Monday, 14 August 2017 06:53

Dague de L'esprit (Part 1)

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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Dague de L'esprit

By

E. E. Nalley

I'm all out of faith
This is how I feel, I'm cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real

Natalie Imbruglia, Torn

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Prologue

October 2nd, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

The Witch took a sip of her frappuccino and congratulated herself on her own deviousness. For over a month now she had flounced all over this campus, past that mindless old hag Carson, past the entire Mystic Arts faculty, even past the would be queen who had cursed her and no one realized there was a snake curling amongst them, preparing to strike. She had fooled them all and would make fools of them all soon enough.

Now was the time to access how the campus had changed in her absence.


She had been dismayed to see Skybolt and Cavilier free of their mind prison, but gratified the memories that could damage her stayed chained. More to the point, their freedom had revealed a dangerous wrinkle in Kayda Franks. A student who could cleanse Mythos taint had been beyond her imagining, and she quickly was learning everything she could about the young shaman. That her insecurities were an easy way to manipulate her was obvious, though, perhaps there were bigger fish to land with Kayda dangling on her hook.

The Witch recognized the book the shaman was casually reading and was just as sure no one in the school's faculty had recommended it to her. So, her former master was looking for a new apprentice, was he? Good, that could be encouraged and this little bread crumb would leave a trail back to him so she could make sure her revenge was complete.

Of course she would need pawns and cats paws, and her first choices had been busy in unexpected ways. Kodiak being forced to repeat his senior year was unexpected, but amusing to put him back in her reach. No doubt he thought himself clever for 'cleaning' the Alphas. The Don was already under her thumb, but like a pawn he would likely only be useful as a sacrifice for a more important objective. Solange would have been a useful tool, but like Kodiak she had also taken to sorting herself out and making strange, powerful friendships.

More to the point, with Tatiana graduated, she lost the stick to her carrot that had proven so effective at manipulating the blonde. Still, the vain little trollop was so easy to poke into lashing out, finding a new stick shouldn't be too hard. File that away as developing. There were a new crop of freshmen that did all their thinking with the small head and more homophobia than a football team locker room so there was plenty of muscle. And of course the mercenary minded operators whose virtues were for sale still had a respectable offering. Cash would not be an issue shortly, and if needed there were plenty of people whose loyalty was for sale.

She stirred the whipped cream into the sugary confection that was her weakness and smiled. Her cover was secure, everyone thought 'Hekate' was dead and things were progressing nicely. She noted the obnoxious little crowd of girls calling themselves Wondercute. And how they were hounding the shamans gender confused little brother.

Interesting.

A literal cats paw? That could definitely come in handy...

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Part One

October 2nd, 2007
Room 126, Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy

Un instant, mes enfants!” Madam Prudhomme called over the bell and the din of her students gathering their belongings. She continued in her native French as was required in the honors class. “International day is this Friday! I believe the French Club could use some assistance with our booth, as well as volunteers to man it. Mademoiselle Walcutt, what else does the club need?”

“Volunteers mostly, Madam,” Tansy replied. “I have confirmation from the caterer they'll be ready, but mostly we need people. Please see me or Elaine if you want to volunteer for a shift. Free food!”

“Alright, my children, off you go, the day is ended and the time is yours! Bonne chance!” Her bags sorted, Tansy fell in step with Elaine and the pair walked from the class, still conversing in French from habit and to make it less likely they were over heard the further they got from Madam Prudhomme's class room.

“I have to say again,” Tansy told the red head. “I am amazed at the booth you put together and that second floor while making it look like a French provincial cottage was just stunning.”

Elaine shrugged off the compliment with a chuckle and dismissive wave of her hand. “Girl, Ah am a Southern Red Neck Woman, and like any example of the breed, give me some tools and lumber and Ah'll start building something. Though I think we might have some competition from the German Club. Supposedly they're going to have a mini-beer garden and they got permission to serve small beer because it's not legally alcohol under New Hampshire laws.”

Tansy frowned. “You didn't help them with that, did you?”

“Ah am not the only person on this campus adroit with navigating regulations...”

“No, you're just the best at it and your code name happens to be Loophole...”

“Well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it!” a loud voice declared. The girls stopped and turned to see Eruption leaning against the wall with his hands over his chest and a smug look on his face. “The lab dyke converting the campus slut! What's the matter, Tansy? Run out of dicks so you thought you'd try the other side for something new?”

Elaine balled a fist and went to launch herself at the smug senior, but Tansy restrained her. “Oh I'm always looking for a new thrill, David. And I've never been with a eunuch, are you volunteering?” she purred. “Because everyone knows you're dickless!”

Archer was nonplussed. “With a skank like you? Please! I wouldn't dip into your soured honey pot with a cast iron condom! You've probably got more nasty diseases than Jobe...” Tansy's slap of the boys face echoed like a shotgun blast through the hall. The blow actually broke a tooth and sent it flying as David staggered, holding his face that was clearly marked with her hand print.

“You disgusting little worm,” Tansy snarled as she launched a wave of terror at the staggered engineer. Their roles reversed Elaine was holding her back now. “How dare you?!”

“Security Auxiliary!” Lily's voice declared from behind them. “No one move!” Bubbles of force the young heroine was known for snapped into being around Elaine and Tansy and a second around Eruption. Elaine turned to see her walking up in her black and white uniform.

“Lily, David started it,” Elaine told her.

“Bull shit!” David shouted. “She hit me! I never put a finger on that whore and I wouldn't!”

Wallflower frowned, obviously unhappy with the position she was in. “Mrs. Carson will sort it out,” she declared, walking towards the exit and forcing her prisoners with her in their mobile cages.

“My tooth!” David protested, but a little bubble picked up the fragment and chased after the quartet.

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October 2nd, 2007
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

Mrs Carson was not pleased to be accosted in the parking lot with a discipline matter. She climbed back out of her cart and, taking a look at David, pointed and ordered, “Doyle Medical and report to my office first thing for us to discuss your part in this, Mr. Archer.” She led the three girls back up to the now deserted administrative offices and into her office. “Wallflower,” she began, respecting that the girl was in her heroic ID even though everyone present knew who she was. “What is your report?”

“Ma'am, on entering Dunn Hall to attend a Drama Club meeting I observed Tansy become enraged at something David said, but I couldn't make out, then she slapped him with sufficient force to break a tooth and leave the imprint you saw. I announced myself and Elaine declared that David started the altercation, which David denied, stating that the only blow of the encounter was Tansy striking him.”

Mrs. Carson turned to the other two girls. “Do either of you object to Wallflower's summary as she saw the altercation?” Tansy shook her head, but Elaine raised her hand. “Miss Nalley?

“Ma'am, there are more details from before Wallflower arrived, but her summary is accurate to the end.” Mrs. Carson nodded.

“Thank you, Wallflower, you may go.” The heroine nodded to the headmistress and gave a gesture of apology to the girls as she left. Mrs Carson sat down behind her desk and waved the girls into the chairs facing the desk. “El...Miss Nalley, you have an eidetic memory, kindly recount the encounter from the beginning.” Once she had done so, Mrs Carson steepled her fingers and sighed. “Miss Nalley, you knew full well that Mr Archer did not instigate the physical portion of this encounter. Were you trying to deceive Wallflower...?

“Ah object, ma'am,” the other replied in a respectful tone. “Utterance of fighting words is encoded in Georgia law and...”

“Need I remind you we are not in the State of Georgia, or of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Miss Nalley?” the Headmistress replied with an arched eyebrow, Elaine was grinning as the teacher had walked into her trap.

“Ah am so glad you brought up constitutional law, Mrs Carson!” the girl replied with her evil grin. “In fact, in a rare unanimous ruling, the court held that 'lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace,' and that 'certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem,' Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942.”

The Headmistress was unmoved. “That sounds fascinating, Miss Nalley! I look forward to reading your one thousand word, sourced, cited and foot noted report on fighting words and the Supreme Court.”

“Why do Ah have to do a report?” Elaine protested. “Ah didn't mislead, Lily! David did start it!”

“And if that is to be the thrust of your argument in your report, you are welcome to do so,” Mrs Carson replied. “However, on this campus, as I'm sure Miss Walcutt can remind you, words are not, and will never be grounds to strike someone or otherwise initiate violence. And if you continue to argue with me, I will happily make your report two thousand words.”

Elaine crossed her arms and pouted. “Yes, ma'am.”

The Headmistress was satisfied she had sufficiently cowed the campus rules lawyer and so turned her attentions to one of her more troublesome students. “Miss Walcutt, this temper of yours will likely be your undoing if you do not master it. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I believe it is the right of every woman to slap a man who has egregiously maligned her honor or virtue. Whether she has virtue to defend or not. I didn't close my fist, and I would have thought you, being a child of the forties would agree with me! I might be the campus slut, but David Archer had no right to say so! More to the point his rampant homophobia is a threat to others on this campus, less able than me to defend themselves.”

Mrs Carson pulled at her chin in thought. “That's an interesting position to take. You broke the rules because he needed to be struck? Tell me, Miss Walcutt, who else on this campus 'has it coming' to your mind?”

“'Students shall strive to hold themselves to the highest standards of decorum and polite society as an inspiration to others and to facilitate an environment conducive to learning and inclusive to all points of view,' Student Code Of Conduct, Handbook, Whateley Academy Press, 2007/2008 School Year Edition,” Elaine declared from her pout.

“Two thousand,” Mrs Carson replied without irony while keeping her attention on Tansy. “Miss Walcutt, I'm waiting on your answer?”

Tansy sighed and licked her lips. “I was recently reminded that I am not Blind Justice, nor the arbiter of same.”

Mrs Carson sat back and actually smiled. “Good, I am glad that lesson has sunk in. As a woman, were I in your situation, Miss Walcutt, I likely would have reacted as you did, I will be honest. However, as your teacher it is my duty to instill in you an instinctive realization that actions, however strongly provoked, have consequences. While I sympathize with your situation, Tansy, this is, as you know, a situation of your own making.” Tansy nodded and sighed.

“A great teacher taught me that wasting time with regrets and looking over my shoulder will only make things harder for me,” she said.

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Mrs Carson replied with a smile.

“Mrs Carson, I...I don't expect a miracle, but would you do everything you can to keep my mother from finding out what a whore I've been? She's been through so much and I don't want to add to it. If I had a time machine, I swear I would undo all this crap I've done and beat sense into myself if I had to, but...” She shrugged.

The Headmistress rose from her chair and came around her desk to lean against it and steady herself with her hands in a very relaxed gesture. Even in her power Armani skirt suit it took much of the formality from the situation. “Tansy, you've had to learn a very bitter lesson, my girl, and if there is anything I regret from our time together is that I couldn't reach you sooner.”

The younger blonde looked down at her hands in her lap. “I wasn't ready to hear what you had to say, Mrs. Carson,” she said quietly. “It's my bed, I made it, now I have to sleep in it. But that doesn't mean I have to take an ounce of shit from David Archer!”

“You have my sympathy, woman to woman, Tansy,” Elizabeth told her sincerely. “As your teacher I am bound to correct your behavior, no matter my personal feelings on the infraction.”

Tansy nodded. “I understand, Mrs Carson. And I appreciate your sympathy.”

“I'm glad,” Mrs Carson replied. “So, as women, it falls upon us to be the civilizing influence on our society. Men may build the world, but women shape and perfect it. This means there are times we must put our feelings aside, take the higher road, and smile at those we would otherwise gladly stab in the eye. As it is Tuesday, by Thursday morning I expect a sincere, hand written letter of apology from you Miss Walcutt to Mr. Archer. I do not place a word limit on it as I expect you to show me my sympathy is not misplaced and for you to obey the spirit, not the letter of this assignment. I hope I am not proven wrong.”

Walcutt looked up, confused. “I give it to you, not David?”

“When I am satisfied of your work, we will present it together.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“You both may go.”

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October 2nd, 2007
OB/GYN Department, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy

Her clothing back on, Marty stared at the pair of photographs on the screen while she waited on Dr Tenant to return. One was a photograph of her genitalia of her 'shell' a normal looking womanly exterior, but there was no opening hidden in the folds. If there were... she wished, and not for the first time. She sighed and tried to concentrate on more positive thoughts. She had hoped that the 'present' she had given Stephen on his birthday would have quieted her frustrated libido, instead it had kicked it into over drive and while she knew the young man from Georgia had had a wonderful summer, her's had become more and more frustrating.

It wasn't like he didn't want to return the favor, she groused to herself.

Having to tell him 'no' and to not worry about her needs had actually made things worse. She stared at the picture next to her shell, the picture of how she truly was. While there was a tiny bit of Martin that was horrified to find the cause of their agony this morning, Marty was grimly pleased. She had woken this morning in a dull, throbbing agony that brought tears to her eyes and had sent her to Doyle before breakfast. The day was mostly wasted until Dr Tenant had realized Marty was still in her shell and ordered her to drop it, meaning most of the tests had to be redone. For all that what had caused her pain had a very simple name.

Immediate Testicular Retraction.

It didn't sound like a plate of warm agony, but it had been. It still hurt even though Marty was on a full strength Tramadol, she just didn't care. The photograph showed what looked like a woman’s labia majora, with an abnormally large clitoris, but on closer inspection was actually a micro penis. Her testicles had retracted into her body, and thus the source of the pain she had woken in, and her scrotum was in the process of converting itself into a labia minora and withdrawing into her body to form a birth canal.

She squirmed a bit, trying to ease the deep abdominal ache of what she was going through. I'm finally getting a vagina, she thought to herself. Maybe by Christmas...?

There was a courtesy knock on the door and Dr Tenant entered with a sympathetic smile on her face and a folder in her hand. “Hello, Marty, how is your pain level?”

“Uh, about a three I guess,” the girl replied.

“Does it ease with your shell up?” Marty raised the shell and adjusted her clothes. Her breasts, and they actually were breasts now, were a too full for A but still too small for B, but at least they were developing. Her nipples were double the size they had been and had become ridiculously sensitive. With the shell up there was an immediate relief of the ache, taking it down to a one or so, unpleasant but not really pain any more. She nodded at the Doctor.

“Yes, ma'am, it's much better with my shell up.”

The Doctor nodded. “I hoped it would be. Well, congratulations, my girl, your testes are no more. They are settling into the position around a mass that is apparently going to be your womb and are in the process of becoming ovaries.”

Marty perked up at once. “I have a womb?”

“Right now? No, you have a mass that is not cancerous as our sample proved and in a year or so will become a womb. You can likely expect your first period either late spring or early summer.”

Marty settled back into her chair and smiled with satisfaction. Maybe Christmas was too early, but spring break on the other hand... Glancing at the picture, she shuddered and asked, “Dr. Tenant, my, um, organ, is it going to stay so...big?”

The Doctor laid out some images from the folder where Marty could see them and crossed her arms. “You should probably get into the habit of using the correct nomenclature, Miss Penn, your clitoris will likely always be larger than average, but not disturbingly so. Based on the photographs we've taken during your time here, I would hazard a guess that by Christmas you will not be detectable as a 'new' female by external observation.” She paused and looked at the young blonde archly. “I saw that look, young lady, and unless you want it to hurt much worse than what you're going through now, you'll keep those hormones in check and not try anything like that this year!”

Marty pouted and looked away. “God damn it, when?!”

Dr. Tenant sat down next to her and took the new girls hand in hers. “Marty, I know this is frustrating, but I'm trying to look out for you. Your vagina will probably be about two inches deep by Christmas, maybe! Is the boy you're interested in that modestly endowed?”

“Stephen?” she asked. “God, no, he...um, that is, I wouldn't know...”

Ophelia smiled and squeezed Marty's hand. “I was young once too, you know,” she told the blonde with a wink. “Is he...?” Marty held up her hands. “Goodness! Sweetheart, you might, might be able to accept something that size by summer, but I'd all but guarantee it will hurt.” She paused for a long moment and finally asked, “He isn't pressuring you, is he?”

Marty's eyes shot back to the doctor's face in concern. “Stephen Nalley is a true Southern Gentleman in every sense of the words! He... Damn it, Doctor Tenant, I want to...”

“Marty, you're just going to have to be patient. That part of you just is not ready.” the doctor told her with heavy emphasis. Marty puzzled that for several moments, then her eyes went wide and she looked up. “I didn't tell you to break any rules, my girl and if some day when you are an adult and not a student here you decide to try the delights of...ahem...'Grecian style' lovemaking, as your physician I recommend you be either married or in a committed, long term relationship, that the fidelity of your partner you are sure of and that a condom be used. Of course this conversation is completely academic and in no way am I advising you to engage in any sexual behavior as a student. Understand?”

“Yes ma'am,” Marty replied. After a long moment, she got up the courage to ask, “Doesn't... Wouldn't that hurt just as bad...?”

“If you're not aroused and you don't use a lubricant, it can be extremely painful,” the doctor replied. “If you are aroused and you do use a lubricant and you are with a partner you care deeply for and whose history is known to you and you take sufficient steps to prevent the transmission of STIs, it is extremely intimate and can be intensely satisfying, with the right partner.” She sighed. “The key words are slow, gentle and LUBE. And I hope this conversation will stand you in good stead in your adult life after graduation.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“I'm going to proscribe you prescription Motrin for the pain, but I'd rather you keep your shell up and soak in hot water to relax the tissue, as hot as you can stand.” she said, writing on her tablet.

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October 2nd, 2007
Room 210, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

The knock on the door brought Elaine out of the stream of conscience notes she was making for her report to Mrs Carson and she turned to find Fey standing by her door. It was obvious the girl was uneasy and blushing. “Hi, Elaine, am...am I interrupting?” Elaine clicked save and then gave the key combination to put the unit into standby.

“Not at all, Nikki. Come in, take a load off,” she replied, waving at the chair next to her desk. The other red head came in, paused to close the door and sat down hesitantly. “What can we do for ya'll?”

Nikki blinked. “We?”

Elaine smiled as she stood and went to her fridge, returning with a pair of Coke cans. “Me, my seventh century Pict self and Grizzly the Five Fold Court Nurse, so 'we',” she sat down and opened the can with a hiss of escaping pressure. “What's up?”

“Umm, I...I guess I need relationship advice, do you mind?”

Loophole shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “Ah'm always up to giggle about the foibles of the stronger sex. Who has ya'll consternated?”

Nikki clasped her hands and looked down on them as her delicate white skin reddened nearly to the color of her hair. “You...you...like...women too, don't you...?”

After another pull of her soda, Elaine chuckled. “Ah've been known to swap spit with a filly or two,” she admitted. “Girl trouble is a little different than guy trouble, but Ah'll share what Ah know...”

“I...Bunny and I...I didn't plan on Paul...” She sighed and tried to master herself. She forced her head up and stared like she had in the mind space of Cavalier and Skybolt, in some way channeling that Sidhe queen who had met her fate there. “Are the rumors about you and Kodiak and Solange true?”

Lanie sighed and looked at her can. “That's a might personal, Nikki, but Ah think Ah understand why you ask. And, well, Ah don't expect to be the subject of Team Kimba gossip, but Ah have been seen in the company of Miss Walcutt and Ah am wearing Wyatt's ring. And Ah'm guessing you want to know how to work something like that out with Bunny and Paul?”

The alabaster skin went scarlet. “...Yes...” she whispered almost inaudibly.

“And what does Miss Cormik think of Mr Cambridge?”

“She...well she hasn't told me she knows, but I don't think she would be...you know...interested.”

“Bunny still has her gold star, huh?” Nikki nodded while playing with her fingers. “Ah'll give you mah honest opinion if you want it, but you won't like it.” Fey's eyes came up, with a desperate expression and Elaine had to force herself to shake her head. “Nikki, it's not going to work if Bunny and Paul aren't attracted to each other. That's a recipe for resentment and a blow up of Tsar Bomba proportions! You want to have your cake and eat it too, and you're not thinking about your lover's feelings...”

Nikki shot to her feet, obviously angry. “How would you know?” she demanded.

“You came to me, remember?” Lanie shot back. “Ah'm sorry you don't like mah opinion, if you want a second, talk to Tansy or Chou!”

“I will!” she replied stiffly, then seemed to shrink a bit and hung her head. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost my temper, you were trying to help.” She nodded then went around Elaine and left the room, pulling the door shut.

Arrogant bitch, Grizzly declared as she appeared, picked up her unused soda and returned it to the fridge. I never liked that cunt of a queen and this version of her is no better.

“Come on, now, Griz, it's not that bad...” Lanie started, but the massive she bear looked down on her host with a deep frown on her face.

I wonder if Mr Declan is so charitably disposed to the Sidhe Queen who cursed him? The nurse paused dramaticly and sniffed again. By 'accident.'

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October 2nd, 2007
Almost Curfew, trail between Doyle Medical Center and Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy

David was grumbling to himself as he left Doyle Medical Center. His whole evening ruined by that skank Solange, three hours of extremely unpleasant emergency dental surgery and a liquid diet order for seventy two hours until the repair sets would put anyone in a foul mood. He was picturing wonderfully humiliating revenge plots when he noticed one of those idiot freshman girls skipping along the trail towards him. She wasn't bad looking, not super hot exemplar body that got you so jaded, but she was fresh meat, and everybody had a first, so why not him and...

David blinked.

What had he been thinking about? Oh yes, Solange. He needed to harass her. Not enough to make her run to the administration, and not enough that he would be implicated, but enough that she would go to that weirdo dyke Kayda. To get Kayda researching offensive magic. That's what he had to do, drive Solange to Kayda. That would take careful thought. He needed to get right on that.

Eruption walked towards his cottage with a determined stride. He had a lot to do.

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The Witch watched Archer leave on her commands and smiled. Idiots were so easy to manipulate.

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October 3rd, 2007
Room 334, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Marty opened her eyes and looked across the room at the back of a snoring Naomi 'Freeze Frame' Anders. While Marty missed rooming with Delta Spike who understood what she was going through, she certainly didn't miss having to replace her electronics every other week, and especially not on her allowance. She floated up silently, the only sound a soft sigh of the springs of the mattress easing under the lack of pressure.

Naomi snore changed pitch for a second, then settled back into her normal rhythm.

Gently Marty floated down and retrieved a bag from the campus book store from under her bed and floated to the door with it. The door didn't creak on its new hinges and she was grateful. In the hallway, the lights overhead were in their night mode, only about a fifth of their rated brightness which was enough to see, but not to wake a roomie you were desperate to have stay asleep. She stealthily pulled the door to and alighted on the floor. Across the hall were the bathrooms and she headed in, stealing a guilty glance up and down the hall to be sure no one saw her.

In the privacy of a shower stall, Marty opened the bag and took out her purchase, her heart pounding as she did so. It was a plain box simply marked Prophylactic Teaching Form.

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Marty leaned against the little ledge in the shower as the hot water beat down on her and she tried desperately to catch her breath. She looked at the plastic device in her hand, a milky off white, perfectly smooth and coming to a bullet point at one end and a flat end with a dial on the other to add batteries and control the speed of the little built in motor. A device that had just destroyed her world view and opened up an entire new one.

Dr. Tenant had been right, it hadn't hurt at all.

So Marty panted after her breath and realized, perhaps for the first time what being a woman would really be like and it wasn't anything like she had imagined, or day dreamed or even fantasized about in any of the times of sitting in her beaus lap during a heavy make out session. The innocently named device had been the death of Martin Penn and in his place left an awestruck Marty. “Oh...wow...”she breathed. She shuddered and wrapped her mind finally around being a woman and a mother and a wife.

These were thoughts well and truly beyond something as simple as lust.

The voice of her father echoed in her mind, “He knock you up?”

Marty placed her hand on her navel and shuddered at the wild imaginings her mind spun now. The utter, terrifying finality of being a mother, of creating a life and being responsible for that life for at least the next eighteen years of her life. She wasn't eighteen yet! Of the absolute certainty of the safety of being in her mothers arms, of her father, however awkwardly loving her no matter where destiny had taken her. Could she do that for the result of her desires for Stephen Nalley?

Did he knock you up?

“Then what's the problem?” Stronghold shouted. Shouted! Like he didn't care who over heard because he had just sworn to beat the crap out of anyone who laid a finger on her! Because his face was flush with Southern indignation and Irish fury over anyone looking at his girlfriend wrong! “So you don't have the right plumbing now? It's coming, and the best things in life are worth waiting for.”

And in her mind she saw a stunned look on his face having just heard her tell him she was pregnant and he didn't pause, he didn't even blink he just sank to one knee and started looking for something he could use for a ring. And Marty knew in her bones that wasn't a fantasy, that was what Stephen Nalley, Southern Gentleman would do.

Did he knock you up?

“Yes he did, Daddy, you're gonna be a grandpa, and I got you a new son in the bargain!”

I love you, Mommy, her child told her. Her child.

Marty shook despite the heat of the water as her world bent sideways and she got what being a woman was. She got spending the rest of her life with a man sleeping beside her, of feeling his children grow in her body and the struggle and terror of giving them birth. She slid down the wall and curled her arms around her legs and trembled in fear and the desperate hope she would ever be ready for such a heavy burden.

And she lay in the bed and the man Stephen Nalley had grown into smiled at her as he lay beside her and pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead. “I love you, beautiful,” he whispered.

“I love you,” she whispered in the shower as the water rained down on her. “I love you...”

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October 3rd, 2007
Room 210, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Elaine awoke with her mind in a jumble and her stomach in knots. She struggled to free herself from her comforter as she belched and sour bile rose in her throat. The nausea solidified and her stomach lurched in a spasm. Scrambling desperately now, she just managed to get to her toilet before her stomach heaved again and she vomited sour, horrific smelling bile into the bowl. The smell and the confined space made it worse and twice more she heaved and more bile was launching into the toilet before they stopped and let her breath. She rolled into the corner of her bathroom and desperately tried to get her wild emotions in check.

She closed her eyes and felt the thrill of her soul crossing the boundary into Dream Space, but when she opened her eyes she seemed to still be in her bathroom, but the toilet was thankfully empty. Leaning against her sink was Laneth, dressed in a scrumptious green dress with bell sleeves and yellow trim. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see the warrior in such a feminine dress that hugged her body and displayed her figure, and her eyes were sympathetic as she looked down on her younger self. “How long do you plan to lie to yourself?” she asked archly as she produced a can of ginger ale from the fridge and handed it to the girl on the floor. “This is nae 'something you ate,' nor 'stomach flu' that only bothers you on waking. This is morning sickness, girl. You are with child.”

“I am not pregnant,” Elaine snapped as she wiped her mouth and drank the cold soda, feeling her stomach settle instantly.

“Oh, you just miraculously haven't had a monthly since summer?”

“Ah told you, Ah am on the Pill and sometimes you don't have a period because of it. It works because it tricks your body into thinking you're already pregnant...”

Laneth rolled her eyes. “Oh, yes the magic pill that never, ever fails...”

Grizzly stuck her head into the room, making it crowded for a second, then the entire reality shimmered and the three women stood on a little island on a lake. “Laneth, don't ride her,” the amazon nurse scolded, causing the warrior to frown and throw rocks into the water. “Sometimes the pill can mimic a pregnancy so well it triggers morning sickness. Beloved, why don't you go see Dr. Tenant...?”

“Ah'm fine!” Elaine snapped as she clawed her mind back into her body and in her private little bathroom. She flushed the toilet and pulled off her night shirt as Grizzly looked at her with concern from the mirror. “Ah'm fine!” she assured the spirit again as she started her shower and slid into the wonderfully hot water. As the water loosened the tension in her muscles she repeated, “Ah'm fine,” once more, but this time wasn't sure who she reassuring.

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October 3rd, 2007
House Parent's Apartment, Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

“Let's hustle, gentlemen,” Mr. Filbert yelled up the stairwell. “Time and tide wait for no man!” Boys rambunctiously cascaded down the stairs, joking and mocking one another as they did so as the burly house parent dressed in a pair of shorts and polo shirt in the school colors checked off individuals from his clip board. He looked rather more like a gym teacher or a sports team coach than a house parent. He caught sight of one of his boys standing by his apartment and took his pen from behind his ear as he walked up, finding the lad's name on the form. “Sick call, today, Mr. Nalley?” He asked.

The young man was wearing the hero uniform his sister had created for him, minus the mask. He reached up and scratched the corner of his mouth and shook his head. “Uh, more like I need some advice, Mr. Filbert. Can I have a pass to speak with a councilor?”

Conrad Filbert was a man's man. He'd been a track and field Olympian, with two silver medals from two different Olympics, then been the right hand man of a British Billionaire Adventurer, and done such crazy stunts as canoeing up the Nile to its head waters past Lake Victoria, Base Jumping from the Hilton Orbital Casino, and circumnavigating the world nonstop in a balloon. Now at fifty he'd 'retired' to the 'quiet life' of being a Cottage House Parent at Whateley Academy. Placing the clipboard down his demeanor became concerned. “Not something you want to talk to me about, son?” he asked with genuine worry. For all of his gruff, macho exterior, Filbert cared deeply for his boys.

Stephen shrugged, “It's a little convoluted, sir and normally I probably would rather just talk to you about it, but I guess I need professional assistance to be sure I don't mess something up.”

Filbert gave the young man's shoulder a squeeze and a non-threatening gesture to emphasize his point. “Fair enough, my lad. A man should never be ashamed to ask for help when he needs it.” He pulled a slip from the back of his clipboard and signed it. “If you need to be later than first period, have whoever you speak with issue a pass as well.”

“Yes sir.”

Stronghold left his cottage and started walking in the direction of the Crystal Hall and Doyle Medical Center. He truthfully had no idea who he should or even could discuss his concerns about Marty with. He didn't want to get her in trouble, and of course he wasn't looking to score a stint of detention himself, but he knew, in a way he could never really describe that there was something wrong with their relationship. That she had some frustration and despite her denials and reassurances, something was bothering her and he was desperate to fix it. “Mister Nalley,” a voice practically purred in greeting.

Startled, Stephen looked up to find his way bared by Mrs Turner in her svelte, black and white 'Tabby Cat' uniform that was part cat burglar tights but with white fur accents at the wrists, neck, belt and the tops of her boots. “Oh, hello Mrs Turner. What brings you to campus?”

The heroine smiled with her sharp teeth, but still managed to make it friendly. “I rather enjoyed our time together last year, so I've accepted a position to assist Gunnery Sergeant Bardue with simulator training. And since my Cat's Luck has brought you and I together, there must be something I can do for you.”

“Cat's Luck, ma'am?” the young man asked, curious.

She smiled again and led the way to bench in the shad of a little copse of trees and sat down with him. “The power I have the least control over I call my Cat's Luck. I'm a probability warper and as Mr. Voss told me all those years ago, 'Having manipulation over something as vague as luck is no guarantee you will be the beneficiary of it.'” She shook her head in remembrance of the long ago conversation. “So, I felt I 'needed' to be here, and suddenly here you are. What's going on?”

The young man from Georgia blushed. “Um, is this off the record?”

Mrs. Turner raised an eyebrow.

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October 3rd, 2007
Paths between Dickinson Cottage, and Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

Tansy was enjoying the morning, and the exceptions to the dress code that came with being a senior. She had never been fond of the catholic schoolgirl look, and while jeans and a polo shirt with the school crest was hardly the kind of style she was used to, it was certainly a step up. She had decided to wear a pair of Tamara Mellon brown leather boots because she adored natural fabrics, furs and leathers of all sorts, but she felt that Tamara had a real sense of how beauty, femininity and style over lapped. So she walked, her books for first period in a stylish Louis Vuitton bag over one shoulder, she was on her way to breakfast.

There came a snarl of, “Slut!” from her left and a brownish gray shape lunged at her from the concealment of a bush. It was a good ambush, but Tansy had grown used to being jumped at from bushes over the summer thanks to time spent with Ito-Sensei. The polo wasn't just fashion, it gave more than the blouse and blazer and let her bend out of the way of the awkward swing at her face. The bag wasn't just stylish, it kept her hands free to grab the arm and pull, hard.

The boy covered in leathery armor was pulled off his balance and onto his back. He curled into a protective ball like his namesake, but Tansy still had his arm. Bracing a foot against his side she yanked the arm out to dislocate it, drawing a scream of pain from the boy. As she'd intended, it snapped him out of the rager fit as the stream of anti-female obscenity stopped and the boy begged for his arm to be released. Over her shoulder, Tansy ordered another group of girls from Dickinson behind her on the trail, “Someone call security!”

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Eruption shook his head in disgust. He needed better minions.

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October 3rd, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Fortunately for Tansy there were plenty of witnesses, some more reluctant than others, to support her claim of defense without provocation. The boy, Armadillo, couldn't remember what set off his rager fit, which wasn't unusual for ragers, only that he had become obsessed with cleansing the campus of nasty girls.

Tansy had rolled her eyes at that admission, but let it pass without comment.

She had been released soon enough and made her way to breakfast at the Crystal Hall. Once she had her grapefruit and bagel, she saw Kayda unusually sitting by herself, intently reading a book and wandered over. “Good morning,” she greeted. “Mind if I sit with you?”

Mi casa es su casa,” she managed around a mouthful of oatmeal without looking up from the book.

Tansy turned her head sideways as she sat down. “What are you reading?”

Kayda jerked as if stung, slapped the book closed and blushed. “Oh, sorry just a magic text I found in the library.”

Tansy raised a gimlet eyebrow. “Where in the library?” she demanded. A large black cat rubbed against her leg and stood on his back feet to accept the caress Tansy gave him. “You know there's some dangerous stuff in that library...”

“It's nothing,” Kayda protested as she watched Tansy pick up the lone strip of bacon from her plate and give it to the cat. “When did you get...?”

Tansy chuckled. “He's not mine, this is Merlin, Ms Grimes' cat. I bribe him with bacon and he helped me keep an eye on the three little pests last year. He hasn't figured out the scam is up, but I can't help slipping him the bacon.”

Kayda scratched the cat behind the ears. “I think he's just got you pegged as a soft touch,” she opined, but the cat suddenly became agitated and took off running to the confusion of both girls. Merlin ran up two flights of stairs to the faculty dais, across the waterfall from the Alpha Dais and up into his mistress' lap. Elyza Grimes started, nearly spilling her coffee, but before she could upbraid her familiar, she saw the image in his mind and stood at once to sweep down the elevator to the table occupied by Kayda and Tansy. “Merlin just took off, Ms. Grimes,” Kayda started, but the Mystic Arts teacher merely swept by their table without stopping.

“Come with me, Kayda” she hissed sternly as she passed, so quietly the girls almost didn't hear. "And bring that book."

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October 3rd, 2007
Classroom 127, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

No sooner had Kayda followed Ms. Grimes into an empty classroom than Ms. Grimes gestured toward the door, and it slammed shut. "How did you get that book out of the restricted section?" She demanded, her tone harsh, her eyes burning with anger.

"I ... I didn't!" Kayda stammered uneasily. "I checked it out from the general magic section in the library!" She flipped the book open to it's back page showing the slip holder for the index card showing the book to be checked out and an ink stamp date of when it was due back. “See?”

"That's impossible!" Ms. Grimes retorted, snatching the book from Kayda and holding it like it was a coiled snake ready to strike her. "Don't you know what this is?"

"I ... just wanted to find something to help with combat," the girl replied, fighting to retain her composure. She'd never seen Ms. Grimes this furious, and she didn't understand why. "You ... you can ask Billie ... Tennyo. She helped me do the catalog search to find books that might be helpful!"

"I plan on doing that," the teacher snapped. "And what are you doing looking for ... those kind of books anyway? Have you not listening to Charlie and me? Offensive shaman magic is very, very dangerous! Shamanistic magic is based on healing, to sooth differences, not to cause them or attack. To try to make it offensive will nearly always turn it back onto the caster following the law of three fold return!"

"But ... but," Kayda sputtered, her eyes starting to mist, "Gunny and Admiral Everheart keep demanding gotta be more aggressive using my magic in the sims! I don't know how to use my magic aggressively! I have to learn how to do something, because ... because they keep taking points off my grade!" She lost the battle to contain her emotions, and tears of frustration started to leak onto her cheeks.

"But how …?" the mystic arts teacher asked again, puzzled. Like a light snapping on, a possible answer came to her, an answer so frightening and its implications that she visibly shuddered. For nearly a minute, she stood silently refocused no longer on the girl, as her mind hashed over possibilities and explanations, all the while her silence continued to unnerve Kayda more with each passing second.

Snapping out of her thoughtful state, Ms. Grimes looked at the book, and then incanted a magic spell. In her free hand, a conjured book appeared, looking identical to the one she'd taken from Kayda.

"What …?" the girl asked, confused.

"That's not quite good enough," Ms. Grimes muttered to herself, her eyes narrowed in concentration. Making a decision that she knew she was going to have to explain to Mrs. Carson, she sighed then focused on the girl. "I know you can remove taint," Ms. Grimes said softly. "Can you create an illusion of that taint?"

"I don't understand …"

"Listen and do not interrupt,” the teacher commanded. She looked about and leaned in closer to whisper, “If what I suspect is true, and I am going to check your story to find out if you're lying, then whoever arranged for you to get this book would probably be able to detect that taint."

Kate's eyes widened in surprise at what the teacher was saying. "You want me to ...?" she asked in disbelief. "You want me to make this seem tainted?"

The mystic arts teacher nodded grimly. "If my hunch is right, it's extremely important that you do that."

"But … if I do that, wouldn't I be doing something ... dark? And evil? Like you and Mr. Lodgeman said was dangerous and a trap?"

Ms. Grimes nodded somberly, her expression grim. "After you do this, and I will help you, I want you to stop by my office every day so Charlie and I can monitor you to make sure you aren't falling into a bad trap."

Kayda gulped nervously at what she was being asked and then nodded. She cast the spell and Ms. Grimes seemed satisfied. “Return to your meal and tell no one about this, what we discussed, or my suspicions!”

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October 3rd, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Carrying the conjured book, looking thoroughly chastised and nervous, Kayda walked back to where Tansy was sitting. "What was that all about?" the blonde senior asked, unable to contain her curiosity.

The Lakota girl slid into a chair uneasily. "I really screwed up my magic homework," she admitted, a little louder than she should have had to speak, "and ... she wasn't very happy."

"I could see that," Tansy replied, one eyebrow arched curiously. The little drama it seemed a little over-the-top for merely messing up homework, and the emotions Kayda was throwing off didn't match the explanation, but she read the dusky-skinned girl's surface thoughts, which were practically pleading allowed for Tansy to drop it. There was something going on beyond what Kayda had said, but she was not going to talk about it in public.

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October 3rd, 2007
Faculty and Staff Dais, Third Tier, The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

The insistent beeping of a her cell phone purse interrupted Mrs. Carson just as she was about to eat a spoonful of clam chowder. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she lamented for a moment that there was always something interrupting her, and then Mrs. Carson carefully set the spoon back in the soup bowl and took out her cell phone. As soon as she read the message, her eyes widened in surprise. "Excuse me," she said to her dining companions, "but school business always calls at the most inconvenient times." Looking as nonchalant as she could, which was easy given all the practice she'd had over the years, she rose and strode toward her office.

Ms. Grimes was waiting there for the headmistress, her expression deadly serious. When Mrs. Carson opened her mouth to ask why Elyzia had called her, the teacher simply opened her bag and held it where Mrs. Carson could see in, upon the book inside. Mrs. Carson's jaw dropped. "Who ...?"

Ms. Grimes looked around uncertainly, and Mrs. Carson immediately understood the meaning of her expression. After the two were in her office, the door was shut, and Mrs. Carson had activated her privacy spells and devices, Elyzia removed the book from her bag and tossed it onto the desk with disgust before she sat down. "Kayda was reading this," she said simply.

Mrs. Carson's eyes narrowed. "How ...?"

"She says that she got it from the general section of the library, not the restricted area."

"That's not possible! Those books are always under tight control."

"I intend to check out her story, but if what she said is true ...?"

Mrs. Carson's eyes widened as soon as she understood the implications of Ms. Grimes statement. "You think maybe someone is playing her? Someone is trying to groom her as a new apprentice?"

Elyzia nodded. "Possibly the same one that Hekate was working for."

The headmistress frowned, took out her cell phone, and touched one special icon. When Ms. Grimes started to speak, Mrs. Carson held up a single finger to stop her. Moments later, the door opened and Ms. Hartford came in, closing the door behind her and taking a seat. It only took a minute to bring Ms. Hartford up to speed.

"Are you thinking that we could use Kayda to trap this mysterious master?" the blonde Assistant Head Mistress asked Grimes, causing Mrs. Carson to wince. "That's a potentially very dangerous game we'd be dragging her into," Ms. Hartford noted unnecessarily. "Without her knowledge and permission. Or her parent's permission."

"Do you have a better idea?" Elyzia asked, already knowing the answer.

The headmistress exchanged glances with Amelia, then shook her head with a grimace. "No. What's your plan?"

"I've set it up so that she has to meet with me daily for homework and remedial instruction. Between Charlie and I, we can watch to see that she doesn't cross the line."

"And I assume we'll keep her under close observation to see if whoever arranged for her to get that book shows his or her hand?" Hartford asked.

"It's going to look like she is doing very poorly in her mystic arts class," Mrs. Carson observed.

"Yes, unfortunately it will. And we're going to have to explain, at least at a high level, some of this so that she doesn't become discouraged or frustrated or angry," the assistant headmistress noted. "She is a rather headstrong girl."

Elyzia Grimes nodded her agreement. "I'll work with Circe on an appropriate monitoring spell. We'll have to cast that on something inanimate that she always has with her, just to make sure that the spell is not noticed."

"A suggestion," Amelia Hartford added. "Tansy is a known friend of Kayda and Lanie. She'd be a good first-line bodyguard. And with her psychic power ...."

"... she'd know immediately if someone was tampering with Kayda's mind!" Ms. Grimes caught on immediately.

Mrs. Carson nodded her grudging approval of the plan. "Keep me informed." She exhaled slowly. "I hate having to involve students in these Machiavellian plots. They don't deserve to have their innocence shattered when they are so young."

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October 3rd, 2007
Walking trail between the Crystal Hall and Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

Tabitha Turner was not a trained psychologist in any stretch of the imagination, but she was a mother and she'd always been a very keen people person. She knew in an instinctive way that the young man next to her was troubled by something that was extremely important to him, but what she didn't know was whether his obsession was in fact important, or just one of those things that teenagers get wrapped up in. Hearing his request that their conversation be off the record, she immediately had a good idea as to what might be the cause of the young man's troubles and so decided to be familiar. "Stephen, may I call you Stephen?"

The young man seemed a little surprised at the tone and tact the teacher had taken, but pleased. He and Marty had long ago put aside their personal feelings about Mrs. Turner at the beginning of summer and there were several times over the course of his internship that he had been glad she had been so thorough. "Please, Mrs. Turner..."

She smirked and crossed her legs to get more comfortable on the bench. "I would tell you to call me Tabitha or Tabby, but you're southern so I know you won't. So, Stephen, what has you so worked up? And yes, so long as we're only talking about school rules being broken it's off the record. Laws, I can't wink at so keep that in mind."

The young man from Georgia nodded and took a deep breath to try and order his thoughts. “I...well, I'm worried about Marty. She, well I...” He sighed again and grimaced as he searched for the right words. “On my birthday, she gave me...well...um...”

“Stephen,” Tabitha interrupted smoothly, with a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You're a young man, and you have the look of someone who's had their eyes opened to the larger truths of the world. So, as your teacher, I must remind you of the school rules regarding intimate contact.” A light of fear shone from behind the boys rather fetching blue green eyes causing the older woman to smile. “However, I did agree this conversation would be off the record and if you look hard enough I'm sure you can discover things about my infamous time here, so, let's be calm, rational adults, alright?” He nodded a bit guardedly. “Humans have sex, dear heart, it's how we perpetuate the species. You're both young, in excellent health and good looking, of course, you're going at each other. So, what is the problem?”

The boy's head hung against his chest in obvious distress. “I...I don't know!” he complained bitterly. “Every time I see Marty she gets a little more distant, like she's loosing interest in me or something and I keep asking her whats wrong and she always says nothing, but that's just so much bull shit even a blind man could smell it and ...”

Tabitha chuckled at the sudden flood of frustration from the red head and shook her head. “Ah, youth,” she reminisced to interrupt the tide. “Ok, I can probably guess what's wrong, so I'm going to ask some 'that's none of your god damned business, Mrs Turner!' level questions and I need you to swallow that southern charm and discretion and answer me, ok? And it's all off the record, ok?” Stephen nodded guardedly. “You two have been intimate, yes?” The boy's perfect porcelain complexion that was completely wasted on a man flushed scarlet. Unable to meet her gaze he forced his head to nod. “How far?”

“She...um...jeez, Mrs. Turner, Ah can't...!”

“Stephen, it's just sex. I'm a mother, so you know I put out. Now be a big boy and tell me how far you and Marty have gone.”

His skin got so red had he been older she would have worried about him having an aneurism. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times and finally he whispered, “O...oral...”

Tabitha blinked in surprise. “Mister Nalley! I am proud of you...!”

“I...uh...no...she...on...me...but...”

“Oh,” she replied with great weight. “And how far along is her transition?”

“I...I'm not sure. She won't talk about...”

Mrs. Turner laid a consoling hand on the boy's shoulder again and squeezed gently. “Marty isn't playing you, Stephen, I think you know that. And that, my lad, is your problem. Have...have you offered to reciprocate...?” Once more he flushed and nodded. “Bravo, my boy, God bless you, that is love.”

“I...I'm not...at least I don't think I'm...but...I love Marty and...”

Tabitha sighed and realized why her Cat's Luck had brought her here. “Stephen, did you know I am also a changeling?” He kept looking away and nodded. “I know its hard talking about something like this with a woman, no matter her history.”

“I don't want to loose her,” he whispered with tremendous conviction. “She says she doesn't mind that it's all me, and that she wants to wait until she's...she's...finished...but I know, I know, its got to be driving her nuts and I tell her I wouldn't mind, because I want to share how great she makes me feel, and...”

“Stephen, look at me,” she commanded. The young man brought up his gaze and while he managed to look her in the eye he was a man and Tabitha Turner believed in a vigorous fitness regimen and was in exceptional shape. She smiled at the unwitting compliment and took him by the shoulders. “Stephen, as womanly as I look now, there will always be a little part of Tom in the back of my mind, whispering I'm a fake and everyone is going to see right through me. We, all changelings, we all have this fear, son, because, well, you're a clever lad, I'm sure you can figure that out. I have given birth and he is still back there. Marty doesn't have half my experience telling that voice to shut the fuck up. So you're a dream come true and a nightmare just about to start all at once!”

“I'd never hurt her!” He protested.

“And I know some part of her knows that, or she wouldn't have the courage to be as intimate as she has been, but you offering to return the favor is both making her melt with love and probably freeze with terror. Because it's the very heart of our fear. Being found out and loosing everything.” She sighed. “I will have a talk with her, but I want you to sit down with my husband.”

“Falcon?” he asked in surprise. “Why?”

“Because he has almost twenty years of experience dealing with a head case tranny,” she replied with a wink. “That's experience I am certain you could use.” She stood and urged him to his feet. “We can start that conversation over breakfast. Come along, Mr. Nalley.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

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October 3rd, 2007
Room 210, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Elaine paced back and forth in her small bathroom, unable to really work out her stress due to the confined space. Her mind was racing in a thousand different directions, faces, places, reactions, snippets of songs and the almost universal frowns of disappointment. Every face her mind raced to was set in that line of displeasure, every voice expressing sadness and disappointment.

This was turning into the longest two minutes of her life.

Looking at herself in the mirror was no different. She saw a haggard girl, aged beyond her years, bleary eyed, wild hair and slept in clothes telling the tale of restless sleep and sudden, unpleasant mornings. The bear watched her with great concern in the mirror, but even so Elaine felt she was alone, timorously waiting on a chemical reaction to finish. It will be alright, Grizzly assured her.

“That's easy for you to say,” Elaine snapped as she sat down on the toilet and ran her hands through her hair.

From her mind Laneth clicked her teeth and shook her head. “What is this fear with thee, daughter? Women have babies and have since Eve! Your young man doesn't seem the type to abandon you to bastardy...”

Lanie rolled her eyes and wondered if schizophrenia was just an undiagnosed form of Avatarism. “Momma won't ever forgive me,” she tried to explain to her ancestress. “And Daddy...” She looked up at the mirror and for a moment she thought she saw her father's face in the glass, not the firm, craggy face of the hard scrabble businessman who still got his hands dirty. Now he was a man showing his years, more salt than pepper in his pony tail, eyes full of tears and regret. “Daddy,” she whispered, but only her own face stared at her. “Don't loose it, Lanie!” she hissed at herself. “Get a grip!”

The little plastic case on the counter beeped causing her to jump.

It was a new type from Goodkind Pharmaceuticals. She had bought it from the Walmart in Berlin the forth morning in a row she had thrown up and had been too scared to use it for fear of what the thing would tell her. Inside the little plastic case the completed reaction had made a small piezoelectric charge that attenuated a simple speaker. It was done. Her hand shaking, she closed her eyes and took a deep calming breath. “Calm,” whispered Sensei Ito's voice. “Emotions cloud the judgment, cloud the senses, only when you are calm, at peace, should you act. See the world for what it is, not what you fear it to be.”

Another breath filled her lungs and slowly went out through her nose. She held the case up and opened her eyes. “Well...shit,” she whispered.

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October 3rd, 2007
Faculty Dais, Top Tier, The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Stephens first impression of Falcon was not particularly heroic. Sure, he was a big man, burly with broad shoulders and dirty brown hair that was worn close in an executive hair cut. He could have been a star football player, or perhaps an Olympian leaving his competition years and heading into his prime. He was dressed in a simple forest green polo shirt and chinos and could have been an executive with a fitness preoccupation, or perhaps a very successful personal trainer, anything but a superhero having breakfast in his secret ID.

He kissed his wife as she approached and listened intently as she whispered in his ear for a considerable amount of time, and gave her a questioning look when she had finished, which she returned with a meaningful glare and left to sit with Marty at a different table on the dais, closer to the waterfall. He stood after wiping his mouth and gave Stephen a firm handshake and a steely gaze directly into the young man's eyes. “Stephen, good to meet you, son, I'm Robert. Won't you join me?”

Stronghold set his tray down and pulled out the chair to sit. “Thanks sir, and I hope I'm not intruding, Mr. Turner...”

The big man held up his massive hand as he returned to his chair. “I appreciate your manners, son, and you be sure to tell your parents they did a fine job raising you when you see them next, but from now on it's Robert, alright?”

Stephen nodded as he took a sip of orange juice and tried not to be overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the situation. “Yes, sir.”

Robert loaded his fork with a new load of eggs and asked, “So, my misses tells me you could use some very specific relationship advice. What can I do for you?” The eggs were loaded and chewed with an almost mechanical precision as the older man looked at him.

“I...well..you see, sir, um...” Stephen sighed and took a slice of his toast to spread jam on it. “Are, are you not...uncomfortable...talking about something like this, sir?”

A sardonic smile spread across the other man's lantern jaw. “Son, I fight criminals in dance tights, what could possibly embarrass me talking about basic human biology?” he asked ironically. The red head snorted with laughter as he was taking a bite of his toast and only just kept from launching it across the room with a surprised laugh.

Stephen blinked as he got himself under control and watched the older man chuckle at his perfectly timed joke and the younger man's reaction. “You did that on purpose!” Nalley accused.

Robert raised his coffee cup in salute and took a sip. “Guilty as charged. So, let's talk about you. What's going on with you and Marty?”

After a moment of amazement, Stephen chuckled and the ice well and truly broken, began to warm up to the older hero. “I, well I guess your wife helped me see what are real problem is. I'm not gay myself, and Marty is transitioning, but it's not going as fast as either of us would like and, well, since we took our relationship from casual to more committed, it's causing us a lot of friction.”

Mr. Turner took a bite of English muffin and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So, she is for you, but you're not comfortable...?”

Stephen bit his lip and stirred the butter into the instant grits his mother had sent him. They would never replace the real deal of his mothers cooking, but they were better than nothing. “I...I guess I'm not that uncomfortable with it, I mean, I love Marty, whoever she is now and whoever she becomes. Maybe I started this because I said I wasn't gay or something.”

“I'm sure that's part of it,” Robert replied evenly. “Changelings deal with a very unique set of fears that might seem silly or unreasonable to us, but are life altering real to them. I suspect, as does my wife, that your willingness to reciprocate despite your straight but not narrow mindset is close to the root of this, and of course the other half being Marty's own fears of losing you.”

The young man from Georgia sighed in frustration. “So, what do I do, sir?”

Robert arched an eyebrow. “Do you love her?”

“More than anything!”

“Well, I have an idea, and not being an employee of the school I can suggest it to you as I am under no constraint to remind you of school regulations.” He paused and gave a glance to the young man that said 'don't get caught' very clearly. “You may not like it...?”

“Sir, Marty is everything to me. I want her more than any paltry sums of 'dislike' or 'uncomfortable'.”

Mr. Turner smiled. “I believe Marty has chosen very wisely. Now, this is my suggestion...”

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October 3rd, 2007
MRI 3, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy

The uncomfortable bed Elaine was laying on moved with an electric whine out of the surprisingly noisy machine and she sat up to remove the hearing protective ear muffs from her head. Having reported to Mrs Horton on the demand of Grizzly, who had promised to tattle on her if she didn't, Elaine had had an interesting morning. Mrs Horton had muttered what was probably a spell because she had spoken words that made no sense to Elaine, then she had started in surprise and muttered, “That's impossible!” From there, an electric cart had taken her to Doyle Medical Center where she had been put through a battery of tests, blood draws and now a half hour in a huge, U shaped magnetic resonance imaging device that was so loud it required hearing protection self-consciously pulled at the hospital gown she'd been forced into to try and salvage her modesty.

Doctor Ophelia Tenant and Mrs Horton were having a very exaggerated conversation in the next room she could see through the window and, sick of the half answers, Elaine stood up from the table and shivered with her bare feet on the floor she took off the gown and manifested Grizzly over herself, now warm and uncaring she was naked, she walked boldly into the control room. “What do you think you're doing, young lady?” Mrs Horton demanded, aghast. Rolling her eyes, Elaine picked up a pair of spare gowns and tied them around her waist to make a skirt, then crossed her arms over her massive bosom, daring the older woman to take issue with her being topless.

“What, exactly, is going on?” she demanded in her spirits gruff, growling voice. “And don't try to blow smoke, I've been throwing up every morning for weeks, what is going on? Am I pregnant or not?”

Dr Tenant turned the screen to where Elaine could see it and let out an inarticulate mutter of frustration. “No, you are not pregnant. This is your womb and based on what you've said and the blood work we've done already, you would be somewhere around fourteen weeks...”

Elaine rubbed her chin. “And you can't find a fetus?”

Ophelia glared at her. “Sweetheart, a fourteen week fetus is the size of a peach, if you had one, we couldn't miss it!”

“That doesn't make sense,” Grizzly started, speaking through Elaine as she looked down and then growled as she saw something that sparked her considerable temper. “That son of a bitch!” she snarled and wheeled around to stomp out, but was halted by the equally ursine and formidable Mrs. Horton.

“Grizzly, where do you think you are taking my student who is naked save for a pair of hospital gowns?”

The big she-bear looked down, then back at Mrs Horton, then faded away leaving a blushing red head to scramble for her clothes. “What was that about?” Mrs Horton demanded.

linebreak shadow

October 3rd, 2007
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

Despite being pulled from her third period class, in a manner intended to inspire fear and misgivings, the blonde looked around the security debriefing room with a thoroughly bored air; she'd been in this room or one of its two partners many times over the years, usually under what would be a fruitless investigation. Across the table from her, Lieutenant Trout scowled as he stabbed at his computer keyboard to enter the data. If it wasn't second shift, he would have had an office aide taking notes, but having to do it himself, with his inadequate typing skills, was not diminishing his obvious anger.

"So that's when you attacked him?" Trout snarled, barely looking up from the laptop computer.

Tansy resisted the almost uncontrollable urge to roll her eyes and get snarky. "As I said, he attacked me, in what was clearly a rager fit. I defended myself and broke him ...."

"Broke his arm, right?" Trout interjected sarcastically.

The girl sighed at the man's blatant trap. "As I said the last three times," she gave vent to her own frustration, "I broke him out of his rager fit. In the process, I may have dislocated his shoulder, but I refrained from excess force." Just as she was finishing her statement, her 'special' phone rang. "Excuse me," she said dismissively as she fished the Gizmatic Communicator from her purse. "Gotta take this," she half-turned from the lieutenant. If he hadn't been such an asshole on top of being notoriously corrupt, she might have deigned to show him a little respect.

Reading the message, the girl frowned, and then tapped out a reply before putting the phone away. "Now, where were we?"

"We were discussing how you attacked ...." Trout scowled deeply as he began to snarl his response.

The door to the briefing room burst open, surprising the lieutenant, but judging from Tansy's smug smile, it seemed that she was expecting the interruption. "Excuse me, Lieutenant," the duty officer began with the formalities, "but the administration called. They said you've sufficiently interviewed Miss Walcutt, and that her presence is required elsewhere."

Trout gawked at the man, his annoyance growing by an order of magnitude. It wasn't the administration's place to interfere in security investigations. "You may go," he said through clenched teeth, not even attempting to disguise his distaste at being ordered around by the administration.

With a pleasant smile, Tansy rose. "If you need any more information, please call." Even though she'd mostly reformed herself, she couldn't help adding a little air of superiority to her words, and she subconsciously strode in a taunting, sexy manner as she left. It was the little things that could most annoy people like Trout, and she was expert.

With haste but also with the grace expected of a model, Tansy strode to the parking lot near the guest cottage. An eyebrow cocked at the school van with darkened windows waiting for her, and when the side door slid open, she looked inside, then climbed in, one hand surreptitiously near the butt of her force pistol - just in case. No sooner had she settled into one of the rear seats than the door slid shut and the van accelerated away. Taking a roundabout path on the service roads, the van stopped near Holbrook Arena, and again the door opened. Tansy's eyebrows arched yet again when her Lakota friend climbed in.

"We have to stop meeting like this," Tansy deadpanned.

Kayda gawked a moment, and then burst out laughing. "Do you have any idea what this is about, Double-Oh-Seven?" she replied with a giggle.

"What's with the cloak-and-dagger?" the blonde asked the driver.

Ms. Hartford shot the two girls a cautioning look, warning the against talking inside the van. Taking the hint, the two girls sat silently as the van drove through the remote areas of the campus, until it stopped at the most remote range, the site where dangerous weapons and things were dealt with. As soon as the engine stopped, Ms. Hartford and the girls climbed out.

Both girls' eyebrows shot up at the sight of Mrs. Carson and Elyzia Grimes waiting for them, grim expressions on their faces.

"What's going on?" Kayda blurted out, unable to contain her curiosity any longer, and only beating Tansy by a fraction of a second in speaking.

The three adults exchanged glances, then Mrs. Carson cleared her throat. "We have a ... situation," she began. "In the last two terms, we've had ample evidence of someone dabbling in very dark, very forbidden magic."

"Hekate and her mind-slave spells on Sky and Cav," Tansy replied knowingly.

"And Sky's tainted piercings," Kayda added. "But ... Hekate is gone."

"Hekate didn't do that by herself. There was someone who was directing her, guiding and corrupting her to be an assistant. A tool," Ms. Grimes explained.

"The magic book," Tansy and Kayda blurted out at the same time, realizing where the teachers' were leading.

"We think that same person, Hekate's Master, is trying to turn you," Mrs. Carson explained.

Tansy gasped aloud, almost staggering at a horrible memory. "The dark man!"

"What?" the three teachers demanded almost simultaneously.

"What do you know about this?" Mrs. Carson added.

Tansy winced. "Last spring - the reason I changed is ... is that I overheard Sebastiano confronting someone down in the tunnels about the Skybolt and Cavalier thing."

"Who?"

Tansy shook her head. "I didn't see." She couldn't totally suppress a visible shudder. "After hearing him, sensing his mind he... it ... I didn't want to see! He is so ... totally evil!"

"Why didn't you come to us?" Mrs. Carson asked, her voice echoing her unhappiness.

Tansy snorted derisively. "After all I've done, if I did come to you last year, would you have believed me?"

Mrs. Carson sighed, shaking her head. "No, probably not."

"But ... why me?" Kayda gasped nervously. "I'm not ... I mean, there are a lot of more powerful mages ...."

"But none of them could deal with the taint that was on Skybolt's piercings," Ms. Grimes said.

The Lakota girl goggled at those words as the reality of the situation started to sink in. "So what do you expect me to do?"

"We need your help," Mrs. Carson said bluntly, surprising the girls with a straight answer. "We need to find this person." She read the doubtful look on the girls' faces. "Think about it, Kayda. Someone can do the kind of magic that made mind-slaves, that tainted Skybolt's piercings. Do you think it's safe for anyone on campus if we don't find him?"

"But what can I do?"

Grimes and Carson exchanged a glance that made the Lakota girl nervous. "You can go along with this - under strict supervision, of course."

"Bait?"

Grimes nodded. "You're going to have special 'makeup' classes several times a week so we can check you, because you're going to have to give the appearance of starting to use dark magic. We'll need to make sure you aren't accidentally tainted."

"I expect your spirit to help monitor your progress," Carson added.

"With all that monitoring, it's going to appear that you're struggling with magic," Ms. Grimes added. "That could lead to some ... taunts and teasing."

Kayda closed her eyes momentarily as she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "I understand."

"And me?" Tansy asked simply.

"Bodyguard," Hartford explained in one word. "You're a known friend of Kayda. You're well-placed to help protect her.

The blonde girl nodded. "Then I suggest you get Lanie involved as well." Seeing the questioning look, she forced a smile. "Another known friend, Kayda's RA, the two are in several classes together. And their ... special ... relationship might give Lanie more insight into possible changes as Kayda deals with any ... temptation."

Ms. Hartford nodded. "A sensible idea. But this goes no further, got it? This is so dangerous that it could be a threat to the whole school. Possibly more. We can't risk any of this getting out. If Hekate's Master suspects that you're role-playing, that you're a double-agent ...."

Tansy licked her lips. “What...what if...either of you are Hekate's Master?”

Without missing a beat, Mrs. Carson arched an eyebrow and replied, “You're screwed,” utterly deadpan. “That said, let's be logical. You yourself said that when the Don confronted this person, you sensed a male. I have been many things in my long life, but a man was never one of them. What I do have is a fifty plus year reputation of being on the side of good.” She laid a hand on Ms. Hartford's shoulder. “And I trust Amelia with my life. You're safe, Tansy, but good thinking.”

Kayda and Tansy both gulped nervously. This was a very dangerous game. If the evil mastermind suspected that the two were spies, his reaction could be extreme. "I ... understand," Kayda replied hesitantly. She wasn't sure about the role she was going to play. A glance at Tansy confirmed that the blonde was equally uncertain, but she looked determined to play her part. That helped the Lakota girl's resolve – somewhat.

Mrs. Carson favored the girls with a grim smile. “We will have as close an a eye on you both as possible. Tansy, I'll have Professor Geintz keep a light mental contact with you as well. Yell and the cavalry will come running. Now, you girls get to lunch and try to act normally.”

linebreak shadow

October 3rd, 2007
Magical Healing Instruction Room, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

“See how the mana interacts with the wound?” Circe asked, watching Wyatt draw the mana through the practice target and still had to repress a shudder. The targets were square patches of flesh and muscle the bio-devisors created, not technically alive, but still living tissue as far as magic was concerned. They could be 'wounded' and have the students practice on without risking further harm to someone who was actually injured. “Good, now draw the wound closed and left the mana repair the muscle and blood vessels.”

For all his reputation, Circe was finding young Mr. Cody a diligent student and a quick study in his new abilities. The wound closed on the square patch of flesh and he beamed with accomplishment. Circe sighed and turned to the door. “And now we'll be interrupted.”

No sooner had she said so, the most cursory of knocks was followed by her student's red headed fiancee and the manifested form of her spirit. “Where is Kodiak?” snarled Grizzly in a fit of obvious temper.

The teacher sighed and shook her head. “I think a brief recess is in order. I have some grading to do at my desk, so you four may converse, quietly and civilly here,” she declared, then walked over to her desk and gave her attention to her paper. Wyatt was confused.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

“Ah've been throwing up for three weeks, Ah got the scare of mah short life with this!” Elaine declared, holding up a piece of pink plastic about the size and shape of a pen. Wyatt took it and focused on it, finally realizing what it was.

“You're pregnant?” he demanded in a strange tone of voice, somewhere between elated, surprised and fearful.

“No, she's not,” snarled Grizzly. “Where is my good for nothing mate?”

The Kodiak came into being, presenting as his mate was as a bipedal bear, somewhere between animal and cartoon, dressed as a doctor in modern surgical scrubs and a white lab coat. “You wanted to see me, Grizzly my love?” he asked, dripping false innocence.

“You son of bitch!” snarled the mother bear. “You did this to Elaine on purpose!”

“What am I accused of having done?” he shot back. “What harm have I done?”

Grizzly blinked, then snarled, baring her teeth in rage. “Is that how you weasel your way through your oath?”

“I swore to do no harm,” the Kodiak answered sharply, “save to the Bastard and his followers, and I have not broken my oath. The She-Bear is unharmed!” He turned and stuck his snout into Elaine's face, his own fangs naked. “But perhaps now she's learned a lesson to be more careful!”

Wyatt frowned, grabbed the Kodiak by the scruff of his neck and forced him to face the young man. “What...did...you...do?”

“I kept my oath and the two of you from making a new life on accident because you cannot stop rutting at each other like a couple of animals in heat!”

“Ah'm on the Pill!” protested Elaine, drawing the ire of the ursine healer back to her.

“Fool!” he snarled. “Do you think your simple hormonal fakery can overcome the design of your exemplar nature? You were designed to be fertile because we needed troops! Your silly pill could only trick your body for so long before it became wise to it's lies! Were it not for me you would be gone with child already!”

“Kodiak...!” warned Wyatt as his temper squirmed to get off its leash. “What...?”

“He put an Atlantis contraceptive spell on her,” Grizzly snapped. “But with out the ease and comfort portion! Our spell works very similarly to your Pill, but making her body think it is pregnant, but it keeps a new egg from maturing and...”

“Without the ease and comfort spell the body reacts exactly as if pregnant,” Kodiak finished. “Morning sickness, cravings, and the other tell tales.” Elaine held up the test and Kodiak nodded. “You even create the hormones that simple test looks for. It will ease your actual pregnancies later in life and I hope has made you more cautious!”

“You had no right...!” snarled Elaine, enraged. The bear took no notice.

“No!” he shot back. “I had no right, but I had a duty to protect you, as I swore to do, which your actions gave me little choice! Be angry with me if you want, but if you kept your knees together this would not have happened!”

Elaine balled a fist and it crashed into the side of the spirit, rocking his head sideways, but for all her strength, she might as well have punched a wall. “I will add the comfort spell now...with your permission?” he asked of Wyatt, his tone dripping sarcasm.

“We might fight the Bastard,” she whispered in impotent fury. “But you? You are the Bastard!”

Wyatt saw how angry his fiance was and shook his head. “Pardon me, Ms Circe? Could you...?” He started, seeing her at his shoulder. “Show the spell to her,” Wyatt ordered his spirit. Then she will teach it to me, and I will cast it.”

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