere? Doesn't make any sense."

She finally got a look at the men around the building and decided she needed to alter that statement. The men were wearing coordinated light body armour and carrying what looked like assault weapons. They also looked distinctly like humanoid wolves, which was considerably more worrying. This was looking way too much like a set of minions, but then where was the real villain?

"Look, we need to stay back here, we aren't supposed to get involved in this sort of thing."

Thulia looked at her in what she was afraid was a look of disappointment. "Oh. But can't we at least watch, then?"

Jeanne gave a deep sigh. She was supposed to be looking after Thulia, and leaving the scene and getting somewhere safe was the sensible thing to do. However... while the police looked like they knew what they were doing, she knew things could go bad quickly when villains were concerned, and she'd feel bad herself at running away if something like that did happen. "OK, but we stay well back and let the police contain this. If we take part, we'll just be in trouble when we get to Whateley."

Thulia nodded, her attention still avidly fixed on the robbery. This was so much better than television!

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Peering past the hood of one of the police cars, Villeneuve groaned at what he saw next. Instead of staying in cover, or heading out the back away from all this trouble, a small group of civilians had come out of one of the shops a few doors up from the bank. The idiots were far too close to the gunmen covering the street as they slipped along close to the wall as if that would somehow make them invisible. To make things worse, they'd been noticed and guns were already being aimed at them.

He had no choice. Gesturing to his men, they opened fire to distract the gunmen, who immediately found better cover and returned the fire with worrying enthusiasm. At least that made them concentrate their attention on his men, who were engaging them from the cover of the cars lining the street. The civilians, having screwed things up already, at least displayed a bit more sense this time as they scurried away from the scene.

He was wondering if he should order his men to stop firing, to see if that would calm things down a bit when his worst fear was realised. A large man walked out of the bank doorway, looked around with a disgusted expression, then gave a roar that stunned the police for a moment as he changed, clothes ripping as his body swelled with muscle. Seconds later, eight feet of very annoyed-looking werewolf was starting at the blockade with the obvious intention of attacking it as he started to move towards them.

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CFB Airbase, Montreal Quebec

 

"TRU Montreal."

"We have a serious situation in Magog. Seems like a couple of villains have decided to take out a bank, and the provincial police need assistance."

The original rather bored tone of the TRU operator changed immediately to that of a professional as he pressed a couple of buttons on his console.

"We're onto it. I've alerted the ready squad and their airlift, the helicopter should be ready in" he checked his board "about ten minutes. Do the police have any idea of who the opposition is?"

There was a short pause as the police centre looked for the information. "Their best guess is that it's Pale Wendigo, Loup-Garou plus a mob of their fake werewolf thugs. The police are holding a perimeter, they don't want to engage, they don't have a large force and don't have any heavy weapons."

The TRU operator made rapid notes as he took down the data; it would be texted over to the alert force for them to work with as soon as they were ready. "Understood. I'll pass the details onto the squad as they prep and board. We'll make sure they have argent rounds, assuming it's Loup-Garou. They should be about fifteen minutes in the air, but as this is a superpower incident, it may be an extra five minutes to get the on-duty supers there, we only have one squad on alert and they'll need the additional firepower. Probably close to 30 minutes overall."

"Understood, TRU. We'll let the men there know, and tell them not to do anything directly unless they have no choice."

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Magog, outside the CIBC bank building

 

Jeanne winced as the man changed into a werewolf. She knew from experience that when a shifter acted like that, they were going to do something violent. Her expectations were fulfilled as Loup-Garou ripped a Canada Post mailbox from the ground as if it was cardboard, and hurled it over the heads of his minions to crash into one of the cars covering the police. There were some rather rude words spoken as the officers frantically dived behind better cover. She knew she wasn't supposed to get involved, but...

"Thulia? I'm going to help the police. Please stay safe back here, I don't want to worry about you getting hurt."

With that the tall girl moved forward, carefully making as sure as possible that she was behind cover, the minions were still peppering the improvised barricade to keep the police down and unable to interfere. The occasional shot in return didn't seem to be doing anything.

Thulia frowned, looking at Jeanne's back as the older girl moved closer to the fight. Stay behind and out of trouble? She wasn't a child, and if her new friend was going to try and stop these people, she was going to help.

She paused as she made a quick assessment of what she had available to summon. Sadly the answer was 'not much'. She'd meant to sort out some outfits and equipment, she really had, but other events had taken over her time, and to be honest, she hadn't given it a high priority. She could replace her current outfit with her leotard - that wasn't complete protection, but it would give useful armour to her body and vitals - but apart from that she only had a few weapons available. Well, and of course her staff. Better the leotard than nothing, though, and if anyone did start casting magic, its protections would be useful. The rest of her gear was packed away in a storage pocket, and she'd need a ritual to open it.

So she stood still for a moment, her body outlined in a shimmer of heat as the magic transposed her mundane clothes and her combat leotard, a form-fitting garment in glistening black that hugged her body like it was painted on. The apparent thinness being deceptive, the materials it was made of were quite resilient, and it was layered with magic protection. The current weather made her glad she'd included boots, she didn't want to waste power warming her feet in the slushy mess the snow had turned into. A couple of exclamations from nearby police officers showed her change had been noticed, as she held out a hand, the air rippling as her staff appeared in it. She wondered what 'merde' meant, maybe Jeanne could tell her later.

Even though she'd only taken a few seconds, Jeanne was already in action, her power sending some of the snow into a swirling tornado glinting with the shards of ice whirling inside its grip. Her ice-blue hair whirled around her head as if caught up in some sort of personal tornado, and Thulia's eyes narrowed as she tried to see what was going on past the frozen clouds.

Pierre Thompson's eyes widened as he saw one of the girls transform before his eyes. From looking like a normal - if very attractive - teenage girl, she had changed into something that looked inhuman. Her clothes had vanished, replaced by some sort of form-fitting costume, and curved horns sprouted from her head. Most striking was the change in her ebony hair, it was now a glowing firefall of red and gold. Some sort of long crystal staff had just appeared in her hand, and he could feel the heat from her even from a distance. She was looking annoyed, and he was thankful her attention seemed to be on the fight taking place in front of the bank, rather than on him.

Jeanne saw that some of the gunmen were paying her attention, and made sure her mini-storms were keeping her as well hidden as possible. The confines of the town meant she didn't have too much space to work with, although the snow covering the ground was helpful. In such close proximity the guns were a significant danger, especially as she didn't have her combat costume with her. Next time, she thought, even if it looks like a harmless car trip, I'll be better prepared!

She worried about Thulia. The younger girl hadn't said much about what she could do, other than being a mage, and she hoped she'd stay back where it was safe. The last thing she wanted was to have to explain to the headmaster how she'd let the young girl she was escorting get injured or even killed! So she was startled when a semi-transparent barrier seemingly composed of faintly-glowing red hexagons appeared in front of her, in time to block some shots from a man she'd missed seeing. There were a few flashes as the shield stopped the bullets, and she turned for a moment. Thulia was standing a little way behind her, wearing a rather minimal leotard and holding up a staff made of some red crystal, which was glowing slightly. She'd also changed physically, and Jeanne recognised a body form similar to that of Dragonsfyre. Well, it looked like she now knew where that shield had come from, but she wondered how long the girl could keep it going for. Questions like where that leotard and staff had come from could wait for a quieter time, the answer would probably be 'magic' anyway.

"Go on, I'll cover you."

She gave Thulia a very brief nod of acknowledgment and thanks. Turning back to face the robbers, she took advantage of the shield to drop one of her mini-tornadoes right on top of a gunman who'd been foolish enough to expose himself to get a better shot at her. There was a scream as the ice and snow inside it impacted him, hurling him some metres away, and into the side of a car with an audible crunch. He moaned, struggling with little success to regain his feet. One down, quite a few wolfmen to go.

Thulia's grip on her staff tightened as she cast two more shields. Judging by the bullets hitting a couple of the cars, the robbers were paying most attention to the clusters of police, so protecting them seemed a good use of a spell. So far she was comfortable with the essence drain - the guns the men were using weren't powerful enough to drain too much energy from her barriers, but she was hoping to take a few out herself, once Jeanne's storms let her get a better view of the situation.

Loup-Garou snarled as he saw the scarlet flickers outline the immaterial hexagons momentarily. That looked far too much like the work of a mage. He hated mages, their magic caused nearly as much damage to his body as silver. His eyes narrowed as he spotted the tall girl seemingly summoning small ice storms to bring down on his men. Well, even if she wasn't the mage, she was still being a bloody nuisance. He growled and picked up a motorbike that had fallen over against the curb, lifting it over his head, he gave a loud howl and hurled it straight at her.

Jeanne gasped as she saw the monster hurl the motorbike, but before she could do much more than start to move out of its way, it bounced off another shield. This time the force of the impact was a lot more dramatic, the shield flaring crimson as the energy release outlined a large area in scarlet-edged hexagons, the structure bulging in for a moment as it absorbed the kinetic energy. The bike bounced off as the shield rebounded, landing so hard it skidded along the ground, the friction and sparks that caused making the fuel tank explode with a loud boom and a burst of flame.

Jeanne heard a muttered 'oops' from behind her, but under the circumstances, she was quite prepared to forgive Thulia. While the rebound and explosion from the bike had stopped Loup-Garou for a moment in surprise, he growled again and stomped through the wreckage. She licked her lips and stepped back a few paces as she started to raise a much stronger and localised ice storm. The snow and ice thickened in front of her, almost blocking out her view of the werewolf, and the shots in her direction almost died away as the wolfmen lost a clear view. She called back behind her "Cover me!", hoping that Thulia would understand, and got an "OK" in response. She clenched her fists as she drew deep on her power, then released it straight at Loup-Garou. A tornado of ice and snow landed straight on the menacing, advancing figure, causing him to howl in pain as the cold congealed the swirling flakes and ice fragments into a solid block, with him as its centre. As it did, the air cleared around it as it drew in the clouds of snow that had been concealing her, and a good dozen rounds hit the force field that had intervened to protect her. She started to move back behind the cars, motioning Thulia to join her.

Thulia was quite impressed with the results of the snow tornado, although the consequent increase in the rounds that her shields needed to stop was a greater drain on her essence than she was happy with. She'd known from her previous visit that Earth had less ambient essence available than her home, but at the time it hadn't been an issue. Her link to the Heart of Fire wasn't affected, but there was a limit as to how much of that draw could be converted to usable essence, and her reserves were steadily running down. Not a problem yet, but she needed to keep an eye on it, there was only so much stored in her staff and she didn't have any of her other gear with her. It was ironic, she thought. She'd been far better prepared when she visited Whateley, and nothing at all had happened. But she'd been told not to bring her equipment, as she would be inspected when they crossed the border, so the only thing she was carrying was her translation ring.

Sergeant Villeneuve stayed crouched behind the car as he moved carefully over to talk to the two girls. "Ladies, your help is appreciated, but you aren't registered heroes, are you?"

Jeanne shook her head. "No, but we couldn't just stand there and do nothing!" Her friend just nodded emphatically in agreement.

Villeneuve was torn; it was obvious that these girls were too young to be registered as supers, but on the other hand, he didn't want to think how bad it would have gone so far for his men if they hadn't stepped in.

"Look, it's not that we aren't grateful, but I think it would be best if you drew well back. I don't want either of you getting hurt. And you've frozen the werewolf."

Jeanne took a quick look at the frozen monster and bit her lip. "I'm not sure how long my ice cage will hold him, he's pretty strong. Is that Loup-Garou?"

The policeman nodded. "Yeah, that's him. Nasty piece of work. And there's another one in the bank, we think that's Pale Wendigo. He's even worse, and I don't want you girls getting involved with them."

Thulia just looked blank at the names, but Jeanne recognised them. While she didn't have any burning ambitions to be a hero, knowing about the paranormal threats in her home country was only sensible.

"Officer, I think we're already involved." All three ducked as a bullet thudded into the car too close for comfort. "As long as Wendigo stays in the bank, we could take his goons out for you while Loup-Garou is still frozen."

"If your men can stay down for a few minutes so I don't have to shield them, I can shield us and we can take them down quickly."

The sergeant looked at Thulia in surprise at the assurance in her voice. "I don't want you getting hurt, kid."

Thulia's response was a wide grin. "Oh, don't worry, it's not me that will get hurt!"

He would have kept on trying to persuade the girls to back off, but Thulia was already stepping out from behind the car to get a picture of where the gunmen were. The officer was astonished when a couple of rounds hit her - she didn't seem to be bothering with shielding herself against the bullets.

Thulia had got a fairly good idea of how dangerous the guns were from their effect on her shields. Not terribly, was her opinion. Morgana had told her that she'd found she was bulletproof, and in any case her leotard offered protection. The bullet that hit it just flattened and fell; the one that hit her on the arm was annoying, but didn't do more than hurt her slightly - that wasn't even going to leave a bruise. She grinned, showing her fangs, and gestured at the nearest gunman with her staff. A firebolt leaped from the end of it, flames spitting from the lance of fire as it impacted him. His body armour probably saved him from serious injury, but that didn't stop him from screaming and hurling himself into the nearest snowbank to try and douse the flames running all over him.

Jeanne had worried when she saw Thulia step forward, but not too much. She'd heard Morgana's story of being attacked in Berlin, and given that these goons were only using ordinary guns, she figured Thulia was fairly safe. And she had shields. So she stepped up, murmuring "Shield me please." as she started to raise an arctic wind again. Thulia nodded, setting her staff as she curled a shield around in front of the two girls.

With the semi-incineration of the closest gunman, there seemed to be six remaining in action; the final one had been wounded by the police and was hiding behind a car. Jeanne poured more power into her wind, then gave a gesture - it wasn't necessary, it was all in her mind, but it looked so much more dramatic - as the winds caught the man on the left, picked him up, and hurled him into one of the others. They both screamed in surprise and the shock of the collision, not to mention that despite their armour they were already freezing, ice coating their exposed skin, and Jeanne smiled in satisfaction. It was so nice to see her lessons working out in practice.

Thulia watched the bullets hitting her shield, and wanted to do more than just stand there and protect her companion. Doing two spells at the same time was hard - she knew how, but the mental and physical coordination took years of practice. But allowing her staff to just keep the shield going while casting a second spell, doing that was a lot easier. She started to gesture with her right hand, the lines of the spell leaving faintly-glowing red filaments in the air, then the complete spell pattern glowed as she poured essence into it. A ball of black strands appeared, shooting towards one of the men. He yelled as he saw it, and crouched down under some cover. Thulia smiled as the strands grew into a writhing ball of sleek ebony tentacles, before leaping over the man's cover and dropping down on him. There was a muffled scream, and he reappeared, rolling around as the tentacles tightened around him, leaving him a helpless prisoner.

The remaining three men looked at what had happened to their friends and started to move back, still shooting at Thulia's shield. The two girls exchanged glances, then the arctic wind started to swirl into vortices as Thulia's fingers moved to cast another spell. The men took one look at the swirling ice-devils, and then turned and ran for the bank, just as the air crackled in front of Thulia's hand and a small lightning bolt split the air, hitting the slowest of the three. He spasmed, weapon flying as tiny arcs of electricity grounded themselves from his body, before collapsing, clothing smoking slightly. The other two managed to get inside, which made Thulia frown in disgust at the missed opportunity.

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Inside the CIBC Bank

 

"Boss, we got trouble!"

Pale Wendigo turned in annoyance. He'd been overseeing the loading of the valuables into bags, ready for their departure - he couldn't trust Loup-Garou's wolves to tie their own shoelaces properly. Now they were nearly finished, what were these two panicking about?

"What is it?"

The coldness of his voice brought them back a little from the edge of panic, as one of them gasped out his warning.

"Supers, Boss! Two of them, they took out the rest of the men without even breathing hard!"

He scowled. Wonderful, and just what was a couple of heroes doing in a nothing little town like this? There hadn't been time for any proper response - he'd been keeping an eye on the police bands, and he knew backup wouldn't arrive in time to interfere with them. So it must be a couple of random fools.

"Where is Loup-Garou?"

"He's frozen, Boss! One of the girls froze him solid in a big block of ice! The other ones throwing force fields and fire at us!"

He bared his decaying teeth in a rictus of annoyance. As usual, he'd have to sort things out himself.

"Get the rest of the bags ready, as soon as I've dealt with these two heroes we're leaving."

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Jeanne moved closer to Thulia, keeping her voice down. "The officer said another villain was in the bank. They think it was Pale Wendigo."

Thulia looked at her and shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry, I don't know anything about him."

Jeanne thought hard. "He's some sort of avatar of a Wendigo. Nasty beasts - diseased, a freezing touch, and some sort of psi attack I think."

"Hmm. He's not fireproof, is he?"

Jeanne smiled at the innocent mayhem implied in that. "Pretty sure he isn't, he's tied to cold, so if anything it will hit him harder."

"Oh good."

Pale Wendigo walked out of the bank and examined the situation - and the damage. Some of their men were lying on the ground, one of whom seemed to be caught up in a mass of squirming ebony tentacles. Given that the men who'd run in had mentioned force fields, that led to the assumption one of the girls was probably a mage. The cars lining the street showed signs of being in a gunfight, and across the street, he could see some police officers, who were sensibly staying crouched behind more cars. In front though were two girls. One with long ice-blue hair, the other some sort of horned monster freak, the staff in her hand making it clear to him which one was the mage. He smiled to himself as he touched the amulet around his neck, the black crystal set into it thrumming with power. He knew all about mages. While he was normally weak against their magic, the amulet gave him protection. Not forever, of course, but long enough for him to get close enough to freeze their blood. Few of them knew what to do once he got his claws into them.

Thulia was eyeing the man with disgust. The Pale Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, his desiccated skin pulled tightly over his bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, complexion the ash-gray of death, and his eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, he looked more like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave than a living person. What lips he had left were tattered and bloody, and his skin looked as if it was decaying, suffering from suppuration of the flesh and ready to fall off at any moment. He gave off a strange and eerie odour of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption, that she could smell even across the street, and the way he was eyeing them made it clear he despised them. As far as she was concerned, the feeling was mutual.

Pale Wendigo's partner was close by, as reported standing frozen in a thick block of ice. Typical, he's probably screamed and leaped rather than show any sense. Well, time to get this over with. These girls were clearly young and inexperienced, or they would have attacked him as soon as he stepped outside. Raising his arms, he howled, and the wave of freezing cold radiated out in front of him, making the snow on the street lift and swirl. The girl with the blue hair just ignored it - ah, he thought, this one was the cold user then - while the other raised a hand slightly, as the snow melted around her feet, the airborne snowflakes melting into droplets of water. He didn't pause, bending in a smooth motion to pick up a piece of jagged metal that once had been part of a motorbike, and hurled it with all his strength at the frozen column containing the werewolf. There was a harsh cracking sound, and small cracks started to show all through the column, and his smile at the success of his diversion would have looked in place in a graveyard.

Thulia's curse was matched by one from Jeanne, and she could have kicked herself for not attacking as soon as the man had appeared. She'd been taught better, but hadn't wanted to commit before she knew what the locals wanted; she'd been told not to kill unless absolutely necessary for her safety, and she was erring on the side of caution. She raised her staff, the crystal glowing along its length as she prepared a firebolt considerably more powerful than the one she'd used before. She never got the chance to cast it.

The man threw his head back, eyes filled with an icy blue glare, then jerked his head forward again as the air thrummed, an almost-visible wave of power pulsing over the area. She stopped casting as she felt some very odd feelings trying to take over her mind. Why would she want to eat humans - eww, just the idea of eating a sentient being made her want to throw up, and yet she also had a fear of actually doing so. Beside her, Jeanne was almost doubled over as she fought with her own nightmarish feelings. "Psi attack!" she managed to gasp out, and Thulia nodded, forcing those feelings down and away before they made her lose her breakfast. She'd been taught about this sort of attack, but its power was much greater than anything shed encountered in her training, and she could feel it eating away at the edge of her mind. Worse, the effect was widespread. Behind her, she could see some of the police either trying to stand, or being sick, and further away a couple of the onlookers were trying to attack the nearest person to them.

She frowned as she set her staff in front of her. Protecting herself against this wouldn't be too hard, but she needed to stop the whole effect, and fast. While she could do that too, it was going to take a lot of her remaining power if she was going to cover the whole area. She started to cast anyway, forcing down the feelings that were trying to make her vomit in disgust, spirals of fire sliding through the crystal as she powered one of its spells. She didn't have a lot of choices, after all. She felt the power curling through the staff, and with a sharp motion slammed it down into the road in front of her, so hard it sank into the ground. It stood there upright as it pulsed, a shimmer of phantom fire spreading out over the area and cleansing the mental infection. She could feel the spell draining essence; far more than she was happy with, but she wasn't familiar with the human's particular type of attack, and there wasn't time to analyse a more efficient response.

Pale Wendigo snarled in frustration. It was rare for his attack to be resisted for long, and even when it was the distraction caused by bystanders with weak minds trying to eat the nearest person provided him with plenty of time. Whatever that monster girl had done, it was cancelling the mental effect, the police seemed to be recovering already. Still, that wasn't the only thing he had in mind.

He was about to step forward and deal with the mage when a loud cracking sound came from his left. Followed by an explosive noise as large chunks of ice shattered against the walls and pavement, as Loup-Garou shook himself free of his broken prison, glaring at the two girls.

"Oh shit."

Thulia could sympathise with Jeanne's comment, it pretty much summed up her own opinion on how this fight was going.

"Can you handle the walking corpse? My cold won't do too much against him, but your fire should be better. I think I can handle the wolf."

"I can do that. Take care, I might not be able to shield you."

Jeanne nodded and broke right, the swirls of ice already growing around her as she drew on her power. Thulia looked at her staff, still embedded in the ground, and sighed. It was her best weapon and tool, but she had no idea if the walking corpse could do that attack again, so she needed to leave it there protecting them all. Not having the rest of her gear was starting to annoy her more than a little. It didn't help that having to use a more general effect to counter the psionic attack meant she wouldn't have much essence left to cast fancy spells. Well then, let's see how he burnt. After the way that mental attack had affected her, she had rather given up on the idea of not harming him.

Pale Wendigo smiled as the monster girl moved towards him, leaving her staff behind. Foolish little mage first, then. Claws of ice grew along his fingers; sharp talons that he was going to enjoy drawing through her skin, the feeling of hot blood running down his claws as they sliced into living flesh always excited him.

Thulia wasn't stupid; when she saw him growing ice claws from his fingers, she paused, holding out one arm as she pulled more fire into herself. The tattoo-like markings around her wrist glowed faintly, scarlet lines of magic appearing to move under her skin as they channelled the power filling her aura. Then she cast fire at him, the flames curling and spitting as they shot out and enveloped him. With no effect, as some sort of amulet around his neck glowed darkly and the flames shimmered and were drawn into it.

She snarled in annoyance. This was going to make things more difficult. Normally, that type of protection wouldn't have been too hard to overcome; they were fairly simple, and a powerful, or subtle, enough spell could break through them, or failing that sufficient magic would just overload them. But she wasn't familiar with human magic, so subtlety was out - it was clear from the way he was moving forward that the corpse wasn't going to give her the time to analyse his protection. And with her staff using so much essence, overpowering it wasn't a short-term option. So, she needed a different plan.

Pale Wendigo had stopped for a moment as the burst of fire surrounded him, far more intense than he'd expected, and he was glad of his amulet. It was glowing slightly after absorbing that spell, but it would take a lot more than that to fill its capacity. Oddly the monster-girl wasn't running away as he'd expected, so he leaped forward, expecting an easy target. The girl watched him closely, and as he leaped she pirouetted away, leaving him almost falling into the snow as his victim wasn't where he'd expected. He snarled, a few pieces of rotten flesh falling from his lips. He hated being made to look stupid like that - he'd take his time with this one, he was already wondering what she would taste like.

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Jeanne had only been able to spare Thulia a brief look before concentrating on her own opponent. While the girl seemed to know what she was doing, she still worried - she was supposed to be looking after her, not the other way around! But ignoring Loup-Garou would probably just end with him ripping into them from behind, so there was no real option but for each of them to take a target, and she wasn't very effective against a cold-using creature. She shook her head, concentrating on the ton of annoyed werewolf bearing down on her, and drew hard on her winds. Loup-Garou yelped in surprise as, despite his mass, the wind actually lifted him and slammed him hard into a nearby car. Sadly the car sustained a lot more damage than he did, but given the way he was snarling with saliva dripping down from his fangs, Jeanne thought he was losing control. Which meant that as long as she kept her head, she had an advantage. Sensei Tolman had been very clear that the person who kept their head in a fight had the better chance of winning

The werewolf levered himself out of the damaged car, getting ready to leap. Jeanne grinned - this was a tactic she had a practiced answer to. As the werewolf leaped at her, she gestured with both hands; a blast of wind knocked him sideways, onto a large, slippery patch of ice she'd manifested, and he skidded along the improptu ice slide with a howl of outrage, this time sliding fast along the ice, before slamming into the side of a building hard enough to crack the concrete. This time, he got up more slowly, glaring at her as he shook his head to clear it.

Now she decided to be a bit more directly aggressive. The winds grew again, this time hurling spikes of ice against him, mostly just annoying him, but the occasional large ones seemed to be having more effect, as she saw bloody spots on his thick fur, some of which were leaking blood. Still, she didn't expect that to stop a werewolf, they could take a lot of damage and tended to regenerate anyway, but she could keep him occupied while she built up to a much larger attack.

She backed off a little, calling to the police sergeant who seemed to be in charge. "Can you shoot at him? I need a distraction."

"We certainly can." He gestured to his men, and shots started to hit on and around the wolf, causing another loud howl of pain and outrage. She smiled as she saw him turn to face the barricade, and poured her power into the air well above him. Let's see if he could shrug this attack off!

The police kept up their barrage, and the wolf took a few steps towards them, before realising he was ignoring the real threat. He snarled and turned to her again, hands reaching out as she finally finished her preparation. Above him, the air was dark with a swirl of ice, the object she'd been building almost hidden inside it. Some instinct made him look up, just in time for her winds to hammer the huge ice spike she'd created down onto him. She backed off, just in case, but he was flat on the ground, large chunks of ice surrounding him and part of the spike impaling his leg to the ground. She smiled in triumph before looking around to see how Thulia was getting on.

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Thulia had been thinking rapidly. Her preferred attack was to use magic, or flame, and from a distance, making use of her range advantage. The first wasn't feasible while she kept the psi-blocking spell going, and that amulet meant the second was problematic, given that the fight area was small and cluttered. If she'd had a lot more space, she was confident her fire could have overloaded that amulet, but under the circumstances that would be dangerous, keeping to the street would limit her maneuverability, and if she left it the police would be in danger. However she had a third option, and if it failed, she could go back to overloading that amulet, or even chance taking up her staff again.

She half crouched as she pulled fire into herself again, its power filling her body as her form changed. Her skin darkened to a deeper red as thicker plates of scales formed along her throat, shoulders, belly, and other vulnerable spots. She shivered, as her dragonwings extended, burning in red and black, and a long armoured tail manifested behind her. The change had obviously surprised the corpse, he'd stopped dead for a moment, eyes wide as he watched. She grinned, giving him a good look at her fangs, and finally opened her hand, summoning her new spear. Given what he'd done, she couldn't think of a better target to blood it against.

She didn't bother to use her claws; while they were a lot more impressive in this form, she'd made the spear, with its long reach, for a reason. So she balanced on the soles of her feet, spear held comfortably and waited to see what he would do.

Pale Wendigo was getting more annoyed by the moment. First, this mage had made him look clumsy, now she'd changed into even more of a monster! Well, he could carve up a monster just as easily as he could a girl. This time he didn't leap, but still rushed forward, ice claws glistening in the sunlight. The monster-girl girl just smiled, and the metal spear she suddenly seemed to have batted his arm away as she moved to one side. As he passed, she hammered him with the shaft, sending him sprawling again.

His eyes glowed blue with rage, as he stood up again. Then, looking at her, sliced claws through a nearby car with a loud screech of tortured metal. "Girl, this is what I'm going to do to you!" If he'd been a bit less enraged, he might have noticed how unimpressed the monster-girl was.

This time he stalked forward. He'd just slice away with his claws, destroy that spear, then rip her into bloody shreds. Slowly. Then eat them. Thulia kept her spear moving slowly in front of her, then as he finally closed rammed it out in a viper-quick motion, the razor-sharp edge slashing along his side in a spray of blood as it grated along a rib. He was faster than she'd expected, managing to dodge the worst of the blow, but even so, the bloody gash in his side made him howl in pain. She grinned and again dodged. Not quite fast enough this time, as a claw skittered across one of her shoulder plates, leaving a gouge in it. Well, she'd wondered how dangerous his claws were, now she knew.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her friend preparing something for the wolf-man, so she should stop taking her time and finish this off. Next time he closed, she parried his claws with quick motions of her spear, then hammered him hard with a fist, sending him flying sideways into a car in a flurry of curses. She used the moment to get airborne, the beating of her wings gusting flurries of snow from the ground as they lifted her, and she drew back her spear. This time she released some of the magic she'd stored in it, the crystal core glowing bright as it made the shaft and head grow white-hot before she hurled it as hard as she could at him. Despite his desperate attempt to dodge, the flaming spear caught him in the shoulder, lancing through his decaying flesh, setting fire to his clothing before embedding itself in the ground behind him where the burning lance made the snow burst into steam. He screamed in pain, ripping the burning cloth away from his charred flesh.

"I'll accept your surrender."

He just snarled at the amusement in her words - well, she hadn't actually expected him to give up, she'd just made the gesture. This time, he was looking around, and she suspected he was looking to escape now, rather than fight any longer. She smiled and landed. With a gesture, she dismissed her spear ready to re-summon it, and slowly moved towards him. He was clutching his ruined shoulder, and she stopped some feet away, not wanting to get any closer to his charnel breath. She raised a hand, claws fully extended, and as his eyes followed them, she spun and twisted hard. Her armoured, spined tail slammed around and into his legs, hurling him against a wall, and she distinctly heard the wet snap of bones. He was twitching, but not really moving, legs twisted in a manner that meant broken bones as she drew her spear into her hand again, stepping daintily forward. The speartip lifted his chin up, and she gave him the full benefit of a satisfied fanged smile at the look of hatred on his face. Then she drew it back a few inches, and with lightning speed, the point drove down and shattered the gem of his protective amulet into splinters.

"Now would you like to surrender?" She casually drew a sphere of fire into her free hand his eyes following it, and finally, she saw fear in them. "I suspect you aren't fireproof..."

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The two girls were comparing notes as the police led the handcuffed Wendigo away. Jeanne was curious about the other form Thulia had manifested, although she'd now reverted to her more normal, but still horned, aspect. However, she was too polite to ask directly. During the car trip back to Whateley would be a good time, she thought.

"So what happened to the wolf guy?"

Jeanne shrugged. "Not sure, one minute he was pinned down, then I had to help the police tidy up some of the gunmen who were trying to escape. When we looked again, there was just a trail of blood. Judging by the marks in the snow, he escaped by snowmobile, and the police didn't have anything suitable to follow him with."

"Oh. What's a snowmobile?"

Jeanne sighed. "Girl, we need to get you up to speed on some things or they'll never take you for a Canadian!" She eyed her again. "How good are you at saying -eh?"

"Eh??"

"Work on it."

"Ladies, on behalf of my men and myself, thank you. You probably saved a lot of lives today."

Both girls looked a little embarrassed, and Thulia actually blushed. Jeanne decided to take the lead, after all, she was supposed to be in charge of this circus!"

"That's very kind of you, Sergeant. We couldn't just stand by and watch. And luckily our powers were suitable for the situation."

He nodded. "True." Then he looked rather embarrassed himself. "Ah... I'm afraid I need to ask to see your ID and MID's."

Jeanne nodded, digging hers out of her purse. "Here you are, officer."

He looked it over. "Polar Vortex. Thank you again, I need the details for my report. And how about your friend?"

Jeanne coughed. "Ah well... you see, she's on her way to Whateley, she doesn't have a MID yet."

The Sergeant looked a little unhappy, especially when Jeanne put her hand out to stop Thulia from helpfully offering her shiny new passport. "That's... a bit of a problem." He thought for a moment. "We have a helo coming in soon with our support, once they are here I can call in and see what the best thing to do is?"

Thulia was looking confused, while Jeanne was looking fairly worried. While she thought this could all be cleared up - given the helpfulness of the officials who'd issued Thulia's papers in the first place - there was always the chance of an over officious MCO type getting involved. While that could be sorted out, it would hardly give Thulia a good starting impression, and they were already late enough.

"Perhaps I can be of help, Officer?"

The policeman turned to see a smartly-suited man who'd approached. "And you are?"

He smiled and offered a card. "I'm the girls' driver. As you can see, I work for the diplomatic escort department."

The sergeant looked carefully at the presented document. Anyone who was being driven around by an official government driver was clearly important to the authorities. Not that he wanted to get the girls into any sort of trouble - after the way they'd helped, that was the last thing he wanted to do. The driver's credentials gave him an easy way out from under the regulations.

"Thank you, sir. I take it you'll be heading off now the road is open again?"

"Yes officer, in fact, I came over to collect my passengers."

Even better, thought Villeneuve. By the time all the immediate paperwork and reports had been done, the girls would be safely away and probably at their destination, and any subsequent paperwork could be handled without them. That would solve his problem nicely.

"Of course, I won't delay you any longer then." He turned to the two girls. "Ladies, again please accept my thanks, and I hope the rest of your journey goes smoothly."

Jeanne nodded vigorously. "Thank you, I hope it does too!"

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"Can I change before we get in the car?"

Jeanne blinked at the girl, who was still in the leotard she'd fought in."You can't just change clothes magically again?"

Thulia shook her head. "It doesn't work like that! I had this" - she patted her leotard - "ready just in case of trouble, but my clothes I just dumped in exchange. When I bring them back, they#ll just be in a pile and I'll have to dress."

"Oh." Jeanne looked around, then with an apologetic look to their driver, pulled Thulia into a nearby cafe. "If they have a restroom, will that be OK?"

"Oh sure, I'll only take a few minutes. I'll change my form at the same time."

Jeanne nodded. She had to admit, walking around in the snow in just a leotard, not to mention her horns, were getting them more attention than she was happy with, even with the aftermath of the battle drawing people's attention.

"That's a good idea, we'll wait."

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Jeanne sighed with relief as she settled back into the car seat. "At least that's over, now we can get on our way."

Thulia looked at her curiously. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"

Jeanne groaned. "No, at least not to me it doesn't! If it did, I'd have been a lot better prepared."

Her companion nodded. "Me too. I think I need to look at making sure I have access to my gear next time."

"You're worried about a next time?"

Thulia shrugged. "Well, Morgana told me she was attacked in somewhere called Berlin a few weeks ago, now I arrive and next day we get into a fight. It does seem fairly common."

Jeanne slumped deeper down into her seat. She hoped Thulia was being overly worried, just the thought of the dressing down they were going to get for all this, not to mention the paperwork, was already looming over her like an iceberg over the Titanic. Then she had a thought.

"Hey, but you did have your gear, didn't you? I mean, you had that staff, and a spear, and that leotard."

Thulia blushed slightly. "Well, not really! I just had the spear and leotard stored because they wouldn't fit in my luggage! And the staff, well, I always have that. If I'd had my gear, the fight would have been easier." She frowned. "And I need to learn a lot more about human magic, I had to use a ton of essence and brute-force a solution. It's not elegant!"

Jeanne tried not to look too disbelieving. Granted, their opponents had been about the worst possible for her cold and weather powers to handle, but Thulia's combat skills  - especially given how young she looked - had been a bit of a shock. Then she had a thought that brought a slow grin to her face, as she wondered what sort of odds a youngster like Thulia would get in this terms Combat Finals...

 

To Be Continued
Read 2996 times Last modified on Monday, 21 February 2022 23:29
Astrodragon

Incredibly cute coffee-loving dragon. What else needs to be said? 

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brudin
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brudin
5 months ago
Nice, but one thing. I think french canadian say calisse more than merde as a juron.
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