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Fox Tails (Part 4)

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Fox Tails

by

Fiddlerfox

(with contributions by Bek D Corbin and Elrodw)

 

Part Four

 

March 12, 2007
Whateley Academy

I knocked on Anna's door in the upper floors of Whitman after classes had finally got out. The first week had come and gone and although I wanted to make sure I gave my daughter space and not infringe on her social world, it would simply be odd if one supposed sister didn't at least see the room of the other one.

The door was opened, and Anna saw me standing in the hallway in the borderline inappropriate school uniform. I mean, there was nothing outright wrong with it, but well I didn't necessarily enjoy being the watery tart shoved into the plaid skirt.


"Hey Anna, mind if I come in?" I asked.

"Kitty! Um, sure.. Cammie is playing a game at the moment so just don't interrupt her."

"Cammie?" I asked quietly as I slipped inside, shutting the door carefully behind me. Anna's room was an echo of my own, which considering we were in the same cottage shouldn't come as a large surprise. Her autographed Meliferra poster hung on the wall, framed and protected. She also had a picture of the Science Center and Space Needle, as well as some various family photos. There was an individual one of Max from when he was getting his BA, another one of Claire when she was reading her letter of acceptance into med school, and a third of Will doing his first show. A picture of Claire and I.. of Conner.. from our last Christmas together threatened to bring a tear to my eye. Perhaps even more impressive, was she had somehow managed to add one of me playing the mandolin.. of Catherine. I was curled up in a chair at Clarie's new place, so it must have been taken recently and sent up here somehow. A mostly kept laundry basket was under her desk with a pile of homework atop it, and some ancient history books as well on a shelf over the bed. She really was into archaeology.

"Yeah, she's my roommate. Her name is actually Gwynhwyfar Cameron, but everyone just calls her Cammie."

"That makes sense," I replied as I looked towards the other side of the room. It looked like an advertisement brochure for NASA. Model rockets, posters of what I guessed were hubble pictures, bits of what looked like a drone or robot dismantled on her desk. There was a TV over on a stand against the window wall, which had an Xbox hooked up to it. Cammie was sitting on a bean bag chair with a headset on and a controller in her hand, playing some sort of.. um.. colored armored spacemen running around shooting each other?

She seemed to be doing well. I saw a lot of "Jimmybob was killed by Princess" messages and the like popping up.

"Oops, sorry 'bout your luck there," she said into her headset before muting it and looking over at me quickly. "Hey Kitty. Anna told me a bit about you. I heard you met my brother already."

"Your brother?" I asked, slightly confused.

"Errol.. goes by Flynn," she replied.

"That... is actually pretty clever," I allowed with a slight grin.

"Yeah, he's the science nerd. I'm more into robots."

I decided not to go into the fact that robots, at the level of building your own in your dorm room combined with scale models of rockets, was not exactly un-nerdy. I looked over at Anna with a raised eyebrow, to which she countered with a "I know, right?" sort of expression and gesture.

"I only ran into your brother for a little bit, he seemed nice though," I offered.

"Yeah, he said he and his new roommate ran into you for a short bit. Some sort of cowboy or something? Flynn said you and your roomie had ran into some trouble." Cammie grimaced and started pounding on her controller for a while. "Sec.. fuck.. damnit! Who the hell is Charlie?"

"Charlie?" I asked.

"Yeah, someone on the campus LAN uses the handle Charlie, and they're a beast! I've never taken them down, and I am pretty good myself."

Given the kill count that popped up periodically, she was being modest. "And you have no idea who they are?"

"Nope. The only thing any of us have ever heard from them is Welcome to the Jungle."

"Wait, like the song?"

"Yeah... sometimes they play it to warn us they're coming or something. One day I'll figure out who it is, then shake their hand."

I nodded. "Makes sense. So.. robots?"

"Yup. Robots, drones, all sorts of remote controlled things. I just game here in my off time to relax. You two go ahead and visit, I have some campers to gank. Fuck.. Charlie...damnit. Alright, try again.."

I snickered at her and turned my attention to visiting with Anna. It was familiar, but eerily strange all at the same time. I mean I had often asked her about school before and while she had been truthful, there had always been the sense that she wasn't telling me about things. I had chalked it up to not wanting to talk about her life with her father which was something I had understood.

In a way that was still there, only now she almost seemed more curious as to how my experience was going. What teachers I had, trying to catch me up on some of the gossip about students who were in my classes or what was going on in the cottage. Apparently dying was the way to grow closer to your daughter, who knew?

Sometimes in the midst of all the chaos you took your small blessings when you could get them.

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March 13, 2007
Whateley Academy

Rhys and I carried our trays through the Crystal Hall as we found an empty table on the first floor. Neither of us cared much about trying to climb the strange social ladder that was the cafeteria seating. I mean, I got it on an intellectual level; it wasn't that different from calling "top bunk" at Summer Camp. The difference to me was it was just eating lunch, that took what, a half hour of your day? Maybe an hour? There were far more important things to worry about; we all ate the same food after all.

We worked our way through the crowd, only to be blocked from our table at the last minute by a couple of girls. One of them had glasses and was a fairly regular-looking girl (save she also had been gifted by the Queen of the Faeries in puberty), while the other was unique in that she made me feel tall. She must have been about a hand shorter than I, though she looked like she was still in elementary school.

Rhys whispered from behind me, "They're in Wondercute.." I groaned inwardly. I had ears (albeit furry ones); I had heard a few things about Wondercute.

The short one was obviously leading this foray. I could tell by the way she was approaching me with what could only be described as sort of a Christmas morning expression. "You are so cute and fluffy!" she said in the voice of a barely contained spasm.

"Um, thanks?" I offered back with a slightly confused glance at Rhys. Rhys simply shrugged her shoulders at me. Yeah, big help.

"You're welcome! Anyway, we know you're pretty new, but have you thought about joining Wondercute? We'd love to have you!"

"Thanks, but I'm not really looking to join any groups right now," I said carefully. I mean I didn't want to alienate or anger anyone, but I had enough things to worry about as it was. "I'll let you know if I change my mind though," I offered as Rhys and I moved away and continued to our table.

"Lavender," Rhys stated after we had sat down, pointing at a color chart she had in her hand.

"Light purple," I countered easily. I picked up one of my sushi rolls and popped it into my mouth.

Rhys frowned, taking a bite of her burger. "Magenta."

"Light reddish-purple." Bit of teriyaki chicken on a stick. With nice grill marks, means someone did it right.

Larger frown with a pair of fries. "You'll just call crimson dark red...cyan."

"Light blue." Second sushi roll.

"Baby blue!" she said, thinking she had me.

"Lighter blue." Victory teriyaki chicken tastes even better than regular teriyaki chicken.

"You are incorrigible."

"Hey, I told you it was all the same um.." I paused a moment, counting on my fingers, "nine colors, just with light and dark and combinations. Eh, ten. I suppose you can say grey instead of white-black."

"You wound all artists everywhere!"

"It's a talent," I said with a grin and a wink. I raised my bowl of egg drop soup up to take a drink directly from the bowl, when suddenly the bowl lurched in my hands and spilled all over my inconvenient bosom. Startled, I cried out and stood up when it became apparent that somehow my shoelaces had tied themselves to my chair. This of course led to me falling right on my floofy derriere. Needless to say, I was less than pleased.

Rhys looked horrified. I mean, she wasn't in a panic, and the attention wasn't being drawn to her specifically so as far as I could tell she was doing okay. I'm sure my stock fell quite a few points with my quite acrobatic maneuver. At least it was time to do laundry again anyway.

There were of course, the customary snickers and laughs. I couldn't fault them too badly; I was sure I would have snickered had it not been me. The irritating part was I had a pretty good idea who at least one of those snickers was. Nothing concrete anyway, but an inkling. I sighed and fixed my shoelaces before righting my chair and sitting back upon it carefully. I assumed a proper posture and calmly began to eat my food again. Water off a duck, I told myself.

"Ducks Are rather tasty," Siona injected. While I couldn't disagree with her, her timing was often... suspect.

"Are you okay?" Rhys asked as she handed me some napkins. I dabbed at my chest with them making sure anything solid was removed from my shirt.

"I'll be fine," I replied with a smile. "Nothing worth worrying about. Someone obviously is just trying to make me miserable, they'll get bored soon enough." I was a grown-assed man, I could out patient a school bully until they got bored and went away. Woman. Girl. Whatever, you know what I meant. Unfortunately for me this was only mostly true as I'd come to find out.

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March 19, 2007
Whateley Academy

"Alright class, did everyone remember to get their athames as we discussed last week?" Miss Grimes asked. She was a bit older, and had that sort of look about her that really belonged on the stage of a Victorian drama. Ya know, the ones where the quite artful lady is escorted down the stairs with the big poofy awesome dress and escorted by men with swords. Anyway, that was neither here nor there.

I sighed and dutifully held up my fancy pig sticker along with everyone else with my left hand, while copying down notes still with my right on my ubiquitous yellow legal pad. Laugh all you want, I still took notes like a person, with a pencil and paper. Pig sticker in this case was being a bit generous as I was dealing with what was essentially a fancy letter opener perhaps eight or nine inches in total length. If I ever really needed to stab someone, this would not be my go to item. I had gone with a one-piece, sterling silver number. It was sharp, but being as it was made of silver I wasn't looking to really test this on anyone. It had cost several hundred dollars, but I was happy with it. Additionally, I also now got to carry my own werewolf insurance, right?

Thankfully I seem to have lucked out on the introduction class I landed... from what I have heard the other one had a few of the Kimbas and folks they knew. If half of what I had heard from Anna was true, I really wanted to stay as far away from that walking disaster crew as possible.

"Good." Miss Grimes pointed to a few of the mystical symbols on the board. I frowned as I drew them yet again on my tablet, notating their names and what they were associated with. I really was trying, but most of the parts of the class were.. well.. almost quite literally working with a foreign language in which I wasn't fluent. The light spell actually came very easily to me. Of all the minor parlor tricks I'd been shown (light, water, moving marbles) it was the most natural.

"Now that you've all been assigned a safe work space, we'll be going over some of the symbology for fire. Now, I must emphasize that you should only experiment with this in your safe, warded work areas."

"You should listen to this one, cousin," Siona suggested silently. My ears perked up and I began taking notes intently while my tails swished back and forth. Northern lights and foxfire? It was worth a shot.

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I walked into Crystal Hall, weaving my way around as many groups of people I didn't want to talk to as best I could. Cabbage rolls was the name of the game for this particular dinner, stuffed with sushi style fillings. Honestly they looked delicious and I hoped that a bit of nice fresh taste would help my mood. I spotted Rhys sitting by herself, but something about her posture was wrong. I sat down across from her

She seemed to make an effort at straightening up and smiling when I sat across from her. I tilted my head slightly and peered at her, had she been crying?

"Are you.." I started to ask as she simultaneously looked over at me, "What's in.."

We both smiled and laughed involuntarily before I inclined my head at her. "You first."

"What's in your hair?" She asked as she picked up a bit of... something that I had missed on my head.

"Um... ash? Some charred wood, bits of paper, nothing too important." Rhys just stared at me, waiting and insisting with her silence that I give her the entire story. "Alright, so we just got our all super special warded workrooms, so apparently they thought we could start working on things that qualify as dangerous. I went after class to try and do a little work on the fire spell we learned today and well, it didn't go according to plan."

"It didn't work right?" She asked slightly confused.

"More the opposite, it worked a little too well." I scrunched up my face as I picked out another bit of burned... something. "So after I managed to set fire to my workroom on the first day and extinguished it, I spent a while having to go over exactly what happened and fill out various forms."

"It was fairly impressive, cousin. I did tell you you should pay attention to the fire spell after all. I was certain that you would have a natural talent for it."

"Anyway, I got myself mostly cleaned up and thought I'd try and relax with some dinner. But more importantly, are you okay?" I frowned as I looked at her. Rhys was normally such a bright cheerful girl, seeing her down was slightly unnerving.

"I... my Psychic Arts teacher called me over after class today. Said I was intentionally holding back. I'm so embarrassed; I don't know what I'm going to do."

I frowned, thoughtfully. Embarrassment might not seem like something so serious to most people, but most people didn't have to deal with what Rhys did every moment of every day. To her, it was a very real thing that influenced her every interaction around other people.

"You can always talk about it the next time you take me to see my counselor," I suggested. Really this was our code for her talking to her own counselor, but by phrasing it this way I still let her keep her cover of not seeing one for herself. I didn't mind and it helped her out.

"You think so? I don't know, it seems kind of silly to.."

It was at that moment my shirt exploded.

It didn't really explode, not in the fiery ball of flame sense. What happened was suddenly one half of my shirt was pulled with enough force to cause all the buttons to pop off, leaving me with a rather useless situation and flashing the entire cafeteria. It was, of course, exactly what I wanted to have happen. I mean, who doesn't want the reputation of boobs so amazing they destroyed clothing, right?

Predictably there was a moment of pin drop silence before a chorus of laughing, looks of sympathy and misery, oogling by untold number of teenaged boys, and who knows what else all happened at once. I closed my eyes and tried to summon what dignity and patience I still had after weeks of pranking (presumably all from the same wanna-be-Homecoming-King) and tied my shirt in a knot under my breasts. One more thing to bear with stoicism.

I felt a light jacket being placed on my shoulders and I looked up to see Matt Walker. "Looks like you could use this," he said as he took his tray of food back from Flynn who was standing next to him. The pair of them sat down next to us, helping shield me a bit from the rest of the cafeteria.

"Thank you," I said with a wry smile. "It's not been my day."

"I can imagine," Matt commented as he gave a short glare out over the cafeteria. Flynn was sitting next to Rhys, reading a book while eating absent-mindedly. Schoolwork even while eating?

I turned my head to try and make out the title of the book. "Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension? What's it about?" I said with a questioning sort of voice. That was... that couldn't be schoolwork, could it?

Flynn looked up from his book as he gradually realized the silence meant he was the one who was supposed to respond. "Oh, sorry. Um, it's about curved space time and non-euclidean geometry." I must have had a really interesting look of confusion on my face, as he started to try to explain.

"Our regular space has three dimensions; length, width and height. A lot of common theories posit that time is a fourth dimension, which means mathematically and visually you can just add another dimension to your formula or your cube and..."

I shook my head slowly back and forth with a slight frown. He paused, frowning as well as he pushed his glasses up onto his nose more securely. Brushing an errant lock of hair out of his eyes he thought for a moment. "Alright, what are you doing in math right now and I can try again?"

"Division," I replied deadpan.

Flynn, Matt, and Rhys all stopped and looked at me like I was joking. I looked at them all, sinking a little in my seat as I blushed. "I'm sorry, manifesting really messed me up!" I offered as a reason.

"Ok... give me a moment..." He thought for a minute, then nodded. "Alright, so imagine you're a flat comic book character, and the only thing you know is length and width because you live on a piece of paper. So then there's a marble that is moving through your piece of paper. It starts as a single dot, a single point where it touches the edge of the paper, then as it moves through you'd see it as a circle that was getting bigger and bigger until it stopped, then it got smaller and smaller again until eventually it was back to a point and vanished."

I half nodded, closing my eyes to try and visualize what he was talking about. "So time is the marble?" I asked.

"Kind of." He paused and thought again before I waved my hand.

"It's alright, Flynn. Thank you for trying to explain it. Maybe once I get back to algebra or something we can try again." He was a nice guy, pretty helpful. Though he did seem to have his head in the clouds. He definitely was more nerdy than Cammie, but apparently that was a relative term. Was everyone here a genius or something?

I tried to relax and have a normal dinner, shooting Rhys a small smile. Things seemed to be recovering alright for now at least.

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I breathed a small sigh of nervousness before knocking on her door in Whitman. I mean she didn't really have any reason to help me and I hated asking for help in the first place. No man is an island though well... woman... girl... whatever. Anyway, Siona was fairly certain she would be of help and I had no reason to doubt her on this one.

"She is bound to a fox-spirit. While not the same as us, I believe she will be more understanding than most. I also suspect her style of magic to be more of the type that you would find easier as well."

I knocked on the door, waiting for the "Come in" before cracking it open and peering inside. Foxfire was working on a laptop, which matched what I had overheard and seen previously. She was part of a local writers group after all. To say that she was obviously an avid reader would be an understatement from the amount of books on her side of the room. Her roommate Shadowdancer wasn't in at the moment, which was a plus for me.

"Good evening, Foxfire," I offered. Thankfully I had made sure to change into some of my sleepwear as opposed to trying to have this conversation in my now-needing-repair shirt. "I wanted to come by and ask you for help."

Foxfire tilted her head curiously and pushed her glasses up on her nose. She set her laptop aside and gave me her full attention. "With what?" she asked.

"Classwork," I said with a sigh. "You might have heard that I'm in a lot of remedial classes. My manifesting... well was a little rough. I ended up not knowing most academic things I'd ever learned and a lot of what I read..."

"You forgot books you read?" She asked with a gasp of horror. I hadn't really thought about how a reader and writer would feel about that. I probably should have. Eeewww… Well, I wouldn’t mind losing Twilight… and the Hunger Games wouldn’t be any great loss… So, what do you need? Something really vital, like parsing a sentence?”

"Well... on the bright side, I am getting to re-discover them all again?" I pointed out with a wry grin.

"What are you reading now?" she asked curiously.

"A lot of Tom Clancy at the moment."

She wrinkled her nose and shrugged. "Good for idle reading on the train."

"I kind of found myself in the center of a lot of intrigue," I said with a grimace. "It's been helping me remember to be wary of all the people I thought were telling me the truth. I've been tending towards a lot of Science Fiction lately more than Fantasy. Fantasy always seemed more like wishing the past was different, but Science Fiction is really more possibility for the future."

"Fantasy is Psychology, while Science Fiction is Sociology," she offered. "Fantasy isn't about the past, it's about archetypes and the resolution of fundamental conflicts, whereas Science Fiction is about the exploring the possibilities of Technology, and what lies beyond the Stars "

"Hunh," I tilted my head in thought before nodding slightly. "I can kinda see that."

"So what makes you think you can trust me?" she asked pointedly in reference to my previous comment.

"Honestly? Siona thinks I can," I offered, tapping my forehead. "You have your fox friend, and anyone who is bound to a fox well, we've got to stick together."

She thought for a moment before nodding, "Okay, but you owe me one."

"Fair enough," I replied. I had figured that would happen, but I really couldn't afford to be behind in too many things.

"So which class is giving you trouble?"

"Magic for Dummies," I replied with a sigh. "I am having trouble really understanding all these rules and laws and ... I don't know, defining something that seems like it is about spirits and energies and things not from here anyway."

"Aha! Welcome to my parlor, fly, and we'll get started." She looked almost gleeful as she prepared to launch into a long explanation. I began to have my doubts about what I had gotten myself into.

"Okay, the real thing to remember is that there are Three Laws, and everything else is an application of those three laws. Think about all the stories where the witch does this, the fairy does that, and the ghost can't do the other thing; they'll all bound by the Laws of Magic, and what they're running into is one of those applications.

"The First one is the Biggie: The Rule of Definition. 'The World is what we say it is.' Some say that the other two are really just applications of the Rule of Definition, but let's skip that. How we define things sets how we and others interact with it. I mean, Elizabeth Windsor is really just a little old lady who wears a lot of pastels with a job in Public Relations for the British government. But she is also Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of England and Scotland, Princess of Wales, and a bunch of other stuff. In a very real way, she helps bind the United Kingdom together, makes it a family, and all that stuff. She rules, the Prime Minister governs at her behest. But she only has that power because everyone agrees that she has that power.

"The Second Law is, like I said, sort of an application of the Law of Definition, but it's major enough to be a Law. It's called the Law of Domain. Basically it says 'when you're on my turf, I call the shots'. You see this in Haunted House stories a lot- the Haunt has tons of power within the walls of its house, less power inside the garden and yard of the house, and almost no power at the boundary of the property. The Haunt says 'This is my turf. What I say here goes.' Now, you can fight that, but it's hard because, like I said, you're on its property. BUT, if you can fight the Master of the Domain- that's the proper term for it- you can break that power. You can even set the terms of whatever so that whoever wins is the Master of the Domain, and take the domain for your own. The downside being that if you lose, well, you're screwed. And, one of the downsides to all of this is that if the Master of the Domain makes a statement as the Master, in the Domain, he's stuck with it along with everyone else. Oh, there are some weird and twisted things you can do with that.

"The Third Law is the Law of Cyclicality. Y'see, one of the reasons why magic is called 'supernatural' is that it's NOT NATURAL. You're making the universe do things it normally wouldn't. So a magical working has to have a Beginning, a Middle and an End. You've got to overcome the inertia and get the working going, you've got to keep it on track or it'll go running off every which way, and then you've got to STOP IT. If you don't stop it, it'll just keep going until it runs out of juice, and Ghoo only knows what it'll do. Part of the Law of Cyclicality is the Rule of Opposition: like Isaac Newton said 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction'. No matter what you want to do, no matter how nice and benevolent, you gotta watch out for the Boomerang."

I pulled out my yellow legal tablet and began taking notes as she explained things in actual english. She obviously really knew her stuff, and was already making as much or more sense than class. I was definitely glad I had asked for her help, even if I owed her a favor later.

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March 26, 2007
Whateley Academy

Life continued along much the same pace for a while. The Crystal Hall was kinder when I wasn't alone, but otherwise the only good part about it was the food. I just didn't... I don't want to say I didn't care, but at the same time I really didn't care who was kissing who, or what they wore in class last week. I suppose I was dealing with my own issues enough that the minor gossip didn't end up being something I cared about.

I didn't know who half the people involved were anyway, especially since most everything seemed to be about what happened before I arrived. People still talked about ninja raids, Halloween massacres, it was enough to make me wonder what kind of chaos I had found myself in. Part of me had to compare their chaos to the sort of roving disaster that the last year or two had been for me and roll my eyes at the lot of them. The other part reminded myself that these were children, and everything seemed larger than life to children.

Even when the lot of them were a bunch of assholes.

Alright, that's overly harsh. I had apparently found a few good apples at least, but the majority of them seemed to be a bunch of superficial, petty, overly dramatic assholes. I was able to enjoy myself eating as a group with Rhys, Flynn and Matt. The problem was on any other day when we didn't end up eating together. Then, it began.

"Did you hear that Catherine there is in remedial math? I swear they'll let anyone in these days..."

"They must have just felt sorry for her after both her parents died."

"She's so pathetic even those losers couldn't stand her today."

Look, I know I'd been through this once in my life before. Somehow though, I guess I wasn't as ready and prepared for this as I thought I had been. When you hear enough garbage day after day, it wears you down.

"We are..." Siona started in my mind.

"Of the blood of foxes. I know. I know they're wrong and that most of them are just trying to find a way out of their own problems. I'll be fine."

At least I wasn't completely alone. Siona did help immensely, but what she wasn't was human. In many ways I guess, I just felt like I didn't belong here.

I was moving my way through the cafeteria with my tray when I was again confronted by a pint sized bundle of energy. I sighed inwardly. I had intended to just utilize 'The Seattle Freeze' and simply never reach out again about Wondercute, but apparently that wasn't going to be an option.

"Hey, Kit! I wanted to ask you if you had thought more about joining Wondercute?" Jade asked.

"Heeeyyy... yeah... about that. I've thought about it a bit, and I don't think it's really for me."

"What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely confused. "I mean, you're adorable, and floofy, and you'd fit right in!"

I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment. How should I put this for her... "Welcome to the Jungle," I said. She blinked at me so I continued. "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Still nothing. "Here I Go Again." The lack of response was maddening. I sighed audibly in an exasperated fashion and asked "The intro to Thunderstruck?"

Ironically, at that last bit I heard said intro coming from Outcast Corner on solo guitar. I smiled in spite of myself, and turned to look. Razorback was thoughtfully shredding the guitar, so I flashed a Metal horns sign with my hand and gave a Gene Simmons tongue. The Outcasts grinned back.

I turned my attention back to Jade. "I have nothing against things that are cute and fluffy. It's just not my first interest. I don't think it's really the group for me."

Jade sighed. "Don't think I've given up!" she declared before walking away. Great, more things to look forward to.

I continued and sat alone at a table, relatively ignored for the moment as I picked at my rice, fried tofu and vegetables. I had discovered that fried tofu was absolutely delicious. In fact I was so engrossed in picking at my meal that I almost didn't notice the two people who paused once they saw I was alone and then detoured to sit next to me, one on either side. I half recognized the two of them. The girl to my left was about my height, with midnight black hair up in a ponytail. She was wearing a white and black supersuit with a gold star on her chest. The boy to my right was a hand or so taller than I, with dark hair in a short boy's cut. He was dressed like GI Joe was trying to Escape from New York. I wracked my brain trying to think of who they were, when I realized I had been attacked by Poesies. It was a good thing it seemed that Rhys wasn't here today, because Wallflower and Lancer had sat on either side of me. I blinked as I looked back and forth between them in turn. "What.. um.. hi," I offered lamely.

"Your parents are fucking heroes," Lancer said out of nowhere.

I blinked in surprise, as I was trying to process where or what this was coming from. "Excuse me?" I asked inquisitively.

Wallflower looked over at Lancer with an amused glance. "We noticed what was going on, so we did some investigating. Your mother was Lady Briar, right?"

I nodded slowly as I tried to process what she was saying. I mean, well, it was the narrative now.

Lancer picked up after the pause. "Everyone knows who she is. I mean, the Congo? Jamaica? That stint in Siberia? Your mom was a legend."

I blinked as my mouth opened slightly trying to keep up. I hadn't heard about any of those things. "Even so, it's not like dad ever..." I started to say.

"Eighty seven people." Lancer replied.

"Excuse me?" I asked, once again caught on the back foot. These two really had a plan and research. They prepped for... for me?

Lancer leaned towards me intensely. "I asked Ayla to find the official news report for me. Your dad saved eighty seven people. Three teachers, five parents, and seventy nine children. He stood up to a known mutant felon as a baseline knowing there wasn't anything he could really do to him, and managed to notify police and make sure eighty seven people got away. He was a hero, and if I could I'd shake his hand myself and tell him so."

I closed my eyes slightly and could feel tears trying to fall. I had never considered that anyone anywhere would think of what I had done as heroic. It just... needed to be done. It was just what you do. "Thank you," I said softly.

He continued, "Anyway, I'm done with this nonsense. I talked with the Grunts, and Lily has talked with the Capes. All of us have either lost people in the business or know folks who have. You're not alone and I'm done with you getting treated like this."

"We all are," Lily added.

Meals were different after that. Every time I was in Crystal Hall by myself, suddenly out of nowhere a spandex wearing hero in training or JROTC kid was sitting with me making small talk. Folk began to talk less when I was surrounded by caped crusaders or big scary Grunts. They told me of their own stories, letting me know of other people who had gone down trying to make things better. This continued for a few days, then a week. Meals were always with Rhys and the boys, or with my new escorts. Over time, the snarky remarks gradually got less in number. Once I had become yesterday's news, they went away entirely.

That wasn't the only effect.

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March 30, 2007
Whateley Academy

"You don't have to keep doing this to yourself, you know," Rhys said from where she stood beside me.

"Yes I do," I replied. I wasn't going to let it beat me. I was not going to let down the people who thought I was heroic. Alright, that thought Conner was heroic, but still. Conner is me. Was me. Whatever. I don't pretend to have that figured out yet.

I took a deep breath and walked back into the Whateley gun safety range. This was the third day in a row I'd been trying this. I went and sat in the back of the room, on a bench in the corner. Rhys sat next to me, holding my hand tightly with both of hers. Sergeant Johnny Bravo looked over with what I would have guessed was a look of sympathy at me for a moment, before directing his attention over the other students in his range.

I took in a deep breath, and tried to settle my mind as best I could. Each day I had lasted a little longer before the panic came. I had to keep trying. I refused to let Ferrous beat me like that.

Eventually the shooting started, and once again I braved my own private hell. I was only dimly aware of what was going on around me. Of Rhys holding my hand, trying to keep me here and not blinking away. Of the fact she was glaring daggers at anyone who even thought about looking over at me in a less than positive fashion right now. She would cave every time for herself, would never stand up for her own needs, but apparently the fact that I was hurting was enough to turn her into a she-bear.

Not every battlefield was physical, and unfortunately this was one I was going to have to try to face on my own.

"Not entirely on your own, Cousin."

Siona was right, as she often was. At least this was not entirely on my own.

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April 17, 2007
Whateley Academy

The night was clear, cool, and calm. I know everyone wants bad things to always happen when it's dark and stormy, like nature somehow is bound to reflect the circumstances of one single person. News flash, it's really not about you. To the world, often you are but one small spec of cosmic dust if you think about it. Weather patterns, storms, humidity, all of that doesn't just change to reflect your own personal narrative. Anyway, the night was distinctly really nice and peaceful, which given what was going to happen was rather ironic.

I had been dreaming, flashes of something that I didn't entirely recognize. I thought I remembered lanterns and pink cherry blossoms, both of which while pretty didn't exactly match anything going on in my life at the moment unless Siona was wrapped up in it. Something woke me, so naturally the first thing I did was look for my roommate. Rhys was sleeping herself, and I waited a moment to see if anything was bleeding off of her emotionally. Wouldn't have been the first time she accidentally let something slip, but thankfully tonight wasn't one of those times.

No, tonight the disturbance was a knock knock knocking upon my chamber door. Seriously, someone was knocking. It was decidedly go the fuck to sleep time, so I wasn't sure what was going on. Getting up from my bed, I groggily opened the door to find out what was so bloody important. Surprisingly, it was Cammie.

It took me a moment to process what I was seeing, as she was not one of the people that visited at all ever, let alone in the middle of the night. "Cammie?" I said sleepily as I blinked my eyes and tried to keep them open. "What are..."

"Your sister is missing!" she said with a start. Rhys was waking up herself with all the ruckus, I'm not sure if it was the noise or the emotions that was alerting her.

Now I was awake.

"What do you mean Anna's missing?!" I asked vehemently.

Cammie looked at me half in exasperation, half in panic. "I mean I just woke up and she wasn't in the room. It looked like she went to the bathroom or something, but when she didn't come back from there I went and looked and she wasn't in the bathroom either."

I swore under my breath as I quickly put my sandals on and opened the bedroom window. I heard one of the girls say, "No, Catherine, don't..." as I blinked to the lawn outside.

I had to find my daughter.

The night was cool and calm. I could hear my own breath and heartbeat as I ran away from the cottage in my sandals. I had a good pair with a strap over the heel as well, definitely don't run in flip flops.

I could feel a sense of... wrongness, vaguely off in the distance. Something pulled me in that direction and having nothing else to go on I listened. The proverbial hairs were up on the back of my neck, and I was sure my fox ears were on high alert atop my head.

Siona was on high alert as well. I could almost feel her own ears perk up, like she was beside me but not, looking and twitching every direction. It was like she was looking for something, and a moment later I felt it myself. A sort of blot or stain off in the distance.

Knowing Anna and her tendency to rush into things headfirst, I of course ran right towards it.

I wasn't blinking while running this time. It didn't feel far enough away that I needed to make that kind of time, and I didn't want to risk going dry among a school full of minors. This was not that sort of time or place. That being said, I was definitely running.

I saw a low stone wall coming up which I remembered marked the border of the school grounds. There seemed to be what looked like solar panels periodically atop it. I was in a bit of a rush, so I jumped up, grabbed the top and hauled myself over to the other side. Let's just say boobs are... well, they're fun to look at and play with, but they create problems in other activities.

I hopped down from the wall, spotting Anna in the distance. She was walking in a dreamlike trance manner towards a bluish figure. It looked sort of like a spectral ... woman? It.. I had to shake my head as two realities of vision seemed to overlap. One moment it showed a beautiful woman, reaching out towards Anna in friendship; the next it showed a decayed corpse of bone and flesh, ratted hair blowing out from her head like a sort of necromantic halo. It was... disconcerting to say the least. I somehow knew that whatever this being wanted Anna for, it was not good.

Not my family, bitch. This thing was evil and it threatened my daughter. It had to die.

I slid to a stop and spread my feet into an athletic stance, spreading my arms to the side at level with my hips. Siona and I both snarled at the same time as I felt something rising inside of me. Later I would come to learn that I began to glow with a blue fiery aura. I dimly realized that there was blue-white fire in the palm of each of my hands as my platinum blond hair whipped around my face, platinum blond fox tails swishing behind me. I began to run towards the creature as I heard a commotion behind me. I blinked several times in succession as the ghostly lady howled at me, turning her attention towards me and away from Anna.

I leapt into the air and blinked, reappearing above the creature’s head as I snarled audibly, throwing my hands forward as the blue flames merged together into a ball of fire that flew down and engulfed the spectre in a small explosion.

"Anna!" I called out as I ran towards her among floating bits of... whatever the thing used to be made of. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close, hugging her tightly.

She was shaking her head slightly and blinking, then looked down at me. "You're.. you're white!"

I looked down at myself and noticed, really noticed that my hair and tails had changed from their foxish red to platinum blond. I blinked and looked back towards the school and saw Rhys, Flynn and Matt standing in a group, along with Cammie. There was also a squad of Security personnel.

"Did.. did Catherine just go Super Sayan and throw a Hadouken?" I heard Flynn ask out loud.

"I don't know what either of those things are, but if you mean did she turn white, glow blue and throw a ball of fire that exploded the ghost lady then yes, yes she did," Matt replied.

I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding as whatever aura I had been glowing ceased and my hair turned back to its regular red color. Something told me we were about to be escorted to do a lot of paperwork.

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We had been marched like lemmings being led to our doom to the unsavory grounds of the Security Office. We traveled in silence and were led to an office and sat in a row of chairs with our backs to the wall. In this case literally and figuratively.

I had expected the clipboards with incident reports and cheesy pens attached. They even had Whateley Academy logos on them (pens and clipboards both!). I had even figured on the giant lecture from whoever it was that had begun yelling at us as soon as we had all filled out our forms. I had never caught his name, and every time I tried to peer and see what it was one of the lights in the corner of the room kept shining right into my eyes. Apparently I was at just the wrong amount of shortness to be able to actually get to see.

What I had NOT expected... was the play-by-play review of all of our actions displayed on a screen on the wall. They had overhead maps, blips of where we each were at all times, instant replay footage from security cameras. He must have examined my scrambling over the wall at least three times, in agonizing detail. My arm and feet position were critiqued, my choice of pajamas was discussed, questions as to why I just didn't blink onto the top of the wall, why had I gone alone. And it wasn't just me. Matt received a dressing down for going into a potential combat situation unarmed. He had tried to defend his choice by saying he didn't have permission to carry his pistol yet due to necessary classes and certification, but Officer Who-dis then demanded to know why he hadn't brought a knife, lariat, or brass knuckles instead. Flynn similarly was asked why he ran instead of flew. Rhys was asked why she had gone at all. Anna was grilled nine ways from Sunday about at what point she should have suspected some kind of psychic effects on her brain.

Just when all of us had been sufficiently reduced to piles of shame, the situation got worse. A buzz at the door to the office went off and Officer Who-dis stopped ranting and smiled slightly. I had a sinking feeling which was confirmed when in walked the last person I wanted to see right now.

Headmistress Carson walked into the office. Not a sound was uttered by anyone. I could hear heartbeats as she walked to the front of the room. Rhys looked as white as a sheet and like she wished she could fall through the floor.

"For most of you, this is your first trip here to the Security Office," she began as she walked to the front of the room. Anna looked at the floor sheepishly. Being her parent, I was well aware of her tendency to occasionally buck a rule or two because she felt she knew better. I had absolutely no idea where she might have gotten that tendency from. Okay, maybe a slight idea.

"The various wards and protections of the grounds are in place for precisely one reason, to ensure the safety of all the students and faculty of this school. These wards and protections Only work if you Remain On The Grounds!" The Headmistress turned her head and locked eyes with all of us, one by one. My initial assessment of her continued to hold true as she continued.

"As you have seen from the recorded video, the school security teams were already ready and mobilized without need for any of you to put yourselves into danger, unprepared, without any knowledge of what you could have been getting into." Her gaze traveled across all of us in turn, before settling in on Matt. To his credit, his expression had remained relatively calm this entire time, unlike the others. What was he thinking? "Mister Walker, what precisely motivated you to leave your cottage in the middle of the night, past curfew, with your roommate to a completely unknown situation?"

Matt shrugged. "It's pretty simple, ma'am. When a friend needs help you help them." He gestured over at me with his head.

Mrs. Carson paused for a moment, blinking her eyes. "Really? That's it? When a friend needs help you help them?"

"Yes ma'am," he confirmed.

"You would not ask any questions, or be remotely concerned about what they were doing at this hour? You aren't the slightest bit concerned that what they are doing could be illegal or potentially dangerous to others?"

"Well with all due respect ma'am, someone who would do things like that wouldn't be someone I would consider a friend," Matt replied.

The Headmistress frowned at Matt, then turned in my direction. "And you, Miss Fox, why precisely did you head out on your own without stopping for any sort of assistance, or let the trained professionals handle the situation?"

I'm not sure exactly why I exploded. I don't know if it had been the accumulated stress of well, everything that had happened, if I was overly tired, or if all the cafeteria teasing had finally gotten the best of me. It couldn't possibly be childish hormones, I had already had puberty, right? Anyway, well, I snapped.

"Because she's my fucking da..." I paused momentarily while Rhys covered her mouth in shock. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself before starting again. It would Not do to ruin the web of deceit now. "Because she's my family," I said after my pause. "I Will keep my family safe."

"I see," she said very crossly. "All of you will serve one week detention as a reminder about this incident. You will all proceed directly back to your cottages, with the exception of Miss Fox and Miss Fox." I will admit, the double of the name didn't seem to throw her as much as one would expect.

"Anna will proceed directly to Doyle for a psychic examination. Catherine, remain here. You are dismissed."

The Headmistress stared at me while the others shuffled out. I tried to hold my head high as I waited for the inevitable hammer to fall.

"Louis? You're listening I assume?" she seemed to ask the empty air.

"Of course, Liz," the apparition which suddenly appeared in the room responded. Yes, I was a bit surprised. I mean, really? Who does that? I dimly remembered Rhys talking about one of the psychic arts instructors being actually in Hawthorne, but to be honest it hadn't been something I've had to deal with so far. The ... man... turned towards me and inclined his head. "Miss Fox, I had wondered when I'd make your acquaintance. Miss Rhys has mentioned you a few times."

I was really confused by this point. I had expected a further dressing down, but this was something new.

Mrs. Carson looked over at this Louis and addressed him directly. "As it is clear that we will not be able to stop Miss Fox here from protecting those she feels need protecting, we should utilize her talents where they might be useful."

"I had considered that myself," he seemed to agree, nodding. I was completely lost at this point.

"Miss Fox, in addition to your week of detention, you will also be required to join the Whateley Gaming Club for the duration of your studies at Whateley," the Headmistress said with a bit of a smirk. "Professor Gentz will bring you up to speed. Dismissed."

Professor Gentz gestured towards the door and I got up, trying to make what had just happened make sense. "So, Miss Fox, how familiar are you with Dungeons and Dragons?" he asked.

I blinked and peered at him with a dismayed look on my face. This was... a gaming club was a punishment? "I remember a red box that ... my father... had around the house. I think there was an advanced book too?"

He chuckled. "I'm familiar with your background, but everything is safe with me. We'll have to do a bit of work to bring you up to date."

Was anything about this school normal?

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April 29, 2007
Whateley Academy

Life had calmed down again a little after our week of detention. I'll just say that some areas of the school have things happen which creates evidence that needs cleaned up that no living soul should ever have to witness. Additionally, I had a whole new level of respect for the Super Mario Brothers. I'm not sure if my fur will ever really be clean again. I mean, I know it really is, but... well, you know what I mean.

I was starting to find my feet and was beginning to think this wasn't so bad. I got a really good roommate, a couple of friends who had demonstrated that they didn't suck and understood what being a friend was, I was starting to maybe understand basic math again, life was looking up. Trust that to not last. There was a crackle and an announcement was made over Crystal Hall.

"Good afternoon and a happy lunch period to all Whateley students! This is a courtesy reminder that the Spring Combat finals will be starting within the next few weeks. Remember that a pre-approved costume and mask are required.”

"Combat.. finals? A pre-approved what?" My eyes grew wide as I looked around the table. The others were just looking at me puzzled before Rhys covered her mouth in surprise.

"Ohmigawd, didn't you get told?" she asked.

"No! What kind of sadistic joke is this? What the hell am I supposed to combat with, pencils?! I don't own this stuff! The closest thing to a weapon I own is the little silver pen knife athame from magic class." I put my face in my hands and rubbed my eyes and temples.

"Woah, slow down there, Kitty," Matt said. "I've got something back home that'd work for you. Just give me a week or two to get it up here and you can have it. That'll take care of a weapon for ya."

"Really? You're sure?" I asked, looking over at him. Matt was a good guy and I knew better than to try to talk him out of helping, regardless of whatever debt might accrue.

"Definitely, don't worry about it," he replied with a grin.

"Thank you." I gave him a slight smile before a second look of panic began to grow over my face. "Oh no, costume! I don't know how to make one of those... and even if I did, how many people would it take to get one done in... time..." I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh, resting my face against the table. I waited several heartbeats hoping that what I had just seen hadn't been real. I raised my head again and let out a breath I didn't know I had been holding.

Across from me, standing right behind my friends, was a small cluster of six girls. Several of them were literally vibrating with excitement and glee, and all of them had eyes the closest to anime heroines I had ever seen in real life. At their forefront was the infamous Jade. It appears that my efforts to dodge Wondercute had finally come to a sputtering end.

"Alright, what is your price?" I asked weakly.

"Nooothing much," Jade said. "We can talk about it on the way."

It was at this point I was more or less abducted by the squad. I managed to look over my shoulder towards my friends. "If I don't come back, tell my family I love them!" I called out.

I was only half joking.

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I'm not sure which walk of shame was more shameful, the one I had taken in Seattle a few months ago, or the one I was taking to get back to my room in Whitman. I had entered the cottage, cloaked as much as possible in an aura of "don't notice me" but well... yeah.

I opened the door to my room in trepidation, and as Rhys looked over at me and suppressed her mirth I had to roll my eyes a little. "This never happened," I said as I stood in the doorway in what resembled a white anime Sailor Moon-esque sailor fuku, with black as the off color. My other outfit had been borrowed for measurements so I was told.

Thankfully she covered her mouth as she nodded her head. I slunk into the room and closed the door behind me. The "price" had been a complete photo shoot of anime cosplay. I lost count of the number of ridiculous outfits I had been stuffed into while the giggling chaotic mayhem made design sketches and pictures and plans and... I don't even know. I'm sure they had incriminating evidence for days at this point; I was trying not to think about it.

I changed into my pajamas, eager to shove the sailor outfit into a closet and pretend it never happened. According to the girls they'd have a combat outfit for me in a week or so. Needs must, I suppose.

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May 1, 2007
Whateley Academy

I had put all my preparations into motion as best I could. I hated "sit back and wait time" but inevitably when you depend on help or work from outside yourself, there's only so much you can do. Eventually you get to a point where you have to wait.

I hated waiting. Oh I had learned How. You didn't make it through four children without acquiring patience, or learn anything about music or swordplay without a lot of practice and getting used to slow improvement. I had always found it better to be doing something though, even if it was mentally working through a problem. To be active instead of passive.

Honestly, I was beginning to feel frazzled. There had been a lot of things going on, and with that many balls in the air I really was feeling a need for relaxing and centering. It probably would help as well to have a place to reliably have long conversations with Siona what with these Combat Finals coming up.

The problem I was encountering was a lack of a proper sauna on campus. It wasn't exactly the kind of thing a student really needed, or made sense to build for a campus on a budget. I had come up with a solution already, but the implementation made me nervous. It involved a favor, and interacting with at least one person I had been trying to avoid.

That sounds bad... I mean, she hadn't done anything to me directly, it was more what she represented and who she knew and hung out with. I had gone to great lengths to avoid interacting with Rough-Coat and Honeypaw, and considering I was in the same cottage as Honeypaw it had taken some doing! I had to reorganize my whole shower schedule and everything, which was already difficult as I tried to avoid showering at the same time as the other girls as much as possible.

Look, yes I was still attracted to the female form. I can't help it. But I meant what I said to the Headmistress at the beginning, and it was far easier to keep to my goal if I minimized the potential problems in the first place. It was just easier for everyone involved that way.

Anyway, the work around was that the Nations had a sweat lodge. Sweat lodge wasn't that dissimilar from a sauna really, and the purpose really wasn't that different from what I was trying to accomplish. I thought I had a decent argument, the problem was I wasn't a member of their club, nor did I have grounds to really apply for membership.

Instead, I was going to have to ask Kayda for a favor. Kayda was personal friends with Rough-coat and Honeypaw, and well.. between the three of them that was a lot of really big spiritual mojo. Wise people didn't poke sleeping dragons with sticks.

I had done some checking, as well as doing some snooping. I'd carefully been using my Don't-notice-me glamour selectively, which let me get to know her a little bit. As far as I could tell, she actually dealt with multiple spirits, something that sounded a little fishy to me. The buffalo Tatanka was talked about and the one usually seen. Not by me personally, I mean, she was from Poe so I did try to avoid her. Enough people had talked about him though.

She also seemed to be doing a lot of healing and shaman stuff around campus. Something about her other spirit was tied up with that. The Ptesanwi was some sort of medicine woman, which made sense with the acting like a healer and advisor. I know having Siona in my head yakking away certainly made a difference sometimes.

"I do not yak," she injected with a disdainful sniff.

"Would you prefer I said foxing away?"

"As you must. I'll let you concentrate though; I have a feeling you do not want to misspeak in front of this one."

Siona did echo the decision I had come to on my own. Kayda seemed shy, sometimes tentative. If I had gathered anything it's that she seemed to have a great deal on her shoulders, and if my own experience with spiritual guides was anything to go off of, she probably heard about it in one way or another on a daily basis.

Now my own experience as an adult was this: most people wanted a piece of the pie. If they thought you had potential, they'd tried to utilize it for their gain. Keep the talented workers in the spot where they make you the most money at the lowest pay. Harsh, but a lot of people were less than honest. So, I reasoned Kayda probably was getting the early versions of that. If people thought she had a grand purpose or destiny, they would try to game the system and get her on their side or their leash. I figured this meant people were playing her, and this would make her skittish.

Which meant I had decided to quite simply just tell her the truth. Shocking, I know.

Look, I mean, obviously she would have read stories about foxes. And obviously she would suspect that I was up to no good or trying to get something out of her or the Nations simply because I had ears and a tail. Now it would save a lot of time to not try and finagle or slip one past her because she would be looking for it and probably figure it out anyway. So, just save time and cut straight to the truth.

She would suspect I was lying and probably take a day or two to do her own research. Discovering I was telling her the truth she would come back with conditions (as nothing comes for free) which I would be forced to accept as she would be holding all the cards. Now she would gain my appreciation and owing her and the Nations whatever favors or conditions they would call in. I would get use of a sauna for talking with Siona better, and I would be in a better position for all future interactions with her by having been honest the whole time and not trying to fool her or take advantage of her.

It's not just about the get rich quick scheme, you had to think long term.

I waited to catch her during one of the mid-day breaks. I thought I'd give her time to think things over and ask questions before tomorrow. Thankfully most everyone came to or from the Crystal Hall around lunchtime so it was simply a question of patience. Before too long I saw her coming with a few of her friends and hopped to my feet. I swear I could almost feel her.. but that would be silly. The testers said I was just sensitive to spirits after all. "Kayda? Got a minute?"

She turned and looked at me in confusion for a moment before gesturing to her friends to go in without her. Her head was tilted slightly in what I figured to be confusion. She was most likely having her own mental conversations and was rapidly trying to think of who I was.

"I'll save you some time. My name is Catherine, yes I'm an avatar. Yes I have a kitsune spirit, which is kind of like a fox. Yes I'm aware that foxes are often thought of as tricksters, but no, I am not trying to play a trick on you or fool you. I am wanting to ask you for a favor."

As I had figured, she was taken aback slightly at the upfront honesty, but she did not appear displeased. She pursed her lips in thought. "Alright, what can I help you with?"

Alright, at least I had gotten this far. Better than I had hoped at least. "I can't talk to my spirit consistently or very well. Sometimes I can hear her, but it is really iffy unless I'm um... meditating I suppose you could say... in a sauna. Obviously the school doesn't have an actual sauna, but I was hoping you could present a request to the Nations on my behalf. I was hoping I could borrow the sweat lodge sometimes. As far as I'm aware it'd be for much the same purpose it's supposed to be used for, and I wouldn't make a mess or nuisance of myself."

Kayda considered quietly. I was certain she was doing an internal conversation again, call it a hunch. After a moment she replied. "I can ask the Nations for you, but I can't say what the answer will be."

I inclined my head slightly. "That's not a problem, thank you very much for asking for me and thank you for your time. Sorry to keep you." I smiled at her and then headed off on my way, letting her go in for her own food. Now it was just time to wait.

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May 3, 2007
Whateley Academy

Thankfully I didn't have to wait that long. It was just a couple of days later as I was eating my own lunch that I saw Kayda approach. I stood up momentarily out of politeness so we could converse, and was again reminded of how bloody short I was. It was irritating. Momentarily I had to wonder if she was actually here to ask about her friend being put through the wall earlier this morning.

"The Nations have agreed to your request," she started as she held up a finger, "But there are some conditions. First, The Nations always have priority of usage. It does belong to them. Second, permission is granted just for you and your own spiritual purposes. Don't bring guests. Third, you always treat the sweat lodge with the respect it deserves. It is not a place for frivolity or lewdity. Fourth, you always clean up after yourself and if any major improvement projects or repair are needed you help along with everyone else."

I nodded. All of those conditions were things I had already considered and was completely fine with. I mean, honestly, as the supplicant I really didn't have any room to make demands and they were being more than gracious.

"Absolutely more than fair, and agreed to on all counts. Thank you very much, and please convey my thanks to The Nations as well." I stuck my hand out for a shake, which she took in her own. She nodded at me, then went off again to her own business. I did let out a sigh of relief before sitting down to finish my own meal.

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May 5, 2007
Whateley Academy

It was Saturday. There were no classes, everything was caught up homework wise, and I had nothing else to do.

That meant it was perfect for an inaugural sauna day.

I was almost gleeful as I packed a small bath kit and headed out to the sweat lodge. It had been months since I'd had a good sauna trip, and I hadn't realized how much of a difference it made until the promise of having it again was a reality. I was smiling and happy, which should have been my first clue that something would happen.

The second clue was the fact that the sweat lodge was blocked off and guarded by Security.

"Sorry, this building is a crime scene and part of an investigation. No one goes in right now," said the random goomba as a hand was stuck out to prevent me from going in.

I stopped and my mouth dropped. It opened and closed a few times fishlike before I said the only thing I could think of.

"FUCK!"

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May 12, 2007
Whateley Academy

It had been a good day.

Sweat Lodge Take Two had gone much smoother than Take One. Granted most everyone was busy either celebrating Kayda's victory over her false charges, or mourning the death of Jamie Carson. I had not really been here enough to know either, so I mostly was just saddened that so many young folk had a reason to face this sort of thing so early in their lives.

To be fair Kayda hadn't been here much longer than I had, however she was much more inclined to be able to fit in than I was. I mean, she had the smart, pretty and likeable thing going for her. I was an oddball, out of place among oddballs, and apparently snarky with a dose of metal was not the new black in New Hampshire. Ok, it wasn't hugely popular, but being as I was surrounded by angsty teenagers it didn't really stand out much either. Really what that left me was boobs and fox tails. Hooray.

Honestly I really wasn't trying for popularity. I hadn't spoken with people I had known from the first time I went through High School in two decades. I had barely spoken with most of the people I had known from College either for that matter. I had enough to worry about just relearning math... or the new math. The new old math. You'd think it would just stay math, but nooo.

Anyway, most of the school had been occupied this weekend, so I had managed a nice, long stay at the sweat lodge. It had felt every bit as glorious as I had hoped it would. I had also ensured that I cleaned up after myself, and had even left some classic chocolate chip cookies for my hosts.

Yes, I know how to bake simple cookies. Shut up. Importantly I had even managed to bake them without the kitchen spontaneously combusting.

So all in all it had been a good day. I had fallen asleep fairly soon after curling up in bed (tails and boobs turned me into a side sleeper) which is why my current state was surprising.

I found myself sitting in what appeared to be a cabin of some sort. It looked like the inside of a log cabin, and was in sort of an 'L' shape. There was a kitchen area, a living space with a sofa, a table with two chairs, a central fireplace, and stairs on the side wall going to an upstairs loft. I saw a door outside as well as one that went to what I assumed was a small washroom under the staircase. Several filled bookcases were against walls interspaced with windows, and a violin and mandolin were carefully placed.

I got up and peered out the window near the front door. There was a porch, with a second door on it that led to what I guessed was an attached sauna. Leaning against the wall of the porch were a pair of snowshoes, which seemed fitting given the lightly falling snow outside. I could see that the cabin was surrounded by conifers, and a few hundred yards away was what appeared to be a lake, with a small dock and a little boat. Jennifer and I had always talked about getting a little cabin or something, getting away from the city and the hustle and bustle. We'd never really been able to; it had always been a thought after all the kids were grown and now, of course, we'd never be able to.

"Not a bad little cabin," Siona said as she padded down the stairs. She was her normal fox self, though hearing her speak outside of my own mind was a bit of a trick. She walked across the living room and jumped up onto the sofa. She looked over in my direction and tilted her head at me. "That is a bit of a different outfit for you though, but I suppose it does make sense. If you've gotten your bearings, there will be company coming soon I expect."

I looked down at myself given her comment. I was wearing a simple long sleeved blue dress, about shin length, with a high collar, and a patterned red border around the hemline. The patterned border was repeated on the cuffs and about the neckline and shoulders. My legs were in what seemed to be black or dark navy leggings. I was barefoot, though I saw what appeared to be leather boots near the door with wool socks next to them. I also had on what appeared to be a patterned or beaded belt which was similar to the work on the dress. My tails stuck out behind me as was the new normal; apparently there was some sort of tailoring happening.

"Where are we?" I asked, turning to look at Siona.

"The simplest explanation would be that you are dreaming," Siona replied. "It is a bit more complicated than that, but it works well enough."

I managed to restrain myself and only roll my eyes slightly before there was a knock at the door. I started a bit and looked over towards the entrance. I mean, Siona did say something about company coming, though if it was a dream it was one of the most real dreams I'd ever had. Personally I was banking on things being in the more complicated category and Siona was just using an explanation that was technically true. I walked over to the door and opened it slightly. Peering through the crack in the door I was surprised to see Kayda standing outside my door. She was wearing a beaded leather First Nations outfit, and was accompanied by an honest to goodness white buffalo. In the snow.

I do have to admit, at least one or two jokes about polar bears and snowstorms came to mind, but I managed to restrain myself.

"Kayda! Um... please come in," I said lamely as I finished opening the door all the way. I mean, how do you say hello to the girl who'd just been through well, that. The MCO wasn't on my good list really, but my inconvenience was nothing compared to what she had been through. I looked at the buffalo frowning, before he simply.. appeared inside the cottage. I shrugged my shoulders and grinned wryly as I closed the door. Somehow it figured that a spirit would just make it work. "Please feel free to sit, can I get you anything? Cheese, sausages, tea?"

"Just hot water, please. I've got my own tea," Kayda said as she got some herbs from her medicine pouch.

I had to wonder for a moment if her declining was out of worry of being poisoned, or if she just had her own special blend of magic or shamanistic tea to help her remain calm and get through her current mess. I wanted to believe it was the latter, but would understand if it was the former. Of course, it also made me wonder if you could even poison someone in a dream like this? What would that do to someone in reality when everyone woke? Perhaps more importantly, why did everything I do lately just lead to more questions than answers?

I nodded and went over to the small kitchenette, reaching instinctively to where the appropriate things would be. Kettle, water, loose leaf tea and tea ball (not bagged, bleh). Setting the kettle on I returned to sit on the couch next to my unexpected guest. "So.. um.. welcome to my cottage," I said somewhat lamely, not knowing where to really begin a conversation. Just the trial and questions that I had witnessed were bad enough, and I knew from experience in my own life that there was so much more going on than we were privy to. How do you just avoid that sort of elephant in the room?

"It's very homey," she offered looking around. "My dream space is a tee-pee and campsite."

"This is actually the first time I've seen it," I offered with a slight smile. "So I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you don't make a lot of house calls so to speak."

She smiled slightly and inclined her head. "I'm usually ... busy, and it's impolite to run through everyone else's dream spaces uninvited."

"For what it's worth, I am not offended you are here," I offered.

"Nor would I simply let her in if she meant us harm," Siona reassured me. Was it just me or did the buffalo snort at that?

"Thank you," she replied politely.

As the teapot whistled I scurried to the kitchen, preparing one cup of tea and one of plain hot water, bringing them back with me as I resumed sitting. "I hope you all got the cookies I left for you. I was tempted to get a salmon, but I didn't want to risk bad fish in a hot place. So what brings you to my... um... cabin?"

"We did, and they were delicious, thank you. No, we wanted to come by and say hello. We had noticed that you hosted a spirit of far away lands that we were unfamiliar with."

"You and...?" I trailed off inquisitively.

"Tatanka," she said indicating the buffalo.

I should have guessed. I did decide not to talk about a horrible Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves. As I thought it... did Tatanka snort at me? Anyways, I inclined my head. "A pleasure to meet you, Tatanka. I'm Catherine, and this is my friend Siona."

Siona thankfully chose to be polite and incline her head as well, sort of a foxish curtsy to be honest. It had that impression. Granted she did know when politeness was better than sarcasm. I chose to let silence work on my side at the moment, figuring Kayda would talk when she was ready.

Kayda sipped on her tea, then paused and began to speak. "It came to our attention that there was a spirit on campus from lands that my own spirits weren't familiar with. I wanted to take an opportunity to get to know you and your spirit a bit better."

And ensure we weren't a threat to her and whatever "Destiny" she had, was the part that went without saying. She had already been framed for murder after all. I had done some research myself as well, never hurt to be prepared and have some intel.

"Knowledge gained is never wasted and all that," Siona said helpfully, apparently to us both. "Kitsune are fox spirits, but we are servants of Inari. Inari... well, Inari is about prosperity and success. You've probably done some reading yourself and you would know that Inari also is associated with fertility, rice, tea, and agriculture and industry. Kitsune serve Inari to help protect prosperity. We are teachers and guardians, protectors against evil spirits."

"But what about all the stories of foxes as tricksters and villains?" Kayda asked Siona directly.

Siona sighed and thought a moment before she replied. "That is a complicated answer. To start, Kitsune are teachers, but not everyone wants to receive the lesson. Let me give you an example. Say a rich, greedy man is walking through town with a pouch of gold coins. He is rich because he has exploited the workers of the town in which he walks, paying them little and keeping all the profits to himself. Now say a fox causes the pouch to rip and the coins to fall out a little at a time, spreading the wealth to the poor people he has oppressed. Is the fox a trickster, stealing the man's money? Are they a guardian, protecting and improving the lives of the people in the town? Are they a teacher, showing the man that money is not as important as the lives and well being of your fellow people? Or are they perhaps all of these?"

Kayda looked thoughtful at that reply. I had to add another possibility. "Also not all foxes serve Inari. There are those who are serving only themselves, Nogitsune. They're more selfish or malicious and would possibly be more of the source of the legends of foxes only being wicked or evil. Personally I don't think many of them are actively causing evil, so much as simply getting by as best they can. Kitsune though are an active force of good. I know that we.. have some power against evil spirits. That's come up for me before." I thought back to the incident just off school grounds. Some power was definitely one way of describing it. One more thing on my list of things to discover about myself.

Kayda nodded and resumed sipping her tea. As the night passed we had a fairly decent conversation. While I wasn't certain she was an ally of mine, at least I had managed to avoid making an enemy. Even if she was from Poe.

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May 15, 2007
Whateley Academy

It was a few days later that Matt caught me after class. "Kitty!" he hollered from outside the cafeteria, waving an arm in the air. He was carrying a brown box under one arm. Good natured and kind though he was, subtle or sneaky he was definitely not. He meant what he said, and said what he meant as a general rule. It was actually kind of refreshing.

"Hey Matt, what's up?"

"Got a little somethin' for ya," he said with a dopey grin. He held the box out for me to take.

I arched an eyebrow at him as I opened the box up. Whatever it was, it was wrapped with recycled newsprint. This was a blessing, as packing peanuts were the warehouse equivalent of craft herpes (a.k.a. Glitter). I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what had actually been sent.

It was a knife.

It was beautiful.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't go all goober eyed over weaponry like some of the Grunts. This though, this was gorgeous. It was a Bowie knife, with a blade just about twelve inches long, made of patterned steel so it looked like historic Damascus steel but made of quality modern materials. The hilt was made of antler, looked like maybe an elk if I had to guess. The balance was near perfect.

The scabbard itself was of leather, custom sized and made for this particular knife. It had a belt loop, and some branded designs in what I had to guess would be some sort of native style. It looked like a bunch of arrows, some crossed, some facing together.

"It's gorgeous," I said as I looked at it.

"It's yours," he replied. He grinned as I stared at him, mouth agape. "My uncle is a knife maker, so when you said you didn't have anything for the combat finals I gave him a call. He was able to whip this up. The antler is from a buck I took down on a hunting trip, I'd been saving it for something so I guess this was it. My aunt said she'd make a sheath for it. She's half-Apache, she said they were protection and friendship symbols or something like that. Anyways, there ya go."

"Matt, I... thank you," I offered lamely.

"No problem," he replied. "When a friend needs help, you help them. Nothin' to it."

I had found a few good friends.

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May 29, 2007
Whateley Academy

The day had finally come where everyone seemed to have a combination of excitement, dread, and morbid curiosity. Most of the student body seemed to be excited and wondering what match ups would be coming. Myself, well I just kind of... was. I can't say I was overly excited, nor was I completely filled with dread. I mean, it just, well it was going to happen regardless of whether I liked it or not.

I imagine that was the reason for the scuffle last Friday in Whitman. I never did really get a good explanation as to what that was about, Rhys and I just sort of stayed in our room with our heads down. One of the downsides of living with a roommate with social anxiety, there was often a lot of things going on that I just didn't find out about.

I had prepared as best I could with the short notice I had. I was wearing a red Cheongsam dress with black trim, a circular 'look at my bewbies' keyhole opening, and an almost indecently high hemline. There was a skin tone suit of kevra under it, similar to Olympic figure skaters. I did add an actual belt with pouches over it as well, which had the Bowie knife that Matt had given me in its leather scabbard. I put a hand on the horn hilt of the knife, getting a little bit of strength and comfort from the gift. I had spent as much time as I could trying to make it more magically tough. It wasn't something I made, but it had been something given to me by a friend, something that he had gotten made specifically for me, and that had to count for something. If nothing else at least I had a patterned steel bite.

Well, that and pouches of tricks, but hey... no one said I was obligated to fight fair. I would have loved to have Meliferra's stun gun as well, but for all my work at trying to tolerate the range I was nowhere near close to passing the required class even for a non-lethal firearm. A lot of the other students in the magical classes seemed to jump into the rivalry between the tech departments and the magic departments. Personally, that seemed foolish to me. A tool is a tool, and the more tools you had at your disposal the better you tended to do. Pick the right tool for the job. Then again, the fact remains that one of the first people I met and bonded with at all since manifesting was a Gadgeteer so I might be a little biased.

I had a good pair of boots on. Sturdy soles, supportive, and still something I could run in. None of that high heeled foolishness for me, though I did have to admit they made a lot of the other girls legs look really nice. The finishing touch was my white kitsune mask, in a very traditional fashion with red paint. Mine was painted metal for durability. I really didn't want to have it break or fall down mid-final. I would have loved to have something with low light vision or heat vision or something, but well, I was poor and didn't have that kind of time or funding. I had made sure to spend a lot of time in my late-night independent practice in the Salle wearing the new mask and using the new Bowie knife. You didn't take things into battle untested after all.

I was as prepared as I was going to be, so I tried to just sit in the hallway and meditate using the same exercises as taught in magic theory. Calm was calm, right? Another silly rivalry that made no sense to me, that between the bricks and the magic track. I mean, mastering yourself was the same thing, right? So why try to say that one way was right and the other wrong?

Our group sat together in the cafeteria as we watched the screens, like everyone else waiting to see if their number was called. Matt was dressed in his regular clothes, by which I mean he looked like a Cowboy out of a Wild West film, wearing a leather duster and a Lone Ranger domino mask. It was almost kind of cheating as he probably felt better in those clothes than the school uniform, and the amount of effort he really had to put forward was dig around in his closet. He and I were at a distinct disadvantage as we hadn't done this before. I mean, it wasn't that complicated really in theory. The execution though, that was the tricky part.

Errol and Persephone both had simply added a mask to their uniforms. Rhys really was not a combat oriented individual, and was a firm follower of the survival track. Flynn probably had forgotten about the whole thing and had his head in a book until a day or two ago and simply went with a mask out of expediency. The two of them were a lot alike and sometimes it drove me nuts.

We looked up as the next pairing was called. There was a complicated system of numbers and pairings and all manner of stuff to keep the matches mostly confidential. I was sure there was a nerd somewhere who had figured it out and was making a mint off those who had the money to pay. Personally I just figured I would get who I got. Not being one of the golden spoons (and knowing it) meant I had no ability to grease the wheel.

"We don't need to grease the wheel; we are of the blood of foxes,” Siona said silently in my own mind. I had been getting able to hear her better with practice. I still preferred to try to really speak with her in a sauna type environment, trying to simply talk in my own head was sometimes difficult while conscious.

"Lancer,” Matt said grimly. “Whoever's he got had their work cut out for them.”

Lancer was kind of a beast. He was a PK Superman, with some Exemplar to boot as far as I knew. He also was a member of Team Kimba, and fought with the Grunts. All told he was one of the strongest students his age at the school, even if he was from Poe. My mind flashed back to the cafeteria when he and Wallflower had sat with me. He might be one of the brickiest Bricks on campus, but he was a good guy.

"I wonder who...” Rhys started and stopped as we all looked at the screen with various looks of shock and horror.

"... It's me...”

I sat staring at my own face. Well, my new face. The face I had seen every day in the mirror since January, though it certainly wasn't the face I thought of as my own. The person who would have to beat Lancer was me.

I could feel my heart drop through the floor and I felt a little crack of my spirit inside. Lancer could wipe the floor with me without breaking a sweat. Granted he'd have to catch me first but in an enclosed arena, outrunning someone who could fly would be next to impossible.

The chorus of jeers and laughs began to echo through the room. “I wonder how long it'll take for her to run away?” “Do you think she'll make a record for shortest match ever?” “Geez, there wont even be anything left after he thrashes her.”

Tears threatened to run down my eyes as I felt my breath quicken. I closed my eyes and held the air in, then let it out slowly. I was going to have to find a way to do this.

"I am of the blood of foxes,” I said in a whisper. I opened my eyes and looked up, face held high and proud. I stood up and turned to face.. my friends. Matt inclined his head at me. “You got this, Kitty.”

I smiled slightly and head held high, walked to the door doing my best to ignore the jeers around me. I was of the blood of foxes, and I would find a way. Sisu. I would not give them the satisfaction of knowing what I was feeling. I put my mask on over my face and walked to Arena 99.

Queen - “The Show Must Go On”
Album: Innuendo (1991)

Empty spaces, what are we living for?
Abandoned places, I guess we know the score, on and on
Does anybody know what we are looking for?
Another hero, another mindless crime
Behind the curtain, in the pantomime
Hold the line
Does anybody want to take it anymore?

The show must go on
The show must go on, yeah
Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile, still, stays on

Whatever happens, I'll leave it all to chance
Another heartache, another failed romance, on and on
Does anybody know what we are living for?
I guess I'm learning
I must be warmer now
I'll soon be turning, round the corner now
Outside the dawn is breaking
But inside in the dark I'm aching to be free

The show must go on
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My makeup may be flaking
But my smile, still, stays on

My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies
Fairy tales of yesterday, grow but never die
I can fly, my friends

The show must go on
The show must go on
I'll face it with a grin
I'm never giving in
On with the show

I'll top the bill
I'll overkill
I have to find the will to carry on
On with the show
Show must go on
Show must go on

I slunk through the bushes as quietly as I could. Thankfully I wasn't totally unused to wooded terrain, having grown up in western Washington. I mean, I was a city brat at heart, but at least I wasn't useless. Matt was the outdoorsman, but he was from the land of sand and blistering heat from the yellow sky demon.

I could see a group of buildings, surrounded by barbed wire fencing, sentry towers, only two gates in or out. I could see various trucks and vehicles, as well as pairs of men patrolling around the perimeter inside and outside the fencing, as well as stationed in the towers. Well, ANTs, not men. But hey, you want me to act like the robots are people, I'll play.

The big problem was that they were all carrying guns. Why did it have to be guns?

I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. I couldn't panic and break down, not now. Ok, step one... I had to get closer and get a way inside. Hostages would be inside the camp, and I had to get them out to the exit point. So I would have to take out a patrol to make a gap.

I waited for a pair of guards to get closer, slowly drawing my Bowie knife and getting it ready. I was shorter than the ANTs, so coming from behind them wouldn't really work. I'd have to be quick. I crouched, then blinked and reappeared directly in front of the pair. As I stood up I slashed across the throat of the ANT on the left then quickly slammed my knife into the chin of the ANT on the right, plunging it into its brain. Both ANTs dropped to the ground.

I returned my knife to its place, then drug the 'bodies' into the bushes to try and remove any trace should other sentries come to investigate. I had just finished and started to take a second look trying to plot a way inside. I didn't have long before my next problem arrived. I swore quickly and began sprinting off towards the woods. Hank had found me.

He was faster than I was, and blinking only bought me so much time. I spun and tried to throw a ball of fire in his direction. Well, I threw it anyway. It certainly smacked right into his torso and fizzled rather uselessly. I swore and quickly blinked and started going the other way. At least I could change direction faster than Hank could.

Hank cursed and spun around. “Damnit, come back here!” I heard him say. Like bloody hell. I know, I'll just run right towards the Mack truck. That'd be great. There was a bit more cat and mouse as I weaved in and out of trees. He was closing again, so I reached into a pouch and threw a pair of panties at him.

Now don't give me that look! I had prepped for this. 50-50 odds of having a male opponent, right? I had been a teenage boy once, I knew what would have got me. Even if my opponent wasn't male, I figured there were more than a few girls on campus that would love to see my panties. And no, they weren't the panties I was wearing. I am not that bad. I could see the surprise as a pair of black panties smacked Hank right in the face, followed by the blush as he realized what they were. “Damnit, Kit, I just want to talk to you!”

I frowned from where I was hiding behind a tree. “Really?”

“Yes really!”

“Pinky swear?” I asked. Lancer was a fairly stand-up fellow from what I had seen. I doubted he was really up to anything. I could hear Siona chuckle at the thought of Hank being more sneaky than us.

“Yes! Will you knock it off?”

I slunk out cautiously from behind the tree, walking towards him. If he was going to just smack me, now was the time. “Alright, what do you want?” I asked politely.

“Look, we both know that any hostage is inside that camp. Neither of us can take it alone, our best chance at getting any hostages out alive and to the extraction point is to work together.”

I frowned behind my mask, tilting my head at him. He did make sense, but... “You're Superman,” I pointed out.

"I don't feel like playing 'see if I can dodge all the RPG's today',” he said with a frown. It was a fair point. I mean, if it could take out a tank it could take out a Brick.

I turned and looked at the encampment. The mission objective had been pretty clear, get the hostages out alive, without dying. Technically, the rules didn't say anything about what we had to do or not do with our opponent. “Alright,” I said. “What's your plan?”

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We crept through the underbrush crouched, trying to keep a low profile as we looked up at the guard on a tower. We looked at each other and nodded. Lancer knelt on the ground, cupping his hands together and placing them on the ground. I got low, then began to sprint towards him. As soon as one of my feet came down on his hands he stood up and threw me into the air. I did a half-flip, bringing my feet up over my head and blinked.

Thinking about it, I probably gave anyone watching a hell of a panty shot, but at the time I really wasn't worried about that.

The thing with my blinks, is they had a few quirks that I had been working on and figuring out. First, they were limited to line of sight; I had to actually see where I would be blinking to. Through a window was fine, I hadn't really gotten to try looking through a security camera or something like that. Second, my longest range so far had been about fifty yards or there abouts. Third, I could take just myself and roughly someone of the same mass as me, give or take a bit.

Fourth was the big one. As Flynn put it, my orientation and speed with respect to the jump point remain the same although I can rotate the exit direction for my momentum as desired. Honestly that was entirely too much math for me to wade through. I just think of it as if I start the jump feet first, I exit feet first. Same speed, same pose, different direction.

This actually worked in my favor as I finished blinking and appeared with my feet slamming into the head of the ANT, breaking its neck and dropping the guard like a sack of potatoes. This also let Lancer come up on top of the tower and gave us a better vantage point to really look at the inside of the compound.

We looked over the interior of the compound. "Looks like that long building is the garage," I offered. It had a few parked vehicles near it, as well as some fuel barrels and the like.

"Yeah, but the prisoners wouldn't be in there. It'd be too easy for them to potentially escape in a car. They'd put them in a smaller building that's easier to secure, like that one," he offered with a point at the building in question. It was a smaller building, two stories, with a front and back door.

"That makes sense... I think we can sneak over to the back door if we go to the left."

He nodded, then I blinked down to the ground and began my approach. It wasn't too difficult to move from cover to cover, especially with my blinking ability. I tried to minimize it's use; if I could get there on my feet it was better as it didn't burn through stored up energy. That being said, I could certainly cheat to help get myself out of trouble if need be.

Crouch low, run to the next set of crates. Pause and wait, watch where they're moving. Every sound I made felt like it was too loud, too sudden, wrong enough that it would give me away. Somehow though, I made it to the back porch we were aiming for. A few heartbeats later, and Lancer was beside me.

I carefully reached out and tried the knob. "Locked," I whispered. Lancer nodded as I reached into some of the pouches on my belt. I had asked Meliferra to make a cordless rotary tool for me for situations exactly like this. I didn't know how to pick locks, but I could certainly take a lock apart manually.

"What are you doing?" Lancer asked as I pulled out the dremel.

"Taking the lock apart," I replied. "I don't know how to pick locks."

I could almost hear the beat before Lancer pulled out what looked like a folded up piece of paper. It shimmered slightly a moment as his PK field activated, then he stuck it between the door and the doorframe. Bringing it down, he sliced through the components of the door latch, leaving the door unlocked.

"That works too, I guess..." I muttered.

Lancer slowly nudged the door open and we crept inside. I could feel the tension mounting as we moved into the building. Were there guards inside? Were the prisoners even in here? What kind of foes were we going to be up against? It was far easier to plan when you got things like, I dunno, scouting or intelligence. I can't really fault the faculty for being complete assholes, but it was rather irritating.

That and I now had Welcome to the Jungle running through my head. Thanks, Charlie.

We slunk down the hallway and opened a second door into a large room. It was eerily quiet, and we saw our four captives in the middle of the room. They were tied up and in a clump.

Something tickled the proverbial hairs on the back of my neck. This felt... "This is too easy," I said quietly. "There should be more challenge to this; we're not that lucky."

Lancer looked over at me, frowning slightly. He nodded in agreement.

I sighed. "Nothing for it... alright, let's get them out of here." I moved into the center of the room and heard a crashing sound from my right as someone burst through the fucking wall. "Oh no..."

"Oh yeah!" I heard them say in reply as a fist sent me flying across the room.

Obviously the bad guys would have a few powered people. Looking back at it I should have expected this, but at the time it was all I could do to try and roll when I slammed through a desk and skidded across the floor. I was a little shaky as I stood up. I blinked a few times to try and get my head.

"Kit, get them out of here!" I heard Lancer call out as he rushed the bad guy, slamming into him and knocking them back through the wall.

Right, don't argue with the guy who can bench press small vehicles. I hurried over to our captives and cut their bonds with my knife. "Alright, follow me. We're getting out of here."

I led the captives back the way we had come while Lancer was distracting our guest. I saw a blur of motion from one side as he threw our assailant into the air and flew up after him. I tried not to think about that for too long as I moved towards what we figured was the garage. I slid my knife out of its scabbard and blinked over by a guard, slitting the ANTs throat as I then worked the garage door open and moved the captives inside.

"Oh thank God," I said as I looked inside the garage. Army style trucks, the big cargo ones with the tent thing on the back. Perfect. "Alright, get in that truck there and no matter what happens, just keep your heads down!"

I ran over to the truck and clambered into the driver's seat. Being so short now, it was more of a struggle than I cared to admit. Luck for once was on my side; someone had left the keys behind. I went to... to...

My mouth dropped as my mind went completely blank. I didn't know how to drive.

I mean, I was sure I knew once. I know I had to have known how. But right now, in this instance, it was just... gone. "Siona, the fuck?!"

"I'm sorry!"

I could hear the pain and remorse in her mental voice, and regardless of how fucking inconvenient it was, it really didn't matter right now. I was still sitting in the driver's seat looking blankly at everything in front of me when Lancer returned.

"Ok, perfect," Lancer began. "I'll distract them and you make a break for it with.."

"I don't remember how to drive," I said, cutting him off.

"Wait, you what?"

"I don't remember how to drive! I mean... I... I knew once, but manifesting... I forgot some shit, okay?! Apparently I forgot how to drive." I closed my eyes for a moment and rested my head on the steering wheel. This was not how I wanted my final to go.

Lancer blinked at me and reached out and touched my shoulder. "Hey... it's okay. We still got this. I can drive, do you think you can distract them?"

I looked up at him. His face showed nothing but sincerity. I nodded grimly. "I'll distract them. When I get started, drive for the exit," I said.

"Wait, what's the signal?" he asked.

"You'll know."

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I finished up with my dremel under the last of the parked vehicles. Every one of the cars, trucks, and various other motorized things parked outside of the garage were now leaking fuel through a series of holes in their gas tanks. I knew bringing a power tool into a combat final was a good idea.

I blinked away from under the last truck, taking cover next to some crates while I looked over the scene. I took a breath, figuring it was now or never. I couldn't really do much more than I had. I reached into a pouch and took out a pair of small spheres the size of marbles, holding them in my right hand.

These spell globes were a trick I had taken quite a bit of time preparing and figuring out. Each marble held a different spell, which I had color coded. The spell had been precast and lay in wait, but another spell was layered on top of it. When the globe was 'armed' and thrown, a spell was cast that would convert the kinetic energy of the spell globe hitting a solid object into magical energy, which would trigger the second stored spell. The second spell would go off, casting it at the point of impact and consuming the globe.

In short, I had a selection of magical spell grenades that wouldn't go off until I armed and threw them.

I threw a fire globe and lightning globe underneath a jeep with a pair of ANTs next to it. Between the static electricity from the lightning and heat and flame from the fire globe... well... the explosion was quite satisfying. Those two ANTs were thrown to the ground, but I was fairly confident they were still active. The point wasn't really to kill them with that, but it proved one hell of a distraction.

I drew my rune enhanced bowie knife and ran forward. I took a jump and blinked mid air, only to arrive behind an ANT who was distracted looking at the explosion. My knife came down into the middle of the ANT's back, dropping it to the ground with the stab and my impact. Quickly I blinked away as two ANTs nearby turned and began firing their machine guns at where I had used to be.

I reappeared behind an ANT, stabbing it in the kidney before blinking out again. Appearing near another parked vehicle, I tossed another pair of spell globes only to blink out and show up near a small cluster of ANTs. I slashed at the knee of one, then ducked behind another and used him as a shield from the gunfire of the third and fourth ANT. The second vehicle exploded, which gave me time to slash and stab through another ANT before blinking out again.

I could hear the sounds of a truck crashing through a wall and peeling away from the compound. Lancer even managed to run over an ANT on his way out before crashing through a gate. I did grin at the Carmageddon. I tried my best to keep moving and stall; my only real chance was to whittle their numbers down and keep them guessing as to where I was going to be.

There was an added wrinkle of difficulty. The more gunfire there was, the more I could feel tiny bits of panic trying to rise up inside of me. I was doing my best to keep it down and keep moving, but it wasn't exactly something I had active control over.

I thought I just might be able to make it, until the Kool Aid Man came back into the picture. There was a roar and he started running towards me. I gave a startled gasp and threw a flash bang type light spell globe at him and blinked away. I needed to get out of the compound, Lancer should have been able to get the captives out by now. I just needed to...

I gave a cry as one of the ANTs finally got lucky and a few stray rounds hit my leg. I went down for a moment, hitting the ground. I scrambled to my feet, tossing a few spell globes under another vehicle and blinked behind some cover.

The machine gun fire kept increasing. I began to struggle to catch my breath. I could hear the Kool Aid Man growling as he looked for me. I poked my head up to try and get line of sight to a new hiding spot only to have to duck down from gunfire. I couldn't do it, I just couldn't... I wasn't going to make it... if only...

Lancer came in like a wrecking ball.

He flew through the outer wall, breaking a hole in the middle of it. Grabbing an unexploded car, he threw it towards some ANTs, picking up a dropped machine gun and beginning to take shots selectively as he moved around the compound. ANTs were dropping like flies, at some point he had ditched the gun and flew over to me.

The last part of the final was pretty hazy; I barely noticed when he picked me up and flew us away towards the exit. "You came back? I thought you had left," I remember saying to him.

"I don't leave teammates behind," he replied as we passed over our finish line.

linebreak shadow

We got to the recovery room... I remember being put down and Lancer going over to meet Wallflower who was waiting for him. They were talking to each other while the room was growing dimmer.

"I'm not okay... I'm not okay, I'm not okay, I'm not okay..."

I had lost. Whatever panic I had been repressing, what I had pushed down to try and last just long enough for the Combat Final was here now, in force.

"Kitty? Kitty!"

The last thing I remember before checking out was Lancer and Wallflower rushing over to me as I sat on the floor with my knees up against my chest, rocking back and forth.

Sometime later I began to come to. I was still being held, someone had their arms around me telling me it was alright. No, several people... it was...

Lancer and Wallflower were still there. Rhys was next to me, Matt and Flynn were also in the room. There were one or two other people I didn't recognize; they had the look of faculty.

"Shh, it's okay.. we're here.." Rhys was saying.

"Rhys?" I asked. I looked over and tried to slow my breathing down. "I... I think I'm ok now."

I could see worry leave her face. She shouldn't have been worrying about me, I was a grown... well... at one point I had been a grown man. I suppose that wasn't exactly true any more.

"You gave us quite a scare there, Kitty." Lancer spoke from nearby where he was next to Wallflower.

"I... thank you, Lancer," I said. "I'll be fine now."

He looked over at me with a tilted head. I nodded and he got up. "Alright, if you're sure," he said. "And Catherine... you did good. Real good. Don't let anyone tell you that you don't belong here. I'd be happy to work with you again any time."

I smiled over at him as he turned and walked out with Wallflower. His words did help a little, though I still didn't think I had done all that great. But... well progress, right?

I waited a few more moments with my friends before we got up ourselves so I could head to my debriefing.

linebreak shadow

June 1, 2007
Whateley Academy

A few days later the package had arrived. It was fairly plain looking, but I had examined it's contents and found them to be correct. It was a little more tricky to peel off all the packing labels and the like, but I had gotten it back to an unmarked cardboard box. It took a little effort to get it inside Matt's room in Emerson, but I was able to pull it off. Dodging the lecherous stares of a few of the boys in the cottage took a little more work. Thankfully, they all had the brains not to start anything.

I was sitting a short distance away in fox form, watching and listening through Matt's window as he and Flynn got back from classes. It didn't take long for Matt to find the box sitting on his bed with a note atop it.

I couldn't read the note from here, of course, but I knew what it said. I had been the one to write it after all.

"Matt, thank you again for your thoughtful gift. I thought you might enjoy something fun to read over the summer, so I got you these. I hope you enjoy them, and I'll see you next year. Catherine."

Matt opened the box, picking up the book on top. I had been sure to put the series in the correct order for reading, chronological by when the books took place. He opened the cover and read from the first page. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” He paused a bit then let out a "Hunh" before sitting down on his bed, reading a bit more.

I smiled and got down from my perch. I always paid my debts. Shifting back to my normal shape I turned and began walking away. "I'll see you next year, Matt," I said quietly to myself as I turned and went to begin packing for the trip home.

 

The End
Read 3031 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 August 2021 21:57

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Gumby
9 months ago
I'm enjoying the interaction with WonderCute and her costume; but, what about the one she used with the Squires?
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