Monday, 24 June 2019 14:00

Imp 8: Imp-rints on an Aching Heart (part 1)

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Imp 8: Imp-rints on an Aching Heart




Part One


The Village, Tuesday morning, Nov 27th, 2007

Mornings… Mornings were the bane of my existence, the archenemy I could never quite defeat no matter how many times I tried. For a night owl like myself, who had spent decades sleeping in until the crack of noon, Mornings were particularly vile.

“The only thing mornings are good for are Saturday cartoons,” I muttered to myself as I performed my morning exercises. “And those sure aren’t what they used to be.”

I silently counted each time I lifted the weight. Eight. Nine. Ten. After reaching fourteen, I set my now empty coffee cup down on the table. That was all the exercise I needed for now, since it was still too early for anything more strenuous.

“I have GOT to stop staying out all night,” I told myself, though I knew this wouldn’t change. Decades of habit were hard to break. It was easier to just get a little devisor coffee in my system. “And how come I’d never even heard of this stuff before coming to Whateley?”

Once I was finished dressing, I checked myself in the mirror to make sure that everything was in place. Spiffy and stylish work threads? Check. Comfy shoes that I could sneak around and run in if necessary? Check. Freshly polished horns. Double check. Yep, I was ready to go.

With that, I grabbed a folder containing my lesson plans and stepped out of my apartment. I paused to glance at Maria’s door, but knew that she was probably already gone. I’d been a little slow in getting up this morning, so Maria and Donna had probably already taken off for breakfast. As it was, I wouldn’t have time for anything more substantial than my coffee if I wanted to make it to class in time.

A short time later, I arrived at my classroom, the official one, and took my place behind the desk. I glanced over my lesson plans for a few seconds, then began to absently doodle on a piece of paper while I waited. Before long, the doodle ended up turning into a full-blown sketch as inspiration struck for a new painting. I probably wouldn’t finish it before the art show this weekend in Boston, but it could definitely be ready before the next show.

I took note of when the first students arrived, though I didn’t spare them a glance. Instead, I continued with my sketch, quietly singing to myself as I did so.

“The knee bone is connected to the…thigh bone,” I cheerfully sang. “The thigh bone is connected to the…tail bone. The tail bone is connected to the…elbow. The elbow is connected to the…neck bone.”

“Thank God she doesn’t teach anatomy,” one student commented.

Another one responded, “No kidding.” I just smiled at that and continued working.

Students continued arriving, though I only paid half-attention until Monkeywrench stepped through the door. The furry boy was one of my favorite students, so I’d noticed his absence yesterday. When I’d asked around, I’d found that he’d missed all his other classes too, which wasn’t like him. If he hadn’t shown up this morning, I would have gone looking for him myself, or even brought it to security.

“Might as well make some use out of them,” I muttered to myself.

Fortunately, Monkeywrench was back in his usual seat, so there was nothing to worry about. However, half a minute later, Melissa came hobbling into the classroom. She had a cast on one of her arms and legs, and was moving around on crutches. I felt a surge of anger at the sight of her like this, though I didn’t show it other than with a couple furious swishes of my tail.

Yesterday, someone jumped Melissa and put her in the hospital. Thankfully, Whateley’s doctors use magic and a few other things that normal hospitals don’t have, which meant that Melissa was mostly healed already and would probably be out of her casts in just a few more hours. Still, the fact that she was healing quickly didn’t excuse the attack.

Melissa refused to say who was responsible for her injuries, and she’d even asked me to keep my nose out of it so that she could handle it herself. Doing that, standing back and doing nothing at all, was one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long time…or not done.

Of course, I couldn’t resist helping out a little, even if it was just to give her a few more tools. Last night, I’d given her a couple holdouts, which I’d planned on giving her in a week or two anyway, and I’d even called her aunt about another holdout. I just hoped that Melissa was able to deal with this without being hurt again. Unlike me, she didn’t have any regen.

“She’s a good kid,” I quietly reminded myself, “and a good apprentice. She can handle herself against another student.”

Once all the students had arrived, I carefully set my sketch aside and then stood up to face the classroom. All of the students were watching me, some with eagerness and expectation to see what I’d do today, while a few others looked nervous or even worried.

“Stupid video,” I muttered under my breath.

A few days ago, someone leaked a video of that SIM match I had with Barney, and ever since then, some students…and even some faculty, were looking at me differently. I guess it was one thing to know that I used to be in the villain profession and yet another to see proof that I could actually be dangerous if I chose to.

“If I find out who leaked that video,” I quietly promised, “they’ll get itching powder in their underwear drawer.”

“Okay, everyone,” I announced in a cheerful tone. “I have something special for you today…”

“Are you going to dress up as Bob Ross again?” one student asked, his tone suggesting that he thought this was a good idea.

“Are you going to make all of US dress up as Bob Ross?” Monkeywrench asked with a broad grin. It was obvious that he thought this would be a great idea.

“Afraid not,” I responded with a chuckle and a swish of my tail. “But that can be arranged if you’d like.”

“YES!” Melissa exclaimed, giving Monkeywrench a high five. Several other students suddenly looked worried for an entirely different reason than before.

I gave her an amused smile. “Today, we’re going to be working with clay.”

Mina raised her hand and asked, “What’s so special about that? We’ve done clay already?”

With that, I went over to a table that I’d set up in the front of the classroom, and dramatically pulled off the cloth that covered it. There were several dozen big bricks of clay, enough for each student to have one, a couple for demonstration purposes, and one just for me.

“This isn’t like the soft clay that you worked with before,” I explained. “This stuff is a bit harder and isn’t meant to be molded and reshaped the same way. Instead, you’re going to try carving. This is similar to carving wood, or sculpting statues out of stone, and so on, just with a somewhat softer material so it will be easier to work with.”

“Can’t we carve pumpkins instead?” Monkeywrench asked.

“Nope,” I responded cheerfully. “Not right now, though this will help you get better at pumpkin carving…”

After this, I began the lesson, showing each of the carving tools they’d be using, and then demonstrating on a brick of clay. Then, I gave a proper demonstration, quickly carving a brick until it was in the shape of a dog. It was a little rough and would need some fine work, but I’d shown them how to work the clay.

“Go ahead,” I announced. “Take a brick and a set of tools, and play around with them a bit. Get a feel for how the tools work and how much pressure you can put on the clay.”

Most of the students were eager to start and quickly went to work. Most of them were also very quick to ruin the figures that they were trying to carve by forcing it and gouging out too much material. However, this was perfectly fine as they were learning about the tools and materials, and every mistake was a little bit more that they learned.

“This is too hard,” one boy exclaimed in frustration.

“Hard?” I asked, making a show of pulling up my pants and switching into my best Chris Farley impersonation. “Hard is living in a van…down by the river…”

I got a couple chuckles out of that one, though I earned four times as many blank looks. I just shook my head in disappointment and let out a sigh. Were my jokes too old and outdated? These kids certainly seemed to think so.

“Now I’m starting to feel old,” I muttered. Then a bit more loudly, I exclaimed, “Zoinks.”

However, a couple seconds later, one girl asked, “What does zoinks mean?”

I stared at her, then at the other blank expressions before face-palming myself and muttering a few curses about the poor state of modern education.

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Arena 91, Tuesday afternoon, Nov 27th, 2007

“Zombies,” I announced in a serious tone. “You never know when the zombie apocalypse is going to break out, so you have to be ready.”

I paused to look over the group of students who were gathered around me. Some were giving me looks that suggested they thought I was crazy, while a couple were grinning in anticipation. Melissa and Monkeywrench actually gave each other high-fives.

This probably wasn’t what the students had been expecting when they’d come to their fifth period survival class, but that was the point. Anderson probably would have given them a grim lecture about how they needed to watch their backs and be paranoid if they wanted to survive crossing the street. Since I’d agreed to substitute for him today, and he’d told me to focus on urban escape and evasion…my specialty…I decided to have a little fun with it.

I noticed that one girl was giving me a very wary look, so I let out a sigh and silently cursed that video. I didn’t know who released it, or if they did it because they wanted to make things hard on me, or if they just wanted to show everyone what a buffoon Barney was. It could be either of those or both. But unfortunately, I was now receiving more of those looks…ones similar to what I’d always received in public but had managed to largely avoid at Whateley.

It was frustrating to have kids look at me like I was a serial killer…and teachers. Anderson had been a bit more wary of me since that SIM match, but that hadn’t stopped him from asking me to look after his class for him.

For a moment, I wondered what Barney would think of this situation. I had little doubt that he’d take advantage of the opportunity to remind everyone that I was a dangerous villain, and that I shouldn’t be allowed on campus. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about him at the moment. The day after our SIM match, he’d lost his temper in class and had freaked out on some of the students. Immediately afterwards, he’d gone on sabbatical, or more accurately, had taken an involuntary leave of absence. I had absolutely no idea of when he’d be back…or if he even would, but I really hoped that this would be the last I saw of him.

“Okay,” I said, turning my attention back to the topic at hand. “Today, we’re going to have a zombie apocalypse…”

I gestured past them to our surroundings, Arena 91, which had been set up to look like a city block, though there was a small suburbs section as well just to add a little variety. The students were already looking at the buildings with wary anticipation, obviously expecting a horde of zombies to suddenly emerge.

“ANTS,” Blackbox said. “I bet there are a bunch of ANTS made up to look like zombies.”

“A good idea,” I told the chubby boy. “But not quite what I had in mind.” I flashed them all an evil grin, swishing my tail back and forth as I did so. “YOU will all be the zombies…”

That got a reaction as they looked back and forth at each other, as well as stared at me curiously. I had a feeling that would get their attention.

“If we had more time, I’d dress you all up as zombies,” I cheerfully explained, “and then do a performance of Thriller…but this class isn’t long enough for that.”

“So,” Jinx asked, looking a bit confused. “Are we supposed to hunt down the ANTS and try eating their brains?”

“Nope,” I answered, still grinning. “You’re going to try eating each other’s brains…”

With that, I pulled out a bag that contained a bunch of ribbons with adhesive strips on them, then passed them around the class. I told each student to put one on their back, chest, or belt. Once they’d done that, I gave them their instructions.

“Those of you with ribbons are uninfected,” I explained. “Zombies will chase after those with ribbons, trying to take your ribbons. If a zombie removes your ribbon, you join the zombies and try to get the ribbons from others.”

“Oh, I get it,” Monkeywrench exclaimed. “Sort of like a cross between flag football and tag.”

“Bingo,” I responded cheerfully. “Give the monkey a banana.”

“Awesome,” Melissa exclaimed, practically bouncing up and down. She’d gotten her casts off during lunch and seemed to be fully healed, though I noticed that she was still moving a little slower than usual. “This is gonna be so cool…”

“Now remember,” I said, looking around at each of the kids. “You don’t want the zombies to catch you, so you’d better make use of your run and hide skills.”

It only took a few more seconds before someone brought up a small detail that I hadn’t covered. I’d been wondering if anyone would catch that omission.

“If we’re all uninfected,” Peacock asked. “Then where are the zombies.”

“Right here,” I said, quickly snatching the ribbon off her shirt. “Tag, you’re patient zero…” Peacock just stood there with a look of surprise. “Run,” I ordered the other students. “She’s a zombie…”

That was just the signal everyone needed, because a second later, the students ran off in all directions, leaving me and Peacock behind. She looked around, then seemed to finally realize that she was the zombie. After giving me a brief glare, she hurried after a couple of the slower students.

I stood back and watched as several students escaped Peacock, one after another. Finally, one of them looked back to see if she was still behind him, and she used her powers. Suddenly, she had a gig blowing peacock tail made of light, and the boy she was after froze and just stared at her. I didn’t blame him, because at that moment, I couldn’t take my eyes off her either.

Peacock calmly walked up to the boy and snatched his ribbon with a somewhat smug look. “Got you.”

Now there were two zombies, and this boy joined Peacock in trying to ‘recruit’ more. It was slow going because most of the students had learned enough from class to stay out of reach. However, that all changed the moment Peacock used her power to catch Melissa. Once Melissa had ‘turned’, team zombie suddenly had a major advantage.

Melissa grinned evilly and called out, “BRAINS!” Then she teleported to another student, appearing right behind him and grabbing his ribbon. I chuckled at that, pretty sure that Melissa had let herself get caught, just so she could play zombie.

Having Melissa become a zombie completely changed the balance. With her teleportation and invisibility, she was able to sneak up on her classmates without warning. The zombie plague began to spread like wildfire.

A number of students had managed to get out of sight and go into hiding, which was the perfect way to handle this at the moment. However, with more and more of the students turning zombie, the ones who remained were becoming increasingly outnumbered.

This exercise was a lot of fun, for me and the students. However, that wasn’t the only reason that I’d chosen to play zombie apocalypse today. In the real world, you could never tell when you’d be outnumbered and chased, whether it was by Humanity First, supervillain minions, or a random angry mob. This was good practice for that kind of situation.

A short time later, a group of ‘zombies’, five of them, had surrounded an uninfected student. But instead of rushing him, they stood back and chanted, “One of us… One of us…” Monkeywrench seemed to be leading the chant, which was no surprise.

By the time class ended, only two students remained uninfected. One had done a damn good job of hiding while the other had been able fly out of range.

“Good job,” I told the class. “As you can see, it’s hard to avoid that many opponents, especially when your own friends and allies can turn and join them at any moment. In this kind of situation, you really need to keep on your toes and look for anything you can use.”

“That was awesome,” Melissa exclaimed. “Can we do this one again? I like being a zombie. I mean, not a real brain eating zombie or anything like that, just this game zombie…

“Yeah, she’s definitely back to normal,” I mused with a smile. It was nice to see Melissa bounce back from her attack so well. Of course, she still needed to deal with her attacker, but I’d leave her to that.

“I can’t believe Blackbox got me,” one girl muttered in disgust, while Blackbox looked rather proud of himself.

“You walked into an alley and got trapped,” I said, explaining what she already knew. However, this was a good teaching opportunity, and I wasn’t going to waste it. “Whenever you walk into a potential situation, always have an escape plan…or three.”

“Yeah,” the girl grumbled, glaring at Blackbox.

After this, I announced, “Okay, go hit the showers everyone.”

As soon as all the students were gone, I closed up shop and began walking back to my regular classroom. Art Appreciation was next, and it was one of my favorite classes to teach.

I was halfway back to my classroom when my phone began to ring. Before answering, I glanced at the numbers, only to freeze at the sight. I didn’t recognize the caller’s number, but I immediately knew who it had to be. After all, this wasn’t one of the normal numbers that were forwarded to my phone, but a number that I’d created years ago and had only given to one person. This was the first time anyone had EVER called that number.

For a moment, I just stared at my phone, then I took a deep breath before cheerfully answering, “Imp’s Roadkill Café. You kill it, we grill it.”

“Imp,” a voice responded. It was deep, raspy, and a little weak, though there was no missing the iron behind it.

“Doc M,” I said in a polite tone. This was proof that I actually could do that if I really wanted. “I assume that this isn’t a social call.”

“You owe me a favor,” Doc stated from the other end, not changing his tone at all. “I am calling it in.”

I hesitated for only a moment, scowling slightly as I did so. “What do you need?”

“Not on the phone,” Doc told me, sounding slightly annoyed. “Come to me and I will tell you what I require.”

With those words, Doc hung up. I stared at the phone for several seconds before putting it away. This favor had been hanging over my head for a long time, and a large part of me was relieved that I would finally be able to pay off that debt. However, I was suddenly very worried about what this was going to cost me.

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Schuster Hall, Tuesday evening, Nov 27th, 2007

I was sitting on the roof of Schuster, smoking a cigarette and staring off into space. By all rights, I should be doing this at my apartment building in the Village, but I’d worked a bit late and this was more convenient.

My thoughts were on the phone call I’d received earlier, and on the favor I had to repay. Even though I had absolutely no idea of what Doc was going to ask, I was nervous. He’d saved this favor up for a long time and wouldn’t have called it in now unless it was for something big.

It was quite likely that Doc was going to ask for something that I didn’t want to do, and I wouldn’t have much choice in the matter. This was not the kind of favor I could refuse.

“Time to pay the piper,” I mused, taking one final drag from my cigarette before stubbing it out. “Maybe he’ll just ask for me to go get him a latte or something.” Somehow, I doubted that I’d get off that easily.

I looked around, half expecting Louis to pop up for a conversation. He had a habit of showing up without warning whenever I was enjoying a little private thinking time. However, this time, he remained absent.

After another minute, I finally stood up and stretched. Taking my time, I straightened out my clothes, then looked over the edge of the building, making sure it was clear below before I leapt off. It was late enough that almost everyone had gone in for the night, but better safe than squashing a student.

Just then, I noticed a strange glow from the corner of my eye and snapped around for a better look. My eyes shot wide as I saw a massive black dome with glowing purple streaks through it, smack dab in the middle of campus. In fact, from what I could tell, it even cut through a corner of Dunn Hall.

I gaped at the dome for several seconds before blurting out, “What in the Wide Wide World of Sports?”

Several thoughts passed through my mind. This was Whateley, where strange things happened every day, but this was a new one on me. Then, I wondered what could have caused this. My guess was on some devisor experiment since this seemed like the kind of thing that they might do. Or finger wigglers… On second thought, magic seemed like an even better choice.

“You never know what those tricksy mages are up to,” I mused.

I remained where I was for several minutes, just watching the dome to see what would happen. It didn’t take long for security to show up. Several small security teams appeared and began circling the dome, and though they looked like they tried getting through the dome, none of them did.

“Force field,” I thought aloud.

After watching for only a little longer, I decided to go get a better look. I was definitely curious about this thing and that made me a little wary since curiosity most definitely did NOT kill the Imp.

With a shrug, I stepped off the roof and concentrated my PK shell in my legs so that when I hit the ground, my shell absorbed a lot of the impact, then I slipped into a roll which took care of the rest. Once I was done, I sprang back to my feet and hurried toward the dome.

Instead of going for the nearest group from security, I made my away around until I saw one being led by Samantha Everheart. And though I was tempted to ask if they were looking for the Lorax or that naughty Grinch, I realized that this wasn’t the time and bit my tongue. This was proof that I could do that on occasion.

“What’s going on?” I asked curiously.

Everheart gave me a look of annoyance and I could tell that she wasn’t pleased to see me. I didn’t take it personally though since people have been giving me that look for my entire life.

“We’ve got this,” Everheart told me. “Back off and less us handle it.”

At the same time, one of the guys standing next to the dome announced, “Force field won’t let us through…” He poked the dome with the barrel of his gun, showing that there was no reaction.

I focused my PK aura around my hand, forming a blade that I poked into the strange dome. It didn’t go through at all. When I tried to synchronize my aura to the force field, I couldn’t. If this dome had been any sort of PK or telekinetic projection, I would have been able to do that.

“Then, I guess I’ll leave you to it,” I said, turning and slowly walking away.

Of course, just because I was getting some distance, that didn’t mean I was going to stop watching. My curiosity had been aroused, and an Imp’s curiosity was a powerful force.

I had only gone about twenty yards, when suddenly, the dome vanished. As I snapped around for a better look, Everheart and her team were already going through where the dome had been. However, I remained back, resisting the urge to rush in and investigate.

“I’m not sticking my tail in a trap,” I commented. At least not without good reason. Instead, I just looked over the area, which I could now see again now that the dome was gone. I didn’t really see anything unusual. So, with a shrug, I turned and continued walking away. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

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Schuster Hall, Wednesday early morning, Nov 28th, 2007

I was standing in Carson’s office and not exactly thrilled about it.

This meeting was for a campus security issue, but for some reason, I’d been pulled into it.

“I knew I should have kept my tail out of this dome business,” I muttered in annoyance. All I’d done was dip my tail in, but it had been enough for Carson to grab hold.

Of course, I wasn’t the only person here, though I was probably one of the more awake. After all, this was the time period where I’d done much of my work back in my old career. For once, being a night Imp was to my benefit.

Carson was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, having changed into her ‘comfy’ clothes right before the whole dome thing came up. She hadn’t bothered changing back into her business attire since, not that I blamed her. If it had been me that had been called in after I’d settled down for the night, I would have shown up in pajamas and bunny slippers.

In spite of the hour, Carson actually looked wide-awake, which probably came from her being an exemplar. The fact that she’d been headmistress of Whateley for years and was probably used to these odd-hour emergencies likely played a role too.

Everheart, like Carson, looked wide-awake, and if anything, even more so. Then again, she was some kind of cyborg or something, though I didn’t know the details. What I did know was that she didn’t have quite the same limitations as even a normal powered person. As if the words ‘normal’ and ‘powered’ should ever be used together.

Grimes, on the other hand, looked tired and was currently sipping from a cup of coffee. That amused me, since if anyone should be used to working at ‘the witching hour’, I would have thought it would be her.

Elyzia Grimes, or Magica De Spell as I sometimes liked to call her, was the very stereotype of a witch. Not the ugly old witch with green skin, a hooked nose, and warts, but more the kind with a slinky black dress. I probably should have called her Morticia rather than Magica, but that was just too on the nose.

Finally, there was Delarose, who also looked tired, though he was doing a better job of hiding it than Grimes. He had a deep scowl on his face which matched the ones everyone else wore.

The mood was so serious that I couldn’t resist going, “Jinkies. Now that everyone is here, let’s unmask the spook.” From the flat looks I received, nobody found this funny. “No respect,” I said, adjusting my imaginary tie. “No respect at all.”

“If its any comfort,” a new voice said. “I found it rather amusing.”

“Thanks, Louis,” I said, greeting the psychic projection who’d just appeared.

“Now,” Carson demanded. “What do we know about this dome?”

“It appeared at nine-oh-eight,” Delarose answered in a professional tone, “then vanished approximately seventeen minutes later. When the dome appeared, it completely cut off all communications from that area, including footage from the security cameras.”

“Attempts to scry inside the dome failed,” Grimes added grimly. “Admittedly, if there had been more time to prepare a more powerful spell, the results may have been different.”

Louis nodded. “Similarly, I was unable to sense anything at all from within the dome, or even project myself inside.”

I watched them all with a thoughtful expression, then commented, “I believe some of the cameras have local recordings and battery backups…”

“There are some that do,” Everheart agreed, though not looking happy. She looked to Carson as she continued, “As you know, about half the gadgeteers and devisors on campus try finding ways around the cameras, just to prove they can.” Her eyes went to Grimes. “Similarly, some of the magic students also try to find ways around them…”

Delarose cleared his throat and said, “That doesn’t even take into account all the other students who sabotage the security cameras just to hide what they’re up to.” His eyes went to me, a silent accusation since I myself had done that once or twice.

“The cameras are repaired as soon as possible,” Everheart continued, “but they can’t always be repaired as quickly as we’d like. As a result, between five to eleven percent of security cameras are inoperative at any one time.”

“And that’s probably one of the reasons you have so many,” I thought aloud, earning a nod from Delarose.

Carson scowled. “I assume that you’re reminding us of this fact because the relevant cameras, with local backup recordings, were among those that were inoperative.”

“There was only one of those within the dome,” Everheart agreed. “But yes. It was inoperable at the time.”

“The dome was impenetrable by any physical methods my people attempted,” Delarose explained. “And it vanished before magical methods could be attempted.”

“My claws couldn’t get through it,” I told Carson, who nodded slightly in understanding. She and Delarose both knew how my powers worked, and I was pretty sure that Everheart and Louis knew as well. Going legitimate had really cost me some of my best tricks.

“Once the dome was gone,” Everheart said, “we investigated the covered area. There was minor landscaping damage, but no worse than what the students frequently cause on a daily basis. However, we also found the shredded remains of a female school uniform.”

“I contacted the house parents,” Delarose told Carson. “None of the students appears to be missing or inexplicably injured. We also found no witnesses of what happened inside the dome…or of what caused its appearance.”

Carson continued scowling, looking back and forth between us. “Is there any chance that this was caused by a student?” From her expression, it was pretty clear that she doubted it had been.

“No,” Delarose answered. “Almost none.”

“This dome was not mystical in nature,” Grimes stated. “And it appeared at the same time that something bypassed the campus wards.”

“It got past the wards?” I asked in surprise, as well as professional curiosity. Whenever I encountered magic wards, my go-to solution was to throw iron at them and hope they shorted out. “I thought those wards could block anything.”

“Someone did,” Louis agreed. “Or something.”

Grimes gave me a look, then began to lecture as though I was a student. “The campus wards are very powerful for the standards of this world, but we simply don’t have the resources to make them completely impenetrable. At best, we are able to direct the wards to blocking or redirecting threats or intrusions from the most obvious, dangerous, relevant directions, along with many others. However, there are still…holes…in them.” She looked like she really didn’t want to admit this, especially to someone who specialized in finding holes in security.

“So, this was an outside intrusion,” Carson said thoughtfully, looking a little angry.

“So far, we have no evidence of attackers or hostile action,” Delarose explained, probably in order to put things into perspective. “Only of the intrusion, and we are still unsure of the who or why. As for the dome itself, our investigations have determined that it was less a force field and more of a stasis effect, caused by space somehow being out of phase.”

“Perhaps a powerful warper,” Louis suggested. “Though any who was able to create such a powerful effect would have to be very high level.”

Everheart cleared her throat in order to get everyone’s attention. Once we were all looking at her, she stated, “I have been searching for reports of similar domes, and one person has been identified as a possible cause. A mercenary known as Killzone is reported to be a powerful teleporter, who is able to create large force field domes of a similar appearance.”

That had Carson’s full attention. “I see…” She was clearly thinking of this as a possible violation of Whateley neutrality and what could be done to Killzone for punishment. However, from her look of frustration, she was probably remembering that we didn’t even know for sure if Killzone was involved.

“Do you know this Killzone?” Grimes asked me.

“What?” I asked with a raised eyebrow and a swish of my tail. “You think all supervillains hang-out together or something?”

“No,” Grimes responded, looking a little annoyed at me. “I was wondering if you might have heard something of him from your business associates.”

I gave her a look of mock offense. “What? Do you really think supervillains just sit around some bar, gossiping about each other?”

“Of course not,” Grimes said, just a little defensively.

I just smiled at that. Supervillains most certainly do NOT gossip. We gather intelligence about our competition.

“Now that you mention it,” I mused, thinking aloud. “I have heard of Killzone before…”

If I remembered right, it had been about two years ago while I’d been playing a game of poker at the Black Mask with some of my business associates. Killzone’s name had come up because Red Riot had been complaining about the ‘rookie upstart’ who’d beaten him to a job.

“From what I’ve heard,” I explained, “he’s fairly new to the business, but is already building a solid rep. Apparently, his MO is to teleport in with a group of heavily armed goons, then he teleports them all out when done.”

“I don’t remember hearing any reports of armed goons,” Louis commented.

Then, I remembered one other bit of gossip…I mean…intelligence, that I’d heard during that poker game. “Oh, rumor has it that Killzone’s father is the Widowmaker.”

“The Widowmaker?” Carson abruptly asked. “Are you sure?”

“No,” I admitted. “Like I said, it was just a rumor I heard.” I looked back and forth between her and Delarose, who also looked thoughtful. “Okay, what am I missing?”

Delarose turned to me, still scowling. “One of our students happens to be Widowmaker’s daughter.”

“His daughter?” I asked in surprise. I knew who all the Bad Seeds were and had made a point of checking them out at the start of the school year, however, this was the first I’d heard of Widowmaker having a kid here.

“I think we may need to ask Porcelain a few questions,” Delarose said, answering my question as to who Widowmaker’s daughter was.

Everheart had been standing there with a look of concentration, then abruptly announced, “Porcelain was caught on video, leaving Dunn Hall shortly before ten. It appears that she may have been in the area during the intrusion.”

“Talk to her,” Carson told Delarose. “Find out what she knows but be gentle. We don’t have any evidence of wrongdoing on her part.”

“If this actually was Killzone,” I pointed out. “And we don’t seem to have any real evidence it actually was, then he could have been here just to visit his sister.” I shrugged at that. “Probably not the smartest way to go about it, but it’s not exactly an armed assault.”

“True,” Carson reluctantly agreed. “We don’t have enough evidence to take any action as of yet, but we can continue investigating.”

Delarose and Everheart both nodded at that. “I’ll question Porcelain and increase security patrols for now,” Delarose said. “Just in case.”

“I’ll adjust the wards,” Grimes added, “to make sure that this particular type of intrusion doesn’t happen again.”

“And I’ll go home and watch cartoons until its time for classes,” I offered. For some reason, everyone ignored me, except for Louis, who gave me a look of amusement.

“Then I believe we’re done for now,” Carson said, looking to Delarose and Grimes. “Keep me informed of your progress.”

After this, we all left and I made my way back to the village. Unlike Delarose or Grimes, I didn’t have any tasks to complete, other than being ready to teach my classes in the morning. As I made my way back, I absently wondered if I had any devisor coffee left in the kitchen.

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Whateley Academy, Wednesday late morning, Nov 28th, 2007

I was sitting on top of a building, staring out across the campus. Since it was time for lunch, students were out in force, and watching them scamper around was a nice distraction from my thoughts. And at the moment, I had a lot to think about.

Melissa was currently undergoing one of the greatest trials of growing-up, something that many adults had never learned…how to solve her own problems. Sure, her problems were only school bullies, but these were Whateley school bullies, which were on a whole different level than what normal people ever had to deal with.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help Melissa. All I could do was hope that I’d taught her enough and have faith that she could manage on her own. And while I was proud of my apprentice, and was confident in her abilities, I couldn’t help but feeling worried anyway.

While I was thinking of Melissa, I saw a group of campus security officers wandering around on patrol. That reminded me of the other topic that I’d been trying not to think of, the intrusion from last night.

From what I’d heard, when Porcelain had been called into security, she’d denied knowing anything at all about the dome, or about the possibility of her brother arriving on campus. Of course, neither Delarose or Carson believed her, but they couldn’t prove she was lying.

So, in the end, in spite of all that excitement from last night, all we could really do was improve the wards and increase security patrols for awhile. Without any evidence of wrongdoing, or proof that Killzone had even been involved, there wasn’t anything else to do.

“Lucky for him,” I mused.

Breaking through the campus wards and creating that dome had been pushing things a little too close to a violation of Whateley neutrality. If there actually had been proof of his presence, or of any hostile action, then he would have been in serious trouble. But without that proof, there was no way the Syndicate would sanction going after one of their own.

“Damn lucky for him,” I repeated.

And finally, there was also that business with Doc. I still didn’t know what he wanted from me, but I intended to find out tonight. I’d already arranged my flight just so we could have that face to face meeting he wanted.

I was still considering what Doc might ask of me, when I noticed Aegis walking across the open courtyard below. He was staring at his hand and not paying attention to where he was going, though what was so interesting about his hand, I had no idea.

A few seconds later, I noticed Dino and his sidekick, Jericho, heading in Aegis’ direction. From what I could tell, Dino appeared to be playing keepaway with Jericho’s hat, some kind of orange thing that I could easily see from on top of the building. Dino quickly ran away from Jericho, looking back and snickering as he did so, and as with Aegis, he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. A second later, Dino smashed into Aegis, sending the other boy tumbling along the ground.

“Ouch,” I said sympathetically. “That has GOT to hurt.”

Aegis quickly scrambled to his feet and looked ready to fight. However, Dino seemed to be saying something to him, which I mentally translated as ‘meep meep’, in proper Roadrunner fashion, before he and Jericho walked away.

“Okay,” I said with a shake of my head. “I have GOT to teach those boys about situational awareness.”

However, I was pleased to note that Aegis was showing a bit more restraint than he used to. Not that long ago, he would have assumed that Dino was attacking him, and would have charged the other boy with his fists flying. But this time, Aegis held back long enough to realize that it wasn’t an attack, and that Dino wasn’t his enemy.

“A definite improvement,” I said, feeling rather proud.

After this, I decided that it was probably time to come down from the roof and head to my classroom. After all, it wouldn’t do for the teacher to arrive late.

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Upstate NY, Wednesday evening, Nov 28th, 2007

I slowly drove my rental car down the long driveway, towards the large house at the end. It was an old house, and while not quite a mansion, it was still twice the size of the house where I’d grown up, not to mention, three times the age.

Once I reached the end of the driveway, I parked in front of the house and slowly climbed out of the car. I pulled my long coat around me and adjusted my wide-brimmed hat. My eyes carefully scanned the yard, which looked like it had once been very nice, but which was now overgrown and untended. The yard was a perfect match for the house, which also looked like it had once been very nice, but had seen better times.

“Their house is a museum, where people come to see ‘em…” I quietly sang as I walked up and rang the doorbell.

When the door opened a few seconds later, a stocky man stood there. “Hey, Lurch,” I greeted him. “Is the doc home?”

‘Lurch’ wasn’t much taller than me, and definitely not tall enough to properly lurch. However, the nickname fit with the outside décor, and the fact that he merely grunted in response meant that he was now stuck with it. Not that I really cared what he thought about the nickname anyway.

“I was told to expect you,” Lurch said with a scowl, gesturing for me to enter. “Walk this way…”

Now that was a classic line if I’d ever heart one, but unfortunately, he had a completely normal gait. Now, if he’d had a limp, a hobble, or anything else I could use… But since he didn’t, I simply followed him in relative and BORING silence.

We didn’t go very far before Lurch led me to what was either a den or sitting room or some kind. There was a fireplace with a large fire roaring off to the side. Against one wall, there was a bookshelf full of very professional looking books, though I couldn’t make out any of the titles. And of course, the whole room was decorated with antiques, which gave the place a certain gravitas.

I was trying not to stare at the old man who watched me with a grim expression. He was old and frail, with a gaunt build and wisps of white hair on his head. If someone had told me that he was older than each and every antique that surrounded us, I probably would have believed them. And though he sat in a comfortable looking chair, there was a motorized wheelchair placed beside him.

WOW. The years had NOT been kind to the doc.

After taking a few seconds to look around, I reached into my pocket for the carrot I’d brought, took a nice bite, and asked, “Eh, what’s up Doc?”

“Imp,” he said, his voice weak and raspy. But while his body was old and weak, I could still see the iron determination behind his eyes. “Sit.”

I removed my hat and then carefully sat down in the chair across from Doc, so that the two of us were now facing each other. I was a little nervous and half expected iron clamps to emerge from the chair and lock my limbs in place, but knew this was foolish. That had never been the docs style, and even though he was just a shadow of his old self, I didn’t see that changing now.

“You once promised me a favor,” Doc said, his eyes firmly locked on me. “I am calling it in.”

“That’s why I’m here,” I agreed with a faint flick of my tail. “What do you need?”

Doc scowled for a moment more before answering, “I need your skills.” That wasn’t an actual answer, but I didn’t say anything in response. Instead, I waited for him to do this at his own pace. “I need you to steal something for me…”

“That is what I do,” I agreed.

Actually, it was what I DID, before I retired. Somehow, I didn’t think that Doc really cared about my retirement, not that it mattered. Not with this kind of favor.

“I need you to recover something,” Doc continued, “from a superhero.”

That caught my attention. “You want me to rob a superhero?” I chuckled at that. “That sounds right up my alley…” And potentially very risky. “Who?”

I crossed my fingers and held my breath. Please don’t say Chickenhawk. Please don’t say Chickenhawk.

When Doc answered, “Venture,” I let out a sigh of relief.

“Venture,” I repeated thoughtfully.

Though I’d never met Venture, I had definitely heard of him. In fact, I’d done a little research on him in case our paths ever crossed. He was reputed to be a competent hero who’d caught a lot of villains over the years.

“And what am I after?” I asked Doc.

“An artifact of great power,” Doc answered. There was a flash of that fire behind his eyes. “MY artifact of power…”

“Oh,” I responded, now knowing exactly what he wanted me to steal for him.

“For years, I have searched for this artifact,” Doc exclaimed. “For years, I have sought to reclaim its power…”

Doc looked like he was about to launch into a full-blown rant, when he abruptly began coughing. Lurch quickly came in with a glass of water and sat it down beside the doc, who picked it up with trembling hands and took several drinks. Finally, the coughing fit had ended, though he spent nearly a minute just regaining his composure.

“Venture has it in his possession,” Doc told me grimly. “It is locked away in his vault…in his…trophy room.” His eyes fixed on me as he added, “I need you to break in and steal it for me.”

“Easy peasy,” I said with a grin.

Of course, I had no illusion about this being simple or easy. After all, Venture was a powerful hero, and he wasn’t a complete buffoon like Barney. Going after him and trying to steal something from right out of his own lair was going to be challenging and risky. And even worse, coming out of retirement to go after a hero like this could very well end up costing me everything.

I took a deep breath, then smiled to hide my concerns. I’d pulled big jobs before, many that were even larger and more dangerous than this one. However, there were very few where I risked as much personally, as I did with this one. Fortunately, with enough time, research, and planning, anything was possible.

“There is one more thing,” Doc said, snapping me out of my thoughts. I met his eyes, and with a grim expression, he added, “Time is of the essence. I must have the artifact back in my possession…within the week.”

“Of course,” I said, rubbing my temples and letting out a sigh. There goes all my time to research and plan. “Start from the beginning and tell me everything you know.”

Fortunately, this job did have one thing going for it. Doc had been wise enough to contact the beautiful, talented, and fabulous Imp for this caper. And if there was anyone who could pull it off, it was yours truly.

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Whateley Academy, Thursday morning, Nov 29th, 2007

I let out a yawn as I walked towards the staff dining room and the breakfast that awaited me there. The big downside of not being a good cook was that I actually had to get off my tail and leave my apartment if I wanted to eat something more substantial than Fruity Pebbles…not that there was anything wrong with Fruity Pebbles.

Yesterday, I’d left campus almost as soon as my last class was over, and once I was finished meeting with Doc, I’d immediately come back. I’d spent a lot more time on the plane…or sitting in the car…than sitting across from him, which was pretty annoying. That was a lot of time, travel, and discomfort just to have a brief discussion which could have been handled over the phone. But of course, I hadn’t complained to Doc.

“At least I got back early enough to get a few hours of sleep,” I quietly mused to myself. But in the future, I was going to have to avoid that kind of thing on a school night. Then again, knowing myself, I probably wouldn’t.

I glanced over at my companions, Maria and Donna, who were heading to breakfast with me. They lived in the apartment next to mine, so we made this walk together on a regular basis. Since Maria and I were both oddballs among the teaching staff, and were the two newest teachers, we’d begun eating together before Donna had ever entered the picture.

Once we reached Kirby Hall and the faculty cafeteria, I raised my arms and loudly exclaimed, “All hail the conquering Imp…”

Several faculty members turned to look at me, some with looks of amusement though there were an equal amount who just looked annoyed. I soaked it all up, appreciating both reactions. This was the balance of social interaction, the Yin Yang of attention. And honestly, both reactions were WAY better than being glared at with hatred or disgust, though even that was better than the angry mobs with pitchforks.

“And just what did you conquer that’s worth hailing?” Maria asked me.

“My bed,” I promptly answered. Then with a cheerful grin and a swish of my tail, I explained, “It tried taking me prisoner this morning. I mean, it wrapped me up with its sheets and didn’t want to let me go. I fought had and long, and in the end, I managed to claim victory and escape it’s clutches.”

“You should give theater a try,” Maria told me with a look of amusement. “You make getting up in the morning sound like a dramatic scene…”

“Or maybe,” Donna suggested, “you should just go to bed earlier.”

“Perish the thought,” I gasped in mock horror. “And surrender to the evil bed without so much as a fight? I think not…”

Donna shook her head, though she was smiling faintly. “You are a very strange person.”

“So I’ve been told,” I responded cheerfully.

A few minutes later, we were sitting down at our table with food in front of us. There was French toast with amaretto mixed into the custard, which was really good. In fact, it was even better than Fruity Pebbles…not that I’d ever admit that to Fred and Barney.

I had only taken a few bites of my breakfast when a familiar figure slipped into an empty seat at our table. Tabby didn’t say a word at first. She just gave a nod of greeting, then took several bites of her own.

While Tabby did this, I just watched her in faint amusement. I was well aware of the irony, in the fact that the faculty member I got along with the best, and which I related to the most, happened to be a hero. And not even a properly retired one either.

Finally, Tabby looked up from her food and asked, “Did you hear that yesterday, a couple students actually attacked a security patrol?”

“No,” I responded, not too surprised. “Ultraviolents or ragers?”

“Neither,” Tabby responded wryly. “A would-be social queen and her thug.”

I raised an eyebrow at that and flicked my tail. “Not too bright.”

“No, they probably aren’t,” Tabby agreed with an amused look.

“They’ll probably be cleaning toilets in Hawthorn for a month,” Maria pointed out with a shake of her head. “Even at their worse, the Alphas knew better than to go after security.”

Tabby smirked. “Oh, I don’t think it was intentional.”

“You think they attacked security by accident?” Maria asked, sounding a bit skeptical.

“Oh, I think they were trying to attack someone,” Tabby said, watching me with a look of amusement. “I just think that they missed and hit security by accident instead.”

Tabby’s behavior definitely had my Imp senses tingling. “Any particular someone?”

“This is just speculation,” Tabby said.

“Of course,” I agreed, even more interested than before.

“Well,” Tabby continued, “If they happened to be attacking someone who could say…disappear…”

I grinned at that as I realized what she was saying. After Melissa had been attacked and put into Doyle, she’d wanted to get revenge on her own, so I’d backed off to let her. If Tabby was right, then this could very well be Melissa doing just that.

“That sounds like something you might do,” Tabby mused.

“That sounds like something I HAVE done,” I responded with a grin and a swish of my tail. “Now then, is there any evidence to support this…speculation?”

“None that I’ve seen,” Tabby told me.

I nodded at that, pleased that Melissa had taken care not to get caught. I also made a mental note to talk to Melissa about this. If nothing else, I wanted the full story with all the juicy details. In fact, since I had a little training planned for her this afternoon, that would be the perfect time to ask.

“So, you think that Mischief tricked those students into attacking security?” Maria asked a little surprised.

Tabby quickly responded, “I said no such thing.”

“Not in the least,” I added.

“And in other news,” Tabby said, looking amused again. “Did you hear that yesterday, Lillian used footage from your match with Roland as a training demonstration?”

“Really?” I asked, a little surprised.

Lillian Dennon taught martial arts, among other things, so I could see why she’d be interested in the fight. However, I’d never had any formal martial arts training, so I wasn’t a very good example.

“She used Roland as an example of what NOT to do in a fight,” Tabby explained. “Which is a good idea, because he did so much wrong…”

Maria nodded at that. “I can definitely see that. He’d be a prime example of what happens when you rely on your size and strength, while neglecting skill. A lot of bricks could learn that lesson.”

“I saw the fight,” Donna said with a shake of her head. She gave me an odd look, one that was just a little wary before the expression faded. “It was…brutal.”

Tabby leaned forward, and in a conspiratorial tone, said, “Ito said that he wanted to put Roland through BMA for a semester.”

I snickered at that. “But I prefer him being incompetent. Trust me, it’s saved my tail on more than one occasion.”

The truth was, when Barney was calm, he was actually pretty decent in a fight. There was a reason that I always pushed his buttons and got him to lose his temper. Once he was angry, all his thought and skill went out the window, making him much easier to deal with.

We talked about my match with Barney for the rest of breakfast and gossiped about how he’d freaked out on one of his classes and had been forced to leave campus for awhile. Actually, supervillains, even retired ones, didn’t gossip. We exchanged information about a potential threat…and laughed at him behind his back.

When I was finished eating, I got up to leave so that I could get to class in time. However, I’d only taken a couple steps away from the table when Maria stopped me.

“You’ve got something stuck on your shoe,” Maria said, pointing down.

I looked down and saw that she was right. There was something stuck to my shoe, and to my relief, it wasn’t a long piece of toilet paper. Instead, it looked like a necklace.

“What’s this?” I mused, surprised to find the necklace stuck to my heel, though it didn’t seem to be caught on anything.

Once I picked up the necklace, it released from my shoe without any problem. I held it up for a better look, noticing that the pendant on the chain seemed to be some sort of small glass vial with metal caps on both ends, and with the chain going through one of those.

“Now, where did this come from?” I thought aloud.

I set the necklace down on the table I’d just vacated, only to see it suddenly move on its own, sliding across the table back to me. I held my hand out at the edge of the table and the necklace went straight into my palm. I gently tossed it to the other side of the table, and once again, it slid right back to me.

“You know,” Maria said, “I think someone may be pranking YOU.”

“You might be right,” I responded, grinning evilly with my tail swishing back and forth behind me. “But if they think they can pull one over on me, they’re going to find that imp-ossible.”

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Arena 99, Thursday afternoon, Nov 29th, 2007

“Wait,” I told Melissa, putting a hand on her shoulder to keep her from rushing forward.

We were both crouched down behind a dumpster, staying low and trying to avoid being spotted by anyone passing by. My chameleon field was currently turned off, leaving me out in the open and visible. It was rather uncomfortable being exposed like this, but that was part of the point. At the moment, I was intentionally avoiding all of my powers, as was my apprentice.

I pointed to the building across from us, and specifically, at the corner. A couple seconds later, a security guard appeared from around the corner and continued his patrol, walking around the building. He paused a couple times to glance around, though he never looked straight at us.

“Always be aware of security,” I reminded Melissa.

Melissa looked a little impatient. “But I can turn invisible and he wouldn’t see me…”

“Maybe,” I responded. “But how do you know he doesn’t have cybernetic eyes that could see you? Or that he isn’t a mutant with extra senses?” Then, before she could respond, I added, “And remember, right now, we’re doing this without powers. You need a good grasp of the basics, which means, not having to always rely on only your powers.”

“Okay,” Melissa reluctantly agreed. “Now what?”

I just smiled at that and looked over my apprentice, who was currently dressed up in a black ‘burglar’ outfit, and even wearing a black domino mask that didn’t really do much for protecting her identity. However, the stealth effect of her costume was already ruined by the fact that she was wearing a red jacket. That wouldn’t be a problem when she was invisible, but it was when trying to sneak around without her powers.

“Good thing your jacket doubles as body armor,” I muttered, reminding myself that it was made with kevra and lined with impact absorbing gel. And that wasn’t even taking into account the fact that it had a few pockets full of goodies. And that reminded me that she was also wearing the utility belt I’d recently given her, which contained a few more useful tools. “You know, we’re going to have to do this sometime without any tools or holdouts…” At her look of surprise, I grinned and added, “But not today.”

“I can’t believe I finally get to do my first real heist,” Melissa said with a giggle before slapping her hands over her mouth to keep from making too much noise.

I just smiled at that. Yes, this was Melissa’s first heist, other than when she robbed an art gallery that is, but it was hardly real. Sure, I wanted to take Melissa on a job for training, but somehow, I suspected that neither her dad nor Carson would approve, so I was making do with the SIMs. Since this building and its security were based off real world versions, I figured that this was close enough for now.

“Watch for the next security guard,” I quietly told Melissa. “We want to make sure we have the opening.”

Melissa nodded at that, and though she fidgeted a bit, she kept her attention on our target. I knew exactly how often the security guards came around, though she didn’t. Melissa hadn’t been involved in planning this heist, and was along mostly to watch, listen, and learn. As I brought her on more jobs, I’d include her more and more in the planning, until she eventually performed that on her own. Then again, since I had the SIMs available as a training tool, I might go ahead and let her practice a few heists entirely on her own, a bit sooner than I would otherwise. After all, this was a safe place to learn, and would help her learn a little more quickly than I had.

Once the second guard had come and gone, I said, “Now. Move quickly and quietly.”

We rushed towards the building, scrambled up the solid gutter spout, and then broke in through the second floor. I made sure to point out that the second floor windows, unlike the ones on the first floor, were not wired with security alarms.

“Our goal is on the fourth floor,” I quietly told Melissa. “Normally, I’d go up the outside of the building and let myself in a little closer to where we’re going, but without powers, we’ll have to go slower and be a little more careful.”

“What are we stealing?” Melissa asked me excitedly. “A painting? A big jeweled necklace…?”

That just reminded me of the necklace I’d found this morning, and the fact that I still hadn’t found out who was messing with me. However, I quickly pushed those thoughts out of my mind and focused on the job at hand. Letting yourself get distracted was one of the best ways to screw up.

“You’ll see,” I told her.

Melissa and I spent the next half hour slipping down the hall, going from room to room, or closet to stairway, and making our way to the fourth floor without being seen. She was frustrated by the slow pace, but that was no surprise. However, as the wise tortoise demonstrated, sometimes slow and steady wins the race.

Eventually, we reached our destination, a corner office with a nice safe hidden behind a painting. Sure, it was cliché, but this SIM was actually based off a real job from early in my career, and I’d made it as realistic as possible.

“People don’t always hide their valuables in an obvious safe,” I told Melissa as she worked on opening it. After all, it was a pretty simple safe, and she was the one who needed experience. “Sometimes their safe is hidden pretty well, or they hide things in hidden panels in their desks. Sometimes, you’ll really have to look to find anything, and you may not have time for that. This is why you want to do your research first, so you don’t waste valuable time once you get there.”

It took Melissa a couple minutes to pop the safe, and once she did, she immediately began to bounce around excitedly, squealing in joy. Then, she finally remembered that we were in the middle of a job and clamped her hands over her mouth. I rolled my eyes at that and gestured for her to continue.

“Oh yeah,” Melissa said apologetically before looking inside.

The safe was empty, except for one item which had not been in the real-world version. It was a small trophy with a plaque that read ‘WORLD’S BEST APPRENTICE’.

Melissa held up the trophy and stared at it for several seconds before abruptly throwing herself at me and grabbing me in a hug. I hugged her back, smiling as I did so. This was nice.

Then I noticed her tears and joked, “Hey, there’s no crying in baseb…burglary.”

“Thank you,” Melissa exclaimed.

I just hugged her again, feeling bad that I had to end this nice moment. A moment later, a loud alarm suddenly began sounding, alerting every security guard in the building. Melissa jumped back and looked around in surprise.

“That wasn’t in the plan,” she blurted out.

Actually, it had been in my plan. “As a famous poet once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

“What?” Melissa asked, giving me a blank look.

I rolled my eyes at that. “Remember the escape plan.”

Her eyes went wide and she grinned. “Oh yeah…”

“Touche away,” I called out, though it was actually time so shift from tortoise mode to hare. “It’s WABBIT season…”

Melissa giggled at that, at least getting the second reference. With that, we started to make our escape, though security guards were rushing into the hallway. My apprentice threw a smoke bomb down between us and the security guards, then ran into a side room in order to give them the slip.

“Not bad,” I mused.

This was the perfect opportunity for me to enact the next step in my plan. I slipped away from the guards and ‘accidentally’ got separated from Melissa in the process. Once I’d done that, I climbed out of the building and positioned myself on the outside wall where I could watch Melissa’s escape without being seen. Since I was using my powers for this, there was little chance of my being caught.

A minute later, Melissa emerged from a fourth floor window and scrambled down to the third floor where she let herself back inside. I was pleased to note that she was sticking to the rules of this SIM, even if I no longer was, and wasn’t using her powers. After this, I had to reposition myself so I could watch her through one of the windows.

Security guards rushed into the hallway. Melissa threw down a smoke bomb to hide where she was moving. Out came a stink bomb to distract her pursuers and slow them down. She even threw one of the throwing spikes I’d given her…and missed.

“Maybe a different weapon,” I mused. Just because the spikes worked for me, that didn’t mean they’d work for her.

It didn’t take long for Melissa to escape the building, though the match wouldn’t actually end until she slipped her pursuers entirely. Half a dozen security guards rushed out of the building to come after her, while Melissa continued to run. One of the guards caught up and grabbed hold of Melissa, and for a moment, I thought it was over.

“Tag, you’re it,” Melissa exclaimed, touching the guard’s hand.

There was a flash of sparks and the guard staggered back and fell to his knees. My apprentice then held up her hands…and the electrified gloves that her aunt had given her. She paused just long enough to blow a raspberry at the remaining guards, then threw down several smoke bombs at once, using them as cover to escape.

“Tricky,” I said with a grin of approval.

Since Melissa had managed to escape with her prize, the trophy from the safe, the exercise was now over. The SIM ended and I found myself back in my creche, which I quickly climbed out of and then went to find Melissa, who was just getting out of hers.

“That was awesome,” Melissa exclaimed with a broad grin. Then she looked around before asking, “My trophy…?”

“It’s right here,” I said, holding up an identical trophy to the one from the SIM. In fact, I’d scanned this one in order to create the digital version.

Melissa quickly grabbed the trophy and said, “Thank you,” before giving me another hug.

“You earned it,” I told Melissa as I hugged her back. “You did a great job in there.”

Between how she’d handled the school bullies and her performance in the SIM, I was bursting with pride. Melissa was a natural, and I couldn’t wait to tell Ryan… On second thought, I should probably keep that to myself for now. He’d been pretty supportive so far, but for once, I didn’t want to push it.

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Whateley Academy, Thursday late afternoon, Nov 29th, 2007

I was humming cheerfully as I slowly made my way towards the cafeteria. Sure, all the exercise I’d just gotten had been in the SIM, but it still counted towards working up an appetite.

While I walked, my thoughts reluctantly turned to Doc and the job I was doing for him. Intellectually, I knew that all the time I’d just spent with Melissa, was time that I could have spent planning the job. The job was going to be tough, and I was short enough on time that I couldn’t afford to waste any that I did have. However, I refused to consider that SIM match a waste of time. None of the time I spent with Melissa was wasted.

“I’ll just work on it tonight,” I thought aloud. “Maybe call in a favor from Bob…”

Bob would like that, of course. I’d earned those favors from him by NOT cutting off all his fingers over a little…misunderstanding. And in spite of that misunderstanding, and the favors that I’d collected from him as a result, our relationship was still relatively good. But there was no doubt that Bob would be happy to get out from under my debt. Fortunately for him, he only had one favor left to go.

“And this could be a good use for it,” I mused. After all, Bob only owed me a moderate level favor, while the one I owed Doc was much larger.

A few seconds later, I spotted Magica De Spell…AKA…Elyzia Grimes, and she appeared to be heading in the same direction that I was, towards dinner. The sight of her reminded me of the fact that I’d been meaning to talk to her. With that in mind, I changed course slightly and started straight for her.

“Magica,” I started, then corrected myself, “Elyzia…”

“Christine,” Grimes responded, giving me a suspicious look. “What are you up to?”

I gave her my best innocent look. “Who, me?”

“Your horns are showing,” she answered wryly.

That made me laugh. “You got me there.”

I was tempted to ask her if she needed help stealing a number one dime…but she hadn’t liked that joke the first time I made it, and I doubt that had changed. Besides, I needed her help so it was best not to antagonize her at the moment.

Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out the necklace that I’d found that morning. It was pretty obvious that it was magical in nature, and I’d verified that with a little test. Of course, all that test did was tell me that it was magical, not how it worked or who’d made it, and that was why I wanted to talk to an expert.

“I was hoping you could take a look at something for me.” I held out the necklace, then made a show of dropping it on the ground, where it promptly slid right back to my foot. As I bent over to pick it back up, I explained, “I think one of the students is trying to prank me, and I’d like to know who.”

“Of course, we can’t have that,” Grimes commented with a raised eyebrow.

“Exactly,” I agreed cheerfully. “I mean, what kind of precedent would it set if I just let this go…”

Grimes took the necklace and stared at it with a thoughtful expression before announcing, “I don’t think this is a prank…”

“Not a prank?” I asked. “Then why in the world does it keep coming at me like I’m a magnet…”

“Because, this contains a tracking spell,” Grimes answered, now staring at me with a curious expression. “It’s a very simple spell, almost primal really. That means, it is also rather powerful in its own way. You cast this spell on someone’s hair, nail clippings, or in this case…their blood…and it can track the owner. With enough essence, you can track them to the ends of the Earth.”

My eyes widened at that and I stared at the necklace, and at the glass vial which was filled with red liquid. Blood. With a gulp, I said, “And someone used my blood…”

“No,” Grimes said, surprising me.

“But you said,” I started, though she cut me off.

“Normally, that is how the spell is used,” Grimes explained, carefully studying the necklace again. “But this version has been modified… This is a little more complicated, a little more elegant… For one, the blood has been bonded to the spell so that no one else can use this blood as a spell focus. This protects the donor from other spellcasters…”

“Okay,” I said slowly, not getting her point.

“And more importantly,” Grimes continued, “at least as far as you are concerned, this spell has a…deflection built into it.” At my blank look, she explained, “Instead of tracking the blood donor…that result is blocked and is instead diverted to the closest possible results.”

I flicked my tail in annoyance. I hated talking to finger wigglers like this, because it was almost like they talked in another language, then they tended to act all smug and superior because other people didn’t know it or their secret handshakes.

“Instead of tracking the person whose blood this is,” Grimes explained, “this spell has been modified to track their blood relatives.”

“Blood relatives?” I asked in surprise, my tail freezing in place.

“Yes,” Grimes responded, giving me a curious look. “Whomever this blood came from, they are related to you.”

“Imp-ossible,” I exclaimed emphatically.

Howevever, Grimes no longer seemed to be staring at me. Instead, she was still examining the necklace, nodding as though pleased.

“Good spellcraft,” Grimes mused. “Quality work.” Then she looked at me again and admitted, “I recognize the workmanship, and if Voodude had submitted this as a project, he would have received top marks for it.”

“Voodude?” I asked, staring intently at Grimes. “Why would he make something like this, not to mention, where the hell did he get this blood?”

“I have no idea,” Grimes told me, her expression clearly saying that she didn’t consider it very important. “You could always ask him, or, you could find out for yourself…”

Grimes muttered at the necklace while making a few gestures with her free hand. A few seconds later, she nodded in satisfaction and handed the necklace back to me. As soon as I had it in hand, I felt a faint tugging from the jewelry, and this time, it was no longer pulling towards me.

“I’ve removed the deflection,” she said, gesturing to the necklace. “Now, it should lead you directly to the source of that blood. Considering how strongly its reacting, we can assume the source is very close, probably within a mile or two at most.”

While I stood there staring at the necklace and trying to absorb what Grimes had just told me, she took advantage of the opportunity to leave. I barely noticed, not that I cared anyway. She’d already answered my questions and then some.

“She’s gone bonkers,” I announced. “Coocoo for Cocoa Puffs. Magica has lost her flipping mind…”

There was no way this blood had come from one of my relatives, or at least, no way they were on campus. My parents were long dead, and I only had one sibling. Somehow, I couldn’t picture Danny Boy coming to Whateley for any reason whatsoever.

“But there’s only one way to find out,” I said, holding out the necklace and feeling the direction it was gently pulling towards. “Go get em boy…”

At first, the necklace seemed to be leading me towards Crystal Hall, but as I got closer, I saw that this wasn’t quite correct. It was leading me towards the Quad instead. The fact that the necklace actually seemed to know where it was going, filled me with a mixture of curiosity and wariness.

“This probably is a prank,” I said, though I continued following the necklace.

Once I reached the Quad, I held my hand out with the necklace tightly clenched in my palm. It was still pulling…still leading me. Then, I reached a point where I could look straight ahead and see exactly where it had been leading.

“Definitely a prank,” I muttered with a growl.

The necklace was pointing directly at a table where two students were talking. One of them was Voodude, a slender black boy with his dark hair in corn rows. He was the one who’d cast this spell, but to my surprise, it wasn’t directing me towards him. Instead, the necklace was pulling me towards the other boy…Aegis.

I froze where I was and just stared at Aegis, a knot forming in my guts. I could feel my heart climbing up my throat, or at least, that was what it felt like. Without consciously willing it, I found myself walking towards him again. I clenched my fists tight, ensuring the necklace didn’t slip away or escape. It was still pulling me towards Aegis.

“Miss Imp?” Voodude asked, noticing me before Aegis did.

Aegis turned to look at me. “Um, were we supposed to have a training session today?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t say a word. Instead, I reached out and gently grabbed hold of Aegis’ face, holding it in place as I stared at it, taking in every detail, including ones I’d never noticed before.

“Hey,” Aegis exclaimed, pulling away.

“It’s nothing,” I said, my voice shaking as I turned and walked away.

“What was that about?” Aegis asked Voodude from behind me.

My whole body was shaking and I could feel my heart pounding louder and louder with every step. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I was too shocked to even utter a single word, much less some snarky comment.

Impossible. This was impossible. It couldn’t be… Aegis couldn’t be… But in spite of that, it was. He was… Tears welled up in my eyes.

In a shaky voice, I finally whispered, “He has his father’s eyes…”


To Be Continued
Read 4566 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 19:24

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