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Wednesday, 09 May 2007 13:23

To The Mountain (Part 1)

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This is a work of fiction. There should be no way that these characters are like anyone else, but if that isn’t the case, it has definitely been unintentional. The pictures used are those of Ziyi Zhang, used without express permission. Quotes from the Tao Te Ching are from the Stephen Mitchell translation. Also, if you happen to find that your life is represented in these pages, I’ll be impressed.

To The Mountain
Part 1
By Heather O’Malley
assisted by the rest of the Whatley Gang

Whatley Academy Universe

Chou and DW

The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn’t take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners. - Tao Te Ching, Chapter 5

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chou grumbled as she headed towards the administration building. She knew Guan Yu caused all that damage in his fight on Parent’s Day, but was it any reason to keep bugging her about it. First off, she hadn’t known who he was let alone what he could do and second she really didn’t know what he was going to do. How was she supposed to know that Guan Yu was the Chinese God of War? Just because she looked Chinese didn't necessarily make her Chinese. Thankfully, Sifu Fitzgibbons had only been in the medical wing for two days, due to his injuries. If she had to go back to class with him it would be ugly, for her. Guan Yu had beaten him so badly that it really was amazing. So now, she had no sword classes to help her with her form.

The rest of Parent’s day she had been spent alone, as the Immortals had been politely asked to leave after the fight by Lady Istarte. Guan Yu had handed the Principal a bag of gold and said that should take care of things. Chou had hung out with Billie and Jade a lot after that as they were all at loose ends. They had all realized as well that they were the three Asians in Kimba, despite their origins. It had been fun and was nice to spend time with the other Kimbettes. Yet it did little to ease the ache of her father’s death, which haunted her that day. She wanted, more than anything, to have him back, to not be dead. He was gone forever, torn apart by a demon wanting the sword that had started this whole thing. One day she figured she would get her revenge, but she had no idea when. She wasn’t ready, yet, but she would be.

She just didn’t know who her new sword instructor would be, since Guan Yu made it clear that Sifu Fitzgibbons was not allowed to teach her any sword work. Add to that the whole problem of finding someone trained in Wudan sword and the Chi tricks she had learned. She wanted to keep training but she was running out of ideas. ‘Maybe I can just keep practicing with Nikki and Billie. That has been fun and helpful. And they don’t get as pissy as Fitzgibbons.’

She had been pleasantly surprised, as had Billie, to find out that Destiny’s Wave wouldn’t get cut by the energy sword. The sword had been able to figure that out after having worked through what Billie had said happened when she had attacked the Monkey King. The upside of this was that Billie was now able to work on her sword work, for a change, without having to worry about destroying other people’s weapons. Chou liked the fact that Billie added more dimensions to the sword fights. Fighting a sword opponent who could fly was a nice challenge and lots of fun. It also let her incorporate some of the lightfoot kung fu into the fights.

She also had Molly on her mind. Between Molly introducing her to the parental units as simply a “friend” and the Immortals informing her that Molly was somehow her soul mate, Chou was really conflicted. She had been surprised how much it had hurt when she had been introduced only as a friend. Wasn’t she more than that? Didn’t she mean something to Molly? And why had she just stood there and let it happen? Was she afraid of admitting what she felt for Molly to Molly’s parents? Was Molly ashamed of loving her? Did Molly Love her? And this soul mate thing, what the hell was she supposed to do with that? What did it mean anyway? Every time she saw or thought about Molly this chain of thoughts came back.

Chou was having a lot of trouble dealing with things and it was getting more difficult to keep telling her ‘shrink’ how things were going. If she complained all the time she felt like she was a failure and wasn’t getting better like she was supposed to. So she just kept piling it up inside. What else could she do? She figured he didn’t really want to hear all about her problems. He had things he had to do besides listening to her being upset by the same things. How many times could he put up with her sniffling about her dad?

Moreover, she was a bit nervous about the MID’s. Did she really want to have something letting every idiot in the world know all there was to know about her? She had to decide quickly but she just wasn’t sure. She also had to come up with a codename she was comfortable with. Bladedancer was nice and the Kimbettes gave it to her but wasn’t she The Handmaid of the Tao? What should she put down? Destiny’s Wave was no help there, as she didn’t see why there had to be a codename let alone a card. She was unsure what to do and her appointment was coming up. She wasn’t looking forward to talking with the MCO. And then there was the continued debate about her powers. Was she a mutant? If not, what was she? How could she do all of these things and not be a mutant?

She entered the administration building, took off her lightweight coat, and walked up to the secretary. The woman was busy typing away at her computer and hadn't noticed her entrance. Chou walked up and smiled at the woman. She had already figured out that being nice to people with power could work in her favor. “My name is Chou Lee. I got a note to come see Miss Carson.”

The woman smiled back at her, as she turned away from her keyboard. She took the note and picked up the phone. “Just a moment, let me see if she is ready for you?”

Chou stood there shifting from side to side, nervously, as the secretary called back to Miss Carson’s office. Her uniform skirt swung like a bell and Chou did like that sensation. It was really nice and actually was better than twiddling her fingers. But she really wanted to go back to being herself, to wearing her own boy’s clothes, to not have to worry about some of these things. Getting away from periods would be nice as well. She could really do without the cramping, water retention, mood swings, and bleeding.

The Secretary managed to cut off another round of self-pity by saying. “Miss Carson is ready to see you. Head on back.”

Chou smiled and walked back. What could this be about? She knew she had not been fighting or sleeping in class or anything like that. She stopped for a second as she felt a sort of resonance humming within her, almost like what she felt when the Immortals were around. She looked around but there was nothing different in the office. Hardass glared at her from behind her computer and it looked like she was about to say something when Chou moved on. Chou headed towards the Principal’s office with a look of concern on her face. Here went nothing.

After she knocked, she could hear Miss Carson call out, “Come in.”

Chou opened the door to the office. There was Miss Carson sitting at her desk and there was someone with her. The woman with the principal looked pretty normal to Chou and not really very old, maybe in her 30’s or so. She really was not sure, as she did have problems with figuring out peoples ages. The woman was dressed in what looked like a nice long sleeved travel blouse, some sort of cargo pants made of denim and hiking boots. She looked comfortable. Her light brown hair was pulled back and tied up with a ribbon that matched the blouse. Her eyes were green, very bright and clear, almost the color of grass.

Something about her octagonal necklace caught Chou’s attention and then she noticed that the I Ching trigrams were on it. The woman wasn’t Asian and didn’t feel like the Immortals, but seemed to have some sort of connection to the Taoist Immortals. It was obvious to Chou that this woman was the source of the resonance she had been feeling. She didn’t know what to say, so she just stood there.

The woman smiled at her, stood, and hugged Chou. It was a tight hug and comforting. When they touched something warm and tingly passed between them. Not quite what she had felt from Molly but in a way the feeling was similar. Chou looked up at the woman in surprise. After the hug, she held Chou out at arms length. “You look good, Chou. It is nice to finally meet you.”

Miss Carson smiled. Sometimes these meetings between mentors and students went poorly. In one case, she had needed to separate them, but this one seemed to go well. “Chou, this is Miss Rebecca Stone. She is here with a note from your…guardians…stating that she is to be your Mentor. This will change your class schedule around, but thankfully, your afternoons were mostly Martial Art oriented. You will be given time, each afternoon to work with her. Now why don’t you show Miss Stone around the campus and get to know each other.”

Chou nodded numbly and turned, walking from the room. The woman followed pulling on a lightweight windbreaker and hefting a large purse, almost big enough to be a satchel. The woman turned and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Carson. I cannot wait until we have a chance to speak again.”

The woman put an arm over Chou’s shoulders and walked with her from the office building. She radiated a calm that was helping Chou to relax, something she thought she didn't need any help to do. She was so comfortable that she was almost ready to start talking about everything that had been going on with her. This woman felt like someone Chou could bare her soul to. However, why hadn’t the Immortals told her about Miss Stone? Why hadn’t Miss Stone arrived earlier? She had lots of questions but no real answers. She turned her head to look at her Mentor.

“Ready to talk yet Chou?” The woman’s perceptive statement and obvious consideration of her feelings surprised Chou as well. The woman acted as if she had known Chou her whole life, almost projecting a maternal feeling. It was nice but odd. She hadn't had any close female interaction with an adult since her mother had died, back in her old life.

“Yes. Uhm…Miss Stone…” started Chou, rather unsure of herself. She really had no idea how to start this conversation.

“Call me Becca, please. There is no need for such formalities between us.” The smile could be heard in the words and Chou relaxed some more. Maybe she could manage to do this, to actually get some answers that could make sense for a change.

“Okay. Uhm…Becca…just exactly who are you and why are you here.” Blurted Chou. Chou felt really awkward asking that question but figured that it might be a good start.

Becca smiled at her. Chou was wondering what was up with that. Who could really be that happy all the time? It was a bit disconcerting. Didn’t the woman know about all the pain and suffering going on? Couldn't she tell the pain that Chou was going through?

“Is there somewhere where we can go to get a drink of tea? Or actually, just a cup of hot water? I have my own tea and we can both have a cup.” said Becca, interrupting Chou's thoughts.

Chou nodded and then replied. “We can go to Crystal Hall, which has the dining room, the shopette, and a few other things. There is always some one at the food line. Some of the people here need to eat a lot and eat a lot of weird things. I am sure that they should at least have some hot water.”

Becca smiled and nodded, following Chou’s lead through the campus. She seemed to be taking a casual stroll, looking at the buildings casually. “So you want to know who I am. Well, part of it is really easy. Like I told you, my name is Becca Stone. I was a nurse for a while and then a missionary, a doctor and got some training in Chinese Medicine. Now I’m here, to help you.”

Chou nodded; it didn't really answer what she had asked. Something didn’t feel right about that description. It was like there was something that Becca was leaving out, probably a lot that was being left out. Chou opened the door to the dining room and walked in. There were no students in there yet but there were a few staff members behind the counters. It shouldn't be a problem getting something.

“Could you grab a table Chou? I’ll get the water for the tea.” Becca walked purposefully towards the counter while Chou headed over towards the usual Kimba table. It would be lunch soon, in about thirty minutes or so. Then Crystal Hall would fill up and everyone would show up. She watched Becca return with the two mugs of hot water. Her new Mentor sat down and set the mugs down between the two of them. Becca reached into her satchel and pulled out some tea bags, dunking them in the water.

As they steeped, Chou really enjoyed the scent that drifted up from them. They smelled earthy and rich and they made her mouth water a little. She was looking forward to this tea. “What is that?”

“Oh, a little batch that I mixed up. I make my own teas from various tea leaves and herbs. This is a draught specifically designed for calming and health. I drink several glasses of this a day. I like it quite a lot and it is quite tasty. It's definitely better than Earl Grey.” She pushed one of the mugs over towards Chou. “It shouldn’t need any sugar.”

Chou sipped nervously from the cup. She didn't know anything about this woman and it was hard to trust her so soon. Too many things happened for her to just trust other people easily. The tea filled her mouth and her eyes widened in surprise. It was tasty. She sipped a bit more. “So can I get the whole story about who you are?”

Becca nodded. “Alright. Like I said, my name is Becca and I was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1838. When I was 24, after having trained as a nurse, I went to China to be a missionary. After a few years there, trying to see what local cures worked and doing surgeries and the like, I was made a doctor. Shortly after that an old man, who seemed really lively came in and said he needed to show me something. I went with him and he explained that he had heard of my skill at healing and felt that I might be open to an idea he had. He wanted me to train in oriental medicine, to compliment the western medicine I had learned. What I didn’t know was that he was teaching me the Taoist path as well. After a number of years, I noticed that I was feeling much better and I didn’t look like I had aged any. I asked my teacher and he said that all of this and more were by products of the training and nothing to really be concerned with. Problem was the nuns I was working with had begun to talk, thinking I was in league with the devil due to my unchanging age and that I managed to heal almost anyone who came to me. So I left the hospital.

“I kept training with my teacher and deepening my practice and understanding of the Tao. I learned a great number of things such as cloud riding, fighting and how to be invulnerable. I had a lot of fun. However, things in China were changing. There was a lot of discontent with the way Westerners were acting and the Dowager Empress was trying to find a way to free China of them. This led to the Boxer Rebellion, where a large number of martial artists tried to destroy the westerner compound in Beijing. It was a siege that lasted 55 days. During that time, I was watching over the nuns and other missionaries that worked at the hospital. There were thankfully only a few incidents and I was able, with the aid of my master, to keep them from harm. The whole situation sickened me so much that I went to the mountain, Han Shan and lived as a hermit. There I meditated, practiced, read the poetry from the cliff walls and deepened my connection to the Tao. After the chaos and disturbances of the 1940’s that really made things worse, I felt it was necessary to leave China and return home.

“It was so different. I actually kind of liked it, but most people were treating me like I really didn’t know anything, especially in medicine. After a very short while of dealing with jerks of all kinds, I returned to the mountain in 1953. I found a nice spot in the Rockies and called it home. I lived happily and even carved a few poems into the rock just for fun. I found a nice dry cave all year long and the bear I shared it with doesn’t snore much. I was visited by two of the Immortals who told me all about you and asked to come here to help you in your training. So I grabbed my bag and headed here. That’s my story.”

Chou was stunned. This was certainly very different from what she had been expecting. “You were born in 1838? That makes you almost 170 years old.”

“Actually I turned 168, in September. So I am here to help you find and follow your path. I have things for you, training scrolls, and other nice presents from the Immortals. All I need is to find a place to stay now and I will be ready to go. But I am here for you in whatever way you need.”

Chou nodded, thinking about everything that Becca had said. Maybe she really could trust this woman. She certainly sounded like someone who should be able to help her with all the things that were going on in her life. “I have a few questions that I could get some help with.”

Becca smiled, encouraging her to talk with her eyes.

“The biggest issue I have now are these ID cards were supposed to get that are mandated by the MCO. In one way, I can see how they are useful, and the other is that they are a pain. If I don’t get one I'm gonna get expelled from the school, but if I do get one I can be followed and monitored. They measure you, your powers, and the like and get all sorts of personal information. I am not really all that comfortable with this. Any idea what I should do?”

“How do they measure this?” asked Becca, cocking her head just a little, obviously thinking about the issue.

“Some sort of scanners. They aren’t as complete as some of the testing gear that the school uses to figure out where our power lies but I heard it was pretty good. Since I supposedly have no powers, and I don’t know if I am a mutant or not I am worried about what the system will measure. What will it say that I am?” Chou smiled nervously at her.

“Well, as far as I can tell there are two different ways to deal with this. If you can pull out the power of the Handmaid you can easily burn out all the monitoring gear, one the other hand there is going in and simply trusting to the Tao. The Tao provides and will help you get through this. You just have to trust it. Those are the only ideas I have.”

“Okay. I think I can do this.” Chou was about to say more when the doors opened. Students began to fill the hall. Maybe this was not the best time to keep talking about this. It was a little too public.

Becca looked surprised at the deluge and then back at Chou. “So, want me to get us something to eat? The Principal gave me this card, which lets me eat at the dining hall. I can easily go over and pick us up some food and not have to wait in that line that seems to be forming.”

Chou smiled and nodded. Maybe Becca wasn’t too bad. At least Chou would get some real training for a change as opposed to trying to figure all this stuff out on her own. She looked through the crowd of kids, waved at a few, and spotted Jade and Molly walking her way. Her smile got brighter as she saw Molly, though the doubts and fears remained. How did Molly see her? Was Molly really this soulmate of hers? And what the hell was a soulmate anyway? Chou wasn’t sure what to do with this, so she pushed all the doubts down, trying to box them up for later.

Molly came up, hugged her really tight, and then sat her books down next to the Asian girl. Jade dumped off her bag as well and headed off with Molly towards the food line, both of them chatting about something. Molly was getting more beautiful every day. She had changed some since she had gotten here. Molly was slightly taller and had filled out a bit more, even getting more curves. Chou liked the changes. If only things with the relationship were clear.

The other girls came to the table and she spotted Hank already in line. He always grabbed his food first; just in case the cafeteria might run out of whatever they were serving that meal. Sara walked over to the special diet area and was soon wheeling a medium sized cage back over to the table. It was covered, but the sheep was bleating. Sara seemed a bit surprised to see Chou already at the table. Chou was usually one of the last to arrive, like Nikki, to give Sara time to eat without it disturbing them. “You’re here early.”

“Yeah. I got a mentor now and we were talking. Go ahead and eat. But give me a moment to center.” Chou breathed in and out a few times and then nodded. The death of the sheep shook her but she was able to control herself. After a number of breaths, she opened her eyes. “Thanks for that. I just didn’t want to keep you from eating.”

Sara nodded, aware of what her eating did to Chou and to Nikki. “Thanks yourself. Hey, are we supposed to talk like this? Won't that effect the plan?”

Chou smiled. “Yep, I figure the fight can be sometime after tonight’s meeting with the Goobers. Maybe this time I will be able to find out what is going on and see if I can find the danger. A public fight might just do that and draw out whoever is after you.”

Sara nodded, as she watched the crowd, sure that at least on of the people after her was in the crowd. “Okay. I just hope this works out.”

Becca was heading back with two trays laden with Chinese food. She was smiling broadly, which Chou was already beginning to realize was somewhat normal. “The teacher’s line has some great stuff. Some of these dishes I haven’t seen since China. Try the baby Bok Choy with black Mushrooms. They’re delicious. I got us brown rice, is that okay?”

Chou nodded, a bit puzzled about why the students never seemed to be getting Chinese food or anything else tasty and ethnic. Why did they have to eat bland food all the time? She also looked at the dishes. They were all vegetarian. “Don’t you eat meat?”

“Nope, not for a long while now. It can cause blockage in your meridians if you aren't careful, so I just avoid the problem all together. Who’s your friend?” asked Becca as she looked over the demon princess.

“Sara, this is Becca. Becca, Sara.” Becca stretched out a hand and shook Sara’s. She quirked up an eyebrow at the Demon Princess’ touch but that was the only response. This worried Sara a little but only a little.

Everyone else started arriving and Chou turned her attention from her Mentor to her friends. The group of them had a good and lively conversation, for which Chou was pleased. She always seemed to feel a little bit better when she was around her friends. They kept her mind off her troubles and worries. It made things better. Destiny’s Wave was there for her at night, as was Ayla but the more friends around the less she brooded over things. On a good day, she was able to be around her friends and not think of the things the bothered her all day. She hoped today would be a good one.

Molly headed over with her tray, looking really excited, and Chou’s heart leapt. There was certainly something about the mousy girl that drew Chou like a moth to a flame. She knew what she was feeling was love, or at least what she thought was love, but Molly seemed to be too shy to talk about it. Were they a couple, just friends, what? The uncertainty of the situation that became apparent after Parent's Day really bothered her. Molly put down her tray and smiled brightly at Chou. “Guess what? Guess?”

“What? I have no idea. Rythax turned into a chicken?” Chou asked seriously. "Circe decided to show everyone her famous pig transformation spell?"

Molly stuck her tongue out at Chou. “No, nothing like that. I was able to summon something!! I found my power!!”

A number of people at the table, especially Nikki, who was also a mage, stopped talking and waited for her to give more information. Nikki asked, really wanting to know. “So…what did you do? What is your power?”

“They finally figured out why I was having so much trouble working on the spells. I'm not a normal Mage, I'm a Summoner. I can cast spells that call objects or things to me. It seems to be tied to my ability to open the gate that lets Rythax out. I was able to do a summoning spell and I summoned a feather. It was so cool and it felt good and not screwy like the other spells. I was able to do it without getting a headache.” She was bouncing as she spoke, eyes wide and very much alive.

Everyone cheered at the news and conversation turned to this good news. Chou mostly stayed out of things, her hand resting on Molly’s leg, under the table. It felt good there, right. Molly dropped one hand down and twined her fingers with Chou’s. Chou brightened at this. She could feel warmth flow through her and she felt complete. The energy of Molly's touch filled her and made her feel less worried about things.

After the excitement from that revelation died down, they all turned towards Chou. “Who’s this?”

Chou smiled faintly, somewhat embarrassed for forgetting to introduce her Mentor to her friends when they had arrived. “Uhm…everyone this is Becca Stone. She is my Mentor.”

Again there was some excited talk. Toni leaned forward, obviously interested. “Can she fight? Teach you sword the way you are supposed to know? Teach you all the other weird Taoist stuff?”

Chou turned to Becca who smiled and joined the conversation. “I am fully ready to work with Chou as I have been instructed. Why do you ask…uhm…Toni is it? Want a match?”

Toni smiled broadly, as that was obviously on her mind. The girl had never really met someone she didn't want to test herself against. “I wouldn’t mind. It sounds like it could be lots of fun. What sort of powers do you have?”

Becca laughed. It was a sound that seemed to be pure amusement, unlike most laughs they had ever heard. It sounded pure and clean and almost as if it were a sound from a different world. “I don’t have any powers. I am a normal person with a lot of training. That is all. I hope that won't disappoint you.”

Harry Wolfe leaned forward, obviously interested in how this would work out as well. “Like Sensei Ito?”

Becca seemed to think for a second, as if she were trying to place the name. “Ito. Yes, just like Sensei Ito. Do you want to give it a go anyway? I just don't want to disappoint you, since I have no powers.”

Chou smiled at Toni, sure that if the two did spar her new Mentor would win. “Remember Toni, she is trained in the crazy stuff I do. Just so you know.”

“When do you want to do this Toni? I am ready anytime.” stated Becca, her smile friendly and warm. “I think it should be fun.”

Toni looked at the clock then at the flag color. It was green. “How about now? We can do this outside.”

Becca chuckled in a way that reminded Chou of the Immortals she had met. Chou figured that Becca might have no problem with dealing with Toni at that sound. They were certainly going to see something very different from any fight Toni had ever been in.

Becca stood and walked out of Crystal Hall and found a nice open area. Toni smiled, as that battlefield would certainly favor her way of doing things. It gave her lots of room to maneuver. Toni strutted out and the two of them bowed slightly to each other, eyes never leaving their opponent. Toni dropped into a fighting stance and Becca just stood there, hands at her side calmly.

Toni sped towards her, trying to tap her on the head. Becca seemed to fade and her hand swept through empty air. Toni spun a kick and again Becca seemed to not be where Toni had thought she had been. Chaka focused herself and then used her Chi to augment her movements and speed. Again and again Chaka moved past Becca or her blows fell short of her.

The others watching were trying to figure the battle out. It looked like Toni was trying to scare the woman with her missing. Ayla cocked her head and asked, “Why is Toni playing with her? I figured that this would have already been over.”

A couple of other of the Kimbettes muttered in agreement with Ayla's comment. Chou smiled, she could actually she what was happening thanks to her training. “Watch closer. Becca seems to be moving slowly but she is evading each of Toni’s attacks. Toni is wearing herself out in trying to hit Becca. There is no way Toni can win this one.”

Things picked up as Toni, completely frustrated with this, went after Becca with full speed and power, trying to beat that smile from the woman’s face. Over and over, she kept barely missing the woman with her attacks. Sweat was pouring down her forehead as she tried harder and harder to hit Chou's Mentor. Finally, Becca lifted one arm slowly and Toni flipped backwards and hit the ground on her back.

Toni kipped up, bounding to her feet and moved in again. Becca raised a hand palm out and said. “I think that is enough Toni. Very good. You really do have a lot of skill.”

“Then why couldn’t I hit you?” grumbled Toni.

“Because I knew what you were going to do and simply worked around your actions. I didn’t have to be too fast, just precise.” Replied Becca sweetly.

“But you moved faster than I did! I saw it. You have to have some sort of power.” complained Toni. "Normal human beings can't move that fast."

“Nope. I am a normal human being who happens to have trained in the Tao. The Tao flows in and between all things. The Tao let me know what you were going to do and when to move. Is that really so hard to believe?” Becca walked over and put a hand on Toni’s shoulder. "You can use Chi to do a great many things. I did the same, but augmented by being in the flow of the Tao."

Toni mumbled No in response to the question and the two of them walked over to the stunned observers. Even some of the other students had watched the fight, many knowing about Toni’s skill at fighting. Becca walked up and looked at Chou. “Well. I believe that after lunch you are my student. Shall we?”

Chou was very impressed. She had never seen anyone take on Toni so casually and do so well. She was starting really to look forward to what Becca could teach her. Maybe all of this work would pay off. As she was leaving Jade piped up, “Chou, after class. Don’t forget.”

Chou nodded and followed her mentor, trying not to think of the reason the group was coming together today. It was hard to believe how old Becca was, or at least said she was. The Chinese looking girl walked after, heading towards the building where Guan Yu had caused a great deal of damage in his fight with Sifu Fitzgibbons. Watching the God of War fight was amazing. He had such power and form that it was breathtaking. Sifu Fitzgibbons had looked like a novice when fighting Guan Yu. It had been beautiful and terrible. Thankfully Mrs. Carson had managed to stop things before Fitzgibbons had been killed or even hurt too badly and much more damage had been caused.

“So Chou, what is going on after class?” asked Becca, never breaking stride. She didn't even seem winded after her bout with Toni.

“Uhm…it is a Day of Remembrance.” She wasn’t sure what to say. Sometimes it was difficult to think that she had become transgendered. Destiny's Wave had changed her and thrust her into a world she had really not been prepared to live in.

Becca stopped and turned, obviously concerned and confused. “Remembrance for whom?”

Chou looked around to make sure no one was close by and could overhear her. “Transgendered individuals.”

Becca nodded in realization. She looked concerned and her smile had faded some. “I want to talk to you about that later, but not yet.”

Chou sighed. Her biggest problem and no one really wanted to get into it. She had been happy as Alex and while she had new friends, she missed her life as it had been before, missed Knoxville, missed her father, and missed everything her life had been. She was trapped by something beyond her control and even Dr. Bellows just thought she should just get over it and move on. Well, what if she wasn’t able to get past it? What if she didn't want to?

Becca led the way into the building and into an unused martial arts classroom. The floors were padded and one wall mirrored, with bare wood walls everywhere else. She turned and shut the door after Chou walked in.

The hug surprised Chou. It was tight and Chou could feel a sense of love and comfort and protection from it. “Oh Chou. You have done so well on your own. I have gifts for you.”

Chou was surprised and looked it as she turned to face her Mentor. “What?”

Becca giggled and managed to look even younger. “Gifts. Your sponsors have decided to send you a few more things to help you. That and they gave me more reading for you.”

“Things like what?” Chou was confused. Wasn’t the sword a strong enough gift? It made her the Handmaid, what could be better than that?

Becca reached into her satchel, pulled out something, and began to unfold it. It got larger and larger the more she unfolded it. It turned into a chest of some sort and Becca sat it on the ground. Chou was stunned by that. How the hell had she been able to do that? Becca lifted the lid one the ornate wooden chest and pulled out some folded cloth and a bag that seemed to be made of several different types of animal leathers. She handed Chou the black material with a slight bow. Chou returned the bow and then shook it out.

It was either a robe, dress, or something, black with small spots of white, red and blue scattered about like stars. Chou was fairly certain it was made of silk. It took her breath away with its simplicity and beauty. She couldn't even begin to imagine how something like this could have been created. Becca smiled. “This is the Robe of Midnight. It's an old magical item that actually predates Destiny’s Wave. It grants different gifts for each person who wears it, using its energy to mesh with each person who wears it. It usually gives gifts like the ability to see in the dark and to be hidden in shadows. Occasionally it has given the gift to move through shadows. But only you will be able to figure out what it does with you. It is something that will take time for you to feel out what it can be for you.”

Chou looked at the robe oddly. The material felt cool and slick, softer than silk. The material almost felt alive in her hands. The spots of white, red and blue felt warm and tingled under her hand as she moved her hands over the material again. The gift was amazing.

Becca pulled out a bundle of scrolls. “And now for the bad news. Here is some more reading for you. They want to make sure you are getting a proper education in all things Taoist. There are texts there on Chi Gung, philosophy, Magic, history, creatures, the gods, healing, etc… They are really trying to fill in the gaps in your training.”

Chou was crestfallen at the sight of even more scrolls than she had gone through before. When would this all end? She just wanted to give all this up and become a normal boy again. She really didn't want to be the Handmaid and to have to carry that burden of responsibility. Was that really that difficult? Couldn't she go back to life the way it had been before?

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Chou left the building and headed towards Poe, subdued from the work out Becca had given her. Her Mentor had wanted to see what she knew and so had worked her hard. She felt wrung out physically and emotionally and now there was the Day of Remembrance. She could see the other Kimbettes heading that way and she joined with them. They all were walking in silence, the realization of what they now were heavily on them.

When they entered the front hall of the dorm, Zoe Nesmith and Belle Forbes were waiting for them. Each had on a black armband and had several thin white candles. Belle handed out the arm bands and they all put them on quietly. The somber mood was infectious and it pulled at Chou. After the armbands were on, they were each given candles, which they all lit from Zoe’s candle.

The group of them, all of Kimba and Lily headed downstairs. They walked into the exercise room, which was decorated as if for a funeral. The walls were covered with black fabric and pictures of various heroes and heroines. Under each picture was a tag with birth and death information. There were a few other students already there, waiting, like Meg and Jackie. Chou did not know either Mega-Girl or Electrode very well. Mostly she had stayed with other freshmen. There were more people there then she had expected and some of the people she hadn't heard were trans. Once they had all filed into the room, the door closed behind them.

Zoe, as one of the eldest present, began to speak. Her voice was soft and touched by sadness. “Today is the Day of Remembrance. It is the day we remember our dead, the transgendered who have fallen. The list is longer, of course, but those pictured here were killed because they were transgendered.”

She paused, collecting herself, then continued. “Each of us has had to go through the shock of learning that we are mutants. There are some places in this world were being a mutant is a death sentence. At the very least, it guarantees that a portion of the general public will hate and fear you.”

“Those of us in this room bear an additional stigma. We are transgendered. Like the truth of our mutation, this is a fact that must often be hidden from our closest friends. And like the presence of a power mutation, the sudden revelation of the truth can have unpredictable consequences. Friends may turn to enemies, love may turn to hatred, and people you have trusted for years may suddenly lash out in hatred. Another danger is depression. Three of the people pictured here took their own lives, as their despair became too great for them to deal with.”

“Tonight we will try to remember them all, as well as remembering the many non-human transgendered who have been murdered for what they are.”

Then one by one, each person in the room stepped forward and talked about someone in one of the pictures. Chou talked about an Asian American MtF hero named Firerose, who had worked in Chinatown. She had been raped and killed by a villain team who had discovered her transhood and used it to distract her at a crucial point in the fight. They had overpowered her. Slapped power suppression shackles on her and took turns violating her. The bastards had even taped what they had done. They had gotten caught and the tape had been used as evidence, but somehow it had been uploaded onto the net and was being used by various hate groups. Chou felt hatred and wept for the pain, loss, and violation of it all. Tears were flowing and sniffles punctuated almost each memory. Finally, it ended.

Chou was shaking softly. She had known her change had made her life more difficult but she wasn’t fully aware how bad the rest of them had it. That event had driven the point home in a powerful and sobering manner. All of them, every one in the exercise room, had something else that marked them as different even from other mutants, something that could be used against them and ruin their lives. It was a sobering thought.

She went upstairs and lay down, waiting for the shaking to end. All those heroes had died, and some simply because they were transgendered. Chou was sure she didn’t want that to happen to her. If only she still had the box, then she could put Destiny’s Wave in there and return to normal. She could walk away and never have to deal with any of this crap ever again. She would be Alex and not trans and not in danger. At this point, he would happily walk away from all of this, all of her friends and all she had learned. She glanced at the clock and wasn’t pleased with how fast time had passed. She groaned as she sat up and got ready to head to dinner. She really didn't want to have to face the world again today.

At Crystal Hall, Jade could barely contain herself. She was bouncing, all charged up about what would supposedly happen to her later with the BIT slicer thingy. It was plain to anyone that either the circus was in town or Jade was sure her life was about to change. Jade was certainly someone who reveled in something Chou wished would go away. If she could trade bodies with Jade she would. Then she could be a boy and never have to worry about periods and the like again.

“Whoa,” Toni commented, “usually everyone’s accusing me of bouncing off the walls.”

Hank looked concerned and his voice clearly showed that as he asked again. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”

Jade nodded, without slowing her eating. Chou wasn’t so sure that the girl really did know. How could the girl know? Sometimes it was clear the Jade didn't think about things, especially in this area. After all she had almost given her soul to Sara in exchange for changing her. If Sara hadn't been a nice person…

Fey voiced her own worries. “Okay, I admit that my specialty is magic, not technology. Although to be frank, some of this devisor stuff falls into a unique category of magic all its own. But still, I’m not entirely comfortable about this. Tell her, Toni.”

Jade glared at the black girl, who looked very uncomfortable at being put on the spot and having to deal with the cute eyes of betrayal Jade was using. Jade was using all of her weapons in this battle. “Uh, I think I’ll hand this one back to you, Nikki.”

“Coward. So tell me – how much do you know about this machine?”

Seeing that Billie was only on her second plate and would clearly need one or two more, Jade swallowed and talked. “I talked to Jello yesterday. She’s had no ill effects. Her ‘donor’ – Heartbreaker – is also fine. They said it feels pretty strange, but there haven’t been any problems so far. Come on, guys, I’ve got to try this. You know I do.”

Chou was getting nervous. Something about this whole situation was bothering her, but she didn’t know what. It was nagging her, like a splinter. She spoke slowly and carefully as all Chou could feel about this was badness and pain. This would end poorly and she didn't know what to do to stop it from happening. “I distrust the ‘quick fix.’ The realignment exercises may be slow but—”

“Are they working?” Jade interrupted her. Chou was surprised by Jade's tone of voice.

“Well, sometimes these things take time.” Explained Chou, understanding the girl’s impatience, but the process was so difficult and each treatment brought them closer. Couldn’t Jade see how difficult the process was and that it wasn’t going to happen overnight? Her BIT and her body were out of alignment and it would be necessary to get them to work together to transform Jade.

“Come on, Chou. I’m really grateful that you’ve tried, and I appreciate all your hard work, but it’s another dead end. So far as I can tell, it isn’t doing a thing.” Jade looked regretful. Chou wasn't sure how true that was. Jade was so focused on her becoming that Chou didn't think the girl could feel remorse for anything she did in pursuit of that goal.

Chou hung her head, looking almost as if the failure was her fault. Jade had basically thrown her assistance back into her face and told her to shove it. The feeling of pain and badness only grew stronger. What more could she do? Her heart ached and tears started to rise from her frustration. Why couldn't Jade see what was going to happen? Was she really that blind when it came to this topic?

“Hey, don’t be like that!” Jade said, trying to cheer the Chinese girl up. “You did a great job! It’s not your fault. It’s just… something about me, I guess.”

“Aha! That’s what I was worried about!” Fey realized. “You’re building your hopes up too much. We’ve all seen you, each time you go through one of these attempts. Beforehand is wonderful, you’re so happy, and we all feel really hopeful for you. But just like the earlier attempts, this might be a failure too.”

Jade’s grin faded at that. Maybe the rest of the groups worries were getting through. Jade was a bit thick headed at times but maybe their worries were having an effect. “Yeah, I know. But do you think I’m going to stop trying? Do you think it’s even possible for me to stop trying?”

Toni shook her head at that. They were all painfully aware of what was driving Jade in this area. “For anyone else, sure. Everyone hits a point where they give up. For you…I’m not so sure.”

Chou headed to her room to lose herself in her studying after dinner ended and Jade bounded away with Tennyo following behind. She didn’t want to be social or talk any more about this. Maybe, just maybe, if this whole thing worked for Jade Chou might be able to get it to work for her, to return to being a boy. But she would look like someone else and not herself. Would it be worth it to endure another transformation into someone else? Could she do that?

After a while, there was a loud noise in the hall. Chou put down the essay she had been writing for English class and looked outside. There was Tennyo and what seemed to be a very transformed Jinn. The girl was absolutely bubbly and giddy. Chou just watched and said nothing until Jade and Jinn bounded into her room. In Jade’s absence, the other girls were left looking at each other. The confusion and questions hung in the air and no one quite knew what to say. It was a bit uncomfortable.

“So,” Chou asked into the sudden silence, “what really happened down in the lab?”

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Chou stared at the bottom of Ayla’s bunk. She could hear her roommate breathing slowly, obviously asleep. Her own thoughts churned, keeping sleep away from her. Jinn had obviously found a way to change her BIT in a dramatic fashion. Science did what she had not been able to, despite the assurances of Destiny’s Wave that the realignment would work when the BIT was able to truly merge with Jade. If things took that long, were they really worth it? Was it worth it to spend the hours upon hours of work to get something like this? Was the quick fix any better though?

She felt conflicted and so she folded herself into Lotus and began to regulate her breathing, to reach a meditative state. But her thoughts and worries kept breaking in, throwing her out of the flow. Her meditation eluded her. Exasperated, she got up and began to pace in the room. The movement helped but only a little. She needed answers to questions she hadn't really formed.

Chou walked back and forth for a while, hoping to get sleepy enough to sleep. She didn't want to be this way, to be a girl, and it was making her crazy. Finally she gave up and grabbed Destiny’s Wave. She drew the sword and sat down on her bed, almost in tears. Maybe the sword had the answers that had slipped away from her.

“Is everything alright Chou?” asked the sword. The worry in the voice was obvious. The concern however only made things worse for Chou. She felt like she was bothering someone with her problems. But what choice did she have? Who else would be able to understand what she was going through?

“No. No, it's not. I can’t sleep, I can’t meditate, and thoughts about what happened to Jinn run through my head. It makes me miss my old life and wish I could go back to being Alex and not this.” Chou shook a little, tears welling up into her eyes. “I miss my dad, I miss my stuff and I miss my life. Why can’t I go back?”

The sword wasn’t sure how to respond. Chou began to sob in the silence and clutched the sword to her, trying to find comfort from the jade blade. "Trust in the Tao Chou. Things will work out all right, you'll see. Just trust that the Tao knows what it is doing."

Chou nodded and wept, her cheek resting against the hilt of the sword.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Chou did her Tai Chi slowly, struggling to keep her focus and her connection to the flow. It had been months since she had this much trouble doing her morning routine, since her time on the trail heading up towards the school. She kept working through, struggling to keep a hold of the flow. At different parts, both Fey and Boudacia were doing the form better than she was. The other girls didn't notice though as they were focused on their own movements.

Once they were done Chou took a long shower, letting the water pour over her head, her hair in her face. She was starting to be exhausted, mentally and emotionally. She had the energy to do things, but she just didn’t care. Her mind was always awhirl with some problem or worry or event from her past that just gnawed at her. She had really been too busy brooding over the past and what ifs to accomplish anything. She tried to let her worries drain down with the water but classes and friends always seemed to interfere.

Ayla was up and moving and the two roommates moved around each other easily, with the practice of repetition helping them to get out of each other's way as they dressed. It was an intricate dance that neither was really aware of. Chou grabbed her coat and headed off to eat, her mind going over what had happened to Jinn, what that meant, about possibly going back to her old life, all of that. She was barely aware of her surroundings.

On her way to breakfast Sarah Gardner bounced up. Chou just wanted to slap the cheerful girl. It was definitely too early for this. “Hey girl. Whatcha doing?”

“Uhm…Breakfast.” replied Chou. Was Sarah really this blond or was it an act? Was it actually possible for someone to be that chipper?

“Right. Most important meal of the day. So today after classes, we have a meeting of our group. Gonna come?” she asked, hiding her want under her cheerfulness. Reverend Englund wanted the girl to join and so Sarah would do her best to make that happen.

“Sure. When my mentor lets me out of class I’ll head on over.” answered Chou. She didn't want to do this but she had to for the plan to work.

“Cool. See you there.” The girl bounded off.

Chou was just irritated with how bouncy and alive the girl seemed. Right now she really would love to shove the cloak and dagger stuff right up into the girl. Chou reminded herself, yet again, that she had to play nice because this was the only possible lead they had to who was going after Sara. And after what happened on Halloween, she really wanted to find whoever was responsible and pound them for a while. It had been a bad night and the fighting had been intense. Maybe she could let loose in sparring, that might help her de-stress.

A number of the Kimbettes noticed her mood as she walked up. Fey looked at her with a look of worry. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just had a run in with Bubbles the Vampire Slayer. Today is the meeting and then the fun really begins.” Sara nodded at this. “But I’m not sure I can put up with the cloak and dagger things right now.”

Toni reached over and patted Chou on the head. Chou smacked her arm away. Several others chuckled at that. “Poor little Chou. It was your idea.”

“I know.” grumbled Chou, painfully aware that it was her plan they were following. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Tennyo looked over at her a bit concerned. “Do you guys really think that this plan will work?”

Ayla chuckled and said. “Sure. I mean think about it. Someone tries to kill Sara and fails at least four times that we are aware of. Then suddenly our “demon hunter” gets approached to join a group that acts like they’re out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They would want someone like Chou who might be able to “kill” Sara. I think this Sarah Gardener could be that groups first contact to get Chou into their group and to convince her to kill Sara. I am sure this plan will work.”

Hank leaned forward. Chou could tell that he was also worried about this plan. "There is also the fact that this is really dangerous. I'm not sure this is a good idea, but I can't really find a fault in it. It would certainly get us some information on something we really know little about."

Chou shook her head. She really didn't want to talk about this. "It's just…the girl really annoys me. She is so bubbly and so upbeat that it seems false. I just don't want to deal with her."

Sara shrugged. "That's okay Chou. It was your idea and if you want to back out then so be it. It's your call."

Chou sighed and looked down. This was an out if she wanted to take it. But this really was the only lead they had as to the identity of the people going after Sara. "You're right. I started this and I should see it through."

Nikki shook her head. She looked at the Asian girl with her otherworldly eyes. It was clear that she at least understood part of what was bothering Chou. "Chou, if you don't want to do this then don't. Don't force yourself to do something you don't want to do."

"I'll do it. This was my idea and our only real lead and just might let us figure out who attacked Sara. Whoever did this caused everything on Halloween to happen. They are responsible for deaths and destruction. They need to be found and punished. If this will find them, then the whole thing is worth it." Chou's resolve hardened and she took a deep breath and let it out. "To find that out I can put up with Bubbles. I think."

Jade piped up, offering a new tack onto the conversation. "What if it’s the Alpha's? I mean, we have tangled with them a few times and they know that Sara is really powerful. Maybe they are trying to get rid of her?"

Everyone at the table stopped and looked at each other. Hank rubbed his chin. "Maybe. They would have the connections to hook up with the Syndicate. They have the money to get the spells and stuff they would have needed to do the attacks. They also hate us. The Don also came after Nikki, Toni and myself to try and turn us against Sara. It could very well be them."

Ayla nodded. "True. But we don't have the resources yet to go against them. In a stand up fight we can do really well, but the Alpha's don't fight fair. I am still trying to get some sort of Intel from them and having very little luck. Hekate is keeping them safe magically and they have enough devisors that they are safe from that venue. Hell, the Don is also one of the stronger Telepaths on campus so we can't get info that way."

The group grumbled and then everyone looked over at the Alpha table. The main coterie were chatting and enjoying themselves. Hekate looked up and noticed them looking. She smiled and waved at the group and then said something to the Don. He laughed and looked over as well, toasting them with his glass. They all turned back grumbling.

Molly spoke up, her voice a little squeaky, obviously nervous about getting involved in this conversation. It was easier for her to talk to Chou than the others. "Uhm…in survival class we are always told to do one thing at a time. If you do too much you'll only fail. It spreads out your resources and makes it too easy to fail."

Hank shrugged. "Good point Molly. Let's worry about the Goobers first, as we have an in. We can keep worrying about the Alpha's but Ayla is working on trying to get us some information. So I guess we just have to relax."

Everyone else sighed and sat back. "Fuck." Said Tennyo and everyone seemed to agree with that sentiment.

Toni looked up at the clock. "Yikes. Guys, it's time to return to the salt mines."

Everyone left. Molly hugged Chou quickly and then scampered off. Chou headed towards the room in the Eastman annex of Laird Hall, where Becca had managed to get a permanent room assignment somehow. Something to do with the gold that Guan Yu had given the school after destroying parts of Laird Hall and the annex.

She walked in and up the stairs to where the classroom was. First, time with Becca and then class with Sensei's Tolman and Ito. That was going to continue off and on for a while. She got to the door and noticed that there was a piece of rice paper on the door covered in Chinese calligraphy. Chou cocked her head. The characters read "The Tao Protects and Seals" and she could feel is almost buzzing with power. She opened the door and walked in.

The room looked utterly Chinese and if she didn't know better she would have guessed that they were in ancient China. The room had several intricately carved pillars, a few nooks and crannies as well as some sort of altar in the front of the room. Becca was dressed in Chinese Robes; similar to the robe she had been given. She was meditating on a cushion, with a tea set near at hand. Chou took off her shoes, came over, and knelt in front of Becca. They sat that way for a while and Chou could feel the peace and calm flowing off her Mentor.

Finally, Becca opened her bright eyes and smiled at Chou. It made Chou feel a bit better about life and she wondered how someone could get that content and peaceful. It made Chou want to be that way. It would certainly be better than the state she was in now. "Good afternoon Chou. Shall we have some tea before we begin?"

Becca reached over to the teapot and poured tea into two small porcelain cups for them. The cups were of Chinese style, a light green with bamboo drawn on them. The teapot matched tea cups. When Chou could smell the tea, she recognized the scent as the tea that Becca had told her she had made. They both drank in silence, Chou letting the day fall away and Becca seemingly serene. Chou felt better, calmer, more relaxed and at peace with things. They put the glasses down after they had finished sipping the warm beverage and then Becca smiled again. "Ready to start your training?"

Chou shrugged. It didn't matter to her what Becca decided to teach her. It was just nice to have someone who could teach her the proper Taoist skills. "I suppose. What are we going to do today?"

"Today you are going to work on following the flow of the Tao. You can get your body to do that but we need to get you to follow the flow as naturally as breathing. For the first exercise I had placed one of the glasses from the tea set we drank from somewhere in the room. Find it."

Chou turned and looked around the room. There were so many places that Becca could have put the cup. She frowned at wondering how long this would take. She sighed and started to head towards one area of the room.

Chou's Mentor laughed at the girl's obvious confusion. "Chou, you are supposed to work on following the Tao, not looking for a cup. Find it with the Tao."

Chou thought for a moment. How in the hell was she supposed to find something with the Tao? She looked up at Becca confused. "Hunh?"

"Okay. I'll explain it to you. First, close your eyes and center yourself. Feel yourself begin to connect to the Tao. Once you can feel the flow think about the cup, picture it in your mind as clearly as possible. Ask the Tao to show you where it is. After that follow the urges the Tao provides."

Chou shook herself, breathed in, and followed her mentor's instructions. She was relaxed and felt her mind drifting, the cup still firmly in her mind's eye. She could see a small crevice with the cup wedged in there at an angle. Chou let the picture open up until she saw where in the room it was. She opened her eyes, walked over to the spot, and pulled out the cup. Chou stared at it in amazement. "Wha…? How?"

Becca looked amused at the Asian girl. She sat back on the cushion and looked up at the confused girl in the school uniform. She said. "The Tao is limitless. When you relax and focus you can find lost things if you ask the Tao. This includes objects as well as places and people. Now, there is a brush pen with a bamboo handle with a nick in the top. This will be harder as you haven't seen it or anything like it. You do this the same way, just asking for what you are now looking for."

Again, Chou followed the directions and the image came to her again, as clearly as if she had seen it with her own eyes. She walked over and plucked it from a cup full of brushes that had been resting brush tip up. This didn't seem to be that difficult.

"That is great Chou. I think you have an idea how this works in that format. Here is something else. There is a danger to us in this room. Find it."

Chou's heart was beating faster at the thought of a danger and she had a bit more trouble getting her focus and connection. She kept opening her eyes and looking around.

"Breathe." chided Becca.

Chou breathed deeply a few times and then felt her vision growing clearer. She let her awareness drift out with the Tao, searching for the danger in the room. The Tao enveloped her and pulled her out of awareness. She drifted for who knows how long before an image rose up in her mind. It was a bomb. As the image pulled back, she could see where it was, clear as day.

Her eyes opened and she walked directly to the compartment and opened it. She pulled out the bomb and found the off switch. She turned the device off with two minutes left on the clock. Becca applauded. "Very well done Chou, very well done. I think you are getting the hang of it. You need to get on to Ito's class now. However, after that class I want you to follow the Tao to where it says you need to be. Wear your robe and carry Destiny's Wave with you. We can talk about what that happens to be tomorrow. This is your homework and I do expect it to be done."

Becca took the bomb from Chou's hands, making sure it was properly disabled. "Remember, let the Tao guide you. It is infallible."

Chou walked through the halls thinking about what had happened, not noticing the various pairs of eyes that were on her. She changed into her uniform still musing over her work with Becca. It had been so simple but to get there had been so hard. Why was that? Was she getting in her own way again?

She was still mulling over the events in there when class started. As it was, she missed the bow when the instructors entered the room. She did notice the quiet after a moment and looked around. Both Sensei Tolman and Sensei Ito were looking at her with looks on their faces that Chou knew well. She was going to have to spar, and probably someone out of her ability range. She sighed in exhasperation.

"Ms. Lee, are we disturbing you?" asked Sensei Tolman politely.

Chou swallowed. This certainly was bad. "No Sensei."

"Was there a reason you weren't paying attention?" she asked again, sounding so calm and nice that it was scary.

"Yes Sensei, sorry Sensei. I was thinking about something that my Mentor was talking about today. I am sorry." Chou bowed low, hoping that would defuse the situation. She really wasn't sure the sparring would help anymore. The tea and the exercises with Becca had taken the edge off.

"Let's see if you can keep your mind on what you are doing in this match. Stunner, to the mat. No weapons and full powers."

Chou almost blanched at that. Stunner was a member of the Tigers. She was tall, beautiful, attractive, and powerful. She was also a Junior. Chou bowed and headed onto the mat. She took in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, letting herself sink into the Tao. She would let the Tao guide her and see what would happen. If not it would be a quick and easy match for Stunner. If only she had been allowed to use Destiny's Wave.

Stunner looked a little apologetic towards Chou but then focused herself. She was fairly good at things and being a high level Exemplar and Energizer was certainly going to help her in a battle against a highly trained normal. They bowed to each other and shifted into stance. The Asian girl just stood there with her hands at her side breathing and trying to remain centered in the Tao. Sensei Tolman yelled "Hajime!"

Stunner leapt forward, sending out a charge of energy, hoping to overload Chou's nervous system and stun the girl. Chou twisted and rolled behind the girl, avoiding the attack. Chou did a quick sweep and caught Stunner behind her right knee. Stunner dropped down onto a knee, turning to look at Chou behind her. Stunner rose in the air, using her flight and took another blast at Chou. With a quick back handspring, Chou avoided the blast and got out of the immediate line of fire.

Chou looked up at Stunner and wondered what in the hell she could do. She squashed the thought and worked on relaxing enough to flow with the Tao. Maybe using some of the light foot techniques? Chou smiled as she spun away from another blast, she could do this. Stunner was too confident with her flight, thinking that gave her the edge over Chou, who couldn't fly. At least not really.

Chou ran towards the wall at full speed, moving to avoid blasts. She leapt up, shoved off the wall with the Lightfoot Kung Fu, and punched a surprised Stunner in the head to disorient her. She quickly grabbed Stunner and attacked a series of pressure points, hoping that she could paralyze Stunner. She hit as hard as she could, hoping that it would affect the Exemplar. Stunner seemed to freeze up and the two of them fell to the floor. Chou rode on top on the Exemplar, knowing the blow would do little to Stunner.

Stunner didn't seem to be moving so Chou quickly hauled her over to the cage and shoved the heavier girl in. She slammed the door closed and slumped against the red metal frame. Exhaustion enveloped her and she exhaled heavily. That had been a lot harder than she had expected. The attacks kept throwing her out of her connection to the Tao. She had to get that stronger as the Tao was her best weapon in all of this. She looked at the class and smiled slightly.

Chaka whooped and several others applauded. Chou smiled weakly and rose to her feet. She walked over and bowed to both Sensei Tolman and Ito, "Please accept my apology. I meant no disrespect."

Sensei Ito smiled at her, "Well done Ms. Lee. Please release her from the paralysis and get back in line."

Chou smiled and happily did so. Stunner even smiled at her as she climbed out of the cage. She clapped the smaller girl on her back, causing her to stumble forward briefly. "Wow Chou. That was nicely done. I didn't know you could do that."

Chou felt on top of the world.

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Chou looked around the tunnels and wondered how this could qualify as homework. She was just wandering endlessly down in the tunnels underneath the school and doing what she could to avoid getting lost. As ordered by Ms. Stone she was wearing the robe and had her sword with her. The robe did feel nice against her skin. It had felt odd until she had taken off her other clothes and only had the robe and her underwear on.

These tunnels were boring and now she was several floors below the surface without a clue where she actually was. This was not a good plan. She didn't have a map and wasn't sure if there even was a map through this maze of tunnels and sublevels. What the hell was she even doing here?

She listened for anything and heard some voices ahead. She headed that way. She rounded a corner and came across a huge snake with the torso of a girl. The girl was really pretty and covered in scales. They had some sort of black pattern on her back that looked like diamonds. Chou couldn't figure out what the problem was. She seemed to be having some issues moving and couldn't figure out why. Chou moved closer and focused her energy. She could feel that something was around her, some sort of spirit.

The girl called out to Chou. "Hey there…can you help me?"

Chou nodded and moved closer. "My name is Chou. What seems to be the problem?"

"Something is wrong. I can't move and it isn't easy to think. And…" she seemed to drift off as if she had heard something.

Chou moved even closer. She could feel whatever it was slowly growing in strength. It needed to be dealt with but Chou didn't have any clue as to how to go about doing that. "You're being harassed by some sort of spirit. If you know how to deal with them then you can easily get rid of it."

The snake girl looked confused for a moment. "A spirit?"

Chou said. "Yes. I don't know what kind it is but it is getting stronger. I think it is what is responsible for what is happening to you."

The girl nodded absentmindedly and then closed her eyes. Chou could feel the power in her building. The spirit could obviously feel that to and as the energy seemed to be ready to almost peak, it fled. The girl opened her eyes again and looked at Chou. "Uhm…thanks."

Chou smiled. "You're welcome. I don't think I have seen you before. What's your name?"

"Sandra." The girl seemed to be blushing, looking embarrassed about the whole situation. Chou had to admit that she looked cute, even with the whole snake thing. Something felt somewhat important about the girl. Chou felt like she needed to draw her out a little more.

"What dorm are you in?" asked Chou, honestly interested. She was the first seriously GSD person she had met and she thought that she didn't look all that bad all things considered. She had a pretty face and nice hair.

"Whitman." replied Sandra, seemingly a bit uncomfortable about this situation.

"I'm in Poe. So why were you down here in the tunnels?" Chou tried to make it sound casual and not like she was trying to get information from the girl.

"I usually travel to and from classes through the tunnels and I get less grief overall. Why? What's it to you?" Sandra seemed to be recovering from the incident and getting suspicious of Chou.

"I was just wondering." Chou shrugged. "My Mentor sent me out and my Homework brought me here. I saw you and came to help."

Sandra smiled faintly. "Thank you for that. I keep forgetting that the answers to some things could be a spirit."

"You're welcome. Well, back to my homework. It was a pleasure to meet you Sandra. I hope I can see you later." Chou waved and moved off down the hall away from the snake girl. She could hear the sound of scales moving over concrete. They were both moving away from the incident.

Sandra seemed interesting and Chou wondered what it was about the girl that seemed to be drawing her. It wasn't sexual, she was fairly sure of that, so what was it? While she thought she walked on, following the nudging of the Tao.

Chou stopped and looked down the corridor. It just kept going and she had no idea where it led. She had done everything just as she had been told and followed the internal nudging, to lead her too something but now she was underground in the middle of nowhere. She was definitely lost. Chou fell against the wall, sighing in frustration. "What the hell is this supposed to prove? That I can get lost? I should have asked Sandra where we were."

Suddenly the wall shifted and Chou fell backwards into a narrow tunnel that she hadn't known existed. There was a weird feeling as she fell into the corridor but she could see no reason for it. There was a pull from down this new tunnel and she followed it, noting that the door closed behind her. The corridor was dark but something shifted and Chou could see. The room seemed lit with a faint green light and Chou could make out the walls and floor. She made her way cautiously, hugging the shadows. She was getting worried about where she was. This seemed pretty odd, even for Whateley.

Ahead she could hear a voice, very cultured talking to someone who sounded a little angry. She was glad that the tunnel was dark and apparently screened from the view of the others in the room. The cultured voice had an odd accent; it was British with touches of a Chinese accent as well. The other voice was plainly American. The American voice was the one that sounded angry.

"That is the best deal you can get. Take it or leave." stated the cultured voice.

The other person grumbled. "Fine. I just need this taken care of as soon as you can."

"Then we are agreed. Once you have paid half, this will be taken care of." Replied the cultured voice.

"Agreed." There were sounds of footsteps and then the sound of what sounded like a large door closing. The room sounded like it could be a cave.

The deal didn't bother Chou, but the fact that this was a cave did. She slid into the room, hanging onto the shadows. She moved to the side and saw what looked like a human trying to become a dragon or the other way around. Suddenly it clicked in Chou's mind. This was Thuban. The Tao had led her here. What the hell was the reason for that? She was supposed to mess with one of the most powerful people in the school, in terms of connections. The Tao didn't answerer her, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the shadows.

Thuban caught movement from the corner of his eye and turned quickly to watch a person walk out of the shadows. She was a Chinese girl, carrying an odd-looking jian, wearing some sort of Taoist Monk robes and looked very capable. There was a presence about her that Thuban was unsure how to counter. She seemed to burn with power or potential at the very least. Her presence angered Thuban and he angrily asked, "Who are you? How did you get in here?"

Chou was about to reply when something drifted through her head, the name Stephan. Chou decided to trust in the Tao. It had gotten her into this mess and hopefully it would get her out. She would follow the guidance of the Tao and maybe she would be able to get out of this in one piece. "Relax Stephan. I am the Handmaid of the Tao."

She could see that Thuban bristled at the use of his first name. He rose to his full height, seeming to grow larger. He was obviously trying to intimidate Chou. "So Handmaid, are you here to claim to be a distant relative? Is that the reason for your intrusion into my chamber?"

Chou shook her head, smiling slightly as if amused by all of the posturing. "No. I claim no kinship to you Stephan. The Tao led me here. Rather I should ask you, what is it that you need of me?"

Thuban backed slightly at that, trying to figure out what was going on. He was definitely not used to being this off balance in a conversation. His mind raced to figure out anything. He didn't have the information he needed to properly deal with this situation. "I…have need of you? Surely, you are joking? I don't need any help from a human."

"Stephan, you are human. The dragon is the form you wear, not what lies in your soul. Someone will show that to you. That realization may hurt but the pain will show you that I am right." Chou felt the words almost tumble out of her mouth. She just let them go, figuring that the Tao knew what it was doing. "Be true to yourself and you will be able to achieve true power."

"What is this? A fortune cookie application? Tell me why you are here Handmaid before I tire of this?" Thuban was getting angrier. The woman just ignored what he said and kept on.

"And be careful that F3 does not become the SS Stephan. The balance is too easy to tip and if it falls wrong, all of their deaths will be on your head." Chou felt her body relax, almost as if she was getting ready for combat. It was an odd feeling, considering all she was doing was talking.

Thuban was visibly enraged. He took a menacing step forward, his fists clenching and unclenching. "What the hell do you know? Nothing! Get the fuck out of my cave…or I will make you get out."

"A great dragon will rise Stephan, but that dragon isn't you. Don't let your own fear and self-loathing turn you away from what truly matters." With that, Chou stepped back into the shadows.

Thuban watched as the Handmaid of the Tao faded back into the shadows, becoming lost to his sight. He searched the cave quickly with his eyes, looking for any movement, any sound, anything. There was only him and the cave. Thuban screamed in frustration and collapsed into his chair to think. The situation was so bizarre but this was Whateley after all and all things would have to be taken into consideration.

Chou watched this from the shadows and made her way back down the tunnel and out. She realized where she was after she left the tunnel. She was shaking as she walked back to the surface and to her room. She really had no idea what she had been talking about, and that made her uncomfortable. Things just came out of her mouth without her compulsion. Was there some kind of Asian wisdom version of Tourettes Syndrome? Back at her room, she changed and looked at the clock. She only had thirty minutes until she was going to meet Sarah Gardener at the Goobers meeting. She was positive that she wasn't going to wear the robe and carry her sword no matter how much she may have wanted to.

Chou was still unsure about this whole thing, but if she could deal with Thuban then geeks into Buffy and parapsychology should be no problem. The encounter in the sub-basement gave her a little bit more perspective on the whole meeting with the Goobers. Maybe this would not be so bad after all.

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Chou walked into the room that Sarah told her to go. It was in one of the basements and was supposed to be moderately safe. There were a number of people clustered around and she could hear talk about ghosts, vampires and demons. It certainly seemed like the place she was supposed to go. She walked in nervously, looking for Sarah. Chou didn't see her anywhere.

Someone walked up to her instead. "Hi there, my name is Ecto-tek. What's your's?"

"Chou…but my codename is Bladedancer." replied Chou wondering who this person was.

"Oh, hey are you the girl Sarah was talking about?" said Ecto-tek excitedly. "The Chinese Demon Hunter?"

"Uhm…yeah. Is she here?" asked Chou, as she looked around again. The room hadn't gotten anymore people in it yet. This guy was making her uncomfortable and she wasn't sure what to say in any case.

"Not yet. She's talking with our advisor right now. Let me show you around. So, Sarah told me you are a demon hunter. Wouldn't happen to be a rogue demon hunter by any chance?" asked Ecto-tek, geeking out.

"Hunh?" replied Chou, not following what he was asking.

"Never mind. It's a reference to Wesley Wyndham Price in season one of Angel." Ecto-tek looked a little glum at the realization that the girl had no idea what he was talking about.

Chou smiled. Sometimes her cultural gaps showed up and this was one of them. "Sorry, never saw the show."

Ecto-tek was wide eyed and just goggled at her. Chou shifted uncomfortably and walked away. He seemed like a total freak. Alex was this kind of freak, but for anime and films like Lord of the Rings not for TV shows. As Alex, he had seen the show a few times, but really had no idea what had been going on. It probably would have helped if he had been watching it since the first season. If these kids were using the show as the basis of their group then wouldn't the be called the Scooby gang or something? Was that even right? Chou just shrugged.

A few others came to talk to her and she gathered that this group was really into Buffy the Vampire Slayer and they were focused on ways to fight ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons and other things that went bump in the night. No one mentioned Sara but these people definitely seemed to be the kind of people who would have gone after Sara.

After a while she could tell that Sarah had enetered the room by the increase in volume. Sarah rushed over to her and gave her a hug. "Chou! Thank you for coming. Have you met everyone?"

Chou nodded and tried to pull away. Sarah was really strong and it wasn't easy to do. When she had Sarah called the meeting to order and they gave reports about new ways to kill various types of monsters. Chou found it somewhat interesting but that was about it. She figured that some of these kids would have just screamed and ran if the Demon Lord of Fiery Immersion showed up. A few of the members seemed to be paying more attention than the others. Could there be different levels of the group? Chou couldn't figure out an answer by the time the meeting was over. The others would definitely find this information interesting.

When it was finally over Sarah hugged Chou goodbye and she walked back to her dorm, thinking over all she had seen at the meeting and what it all might mean. This was their only lead and Chou wanted to do her best to follow up on it.

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"So Jade is going to the Lesbian mixer?" asked Chou, as she looked up from her reading. They were all piled into Kimba Korner studying or at least seeming to study. Chou just couldn't focus on what she was reading, as she was too distracted by all that had happened that day.

"Seems like it." Tennyo said, as she floated above them going through one of her textbooks. "I don't understand why, but apparently there is a hot tub involved in the whole process."

"They better treat her right." growled Toni. "I heard Sharisha is going. That is a girl who is definitely asking for a severe beating. Someone should give it to her one of these days. If she gives Jade any grief…POW…right in the kisser."

Nikki laughed at what Toni said. "Thank you Ralph Cramden."

A couple of the Team Kimba girls turned and looked at the elf queen with confusion on their faces. "Who?"

Nikki only shook her head sadly. It wouldn't even be worth the effort to try and explain the Honeymooners to these Philistines. She ignored their unspoken questions and returned to her reading.

End Part 1

Read 8438 times Last modified on Tuesday, 14 March 2023 04:50

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