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Dague De L'esprit (Part 2)

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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Dague de L'esprit


E. E. Nalley And ElrodW


I'm so alone and I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same
But somewhere here in between the city walls of dyin' dreams
I think of death, it must be killin' me

The Wallflowers One Headlight


Part Two


October 3rd, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Lunch was easily the busiest meal of the day in the Crystal Hall. Breakfast was rowdy, but plenty of people skipped the so-called most important meal of the day. Dinner tended to be a spread out affair between extra curricular activities, clubs and of course that perennial teen pastime, dating, but lunch was the meal the school basically came to a halt for. Because of the previous years expansion the Hall was no where near its new rated maximum, but it still managed to feel full with kids jockeying for the best seats in the invisible pecking order, speedsters zipping by with trips for forgotten items, fliers declining to use the stairs or the elevator and the constant din of a thousand separate conversations.

Tansy sat at the Alpha table on their dais on the Top Tier, next to and across the waterfall from the Faculty Dais with a smile on her face as she picked at a salad and looked over the rail at the school assembled. Down below she saw Adam and Prue sitting at one of the little couple's tables and Greasy good naturedly allowed the Underdogs to file by rubbing his bald but now fuzzy head as a good luck charm that one of their own had gotten over. And while Adam had never formally been a member of the bottom of the social heap, he had the grace to know he wasn't very many rungs up the social ladder either.

But then again, he was eating lunch with a very pretty girl.

Tansy rested her arms on the rail and laid her chin in her hands to people watch. It wasn't often you stopped to see the whole school laid out like this. Mr. Lord and Mr Filbert had accosted one of the speedsters who had nearly made someone drop their tray and the teacher and the house parent were reading him the riot act. Mrs Carson, Ms Hartford and Lord Paramount were in an animated discussion on the Faculty Dais and now that she could see and recognize the crown prince of Wallachia, it no longer startled her to see him on campus so much. It did make the scheming part of her brain wonder what the three of them were up to.

Of course, Fortune was a fickle lover, and when she favored some, there were others suddenly alone. Tansy considered the miserable looking Peeper, sitting by himself and poking at his lunch while stealing glances every now and then at Adam and Prue. That first Monday after his condition had been successfully treated Adam had announced in the opening monologue of their radio program that he and John were done and had walked off the set. The long stretch of silence had only been broken by a frantic Zenith rushing in and announcing a bonus hour of her program The Voice of Reason.

There were those who swore the station hadn't broadcast silence and that you could hear Peeper crying next to the microphone. The next day the Noon slot had been filled by Thuban of all people, welcoming everyone into The Dragons' Den. The Peeper and Greasy show was officially radio history.

In a middle tier in the corner sat the Rejects, as they had come to be known, The Don, Aries, Flicker and Icer. Ever since Hamper and Damper had been expelled both Farrago and Peppercorn had found better things to do with their time and were eating elsewhere. Of course, it was hard to tell if Bogus had abandoned the Don as he could have been any of the ones eating with him.

Old Tansy smiled a cruel smile to herself delighting in the expression on 'Nasty' Nancy's face at her fall from the heights to her current situation. The charitable might have called it 'Resting Bitch Face' but Tansy knew Coolidge well enough to know she was pissed and plotting. Not that she had much to work with these days. Tansy's conscience pricked her about delighting in the suffering of another and she couldn't help a sniff in disdain, and a thought of, serves her right.

Still, she considered as she regarded her erstwhile foes, despite all he had done did the Don deserve to be at the mercy of Hekates Master? Tansy shuddered as she remembered the shear terror of the Don as he seemed to finally realize exactly who and what he was dealing with. Tansy frowned as she watched him smiling and eating as if he didn't have a care in the world. How odd, she thought as she watched. What does he have to be happy about? What is he up to?

Tansy frowned in worry. Being one up on someone was just about the only thing the Don got happy about. Surely he wasn't stupid enough to think...? In the pit of her stomach a knot of worry began to form. Of course he was stupid enough to think he could get one over on Hekate's Master. That's exactly the kind of idiot he was. But what could have transpired to make him think he had an ally of that magnitude? The only person even remotely strong enough to even be a threat to Hekate's Master would be...

A shiver ran down Tansy's spine.

Kallysta? She thought to herself. But...she was dead! The news...

In a flash, Tansy remembered a particularly damning expose that had aired on the news and had turned to her father to ask, “Daddy aren't you worried?”

Theodore Walcutt had only taken a sip of his scotch and favored his daughter with a condescending look. “The news is for the idiots who don't know any better, Tansy.” Nothing had come of the expose against her father, or his employer at the time.

Tansy looked over at the clock opposite the waterfall that was large enough to be read from anywhere in the Hall. Lunch had another half hour. Her own appetite was well and truly spoiled and she stood and dumped the tray into a trash can and put it onto the holder built into it. If she hurried, she'd have some time before her next class started and it would be private enough to risk using her special wifi card...

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October 3rd, 2007 (After Dinner)
The Still, Bootlegger's Cave under the Nalley Residence, Kennesaw, Georgia

Tansy shuddered as she stepped through the arched frame and in the course of a single step traveled over twelve hundred miles. She would never get used to these gates there was just something about them that screamed at her as being unnatural. Still, there was nothing for it but to soldier on, there was far too much at stake to allow 'feelings' to interfere with what had to be done. Elaine looked up and beamed her easy smile at her and immediately Tansy felt her cheeks rise in response. “Well, now we know it works!” The red head teased her as she made a final adjustment to the gate and shut it off. “It was a lot easier with Ms Hartford's help,” she admitted.

Tansy nodded and looked over at the corner where the brass kettle and wire contraption that was Elaine's great grandfathers still sat. “I'm no expert,” she said softly, “but it seems terribly damp in here. Why isn't that copper...thing...over there a rusted out hulk?”

Elaine stood and walked over to her, admiring the gleaming copper. “Ah don't know,” she admitted, “and yes, it should all be junk. These wood planks we're standing on, those iron steps and railings, never mind the car...” Tansy turned to look at the old car that she had taken the dusty tarp off of.

It looked like something out of a gangster movie, black, gleaming chrome grill and bejeweled headlights, but the hood was off to one side and the engine that sat in the long nose of the car definitely did not look like it belonged where it was. “So, what is this thing?” Tansy asked, walking over to admire the rich, but sedate leather in the interior.

“Ah've taken to calling it Liam's Folly,” Elaine replied with a grin. “That was Great Grand's name, Liam Nalley. It started life as a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. According to his notes, this was going to be his new delivery car, his bootlegger special. The body was replaced by quarter inch steel plate and the glass is, well, bullet resistant at least.”

“And it still moves with a 1930s engine in it?” Tansy demanded with an arched eyebrow.

Elaine beamed and kissed her friend. “Tansy! Ah'll make a gear head out of you yet! The original Over Head Valve straight six could move it, but not particularly quickly. So, evidently, Great Grand got creative and ordered this,” she said with a loving pat of the massive engine. “This is an original, 1933 first production run Rolls-Royce Merlin V12. This is motor number twenty eight! These were used in world war two fighter planes and if he had finished, would likely have pushed this old girl well north of one fifty.”

“Why didn't he finish?” asked Tansy, admiring the massive engine half installed in the car.

“It was 1933, prohibition ended,” the red head replied. “No prohibition, no bootlegging. Great Grand already had a his garage Nalley Automotive on the side that was doing quite well, so he went straight. The rest is history.”

“That's very interesting,” Tansy replied drolly, “But it doesn't explain why Entropy seems to be suspended down here! This car should be a rusted out hulk in this damp, the same with that kettle thing, and yet they both look brand new! What is going on?”

Elaine took a red shop rag from her back pocket and wiped her hands off on it. “Honestly? Ah don't know. All these light bulbs and florescent tubes are from the thirties, not a one has blown. The slide pole needed some work up at the top, but the bottom was fine, even the landing cushion isn't moldy. Great Grand had a pile of money from 'shining and bootlegg'n, maybe he paid a mage to come in here and cast some kind of preservation spell? Ah'll have Kayda look into it. Now, what is so secret you didn't want to tell me on the grounds?”

Tansy laid her tablet on the work bench and made a gesture to call several documents up to float holographically above the little computer. “I think Kallysta is still alive and might even be back at Whateley.”

Elaine's face became shocked with surprise and she got closer to the holograms. “What?”

“I had a brain flash at lunch, seeing the Don smiling like he was scheming again. It made sense to me that he would only be happy if he thought he had an ally capable of standing up to Hekate's Master. The only person we know that can cast Mythos magic at the school is...”

“Hekate,” Elaine agreed. “But she's dead...”

“Maybe not,” Tansy retorted. She began to pull the various documents forward to make her case. “The body that supposedly was Hekates was burned beyond recognition, but the autopsy has been sealed. I hired a hacker to get the scoop and its buried so deep even he couldn't get at it. The case has been marked cold but that is a violation of Boston PD Procedure where an active major crime must be unsolved for two years before being marked cold. This is barely six months old. And get this, even though Kallysta's MID was found with the body and the woman in the video looks and sounds just like her, she is officially still listed as a missing person and a person of interest in the Kansas City building disaster last Christmas.”

Elaine frowned as she looked over the files Tansy had produced. “If the ID was positive then Hekate should have been stricken from the missing person list...”

“But she's not,” Tansy pressed. “And with her power how hard would it be to disguise herself as, say, one of the new freshmen to sneak back onto the campus? And she and the Don were lovers...”

The red head snorted in derision. “The Don would fuck anything with a pulse...”

“Yes, but he and Hekate were partners in evil,” Tansy pressed. “Who else would she team up with to get revenge against, well, everybody?”

“There's almost two hundred freshmen this year!” Elaine whispered, her face pale.

Tansy nodded, a worried expression on her face. “We've got to figure out who she is and fast.”

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October 4th, 2007
The Quad, Whateley Academy

From the way he was looking at the blonde as he walked beside her, from the way he carried himself, the Witch was convinced that Kayda's brother, her intended cats-paw, was enamored with Tansy Walcutt. Even a blind man could see the moon-eyes he made toward her, the way he was always trying to be helpful. If that wasn't a crush, then the Witch didn't know what was.

"Good," she muttered to herself. She knew how to play Tansy. Better was the fact that Kayda was on Tansy's other side, and even though she couldn't hear the conversation, the girls' expressions indicated that they were having a friendly conversation as they walked. So Kayda was Tansy's friend, as rumors had indicated? All the better. Get to Tansy, get to Kayda. And if she got to Kayda, she would get access to the Lakota girl's shaman magic which had undone her curses. With that knowledge, the Witch could strengthen her own magic. And then not even her former master would be able to resist her power.

Better, she thought, subconsciously licking her lips, the boy was getting a bit of a reputation as a Lothario. There were plenty of girls rumored to have designs on him, as did that Japanese cat-girl. Even one of the pesky Three Little Witches seemed to be hung up on him. The Witch's gaze hardened into an angry glare; those little witches had destroyed one of her major workings, undoing, in a fluke, magic which had taken her weeks to create.

Slowly, that anger suffused into a wicked smile as she realized how to play multiple goals at once. She'd seen the boy exercising and doing detention chores, and she had to admit that while he wasn't chiseled like Wyatt Cody, he nonetheless had a very attractive physique, with well-defined, well-toned muscles that made her breathe a little harder when she thought of him. And as a woman, a young one, but a woman nonetheless, she had her needs. If she conquered the boy, she hurt one of the Three Little Witches. She didn't give a shit about the foreign girls; they were inconsequential to her plan. And a sexual conquest would put him in her grasp, opening a gateway to get to his sister.

The Witch smiled, but her smile was predatory and unpleasant. She had a seduction to plan.

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October 4th, 2007
Beck Library, Whateley Academy

A pair of eyes lit with inner glee as they tracked the Lakota girl walking through the library. He could easily detect the mythos taint on a book she carried in one hand, the one that he'd substituted for a more innocuous title onto which he'd bound a minor 'curiosity' spell to attract her attention. It had worked; she'd been drawn to that book like a fly to honey, and now she was checking it out for further study, though the library records would show that she'd checked out the harmless original book, which he considered to be a slightly more advanced 'magic for dummies'.

His preparations had been thorough; there was not even a vestige of trouble at the checkout, and the dusky-skinned girl walked happily and unaware out of the library, to study her new found treasure.

Patience was a requirement here; this girl had none of the lust for power that Hekate had possessed, a trait which had made it easy to bait his former apprentice into more complicated and more evil spells quickly. At some point, he'd have to put a compulsion spell on a book so that Kayda would begin to assemble her own grimoire of forbidden spells, but for now, it was enough that she was learning.

Now to nudge her into actually using the spells. It had to start small; perhaps one of the bullies could be influenced through a small suggestion or compulsion spell to attack her, forcing her to employ one of the spells to counterattack aggressively. It would be her first step toward the darkness. But she'd already gained a reputation for defending herself quite well, and most bullies shied away from messing with her. More extreme prompts were called for.

A wickedly evil grin crossed the observer's features. There were two avenues he could easily think of. Maybe three. The fact that she'd been traumatized by a gang-rape was well known after that farcical hearing last spring term. If one of the less-bright bullies were to make threats that seemed like an imminent rape, she'd likely lash out in anger and fear. Perhaps that idiot Dump Truck, or his equally stupid friend Thud? A compulsion spell on a paper, slipped into a backpack, and as soon as they touched it, the spell would activate. This would require a little care in planning - the attack had to be out of sight of help.

Kayda's habits were well-known; Monday, she practiced martial arts with her special tutor after classes, but she usually was with her brother and Chou, so that was out. Thursdays, though, she had meetings of her Native American club, and as leader, she often arrived early and left late. What was more, the clubhouse was located beyond Holbrook in a clearing in the woods; security coverage was light, and it would seem a good ambush point for the bullies.

Alternatively, he could find some new bullies to push into attacking the brother. Or, he thought, and had to suppress a wicked chuckle, if the bullies were to attempt to assault the brother when he was stuck in his cat-girl form .... Danny - or Danica, as the case might be - was an easy target for the gay-bashers, and after making monkeys out of the bullies, it'd be easy to spur them into a plot for revenge.

The observer left the library, chortling wickedly to himself. That one had all the elements - easy to 'persuade' the bullies, threat to Danica would evoke Kayda's protective feelings, finding Danica being sexually assaulted would prey on the girl's PTSD - yes, it had all the elements for a perfect setup to trick the Lakota girl into using dark magic.

Now it was a matter of planning. First, he had to introduce her to more powerful spells, and then entice Thud and Dump Truck. Since Danny was in that cat-girl form periodically, he'd have to synchronize his plan so that on a night of the Nations meeting, Danny would be Danica.

The web was slowly being spun. And the girl had no clue that she was being drawn in.

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October 4th, 2007
Women's Locker Room, Laird Hall, Whateley Academy

“Someone should warn people about that shark!”

Tansy turned from her locker in surprise at hearing her mother's voice. She caught sight of her entering from the door to the regular gym dressed in a pair of shorts, a tank top and sweat bands at her wrists and forehead, which she had need of as she was red faced and sweating profusely. “Mom?” she asked, surprised and walking over. The older woman plopped down on the bench and tried to catch her breath. “Are you ok?”

“No!” Marissa replied in an annoyed tone of voice. “I've just been destroyed in squash! Five straight sets without scoring a point! Someone should warn people about that Ian Parker!”

Tansy only just kept in a chuckle at the thought of spindly, flamboyantly gay Ian Parker, head of the AV Department and sponsor of Venus, Inc. being dominantly athletic about anything. Diplomatically changing the subject she said, “Why are you still here? I thought you were going to Grandma and Grandpa's?”

Marissa opened her locker, removed a towel and wiped her face. “Oh, I was, sweetheart, and I am, but Mom and Dad are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary in Venice. I tried to keep them from cutting the trip short, but they're going to anyway. Still, it takes time to arrange things and they won't be home until next week. Mrs Carson graciously set me up with an apartment here and I've been working on getting back into shape.”

Tansy sat down and smiled, giving her mother a one armed hug. “People have to stay fit around here,” she agreed with a laugh. “But, since you are here, I could use your help with a writing assignment Mrs Carson gave me.”

Dawson pulled her headband through her blond locks and wiped away the sweat. “What sort of writing assignment?”

With a roll of her eyes, Tansy admitted, “A formal letter of apology.”

The older blond looked at her daughter askance. “Alright, let me get a shower and we'll talk about it over lunch.”

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October 4th, 2007
Alpha's Dias, The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

“Is this seat taken?”

Elaine looked up from her tablet to see Ayla standing patiently, his tray in his hand and a FedEx Mailer under one arm. “Please,” she managed, indicating the seat and setting her tablet to one side. “What brings ya'll up here for lunch, Ayla?”

The Goodkind smile was perfect, as usual. “Business,” the gender confused young man replied, taking the mailer from under his arm and in the open space of the table between them laying out a set of glossy proof images. “I've gotten these proofs back from the marketing firm I contracted with for your Great Grandfather's, um, product. The bottler has received the barrels and they have been processed. My congratulations to your Great Grandfather, the bottler informs me from the fifty three gallon barrel that was already tapped, fifty two and a half gallons of usable whiskey was strained, processed and bottled. Resulting in two hundred eighty two bottles of seven hundred milliliters each.” He pulled a portfolio from his briefcase and removed a series of papers, as well as a spiral bound check book.

“The chemical balance testers and the tasters agreed on an aggregate price per bottle and that affected the estimate of the wholesale value to you,” he said, offering the papers.

“Down or up?” asked Elaine fearfully.

“Up,” Ayla assured her. “We need you to approve the label, the marketing proofs for the campaign and so on, but I have your check for you.” He removed the check and laid it in front of Elaine. She blinked counting the zeroes and realized she was looking at a check for seventeen million one hundred thousand dollars. Ayla smiled. “Now that you're rich, who's paying for lunch?”

“This is for...?”

“One barrel,” Ayla replied. “The recommendation is to go to market with this lot at eighty three years. Wait two years and go to market with one barrel at eighty five years, then five years at ninety and so on. The remaining barrels to be sold as one hundred year old whiskey. By that time the distillery will have fifteen and twelve year old whiskey for the label by your great grandfathers recipe and you should be just about set.”

“Wow,” Elaine whispered. The aspiring business mogul chuckled politely.

“Now, the firm did market research and these were the top three in the test market.” Elaine slid aside the first two and stared at a parchment colored label. On it was a somewhat complicated logo that was representation of a clipper ship and in a dignified font that seemed to suggest an older, simpler time, was written:

Irish Rover
Single Malt Rye Whiskey
in keeping with the finest traditions of
The Emerald Isle

“This one,” she said firmly which caused Ayla to chuckle.

“I thought you'd pick that one. So here are the marketing slicks, we thought a simple print campaign in CEO, Fortune and Successful Entrepreneur magazines...”

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October 4th, 2007
Privacy Corner, The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

The rearrangement of the Crystal Hall had included something of an anomaly. On the ground floor, the reflection pool the waterfall tumbled into had been enlarged so that the obelisk with its odd symbols, now sat on a little island, centered in the pool the waterfall tumbled down from the top tier into, then through a little bend into the pool so that the obelisk stayed in the exact center of the hall.

Last year the seniors had simply been told it couldn't be moved, but not why, so they built around it.

It was this little bend that made things interesting. A foot bridge in the Japanese style with two hanging lanterns on each side arched over the little brook and its landing was in this outcropping. But the plants and the concrete of the waterfall system made for a little space where a single four place table sat, hidden from view except from the faculty dais two tiers above, or in front of the girls restroom, hidden behind the waterfall.

It quickly got the nickname 'Privacy Corner' because you couldn't be over heard thanks to the water and you couldn't be seen at the table unless someone made it obvious they were eavesdropping. This made it fairly prime real estate in the pecking order, but by a common and unspoken arrangement, no single group laid claim to it, leaving it a sort of neutral ground where things could be discussed instead of coming to blows.

Tansy and her mother sat at the table now, the plants and the soft gurgle of the flowing water a pleasant distraction. As Tansy peppered her salad, her mother gazed at her with a melancholy expression on her face. “I...I hear you led Liliuokalani Academy to victory in the polo match...?”

The younger blonde blushed, and averted her eyes. “Yes, I...I'm afraid I wasn't very lady like in my victory.”

“Oh,” Marissa replied softly. “Tansy, I...well, I probably don't have words for how sorry I am for not having been there for you, to...”

Tansy looked up at her mother and sadly shook her head. “Mom, it's not your fault I was such a bad person. I have to take responsiblity for my own actions.” She sighed as she drizzled the oil and vinegar dressing over the salad. “But, I want you to know I'm doing everything I can to turn my life around and get myself together. So you can be proud of me...”

Marissa's hand squeezed her daughters free wrist and instantly Tansy was filled with a cacophany of emotions, thundering regret, moaning melancholy, whispering pride and shame for feeling proud of that which she had done no work. “Oh, sweetheart,” she said, her eyes tearing up. “You don't have to do anything for me to be proud of you...!”

Strengthening her mental shields, Tansy kept the tears from her eyes. “I...oh mom, I'm so ashamed of myself! I was bullied for so long and I wanted to hurt them for hurting me, but I couldn't so I started bullying their little brother and...”

Dawson's heart ache was painted on her face. “And if I had been there I could have helped you deal with it. Oh Tansy...” She took in a deep breath and let it out. “All we can do now, my little flower is make up for what we have done, and go forward being the people we should have been, but weren't.”

“I'm trying, mom,” Tansy told her earnestly. “But, well, you're here and you might hear stuff and...”

Marissa sat up primly. “I have no time for gossip,” she declared loftily. “I know who my daughter is, and I couldn't care less about who she was. That's old news. So! Tell me about this letter and what you're apologizing for.”

Tansy's alabaster complexion flushed with embarrissment. “I...well, I slapped a boy and...”

Her mother's eyebrow arched. “For what?” she demanded.

“He called me filthy names,” Tansy admitted softly.

Marissa's tongue slowly licked her lips. “So, Mrs. Carson is enforcing a rule, but it sounds like this...young man...had it coming?” Tansy shrugged her shoulders sheepishly.

“Well, obviously I thought so, I slapped him...”

The expression on her mother's face gave Tansy a moment of pause. “I see,” she said. “Your Headmistress is teaching a lesson in subtlety. Allow me to advise you...”

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October 5th, 2007
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

The silence drug out as Tansy stood before Mrs Carson's desk while the Head Mistress read the fruit of her hand-written labor of penance, pausing every so often to stop and gaze over the top of the letter at her recalcitrant student before shaking her head and continuing. Finally she came to the end, laid the paper down flat on her desk and speared the girl with her most intimidating stare. Just as Tansy thought she would die if she didn't squirm, Mrs Carson drawled, “You wrote this?”

“My mother gave me some suggestions, and proof reading, but yes ma'am, I wrote that.”

“Define 'suggestions',” she ordered flatly.

Tansy felt her spine straighten indignantly. “If you are implying, Mrs Carson, that I am taking credit for my mothers work, allow me to disabuse you of such notions and certify with all commitment and fidelity of my complete and sovereign authorship.”

A ghost of a smile tugged at one corner of the Head Mistress' lip. “I see you have been reading the dictionary. A photographic memory does have its uses.”

“Mostly the Thesaurus, but you are correct at the core of your assumption,” Tansy replied.

Mrs Carson reached over and pressed a button on her phone without taking her eyes off her student. “Ms Hartford, would you join us, please?” In lieu of answer, the door opened and closed as the Assistant Head Mistress joined Mrs Carson on her side of the desk. Elizabeth picked up the letter and handed it to her assistant. “Read this,” she commanded.

“Lovely penmanship,” was Ms Hartford's first response. She muttered to herself before she looked at Mrs Carson and asked, “Unprepossessing?”

“It is an extremely flowery way of saying someone is physically ugly,” Carson replied evenly.

“Ah,” she remarked as she turned back to the page and her incredulity began to rise. “In hopes of piercing your manly and obtuse nature...?” Hartford continued. “This has to be the most insulting apology I have ever read!”

“Technically,” Mrs Carson added, “she never actually apologizes. It is all couched in provisos of if such and such were true, I would owe you an apology, but if you look closely it is never actually tendered.”

Amelia tisked between her teeth. “You're right, this overly formal tone slipped that right by me. Miss Walcutt this is, in fact the single most insulting, non-apology I have ever read. My congratulations.”

“I...was kind of hoping you wouldn't notice that...” Tansy admitted in her more normal speaking tone of voice.

Mrs Carson rolled her eyes. “Master of English degree, dear,” she replied. “Do you consider this document to meet the criteria I set out for you?”

“You ordered me to write a formal, hand written letter of apology,” Tansy replied with more courage than she felt. “I have done so. Everything in that document is true and correct, and were the recipient to prove the truth of the provisos mentioned I would be happy to tender an apology upon request.”

“That is a masterful piece of guile and half truth,” Mrs Carson declared.

“I'm very proud,” Ms Hartford added.

“Ur...” Tansy stuttered. “Um, thanks?”

“You are quite welcome,” the Headmistress replied. “So, now you may go to the room of your equally rule obsessed friend Miss Nalley and hand copy, in ink, all two thousand words of her treatise on fighting words and the supreme court. And if you make a mistake, you will use neither liquid paper or erasable ink, but in fact you will discard that page and start over.”


“You heard me,” Mrs Carson told her archly. “And I expect it on my desk with my morning coffee tomorrow.”

“Isn't this double jeopardy?” Tansy demanded.

“Oh no,” Ms Hartford told her. “Your punishment for slapping Mr Archer has been accepted and even complimented on. This is for thinking you can one up either of us.”

“What she said,” Mrs Carson added with a smile. “You may go, Miss Walcutt.”

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October 5th, 2007
Room 210, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

“Oh, my poor hand!” complained Tansy from her little corner of Elaine's desk as she laid the pen down and wrung out her hand. The red head looked over from the space-themed website she was reading and shook her head.

“What possessed you to think Mrs Carson wouldn't throw a fit about that letter?” she asked with a grin. “Ah suppose the real question now is did your Ma throw you under the bus on purpose?”

“She was certain that Mrs Carson actually wanted something like what I gave her, and she and Ms Hartford both seemed to genuinely be happy with it, I mean, neither of them are known for their sarcasm, right?” Tansy looked down at the paper she was copying and shook her hand some more to get the blood back into it. “I don't know, call me paranoid, but if she is so happy with what I did, why this extra?”

“Well, Ah'm always happy to see you,”

Tansy blushed a bit as she returned her lover's smile and watched her head over to her fridge and get them both sodas before returning to the desk. Elaine was wearing a simple T-shirt emblazoned with the Ford logo and what Tansy knew to be her favorite pair of 'Daisy Duke' cut off jean shorts and her hair was back in a simple pony tail. And even so casual the blonde was stirred by the comfortable beauty and attractiveness she radiated. There was something about Elaine that made people want to be friends with her. “Tansy,” she said after a sip of her Coke, “What is it like to be in someone's mind? Like dream space with our spirits?”

The blonde shook her head. “No, it's not anywhere near that detailed. A mind scape is kind of surreal most of the time. Strong memories or fantasies have detail, but mostly its symbolic representation rather than the real thing. The more you understand mental symbolism, the more you learn about a person just from what you see.”

“Sounds very Freudian,” the red head replied

Walcutt made a 'so-so' gesture with her hand. “It can be, with a healthy dose of Jungian psychology to include Anima, Animus, archetypes and the Throne of Self. For example, when I entered my mom's mind I was in a court room, but not a modern one, like one out of the old west, but it wasn't complete at all, with windows hanging without walls kind of like that episode of Star Trek where Kirk and company are fighting the Earp Brothers at the Ok Corral.”

Specter of the Gun,” Elaine replied. “We studied it in Motion Picture directing last year. Brilliant set design in this hyper minimalist Salvador Dali surreal way.”

“Exactly,” Tansy affirmed. “Generally, the more creative the mind, the more detail in the mind space, but that isn't always so. Exceptions to rules and all that.”

“But, what does it feel like?” Elaine pressed.

“I can show you, if you like?”

The redheads excitement was infectious. “Sure!”

Tansy laughed and stretched. “I needed a break anyway.” She moved her chair to be closer to Elaine's. “Ok, so, just relax and let your mind go blank. While I could do the Mr. Spock thing, it's easier to just hold hands.” The girls joined hands and Tansy closed her eyes, immediately finding herself in an infinite black space, but before her, better than double her normal amazonian proportions was Grizzly dressed like a bouncer at a really rough bar and, incongruously next to her was a pair of brass stanchions and a red velvet rope hung between them.

“I'm watching you,” the bear woman growled, then reached down and opened the rope.

Tansy stopped before the spirit and spread her arms. “Come inside,” she offered. “See me, see my heart, unhidden; I won't stop you. She is just as important to me, Grizzly, I swear it.”

Grizzly reached out and touched Tansy's forehead and then a blur of things happened all at once. Lanie cried out in pain and suddenly Tansy was in her own body feeling incredibly full and over stuffed and in Lanie's eyes was a look of such intense pain she reached out and grabbed her lover to comfort her. Then Tansy was falling and fell flat on her back onto rough asphalt. Next to her was Elaine, shivering, and then Grizzly as well.

Tansy didn't care she was lying on pavement, she gathered Elaine into her arms and comforted her. “What...what happened...?” the redhead managed as she shivered in Tansy's arms. Grizzly rolled over, holding her head for a moment, then gathered both girls into a hug.

I...for a moment, I was pulled from you into Tansy, the spirit said, awestruck. How did you do that?

“I don't...” started Tansy, then remembered when she had trapped Jinn in her hallow, that feeling of pulling the spirit energy into her. “I invited Grizzly to look into me to see I was being honest and when she touched me I think it triggered...something. I...I think maybe I can pull spirits into me.”

Slowly the color was coming back to Elaine's face. “Why...” she swallowed. “Why would you think that?”

Tansy sat up and pulled away from Grizzly. “Because I've done it before. Last year I came across...what does she call herself? Jinn? Yes, Jinn...”

“Jade's dead sister?”

Tansy snorted. “And I thought I was paranoid. No, it's not Jade's sister, it's Jade herself. That's her power, she breaks off bits of her soul as spirits and has them possess things, telekinetically.”

“Ah will be dipped in shit,” Elaine whispered. “That's why she never wanted to let me touch any of her inventions, mah power would have seen through them as just collections of junk!”

“Probably,” Walcutt admitted. “Anyway, I...Old Me saw an opportunity to get over and I captured her.” She sighed and forced herself to look up and face the condemnation she knew she had coming. “I'm not proud of it...” she started, but Elaine's expression was consoling.

“Old wounds,” she told her. The girls stood and looked around. They were in a parking lot of a Chuck E Cheese Pizza Parlor, there were two ambulances, nearly a dozen police cars and a body lying in a pool of blood under a blood soaked blanket.

“What happened here?” demanded Tansy as she looked around, This was one of the strongest memories she'd ever encountered, nearly indistinguishable from being outside, in that parking lot, but the world past the lot was hazy and there was no traffic on the road that ran beside the restaurant. She noticed a young girl, somewhere around six or seven in a lovely party dress sobbing into the arms of her mother, a lovely, black haired woman who was doing her best to keep her daughter from seeing the horrible scene.

Off a bit was a tall, wiry young man, about thirty or so, reddish brown hair back in a pony tail and wearing a polo shirt and jeans talking to a handful of policemen. Tansy immediately recognized the younger selves of Elaine's parents and looked at her friend. “Lanie...?”

Grizzly was still holding her host as their bonds were re-established, and Elaine looked ashamed at the memory. “This...this was mah birthday party,” she admitted quietly. “It was mah day, everything Ah wanted, where the party was held, what we ate, the cake, everything. It's when Ah realized Ah would never have friends, that something would always happen.”

Tansy joined the spirit in her hug. “Baby, that's not true! I love you! Wyatt...”

“Maggie said she loved me,” Elaine whispered hollowly. “Best friends forever, we swore.” Tansy gasped as she felt the pain in her heart, both of what she had done and how it hurt Elaine, but the redhead hadn't noticed. “Maria...she...swore she loved me and Ah...” Tears began to flow from her eyes now and Tansy's heart ached in feelings of sympathy she was still not used to feeling. “Don't you see, Tansy? Something will happen! Something always does! Then Ah'll lose you and Wyatt and...”

Tansy reached out and pulled her lover into a long, fierce kiss, holding her as tightly as she dared. “The only thing that will take me from you is death,” she whispered as she pulled away. “God as my witness, Lanie, I will never leave you.”

This is where you came to fear your bisexuality, isn't it? Grizzly asked softly.

“Fear?” asked Tansy, confused.

“Afraid of it getting mah dad in trouble,” she whispered. Suddenly time ran backward, too fast to follow then froze into a tableau seen through a back seat window, burned into the mind of a small girl. Tansy saw a young man, beaten and bloody on the ground and she didn't need to see his rainbow shirt to know his sexual preferences. Standing over him was a pair of rough men, rage on their faces, shouting at Elaine's father who had interceded in the beating. He stood, ten feet from them, his pistol in his hands and a mushroom of flaming gases frozen in time from the muzzle as one of the two men charged him.

“Ah had to go to the county records to find out what happened, because mama wouldn't tell me,” Elaine whispered. “Cobb County had a new district attorney looking to make a name for himself. He called mah daddy a vigilante” and she spat the word like it was a curse. “He said daddy was a power drunk red neck looking to play cops and robbers!”

Elaine shook she was so angry as she stepped out of Grizzly's embrace and walked out towards the frozen in place men of her memory. “Mah daddy is a good man! He stood up for a gay boy who was minding his own business with his family, at his little brother's birthday party. And these two animals would have beat him to death over nothing but the shirt he wore and who he likes to date!” She whirled back to the other two women, tears running down her face and yet her eyes burning with a cold, murderous hate.

“That son of a bitch James Hooper, assistant district attorney did everything he could to ruin mah family! He lied to the Grand Jury and then to the jury and the press, he all but lynched mah daddy for just being a decent human being! This was almost ten years ago and mah family was still paying the debt to the lawyers for daddies defense until I made mah first patent!”

Tansy crossed the distance between them and took Elaine into her arms. “It will be alright, baby, I promise,” she whispered.

“But!” Elaine protested, “Don't you see? How it will all happen again, but worse! If it gets out! If it gets out that Ah am Bi...!”

The parking lot faded away and Tansy was holding Elaine in her chair as the younger girl sobbed. “It will be ok,” she repeated.

“Why did you look at that memory?” Elaine asked her.

“I didn't pick the memory, Lanie,” Tansy replied. “You did. I was caught so off guard by suddenly having Grizzly and Mustang I was in no condition to pick anything. I would guess because you hurt from her leaving that your mind went to the strongest memory that hurt as badly.”

“Does...” sniffed Elaine. “Does linking minds always hurt this much?”

Walcutt raised a hand and touched Elaine's forehead. The redhead gasped as Tansy gently stimulated the pleasure center of her brain directly. After several moments of bliss, her eyes were dry and slowly Tansy let her down, gasping for breath. “Not always,” Tansy told her with a grin.

“Ah love you.”

“I love you.”

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October 5th, 2007
The March of Dreams, Dream Space of the Ptesanwi

The pattern of magic swirled violently, then collapsed into nothingness. "Aaarghhh!" Kayda screamed in frustration. "I can't do this! It's impossible!"

Seated with her back to the fire circle, Ms. Grimes scooted over close to Kayda and put her arm around the Lakota girl's shoulder. "You have to, Kayda," Ms. Grimes said. "You know what's at stake here."

"It's a sign that she shouldn't do this!" Kayda's mentor, Wakan Tanka grumbled her objection. "Shamans should not use dark magic!"

Mrs. Carson nodded her acknowledgment of the protest. "The person we're dealing with worked a huge amount of very dark magic on campus last year," she explained. "With all the experienced mages we have, we didn't detect it, and even once we were aware of it, we couldn't find the source."

"That does not give you the right to put my Ptesanwi at risk!"

Mrs Carson's face drew into a frown of displeasure. “Your Ptesanwi?” she demanded archly. “Do you claim the girl as your slave? In addition to the other insults Brandon has suffered from you?” The spirit's face was painted with disdain and turned away, but Mrs Carson was not finished. “The Ptesanwi is already at risk, targeted by a mage who does not dabble in the evil that is Mythos Magic but is consumed with it! Now, would you rather we hunt this monster with our last remaining clue, or close our eyes and pretend we have not discovered what we have?”

Kayda glanced nervously at Lanie and then at her girlfriend Deb, who were with her in dream space, looking for encouragement in their eyes. The task was proving far more difficult and fatiguing, both mentally and physically, than almost anything she'd done before, and success was still elusive. She was trying to create the illusion of dark magic - dangerous mythos magic that was forbidden at Whateley. Kayda closed her eyes and lowered her head, venting a deep breath in a heavy sigh. “I chose to do this, Wakan Tanka.”

“Do you choose for those close to you as well?” the spirit demanded in a surly tone.

"I'm safe in Sioux Falls," Deb noted hopefully. "So Kayda doesn't need to worry about my safety."

Kayda shook her head slowly, her lips pursed tightly. "You were attacked in dream space, remember? And my friends, my soul-sister, and my brother are at Whateley. Even if you are, they're not safe," she said. "Remember how I almost killed Scott in a rage last spring? What's to say I wouldn't do that - but with dark magic - if someone threatened Danny or Lanie?" She wearily shook her head again. "I have to get this right. Somehow. I'll try it again."

Trying to lighten the mood, the quip was past her lips before she could think better of it. "No," Lanie interrupted in a gravelly voice. "Try not. Do ... or do not. There is no try."

The Lakota girl grinned and chuckled. "Why Master Yoda, you've gotten taller! And you've grown a big pair ...."

"Enough with the Star Wars quotes," Ms. Grimes said with a frown. "Besides, I would have thought that nerds like you two would cite something other than the most over-used, trite phrase of the whole movie!"

"You ask too much of Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka objected again with an expression of distaste. "You put her in a position where you expect her to sacrifice her friends if necessary. She is a teenager, not a hardened warrior."

"We have to," Mrs. Carson replied, her eyes and voice betraying the pain of knowing precisely what they were asking of her student. "Would you rather that Wihakayda was in control with us to guide her," she asked, shooting a glance at Kayda when she used Wakan Tanka's nickname for the girl, "or would you have her reacting to situations without our advice and guidance?"

"Your point is noted," Wakan Tanka grudgingly agreed. "But I don't like it at all."

“That makes two of us,” Carson conceded, shaking her head.

Ms. Grimes nodded, then looked at the student. "Try again, Kayda. Try to weave the magic pattern that you saw in Skybolt.”

"No," Wakan Tanta protested loudly, jumping to her feet. "It is too dangerous! The dark threads of the tapestry of magic are alive. Once she casts them, they will grow without constant effort to contain them!"

The Headmistress stood as well and for a moment, it looked as though things might escalate beyond words, when suddenly Deb said, mostly to herself,"It's too bad you can't use a 'killed' thread, like in vaccinations."

Mrs. Carson's eyes widened and she whirled, intent on the surprised former student. "What?" she asked.

Lanie picked up immediately on what Deb had said. "Like the polio vaccine," she noted. "Ah remember one type was made with killed virus, not a live one."

"That might work," Ms. Grimes said after a moment of silent thought. "It might work better than trying to simulate a dark thread!"

"If I could kill it without having it self-destruct," Kayda noted. "Every time I separated one of them," she said with a visible shudder; destroying those living threads of evil magic was difficult because they fought back, "it ... fizzled and dissolved."

"If Kayda creates the magic tapestry," Wakan Tanka countered, "she will not be able to control the threads separately." But her tone wavered, as she too considered the possibility of skirting the real danger of dealing in Mythos to capture the Mythos Master.

Ms. Grimes swallowed hard, then spoke up. "I know how to cast that type of magic. I remember the pattern. I'll create the magic and Kayda can take it apart to kill a thread." She gave a thin uneasy smile to Mrs. Carson. "That'll leave you free to watch the process for ... something going wrong, and to give essence to Kayda if she needs it." She knew that Liz Carson would pick up her meaning - if casting the magic 'contaminated' her, Mrs. Carson could do something to protect the students and her school.

When everyone was ready, and Lanie and Deb were a safe distance from the magic working, Elyzia began a complicated working. Slowly, a visual representation of a spell began to coalesce out of the evening air like smoke condensing into something solid - faint, then foggy, then slowly becoming more substantial.

Even though she'd fought many of the spells when she decontaminated Skybolt, Kayda couldn't help but shudder at the visual tapestry of magic. Some of the threads squirmed like snakes, lashing out and biting with razor-sharp teeth around them as if to defend themselves. Some distance behind her, Deb and Lanie gasped audibly at the thing that had been summoned as well as at the thought that Kayda was going to have to isolate and contain one of the nasty living threads.

While Ms. Grimes struggled, eyes closed and sweating, to keep the spell intact, Kayda grimaced, gritted her teeth, and waded into battle, attacking the evil threads with her magic knife, taking damage as the living snakes bit and clubbed at her. While Mrs. Carson watched solemnly, Lanie and Deb flinched from the beating their friend was taking as she battled the living representation of evil magic. After what seemed an eternity, the battered tapestry had only one remaining thread of darkness.

Mrs. Carson rushed in to hold part of the struggling spell fragment while Kayda fought to control the other end. "Lanie, Deb! Help hold this thing!" Kayda called out, her voice strained from the long, difficult struggle. The two girls rushed in, grabbing at the spell thread to help hold the thrashing embodiment of evil. It was much stronger than either of the exemplar girls had figured, and while they struggled to hold it, Mrs. Carson and Kayda began another working.

As the magic completed, the spell fragment suddenly froze in place, held captive in a spell the two mages had cast, like it was anchored in concrete or frozen in place. After Kayda and the headmistress had extracted the dark thread from the rest of the spell tapestry, letting the other parts fade away, Ms. Grimes and Wakan Tanka began to closely examine the remaining thread.

"What do you think?" Mrs. Carson finally asked. "Here?" She pointed at a spot on the thing.

"That's what it looks like to me. That should kill it without disrupting its existence," Ms. Grimes agreed. She took her athame from her waist and began to carefully cut at the thread. After she'd carved away some bits, she nodded to Carson. "Let it go - let's see if we got it."

To everyone's relief, when Mrs. Carson released the statis spell, the thread fragment stayed in place, inert and unmoving and also not fading like the other bits had. "To be safe," Mrs. Carson said to assuage Wakan Tanka, "I'll keep the spell fragment in a magic trap for now. That should protect Kayda.”

"Um," Kayda cleared her throat, "am I going to have to do this every time I cast a fake dark spell? Because if that's true, this is going to take a huge amount of essence just to get one thread."

"No," Ms. Grimes answered. "We'll examine it and figure out how to replicate it. Then you can use the inert replicas to cast the fake spells."

"Weaving those fragments into regular spells is going to tax your skill and your essence," Mrs. Carson added a cautionary note.

"Which will be good practice," Wakan Tanka said approvingly. "It will stretch your abilities."

"Right now," Kayda answered wearily, "all I want to do is stretch out and rest. I'm exhausted."

"I believe it," Ms. Grimes said with a smile. "Nice job, by the way. But you have one more thing to do."

Kayda frowned. "What?"

"You need to check us all for contamination," Mrs. Carson said, her voice apologetic. "I know you're tired, but we have to be careful. After you do that," she shot a knowing glance at Deb, "you can rest."

"We'll work on figuring out how to make simple spells look dark. Like using a bad luck probability warping spell to look like a dark curse," Ms. Grimes added.

"Oh, joy," Kayda said dryly. "As if I don't already have enough homework and extra classwork."

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October 5th, 2007
The Love Nest, tunnels below Twain Cottage

Stephen opened an eye and, seeing his roommate Steve 'Mechano-Man' Tupolo was soundly asleep, he quietly got out of bed, fished out his overnight bag from its hiding place, and floated silently out of the room. It had been an interesting experience last year when he had started poking around the school's intranet and private websites that were not accessible outside of the schools network. And while Stephen wasn't a hacker by any stretch, he was an explorer by nature and had spent hours poking around the dark corners of this network.

It was how he had found the Whateley Dark Web.

The Dark Web was a collection of sites, thoroughly hidden throughout the schools network, aided, he was sure, by some of the best of the schools computer nerds. He couldn't figure out how to log into it remotely, he had tried even with his school laptop from the Starbucks in Berlin, but from the simple wifi pickup of his room in Twain Cottage there was a gateway to all sorts of interesting things. There were forums where students offered services ranging from theft for hire and prostitution, to contraband items, everything from drugs to weapons missing their serial numbers, and everything in between.

All this was hidden by code named 'handles', his own was 6thPillar, and strictly anonymous. The servers knew he was a student, somehow Alumni could log on because they were marked with an asterisk on their handle, and what cottage he was in. None of that information was displayed, but the mysterious Moderator Deep CORE knew it and he did show Stephen interesting things about Twain Cottage.

For instance the hidden little legacy he was going to now, the Love Nest.

The Love Nest was a legacy, hidden behind several secret doors and false fronts, created by a member of the Class of '74 The Builder. It was accessed by the first secret door halfway down the stairs to the tunnel system in the basement of Twain Cottage. Behind the secret door was a veritable second tunnel system of hidden rooms, storehouses and such, as well as the Love Nest. The Nest was three rooms, a romantic dining room with walls that showed a series of idyllic sunsets, tropical island, big city penthouse, rustic mountain get away, all in what looked like real time. The food arrived by Tele-Meal, a high end teleport based delivery service in a dedicated box that had its coordinates marked on the door and a touch screen that showed the services current menus of various member restaurants.

Next was a bathroom that was like something out of an anime cartoon. It was all in bamboo, floors, walls and the ceiling as could be seen through the steam. There was the necessary toilet of course, and a sink. But the rest was pure fantasy onsen or Japanese hot spring bath. There was a little seat with a shower wand and a wooden bucket to clean oneself, then a massive, steaming pool, about the size of a large hot tub, that was made to look like it occurred naturally in the stone of the wall and was fed by a gurgling spring of hot water.

The final room, of course, was a bedroom. It was like something out of a seventies porn set. The bed was a gigantic heart shape affair, covered in red satin sheets and pillows. A disco ball provided moving, soft light and there was a very nice sound system with a number of classical music selections along with the complete works of Berry White.

The bedroom made him cringe, but the dining room and the bath were very romantic and after the giggles were out of the way, nobody really cared about the travesty of a bed room. Marty had been specific she had a surprise for him, and recalling Falcon's 'advice' he was sure he was going to surprise her.

As luck would have it, she was coming in the door from the tunnel system just as he was entering. “Heya!” she greeted, tossing down her bag and flying over in exuberance to embrace him with a passionate kiss. Stephen dropped his bag and wrapped his arms around his lover, returning her searing kiss with equal passion. The two peeled clothing from each other somehow without breaking the kiss, as Stephen carried her into the bath and now naked, eased both of them into the warm water.

Finally she pulled away and made to get out, saying, “I need my bag, I have a surprise...”

He held her and smiled up at her. “Me first. I have a surprise for you.”

She grinned and cocked her head to look at him sideways. “Where did you hide it?” she asked, but he smiled and tapped his temple.

Holding her against him, he whispered in her ear, “Drop your shell”

Marty shook from the tips of her toes to the roots of her hair as something akin to panic took a hold of her. Her instinctive reaction was to flee, but his arms were wrapped around her and he was stronger than she was and despite her efforts, she was held. She looked up into his face, tears in her eyes as she tried to pull away, then stopped.

There was no anger in his face, no hate fueled mask to herald the beginning of a hate crime, just him looking lovingly at her and her heart skipped a beat, despite the panic. He kissed her again and whispered, “I am going to show you I love you, Marty Penn, in a way deep down to your bones so you can silence that little voice nagging at the back of your mind. I love you, I accept you just as you are and I will prove it to you. Drop. Your. Shell, beloved.”

Tears escaped the corners of her eyes as Marty obeyed the man of her dreams and the C-cup heart throb melted away into the still can't fill a B thing as she thought of herself, neither male anymore but also not yet female. Not in the way it counted, not in the way he could possibly...

He gently, firmly, pulled her closer and covered her mouth with a kiss of passion that branded her soul while still being tender and gentle because she was now much less stronger than him. She pulled away from his kiss and looked into his deep, green eyes so full of emotion as he whispered, “I love you Martine Penn, however you look, because I love your soul and I will never, ever hurt you.”

The dam burst and Mary cried with joy as she clung to the love of her life. She cried out her fears, and doubts and the shear joy of finding her soul mate. Over and over she sobbed that she loved him as he held her and let all the emotion pour out into the warm water. Eventually, they made love.



October 6th, 2007
Action Tactical, Inc. headquarters, Blue Ridge Mountains

It was a lazy kind of Saturday. First Squad was running some of the new hires through the obstacle course on their way to the range to see if their bodies matched up to their resumes. There was an order and discipline about the headquarters, rather like that of a military post, except everyone here was much better paid.

That was one of the perks of being a mercenary.

Or, as the new term in vogue was, Private Military Contractor. A trim, dangerous man was watching over his domain through the window behind his desk when the phone rang. Curious, he knew not many had that number and all were valuable clients, so he reached over and brought the cell phone to his ear. “Action Tactical, Arthur Lewis speaking, how may I help you?”

“Mister Lewis,” a heart melting perfect contralto purred in his ear. “Tansy Walcutt here. I apologize for intruding on your Saturday.”

“Not at all, Miss Walcutt,” he told her quickly. There was something in her voice, a new firmness, and determination he hadn't noted in her before but he quickly re-evaluated his perceptions of the young woman. “It's always a pleasure to hear from your family. How can I assist you today?”

“You father on several occasions. Dealing with problems?”

Lewis moved the notch higher, recognizing the tone of voice quite well. “We pride ourselves on being of service, Miss Walcutt. Is there a problem you need help with?”

“A very dear friend of mine was harmed by a certain someone dragging her family through the courts, trying to make a name for himself. Using the charitable act of a good man against him in an attempt to ruin him and his family.”

“How terrible of him. I can think of a number of ways we can be of assistance, Miss Walcutt. How...permanent...of a solution were you looking for?” he asked.

“My father is fond of saying the dead can no longer suffer, do you agree with that sentiment, Mr. Lewis?”

In his minds eye Lewis remembered dried blood on his hands. Blood dried from a week of showing a third world warlord the error of his ways; a week that was then ending with the former strong man broken, begging for his own death from the widow of a man the warlord had tortured to death. A widow who had access to a considerable supply of 'clean' gemstones; gemstones that paid for the time of Mr Lewis and several experts of his acquaintance. A widow who desired that warlord to live as long as humanly possible to 'enjoy' the talents of Mr. Lewis' experts. “Absolutely, Miss Walcutt. So, I gather you are of the opinion the guilty should have time to regret their transgressions?”

“My faith tells me we all may find forgiveness in the hereafter, but had I my way, this person would find no forgiveness here. Ever. Allow me to be clear, Mr. Lewis, this man very nearly ruined the family of my very best friend to the tune of they were still paying the bill for the defense of their good name ten years later. This man was vindictive, loathsome, vile, and altogether evil. And I desire very much that he be repaid in kind, with interest. No, I beg your pardon. Not interest, usury.

Six different methods of completely ruining someones life ran behind Arthur's eyes before his phone vibrated in his hand and he saw a text from an unknown number that simply read:

James Melville Hooper III.

A thin smile pulled at the corner of Mr Lewis' lips as he tapped the name into his computer and was directed to the website of the Office of the Secretary of State for Georgia. There, a middle aged, balding man smiled at him in an obviously staged photograph. In his arms he held a lovely African American girl of about eight even though he was white. There were several other children in the photograph, a carefully picked mixed bag of genders and ethnicities that headed a press release bragging about the great deeds for Georgia's children the Secretary of State had accomplished. So, Mr. Hooper likes the company of children, does he? Lewis upped his game and a new method began to take shape in his mind. “Oh, I think that can be arranged, Miss Walcutt. of take some time.”

“I never rush an artist, Mr Lewis.”

“Then I'm certain you will be pleased with the finished work.”

“I will look forward to seeing it. If you need me, you can reach me at this number.”

“Certainly Miss Walcutt. And my best wishes for your academic achievements this year.”

“Thank you.” The line clicked and was disconnected. Mr Lewis set the phone down and quickly sketched out some notes on a pad he would take to his Black Bag Team. It was always comforting to know that a change in management would not cost a small business an important client. And now Arthur Lewis was certain he would be doing business with the Walcutt family at least until his retirement.

“Like father, like daughter,” he said to himself as he took his notes and got to work.


* finis *

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