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Kayda 3: Two Spirits (Chapter 3)

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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Kayda 3: Two Spirits

by ElrodW

 

Chapter 3 - Zuya Wikhoskalaka (Warrior Girl)

Monday, April 9, 2007, afternoon
Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

As quickly as it had begun, the fight was over. I had Debra and Danny inside my shield, which probably saved their lives based on the number of club and spear attacks that had been directed their way even after I put my magical barrier around them. Addy had been hit once, but had been ducking and dodging like crazy after that blow, and no other attacks had hit her.

Valerie had finally gotten a magic bubble around herself and Dad, and then had moved to encompass Mom with the defensive screen as well. That left only ....

"Julie!" I called out, realizing suddenly that she wasn't with us. I looked around, frantically, and saw that Debra and Addy were likewise searching. "Where is she?"

"I ... don't know," Addy confessed. "I lost track of everything while I was trying to avoid being hit."

Debra nodded. "Me, too."

"Kayda," Dad called sharply. I looked, and saw him kneeling beside Mom.


"Get everyone in a group," Debra said to Val in a commanding voice, "and then get a shield around us all." She turned to me. "Kayda, help your mom."

She didn't have to speak twice. I was at Mom's side in a flash, reaching out magically to sense her energy so I could tell what was wrong with her. It was a healing skill that Wakan Tanka had been teaching me, and it came in handy. I focused on her hip and her skull, both of which were distorting her energy flow.

"She's breathing," Dad said, a tiny bit of relief in his voice. "Did anyone see what happened?"

I frowned as I focused on Mom. "She might have a broken femur," I reported as I ran my hand over her leg, "and I know she's at _least_ got a concussion." I grabbed my medicine pouch and began to mix up some herbs. Danny's water bottle provided me the container I needed. As Danny and Dad watched in amazement, I mixed a potion and incanted over it, releasing my essence to join with that of the plants, until the brew was ready and quite warm.

"Tilt her head up," I ordered Dad.

"We can't move her until we know her neck and spine are okay," Dad protested.

"They're okay, Dad," I retorted firmly. "Lift her head so she can drink this."

Dad looked at me, his eyes full of doubt and fear, and then he glanced at Debra. She just nodded to him, expressing her confidence in me and my magic. With a worried sigh, he rolled her to her back and lifted her head up.

As the cup touched Mom's lips, I poured more of my essence into the brew, feeling it flow into her in the first few drops that touched her lips. She sipped some, and then more, and I could feel her energy increasing. After she drank the liquid, her eyes fluttered open. "Pete?" she asked hesitantly.

"I'm here," Dad said to reassure her. His eyes were moist as he fought to not show his worry over his wife.

"What ... what happened?" Mom asked softly. "I ... something hit my leg, and I was falling, and then ... I'm here."

"You fell and hit your head on something on the ground here. As rocky as it is, you're lucky you didn't crack your skull," Debra said. She looked at me, and her eyes widened at the grim expression on my face. "Kayda?" she asked fearfully.

"She did," I replied, trying to keep a neutral expression. "I had to heal a skull fracture and concussion as well as her fractured femur."

Dad's eyes widened in shock at my pronouncement. "What?" he asked, astonished. "And ... you healed her?" I just nodded, feeling a bit fatigued from the drain of my essence. "We have to get her to a doctor!"

"If Kayda says she's healed," Debra replied firmly, "then she's healed. We've got to tend to our other problem first."

"Our other ...." Dad's eyes widened. "Julie?"

"She ... disappeared," Debra said. "Probably during the attack."

"Shit!" Dad swore. He was torn between his responsibility to Julie and his fear for Mom's health.

"Can you carry her to the car?" Debra asked Dad, taking charge of the situation. "And can Danny walk?"

Dad nodded. "I need to help ...."

"You need to get your wife to the car, to relative safety. And Danny, too." She looked around. "Val and I are trained for this. We're trained for this. Kayda knows Lakota magic, and she's got a lot more fighting experience than either of you."

"Don't forget me," Addy said, a touch of nervousness in her words. "I know 'ow to fight, too."

Debra looked uncertainly at me, so I nodded. "Her speed might be useful. When they hit us, I saw a limb very briefly just before the impact. With her faster reflexes, she can probably catch whoever attacked us in that moment when they're visible."

"Since Val's got a shield up, I'm going to check with my consultant," I said, and after a momentary quizzical look, she got the gist of my comment and nodded her agreement.

I sat wearily beside the teepee, where Wakan Tanka was working on a hide. "What happened?" I asked.

"Drink," Wakan Tanka said, handing me a gourd cup that had been sitting beside her.

I gulped down the beverage, finding it refreshing and soothing to my bruises and aches. "What ...?"

"Your friend is missing," Wakan Tanka interrupted me.

"Yes. Why would they take her and none of the rest of us?"

"She is a mutant, too?" I nodded. "Tell me what you know of her powers."

"Not a lot," I replied. "They only did quick testing. She has some sensitivity to magic, and an affinity for plants."

"I see."

"And she's a spatial warper."

Wakan Tanka frowned. "What is a warper?"

"She is able to displace her body through space. When she escaped her father, she warped from her bedroom outside her house." I sighed, taking another sip. "And she ended up near a tree - and naked."

"What?" Wakan Tanka practically shrieked. "Say that again." I had never seen her as agitated as she was at that moment.

"She warped to a tree, and her clothes didn't warp with her," I said hesitantly.

"Bring Debra here - immediately."

"She's not ..."

"Do as I say. I'll show you how." She quickly taught me a spell.

"Debra," I said urgently as soon as I popped back into the real world, "I need you to join me in dream-space."

"What? But ...."

I shook my head to cut off her protests. "Wakan Tanka taught me. Here." I incanted and then touched her forehead.

"Wow, this is weird," Debra said, having slipped into dream-space during her waking hours for the first time.

"I need to talk to both of you," Wakan Tanka said urgently, "about your friend."

"What about her?" I asked. Something didn't feel right, and Wakan Tanka was being a little mysterious.

"I fear that she has been taken by the Canotila," Wakan Tanka explained.

"The _what_?" Debra asked.

"Canotila," I offered by way of explanation. "Grandma Little Doe taught me - they're ... North American elves."

"Yes," Wakan Tanka said with a nod. "They are woods elves, at home around trees and forests. That is why the attack took you by surprise. They can hide in a tree."

"Up in the branches?" Debra asked skeptically.

"No. _In_ the tree. When they get next to a tree," Wakan Tanka explained, "they ... blend into the tree. They can hardly be seen, barely even with magic."

"Okay, so we got our asses handed to us by invisible tree elves," Debra commented acerbically.

"And they can ... move ... between trees," Wakan Tanka continued.

"I don't understand." I said, not sure what she meant.

"A Canotila can move his or her body from one tree to another as if by magic."

I looked at Debra, an awful thought forming in my head. "Warpers?"

Debra nodded. "But ... if Julie ...."

"Your friend is Canotila. I am certain of it," my mentor confirmed my speculation. "You told me that she went from a wooden door to a tree, but her clothes did not move with her. Canotila usually wear no clothes, because it would interfere with their camouflage, and most clothing can't move through the trees with them."

"But ... I saw boots!" I protested.

"They sometimes wear crude footwear of woven plants," Wakan Tanka explained, "because plant material _can_ move with them, but most of the time, they wear nothing."

"How the hell can she be Canotila?" I stammered. "She doesn't have any Native American blood in her."

"The Canotila were here long before the People," Wakan Tanka explained. "They are descendants of the few surviving Sidhe who were stranded on this land after the Sundering. They are of different blood than the People."

"But ... how can she be Canotila? She's a mutant, like Debra and me."

"How can you be Ptesanwi?" Wakan Tanka answered my question with a question. "There is something which stirs the spirits. The Canotila are part of the balance of the world, and that balance has been upset. Very badly upset."

"But why would they take Julie?"

"Canotila are very clan-oriented, and rather, how do you say it, racist? They don't like humanity. They barely _tolerate_ the People. I suppose that they thought she was being held by you, so they decided to free her."

"How do we fight them?" Debra asked.

"You must be careful not to further upset the balance," Wakan Tanka warned. "If possible, you must not harm them."

"They tried to kill us," I protested.

"You must not harm them," Wakan Tanka repeated.

Addy and Valerie were staring at us when we popped out of my dream world. "Julie was taken by American wood elves called Canotila. Wakan Tanka thinks that she's become one herself. She said it's important to not harm the Canotila if we can avoid it."

"So 'ow are we supposed to fight them if we cannot see them?" Addy asked.

"Kayda's spirit said that they're invisible near trees, but not away from them. If possible, we have to draw them out," Debra replied, taking charge of the situation since she had the most experience.

"And they can warp between trees, so who knows how far they've gone by now," I added.

Debra shook her head. "If they're warpers, they can't go far without a _lot_ of energy, so it's likely that they haven't gone far. I hope. Plus, I'm guessing that they're territorial, so they'll be near the area. Otherwise, it's not likely that they would have noticed Julie."

"I can try to trace the warping," Val speculated, "if we can figure out where they started from."

"Look for Julie's clothes," I said as the answer popped into my head. "Canotila can't warp clothes when they move through trees. And when Julie warped once before, her clothes didn't go with her."

"But ...I saw them wearing shoes or sandals or something," Addy countered.

I nodded. "Yeah, Wakan Tanka told me they can wear plant material and still move through trees and hide, but most of the time, they're naked." A thought suddenly popped into mind. "Of course! They're like Nikki!"

"What"?" Debra asked, mystified by my outburst.

"One of the students in my cottage - Nikki Reilly. She's Sidhe, and she's allergic to clothes that aren't natural."

Val shook her head. "I don't see what that ...."

"No, maybe you're onto something," Debra said, realizing where I was going. "Wakan Tanka said they're descended from the Sidhe "Maybe they can only wear natural clothes, or plant-based clothes, because the one that kicked me was wearing some kind of boots, too."

I nodded my agreement. "So if Julie's clothes have any non-natural fibers - like most clothing these days ...."

"They wouldn't warp with her," Val concluded.

"It's a theory anyway. I'll take over shielding so you can use your magic to track them," I said to Valerie.

As I'd hoped, Julie's clothes were strewn about the base of a tree as if they'd been dropped from her. After a very brief incantation, Valerie picked up some kind of energy residue, which seemed to point off the trail into the woods. Cautiously, we followed her direction, with me maintaining a shield around the group.

"I think this is where they ended up after the first warp," Valerie noted, pointing to a tree. "But there's another signature, so I suspect they warped again."

"I _hope_ they have a power limit," I groused, "or they'll be able to just jump around us at will, and we'll never catch them."

"The second point is closer," Valerie announced, pointing to an area about thirty yards away. We followed the trail to the second terminus, and then to a third, which was even closer, lending credence to the theory that they had limited power. But we couldn't see them, and if they were hiding in the trees ....

"Let me try something. Val, can you take over the shield?" As soon as she'd done so, I cast my ghost-walking spell. Suddenly, the copse of trees was full of faintly glowing bodies standing against trees. I touched Debra, so she was ghost-walking with me. "See them?"

"No," Debra replied, puzzled.

"There are dozens of them!" I whispered. "Why I can see them and you can't."

"Maybe it's because you're Native American and I'm not."

"Hmmm, maybe," I speculated. "Now we need to catch one to lure out the others."

"How?"

"I wonder if they can see ghost-walking." She worried her lip a bit. "Can you cast a shield spell while you're ghost-walking?"

I winced. "I've never done that before. I don't think so. Why?"

"I was hoping you could. You could wander toward one of them, and see if they flinch and either attack you or run away. If they can't see you, they couldn't do anything."

"But if they can see me, they could attack me," I finished for her.

"Yeah." She frowned.

"Addy." I said suddenly.

"Addy? What about her?"

"She's a speedster. If she could ghost-walk, then she could probably grab one before they could react."

"That could be dangerous to her. She's not a brick. If they move quicker than we think, she could be in real danger."

I frowned. "Yeah, I hadn't thought of that."

"What if you move toward and past one to try to force it to act, and as soon as Addy sees it moving, she can perform a surprise attack," Val suggested.

"It's worth a try." We quickly briefed the girls on the plan, and I cast a ghost-walking spell on Addy.

Still ghost-walking, shadowed closely by Addy who was also ghost-walking, I moved toward the nearest Canotila. It quickly became evident that the elf couldn't see me. She - for it appeared as I'd studied them that _all_ of them were female - stood unmoving by the tree, a spear in her hand, watching Debra and Valerie. I noted that the weapon was a pointed shaft with no metal or stone point; this lent credence to our working postulate that they could only hide plant matter. On the other hand, a sharpened stick could still do a lot of damage.

When I was only a couple feet from her, staring directly at the spot she hid, I dropped my ghost-walking, startling the Canotila. She reacted just as Debra and I had hoped; worried that she'd been discovered, she swung the spear like a bo-staff to club me.

The spear shaft bounced off my shield, which I'd raised at the same time I'd dropped my ghost-walking. In the moment she was visible, Addy side-kicked her away from the tree so she wouldn't be able to hide against the tree. A follow-up foot sweep knocked her down, and Addy planted a foot in her armpit while she grasped the Canotila's arm, locking her in a painful and nearly immobile position. The elf-woman wasn't done fighting, though; in a feat of incredibly flexibility, she managed to cock a foot around and kick Addy, which caused her to lose her grip on the elf-woman. But before the Canotila could spring to her feet, though, Addy reacted, tackling the she-elf face-down into the earth and getting her arm wrenched painfully behind her back, so the elf-woman was helplessly immobilized.

No sooner had Addy attacked than Debra and Valerie rushed to my side, and I extended my shield around the four girls and the captive Canotila elf. In seconds, we were surrounded by at least two dozen nude, female elves, all brandishing clubs, spears, and bows. Wooden arrows and spears bounced off my shield, which evoked howls of anger and protest from the elf women.

"Okay, we found them. Now what?" Val asked caustically. "You don't suppose they speak English, do you?"

"I doubt it," Debra snorted.

"Some'ow, I doubt they speak French, either," Addy added with an ironic chuckle.

"Sisters of the forest," I addressed them in Lakota. "Do you understand me?"

One of the women, a tall, statuesque, raven-haired woman with a commanding air about her, stepped forward. "Release our sister," she ordered imperiously.

"Release _our_ friend who you have taken from us," I demanded in return.

"We will not let you take one of our sisters from us, even if she is of another clan," the woman countered sternly.

"Are you the leader of this clan?" I asked, trying to not sound too demanding.

"Release our sister," the woman repeated, ignoring my question.

"This is getting nowhere," I grumbled to Debra. "She isn't listening."

"Show _her_," Debra replied.

"What?!"

"Show Ptesanwi. And hope that they recognize her," Debra explained.

I thought a moment whether that would be a good idea or not, and then I consciously willed Ptesanwi to show herself through me. The Canotila collectively gasped, stepping back a couple of steps and looking fearfully at me.

"We would speak with you," we said, our voice echoing unnaturally. "But first we want your oath, on the very roots of the sacred trees, that you will give us the right of truce until we depart this area."

"Why should we trust you? You conspired with those of pale skins to ravage the land, to destroy what is natural. It was the pale-skins who you let into the forests, to destroy not only the trees, but also to despoil the sacred trees, until they withered and died. What reason can you give that would earn our trust?" As the leader spoke, restless murmuring coursed through the ranks of the Canotila.

We frowned. "The People were deceived by the pale-skins, just as you were. They brought disease and destruction to the People. After pushing the People from their lands, they gave the People these lands where they could live in balance with you and nature. But the pale-skins found the yellow metal, and they broke their oaths and pushed the People from this land also."

"So you claim, but you offer no proof of your intentions. We will not give you the right of truce. We can wait here longer than you. We outnumber you. We will not be pushed from our land, nor will we surrender the sister who you captured."

We sighed. "We've got a standoff," we informed the others. "They think they can wait us out, and I'm afraid they're right."

"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka commanded after snapping me into my dream-world, "repeat my incantation, stretching your hands to the skies."

"What? What is it?"

"Just do it. And quickly. Before you run out of essence for your shield spell."

Following Wakan Tanka's direction, we incanted, our arms upstretched. Immediately, a cloud formed, thick and gray, blotting out the sun, and it began to descend slowly like a fog into the treetops.

The effect on the Canotila was electric; they looked fearfully to the descending fog, eyes wide with terror. One of them rushed to the side of the leader, arguing in a language which we didn't understand. We understood the gist of the argument from the way the second woman gestured at the descending fog, however; clearly, she was pleading with the first to relent, likely arguing that the leader's stubbornness was going to destroy the entire clan.

The elf leader glared at us for a while. Finally she nodded. "You have our word, on the roots of the sacred tree, that we will do you no harm."

We nodded our acceptance of her oath, and then, incanting quickly in another spell guided by Wakan Tanka, we caused the fog to dissipate. Sighs of relief rippled through the Canotila. They lowered their weapons, and as a gesture of good faith, we dropped our shield. "Release the girl," we ordered Adalie.

Nervously, Adalie glanced at Debra for reassurance, and on receiving a nod of assent, she released the elf-woman, helping her to her feet.

"The sister you took from us was human, but recently changed into one of you," we explained, causing murmurs of shock and disbelief to circulate through the Canotila women. "Speak to her. She does not understand your tongue." Once more, murmurs went through the women, and a couple of them tested Julie, who was being held a few yards behind the circle of elf-women. Eventually, word passed to the leader, who listened in shocked disbelief.

"She doesn't understand our tongue, as you said," she declared, astonished.

I let Ptesanwi de-manifest. "We were protecting her from those who would harm her," I explained. "She came to my parents for help." I glanced at the others. "I explained that Julie was human, but changed, and that we were protecting her from people who meant her harm."

"What do you intend to do with our sister?" the leader asked.

"Protect her, and teach her how to use her powers. And then she will decide what she will do with her life."

The leader frowned, pondering my words, and then she turned toward the two with Julie, saying words in the Canotila tongue that I didn't understand. The two brought Julie to our circle. "If you weren't Ptesanwi, we wouldn't trust you," she said with a frown. "She should learn our ways."

"What did she say?" Julie asked, baffled and frightened by this whole experience.

"She is apparently releasing you to us," I answered, "although they're not happy. You are one of them, a Canotila. It is a North American elf."

"But ... how? I'm ... human!" she protested.

"And I wasn't fully Lakota, nor was I a woman," I replied. "Mutation does strange things to people."

"Am I really like them?" Julie asked, staring at the bevy of gorgeous naked women standing among the trees.

I chuckled. "In more ways than you realize." I looked up and down her nude body appreciatively. She noticed the look I was giving her and blushed. Debra noticed too, and _she_ frowned at me.

"Maybe ...," she began hesitantly, "I should spend time with them ... to learn how to use my powers and stuff?"

My jaw dropped. "But ... they tried to kidnap you! You don't even know them!"

Julie winced. "I know. But ... I feel pulled to them. Like I'm supposed to be with them."

"Go in peace. We hold you responsible for the safety of our sister," the leader said.

"She is called Julie. She asked if it would be wise to spend some time among you. Perhaps during a break in her schooling," I said to the leader.

She goggled at my suggestion. "Julie is a strange name. It doesn't sound like one of our names or our tongue." She grinned broadly. "Julie is welcome among us any time she wishes." Suddenly, she glanced around nervously, and then she and the whole group blended into the trees.

I felt prickling on the nape of my neck. "Something spooked them," I snapped to Debra." I snapped off a ghost-walking spell, and immediately spotted the unmistakable glow of a Canotila crouching beside a tree. I walked to her. "What's wrong?"

"Someone watches us," the elf-woman replied nervously. "It happens too frequently. We can find no peace," she added, grumbling.

I walked to Debra and the girls and shed my spell. "They were frightened by someone watching us. Val, can you locate them?"

She nodded, and then concentrated. "That way," she reported after a moment. "About forty yards."

I nodded, and Debra touched my arm. "What are you going to do?" Give her credit - she knew me well from all the time we'd spent in my dream-world.

"I'm going to see if they're filming, and if so, try to ... disrupt ... their cameras." I saw her wrinkle her brow. "We have to. If evidence gets out of the Canotila, they'll be in danger."

"To say nothing of you," Val added needlessly.

I nodded my agreement, and then cast another ghost-walking spell. For some reason, it seemed that I had an abundance of essence in the Black Hills. I realized that they really were special to the Lakota shamans.

Moving quickly, I threaded my way through the trees until I saw the people who'd been watching us. As I'd expected, they _did_ have a camcorder, and one held it to his eye as he continued to film.

I thought a moment. There were three guys - and they were probably more interested in the nude girls than in anything else, but I wasn't about to take a chance. But they were positioned so that I couldn't get to the camera without the other two seeing me, and to do anything, I'd have to drop my ghost-walking, at least for a moment. But then I had an inspiration. I picked up a small rock, and moving into position, I tossed it over their heads to land in the brush. As expected, the guys all turned toward the sudden noise.

As I dropped the ghost-walking spell, smiling to myself, I released a simple spell that Clover had taught me as part of our bargain - a simple shock spell, and as I did so, it suddenly occurred to me that if I upped the amperage, it would overheat the tape - _if_ it was a tape-based recorder - thus erasing the magnetic domains, if not fusing the polymer ribbon into a hopeless mess. I could almost feel the crackle of electricity coursing through the video recorder's delicate electronics, turning the various chips into worthless lumps of silicon as I let loose the massive electric shock. I hoped it was enough.

No sooner had I released the shock than I invoked my ghost-walking spell again and backed away from the trio of boys.

One of them must have thought he saw something from the corner of his eye, because he was looking around suspiciously, but he must have convinced himself that he was imagining things. It only took seconds for the camcorder operator to realize that something was wrong with his machine, and I had to keep from giggling as he tried everything he could think of to get it working again.

I walked stealthily back to the girls, where I found a red-faced Julie pulling on her clothes. "I think we're good," I reported as I shed my ghost-walking spell.

"Even if you fried the camera, the tape might have survived, or it might be one of the new disk-based recorders, and they _will_ talk. We probably should get going pronto," Debra advised.

As soon as we were in the van, I slipped into my dream-space. I had more questions than answers, and I needed to consult with Wakan Tanka.

"That spell you had me do - was that the cloud that legends speak of?" I asked fearfully.

Wakan Tanka laughed. "No. It was just a spell to summon a fog. It is useful to call the clouds to hide from an enemy. It is _also_ useful to frighten those who know of the legend of Ptesanwi."

"So we were bluffing?"

Wakan Tanka nodded, smiling. "Yes. The Canotila are very - what is your word? Superstitious. Because they are connected to nature, they are easily frightened by those who can manipulate the waters and the skies." Her features grew serious. "I would _never_ have you call down the cloud of death on a trivial matter like that. It is far too dangerous, and you do not yet know enough to control it."

The drive through Spearfish Canyon to the airport should have been very scenic, but we were rather subdued because of our battle with the Canotila and Mom's injuries, even though I'd healed them. Plus, knowing now that Julie was Canotila gave her - and me - something to think about. We were all very glad when the plane took off, because it meant we were relatively safe.

Monday, April 9, 2007, evening>
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

I expected a relatively low-key reception when we landed at Mission's tiny airport. Perhaps the tribal chief would come out with Grandma, perhaps with a friend or two to, as Grandma put it, 'meet the newest tribal member'. I wasn't in the front of the plane, so the group of us girls tried to peer through the windows. "Oh, crap," I groaned loudly upon seeing the crowd that was assembled, as if to greet the country's president.

"Why are they all 'ere?" Addy asked, staring awe-struck at the dancers and drummers who were attired in Lakota costumes. One man stood nearer the plane, with a retinue; he wore a war bonnet to symbolize his position as chief, and his clothing, while somewhat western, had a very distinctive Lakota theme.

"Oh, God, no!" I moaned, sinking into my seat as I looked more closely at the people with the Chief. There were two men in traditional shaman's costumes, and with them stood Grandma Little Doe, similarly attired.

Mom looked back from the steps. "Come on, Kayda," she urged. "They're waiting for you."

"Mom!" I protested, "I don't wanna!"

"Kayda, I'm sure Mom went to a lot of trouble to arrange a welcome for you. It's very special for her, and for you," my mom scolded me gently.

"You mean embarrassing for me!"

Debra clutched my hand. "It'll be okay," she reassured me.

"Look at them!" I protested. "Grandma _told_ them! They're not here for me; they're here for some kind of pop icon!"

"Kayda, come on. It's rude to keep them all waiting." Mom wasn't going to let me out of this very public and exuberant gathering.

Sighing, I started to get up out of my seat, and then I had a particularly mischievous thought. My expression must have given something away, because Debra stopped, looking straight at me. "What are you planning?" she practically demanded, interrupting the spell I was starting to cast.

Mom heard, and she glared at me. "And none of your invisibility stuff, either!" she said firmly.

"How does she do that?" I grumbled. She had guessed _exactly_ what I was planning.

Debra chuckled. "She's a mother. Mothers know what their children are scheming about."

As we crept down the low-ceilinged aisle, the sound of chanting and drumming got louder and louder, filling me with more and more dread. I didn't _want_ to be a celebrity or shaman or anything special. I just wanted to be a normal girl ....

The thought hit me like a two-by-four. I wanted to be a normal _girl_. I hadn't had such thoughts before; I'd just wanted to be left alone by people and creatures, not being attacked, or insulted or made fun of, or having to fight every time I turned around. I realized I had _never_ considered wanting anything related to my gender. But now? I'd admitted to myself that I _wanted_ to be a girl. Not only was I rapidly getting used to the idea, but I realized with a start that I _liked_ being a girl.

I must have stumbled or halted momentarily while considering that, because Debra clutched my hand. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I smiled. "Something just occurred to me. I'll tell you later."

No sooner had I stepped from the plane than the drumming and chanting increased in volume, while the crowd roared enthusiastically. "This is fucking embarrassing," I muttered to Debra.

"Just keep smiling, hon," she whispered in my ear to encourage me.

Debra kept back a few steps, with Adalie, Julie, and Valerie, while my family and I walked stiffly toward the chief, or the man I assumed to be the chief because of the head-dress.

Two warriors hunted buffalo one day
A white buffalo calf suddenly appeared
She changed into a beautiful young woman
The White Buffalo Calf Woman

I started as I recognized the words in Lakota; though I'd never heard this particular chant before, there was no mistaking that they were singing of the legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. Shuddering, I stepped toward the one I figured was the chief.

A cloud came over the foolish one
The one who lusted after the woman
When the cloud lifted, all that was left
Were the bones of the disgraced warrior

The chief bowed deeply to me, adding to my considerable embarrassment, while all the shamans, Grandmother included, knelt. "Please rise," I practically begged, feeling my cheeks burning at the spectacle. "I'm _just_ one of the People."

The White Buffalo Calf Woman returned as promised
Coming from the clouds as a white buffalo calf
Bringing with her the sacred bundle
Teaching the tribe the sacred ways
Teaching the songs and dances and rituals
Teaching the People the way of balance and harmony
Promising to return to bring prosperity
At the sign of the sacred white buffalo calf.

The drumming and chanting ended abruptly at the conclusion of the tale. "You honor us with your presence, Ptesanwi," the chief said as he stepped forward, his voice cracking with emotion at what was for him and the others a spiritual moment.

Grandma Little Doe rose and stepped to my side, signaling that Mom should take a place at my other side. "I present my granddaughter," she said formally and loudly so that all would hear. "Kayda Franks, now a full member of the Sicangu tribe." The crowd cheered their approval, but Grandma wasn't done. "Kayda holds the spirit of ska tatanka, the white buffalo."

A strange hush fell over the crowd, which made me feel even more conspicuous. As I looked around, I saw eyes filled with awe and reverence at her pronouncement.

"And she holds the spirit of Ptesanwi," she said proudly. The crowd gasped, and I feared they were going to fall to their knees worshipping me.

One of the other shamans stepped to me, halting an arms' length away. He raised his arms and placed them on my shoulders, looking deeply into my eyes. It was unnerving, but with Mom at my side, I managed to not freak out. Tilting his head back, he chanted, and I recognized some of the words and phrases.

"Wakan Tanka," I asked, sitting beside my tutor at the fire circle, "what magic is he calling?"

"He is using the spell of discerning," she replied easily. "He is looking into your heart to see your spirit, to know if you truly _are_ the Ptesanwi."

"What do I do?" I asked, frightened by this entire greeting. I didn't want to be treated like a rock star.

"Show Tatanka. Show your knife. _Be_ Ptesanwi."

"That'll just make it worse! I don't _want_ them to worship me!"

Wakan Tanka looked at me sadly. "You are the Ptesanwi. You are important to the People. They cannot help celebrating your presence. Do not deny them the joy of seeing the Ptesanwi."

The shaman's eyes widened as the magic touched me. "You truly _are_ the Ptesanwi!" he declared in astonishment.

Oh, shit. The People expected to see a goddess or something, and I couldn't say that I blamed them, given the misery and poverty in which they lived, but I wasn't sure I liked the idea of being treated like a deity.

We went through introductions, which became extremely formal after the shaman's pronunciation; I was surprised that Grandma was introduced as also being a shaman, and that a retired chief named Dan Bear Claw seemed to have a knowing look in his eyes as I shook hands with him. In turn, I introduced my family and my friends.

In the town's high-school gym was a major celebration feast. Many of the dishes served were traditional, including a few kinds of buffalo meat dishes, Indian tacos on fry bread, as well as more dishes that were more typical of pot-luck dinners. To my surprise and delight, they served Wojapi on fry bread, and I instantly recognized the distinctive taste of chokecherries in the jam-like spread. I don't think Debra noticed much of the unique and delightful flavors because of the way she was shoveling in the food, but everyone else in our group seemed to really like the dishes. We were entertained with more drumming and dancing, and a number of people showed off their Lakota crafts and projects, many of which were presented to me as gifts, both for being a new member of the tribe and also for being both a shaman and the Ptesanwi. Adalie was quite fascinated by the native garb and drumming, and she probably took a hundred pictures with her cell phone.

At a brief respite from the introductions and chatting with the people, I had a moment for an aside with Grandma. "I'm glad the People aren't treating me like I'm some kind of deity. I was afraid that they were going to, I don't know, worship me or something. I don't want that kind of attention!"

"Our ways are more polite than that. If you aren't going to talk about the Ptesanwi, they won't embarrass you by raising that topic." She smiled. "Did it not occur to you why so many mothers are introducing their sons to you?"

"What?" I stammered, shocked and barely able to keep my jaw off the floor.

Grandma chuckled. "If you _were_ looking for a boyfriend, they would want you to select their sons. And can you blame them? It would mean a great blessing on the household who Ptesanwi marries into."

I groaned at the awful news. What a horrid thought - a lot of Lakota mothers hoping to play matchmaker to marry a deity into the family. It was time to change the subject. "I think Julie and Adalie are enjoying the attention they're getting."

"Why not? They are beautiful girls. And it seems that Julie enjoys flirting."

Grandma was interrupted when a woman came to us. "Hi," she said after I turned to look at her, bowing her head slightly toward me as a sign of respect. "I'm Martha Stillwater."

"Hi," I answered, smiling and hoping it didn't appear as a pasted-on beauty-pageant false smile. I _was_ enjoying the celebration, even if it seemed to be going overboard.

After a little small-talk, Martha leaned closer to me. "You are winkte, aren't you?" she whispered to me.

I felt my eyes bulging in surprise. "Uh ...." I stammered, not knowing how to answer.

"It's okay," she said, smiling. "I'm also two-spirits. I recognize that within you, and in my dreams last night, I was told a new girl would come, a winkte who holds a very important spirit." She watched for my reaction, a knowing glint in her eye. "I know how hard it can be in the world with blatant hatred of winkte, and that our old beliefs of two-spirits have been corrupted by the white religion."

"I ... I guess," I stammered, deciding to admit the truth to this sympathetic woman. "Yes. Yes, I am winkte." I was amazed at how casually and confidently Martha was speaking of being winkte, and of me being the same. It seemed to cause her no shame, but rather, pride.

Martha smiled. "That makes you even more special to the People. At least to those who hold onto and cherish our old beliefs." She glanced around furtively. "You must be careful who you tell, though. It can be very dangerous, especially outside."

Feeling a sigh of relief at her understanding, I was about to reply when two girls pranced up to me, dressed in traditional dance costumes. They had high white moccasins with bells, trimmed in frill, and white leather dresses adorned with beads and shells, also trimmed with lots of frill. Their headbands were works of art, completely covered in intricate and beautiful beadwork, but without the feathers that so many people erroneously thought were typical of all Native American headgear.

The girls took my hands. "Come," they said, giggling. "We want you to dance with us."

Martha smiled. "We'll talk more later."

My protests notwithstanding, the girls tugged me - and my friends - into a locker room, where they had dance costumes for us. With unwavering determination, they helped us all dress and then led us back into the gym. Everyone gathered into a huge circle, and as the drums started beating, the girls led us through some basic dance steps, giggling merrily at our missteps and errors. Of the bunch of us, I think Addy was enjoying herself the most, although I had to admit that it was very delightful to see Debra in such a fetching outfit. Based on the way she was eyeing me, I'd have to guess that she shared that opinion of me.

After dancing, we all went back to the locker room to change back, and we got another surprise - one of the older women who was probably the dancers' coach or leader told us that the outfits were ours to keep. I objected strongly, but she would have none of it. Even though Julie, Valerie, Addy, and Debra weren't Lakota, as my friends, they were considered members of my Tiyospayi, my 'extended family', and were thus deserving of as much hospitality as the tribe was showing me - which included gifts.

After a while, Tatanka's spirit became a bit restless and wanted some of fresh air, so I slipped outside. It was a beautiful evening - a bit crisp since winter had only recently released its hold on the land, and summer hadn't brought its sometimes-oppressive heat that lasted well into the evenings. Unlike many people, I actually preferred cool evenings. I stood outside the building, relishing in the brisk air, since the inside of the gym was quite warm from all the people at the celebration. As I stood silently, I heard someone approaching from around the corner of the building. Almost immediately, I recognized the voice as belonging to Dan Bear Claws, the former chief. There was something about him that made me uncomfortable, though I couldn't put my finger on it. He'd given me the willies when I was introduced to him at the airport and again when he spoke with me at the celebration. I guessed, from the way he spoke, that he was probably using a cell phone.

"She's here, and she seems to be enjoying herself. And the People like her."

His words increased my curiosity, but something also aroused my suspicion that he was talking about _me_. Curious and now wary, I cast a ghost-walking spell to hide and find out more, even though I knew it was wrong and impolite to listen in. I was right about the voice; it _was_ Chief Dan. After trudging slowly a few yards, his phone to his ear, he turned back the way he'd come, pacing with a slight limp as he talked and listened, avoiding the doors into the gym and lighted areas. It all seemed too clandestine and sneaky.

"No, that won't work."

I wondered _what_ he thought wouldn't work.

"Look, I'm not paying you to think. I'm paying you for results. Just do what I said." He was quite agitated by whatever the person on the other end of the call was saying.

"Any information about the other actor?"

His face wrinkled into a deep scowl as he heard the answer. "Well, find out! And stop them, however you have to do it."

He listened another few seconds. "Before you do anything too drastic, though, I want to know who they're working for and why."

He clearly didn't like the answer. "Of course my employer will want to know who! Just do the job you're being paid for! Now don't contact me again. I'll call you. It's less risky." He angrily clicked off his cell phone, stuffed it back in his pocket, and walked back into the gym, leaving me standing by a corner.

I stood, puzzled. His very first statement sounded like he was talking about me. Then again, both Mom and Grandma were associated with the tribe, they weren't normally here, and they were enjoying the soiree which had apparently gathered tribal members from all over, some traveling over two hundred miles to be here. It _could_ have been someone else he was talking about. The rest of his end of the conversation sounded like some kind of conspiracy, and that part made no sense. If he _had_ been talking about me, then it meant some kind of plot, which would have had to include someone at Whateley. Someone hostile to me. Someone who .... My mouth dropped open as realization dawned. Someone who didn't like me and was trying to sabotage me. Wind Runner. It _had_ to be her. On the night I'd been elected head of the group, she'd made it more than clear that she thought me a usurper of _her_ position, and really disliked my ideas for the group. And she was a wizard, so she could have easily used magic for some of the harassment I'd been the victim of. But was she so nasty that she'd do something like harassing me? Moreover, she was Navajo, and I was Lakota; there was no enmity between our tribes; in fact, there was little contact of any kind. But she had the motive and skills.

I shook my head to clear those thoughts. After all the incidents I'd had in my first month, I was probably just being paranoid. There weren't any new students at Whateley since I'd arrived. Someone would have had to know that I was going to manifest and go there in time to place an operative, which was ridiculous! And Wind Runner was a junior. It would have been impossible for someone to know, that far in advance, that I was going to mutate, become the Ptesanwi, and go to Whateley. I _had_ to be reacting from paranoia.

"You are troubled, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said as we walked through a meadow in the mountains of the Black Hills. "What is on your mind?"

"I'm ... not sure," I replied. "Things don't make sense." I paused, watching sitehaska, a deer, walking alertly through the trees at the edge of the meadow. Overhead, cetan circled lazily on the air currents, carried effortlessly by the rivers of the air spirit.

"You're not sure if you should trust Chief Bear Claws or not, right?" Wakan Tanka asked with certainty.

I started to gasp in astonishment that she'd guessed, but then I remembered who - and what - was dwelling in me. "Yeah," I answered. "He seems kind of ... creepy, and suspicious. I didn't think the People acted like that."

"Some do," Wakan Tanka replied sadly. "Not all follow the traditions and rules. Why do you think the People have the Akicita?"

I nodded slowly. If everyone in a tribe were well behaved, there would be no need for the akicita, the tribal police, to keep the rules and traditions and customs.

"Be as cautious as your inner soul tells you, but be careful to not break our cultural traditions. Extend trust to others until you know if they are worthy of trust or not. But do not be naive or foolish."

I thought a moment. "Am I being too suspicious?"

"It is wise to be wary, but you can't let that caution force you to violate our customs. People expect you to diligently adhere to those traditions, since you are the Ptesanwi."

I stood for a few seconds, reflecting on what Wakan Tanka had told me. She had pretty bluntly reminded me that I was obligated to observe the cultural traditions of the Lakota people, especially with my unexpected role as Ptesanwi, and being suspicious without reason was counter to that culture.

Back inside, a few people seemed puzzled at where I'd gone, so I explained part of the truth - that my bison spirit needed to be outdoors occasionally. This seemed to satisfy most of the people, and we all resumed the festivities.

Even though it was getting late, almost no-one left. The celebration was quite enjoyable, and everyone seemed to want to meet me and chat, as if that alone would get them some special favor or blessing - although no-one was so boorish as to actually request such things. About eleven-thirty, though, Mom and Dad summoned all of us to meet with the chief again. Dad asked about hotels, and the chief actually laughed at that idea. He was adamant that it wouldn't be proper to make Dad pay for lodging. Besides, the nearest hotel was over twenty miles away. Mission wasn't big enough to have a hotel. We were guests, after all, and it was in keeping with the Lakota traditional hospitality. When Dad pressed the issue, the chief said that we would be staying with families of good repute, members of the akicita and winyan akicita - the tribal police.

Dad was nervous about that idea to the very end, but it was his Western culture and its suspicious nature, whereas Grandma and Mom were perfectly fine with the lodging arrangements. Mom, Dad, and Danny went with one family. Val and Debra went with Martha Stillwater, which left Julie, Addy, and me to go with a third family.

Our host family insisted that the three of us girls sleep on their king-sized bed, and they would take a fold-out sofa. I still protested at putting them out, and I could tell that Addy and Julie were nervous because teenage and older girls in America didn't share a bed. It just wasn't normal. Wakan Tanka assured me, in a quick dream-space consultation, that there was nothing sexual about girls sharing a bed, but that it was traditional for same-gendered children in a family to bed together. In the old days, it was a way to share body warmth during bitterly-cold winters, she explained. It took a bit to convince Addy and Julie, but eventually they acquiesced - mostly because they were too exhausted to protest much.

Before I went to bed, though, there was something I really needed to do, so the mother walked me over to Martha Stillwater's house. Martha assured our host that she'd walk me back, so my host mother returned to her home. Val joined us in Martha's living room, because she didn't tired and needed time to wind down.

"In traditional culture," Martha explained, sharing some of the herbal tea I'd brewed for us, "winkte were honored. Being two spirits was considered special." She smiled. "I can tell that you two are two-spirits."

"Oh?" I was surprised; I thought I was hiding my winkte nature.

"As I said, I was visited in my dream."

I frowned. "Wakan Tanka," I grumbled.

"What?" Martha seemed startled that I would think the Great Spirit would have visited her dream. That _didn't_ happen to normal people, and _rarely_ would a shaman be visited by the Great Spirit.

I glanced at Debra, who nodded at me. "It would be like her," she said.

"Wakan Tanka has been ... trying to educate me about my two-spirit nature," I explained. "It'd be just like her to visit a winkte here so I could hear some first-hand experience."

Martha nodded, struggling not to show her awe at being in the presence of Ptesanwi, the prophetess of Wakan Tanka. "Then I suppose we should talk about being two-spirits." She put on a smile. "You seem ... nervous about the subject."

"Well, yeah," Debra answered. "It's ... not exactly welcome in the world to be lesbian or gay in the world."

"In the white man's world," Martha corrected her. "In our traditional culture, winkte were like ... a third and fourth sexuality. It was considered normal, not deviant. A winkte woman might be a warrior. She might take a wife. A winkte man might have a husband. He might be a nanny, or a healer, or a dream interpreter." She paused a moment. "Have you seen the movie Little Big Man?"

Debra, Val, and I exchanged confused glances. "Yes," I answered.

"Do you remember the character Little Horse?"

I shook my head. "No."

"He was winkte. He was portrayed as an obviously feminine man, and surprisingly, the movie portrayed his role very well. He was not shunned, but was accepted as perfectly normal." She put her hand on mine. "In my dream, I was told that you were having difficulty being winkte. You must embrace your culture, your two-spirit nature."

"How? I'd have to turn my back on part of my heritage and life. That's asking a lot."

Martha shook her head. "No," she chided me. "You won't be turning your back on your white culture. You'll be adding to your heritage with the Lakota - and winkte - culture."

"But that's a paradox," Debra said, frowning. "Lakota culture accepts winkte; the broader American culture doesn't. Those are conflicting views. How does one balance them?"

Martha chuckled. "It's not easy. I was shunned by some of the tribe, and some of my own family, because the priests have undermined our culture with the white beliefs of homosexuality. It was far worse when I lived off the reservation. I'm a registered nurse." She smiled. "I had a good job in a hospital, and I loved caring for the ill and injured." A sadness crept into her eyes and voice. "But, as you know, the white culture really frowned on the fact that I'm a lesbian."

"That's an understatement," Debra said gruffly.

"I was blatantly discriminated against," Martha continued. "Hostility surrounded me, because I was what the culture hated - a lesbian in a straight world."

Debra and I sat, hand-in-hand, enraptured, because Martha's tale might be a prediction of our future.

"I came home, finally," Martha said. "Back to the reservation. Even though there was hostility here, it would be less than in the outside world. The People are learning of their heritage. It's a cultural renaissance, a search for the old traditional values that had served the People for so long - before the white men crowded us onto the reservation and tried to destroy our culture, our way of life." Surprisingly, she didn't sound bitter, like some Native Americans I knew.

"With that cultural awakening, People have begun to search for the old ways and values, and in that, I'm not only a highly-valued nurse, but also an example of winkte."

"That's got to be tough," Val observed.

Martha nodded. "It's not easy. Some resist the old ways, especially about winkte, because they're too ingrained with the western beliefs the priests teach. But I have a duty to my culture and values to teach others, so our way of life and our culture are not forgotten."

"So you're kind of like Rosa Parks of winkte on the reservation," Debra observed, which elicited a smile from Martha.

"I wouldn't go _that_ far," she said.

We talked for almost an hour and a half. Martha had once had a wife on the reservation - unofficially, of course, since the Catholic Church would _never_ recognize it, but her wife had passed on years earlier. She had a son and three grandchildren who lived in Rapid City, but her son wasn't close, as he'd become too judgmental of Martha's winkte nature. "Someday," she said with a sad smile, "he'll come back to our values and traditions."

"You hope," Val suggested.

Martha nodded. "Yes, I hope. In the meantime, I continue to love him as a parent would love a child."

Debra walked me back to the house I was staying in, rather than Martha. It gave us a chance to be alone together, which we both appreciated. Martha had given us a lot to think about; could _we_ be as brave as she was? Could we stand proudly with our beliefs in a hostile world? Could we work, in the face of oppression, to expand understanding toward two-spirits in our own culture, as she had in hers? I think I was a little more naive than Debra about the challenges; I felt fearless as long as she was by my side, whereas Debra was a bit more pragmatic. We shared a prolonged good-night hug and kiss, and then sadly, I had to watch her walk back to Martha's house.

Kayda's Dream Space

My dream space should have been relaxing and comforting, a time for special closeness with my beloved,, but Wakan Tanka had instead insisted on teaching me new spells. What was worse was that rather than teach me directly, she was pushing me to figure out how to combine the ghost-walking and shield spells by myself.

Debra rubbed my shoulders to try to erase some of my tension and frustration; Wakan Tanka was being a demanding tutor - even more-so than normal.

"They don't fit together," I snapped in frustration, shaking my head.

"They can, if you look for the common elements and weave them together," Wakan Tanka chided me.

"Why don't you just teach me the spell?" I demanded.

Debra leaned her head onto my shoulder. "If you give a man a fish, he has a meal. If you teach a man to fish ...."

"He never goes hungry," I finished the adage.

"Debra speaks wisely, and you know it. You _know_ the saying. You know it to be true."

I sighed, shaking my head. "I know. But it's so ... unintuitive. It's hard."

Debra chuckled, still rubbing my shoulders. "If it was easy, anyone could do it." She leaned on my shoulder again. "The sooner you figure it out," she whispered, "the sooner we can ... play." She nibbled on my ear to tease me with promises of things to come - after I finished the task that Wakan Tanka had set me to.

I turned, and saw the sparkle of confidence in her eyes. "Okay," I said, forcing a smile, and then turning back to the bare earth in front of me, on which I'd been scratching spell diagrams.

It took another half hour - but it seemed longer - before I realized the commonality between ghost walking and shielding. Both wrapped the person in a shell, even though the shells had different purposes. From there, using the different levels of shield spells, I was able to tease out the part that strengthened the shell against physical attack. Then I unlocked the piece of the ghost-walking spell that strengthened the shell against light, so that most light bent around the shield to emerge on the other side.

"Good," Wakan Tanka said as I finished separating the pieces. "Now map how they work together, how you will make your essence flow into the parts of the new spell."

I puzzled and tried, but couldn't get the flow right in my head. It didn't make sense to me. Then Debra smiled. "Think of it like the energy flow in a machine. What parts move energy to other parts? How does the energy flow?"

I frowned. That seemed rather absurd, but as I considered her suggestion, the light-bulb lit. If I thought of the spell as the drivetrain in my car - the engine, transmission, and differential - then I could visualize how the parts worked together, how they transmitted force and energy. I knew _where_ I needed the energy of my spell to go - into the fragments I'd outlined of the dissected spells. I knew where it came from. All I had to do was to figure out how it had to be steered and shaped in the working of the spell. Transposing that knowledge into gears and machines, the answer popped into my head with an almost physical force.

Instead of the arcane lines and scribbles of Wakan Tanka's spell, I chose instead to draw the spell in terms I knew intimately - simple machines and combinations of simple machines. Ramps, levers, wheels, wedges, screws, pulleys. Combinations like gears and connecting rods. Wakan Tanka looked at my drawing with alarm, baffled by the strange notations I was making on the earth.

"There!" I said before turning to Debra and kissing her deeply. "Thank you for the inspiration!" I said enthusiastically.

"Do not celebrate yet," Wakan Tanka brought me back to earth. "You haven't tested the spell."

"Don't I have to wait until tomorrow, in the real world?" I asked.

"Yes. Tomorrow, you will test the spell, and then we will work more on it if needed."

A thought occurred to me. "So ... the spell sheets my teachers instruct Whateley students to use are...."

Wakan Tanka nodded. "They are maps for the flow of essence, with a store of essence embedded into the paper. When triggered, the essence flows through the map, causing the desired spell to take effect."

I nodded my understanding. "That ... that makes some of what we're learning in class make sense now." I was pleased with my 'eureka' moment of insight. "Now we can go play," I said to Debra in a husky, suggestive tone.

"No," Wakan Tanka rained on my parade. "You need to continue to learn of your heritage and culture." She stood and held out her hands to help Debra and me to our feet. "Come."

We walked with her out of the village and over a rise. To our amazement, we were looking down on a Lakota village that was bustling with activity. We walked down the hill into the village. I was surprised that none of the dogs barked at our approach, nor did the sentries seem to notice.

Led by Wakan Tanka, we walked among the villagers, observing them in their day-to-day activities. Some women were cooking. Some were sewing garments. A couple were tanning a buffalo hide. And a few were sitting together laughing and sharing news - and probably a bit of gossip. Children were playing games and dashing about happily, and I observed some of the boys stalking prey, in this case a rabbit cooking over an open fire. The women who were socializing while cooking would furtively glance at the boys, and then pretend that they hadn't seen them, while periodically tending to the meat to frustrate the boys' stealthy approach. Finally, the women sat down, turning their backs to the cooking meat, and the boys swooped in to steal their prize, dashing off with cries of triumph as they carried the food out of camp.

"The women were encouraging them, weren't they?" Debra asked Wakan Tanka.

"Let us go ask them," she replied. We went to the cluster, and were immediately invited to sit and join them. We learned that the women had indeed been taunting and playing games with the boys, encouraging them to be stealthier, more patient, and persistent, and then rewarding their play by allowing them to obtain their prize In this way, the one-day warriors would learn the basic skills they would someday employ.

We continued to walk around the camp, visiting, observing, and learning about the tribal culture of old. Finally, Wakan Tanka led us back to 'our' private camp. "You have seen much today, but there is still more to learn. We will visit the village often, so that you may learn of your culture."

I nodded wearily. After talking a little more with Wakan Tanka and having some tea, Debra and I retired to a tepee to cuddle and sleep in each other's arms.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Ten Miles North of Mission, SD

The second son of Unhcegila glanced worriedly at the horizon, where the first streaks of dawn were showing against the dark blue of the night sky. It was time to seek shelter for the day, but as he started his search for a safe, dark spot to retire until the next night, his astral senses picked up something he hadn't expected. He stopped and focused his attention.

If the snake demon could show surprise, this event would provoke such a display. He could still sense the shaman he'd been targeting, but now, he could pick up the astral vibrations of two more shamans. One of them surely would know of the location of the sacred sphere. And ... he started at the sensation ... _her_. It _had_ to be the ancient enemy of his father! He could sense her powerful projection and interaction with the dream plane, undisguised and bare for all who could sense such things, just as his brother had described, and his father had confirmed.

_She_ was ahead, the slayer of his brother and eternal enemy of his father. This was a far better opportunity than he could have wished for. If he obtained the sacred sphere _and_ killed his father's enemy, he'd be the pre-eminent son, earning bragging rights over his brother, and perhaps he'd even receive more power. He grinned to himself at that wicked thought; he aspired to be as powerful as his father. He caught himself in those wishes; first, he had to kill _her_ and get the sacred sphere. He'd have time to celebrate later.

Ignoring the rising sun, he pressed on, obsessed with his new goal. She was so close. He _had_ to strike while he had the opportunity, but the dawn light of the sun burned into him, searing him and causing him to cry out in agony. He tried to ignore the danger, but exhausted from pain and injury from the sun's brutal rays, he slithered into a culvert under the road, escaping the deadly sting of the daylight. He cursed himself for being slow; had he moved faster on the long journey from the other reservation, or if he'd have forgone one meal, then he would have been ready to strike rather than having to cower under the road. He'd strike that evening, when _she_ rested, defenseless. He'd get her first; she'd proven herself dangerous, but if he managed a sneak attack, she'd have no chance. He could then kill the shamans at his leisure, and thereby obtain information about the sacred sphere. He smiled wickedly to himself.

A particularly greedy thought went through his evil mind. If he could kill the Ptesanwi, and get the sacred sphere, then perhaps _he_ could benefit. His father was imprisoned and starved of energy; as long as he stayed in that prison, the second son was free to act as he wanted, and if he could tap into the power of the sacred sphere, then _he'd_ be all the more powerful. He could kill his brother who was trying to free the father. He could become a god-demon himself. _He_ would be the one they all feared, as was his birthright.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Rosebud Indian Reservation

The morning brought more surprises after breakfast at our hosts' houses. We went back to the gym. Several men dressed in traditional garb and whose faces were marked with paint stood stoically in two ranks at the far end of the gym facing us. All had fur draped over their shoulders and the same kind of fur wrapping their forearms. Each had at least two eagle feathers, either in a headband or attached to their lances. A few lances were held, tips to the sky, and what appeared to be wolf fur wrapped the shafts. To the right of the standing rows, several similarly attired men sat around a drum, beating a rhythm and chanting, while four girls, wearing brightly-adorned dresses, knelt in front of the men. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the men were warriors, and that their uniformity of adornment with skins marked them as belonging to a warrior society.

To my complete surprise, Grandma was attired in shaman's garb, standing with two other shamans to the left of the rows, her face impassive as she gazed upon us. This was some very important ceremony, I realized, far more than the greeting at the airport or the celebration the night before.

The girls rose and met me, and after gesturing that my companions should halt, they escorted me to stand before the ranks of the men.

"Kayda Franks," one of the men called my name. He was tall, and though his hair was tinged with white, he appeared as physically strong as the younger men on either side of him. On his lance were many, many feathers, each one a testament to a feat of bravery.

"Yes," I answered nervously, not sure what to do.

"I am Martin Thunder Cloud, a warrior of the Sicangu Nation. From the beginning of time, from when Wakan Tanka first breathed life into the People, warriors arose to defend the People and their families against enemies of the tribes. Since then, bravery and fearlessness have been recognized and celebrated by the People, and special mark is given to those warriors as guardians of the tribe."

The men on the drums pounded and chanted a bit, adding drama to the words.

Holy cow! My heart was threatening to beat out of my chest from nervousness. If what I suspected was really happening ....

"As a shaman-to-be, you walk in the land of dreams. But unlike most shamans, you fight in the land of dreams, battling the son of Unhcegila to save a friend."

A collective gasp went through the assembled people; they _knew_ the name Unhcegila and his fearsome reputation, as well as the toughness of his sons. As the crowd began to murmur about this feat, another interlude of drumming and chanting followed his pronouncement.

"The son of Unhcegila corrupted a spirit-being of another tribe, inducing him to attack you. This underwater panther, normally a friend of the Iroquois tribe, attacked you, and you defeated that evil, slaying the creature before it could harm others in its demon insanity."

Once more there was the sound of murmurs, drums, and chanting.

"The son of Unhcegila touched the mind of a guard at your school," the older warrior continued, "and in his insanity, he tried to murder you and those around you, but you defeated him, and in doing so, saved his soul from his corrupted mind and body."

I glanced around nervously as the drums sounded once more. Some of the older members of the tribe, who'd looked at me with caution and skepticism the night before, now looked at me with respect, and even awe.

"The son of Unhcegila attacked you and your friends, and you showed the concern for others that is the hallmark of a great warrior by seeking to protect your friends before you considered your own safety. In the victory, you lost not a single friend to the demon snake."

I was terribly self-conscious at that point, feeling the stares of dozens and dozens of people upon me as the drummers again beat their instrument.

"From the start of time, we have marked feats of skill and courage with the feathers of Wabli, the sacred eagle, so that the People may know and admire those who fight to defend them, and that the young have examples they can aspire to emulate." He stepped forward to me, and one of the girls scampered to her feet and stood beside and behind him, holding a small leather-wrapped bundle. "Four times you have fought against the enemies of the People, and four times you have triumphed, always with honor." He unwrapped the bundle and pulled out a headband, with four eagle feathers. "It is our honor to welcome you, our zuya wikhoskalaka, our warrior girl, to join our ranks as warriors, defenders of the People."

The crowd erupted in cheers, but I swear that I heard Debra's enthusiastic congratulations above all the other noise. I bent forward, as one of the girls indicated, and the old man slipped a headband on me, while the drummers beat a celebratory song.

After the din of congratulations died down some, the older warrior held up his hands, and the effect was immediate. All other sound in the gymnasium ceased. "Normally, we wait and observe new warriors to see their skill and fighting style. We _know_ your fighting style, though, from a warrior who suggested that you would be a fitting member of the In'oka."

My eyes widened at that; who would have done that? Who knew of my fights and victories, and how I fought? Unless .... My eyes darted to Grandmother, but she looked as impassive as she always did. The only other option was ....

There was a stir by the drummers, and eyes darted that way. A man walked in, wearing his warrior's outfit, his face and chest marked with stripes of white. Billy Two Knives placed his hands on my shoulders and smiled. "Kayda fights with the spirit of Hoka, reluctant to fight if it is not necessary, but fearless and aggressive when it is. Though I am no longer In'oka, I was a proud member of the In'oka society, and I am confident that Kayda will bring honor, not shame, to her family and her tribe as an In'oka warrior."

The older warrior, Martin Thunder Cloud, placed a hand atop one of Mr. Two Knives' hands. "We would like you to join the In'oka."

I felt very overwhelmed. This was an honor I hadn't expected. I glanced around at my friends and family for some kind of sign. Danny looked both proud and envious. Julie smiled, and Addy looked like she was in awe of what was happening. She certainly would have tales to tell the next time she went home to France. Valerie likewise smiled. When I looked at Dad, he nodded, letting me know his thoughts. Mom, too, nodded, although she looked apprehensive. But the one I most needed, Debra, smiled and gave me a simple nod.

"I ... I would be honored to be part of the In'oka," I said, my mouth dry and the words coming out in squeaks.

Mr. Two Knives grinned, and Mr. Thunder Cloud smiled. "Very well." He turned to the girls. "Take Kayda to the shaman, her grandmother, for the cleansing and purification."

My eyebrows shot up at that. The older warrior noticed, and he chuckled softly. "It is a ritual cleaning in the Inipi Wakan, or sweat lodge," he explained to me. "Nothing to worry about."

"Um, is this ... private? Or can my mom join me?" I wasn't sure I wanted to be in this ritual without some kind of support.

Grandmother had walked briskly to my side. "It is a ritual cleansing of which all can partake. If you wish, your mom and your friends can join you."

"Yeah, that'd be cool."

Grandma turned toward Mom and gestured, so Mom and the girls joined us. "If you want, you can all take part in the cleansing ritual," she said.

"It's a small ritual in a sweat lodge," Mom explained to the other girls. "Like a sauna, but with a little Lakota ritual and tradition."

"Traditionally," Grandma added, "sweat lodge purification ceremonies are ... au natural."

My eyes bugged out at that. "Uh ... naked?" I mouthed, feeling my body starting to tremble with fear. Debra noticed and wrapped her arm around my waist to steady me.

Grandma must have noticed, too, because she immediately continued. "That's only done if everyone is of one sex. You don't have to do that, though."

"You don't have problems with the showers in Poe, do you?" she whispered to me. I shook my head 'no', still shaking. "This is just like that."

"I suppose," I said unconvincingly.

"Besides," Debra added with a wicked grin, "you _could_ consider this practice for the hot-tub party when you get back." She chuckled at my alarmed look.

Grandma looked expectantly at me. "It _is_ your choice, Ptesanwi," she said to prompt me for a response.

Dammit, she really put me on the spot. As Ptesanwi, I'd be expected to follow all traditions and rituals, including this one which involved nudity in the sweat lodge. I frowned at her, but she bore an innocent smile.

That was how I ended up in a Lakota version of a sauna, naked, with the four Lakota girls, Mom, my four friends, and Grandma to perform the ritual.

"This is, like, so cool!" Emily Walks-far, one of the Lakota girls, said as we undressed in the locker room. "Like, no girls _ever_ get into the warrior societies!"

Debra puzzled. "Aren't you girls members?"

"We're not warrior members," another of the girls answered. "Every society has a few girls, usually four, as ... dancers and assistants, but when they do the secret stuff, we have to leave."

"It's an honor to get to serve the In'oka," a third girl chimed in proudly.

"Why don't you join, then?" Valerie asked simply.

Emily shrugged. "That'd be neat," she answered, "but some of the older warriors don't want women in the society."

"That's just not right," I said angrily.

"Besides," the second girl said, "I'm not into the fighting stuff."

I frowned. "Why would they make an exception for me?"

Emily stared at me in disbelief. "Because you are the Ptesanwi," she said as if it was obvious. "They would bring dishonor on themselves, their families, and the whole tribe if they refused to let you be a member."

"Have they never heard the tale of Brave Woman, who counted coup on the Crow nation?" I asked, astonished.

While the girls all knew the story, Julie, Debra, Val, and Addy had never heard it. We slipped on robes and then walked outside and into the sweat lodge, a rounded hut about twelve feet in diameter that somewhat resembled an igloo. Once inside, Grandma shut the flaps covering the door, and then we disrobed. It was quite warm in the sweat lodge already, and it was almost immediately obvious why it was called a sweat lodge.

I wouldn't have been at all nervous about being naked around Mom, Valerie, or Debra, but it felt a little odd to be in a girls-only situation with Julie, and it really felt weird to see Grandma naked. I also felt quite shy about being with the four Lakota girls, who I didn't even know. It felt like they were sizing me up, comparing my body to theirs. I wasn't used to being naked with girls, at least not groups of girls. Okay, around a group of girls that I didn't really know, because the showers in Poe and Laird involved naked girls. If I'd have grown up a girl and had been in PE classes and locker rooms with these girls all my life, it would have been different. Maybe. Debra always told me how attractive I was, but I didn't have any self-confidence about my looks, especially after such a radical change, and doubly so because of the girls I showered with at Whateley. Mom had taught me years earlier - in hopes that I'd learn to be a gentleman and be supportive of a girlfriend someday - that few girls were confident about their appearance, so I reasoned that maybe I wasn't so unusual in that regard.

I gawked at Debra - a whole bunch. And she gazed longingly at me. At least, I hope that's what the look in her eyes meant. As we sat down, she leaned closer. "You're going to be real popular at the hot-tub party," she said with a leer. "I know _I'd_ be very interested if I were there!"

"That's not very comforting," I hissed back. At least she was light-hearted about the whole hot-tub party thing instead of being angry at me for getting myself tricked into going.

We sat around a central pit containing several large stones that radiated heat; they'd been in a fire until moments before we entered, so they were extremely hot. Next, she sprinkled water from a gourd onto the rocks, where it sizzled and boiled, filling the sweat lodge with steam. After sprinkling some herbs on the rocks, which smoked and filled the hut with their aroma, she sat back. Chanting, Grandma invoked a little prayer, and then the girls and Grandma broke into a song.

Wakantanka
toka heya cewikiyelo
Wakantanka
toka heya cewikiyelo
Mitakuye ob wani kta ca
toka heya cewikileyo

Tunkashila
toka heya cewikiyelo
Tunkashila
toka heya cewikiyelo
Mitakuye ob wani kta ca
toka heya cewikileyo

When the song was over, Grandma explained that it was the Prayer Song, one of the ritual songs typically sung during a sweat lodge ceremony. Then the four Lakota girls continued with another song.

Wiohypeyata etun wan yo!
nitunkasita
ahitunwan yankelo
Cekiya yo! Cekiya yo!
Ahitunwan yankelo.

The singing continued through all the verses of the Four Directions Song, and like the prayer song, I felt self-conscious when the fifth verse said to pray to Wakan Tanka - who I was the embodiment and prophetess of. The looks I got from the Lakota girls and Grandmother was more than a little spooky. Debra, Val, Julie, and Addy sat and listened and observed; I think that Addy was most impressed by the ceremony, as she'd had the least exposure to Native American culture. No doubt she was going to have a ton of tales to share with Alicia and the Beret Mafia when she got back to Whateley.

While Grandmother unwrapped a bundle she'd brought with us into the lodge. I was startled to see that it was a pipe of some kind. Of course, this elicited another song - the Sacred Pipe Song, and then, as Grandma loaded the bowl with some mixture of plants and herbs, they sang the Pipe Loading Song, and then Grandma lit the pipe, drawing deeply from the smoke. She passed the pipe around, and the Lakota girls took their turns, and although they were excited, from their expressions, they'd probably never been in a pipe ritual before.

The smoke stung my throat and lungs at first, but at the same time, the herbal-scented, magic-laden smoke infused me with tranquility. I wondered what was in it, and whether _that_ would pass muster at Whateley, or if was a somewhat illicit substance. As I took one more draw from the pipe, the girls started another song, one that was special for this occasion.

Oyate wamayanka po
Oyate wamayanka po
Le canunpa ki le wakan yelo
Oyate wamayanka po

The verse repeated several times as the rest of us passed the pipe, and when it was over, my expression brought a chuckled from Grandmother. "That is the 'White Buffalo Calf Maiden Pipe Song'," she explained with a smile. "Appropriate, isn't it?"

I blushed furiously; the song was in honor of me, or more correctly, the spirit I carried, the Ptesanwi. These Lakota girls were going to have a _lot_ of tales to tell their classmates and friends in school - they'd partaken of the peace pipe in a sweat lodge ceremony with the Ptesanwi! That was really going to boost their cred among their peers.

Grandmother sat back, taking another draw from the pipe. "Now I will tell you the story of Brave Woman, who counted coup against the Crow," she began, looking pointedly at the four Lakota girl. Like a story-keeper, she recounted the tale of a woman whose three brothers had been killed fighting the Crow nation. In determination to count coup for them, she went into a great battle, where she joined the fighting, but instead of using a weapon, she counted coup against the Crow warriors to shame them and avenge her brothers. A young brave rescued her when her horse was killed, giving his life to save hers. But her bravery had rallied the Lakota people, who drove the Crow from the lands, never to return.

"That is _so cool_!" the girls replied, obviously impressed by the legend.

"Often, in the past," Grandma continued, explaining to the girls as she sprinkled more water on the hot stones, "a woman with two-spirits would join the warriors, fighting courageously and fiercely. Enemies feared a woman in battle, because a woman's cleansing and renewal was thought to be so powerful as to render an attacker's weapons and even his horse, useless. There were even warrior societies just for women!"

"Like, they never teach us _that_ stuff!" Emily said, awestruck at spending time with a shaman who was teaching her Lakota heritage.

"What does 'two spirits' mean?" the second girl asked, curious. I had hoped that the girls had missed the reference.

"A person with two-spirits has both the male and the female spirit in them," Grandma said, staring expressionlessly at Debra as she spoke. "They are special, understanding and being both. In the past, a two-spirit woman might take a wife, and might be a warrior. A two-spirit man might be a nanny, or a healer."

"So it's, like, people who are LGBT?" Emily asked, curious.

Grandma cocked an eyebrow at her. "LGBT?" she asked.

"Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered," the girls explained. One rolled her eyes that this old-fashioned grandmotherly woman didn't even know that!

"No," Grandma replied. "That's the white-man's thinking. In Lakota thinking, two-spirits are special, because they understand both male and female. Before the white religion came, two-spirits were honored, even revered by the People as being very special."

I was anxious to change the subject, lest it come out that Debra and I were two-spirits. "Grandmother," I began, "do you have your medicine pouch?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Would it be okay to brew some tea to help heal and calm our minds?"

Grandmother smiled coyly. "If Ptesanwi wishes to have that in her ritual, who am I to say no? But no, I don't have my full medicine pouch."

I turned to Emily. "Can you go to the locker room and get my medicine pouch? And see if you can get a dozen cups - but not metal ones."

"Plastic? 'Cause I know there are plastic cups left over from last night," Emily replied.

"That'll work."

Over half an hour later, cleaned by the steam bath and refreshed physically and mentally by the special magic-infused tea and whatever had been in the peace pipe, after concluding with the 'Giving Thanks Song', we returned to the locker room and got dressed - and I was provided with a traditional outfit like the four girls, and then we all returned to the gym.

To my extreme psychological discomfort, the gathered In'oka warriors led me back out of the gym and into a massive, colorfully-decorated tepee. I'm not sure I could have managed without panicking if Mr. Two Knives hadn't been with me; as a former In'oka, he was allowed into the secret ceremonies of the society, and as my tutor, he knew where I was most sensitive to an episode of PTSD. I was willing to bet that he'd taken precautions on my behalf to ensure that I didn't suffer one. Their ceremony was short, and as it was secret, I swore to never repeat what happened. When we came back to the gym, I was publicly presented with Mr. Two Knives' lance and otter skins as ceremonial signs of my membership in the In'oka. It was also as sign of trust and confidence by Mr. Two Knives, as his lance and skins were obviously precious to him.

The presentation was followed with another celebration, even more festive than the night before. It was a huge event to have a new warrior into their societies. Grandma later confirmed that the People just liked an occasion to celebrate, because they were, by tradition very social.

Suddenly, all the people parted from me, stepping back a few paces and leaving me in the center of the gym. I started toward Mom and Debra, but Grandma shook her head, indicating that I should stay put. I was baffled, but only had a moment to think about the situation before two women came forward holding a large quilt. To the accompaniment of drums and more songs, the women draped the highly-symbolic Star Quilt over my shoulders, and then wrapped me in it. I had a lump in my throat the size of a walnut, because Grandma had often spoken of the significance of a Star Quilt ceremony to honor a person. Though I was being treated like royalty, I felt unworthy of all the attention and honor the People were showering on me.

"You are very important to the People," Wakan Tanka chided me as we sat cross-legged on the ground by the camp's fire ring. "Do not deny them the joy that they feel."

"But ... I'm just ...." I started to object.

"You are the vessel of Ptesanwi, and my prophetess," Wakan Tanka said, looking sternly at me. "You are of great importance to the people. Be gracious and let them celebrate."

It was mid-afternoon when Dad observed that we needed to get to the airport to fly back home, but the tribal chief just smiled. "We have one more gift for our new daughter," he said.

Even though there had already been more gifts than birthday and Christmas combined, the tribe was insistent on presenting one more. I was feeling quite uncomfortable with what they were giving me. The Rosebud Indian Reservation was one of the poorest places in the country, and I really didn't want to take advantage of their hospitality.

"You've done more than enough," I protestedweakly. "I don't want to take advantage ...."

"Kayda," Grandmother whispered in my ear, "our culture is of a generous heart. It would be rude to not accept the gifts."

"A warrior needs one thing," Mr. Thunder Cloud continued. "It has always been our custom to present a new warrior with his most important possession."

Puzzling over his mysterious words, I followed the tribal and In'oka leaders out of the gym, where almost all the people had gathered in a circle. I stood in the center of the circle, looking around, baffled by the mystery, but the leaders - the chief, the In'oka elder, Mr. Two Knives, Grandmother, and a few others, including Mr. Bear Claws, smiled knowingly.

At a nod from the Mr. Thunder Cloud and the chief, the crowd parted and murmurs of assent began to ripple through the people.

There was no mistaking the clop-clop sound of hooves on the asphalt as they led the horse to me. My jaw felt like it was dragging on the ground as I stared at the animal. As the In'oka girl leading the horse put the harness rope in my hands, Mr. Thunder Cloud beamed at me.

It was a magnificent animal, a mare of probably three or four years. She was a pinto, splotched with rusty brown over white, with a few lighter brown blotches, and she stood probably about thirteen and a half hands high - a comfortable height for me to ride. She shied away from me, but as Mr. Two Knives had shown me, I put my hand on her neck to steady her, not moving fast so I didn't startle the horse. Once she was calm, I leaned my head against hers. "Be calm, sukawakan," I said very softly. "I know your spirit, and your spirit knows mine. I am your friend, and you are my friend." She turned and stared at me, and I stroked her cheek gently.

"She's not broken to a saddle," Mr. Thunder Cloud cautioned me. "You'll have to do that before you can ride her."

I glanced at Mr. Two Knives and grinned; he shot a knowing smile back at me. "Let us show these people that you and I are already a team, sukawakan," I whispered to my horse. "I think I will call you Summer. Do you like that?" I moved to the horse's side, and then sprang onto her back. I could tell she was startled a bit, but she didn't flinch or skitter - much. I leaned forward, my hand on her neck. "Good girl. We can run free later, but for now, let's just walk around a little to get used to each other." Straightening again, I used my knees and pressure on her neck to guide her around a little bit, walking slowly but confidently.

I dismounted, grinning broadly, to a round of thunderous applause. They obviously hadn't expected me to know how to ride a horse in the traditional way, and it only increased their respect for me. I nodded slightly to Mr. Two Knives, who smiled back. He had to have known about this; why else would we have suddenly changed training to include horsemanship? And Grandma knew; she'd driven out to the celebration in dad's truck, towing a horse trailer so I could take my horse - _my_ horse! - home. That wasn't the end of the surprises; Grandma, Mom, and Mr. Two Knives had made arrangements to transport my horse to Whateley. I was so overwhelmed and happy that I was fighting tears of joy.

It seemed like the whole town turned out at the airport to see us off. Nearly the entire rear seat of the truck was filled with gifts; if it hadn't, I would have driven myself, with my friends, towing the trailer, and let Grandma fly home with the others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Kayda's Home

It would have been nice to snuggle into my soft bed, but because we had so many guests and so little room, the girls and I decided to have a sleepover down in the finished part of the basement. We'd intended to sleep in, but the aromas of Mom's breakfast penetrated every nook and cranny of the house, and we woke up a lot earlier than we'd planned. Addy was thrilled beyond belief that Mom served her chokecherry jelly, and Debra ate enough for any five normal late-teenage bottomless-pit boys, which shocked Julie, but the rest of us Whateley girls were used to energizers' appetites.

After the rather hectic, whirlwind tours of the Black Hills and the reservation, we all wanted nothing more than a lazy morning of resting. Despite crushing on Valerie, Danny beat a hasty retreat to help Dad with the chores when we steered the conversation into areas that girls would talk about together, but which made boys very, very uncomfortable. I'd heard enough of that in my time at Whateley that it seemed normal. After he left, we giggled at his discomfort, and then the conversation returned to Whateley.

Adalie had the rapt attention of Debra and Valerie as she regaled them with tales of the "mad freshmen from Poe", Team Kimba, who had the same affinity for trouble that a magnet had for iron. I was even shocked at some of the stories that I hadn't heard. Fighting Ninjas the first night at Whateley - in their sleepwear. Fighting - and defeating - the Alphas. Multiple detentions in Hawthorne. Three fights in Boston. The insane antics of the team devisor, whose affinity for 'Hello, Kitty' was almost as maddening as her ... unorthodox ... tactics. And the tale of Ayla and Peril and the fake penis had us all in stitches. I rather sadistically wished that Danny had been present for that one; his reaction to the story of Ayla apparently ripping a penis off Peril would have been amusing to watch.

Okay, so I was more a girl than I'd realized. A few weeks ago, I could have really sympathized with Peril, and would have had my hands crossed over my crotch at that story. But now? While I could still mentally relate, emotionally I couldn't.

I could tell that the others didn't believe the stories, so I corroborated some of them, as well as added some of the non-secret, inside-Poe misadventures. Debra knew the stories of Poe being the residence of the head-cases was just a cover, but when Addy and I finished our stories, Valerie was probably even more convinced that Poe was a nuthouse.

After she finished cleaning up - she positively _would not_ let us help, no matter how much we protested - Mom sadly showed me the remains of the wooden clock I'd made.

I saw the sad look in her eye; even though it meant little to me, it was one of _her_ keepsakes. "What happened?"

"The Sheriff," Mom spat bitterly. "After a few things in town, he got Judge Reinard to issue a search warrant for you. He was using the warrant as a pretext to ransack the house."

I felt myself burning with anger. "Where is he?" I screamed. "I'll rip him a new asshole!"

I realized, suddenly, that Debra and Mom were restraining me to calm me. "The State Police arrested him for overstepping his authority and criminal mischief," Mom explained.

"But that was _yours_," I protested, a tiny bit calmer. "And he ...."

"Kayda," Mom said very insistently, holding my cheeks so I was looking her square in the eyes, "it was only a _thing_. The most important thing to me is _you_!"

I nodded as her words sank in. After a moment, I asked, "Where are the pieces?"

"Why?"

"I'm going out to the shop to fix it," I announced. After Mom handed me a box with the shattered remains of the clock I'd once so proudly given to mom, I led a procession out to the shop, where I set down the parts and began to look them over more carefully.

"What does this make you think of?" Debra asked Valerie as I checked for damage.

"The devisor tunnels?" Valerie replied uncertainly.

Debra nodded. "Yeah." She came up beside me, wrapping her arms around me from behind. The girls all knew, so she felt more at ease to display affection. "How bad is it?"

I shrugged. "Most of the damage is to the housing and faceplate, but there are two gears that are broken, and the wooden spring for the escapement is split, so I'll have to make a few new parts." I closed my eyes for a second or two. "And if I use a laminated wooden spring, it'll be far less sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity," I added. "Mom always said that it was off a bit on hot days. And maybe I should ...."

"What does _that_ make you think?" Debra asked Valerie, interrupting me.

"Definitely a gadgeteer!" Valerie laughed. "Always thinking of ways to improve things."

I began to work on the new parts while the girls continued to chat about Whateley. Julie was getting more and more curious, and while some of the stories might have been intimidating to her, the majority of the Whateley tales had her intrigued. It sounded like she'd go back with Addy and me to Whateley if she could.

I had to patiently explain to the girls why I was making the parts out of laminated wood, and Debra went so far as to ask how the mechanism worked.

Eventually, Debra's attention turned to another part of the large shop. "Is this your car?" she asked. "The one you were working on?"

I glanced up from what I was doing. "Yeah."

"It looks like it needs a lot of work," Addy observed.

I shrugged, not particularly caring at that moment. I had the clock to focus on. "Yeah, well when I get a chance, I'll work on it."

"Why not take it out this term?" Valerie asked, puzzled. "If you join the Gearheads ...."

"I'm _not_ joining the Gearheads," I snapped, and then realized that my uncharacteristically terse response had caused all the girls to stare at me in disbelief. "Not this term, anyway." I added quickly to back away from my vehemence. "I'm ... too busy, with my classes, and all the training, and now leading the Nations ...." It was a very transparent lie, but it was all I could think of.

"It looks like a lot of work to put it back together," Julie observed, eyeing me warily. When I caught her eyes, I could tell that she knew there was more to the story than I'd said.

"Yeah," I said glumly. "And that would be a straight reassemble. I want to do some major modifications, which will take even more time." I glanced at the car. "I'd like to put in a dry sump lube system, and I'd really like to get independently-sprung four-wheel-drive, like most super-cars have. But that'll take some major frame modifications. If I adapted the transfer case I made for Dad's tractor, then I could ..." My voice faded off as I became wrapped up in thought about what I could do to the drive system.

"The machine shops and labs at Whateley are a _lot_ better than you'd get around here," Valerie offered hesitantly. She, too, had picked up on my nervousness about the Gearheads and the shops.

The girls quickly bored of the technical discussion, and all but Debra went back in the house to sample some caramel-pecan rolls Mom was baking. Debra came up behind me again as I glued up some thin strips of veneer to make the laminated blanks I'd need to rebuild the clock.

"What's really going on?" Debra asked, her arms wrapped around me and her chin on my shoulder.

"I ... I don't ...." I shook my head, trying to figure out what was going on. "I'm ... I'm scared, okay?" I finally blurted.

"Why?"

"Because ... I'm ... I'm just average," I said bitterly. "All I hear about is the devisors and gadgeteers and how smart they are. Everyone talks about how much they know, and what they can make, and ... and I can't compete with that!" I wiped my eyes, which were suddenly moist.

"You told me you'd been working with Dr. Bellows on that, and that you were doing better." Debra said. "So what's really going on?"

I ... I don't feel like I'm good at _anything_!" I sniffled. "It's ... it's like I don't matter."

"You _do_ matter, sweetie," she assured me.

"Not at Whateley," I protested. "If I join groups like the Gearheads, everyone will be smarter, and telling me what I'm doing wrong, and how I should do everything. And then ... whatever I do the car ... won't really be mine."

"That's not how most of those groups operate," Debra gently chided me. "The faculty advisors try to keep that from happening."

"But it _does_ happen, doesn't it?"

Debra nodded. "Yeah, it does. Sometimes." She held me for a while. "Who is it you're afraid of?"

"What?" I was stunned by her question.

"Who is it that you find so intimidating?"

I closed my eyes briefly. "All I hear about is some wonder-girl named Loophole. Everyone says she's the best gadgeteer ever, that everything she makes works perfectly."

"Loophole?" Debra asked, surprised.

"Some kids call her the Gadgeteer Goddess, Workshop Wiz, Lab Queen, and stuff like that. Whenever I'm in electronics, all I hear about is how wonderful she is. She supposedly invented Kevra ..."

"Yeah," Debra replied. "I know. Just about every super uses it. It was a big deal last year when she patented it."

"See?" I cried. "Even you're doing it! I'm not good at anything compared to her, and Fey in magic, and ..." I shook my head, fighting tears. "I'm not good at anything."

Debra spun me around and wrapped me in a hug, letting me cry on her shoulder as I gave vent to my fears and frustrations. "Yes, you are. How many kids channel the Great Spirit?" she asked. "How many kids kill Class X snake demons?"

"Ayla killed a major demon at Christmastime," I sniffled. "Tennyo _eats_ demons! And there are a hundred kids that are much better fighters."

She released the hug and took my cheeks in her hands. "You _are_ very special. Of all those kids, how many were asked to work on that advanced pattern-math stuff or are teaching calculus? How many have started student groups? How many of them are In'oka? How many of them could have healed me like you did?"

I nodded slowly, not feeling comforted much. "Maybe," I said softly, not sounding at all convincing."

"Tell you what," Debra offered. "Yesterday, you were talking about going horseback riding. Let's go get some of those rolls before they're all gone, ..."

A sudden thought broke my gloomy mood, and I couldn't help but snicker. "I'd worry about that if _you_ were one of the girls sampling them."

Debra showed her maturity by sticking her tongue out at me. "So let's go try one or two ... dozen ... and then we can go horseback riding. You did say we have enough horses?"

"Yeah." I thought a moment, glancing at the glue-ups and then at my car. A nice day out with friends would take my mind off the labs and workshops - and my seemingly unavoidable sense of inferiority whenever talk turned to that subject.

As expected, Mom's rolls were heavenly; we all managed to grab a couple before Debra could eat the rest, which she didn't, despite all our teasing to the contrary. Once the idea of horseback riding was broached, everyone seemed to love the idea, except maybe Adalie. Thought her words said she was eager to go riding, her expression and tone of voice said otherwise.

Still showing off for Valerie, Danny helped saddle the horses, even acting like a know-it-all and explaining to her what every part of the saddle was called and what it function was. After saddling horses for Addy and Debra, I just put a blanket and simple harness on my pinto, and then, chuckling, saddle a horse for Julie, because Danny was taking way too long being helpful to Valerie.

"It's too bad we only have four horses," Danny said, and then he looked at my horse. "Five, counting yours," he added enviously. "Its a nice day to ride."

I just shrugged. "Well, it's girls' day for riding." I pointed to some saddle bags. "Get a couple of those, would you? Mom packed us a picnic lunch."

Addy glanced at the bags, and then at the lunch. "I don't think the 'orses will be able to carry all the lunch. We will need a large 'orse-drawn wagon if we carry enough food for Debra."

Debra stuck her tongue out at Addy, and we all giggled. "I don't eat _that_ much!" Debra protested feebly.

Danny was not about to be denied time flirting with Valerie, and he pounced on the opportunity to be gallant. "Why don't you call when you're ready for lunch, and I can drive it out to meet you," he offered.

I thought it was a bad idea, but the other girls were satisfied, especially as it would mean that our beverages wouldn't warm up while we rode, and I'm sure Debra and Val figured they could con Danny into cleaning up once we were done. I can't say that I disagreed with them; Danny was following Val around like a love-sick puppy, and if she asked, he'd probably have licked the ground clean for her to sit.

As we rode, I began to realize that it felt more natural to ride without the saddle. We rode down to where a small creek was dammed to create a watering hole for cattle; the field was empty, though, because the cattle were in another pasture. I noticed that Addy's expression was getting sadder with every step her horse took. I urged my horse forward to Debra's side. "Something's really bothering Addy," I said softly so the other girls wouldn't hear. "You go ahead with Julie and Val, and I'll hold back a bit to see what's wrong."

"Okay," Debra answered. "Where ...?"

"Just follow the stream until you get to the dam. You can't miss it. It's a mile and a half or so." I gently tugged back on the halter, and my horse slowed, allowing Debra, Julie, and Val to move ahead of me. Once I was beside Addy, I directed my horse to walk beside hers.

"Are you okay?" I asked bluntly. "I noticed that you seem a little ... unhappy."

Addy shook her head. "No, I'm okay," she lied transparently. "It's just been awhile since I 'ave been 'orseback riding." She couldn't hide the trembling in her voice, though.

"I can tell something's wrong," I replied softly. "You can tell me."

She stared at the horses fifteen or twenty yards ahead of us. "I ... miss riding," she said softly.

"There's a stable at Whateley. I'm sure they wouldn't mind ...."

"No," Addy sniffled. "Ma amie Collette and I rode 'er 'orses frequently. It was ... special time together." She wiped at her moist cheeks. "After I manifested, we were riding, and 'Enri tried to 'urt 'er by spooking 'er 'orse. I chased the 'orse and stopped it, saving 'er, but she realized that I was a mutant, and she ..." She lowered her gaze, shaking her head sadly. "She never spoke to me after that. Even though ...."

From what Addy had told me our first night in Sioux Falls, I knew the rest of the story. Addy and Collette had been best friends, and had experimented a bit as lovers - but she wasnt winkte, as she enjoyed sex with boys. I hadn't realized that horseback riding would bring back memories she'd rather not have dredged up. "You have a lot of friends who don't care that you're a mutant." I didn't know what to say, and was probably making it worse.

"Mama was a mutant," Addy volunteered wistfully "I never knew until ma amie Madame Rousseaux told me - after I'd discovered that I was ... a mutant. She was a 'ero 'erself in Paris, the Guardian Mother. She 'elped me to escape the angry crowd after I was discovered."

"I'm sure at Whateley that some boys ...."

"Non," Addy interrupted me. "Non. I've ... been ..." She shook her head, trying to figure out how to voice her thoughts. "Until recently, I was 'olding in all my grief and my anger at the Americain doctor and Nicole, and I'm afraid that everyone thinks that I'm a stuck-up bitch."

"What about your friends in the Ber .... the European Promotional League?"

"I'm afraid they think I'm a snob, too," Addy said. "I certainly gave them more than enough reason."

"I'm sure there are boys who'd find you friendly and attractive," I tried to sound positive.

She sighed. "I doubt it. Not after the way I've acted. But ...."

I saw her expression. "So there _is_ a boy you're interested in!" I said with a grin.

"Per'aps," Addy said, her slight blush betraying that there _was_ someone. "We should catch up to the others." She was obviously eager to change the subject.

"You know I won't turn my back on you," I reassured Addy. "You can talk to me anytime you want."

"Oui," she replied. "I know. You and Alicia are my best friends at Whateley."

We'd had a busy afternoon - with riding, and then, after ensuring that Dad and Danny were occupied, Debra, Val, Addy, and I talked Julie into driving down to a stand of trees next to a stock dam. We wanted to see if she had any control over her powers, so we had her stand by one tree and try to warp to another. No matter how she tried, though, she couldn't accomplish the task.

Of course, Debra, Val, and I came up with a plan, which we didn't share with Julie, because that might have spoiled things. Val drew the short straw, so while Deb and I were talking with Julie beside the tree, Val sneaked up, carrying a large stick, and then suddenly charged, screaming and waving the improvised club like a mad woman about to hit Julie.

The next thing we all knew, Julie was standing by the second tree, startled and stark naked. It took a few seconds for her heart to stop racing, and then she started yelling at us for frightening her. And then she suddenly realized that she had warped to the second tree, and her jaw quit working as she stared in disbelief. It took a bit for her to realize that warping had disrobed her, as it had before. We got a chuckle out of her sudden modesty, and she didn't appreciate the suggestion that she should try warping again since she was already naked.

"The other thing they did was to hide by trees," Debra noted. "Try that."

Julie, having pulled on her underwear, frowned at Debra, but stepped against the tree. We all waited, and she seemed to be concentrating, but she was still visible. "Is it working?" she asked.

We all shook our heads. "Nope."

Val did something with her fingers. "I can _feel_ something in you," she reported, "but I don't know what it is. It _might_ be the power that lets you warp between trees, or it might be the power that lets you hide."

"How am I supposed to do this?" Julie demanded, frustrated by her lack of results.

"Why don't you try to warp again? That worked for you," Debra suggested.

"Only because you scared the crap out of me!" Julie retorted angrily.

"Try to remember how it felt inside at the time you did it before."

"I don't know _how_ it felt," Julie complained. "It just _happened_! I was scared. I had to get away - both times!"

"Would it 'elp if we threatened you again?" Addy asked with a wicked grin.

"Don't you dare!" Julie roared back at her.

We all stood, thinking for a moment; for Julie, clad in only her underwear, it was probably a bit embarrassing, too.

"Think of something scary," I finally suggested.

"Like what?" Julie asked.

"I don't know. Like a bear coming to get you or something."

Julie closed her eyes for a moment in concentration, and then suddenly, her underwear fluttered to the ground. We started looking around to see where she'd gone, but the scream from over our heads interrupted us, and we all gawked up.

Julie was straddling a branch high in the tree, and two angry squirrels were chittering around her in a rather threatening way. It was a big cottonwood tree, so she was pretty high up - probably forty or forty-five feet. "Help!" she cried. "Get me down!"

"Hang on and don't make any sudden moves!" Val cautioned her immediately. "Kayda, can you do anything?" she asked me.

I winced. "I don't think so."

"Helluva time to not have a telekinetic," Debra groused.

"What happened?" I couldn't help asking.

"I don't know!" Julie screamed. "Get me down!"

"Can you levitate? Or make her fly or float or something?" I asked Val.

Val shook her head. "I can do a spell enough for _me_ to fly carrying maybe forty or fifty pounds, but that's it."

I looked back up. "Hang on, Julie. We'll get you down."

"Wakan Tanka!" I cried, running to the fire circle where she sat, as usual, drinking her tea. "Wakan Tanka, I need help."

"Julie has gotten herself stuck up in a tree," she finished the thought.

"Yeah." I was a little put off by her nonchalance.

"There is a spell that will enable you to fly," she said calmly. "I suppose I should teach you." She put down her cup of tea like it was a great imposition.

"Today, I think!" I encouraged her.

She glared at me with one eyebrow cocked, and then set about instructing me.

"Okay, Wakan Tanka taught me a spell so I can fly," I declared as soon as I came out of my dream-world.

Val read my expression. "But?" she asked.

"I'll be able to lift about eighty pounds," I answered, "so we're going to have to make this a team effort."

"Eep!" Val winced. "That's ... tricky. We had to do it in flight class," she continued, "and it didn't always work out well."

"Do we have a choice?" I demanded.

"If she can hold on, we _could_ have Farmboy fly up here to rescue her," Debra offered. "But at top speed, it'd take him about forty minutes to get here."

"I am _not_ going to wait up here for some guy to fly up and see me naked!" Julie screamed from up in the tree.

Debra worried her lip. "You two be careful," she said nervously as we set about our spell-casting.

It took me a bit longer to cast my spell than it did Val. And she'd flown before, whereas I'd never done even simple flight. "You just focus on lifting straight up and down," Val told me.

I nodded, and gulping, began to will myself to float up. Val came up beside me, taking my arm, and she guided me toward the branch Julie was straddling. "Okay, Kayda," she said as we hovered near our stranded friend, "you're going to have to focus on both keeping yourself floating _and_ on lifting Julie. You _have to_ stay focused on both."

I gulped again, and then looked at Julie. "Can you turn, so you aren't straddling the branch?"

Her eyes wide with fear, clinging to the bark for dear life, she swung one leg over the branch, moving inch by terrifying inch. Following Val's lead, I used the tree branch to pull my floating body toward her.

"Okay, now Julie, you need to put one arm over Kayda's shoulder, and the other over mine. You're going to have to do it at the same time, or we'll all fall."

Julie nodded almost imperceptibly, staring at the ground so far below. "Okay," she whimpered.

"Now, put your arms over our shoulders, but don't put any weight on us, okay?" Val directed. I felt her suddenly clinging to my shoulder, and I reached with my hands to grasp her hand, pulling down a little so her arm wouldn't slip off me. I glanced, and saw that Val was doing the same.

"Okay, Kayda, are you ready?" Val asked. When I nodded, she continued instructing me. "We need to go straight up a bit to get her clear of the tree, okay?"

"Up?" Julie whimpered, and I flinched as well. This was _not_ the casual, fun afternoon we had planned.

"Ready, Kayda?" Val asked. "On three, we lift. One. Two. Three."

At three, I willed myself higher, and so did Val. Julie screamed in fright as she felt herself being pulled up from the branch, and it was all I could to do ignore her cries and focus on holding her hand and levitating myself.

Less than a minute later, guided by Val, we set foot on the ground. I'd done nothing but lift with all my power, while she'd used her greater experience to guide and direct us, lessening _her_ lifting power so that we floated gently to the earth.

Julie was adamant that we weren't going to do any more testing, and the rest of us readily agreed. This wasn't a place for amateurs, even if I had the world's foremost expert on Canotila in my head. Translating that expertise into safe testing for Julie was harder than I'd thought.

We were still talking about the misadventure at dinner, with both Mom and Dad eyeing us warily. I _knew_ I was going to get a talking-to about experimenting with Julie's powers, and to be honest, I had it coming.

After dinner, we all agreed that a nice movie would be the thing, but when Danny started to put in Pirates of the Caribbean, Mom stopped him. "Nope. I _always_ had to watch whatever testosterone-laden thing you men wanted to watch. Now it's _my_ turn." With a smug smile, she put in a movie about some newlywed couple honeymooning in Europe. It didn't take Dad and Danny long to move to the other room so they could watch a guy-film, like Predator. That gave us gals more room, so I cuddled with Debra on the sofa.

After the movie ended, Mom led the other girls out to the kitchen for another of her caramel rolls, which she'd fortuitously hidden from Debra. I should have suspected something was up, but that became too clear when Dad came into the family room with Mom, and they closed the door behind themselves before sitting down.

"Um, is something wrong?" I asked nervously, sitting up but still holding Debra's hand.

Debra glanced at me, and then uneasily at my parents.

"We're ... concerned," Mom said hesitantly.

"You're still pretty young, Kayda," Dad added quickly. "Probably ...."

"You think I'm too young to be in love, right?" I finished for him, feeling a flash of anger. "Is that what you're trying to say?"

"No, honey," Mom said quickly to mollify me. "I'm sure you think you're in love, and ...."

"I _know_ I'm in love with Debra," I countered. I was about to let loose, but Debra's hand squeezing mine interrupted my intended rant.

"June, Pete," Debra interrupted, "I know we're kind of young, and I know you're worried about Kayda getting hurt."

"We're worried that you're too young to understand how complex a relationship can be. That you're experiencing the thrill of feeling in love, without understanding that there has to be trust and friendship behind that feeling in order to have a lasting relationship," Dad explained. I was surprised. I'd expected him and Mom to tell me that I shouldn't be so serious about Debra, but instead, he was gently trying to get us to look past the passionate romance.

"We've experienced a lot of that," Debra spoke before I could. "We dream-walk together almost every night. It's like going on dates, or hanging out like best friends." She chuckled. "We've even had a few arguments." I nodded meekly at that revelation.

Mom and Dad's eyes widened. I know they both understood a little about dream-walking, but they hadn't really understood how extensive and realistic it was.

"A dream can cover several days," I added. "Time in my dream world is different from time in the real world. In a minute of real-world time, we could spend a week of dream-time. So even though we've only really known each other for a few weeks, we've spent the equivalent of probably over a year together."

"And ...?" Mom started to ask, and then stopped, wincing.

I blushed furiously and looked away, feeling quite humiliated by the direction Mom was hinting at, but Debra chose to confront her halting, awkward question. "We're very much aware of our age difference," she said bluntly, "and the law. There are lines we're making sure we don't cross." She looked at me with a mixture of love and lust. "We love each other and we can wait."

Mom frowned, raising one eyebrow, signaling that she wasn't satisfied with the answer she got, but she also had the look that said 'we'll talk later'. I gulped, thinking about how awkward _that_ conversation was going to be if _this_ one was already as pleasant as sitting on a cactus.

The conversation halted for a while, none of us quite sure what to say next. Finally, Dad broke the uneasy silence. "Debra, I know you care for Kayda, and I can tell that you're good for her, especially at this ... vulnerable point in her life," he said, "but I can't help worrying about her. I don't want her to get hurt."

"I don't want to get hurt either, Daddy," I said, and then flinched as I realized I'd used the girly term 'daddy'. Mom and Debra both shot me a glance at my choice of wording. "I trust Debra to not hurt me. Not on purpose, anyway," I added, putting my free hand atop our already clasped hands. "I've already trusted her with my life."

Dad looked at us, and then he looked at Mom. "Does this remind you of anyone?" he asked wryly.

Mom chuckled. "I seem to remember you having a similar conversation with my parents, over the same thing."

"And that worked out pretty well, despite their worries, didn't it?" Dad asked. I was startled by his seeming change of heart, but perhaps he realized that we were entitled to the same benefit of the doubt that my grandparents had given him. He sighed, rubbing his closed eyes with his finger and thumb, resting his elbow on the arm of his chair. "You know this is going to be a lot harder than it was for your mom and me, don't you?"

It was a sobering comment, but not one Debra and I hadn't talked about. "I know, Dad," I said softly, clutching Debra's hand.

"And with Debra's job," Mom started, and then hesitated.

"It's no different than a firefighter, or policeman, or someone in the military," I replied.

Mom looked askance at Dad, and then back to the two of us. "We want you to be happy," she said, with Dad nodding in agreement. "And if Debra makes you happy ...."

It was as much a blessing of our relationship as I could have wished for. I bolted into Mom's arms, my cheeks already wet, and hugged her gratefully.

"Is this kind of a 'welcome to the family'?" Debra chuckled nervously.

Dad laughed, and then stood. Puzzled, she stood up too, and he swept her into a fatherly hug. "I don't know about that yet. But it does mean we trust you to not hurt Kayda."

"Thanks. I promise I won't hurt her," Debra vowed.

"Good. Now why don't we go get a caramel roll or two?" Dad asked. He and Debra started toward the door, but Mom held me in her arms.

When Dad and Debra were gone, Mom winced a bit. "I ... I don't quite know how to ... ask ... what I want to ask," she said haltingly.

I figured I knew what she was going to say, but to avoid any misunderstandings, I said, "Why don't you just ask?"

Mom bit her lip. "Have you two ...," she blushed, "you know?"

"No," I replied, gratified somehow that the subject was in the open. "Not in the real world. But ... in my dream world ...." I knew I was blushing, feeling the heat on my cheeks.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if you had," Mom added quickly. "I mean, I _know_ you ... you know ... when you were a boy."

"What?" My eyes were bugging out. I thought I'd kept things like that a secret from my parents.

Mom chuckled. "It was pretty easy to tell. Some nights, you came home with a silly grin, a half-vacant stare in your eyes, and more than a bit of a swagger in your step."

My skin was probably scarlet with embarrassment. I looked down, but she caught my chin and lifted it so I was looking eye-to-eye with her. "If you had ... done something, I wouldn't blame you for being curious. It's a natural part of being a teenager." I nodded dumbly, not knowing what to say.

"I would assume that since you two have ...."

"Had sex," I replied, trying to be calm.

"Yeah, had sex - in your dream world that you've probably ... touched yourself." She read my look of utter horror at the conversational topic. "It's okay, sweetie," she reassured me. "That's part of being a teenager, too."

"Are you sure you and Dad are okay that I'm ... a lesbian?" Funny - a conversation with my mother about me being a lesbian was a better alternative. Not surprising since the topic I was steering away from was masturbation.

Mom nodded, suppressing a chuckle. "You're my child," she assured me. "No matter what." She raised an eyebrow quizzically. "I suppose in a few weeks, when you turn sixteen, we'll have to set some new rules around here?"

My eyes popped wide open at that. "Mom!"

"What? It's not like we're going to stop you if you decide that you and Debra are going to have sex anyway." She chuckled at my horror-stricken expression. "I suppose if you two visit, you'll want to share a bed. But it'd be polite if you two wouldn't moan or scream in passion, or shake the ceiling when someone else is awake."

"Mother!" I cried, aghast at what she was saying. She was essentially giving me permission to have sex with Debra - in our house! And acting like it was no big deal.

"She's a sweet girl. Your father and I can tell you good she is for you." She chuckled again. "If you hadn't found anyone, I might have even tried playing matchmaker between the two of you after I got to know her. I was pretty damned certain that after what happened, you were never going to date any boys," she said, and then she winced, realizing too late that she'd implied some things about my ... incident. "Sorry, hon," she apologized quickly, pulling me into a hug.

A warm, motherly hug was just what I needed as my mind flashed through the horrible images. "Why ... why didn't you ...?" I started to ask, and had to stop because my voice choked.

"Oh, honey!" Mom replied, backing away just slightly so she could rest her forehead against mine and wipe at the tears on one cheek. "We ... we hoped ... that that you'd been knocked unconscious and hadn't remembered anything."

"But you knew?" I asked.

Mom nodded. "When we got there, one of the boys was ...." She didn't have to say any more. "I had to stop your dad from shooting them right then and there. I've never seen him so furious in my entire life."

"I ... I've had ... episodes," I stammered, my eyes downcast, "from ... physical contact. I ... panicked when Ito Soke tried to demonstrate something with me ... that I'd practiced over and over with the girls. Once," I sighed, shaking my head, "one of my classmates and I were coming out of an elevator at the same time, and we got squeezed together. I ... kind of collapsed and had a panic attack." I looked up and saw nothing but motherly love and sympathy and kindness in her eyes. "You told Mrs. Carson, didn't you?"

Not knowing what to say, Mom nodded.

"I figured as much," I said. My cheeks were thoroughly wet from my tears. "I ...." I had to stop for a moment because I wasn't quite sure what I was thinking, let alone what to say. Finally, some words came to me. "Thank you. For telling her." I read the puzzled expression on her face. "After ... my memories came back, when I realized that she knew, I hated her, because I felt like there was a time bomb in my head and she hadn't done anything to help me."

"And ...?" Mom prompted nervously.

I swallowed hard; this was a more difficult conversation than if we'd have only been talking about Debra and me and sex. "I ... was very angry. I felt like everyone had lied to me. I thought what you'd done was mean and wrong and ... and just leaving me ...." I had to stop as memories of that day flooded back to me. "I felt like she lied to me and didn't care, and I wanted to run away and leave Whateley and all of you and ... and even Debra."

Mom wrapped her arms tightly around me. "Honey," she said softly, soothingly, "I didn't know what else to do. I can't blame you for being angry at us."

"I know," I sniffled. "Mrs. Carson said pretty much the same thing."

"She's a wise, very caring woman," Mom said, holding me close and stroking my hair gently. "She called after you ... had an emotional event in her office."

I yanked back from her shoulder, my eyes wide. "What?" I was stunned.

"She called me," Mom repeated, "so I'd know what was going on with you. She had someone call me every time you had some kind of problem," she added.

I felt my eyes tearing again, this time from shame at how nasty I'd been to Mrs. Carson. And to Chief Delarose. And to Ito Soke and Sensei Tolman. Unlike what I'd thought, they _did_ care about me. Mom left me with a lot to think about.

Thursday, April 12, 2007 - Evening

We drove to Mitchell on Thursday, mostly so Addy could see the world's biggest piece of tourist kitsch, the Corn Palace. Topped by onion domes like a Russian church, the murals decorating its sides were made entirely of corn, thus giving the building its name. In truth, it was little more than a glorified arena and performance venue; we'd played a few basketball tournaments there, and my family and I had been to a few performances.

Mitchell really didn't have anything special for shopping, but there were a few tourist stores where Addy got a couple of postcards to send home, just like she'd done at Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and in Deadwood. No doubt one was going to her family, and the other would go to her friend Soeur Justice of the Bordeaux heroes group. The way Addy talked about the HGB and Soeur Justice, I was starting to really get excited about going to France that summer. If Mom and Dad would let me.

After dinner, the younger crowd - all of us but Mom and Dad - went out for a little stroll for a little exercise. Of course, Danny tagged along, still futilely trying to impress Valerie and making a pest of himself, even though he was so clearly making zero progress with her.

"He's just so ... clueless," I said softly to Debra as we walked, hand in hand.

"Yeah, but they're kind of cute when they fawn over a girl," Debra chuckled.

I shuddered at that comment; was that how boys at Whateley acted toward me? Was Delwin in my electronics class like that? "Ugh! I could _never_ get used to that!"

"How about some of the girls in Poe?" Debra giggled. "I suppose you feel the same about _them_ ogling and fawning over you?"

"They don't ...." I stopped short, realizing that some girls _did_ ogle me. With a heavy sigh, I admitted the truth to myself. "Yeah, guess they do."

"And you kind of like it, don't you?"

"Yeah, I guess I do." I felt a little embarrassed admitting it to Debra, let alone myself.

Debra smiled, pulling me close enough to wrap her arm around my waist. "It's okay. You can show off and flaunt that hot little body of yours all you want, just as long as you remember that you're mine."

I winced, thinking only of _one_ girl who was paying attention to me, and in an unwanted way. Debra felt my shoulders stiffen. "What?" she asked.

"It's kind of spooky how you do that," I replied. "Kind of like Mom and Dad seem to know what the other one is thinking."

"Like we're married, you mean?" Debra asked with a huge grin. "We _have_ spent a lot of time together in your dream-space, remember."

"Yeah," I said, instantly remembering all the fun we'd had dreaming together.

"It's Rosalyn, isn't it?" She squeezed my waist reassuringly. "Don't worry. Rosalyn is a huntress. She gets her thrills from the hunt and the conquest. She's _never_ settled into a long-term relationship. It's not in her nature."

"Oh." That sounded very comforting - sort of. "So since she got me to the hot-tub party, is she going to maybe give up?"

"You sound a little disappointed, sweetie," Debra replied.

I started at her words. Would I be disappointed if Rosalyn gave up? Really, deep down inside? "I ... I don't know." We took a few steps silently, overhearing the conversations ahead of us. "Maybe ... maybe I kind of like her attention," I finally said meekly. "It makes me feel ... like I'm ... wanted. Like I'm attractive."

Debra leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on my cheek. "If I was there, you'd _know_ how wanted and loved you are. But since I'm not, I understand - especially after all you went through. It's only natural that you want to feel like you're not broken."

I nodded my agreement. "And since there's no way in hell I'll ever be attracted to a boy, maybe subconsciously I feel a need to be attractive to other girls?"

"That, and you're probably very, very curious." She hugged me some more. "Should I call Rosalyn and have a chat with her?"

"No. I need to learn how to deal with things myself." I stopped suddenly, my senses alert. "Hold up," I urged the group.

"What?" Debra asked immediately, sensing my sudden mood change.

I shook my head. "I don't know. Something _feels_ wrong." I stretched out my senses, feeling with the earth and sky spirits. It only took a moment for me to locate the disturbances I'd felt. "Over there," I said, pointing to the tree line of the shelter belt around the farm yard.

Debra and Val peered into the darkness. "What? I don't see anything."

"I don't either," I replied, frowning. "It's like ...." Suddenly, the answer was obvious. I cast a spell, and the silver aura showed up around my friends as the ghost-walking spell took effect. Almost immediately, I spotted two faint glows in the tree line, and then a third. "There are at least three people ghost-walking in the trees."

Val immediately raised a magic shield around us as a precaution, while I stretched my magic senses toward the three. "It's Lakota magic," I announced. "I'm going to find out what's going on."

"I'm going with you," Debra announced firmly, clinging to me.

"No. I've got a combination spell that'll protect me and let me ghost walk. If you all come, they'll probably slip away."

"I don't like you going alone," Debra countered.

"I'll be okay," I assured her, patting her arm. Swallowing to contain my nerves, I strode purposefully toward the tree line, toward the spot where two of the figures huddled. They were men, I realized quickly, although I couldn't tell more. "Stand and let me see you!" I commanded in Lakota, playing on a hunch.

Hesitantly, the two men straightened from their crouched positions, revealing themselves to be dressed in traditional Lakota warrior's garb, with war paint on their faces. "Who are you?" I demanded, "And why are you watching us?"

The two men exchanged glances. "Our shaman told us that we were to watch you and protect you from danger, sacred one!" the first man answered.

"We know of the attacks on you," the second added, "and we are to prevent such a thing from happening again."

"You know who I am?" I asked, a little disconcerted. From their markings, if I read them correctly, they were ghost-walkers, an elite society of warriors, like the Navy Seals of the Lakota.

"You are Ptesanwi," the third man, having walked from his hiding place to me, replied easily. "You are the sacred one, the white buffalo calf woman.

"Your protection is appreciated, but not needed. My friends are superheroes."

"Our shaman, Gray Skies, gave us explicit instructions. We are to watch and protect you," the second man said, "while the others ...." He got an elbow in his ribs from the first man, and stopped speaking instantly.

I frowned. "The others ... what?"

"It is nothing," the first man said quickly.

I knew that there _was something, and so I manifested Ptesanwi. The men fell to their knees in awe at the display. "You will tell us."

"It is not permitted in our culture to shame a woman. Those who do so must be punished," the third man reluctantly admitted.

We frowned; we hadn't asked for a group - ghost-walkers if I interpreted their face paint correctly - to avenge the crime committed against us. "No. You will not do violence to those who committed the crime. We will allow the legal system to punish them."

"But Gray Skies said ...."

"Gray Skies is a shaman. We are Ptesanwi!" we said imperiously, even though in my heart I secretly like the thought of them getting revenge for what the guys had done to me. "You will _not_ take vengeance."

The men exchanged worried glances, and then nodded. "Very well, Ptesanwi. We will do as you say."

"Good." With that, we demanifested Ptesanwi and walked back to the group, dissipating my spells as I walked. Something nagged at me, though; they'd been adamant about avenging the crimes against me, but had then agreed to take no action very easily.

"What's going on?" Debra asked immediately, worry in her voice.

"They're ghost-walkers," I answered, "elite warriors, and their shaman told them to protect me while I'm here."

"You get your own bodyguard?" Danny asked, annoyed. "Sheesh. What next? Private limo?" I could tell he was more than a touch jealous.

"They said something about vengeance, but I ordered them not to do anything," I continued.

Julie's eyes lit up. "Ghost-walkers? And vengeance?" She nodded slowly as understanding sank in. "_That's_ how they were doing all of those things to the guys!"

"Yeah, but I told them no, so that should be over," I replied. I was eager to change the topic. "Who's up for a movie? Maybe 'The Holy Grail'?"

"Better'n a damned chick flick," Danny muttered under his breath. I had a feeling though, that if Val wanted to watch a romance or romance comedy, Danny would go along - just to impress her. I could tell from Debra's giggle that she felt the same. Poor kid - so smitten that he'd subject himself to a chick flick to impress a girl!

Friday April 13, 2007 - late afternoon
Recreational lake near Kayda's hometown

Most of the kids in town had no idea of what I looked like, and though some were a little leery of Julie, the boys were certainly paying attention to Debra, Val, and Charge. Especially Charge with her charming French accent.

We sat at a picnic with our backs to the lake - out of paranoia more than anything, hoping against it but expecting trouble. And trouble came in the form of Skelly, who strutted through the park like he owned the place. As soon as he saw the other girls, he started to swagger toward our table, thinking that he was some kind of macho stud and that he'd score with these new, attractive babes. He pulled up short, however, as soon as he recognized me, and he blanched. Both anger and fear were present on his features and in the look in his eyes; the only question was what he'd do. "You!" he snarled angrily, and then he turned and practically ran, reaching into his pocket as he did so.

Boys pawed at my breasts, and at my crotch, as they tore clothes off me. I cried and pleaded for them to stop, but they ignored my pleas, choosing instead to hit me. Already, I was battered and bruised, and no doubt, had some broken bones from the fierce pounding I was taking, but my greatest fear was the leering looks I was receiving.

Skelly tipped his beer bottle and emptied it, and then with a contented sigh, he stepped toward me, his hands reaching for his waist. The 'zip' seemed unusually loud, and the look in his eyes was primal, both violent and lust-filled. I screamed, knowing exactly what he was going to do.

"Me first," Scott snarled at Skelly, stepping into view and grabbing at my now-bare boob. He cupped it, and then suddenly pinched hard, making me cry out in pain. I screamed again, but something was shoved into my mouth to gag me, and another rain of blows snapped a rib audibly.

"Kayda!" I heard a voice calling me as I struggled against the panic attack. Slowly, the world came back into focus. Debra and Addy were holding me up, talking gently to me to pull me out of my episode.

"We have to get you out of here," Debra said firmly. "Now."

"Do you girls _have_ to go so soon?" one of the boys trying to score points with Adalie asked plaintively. "The night's still young."

Debra didn't hesitate. "Yes, I'm afraid we do." She stood quickly, followed by the rest of us, and we headed for the parking lot. Around us, there were looks of disappointment on a lot of boys' faces, and a lot of bewilderment at my strange actions.

Not daring to hold my hand to steady me in this rural, redneck town with a high probability of anti-gay sentiments, Debra had to be content to walk by my side. For my part, I was shaking like a leaf. "We're going to the truck," Debra told me, half-guiding and half-carrying me to where I'd parked my pickup.

We only got about halfway there before two trucks came screeching up, sliding to a stop - one in front of us and one behind. I felt the panic renewing as I recognized the faces of the boys clambering out of the vehicles.

"You!" Scott said angrily, pointing a finger at me. "You've got a lot of nerve showing yourself in this town after what you've done!"

"After what Kayda did?" Debra snarled at him. Val was watching behind us, to prevent any sneak attacks as the angry boys moved to surround us. "You guys are the rapists! You guys attempted to kill her!"

"She's gene filth!" Bob March, one of Scott's friends and an accomplice to the crimes, snarled.

"Oh?" Val asked angrily. I don't know how she did it - I was busy fighting the renewed surge of panic that threatened to incapacitate me - but she was suddenly in her Card Trick superhero costume, and when I glanced, I saw Debra was in hers, too. "I suppose you think _we're_ gene filth, too, even though we're official superheroes?"

"Back off," Debra ordered sternly, "and let us pass."

"No," Scott spat angrily. "You're all gene filth." He turned back to his truck and pulled something from under the seat.

Something in me snapped. I was _not_ going to let myself be pushed around by these punks. Not again. They were _not_ going to control my reactions. I _had_ to fight the panic. I _was_ fighting the panic. I focused and put up a shield around our group.

Scott aimed his pistol at me and squeezed the trigger, but the .45 round splatted harmlessly against the energy barrier, making a nice, swirly fractal pattern as the shield dissipated the bullet's energy. Again and again, Scott fired, getting angrier and angrier as shot after shot bounced off the shield. Finally, the slide locked back, the gun empty. Snarling like an animal, the boy tossed his gun down and charged at us, intending to do with his fists what he hadn't with his gun.

His charge was apparently a trigger to the small group; they rushed us from all sides. Debra shot one of her power airbursts at them, sending three of the mob flying backwards, but they got right back to their feet, even angrier.

My vision was clouded with the red tinge of anger and the desire for vengeance. I dropped my spell and waded into the mob, ignoring Debra's pleas to stay calm. Rich took a swing at me, but alerted by the sky spirit, I ducked, using his momentum to throw him into a couple of attacking boys while simultaneously landing a few rabbit punches that were going to leave his kidneys very sore.

I dodged another blow, and counter-punched, smashing a jaw. Without knowing when I'd drawn it, my tomahawk was in my hand, and I hooked JJ's arm as he tried to swing, spinning him like I had in class, and smacking him on the shoulder blade with the flat of my weapon. I could have just as easily killed him.

A punch caught me by surprise, snapping my head to the side, but my tomahawk bit into the arm of Eric who was doing a follow-up blow, causing him to shriek in agony while the heel of my hand drove his jaw up and back. He collapsed on the ground, probably unconscious, because he was no longer crying in pain, despite the red stain on his shirt-sleeve and spreading to the ground.

Scott, having regained his feet after being knocked over by Debra's power burst, charged, grappling with me, his face a mask of rage. Caught by surprise, his bull-like charge knocked me off my feet to the ground. His fist coiled and smashed toward my face, a pile-driving blow intended to serious hurt or kill me. I dodged my head to the side twice, barely avoiding his hammer-like blows, as he tried to keep me pinned down while trying to administer a serious beat-down.

Clover's spell was simple, so I invoked in in milliseconds, pushing in extra essence, and as soon as I pushed my hand against Scott, a massive electrical shock coursed through him, causing him to convulse and collapse. Using my exemplar strength, I pushed the stunned boy off me and got to my feet, expecting another attack.

The fight, not surprisingly, was over. There had only been twelve or thirteen of them, against four mutants, two of whom were highly trained in martial arts, and the other two were learning. Most of the guys were down, not moving, with welts and bruises slowly appearing on their battered faces, and Val held a few others tangled in magic rope, trapped and unable to move. I looked around, satisfied, but when I saw Scott struggling to get back up, I angrily knelt down on his chest hard, my tomahawk in hand as rage tried to consume me.

"Kayda, no!" Debra urged, sensing my intent.

My love's words cut through my anger like a knife. I glanced at her, and then back down at the boy, bloodied and cowering, on the ground under my knee. "I should kill you for what you did to me!" I snarled at him. I raised my tomahawk, and as Debra once more cried out to stop me, my arm swung down.

I rose, leaving the tomahawk embedded in the ground beside the simpering boy's head. The entire group who'd been in the park was assembled in a semi-circle, a crowd looking on at the spectacle.

"This is Brahdon!" Skelly cried out to the crowd, holding his hand over his broken and profusely-bleeding nose, hoping to incite more of them to attack me. "The gede-filth that's been bessing with us!"

"You RAPED me!" I screamed back at him, turning and glaring at him with a visage that caused him to cower. "You bastards RAPED me!" Wakan Mila was in my hand, and I strode toward him, knife raised menacingly.

"Kayda," Debra said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and holding me firmly, "it's over." Over her voice, I heard sirens of approaching police.

Skelly grinned wickedly. "The sheriff 's going to have your ass, gede-scub!" he tried to snarl at me. But his half-grin faded when the two police cars that skidded to a halt bore the logos of the state police, not the county sheriff's office.

"Which one of you is Kayda Franks?" one officer asked.

Still trembling a bit, I took a half-step forward. "Me, officer."

Debra and Val stepped forward, presenting their credentials immediately. "Officer," Debra said, "we're with the Sioux Falls League, visiting friends in town." She gestured at the scattered semi-conscious, battered boys on the ground. "These ... young ... hooligans ... attacked Kayda and us. The leader, " she pointed at Scott, who was slowly sitting up, glancing fearfully at my tomahawk sticking out of the ground so near his skull, "tried to shoot her, and then incited the others to attack."

"You'll find his empty gun, recently fired, and empty shell casings as evidence," Val added.

"They attacked _us_!" Skelly snapped.

Scott nodded, adding, "We were minding our own business, and these mutants just attacked us - like we _all_ know they do!"

Rich was sitting on the ground, nursing his jaw with one arm while the other dangled at an odd angle. He looked like he'd been wrestling a grizzly bear; instead, he'd had a personal introduction to combat a la Debra. "No, they didn't," he admitted softly. "They," he said, looking directly at Scott, Skelly, and JJ, "started it." He sighed, dropping his gaze. "_We_ started it," he added, admitting that he was part of the group that had instigated the fight.

"Shut up!" Scott snarled at him.

"No, _you_ shut up!" Rich yelled back angrily, ignoring the glares of the group being herded together by the state police. "_You_ started all of this! All because you hate mutants! And you got all of us involved, too!" He tried to look at me, but failed to meet my stunned gaze, ashamed of what he was admitting. "You tried to kill her before, and you tried again! I don't want any part of it! Not anymore."

One of the four officers was tending to one boy's deep cut from my tomahawk. "We'll have to get him to a hospital, stat," he announced to his fellow troopers. "It looks like the cut hit his artery."

Debra squeezed my shoulder. "You _know_ you have to heal him."

"But ... he's one ... what he did ...." Tears trickled down my cheeks as the conflict within me raged. I was a shaman, a healer, and I had a duty. On the other hand, Eric was one that had tried to kill me _both_ times, and had raped me.

"Kayda," Debra said sternly, grasping my shoulders and turning me to face her, "you _can't_ let him bleed to death."

I looked into her eyes, and saw her practically begging me to heal Eric's arm, a gesture she knew would be very difficult for me. She also knew, I suspected, that it would be a way of me making a forgiving gesture to him and helping me rid myself of the anger I held.

It was twilight in my dream space, the eerie time ruled by shadows between daylight and night. I wondered if it was a sign of something. I wandered into the camp, sitting by Wakan Tanka at the fire pit. As expected, she offered me a cup of tea. Unusually, though she said nothing, but instead sat and sipped from her own cup.

"Wakan Tanka," I asked finally. "What do I do?"

My mentor looked me in the eyes. "I cannot tell you that, Wihakayda. You must do what _you_ think is right and necessary."

"It's a warrior's way to kill his enemies, isn't it?" I asked, knowing I was grasping at straws.

Wakan Tanka shook her head. "If that's what you believe, then you have no business being In'oka."

Her rebuke was like a slap in the face. "But ...."

"A warrior doesn't revel in stealing life. And a shaman doesn't let a wounded man die if his wounds can be bound and his life spared, even if he is of the enemy."

"I'm not _reveling_ in ...."

"Wihakayda," she interrupted me, "you _were_ relishing the battle. You delighted in injuring and defeating your enemies."

I stared at her, and as her words cut into my heart, I hung my head. She was right, as usual - I _had_ enjoyed putting a beat-down on the guys who'd beat and raped me. No matter how I tried to justify it to myself, it was revenge, plain and simple. If Debra hadn't stopped me, I probably would have buried my tomahawk in Scott's skull, killing him outright.

Looking down in shame at my vicious actions, I began to mix herbs from my medicine pouch. As the crowd was pressing close out of curiosity, I took a water bottle from one of the kids, and after slicing the top off with my knife, I incanted as I brewed the mixture.

"Open his ... shirt," I said, choking on the words. The last thing I wanted to see was more skin from one of my attackers. Nonetheless, it was necessary. After Julie had done that for me, I began to incant and mark him in the ritual way, feeling my essence flowing into his injuries. Finally, I marked his cut arm as the spell required, and I wobbled on my knees as the healing poured into the ghastly cut.

When I finished, I turned quickly and crawled a few steps from Eric, and promptly retched, emptying the contents of my stomach at having deliberately touched his body, at having healed one of my rapists. Debra knelt beside me, holding me up and whispering supportively to me as my guts churned and knotted, trying to expel things even though they were long-since empty.

In the middle of my puking my guts out, more vehicles skidded into the parking lot, and I heard a lot of angry shouting from men approaching. Debra leaned close to me. "A bunch of angry men just showed up. Local H1!?" she asked.

"Julie! Where the hell have you been?" Mr. Robinson's booming voice was unmistakable, as was the anger it contained.

Debra sprang from my side, and my concern for Julie pushed aside - at least temporarily - my stomach cramping. I lurched to my feet, closed my eyes a moment, and did a quick minor healing spell on myself, hoping it would calm my jangled nerves and settle my stomach.

Mr. Robinson, flanked by half a dozen of his cronies, stalked toward Julie, who, frightened for her very life, ducked behind Val and Debra.

"This is a crime scene," one of the state troopers said gruffly. "Leave."

"It's a free country," Mr. Robinson retorted. "Besides, I heard that a bunch of mutants were harassing and beating up some of our kids."

"The crime scene is under the jurisdiction of the state police. You _will_ leave. Now."

"I'm not leaving until I have my daughter. She has no right being here," Robinson snarled. "And since I'm her father, you can't stop me."

Debra stepped toward Mr. Robinson, pulling a document from a pouch on her waist belt. "Per an order from the department of Child Protective Services, Julie Robinson is in the temporary custody of the Sioux Falls League, pending a hearing into an accusation of child abuse. At that hearing, it will be determined whether your parental rights will be permanently revoked. This is your copy of the protective order which prohibits you from having any contact with Julie, and prohibits you from being within a radius of one hundred yards of her."

"Why, you ....!" Robinson started to scream, but two state police officers joined Debra, their hands on their service pistols.

"May I see that order, miss?" one of the officers asked Debra.

"Certainly." Without taking her eyes off Mr. Robinson and his retinue, she handed the order to the officer, who scanned it.

"Everything is in order." He handed the document to Mr. Robinson. "Now that you've been notified by a state officer of the court order, you have one minute to remove yourself or you will be arrested for violating that order."

Robinson glared at Debra and the rest of us, including the state police. While he was rabidly anti-mutant and an agitator, he was also smart enough to know when the deck was stacked against him. Grumbling angrily that 'this isn't over', he and his party climbed back into their vehicles and left - stopping about a hundred fifty yards away and watching us angrily.

It took over an hour for the state police to get statements from us - and get a list of witnesses. I didn't want to press any charges, preferring to just let things go, but as the attack had involved discharge of a firearm with intent to kill, and serious injuries, it wasn't my choice. One thing cheered me a little; as I looked around at the kids who were still watching, many of whom were giving or had given their statements, I saw some smiles directed my way. An image etched itself in my mind as I looked around; Rich momentarily met my gaze, his expression a mixture of shame and sadness, and then he dropped his eyes, as if acknowledging that he wouldn't blame me if I hated him, and that it was his own fault that he'd so horribly abused our past friendship.

On the ride home, Val drove, because I was shaking like a leaf. My nerves were completely shot, and though I'd avoided a PTSD collapse at the fight, I was now trying hard to not slip into a post-event panic attack. Debra held me close, comforting me, while I shook and cried. At least, as she mentioned over and over, some of the kids in town had rallied to my side, giving corroborating statements about the attack. Not all of the town hated us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We had an early-morning meeting with the state police and the county's district attorney. They intended to fully prosecute Scott for felonious assault with a deadly weapon, and Scott, JJ, and Skelly for assault and inciting a riot, while the rest of the boys would face assault charges - except Rich. It was a little dismaying to realize that if Scott had shot at anyone else, the charge would have been attempted murder, but I overheard a couple of the DA's staff muttering among themselves that, "it's just a damned mutant. Their lives aren't worth much anyway." I managed to stay composed while we were in the meeting, but as soon as we left, I broke down, sobbing on Debra's shoulder what I'd heard them say. It was quite devastating emotionally to realize that I was a second-class citizen - at best - and that there was a large population in official positions that didn't give a damn about me just because I was a mutant.

Rich got off easy because heHe cut a bargain with the DA to plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in exchange for testifying against Scott, JJ, and Skelly. If things went well, they'd only have to get testimony from Debra and Val, because, as superheroes licensed by the state of South Dakota, their testimony would carry a lot of weight. With the testimony of the other witnesses, it was unlikely that I'd have to take the stand against them, but I would have to be available if necessary. After the comments from the DA's staff, I realized that they didn't want me, a mutant, on the stand testifying for the prosecution. Debra and Val were superheroes, so they would have some credibility, but the anti-mutant fervor was strong enough that the DA didn't want to take a chance. _That_ knowledge hurt, too.

We drove back to Sioux Falls, arriving just in time to take the girls - and Danny - to what was becoming Debra's and Val's favorite Japanese restaurant. That was followed by some more shopping; Mom got all of us girls some Lakota-themed and Black Hills Gold earrings, and we picked up my supplies from the Native American store - lots of buckskin, beads, and sinew for sewing projects and a very large supply of herbs. Wakan Tanka knew I had more spells to learn, so she directed me to get more types of plants and herbs the new spells would require.

Danny, as we girls had predicted, tired very quickly of shopping with us, but every time Val glanced his way, he managed to force a smile as if he was enjoying himself. Despite Dad's grumbling, we spent almost the entire afternoon shopping, arriving back at the League headquarters just in time for a feast of a dinner.

I had hoped that they'd forgotten, but after dinner, the girls reminded me that I'd agreed to do another photo shoot. The calendar was selling like hotcakes, which I gruffly acknowledged that I knew, because the Whateley bookstore had sold out of an allotment of them - and the publicity was making life a little difficult. Debra and Wish List laughed at that, but Vanity Girl was a little more sympathetic. Her sympathy, however, didn't get me out of the photo shoot.

At first, the Sioux Falls League girls and I posed for dozens of pictures; they loaned me a mask, and they were all in costume, as their intent was a material promoting the League - and raising money. I groaned at the thought of another calendar at Whateley - and the adverse attention it would cause for me, but since I'd agreed, I did my part in the photos. They were hoping to have enough for a weekly calendar in addition to the standard monthly calendar, and no doubt there would be some posters, especially since the guys joined us for a few pictures.

Once those pics were done, the guys and Vanity Girl left in a hurry, which left us younger girls with a camera, time on our hands, and nothing else to do. We got rather playful in our pictures, including Addy, Julie, Val, Debra, and I in our dance costumes, me in my In'oka get-up, and several rather ... close ones with me and Debra. Addy, Julie, and I had a lot of fun doing cheesecake pictures; I intended to surprise Addy by getting one of the racier pictures made into a poster and conspiring with Alicia to hang it in her cottage room without her knowledge.

Embarrassingly, at one point when Debra and I were posing for a 'cuddle' photo, we started kissing, and it took the girls a while to get us to stop making out - after they'd taken a number of 'interesting' pictures. No doubt one of those would end up in my cottage room as an autographed picture or poster, too.

It was nice to spend time making out with Debra that evening while Addy and Julie showered. We had grudging approvalfrom Mom and Dad, even though we'd have to wait until we met again, at which point I'd be sixteen and legal. Because of that, we had to pry ourselves apart to go to our separate beds. Debra and Vanity Girl had planned our rooms well; if I'd have been rooming alone, I _would have_ slipped out in the middle of the night to frolic with Debra in her room. Having roommates was just enough to take the edge off the temptation.

Whateley Academy, Sunday, April 15, 2007
Crystal Hall

Alicia, Addy, Evvie, Naomi, Adrian, Vasiliy and I sat at a table in the Crystal Hall, enjoying a little bit of late dessert. Some of our group hadn't yet returned, but we knew they'd be on the late flight into Berlin, and then on a shuttle back to campus.

"And after the fight with the wood elves," Addy bubbled, "we traveled to Kayda's 'ome. 'Er mother is a wonderful cook, and we 'ad desserts that were tres delicieux. She gave me two jars of 'er wonderful jelly."

"It sounds like you had a great time," Evvie acknowledged with a smile, like she had some secrets that she wasn't telling us.

"Oh, but then we 'ad another fight, in 'er 'hometown! Some of the boys that ... assaulted Kayda," she glanced at me to see that I wasn't upset, "tried to kill 'er again, and 'urt us! Kayda's shield spell protected us, but it made the boys furieux, and they attacked us!" She grinned. "I knocked one large boy out, and when another tried to grab me, I threw 'im, just like Sensei Ito taught us."

Alicia looked curiously at the two of us. "Y'all had fun beatin' up a bunch of boys, didn't you?"

Addy looked a little shocked, but then she grinned. "It is nice to know that the martial arts class isn't a total waste of time!"

"Are becoming enthusiastic fighter, I think," Vasiliy joked. "Big change from fall term." Addy replied very maturely - and stuck her tongue out at him.

"Ah'm sure Sensei Ito will be delighted to hear that tomorrow," Alicia chuckled, eliciting a look of surprised shock from Addy.

"You ... wouldn't!" Addy practically begged.

"As long as y'all don't tell him about mah fight!" Alicia said with a smile.

"You 'ad a fight, too?"

"Yeah. Ah got kidnapped from an art museum by some art thieves. Only they weren't art thieves. One named Hexagon was after a paintin' that had some kind of demon-invoking spell on it, and he was goin' t' sacrifice _me_ to the demon!" Addy explained.

"Mon dieu! 'Ow did you get away?"

"Ah was rescued by a supervillain art thief named Imp," Addy explained. "Twice, actually. For a supervillain, she was real nice. While Ah was hidin' out with her in her apartment, she taught me some paintin'." She smiled. "She's real good. And a lot o' fun."

Addy and the others prompted Alicia for more details of her story, which Alicia was glad to supply. It wasn't clear how much had actually happened and how much was a little 'artistic license' and embellishment by Alicia. Vasiliy grumbled that he didn't get to blow up anything during _his_ vacation, and Adrian had just played tourist in Boston because his parents were back in England and he didn't want the hassles of an international flight. Naomi had spent a restful week at her parents' house. When everyone was done with their various adventures, we all agreed,that Alicia had the most interesting vacation, but also that Addy and I had come in second.

"The best part," I chimed in, "is that Dad arranged things so my horse will be here sometime tomorrow." I grinned. "Hopefully during BMA so I can get out of class."

"Only because you _know_ that some'ow, Ito will have the security reports and know of your fight, and will want you to demonstrate."

"Don't you _dare_ tell him!" I scolded Addy.

"Moi?" she asked innocently. "Things aren't nearly so exciting in France. You'll see this summer, when we go there."

"Ma think's it's a great idea!" Alicia said enthusiastically. "Ah cain't wait!" She looked at me. "How about you?"

"Mom seemed okay with the idea, but Dad ... he was being a little protective."

"Dads can be protective of their daughters," Evvie said with a chuckle, "but in my case, it's my Mom that's the paranoid one!"

"He'll come around, you'll see," Alicia smiled.

"I'm looking forward to visiting Kayda's 'ome again," Addy said wistfully. "'Er family is wonderful. They made me feel like part of the family."

"And you'll be treated the same way," I promised Alicia.

Addy pulled out her cell phone. "You 'ave to see these!" she said gleefully. In short order, she was showing the gang the photos we'd taken with the Sioux Falls League, excluding - fortunately for me - the rather naughty ones I'd taken with Debra.

"Seems like y'all were havin' a pretty good time there," Alicia said, staring enviously at Addy.

I glanced at Addy. "Remember, you promised you wouldn't show the ... bad ones ... to anyone else," I cautioned Addy. "Or I might remember a little conversation ...."

"Mais oui," Addy said quickly. "No-one else will see these pictures. I promise."

"Bad ones?" Vasiliy asked, his curiosity stoked.

"Some of them came out looking ... awkward or bad," I lied quickly to cover. "Not at all flattering."

"Oh. Thought you were going to say some were risque," he said, half grumbling.

I felt my cheeks redden, because I knew some were very daring - like some of the semi-nude ones with me and Debra.

Alicia looked at the two of us, frowning. "There's some story y'all aren't tellin' me," she said with a scowl. "And Ah _will_ find out what it is!"

After more vacation comparisons, I walked back to Poe, careful to keep my shield spell active - just in case. Back in my room, I sat at my computer and looked at the pictures on my memory stick. I had far more pictures than Addy; she didn't have the more intimate photos of me and Debra. As I flipped through them, I saw one particularly fetching picture. With a wicked smile, I clicked and sent it to my printer, and then carefully folded it, placing it in an envelope, writing on the envelope, and walking downstairs. Nobody was around; many of the students hadn't yet arrived back on campus, so the mailroom was empty. Grinning, I slipped the envelope into one particular mailbox, and then, whistling, I sauntered back upstairs. I had a lot of homework to do, and I had to write a lesson plan and a test for Ayla in pre-calc, but I could easily finish that and still leave myself with a lot of time to call Debra.

HPARC - Black Hills, South Dakota

The increase in natural energy flow into the cavern was minuscule, but it was enough. Unhcegila slowly stretched his massive, ugly, misshapen body, working out over a century of stiff kinks.

"Son," he directed his thought energy into the rock.

"Yes, father," the third son of Unhcegila thought back.

"You did well to restrain yourself when _she_ was here."

"She is a threat to you," the son answered.

"If you had tried to attack her, she would realize that I'm awake, and would come for me. As weak as I am, she would slay me quickly. It is more important that you complete your task so I can grow strong again."

"Yes, father."

Unhcegila concentrated more. "Son?" he asked again, focusing on his second son.

"Yes, father?"

"What have you to report?"

"I missed her by mere hours," he thought angrily. "If I'd have been quicker, I could have ...."

"She is far stronger than you give her credit for," Unhcegila replied angrily. "Your brother underestimated her. Do not make the same mistake."

"Yes father."

"Have you found the sacred sphere?"

"No. But I am finding clues. The shaman of the Sicangu knows it is kept by another shaman called Gray Skies, as it has been for ages."

"Then locate this Gray Skies and retrieve the sphere. And you must leave no witnesses," Unhcegila added. "No-one must know that you have found the sphere."

"It shall be done, father."

Unhcegila paused to draw in more energy. What he wanted to do next would be far more difficult than communicating with his sons; after all, they shared a paternal bond. No, this next one would take everything he had.

"Kigatilik!" he called out when he had enough energy saved up.

Eventually, a booming though echoed through Unhcegila's head. "Who dares to call me?"

"It is I, Unhcegila," the snake demon replied. "I have something for you."

"Bah!" Kigatilik replied. "What could you have that would interest me?"

"I know where there are powerful shamans," Unhcegila tempted the Inuit shaman-hunting demon.

"There are no more shamans. Few, anyway. And they are weak! Not worth the bother to hunt," Kigatilik snorted in reply. "I rest. Another shaman will come, and I will hunt and devour him." There was a chuckle through the astral plane, a disquieting, booming thunder. "The last one almost escaped me, but not before I consumed part of his mind. He wandered onto the ice, wearing some silly, colorful shirt, and when I found him, he was babbling about a sunny beach, even though he was half-frozen. He was delicious!"

"I know of two very powerful shamans."

"I have no interest in leaving my home," Kigatilik replied angrily.

"Not even for the one who holds the spirit of _the_ Iroquois shaman? Or the one who holds the spirit of Ptesanwi?"

"Where would I find these shamans?" Kigatilik asked after a pause. "And why do you care if I hunt them?"

Unhcegila smiled to himself. "They seek those like you and me," he answered, "and I would rather that they didn't kill me. Together, we can eliminate the threat, and then we can ravage the People and get the respect and power we deserve!"

"Tell me where to find them," Kigatilik said, sounding like he was licking his chops in anticipation.

Inuit Village, Alaska

The shaman Tikaani sat, cross-legged, in his dwelling, cooking a simple meal over a simple whale-fat fire. It was the traditional way, and he was not about to give in to the modern conveniences that defied the countless centuries of tradition of his people.

As he sat, tending the cooking and meditating, he felt a thunder echoing through his dream world. Alarmed, he invoked a quick spell, an incantation of protection.

The young boy in the dwelling noticed his father stiffen suddenly and unexpectedly. "What is it, father?"

The shaman drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I heard thunder in the mountain," he said simply.

"What does it mean?" the boy asked.

The shaman looked at his son, a somber expression on his face. "It means ... Kigatilik has awakened."

Epilogue

>Whateley Academy
Monday, April 16, 2007

As expected, Rosalyn was my escort to classes. Sighing, I set out with her from Poe. "I need to stop by Schuster," I informed my tormenter.

"What's up? It's not serious, is it?" Rosalyn asked, concerned.

"No, I'm going to get in trouble and arrange detention for myself for the night of the hot-tub party," I deadpanned, drawing a momentary look of shock from her.

"You!" she said, slapping my arm playfully after she realized I was teasing.

"I need to leave a message for a teacher, and I need to set up an appointment," I explained, not going into details.

"Okay." We walked a bit. "Are you getting excited about the hot tub party?"

I shook my head. "You aren't giving up, are you? In answer, yes, I'll be there next Wednesday. But it's not a date."

"Good." She took another few steps beside me. "Oh, did I mention? We had a conflict with the hot-tub, so the party had to be rescheduled again. It's on Thursday, the 26th."

My jaw practically hit the ground. "What?"

"We had a conflict. So we had to reschedule it. That won't cause a problem, will it? You _will_ be done with the Nations meeting, and since the party is _after_ curfew ...."

"That's ... that's my ... birthday!" I sputtered.

"Oh, is it? My, what a strange coincidence," Rosalyn said, sounding sweet and innocent, but the gleam in her eyes betrayed her act.

"You ... you did that on purpose!" I accused her, frowning angrily.

"Who, me?" Rosalyn asked sweetly. We arrived at Schuster Hall. "I've got to run now, so I'll see you later. Have a nice day."

After I took care of my errands in Schuster, I went to my first-period avatars class. After some of my experiences the previous week of Spring Break, some of the day's material was quite interesting, and germane.

I went next to Martial Arts, and as I walked onto the mat, Sensei Tolman intercepted me. "Kayda."

"Yes, Sensei?" I replied formally.

"Are you sure about this?" She sounded concerned. Actually, I realized that she sounded like she always did, but now I recognized it as concern on her part.

I nodded, feeling myself trembling. "I ... I think so."

"Very well. Go to the center ring." She walked beside me, stopping at the edge of the sparring circle.

There were murmurs of bewilderment that I was starting class as part of a sparring match; that _never_ happened before. The other students knew I had some issues. The murmurs turned to gasps of shock when Hank came out of the boys' locker room and strode confidently to the other side of the sparring circle. Hank was a heavy-hitter, and I'm sure everyone wondered why he was here - and evidently sparring against me."

A collective gasp went through the students seated by the ring. I had _never_ sparred with a guy, and even during very controlled demonstrations with Sensei Ito, I'd had panic attacks. I gulped nervously; despite reassuring Sensei Tolman that I was ready for this, I really wasn't sure.

Sensei Ito looked at me, and then turned to Hank. "You will not use your powers, Lancer. Understood?"

"Yes, Ito Soke," Hank replied.

We walked to the center and bowed, and then, after backing to the edge of the circle again, Ito said, "Hajime!"

I'd never seen him fight before, so I didn't know quite what to expect. He was good, but without the extra boost of his powers, it was like fighting a baseline - mostly. When the earth and sky spirits told me of his impending moves, I dodged, and then attempted to throw him. An attempt at grasping him resulted in me being hit and tossed down, but I sprang up before he could take advantage of my fall. We traded attacks, with me mostly blocking them, but a few had slipped through. I was going to have one hell of a bruise on my thigh for a while. He attempted to kick me high on my chest, but I ducked to a crouch and did a foot sweep, knocking him off balance. But he was quicker than I realized, and as I moved in, I found myself suddenly in a grapple.

The panic started to come to me again, a blind, paralyzing fear. This time, though, I knew it was out there, and I fought back against it. That mental struggle, though, was highly distracting, and Hank managed to throw me, and then before I could roll out of the way, he got me in an arm bar, where I was helpless. After a moment of struggling in vain, I slapped the mat. I was trembling fiercely, barely able to control the incipient panic.

We rose, and bowed again, and I was ready to go back to my spot, but Ito stopped me. "Kayda has been learning an interesting Native American fighting style," he said. "Since Lancer's PK field is impenetrable, Kayda will demonstrate her weapons."

Tolman came to my side, handing me two tomahawks, with exposed blades. I goggled at that, but she smiled. "Lancer tested these, and they can't penetrate his field." She looked at my hand as I took them, seeing my shaking. "Are you okay with this?"

I swallowed hard again, and then nodded slightly. "I know they can't hurt a PK brick. Which only shows how weak I am against them."

Tolman chuckled. "For now. You'll learn, though." She handed me a sheath with a training knife in it. "You'll want your backup knife, I presume?"

When I was ready, I went back to the edge of the circle. "Hajime."

Hank moved warily toward me, so I decided to not let him have the advantage of the first move. I dashed toward him, one tomahawk held high and the other at waist level. Seeing my attack coming, he charged to get inside my weapons' range quickly, striking toward my head as he did so.

I knew to expect a combo of some kind, and as one tomahawk slashed up against his punching arm, deflecting it, the other swung low, meeting the expected kick. I didnt dawdle, but instead spun, catching him off balance. The blade smacked into his shoulder with a force that, had he not had a PK field, would have left his arm useless and bloody. All the while, I fought against panic, which threatened to overwhelm me if I let it get the slightest foothold on my mind.

Hank attacked again, and I used the crook of the tomahawk, to pull him off balance, directly toward me and a vicious uppercut with the second tomahawk. I barely heard the gasps and whimpers from the students; they could tell that the only thing that was keeping Hank in one piece was his PK field. My combination tomahawk attacks were that fast and wicked.

After a couple of minutes of frenzied sparring, Ito called a halt to the fight. I was so mentally preoccupied fighting my panic that I didn't hear him. Sensei Tolman rushed in to catch my arm as I was about to swing again. "Kayda," she said firmly, "Yame! It's over."

The word sank into my brain slowly, and I lowered my arm. Slowly at first, and with increasing intensity, I started shaking, trembling mightily as the panic was no longer pushed aside by adrenaline. Sensei Tolman noticed. "Charge, Headrush!"

My two friends were at my side in an instant, both talking soothingly to me and helping me calm down. They walked me back to my place, and, one on either side to reassure me, we knelt down, while all the other kids stared at me in shock, both at the ferocity of my attack and my post-fight panic attack.

"You probably thought that Kayda's weapons were too primitive to be effective," Ito said to the students. "Who thinks now that they're ineffective or not dangerous?" No-one raised their hand or uttered even a whisper. They were still probably in shock over how well I'd used my weapons.

To my utter shock - and probably Ito's as well - Addy and Alicia both wanted to spar with Hank. Alicia and Addy even borrowed the tomahawks for a sparring match, and though they'd had far less training than me and weren't not nearly as skilled, they acquitted herself reasonably well. I suspected that Mr. Two Knives' tutoring was going to get a lot more interest from students.

After class, Ito and Tolman called me over while the others went to the locker rooms. "I have reports of your ... incidents ... from Spring Break," Ito said, his expression impassive. "You were able to fight boys without having a panic attack."

"Yes, Sensei," I said, not quite sure what is point was, nor willing to volunteer any information.

"According to the report of the fight from your hometown," Ito continued, "you nearly lost control, viciously attacking the boys who ... had assaulted you."

"Yes, Sensei."

"And if you hadn't been restrained, you might have killed one of them."

I simply nodded, my gaze lowered. It wasn't exactly something to be proud of.

"You need to control yourself in those situations. Losing control can lead to losing a fight. Or worse."

"Yes, Sensei." He wasn't saying anything that I didn't already know.

"Your fighting style with the weapons is ... interesting. Is there a name for it?"

I nodded. "In'oka. Fighting like the badger spirit."

"I think you rather shocked some of the students with that attack style," Sensei Tolman said with a smile. She motioned for me to walk with her toward the locker room. "Your initiative in setting up a fight with Lancer is a good sign of your progress. We will proceed slowly, so you will need to either arrange trusted sparring partners for the next few weeks, or keep me informed of your comfort level with various partners from the class. Okay?"

I nodded. "Yes, Sensei." I ducked into the locker room, where girls were still changing. Instantly, the conversation turned to me and my fighting style with the tomahawks. It was nice to get some positive attention. I also expected that word of my little demonstration was going to get out very quickly, and that some people might now think twice about attacking me. Especially if I carried my tomahawks visibly. And that might not be such a bad thing. After showering, I reapplied my In'oka paint, proud of my status as the Sicangu's Zuya Wikhoskalaka, the warrior girl. Though I still had a lot to learn, I felt like a true warrior. I was In'oka.

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