Monday, 20 November 2017 12:00

Absinthe 2: The Absinthe of Malice (Part 5)

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A Whateley Academy Story

Absinthe 2: The Absinthe of Malice

By Morpheus


Part 5


Saturday morning, Nov 17th, 2007

The weather was cold and wet, and there I was, standing out in the open as rain drizzled down from above. Any smart person would go inside or at least get under cover, but I was having one of my lessons with Mrs. Lauriant so that wasn’t currently an option. Fortunately for me, I had discovered another way to deal with this.

While I’d been stuck in the hospital, I’d taken the time to think about a few spells I could really use, such as one to protect me from the weather. I’d taken the spell I use to keep other people from grabbing me and had modified it so that it only kept water from touching me instead. That had done a pretty good job of keeping the rain off me, and Mrs. Lauriant had just taught me the spell she uses to protect herself from the weather. This one keeps her warm as well as dry, so I’d just incorporated that with my own spell and had created a new version that worked better than either of the previous ones. Sure, I was still standing out in the rain, but my clothes and I not only remained dry, but also perfectly warm.

"Very good, Gwendolynn,” Mrs. Lauriant told me with a faint smile from her wooden face. “You’ve combined those spells wonderfully.”

"Thank you,” I told her, pleased by the compliment. I didn’t get a lot of those from Mrs. Lauriant, so when I did get them I valued them all the more.

"Your skills are improving,” she told me with an approving look, “faster than I would have expected for a novice.”

"Vauldrene’s memories help,” I pointed out, knowing that I’d picked up a lot of things from my dreams. “And I get classes every day, with some other tutors who occasionally help me out.”

Mrs. Lauriant nodded at that. “Very true. However, you are still having those problems with some of your spells.”

"Yeah,” I agreed with a sigh.

As I’d discovered, almost any time I tried casting a spell that focused on force and raw power, it tended to go wrong. And since most offensive spells tended to rely on this kind of forceful magic, it made it difficult for me to find an offensive spell that actually worked the way I wanted. Since Nikki didn’t have these problems, this obviously wasn’t due to my being Sidhe.

When I’d hesitantly asked Nikki about this, she’d been surprised, and not very helpful. She didn’t have that kind of issue, and had no idea why I did.

After that, I’d gone to talk to Wyatt, or more specifically, his spirit. The Kodiak seemed to have all the answers, though his answer in this case was, “Sidhe have a natural talent for working magic, but each individual’s strengths and weaknesses are individual to them. You appear to have inherited both Vauldrene’s strengths, and her weaknesses.”

However, Wyatt had also recommended that I talk to Kayda, the Lakota girl who lived in my cottage. Apparently, she was a shaman with a similar lack of offensive spells as myself, so he thought she might have some suggestions about how to deal with it. So far, I hadn’t gotten around to talking to her.

"I have been looking into some workarounds,” I told Mrs. Lauriant with a faint smile. “I think I may have found a few I can use.”

"I look forward to seeing what you come up with,” she told me pleasantly. “But for now, I must end our lessons for the day. My sister will be arriving to visit soon, and I must get some cookies baked before then.”

After Mrs. Lauriant’s face and presence faded from the tree, I started back to Poe, taking my time as I did so. I felt rather proud of my new weather protection spell and was more than happy to keep using it, even if it did take a lot of essence to keep it running. Then I smirked, thinking that the next time I went back home and it was raining, Mom and Dad were going to get so jealous that they were getting soaked while I remained nice and dry.

I was halfway back to Poe when I had a sudden feeling that someone was following me. Ever since my recent power testing had confirmed I was a low level esper, I’ve been paying more attention to my instincts. Though I hadn’t seen anyone following me, that certainly didn’t mean anything, especially not at this school.

I shifted attention to one of the faeries I had flying overhead and looked around, though I still didn’t see anything. With that, I shifted to mage sight and began to look, and it only took me a second before I spotted an aura in a place where my normal eyes saw nothing. As I’d suspected, it was Ripple.

After I’d been outed across campus as working for the MCO, Ripple had stopped following me around. Apparently, he thought that messing with someone with ties to the MCO was too much of a risk for a little high. Ironically enough, it was only after he’d stopped following me that I’d been interested in talking to him. The day before Chief Delarose had warned me not to retaliate against Centurion, I’d contacted Ripple for his help in setting something up. Or more accurately, I’d wanted him to ask one of his friends in the Dylans for a little help.

With a faint smile, I sent one of my faeries over to Ripple while I walked away, heading towards an out of the way corner. Once there, I set up a quick illusion that would obscure me from being seen. Then I waited, though I didn’t have to wait long. Ripple came over to join me, then dropped his invisibility field.

"Do you have it?” I asked Ripple.

"Yeah,” Ripple agreed, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a vial that was filled with a red liquid. “Bunsen came through with what you asked for. But you remember the deal?”

"Of course,” I responded as I accepted the vial. “I owe him one faerie shot full of glamour every day for a week. And of course, you get one every day too for acting as a go between.”

"Just don’t forget,” Ripple reminded me.

I nodded at that, fully intending to keep my part of this deal. After all, Ripple’s friend Bunsen was a bio-devisor, and from what I’d heard, it was never a good idea to piss off one of them. Admittedly, Bunsen was a pretty low level gadgeteer and devisor, who specialized in designer drugs, which made him an ideal supplier for the Dylans. It also made him ideal for my current purposes. Unfortunately, Delarose’s warning meant that I could no longer go through with what I’d had in mind, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep this ready just in case.

Ripple was still there, obviously waiting for his payment. I didn’t bother wasting a faerie on him, and instead, I just held out my hand and generated a pulse of glamour, enough to instantly send him into acid trip land. With that, I said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you,” before I turned and walked away, thinking that it was nice dealing with people who were willing to work for so little.

After I sent a faerie that was fully charged with glamour to Bunsen’s dorm room, I returned to Poe where I saw Zenith at the entrance, talking with one of the junior boys. She noticed me and gave a friendly nod, so I nodded back. We’d seen each other earlier this morning when the Hooligans had gone for a run. Thankfully, none of the Hooligans seemed to have much of a problem with my working for the MCO, or at least they didn’t after I explained what it was I really did.

"I don’t tell them anything about what I see on campus,” I’d assured them, much to Zenith’s obvious relief at the time. “What happens on Whateley stays on Whateley.”

I went to my room and found that Dana and Jinx were there, playing some kind of board game in the middle of the floor. I decided to have some fun with them and began changing out of my dress and into something a little more casual, like jeans and a T shirt. Both girls kept giving me looks of admiration as I changed, while obviously trying to appear as though they didn’t notice.

"I just spent the last two hours out standing in the rain,” I said cheerfully. “I really needed to change clothes…”

"But your hair and clothes are dry,” Jinx pointed out with a skeptical look.

"I’ve got a new water proofing spell,” I bragged, though it was actually more of a weather proofing spell…as long as the weather wasn’t too extreme. I certainly wouldn’t want to try it in a monsoon or blizzard. Then I paused and grinned as an idea came to me. “I wonder what would happen if I cast this on someone before they went into the showers…”

"That sounds like something Jade would do,” Jinx pointed out with a smirk, which I assumed meant that she liked the idea.

"Well, you got back in plenty of time,” Dana told me, looking towards the clock. “We’ve got almost an hour until we’d agreed to meet up.”

I nodded at that. “Yeah. I was originally going to be cutting things a little closer, but Mrs. Lauriant wanted to end things a little early today.”

I sat down and began to play on my laptop, but it was obvious that Dana and Jinx wanted to spend a little time alone. Though they didn’t say anything, I decided to give them that time. I set my laptop aside, grabbed one of my magic books, then left our room and went down the hall to the common room.

"Gwen,” Nikki greeted me as I stepped into the room.

Nikki was with one of the freshmen boys, a guy called Voodude. Since he was a magic user and she was known to do some tutoring, I suspected that she’d been giving him tips or something. Nikki gave me a brief nod, then turned back to Voodude.

"Anyway,” Voodude told her. “Ms. Grimes has me partnering with Cauldron for our class project. I want to make an amulet, but she insists on making a potion…as always.”

I sat down and began reading my book, or at least pretending to do so while I listened in on the conversation. Mostly, Voodude was just whining about having to find a compromise on some class project while Nikki listened with a patient look on her face, doing a very good job of hiding the annoyance that was clearly visible in her aura.

Once they were done, Nikki left the room but Voodude didn’t seem to realize that they were done and followed after her. I waited until I was sure they weren’t coming back, then said, “Okay, you can come out now.”

With that, three pixies came out from where they’d been hiding and joined with my faeries, once again playing at being part of the crowd. There were the violet and green haired pixies I usually saw, and this time the pixie with the blue skin and hair had joined them.

"Why are you avoiding Nikki?” I asked them curiously.

The pixies had been following me around off and on, but every time they saw Nikki, they really made themselves scarce. I’d spent enough time avoiding Nikki the same way that I recognized what they were doing, though I wasn’t sure why they were doing the same thing I had.

At first, there was no response, but then the violet haired pixie came over and hovered in front of me. She was silent for several long seconds, then she spoke in a melodic voice. “We do not wish to be made to serve the Queen to Come.”

I was a little startled at this because it was the first time since I’d been in the grove that one of the pixies had actually communicated with me. The other two pixies flew to her side and nodded agreement.

"We choose our own path now,” the green haired pixie stated. “We do not want to return to the old ways.”

"I understand,” I told them. “Then I won’t tell Nikki.”

"We would appreciate that,” the blue pixie responded with a relieved look.

A moment later, all three of the pixies took off again, though the violet haired one hesitated a moment, waved back at me, and called out, “Bye bye big sister,” before all three of them flew away, leaving me with only my own faeries for company.

I turned my attention back to my reading, but it wasn’t long before I was interrupted.  Cindy came into the room along with Lina, neither of whom looked happy. Cindy stopped in front of me with her hands on her hips.

"What?” I asked in confusion.

"You said you’d let us help you go after Centurion,” Cindy announced with a scowl. “Now I find out you’ve got this whole strategy session planned and you didn’t even invite us…”

I winced at that, then quickly apologized. “Sorry, I really was going to ask you to help me go after him…” I paused at that and shook my head. “But security kind of cut my plans short and they warned me not to retaliate. Now my only chance is this arena match that Chief Delarose is setting up…”

"And I wasn’t there to get in on it,” Cindy finished for me, letting out a sigh of annoyance.

"Too bad,” Lina said with a disappointed look. She hesitated a moment before admitting, “I probably wouldn’t do much good, except as a distraction…”

"Never underestimate the value of a good distraction,” I reminded her, having done so several times before when we were trying to learn from each other’s powers. “I mean, you can probably get all four of them to just stand there like drooling idiots if you wanted, and then they’d be helpless…”

Lina grinned at that, her confidence having been bolstered. “Fuck yeah. Too bad your team is already picked or I’d guarantee you’d win.”

Cindy laughed at that, saying, “It would certainly be fun to watch. Anyway, we’ll be cheering for you. And if you happen to need any replacements for your team…”

"I know who to ask,” I assured her.

"Come on,” Cindy said, grabbing Lina and half dragging her from the common room. “Let’s go find Downpour. I think she needs to find something fun to do, even if we have to drag her kicking and screaming…”

"That part should be fun,” Lina agreed with an almost evil laugh as the two of them left.

Once they were gone, I again tried to turn my attention to my spellbook, only to hear an, “Ahem,” a few seconds later.

I looked up and was startled to see Phase standing there, especially since I was pretty sure she hadn’t come through the door. I suspected that she’d walked through the wall, or dropped through the ceiling.

"Hey,” I greeted her, setting my book aside.

"I’ve heard about your arena match,” Phase said, giving me a faint smirk and holding out a folder. “I thought I might be able to help by providing information on your opponents.”

I was a little startled at that, as well as impressed. The rumor around Poe was that Phase had her own intelligence network, one that was supposedly very good. Because of that, any help she offered was likely to be more useful than just cheering me on. I opened the envelope and the first thing I saw were copies of four MIDs, specifically, the MIDs of Centurion, Slingshot, Switchblade, and Stoppable…who was still officially listed as Unstoppable on his.

"I’ve already seen their MIDs,” I commented as I glanced over them and confirmed it was the same information I’d seen in the MCO database.

"Really?” Phase asked with a curious look.

"I have access to the MCO’s MID database,” I explained with a wry smile, getting a look of interest in response.

"That could be useful,” Phase said, looking thoughtful.

The next few pages had a brief report on each of my opponents, covering their roommates, friends, class schedules, and even their real names and homes. I already knew a lot of that information, though I’d hadn’t known all their real names or where they were from, so that was new.

"Thank you,” I told Phase. “Some of this is new information…”

"Some of it?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

I couldn’t resist grinning at that and bragging, “I have my own intelligence network, though obviously not as good as yours.”

Phase stared at me for several seconds, then her eyes darted to the faeries that were flying around the room. When she looked back at me, she said, “You’re using your hobgoblins as spies.”

I was a little surprised that she’d figured that out. I knew that Phase was actually apprenticed to Circe, the head of the school’s magic department, so she certainly knew a bit about magic, but wasn’t really known as a magic specialist. In fact, none of those who did specialize in magic had realized I could use my faeries like that, not even Nikki.

"I hope this helps you in developing your strategy,” Phase told me with a faint smile. Then she added, “And I think we might be able to help each other out in the future,” before she turned and walked away.

"Thank you,” I called back before I began reading through the information she’d given me a little more carefully.

It was just a short time after this that my cell phone began beeping. I looked at it and saw that I’d just received a text from Collin, simply stating, ‘IM AT POE’.

With that, I grabbed my things and then hurried to the main entrance where I found Collin waiting with Mrs. Horton. She was giving him a slightly suspicious look, probably over the way he’d broken up with me after finding out who I used to be. However, I was pretty sure that the fact he’d kept my secret to himself instead of spreading it around had bought him at least a little favor.

"You’re a little early,” I told Collin, fighting back the urge to give him a hug. My new girlie emotions still confused the hell out of me sometimes. It would be so much easier if I was still in denial about the way I felt too. At least then, I could fool myself into thinking it didn’t bother me.

"My dad always says, if you’re on time then you’re late,” Collin told me with a chuckle.

"Yeah,” I agreed. “My dad is the same way… I mean, he’s actually made Mom and I synchronize our watches to his.”

We continued to chuckle at that as we went inside, though a few seconds later, Collin told me, “Fixx probably won’t be able to make it. You know how he works part time for campus maintenance?”

"Yeah,” I nodded, knowing that they often used him to fix small issues in the various cottages. After all, Fixx was pretty good at fixing things, which was how he’d gotten his name.

Collin grinned as he told me, “Apparently, someone’s powers caused a plumbing accident in Twain and maintenance called Fixx in to help them take care of it.”

"I guess we’ll have to catch him up on things later,” I said, disappointed that one of our team for the match wouldn’t be here for the planning.

We had just about reached the common room when I heard some voices coming from inside. Dana was loudly saying, “And then that stuck up bitch Exquisite, hit me with that pain blast of hers…the one that sets off nearly every pain sensor in your body…”

"Ouch,” I muttered, having already heard Dana complain about that incident in her powers lab class yesterday.

Then just as Collin and I were stepping into the common room, Dana exclaimed, “It hurt worse than being kicked in the balls. Damn, at least I never have to feel THAT sensation again…”

Suddenly, everyone in the room froze as they realized that Collin was there. Hardwyrd was sitting on the couch, holding hands with another boy in what was obviously a romantic way and Dana had pretty much just announced that she used to be a boy. The fact that four people had come into the common room in the short time since I’d left it, and that three of them were engaging in activities that could give away Poe’s secret just as Collin entered, was quite a coincidence. I had a feeling that Jinx’s powers were behind this.

"Don’t touch me like that,” Hardwyrd exclaimed to the other boy in what was obviously a show for Collin’s benefit. He shoved the other boy away from him, then got up and stormed out of the room. The other boy hurried after him, giving Collin a worried look.

"Collin,” Jinx said with a very nervous smile, her eyes darting to Dana.

At first, Collin didn’t say anything. He just stared at Dana with an expression I couldn’t quite read, then he turned to me and commented, “So, there isn’t any conspiracy…?”

"Nope,” I responded awkwardly, knowing that I’d been caught lying to him again. I shook slightly, knowing he wasn’t going to take this well and preparing myself for the accusations that were about to come.

To my surprise, Collin merely said, “Okay,” as though nothing had happened. “Now about our plans?”

"Shouldn’t we wait for Fixx first?” Dana asked, obviously relieved that Collin wasn’t going to question her on what he’d overheard.

"He’ll be late, if he comes at all,” I told her. “Collin said that he’d been called up to help maintenance with something.”

"Probably using duct tape,” Dana responded with a roll of her eyes. “I swear, that guy would probably use duct tape to fix a nuclear reactor…”

Collin chuckled at that and added, “Just after telling you that a nuclear reactor is above his power level.”

"Before we start,” I announced, feeling unbelievably relieved at the way that Collin was just letting this go. “I’m going to get something for us to drink.”

With that, I hurried down the hall to my room, grabbing some cans of pop from the mini fridge that Dana and I shared. I wasn’t sure what everyone wanted, but we didn’t have a lot of selection so they could either take it or leave it.

We were about to begin when Breakdown came in, announcing, “Look what I found outside, looking all lost and alone. I just had to let the poor thing in.”

Porcelain came in right behind Breakdown, catching me a little by surprise since I hadn’t been expecting her. “I will not be able to assist you directly in your arena match,” Porcelain stated in her muffled voice, “so I thought I would come and offer what strategic support I could.”

"We’re glad to have you,” Collin told her.

Then as I noticed her look around the room, I said, “Fixx might not be coming. Something came up.”

Porcelain didn’t have an expression that I could see, but I was pretty sure she was disappointed at that news. In fact, I suspected that the real reason she’d come here had more to do with Fixx than the rest of us. However, the fact that she’d come at all was something that I definitely appreciated.

"You guys have fun,” Breakdown told us. “And call me if you need help working around Balderdash.”

"Will do,” I promised her. But from the way Balderdash had been breaking down in Delarose’s office, I didn’t think it was very likely that she’d get involved again.

Once we were all sitting down and comfortable, I spread out the files that Phase had given me. Porcelain immediately began to look through them, not saying a word as she did. I’d done my own research on Centurion and his crew, and suddenly wished that I had files like this to share as well. Unfortunately, much of what I knew had been gained from spying on them with my faeries.

"These guys aren’t pushovers,” Dana said as she gestured to the MIDs. “I mean, Centurion and Stoppable are both pretty damn strong. Hell, they’re both stronger than me.”

"They are strong,” Porcelain agreed, her tone being oddly calm. “And Switchblade is fast. However, three of our four opponents are melee fighters and Collin is well suited to neutralize any of those three.”

"I can protect us from them,” Dana said thoughtfully, “and take them out at a distance.”

"And I can definitely keep them off balance,” I agreed with a faint smile, realizing that if we worked this right, we could do quite well in the match.

Collin sat there with a thoughtful look, then pointed out, “But we don’t know what kind of competition this is going to be. I mean, I’m pretty sure Delarose wouldn’t just throw us into a straight fight. There has to be more to it.”

"Phase suspects the same thing,” Porcelain agreed, holding up some kind of analysis that Phase had left in the folder. “She says that she has reason to believe the competition will be based off the rules used in a previous combat finals examination. She says she is not certain which situation will be used, but suspects that it may be some form of race or scavenger hunt.”

"If it’s a straight out fight, they have more raw power,” I said thoughtfully. “But we’re a lot more versatile, and as long as we use that, we should do fine regardless of the rules.”

Collin just stared at me and burst out laughing. At my curious look, he said, “I didn’t think you’d be concerned about rules…”

"I just need to know what we can get away with,” I pointed out with a grin of my own. “As I’ve learned from my dad, you can get away with quite a lot if you actually know what the rules are.” Then I hesitated a moment before adding, “Just don’t ever tell him I said that.”

We started talking about our opponents, how their powers worked and what we could do against them. Then I admitted, “I’m not even sure what all Fixx can do. It’s hard to make any plans for him when he isn’t here.”

"Will he even be able to help you guys much?” Jinx asked skeptically. “I mean, his powers aren’t exactly good for fighting…”

"Do not underestimate Fixx,” Porcelain told her quietly.

I nodded emphatically at that and reminded her, “He did take out Stoppable by himself.”

Collin nodded as well, then gave me a knowing look as he added, “I’ve learned the hard way not to underestimate someone just because they look harmless.” I couldn’t resist grinning at that.

Once we’d begun, we spent more than an hour discussing our options and making our plans. However, since Fixx was absent and we didn’t even know much about what this arena match would entail, our ability to create any solid plans was severely limited. Still, we did come up with some good ideas that we’d have to share with Fixx before then.

When we were finished, Dana announced, “Good. Now that we’ve settled that, let’s go get dinner. I’m starved…”

But just as everyone was starting to leave, Zenith arrived with Angel a short distance behind her. She stopped and stared at Collin for a moment, scowling as she did so, while Angel just stood back with a wary expression.

"I was hoping I could have a word with you,” she said carefully, obviously concerned with what Collin had seen and heard earlier. I suspected that Hardwyrd or his boyfriend had rushed to report what had happened as soon as possible in order to minimize the damage to Poe’s secret. “This concerns something you may have misunderstood…”

"I don’t think there’s any misunderstanding,” Collin said carefully. He met her gaze for several long seconds before he continued, “I haven’t seen or heard anything to misunderstand. And even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t spread any gossip or rumors about it. I’m not in the habit of sharing other people’s secrets.”

Zenith looked relieved at that and responded, “That’s good to hear.” Angel nodded agreement.

Collin nodded at that, then glanced to me. “I’ve seen what happens when rumors get spread about someone, and I wouldn’t want any part of starting something like that.”

There was a moment where Zenith just stared at Collin, then she smiled. “Gwen,” she said, turning to me. “I just wanted to wish you luck in your arena match. I’m looking forward to watching it.”

"Thanks,” I responded with a grin of my own.

As Zenith and Angel left, I glanced to Collin, wondering if she would have trusted him about the ‘misunderstanding’ if he hadn’t already proven himself capable of keeping a secret. The fact that he’d kept my secret certainly showed that he didn’t spread tales, so I was pretty sure that Dana’s secret was safe, as was the secret of Poe.

Jinx had escorted Porcelain out when Zenith had entered, so it was just Dana, Collin and myself. He stared at Dana for a moment with a curious look, then he looked at me. Dana and I both stood there, awkwardly waiting for the questions that were sure to come.

"Well, that was kind of suspicious,” Collin finally said with a wry look. Then he told us, “Obviously, I have some questions.”

"Obviously,” I responded flatly.

"You clearly have some secrets going on around here,” Collin said carefully. “And you’ve probably got some good reasons for keeping them.” He gave Dana a thoughtful look, then said, “If you want to tell me what’s going on, I’d be happy to listen, but I won’t poke around unless you’re ready to talk.”

"Thanks,” Dana said, looking relieved. “I appreciate it.”

Then Collin turned his attention back to me, looking just a little guilty. “I’ve been thinking a lot about why you’d keep certain secrets and I think I understand. I can’t imagine that kind of thing is easy, and it would probably be a lot worse if everyone knew.”

"You have no idea,” I told him, and on an impulse, I threw my arms around him in a hug.

I expected Collin to push me away, to remind me that he didn’t want to get romantic with someone who used to be a boy. But instead, he just hugged me, and for a moment, I actually thought he was going to kiss me. When we pulled apart, he was definitely looking at me with an expression of interest.

"We should probably go to dinner,” I said awkwardly, staring at Collin with my heart racing.

"That’s probably a good idea,” Collin agreed with a bright blush that looked cute on him.

Dana just grinned and exclaimed, “About damn time.” However, as we started out the door, she gave Collin a curious look, though she definitely looked relieved as well.

I just couldn’t help but smiling. Collin might protest that he couldn’t be with someone who used to be a boy, but both his aura and the bulge in the front of his pants suggested that he was still interested.

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Sunday afternoon, Nov 18th, 2007

Whateley Academy had several large arenas where students could train and compete, the largest and most impressive of which was Arena 99. It was the size of four football fields with a modular design so that any form of obstacle or structure could easily be put in place, then covered with a hard light hologram so as to simulate nearly any environment.

Of course, no arena was complete without a place for the audience to watch. This arena came with a large seating area that included video displays to show close-ups of the action, and the seating area was separated from the field by powerful force fields. This would not only protect the audience from being injured by anything that happened in the arena, but would also prevent anyone in the audience from interfering.

I’ve been told that it wasn’t at all uncommon for students to settle their grudges either in the sims or one of the arenas. In fact, fighting things out here seemed to be the mutant equivalent of a boxing match.

This was the first time that I’d actually seen any of the arenas in person, but I’d heard about them from other students, especially over the last week. More than a few of the people I’d talked to had jokingly referred to this as Whateley’s own Danger Room, though Jade had snickered when she’d said it and had given Phase an odd look before adding something about copyrights. I’ve learned not to pay too much attention to what Jade says because she’s likely to go off into some kind of tangent about Hello Kitty, Radioactive Condor Girl, or the stopping power of various firearms.

It was finally time for my match with Centurion and I was dressed up for it in my usual exercise clothes, which included a cheap domino mask and my green hoodie, because I thought it looked cool. Or at least, I’d thought it looked cool until I arrived and saw what some of the other people were wearing.

Dana arrived in a red and gold spandex outfit which included a red domino mask. She actually looked like a real super hero or villain, while I looked like I was just dressed to go out on a run.

"Jackie gave this to me,” Dana said defensively when she noticed the way I was watching her. Then she proudly added, “And it’s bulletproof…at least a little.”

"It looks pretty cool,” I told her.

"I think you look totally hot in that,” Jinx whispered to her. She might have done more if there weren’t other people around who weren’t in on Poe’s secret.

Collin and Fixx showed up a few minutes later, both of them dressed up for the fight. Collin was wearing a black and white outfit that was sleek and lightly armored, including pads on the knees and elbows. He even wore a belt that had a few pouches, one of which obviously held some handcuffs. To finish it off, he wore a black domino mask over his face.

"I’ve been working on this in costuming class,” Collin told me rather proudly. “And I’ve been working on some holdouts…” With that, he snapped out a tactical baton and added, “This should give me a little extra reach.”

"Impressive,” I told him honestly. I hadn’t expected Collin to come so well prepared.

"My aunt always told me that a costume should be functional as well as stylish,” Collin said, looking just a little self-conscious as he admitted this.

I nodded at that, having met his aunt a few times. His aunt was Crucibelle, a super hero from back home in Seattle. She was the leader of the Seattle Supers, and was actually the first super hero I’d ever met, or at least the first one I’d ever met in costume. For all I knew, my neighbor Mr. Hodkins might very well have secretly been a super hero too.

Then I looked at Fixx and sighed. “Now I’m really feeling underdressed.”

Like me, Fixx wasn’t really wearing a costume, though he’d definitely come prepared for a fight. Along with the satchel he always had with him, he was also wearing a belt with a lot of pouches on it. There was an ammo belt slung over his shoulder and across his chest which had eight pop cans strapped to it. Each can had obviously been cut open and sealed back up again, so I could only imagine what Fixx had actually done to them.

In his arms, Fixx held some sort of home-made weapon with a PVC pipe barrel, which was just the right size to fire the pop cans strapped to his chest. After staring at the odd looking gun for a few seconds, I suspected that it might be some kind of suped up potato gun…which wasn’t exactly what you’d expect from a devisor, or at least not from any devisor but Fixx. It even had duct tape holding part of it together.

Fixx had a second weapon as well, strapped over his shoulders so that it just hung from behind him. It looked like a super soaker water gun, or at least as if it was one of those which had been torn apart and combined with a second one so that it was effectively a double barreled squirt gun.

When Fixx noticed us all staring at his gear, he held up the potato gun and cheerfully said, “I’ve got a few different options with this thing. I’ve got a couple glue rounds that will stick someone in place almost as much as what Collin can do, a couple oil ones to make things slippery, and I’ve got a couple that will just make a nice boom.”

"And that thing?” Jinx asked, pointing to the super soaker.

"It shoots two liquids at once,” Fixx explained with a grin. “When they come in contact with each other, they catch on fire.”

"It’s a flame thrower?” Dana asked in surprise, as well as a little skepticism.

Fixx just shook his head at that. “More like a napalm sprayer. The stuff shouldn’t catch on fire until a few seconds after they combine…” Then he gave us a proud grin and added, “And all this is made from household chemicals and some supplies from a hardware store…”

"Amped up with devisor power and your warping thing,” Collin added wryly.

Jinx just stared at Fixx with a look of surprise on her face before exclaiming, “Wow. And you’re an underdog?”

"Underdogs are easy to underestimate,” Porcelain said as she came over and joined us. She looked Fixx over, then looked at the rest of us. “This should be an interesting competition.”

"You can say that again,” I muttered with a sigh. Dana smirked at that, and just as she was about to open her mouth, I snapped, “Don’t say it.”

Dana gave me a mock hurt look while Jinx burst out laughing. “She really does know you.”

While we stood there, preparing for our match, other people kept coming over and wishing us luck. Jade came over with her sister Jinn, and I couldn’t help but noticing the same aura and the link which tied the two of them together. Obviously, there was more to Jade’s powers than what was listed on her MID, not that I was ever going to tell anyone. It wasn’t my secret to share, though it was something I’d have to keep in mind in case she ever targeted me with another practical joke, or far less likely, I somehow ended up against her in some kind of arena match.

"Good luck,” Jade told us, giving a broad grin. “Go kick their butts…”

"Thanks,” I told her, almost feeling guilty about having set her against Beltane. Almost.

Then Jade looked at my faeries, which were lacking in real pixies today, and exclaimed, “Pixie power…”

After most of the Poe freshmen had stopped by, along with a few older Poe residents, Jinx and Porcelain decided that they had to get going as well. “We want to get good seats,” Jinx told us. Then she whispered to Dana, “And if you win, I’ll give you a nice reward.” She didn’t seem to care that Collin was close enough to hear her, but it was a little late to keep that secret from him.

A few minutes later, the four of us went to meet up with Chief Delarose, who was standing there with Officer Everheart. We didn’t have to wait long before our opponents arrived, each of them glaring at us as though we’d somehow wronged them. I could understand Centurion’s enmity towards me, but the others seemed just a little too personally involved, as though they’d decided to take his grudge and make it theirs as well. Well, Stoppable was the only one who didn’t glare at me. He was glaring at Fixx instead.

When I saw Centurion and his crew, I felt even more underdressed than before. Centurion was wearing a costume that consisted of lightweight gold armor and a helmet, all designed to resemble the armor of a Roman centurion. He even had a sword strapped to his side, though it was more of a broadsword than a Roman short sword.

Switchblade wore a green and gray spandex costume, which he’d obviously made in costuming class. I knew that he took that class on making costumes, but he wasn’t in the same period that Collin was. However, Slingshot was. Her costume was violet and white with a violet domino mask. All in all, hers actually looked pretty decent, not that I’d actually tell her that though.

Stoppable hadn’t really bothered with a costume, though like me, he had at least dressed up a little. He wore a large black leather jacket that had spikes on the shoulders and a few chains which hung down. On top of that, I noticed that he had a massive sledge hammer in hand, holding it casually slung over his shoulder. He stared at Fixx with a smirk, not saying a word.

Delarose looked us all over with a scowl before announcing, “If any of you want to back out, now is the time to do it.”

"I’m just happy for the chance to kick her butt officially,” Centurion stated, giving me a smug look. “With an audience.”

"Things are going to be different this time,” I told Centurion, giving my best cheerful smile, even though I REALLY wanted to just kick him between the legs. Somehow, I didn’t think that Delarose would be happy at me for doing that before the match began, so I had to make do with imagining it…for now.

With that, Everheart stepped forward and slowly looked at all of us before announcing, “The name of the game is capture the flag. In a few minutes, each of your teams will be placed at your starting locations in different places in the arena. At your starting location, there will be a flag…or more accurately, a large red button. The first team who locates and pushes the opposing team’s button wins the match.”

I nodded at that, not at all surprised by the nature of the competition. Phase had warned me that Delarose would probably pick some kind of contest that would involve something more than just a straight out fight. In fact, I was glad that he had since this kind of thing gave us options.

"We’re gonna kick your asses,” Switchblade exclaimed with a smirk while his friends gave their agreement.

"We’ll see,” Collin said, giving Centurion a cold glare.

A moment later, Delarose began leading Centurion’s team in one direction while Everheart had us follow her. She led us down a tunnel to an elevator platform which lifted us up right into the arena and into our starting location.

We were in the middle of what appeared to be a large courtyard with stone walls surrounding most of it, and with a large brick building to one side. Right beside us there was a metal pedestal that stood about three feet high, and on the top of that pedestal was a red button. Seeing a button like that, I felt an urge to push it just to see what would happen. However, I didn’t want to take the chance that this would count as a surrender so carefully kept my distance.

"Capture the flag complicates things,” Collin said thoughtfully, looking towards our button. “We need to protect our button while looking for theirs. We’ll have to split up.”

I nodded that, looking up at the dozen faeries that I’d brought in here with me. Each of them was loaded either with glamour or with a spell, and I would have brought even more if I’d thought I could get away with it. However, I wasn’t limited to just these faeries, and with that, I released a burst of magic, intentionally creating an explosion of new faeries. I continued this until I had more than a hundred faeries swarming around in the air, then I gave the mental command and most of them flew off to scout the arena.

"I’m searching for them right now,” I told my friends, having planned this move during our strategy session. Then I grinned and added, “They’ll have to search for us by foot, so this gives us an advantage in finding them.”

"So, what’s our strategy for this?” Dana asked thoughtfully.

"The way I see it,” I answered. “We have two real strategies we can use. The first is that I can locate their button, then we go straight to it, avoiding all of them except whoever they have guarding it. We can win this without having to fight them, and honestly, this would normally be my first choice.”

"And it would definitely piss them off,” Collin pointed out with a chuckle.

"And the other choice?” Dana asked me, though she already knew what it was.

"We’re not here to just win a game,” I reminded my friends grimly. “We’re here so I can settle things with Centurion once and for all. Normally, I’m all about avoiding unnecessary fights, but winning that way would only piss him off and he’d come at me again…security or no security.”

The others all nodded in understanding at that, but it was Collin who said, “Even if we win…we still don’t win.”

"The only way to really win this,” I continued, looking at my friends one at a time, “is to beat them so hard that they have no choice but to accept that they’ve been beaten. This means that instead of avoiding them, we hunt them down and hit them hard and fast. We show them that it’s not a good idea to mess with us.”

"I’ve seen what happens when you get cornered,” Collin said grimly. “And for all intents and purposes, Centurion has you cornered now.”

I nodded at that. “Unfortunately, putting our focus on them instead of on their button also gives them a better chance of winning.”

"This is your fight,” Fixx stated, giving me a serious look. “You make the call and we’ll back you whatever you choose.”

"He’s right,” Dana agreed.

"I can activate my power,” Collin suggested. “Then Dana can pick them up with her force field bubble one at a time and drop them into my trap. We’d have all of them stuck…”

I shook my head at that. “That would be effective at stopping them, but would be about the same as if we just avoided them entirely. We need something a little more direct…and personal.”

With that, I paused and turned my attention to my faeries, shifting through various sets of eyes until I found what I was looking for. Some of my faeries gave me a great overview of the arena, which was set up to resemble an empty city, while others showed me Centurion and his crew. I watched them long enough to determine where they were and which directions they were heading.

"I’ve found them,” I told my friends. “Slingshot is staying back and guarding their button while the other three are out looking for us. They’ve also split up, which will make our jobs easier.” Then I paused to mutter a profanity before explaining, “And they have radios to keep in contact. I wish we’d thought of that.”

"Porcelain suggested it,” Collin reminded me, making me regret that we hadn’t followed through with that.

I nodded, then began casting spells, sending them to various faeries through the links that I had to them. My friends stood there, watching me nervously as I worked, obviously impatient to get going and wondering why I was spending so much time doing this. Once I thought I had enough for the moment, I turned my attention back to my friends.

"Sphere,” I said to Dana, intentionally calling her by her codename since she was in costume. “You’re our heavy hitter. You’ve got more physical power than the rest of us and would probably be our best bet to take any of them down fast.” But as she began to grin at that, I said, “However, you’re also our best choice when it comes to protecting our button.”

"What?” she asked in surprise.

"I don’t want to take any chance at all that one of them slips around us and gets to our button,” I explained. “You’d be the best at making sure that even if they found our button, that none of them can reach it. If they happen to get lucky and win this, we’d never hear the end of it, so we need you to play goalie.”

Dana looked a little annoyed at that but nodded acceptance. “Got it. They won’t touch the thing.”

Dozens of my faeries settled down, hovering about four feet from the ground. “I’ve loaded some of these with spells,” I told Dana with a grin. “Effectively turning them into land mines. If anyone does try sneaking in, they’ll have a hard time catching you by surprise. If they do,” I pointed to one faerie that was hovering near the button. “Just pop that one and it will release an illusion that should be pretty distracting.”

"Got it,” Dana responded, looking at my faeries with an eager look. From her expression, I think she was really hoping that someone found her.

I summoned another burst of faeries, then spent a few more minutes casting some quick spells for them. Once I’d done that and was ready, Collin, Fixx, and I started heading towards the other button, and towards our opponents. We walked down the ‘street’, keeping an eye out for our opponents, though I was also doing that through the eyes of my scouts.

"Stoppable is the closest,” I pointed out when we were close. “He’s heading in this direction.”

"I’ll get a better look,” Collin told me as he went to the ‘brick wall’ of a building and began to climb it as though he was Spider Man.

Collin’s powers usually let him create a field that caused anyone near him to get stuck in it, but lately he’d been working on sticking himself to it instead. It had worked, and now he was able to create small patches of this field around his body, or even just his hands and feet, and use them to stick himself to things…like walls. He climbed up the wall, then looked out in the direction where I’d indicated Stoppable was. After a few seconds, he gave Fixx and I a thumbs up.

Stoppable arrived minute later, only to find himself confronted by Fixx, who stood right in his path. Once Stoppable stopped and stared at Fixx with an eager grin, I stepped out into view, or at least one of my illusions did.

"I’ve got two of the losers with me,” Stoppable announced over his radio. “Fix a flat and that faerie bitch.”

"I think we need to have a talk,” Fixx told him with a deceptively pleasant smile. “I’d appreciate it if you’d stay away from Porcelain.”

"From that stupid little doll?” Stoppable asked in surprise. Then he burst out laughing. “Dolls are meant to be broken. Maybe I’ll let my sister break your doll just like she does all her Barbies…”

Fixx scowled at that and I saw a flash of anger in his face. Then he opened fire with his gun, hitting Stoppable right in the chest with a round that suddenly exploded, knocking the large boy back. Stoppable was obviously startled at that, then he looked down and realized his leather jacket had been ruined. Suddenly, he became very angry.

"I’m gonna break every bone in your body for that,” Stoppable exclaimed, suddenly charging at Fixx with his sledgehammer.

Fixx dove to the side while a faerie flew in and exploded in Stoppable’s face, blinding him with a burst of bright light. That was followed up with another faerie which hit him with a full charge of glamour. I stood back and watched as Stoppable began swinging his sledge hammer around at random, smashing the ground and then the wall of one building. Then the sledgehammer suddenly became stuck and wouldn’t come loose, even though Stoppable pulled.

"What the hell?” Stoppable exclaimed, obviously confused as to why his hammer was stuck to the side of the building. Then he heard Collin laughing and looked up. Collin had stuck himself to the side of the building and had extended his field down to where it now trapped Stoppable’s hammer. “You bastard…”

Stoppable let go of the hammer and backed away, probably so he wouldn’t accidentally get stuck himself. I just smiled and sent several illusions towards him, ones that looked like Fixx. Stoppable swung at one of them with his fist and then another.

Then I was suddenly aware of several of my faeries vanishing from my awareness, ones that I’d left with Dana. I shifted my attention to the other faeries with her and saw that Switchblade had tried making a run on our button, only to have spells go off. Now Switchblade not only had to go through Dana, but the illusions that suddenly came into being making it look like there were eight more pedestals with buttons scattered around the courtyard as well.

"Sphere is dealing with Switchblade,” I called out to my friends with a grin. He was fast, but there was no way he was going to reach our button.

"The ball bitch is guarding their button,” Switchblade called out over the radio. “I need help getting past her…”

"I’ve got the other three with me,” Stoppable exclaimed in annoyance.

Switchblade made another run towards the button, though he’d targeted the wrong one and his hand went right through it. He snarled and manifested a knife in his hand, then glared at Dana for a moment before charging straight at her at high speeds. However, he suddenly had a golden energy bubble around himself before he even reached her, but not before he dropped something that looked like a metal baseball onto the ground. Seconds later, the metal ball exploded, knocking Dana back and distracting her enough that she dropped the force field holding Switchblade.

"Thank you Balderdash,” Switchblade exclaimed with a laugh, pulling out another grenade and throwing it at Dana. However, the grenade was suddenly captured in a golden force field bubble in mid-air and exploded without harm. “Damn… I can’t get past her…”

"I can use your help here,” Stoppable announced. “Too many to hit at once…”

Switchblade glared at Dana, then turned and ran away before she could catch him. I turned to Fixx, who’d just fired another explosive round at Stoppable and said, “I need what we talked about…”

"Gotcha,” Fixx exclaimed, reaching into his satchel and pulling out a ball of twine, which he then tossed to me.

"I can’t get close enough to him to lock him in place,” Collin called out, having climbed down from the wall. He was glaring at Stoppable, who was currently being held back only by Fixx, who’d hit the ground in front of him with a patch of oil.

"We’ll have company real soon,” I told my friends as I ran the twine through the hole in Needle’s pommel and tied it tight. Then I made sure I had a lot of slack before throwing the rest of the ball to Collin and called out, “Hold this for me.” Collin didn’t catch the ball of twine, but I hadn’t really been aiming at him. The ball landed in the middle of the flytrap field he had going on around him, which held that end of the long strand firmly in place.

Fixx opened fire on Stoppable again, this time shooting at his feet. There was a burst of mist where the round hit, and suddenly Stoppable slipped and fell right on his butt. When Stoppable tried getting to his feet again, his hands and feet kept slipping out from under him, reminding me of the last time those two had fought. At any other time, I would have been laughing my butt off. Then while Stoppable was on the ground, Fixx fired another round at him, but this time the effects were the exact opposite. This time, Stoppable suddenly seemed stuck to the ground, unable to lift himself up. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn he’d just been caught in Collin’s powers, but Collin was too far away.

"That was my glue round,” Fixx said with a casual smile. “Enhanced, of course.”

"Of course,” I responded wryly. “And be careful. Balderdash has been helping them out with toys.”

I looked through the eyes of one of my faerie scouts that was floating overhead, then I threw Needle as hard as I could. It flew across the street and stuck right into the wall of a building, though the twine that was tied to it trailed behind, hanging only a little slack. A few seconds later, Switchblade came running through at enhanced speeds, running right into my trip wire where he suddenly went flying face first into the ground.

"That has to hurt,” Collin said, starting towards Switchblade to try trapping him before he could get up again.

Switchblade was too fast and was on his feet and out of Collin’s range in moments, and he charged straight towards Fixx. Before Fixx could do anything, Switchblade caught up to him and knocked the potato gun from his hands while slashing out with one of his manifested knives. Fixx cried out in pain and grabbed his arm while Switchblade prepared to slice him again.

"I don’t think so,” I exclaimed, hitting Switchblade from behind with a glamour filled faerie while simultaneously hitting Fixx with another faerie, one that contained one of my slippery field spells. If Switchblade tried grabbing him, he’d have a hard time doing so.

Fixx was hurt, but he wasn’t completely helpless. While Switchblade was distracted by whatever he was now seeing, Fixx kicked him in the legs, then backed off. He was still holding his injured arm instead of doing anything else, so it looked like he was pretty much out of the fight. I grimaced, absently wondering what would happen if Fixx used his enhancement powers on some medical supplies. It might be worth looking into once this whole thing was over.

After a moment, I focused my attention and began casting another spell. A few seconds later, Switchblade looked around frantically and saw Centurion coming to help him. With a grin, he went to join his teammate, only to find his feet suddenly stuck to the ground. Only then did Centurion vanish, revealing that it was actually Collin with an illusion over him.

"Gotcha,” Collin said.

"I know all these damn birds aren’t really here,” Switchblade exclaimed, holding up a manifested knife in each of his hands. Then he glared at Collin and said, “I might be stuck, but you ain’t getting any closer. And as soon as Centurion arrives for real, you’re toast.”

"Oh, I’m scared of your knives,” Collin responded wryly. He pulled out his tactical baton and grinned. “There’s a reason I got this thing as a holdout. It extends my reach.”

Collin swung his baton at Switchblade, who couldn’t back up or move away. He hit the other boy in the arm, causing him to open his hand so the manifested knife vanished. However, a moment later, the manifested knife returned, not that it did much good since Collin not only had the ability to move around and maneuver, he also had a longer reach.

"Heads up,” I called out to my friends. “Centurion is incoming.”

Collin nodded at that, then suddenly lunged forward, releasing his power as he did so. Switchblade instinctively backed away from the attack, only to have Collin suddenly drop low and swing the baton at his ankles. A moment later, Switchblade fell backwards and hit the ground, only to find that Collin had activated his powers again and now held him trapped and even more helpless than before.

I hesitated a moment, then I reached out through the link I had to one of my faeries in order to check on Dana. She was standing guard next to our button, looking alert but a little bored at the same time. There was something that I’d been wanting to try for awhile, and now seemed the right time to do so. I created a quick spell, one of the ones I’d learned from my dreams when Vauldrene had used ghostly voices to confuse the enemies and lead them off course. I sent that illusion to one of the faeries near Dana and released it.

"Sphere,” my voice came out from the faerie. “Stoppable and Switchblade are down and we’ve got Centurion incoming. We can use your help over here.”

"Who says we need a radio?” Dana asked with a chuckle before a golden force field bubble formed around her and she lifted up into the air. I had a feeling that she wouldn’t have any difficulty finding us, especially since she’d be able to spot the chaos from the air.

I hesitated a moment, suddenly realizing that I had an opportunity, one that I couldn’t afford to ignore. I giggled almost maniacally as I cast a couple quick spells, deciding that this was going to be fun. Sure, this wasn’t anything like leading an idiot on a merry chase while letting him think he might have a chance at catching me, but then again…

Several seconds later, Centurion came into view, holding his sword. The blade was gold metal and was cracking with electricity, which immediately drew my attention to it. Since my mage sight confirmed that this wasn’t due to magic, it had to be a device of some sort. In spite of her protests in Delarose’s office, Balderdash had definitely been helping them out.

Centurion stopped and stared in surprise at the sight in front of him. Collin was crouched down over the defeated Switchblade while Fixx had similarly posed himself next to Stoppable, as if to brag ‘I did this’. Of course, Fixx was also busy trying to put a bandage on his arm which took away from some of the ‘badass’ posing.

"So this is going to be three against one,” Centurion announced calmly.

"I thought you liked fighting three against one,” I responded with a forced smile. “I mean, you and your two buddies jumped me from behind and ganged up on me three to one when you put me in the hospital.”

"And we should have hurt you more,” Centurion answered with a cold glare. “You’re too stupid to take the hint and leave Whateley… We don’t need an MCO spy here…”

I burst out laughing at that, then told him, “Don’t make me laugh. This has absolutely nothing to do with my being with the MCO. Hell, you didn’t even know I was connected to them when you jumped me. This is just because I bruised your ego and you had to throw a temper tantrum over it.”

"Why does everyone keep calling you a spy?” Dana asked with a chuckle as her golden force field bubble settled to the ground a short distance away. “I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever told the MCO anything about what you’ve seen. If anything, you’re spying on them instead.”

"I don’t know,” I responded with a shrug. “I mean, my only responsibilities are to fetch coffee and do a little public relations.”

"Well, you did keep them from arresting me,” Collin pointed with a smirk. “And you kept those guys from harassing Grit…”

"And don’t forget,” Dana added with a broad grin of her own. “You helped me give an official statement against that asshole Owens…” Then she snorted sarcastically. “Yeah, you’re really a threat.”

"Enough of this,” Centurion snapped, glaring at me with a look of hate. “I don’t care if it is four against one. I’ll still kick your ass again…”

Normally, I had no problem at all with the idea of outnumbering an opponent and using ‘unfair’ tactics to take them down. However, this time my goal wasn’t just to take Centurion down but to make a point while doing so. That meant I couldn’t resort to my favored tactics, otherwise I would have just run off and let him chase me. After all, the arena was set up in a way that would have suited my free running style pretty well.

"No,” I finally said, not taking my eyes from Centurion. “For this part, it’s just going to be you and me. But admittedly, if you take me down, my friends are still going to try to win the match.”

"Understood,” Dana said with a grim look. Her force field dropped and she stepped back, making it clear that she wasn’t going to interfere.

"Gwen,” Collin started, giving me a worried look.

I just smiled, knowing that that in spite of wanting to help me, he wouldn’t be able to do so without releasing Switchblade. He might not like it any more than I did, but he knew what was at stake and why I was doing this.

"So you’re going to fight me fair and square?” Centurion demanded suspiciously.

I just laughed at that, then admitted, “I never said I was going to follow YOUR rules…”

"I didn’t think so,” Centurion snorted with a look of disgust.

Then he suddenly swung his sword and a burst of electricity jumped from the blade and shot through the air like a bolt of lightning. Centurion had aimed it right at me, or at least what he’d thought was me. But instead of hitting me, it went through the illusion copy that I’d been using as a decoy, hitting a wall instead.

While Centurion was standing there with a look of confusion, I called Needle back to my hand. It had still been embedded in the wall from when I’d used it to trip Switchblade, but my blade immediately came loose and flew through the air and back to my hand. Without saying a word, I threw it again, missing Centurion, though I hadn’t been aiming at him. Instead, I ran to the side, calling Needle back again.

Fixx’s enhanced twine was about as strong as steel cable, and it was still tied to Needle. Thanks to the way I’d been throwing Needle and calling it back, I’d been pulling the twine around Centurion in order to wrap him up. Even someone of his strength would have a hard time getting through something as strong as this twine currently was. Of course, I still had a few more passes to go before he’d be tangled up enough for this to have much effect.

Before I could tangle Centurion up completely, he swung his sword down and sliced through the twine. I called Needle back to myself, then untied the remaining section of twine from it since that was no longer going to be an option. Then again, I hadn’t expected that to take Centurion down, only to annoy him and kill a little time.

"I’m gonna cut you to pieces,” Centurion exclaimed, swinging his sword and firing another blast of electricity at me. I dove aside and avoided what was certain to be a very painful shock. “Come here and fight me with that stupid knife…”

Centurion was strong, tough, and he could heal at a very quick rate. His biggest weakness, until this point, had been his complete lack of any kind of ranged attack. Unfortunately, that sword of his did a very good job of removing that weakness. Of course, my own weakness was that I didn’t have much offensive capability, but I’d been working on fixing that as well.

With that, I sent a mental command to my faeries, ordering a dozen of them to descend and hover in the air between Centurion and myself. Once that was done and I’d set the battle field, I made my move, sending a glamour laden faerie to hit him. He staggered as the hallucinations started, but he’d dealt with my hallucinations enough that he’d learned how to ignore them. Still, that kind of constant distraction could only help me.

"Take this bastard out,” Switchblade called from where he was still held down. “Once I’m free, I can get their button…”

Centurion grinned at that and immediately turned to attack Collin, not seeming to care about the fact that this was supposed to be a one on one fight. I snarled and sent one of my faeries to him, activating the spell stored inside. Before Centurion could release another blast of electricity from his sword, my faerie suddenly exploded in his face, knocking him back and cracking his helmet.

"What the hell?” Dana blurted out in surprise.

"What was that?” Centurion demanded as he removed his now ruined helmet. He glared at me with a look of hate.

"A fireball,” I answered with a grin. “You see, every time I tried casting a fireball spell…it blew up in my face.  So I figured, why not store the spell and activate it when it’s a little further away from me…”

I sent a second faerie flying at Centurion and it exploded as soon as it came in contact with him, not seeming to do him much damage though it did have an impact on his armor. It wasn’t quite as ruined as his helmet, but with one or two more faeries it would be.

"Kamikaze pixies,” Collin exclaimed in surprise.

"And guess how many I have?” I asked Centurion with a smirk, gesturing to the floating minefield I’d set up between the two of us. His eyes widened in realization, though he didn’t know that I was bluffing a bit as well. After all, only a fraction of those faeries were loaded with the explosion spell. Some of them had other surprises waiting instead.

Instead of charging straight through the mine field like I’d expected, Centurion snarled and swung his sword, sending a burst of lightning right through the middle of my faerie cluster. Several of my faeries were destroyed by the blast, but it hadn’t triggered some kind of chain reaction that would have destroyed them all like he might have hoped. In response, I sent two more faeries after him, and he tried to dodge, though it did little good. One faerie hit him and exploded while another one released a flash of light in front of him which left him momentarily blind. That gave me the opportunity to cast another quick spell which created a couple of illusion copies of myself.

"Let me go,” Switchblade yelled at Collin, who was busy watching me and Centurion.

Stoppable snarled similar demands to Fixx, adding, “You know I’m gonna fuck you up when I get loose…”

Fixx just smiled and responded, “You know, I have a roll of duct tape and I’m not afraid to gag you…”

Dana just yelled out, “Go kick his butt…”

Centurion recovered his vision enough to see, only to realize that there were several versions of me to choose from. He charged at the nearest one, only to have another flying faerie bomb fly into his face and explode. He was knocked back a bit and his face looked a little burned and blistered, but not too badly. Obviously, his enhanced toughness and regeneration were really doing a good job of protecting him. I just wondered if I could somehow force him to drop his powers long enough to really hit him.

Then I briefly shifted attention to several of my faerie scouts and grinned. It was time to try something else. I cast another quick illusion spell and a moment later, I now appeared to be Switchblade while Centurion looked like Collin. Centurion paused, obviously confused as to why I’d made myself look like one of his friends when it had only made me stand out from my illusion copies and helped to identify the real me. Of course, this little stunt wasn’t about tricking him. This one was targeted at someone else.

"What are you up to?” Centurion demanded, though I didn’t answer.

After only a few more seconds, Slingshot ran into view and saw what appeared to be Collin going towards Switchblade. She didn’t hesitate long enough to take a closer look at the situation before raising her hands and firing a force blast right at ‘Collin’. She hit Centurion with her blast and sent him flying, while the illusion vanished in the process. Then she just stood there, staring at her boyfriend in stunned confusion.

"Bekka?” Centurion demanded. “What the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be guarding our button…”

"But you told me to come help,” Slingshot responded in confusion.

I just smirked at that since I was actually the one who’d called her. After I’d used an audible illusion to send a message to Dana, I’d done the same to Slingshot, making it sound like Centurion had called her to help from her radio. Now she’d left their button unguarded and had just blasted her boyfriend as well.

"That bitch must have tricked you somehow,” Centurion exclaimed angrily.

"You think?” Dana called out with a laugh. “She’s making a habit of doing that.”

"Enough of this crap,” Centurion exclaimed, suddenly swinging his sword and firing a bolt of electricity at me again. I dove to the side to avoid being hit. At the same time, Slingshot fired a blast at Collin, proving that I may have made a gross tactical error in bringing her into the fight as well.

"Sphere,” I called out, knowing that she was our best defense.

Collin dove to the side while Dana formed a force field bubble around him, making sure to protect him from Slingshot’s blast. However, this all distracted Collin enough that he’d dropped his power and now Switchblade was getting back to his feet. Without a word, Switchblade charged straight at me, going around the faeries I’d set up as an obstacle.

"Gotcha now,” Switchblade exclaimed, rushing at me with enhanced speed.

I only had a second to react, but I knew that Switchblade had a hard time maneuvering or making quick direction changes while moving fast, so I immediately dropped down and swept my leg out. He was moving so fast that he ran right into my leg kick and went flying face first into the ground again. With that, I jumped on him, grabbing his hand and pulling one of his fingers back so that he screamed in pain. I pulled his entire arm back behind his back in what was a very painful manner for him, then drove his face right into the ground with a loud smack. His nose was gushing blood from the impact, and I suspected I may have broken it.

"You green haired BITCH,” Centurion exclaimed furiously, coming right at me.

"Drop him here,” Collin exclaimed, now free of Dana’s force field. He gestured to the area in front of him, which was shimmering, showing that he’d activated his powers again.

"Gotcha,” Dana responded.

I jumped back from Switchblade as one of Dana’s force field bubbles appeared around him. He was lifted into the air and then carried over to where Collin was standing, then he was released to drop right back into the flytrap field. He was caught just as firmly as he’d been before.

Slingshot looked as though she was about to fire another shot at Collin to free Switchblade again, but Fixx said, “I don’t think so.”

Fixx held up his heavily modified squirt gun and fired. Two streams of liquid came out, combining almost immediately into a single stream and then spraying much further than any squirt gun would normally allow. However, Fixx was a devisor and they tended to bend the laws of physics when they built things. At first, nothing happened, but after several seconds, the liquid he’d sprayed onto the ground caught fire, creating an actual wall of flame that was about four feet high. The wall completely separated Slingshot from Collin, which wouldn’t prevent her from blasting him, but it did make quite a statement.

"Why don’t we both sit the rest of this one out,” Fixx said, holding his squirt gun and making it clear that this wasn’t a suggestion.

Centurion stood there with his ruined armor, his sword still clutched firmly in hand. Sparks danced along the golden blade, letting me know that I didn’t just have to worry about it cutting me if I got too close. I absently wondered what was powering it and when the batteries would die, until I realized that Centurion himself was probably the power source. After all, he was an energizer, so Balderdash had probably made the sword to tap into his internal energy, the same energy that powered his other abilities.

After a moment, Centurion fired another blast of electricity at me, and I had to run and dodge it. He was still under the effects of my glamour, as demonstrated by his occasionally swinging his blade at something only he could see, but he was doing a damn good job of ignoring the hallucinations. And unfortunately, I’d already used up most of the spells I’d cast in advance, and I wasn’t getting the opportunity to cast any new ones. Right then, I threw just about everything I had left at him, but he began picking off my faeries before they could get close enough to blow up in his face.

I was growing frustrated and even a little afraid. I could easily run away from Centurion and he wouldn’t be able to catch me, though the lightning blasts might be a problem. However, that wouldn’t solve my real problem. If I wanted to really end this, I would have to take him down and do it in such a way that he’d remember it. I’d have to show him that I was no victim to be pushed around, and that meant actually facing him head on. Unfortunately, his strength, toughness and sword all made that something of a suicidal option.

"Get over here you cheating bitch,” Centurion demanded. “It’s time to end this.”

"You’re right,” I said grimly. “It is time to end it.”

With that, I pushed out as much magic as I could in a single burst, creating a new wave of faerie hobgoblins. I sent all of them flying right at Centurion, keeping him distracted while I drew Needle. Then as he turned to swat at the faeries, I threw Needle, hitting him in the back of his leg, right below in the middle of his calf. His powers made him very tough, but Needle was made of magical metal and was still able to hurt him, much to my relief. I hadn’t been sure until just then. Centurion cried out in pain and dropped to one knee while I called Needle back to me.

"I’m gonna kill you,” Centurion threatened as he got back up, putting all his weight on the leg that hadn’t been injured.

Instead of responding to verbally, I let Needle answer for me. I threw Needle again, this time sinking it into his shoulder and making him drop the sword. Once again, I called Needle back to me, this time activating the magical switch that turned it into a spear. While Centurion was distracted by the pain and my remaining fairies, I charged him, only to swing Needle at his feet, knocking them out from underneath him and dropping him to the ground. I followed that up with a swift kick to his groin, which I’d hoped would hurt a little even with his toughness. He grunted, which I took as a good sign.

"Do you honestly think you have a chance at winning?” Centurion demanded as he reached over for his sword.

I just struck with Needle, driving the tip of my spear right through the back of his hand and pinning it to the ground. There was no way he was going to reach that sword of his, but more importantly, it was time that I made my point…in more ways than one.

"I’ve already won,” I told Centurion with a faint smirk. Then I raised my voice loud enough to make sure his friends could hear me as well. “I just pushed your team’s button a few seconds ago.”

With that, there was a loud buzzing sound from above us and Delarose’s voice announced, “The match is over. Team Absinthe wins.”

I pulled Needle out of Centurion’s hand and let it shrink back to normal size. My opponent held his pierced hand, giving me a look of confusion and hate as he got back to his feet. “No way,” he spat out bitterly. “You’re right here…”

"Who says I’m really here?” I asked him in an innocent voice. “I mean, I might very well just be an illusion while the real Absinthe went and pushed your button while it was unguarded…”

The truth was, after I’d lured Slingshot away from their button, I’d kept several of my faeries there to watch it until just the right time. Once I thought it would be dramatic enough, I’d had my faeries push the button for me. I won the game by remote.

I looked Centurion in the eyes and simply said, “I win…you lose.”

"Way to go,” Dana exclaimed with a loud laugh.

"We did it,” Collin said, dropping his field and releasing his prisoner. “We won…”

"You’re a bunch of damn cheaters,” Switchblade said bitterly.

Fixx just looked down at Stoppable and said, “That stuff that’s holding you should wear off in just a few more minutes… If this had gone any longer, I would have had to duct tape you to keep you stuck.”

"Fuck you,” Stoppable told him. “This ain’t over…”

I walked away from Centurion and went to join my friends, who were all excited by our win. “How in the world did you pull that off?” Collin asked. “I mean, you were right here…”

I willed one of my faeries to land on my shoulder and take a bow, which immediately got my friends to burst out laughing. Dana shook her head and said, “You had that planned the whole time, didn’t you…?”

I just smiled at that, letting her think that I had. The truth was, I’d come up with the idea at the time I’d delivered the messages to her and Slingshot. After I’d lured Slingshot away from their button, I’d realized just how easy it would be to have my faeries go and push it while they were there keeping watch.

Suddenly, Collin yelled, “Look out,” and dove at me, knocking me back just an instant before Centurion’s fist went through where my head had been. Instead of hitting me, Centurion’s attack caught Collin in the side and sent him flying backwards.

"COLLIN,” I cried out in horror, caught between wanting to rush over to check on him and needing to deal with Centurion.

"You bastard,” Dana exclaimed with a cold anger, her force field bubble appearing around her body.

"No,” I said coldly, forming a ball of green faerie fire in my hand. “I’ve got this…”

Centurion stared at me for a moment and burst out laughing. “You really think I’m going to fall for your bluff? I know that’s just an illusion….”

"Yes it is,” I responded with a grimace, throwing the ball of faerie fire at Centurion, who was suddenly engulfed in green flames. An instant later, he screamed in pain and dropped to the ground where he flailed around. “But illusions can fool more than just your sense of sight. For example, I can fool your sense of touch too…making it feel like you really are on fire.”

"Centurion,” Slingshot cried out in horror.

"Holy shit,” Dana blurted out, looking shocked.

I let the faerie fire vanish, leaving Centurion on the ground without a hint of having been burned, or at least none that hadn’t been caused by my kamikaze faeries earlier. I immediately dropped down beside him and had Needle at his throat, making it very clear that he had better not make any sudden movements. For the first time, Centurion stared at me with a look of fear in his eyes.

"I wasn’t planning on using that trick,” I commented almost casually. “It seemed just a little too cruel, but you’ve made me change my mind.”

"Gwen,” Collin gasped as he sat up, looking like he was in pain.

I grimaced at that, then looked Centurion in the eyes again. “I’m tired of playing this game of cat and squirrel,” I told him in a cold and quiet voice. “Our fight…it ends NOW.”

Switchblade blurted out, “Don’t hurt him…” He looked like he really was worried about his friend, even adding, “Please…”

"He’s a lot more loyal than someone like you deserves,” I told Centurion with an almost pleasant smile, which I was sure didn’t reach my eyes. “Ian Henderson.” Centurion’s eyes widened as I used his real name, one he’d been careful to avoid using at Whateley. I looked at Switchblade and Slingshot, adding, “Rebecca Carlton and Lewis Braekowski…” They both looked surprised as well. “Yes, I know who you are, where you’re from, and even who your parents are…” This information had all come from Phase, not that I was going to tell them the source.

"You’re threatening our families,” Slingshot exclaimed, suddenly looking even more worried than she had at my having a knife to her boyfriend’s throat.

"No,” I stated, making sure to look her in the eyes. “Not in the least. But if any of you ever comes after me or my friends again, I’m going to send a letter to your families…telling them all about how the three of you jumped a girl from behind and put her in the hospital. I’m sure that will go over real well with your families…”

Centurion’s eyes went wide at that while Slingshot and Switchblade both went pale. “You wouldn’t,” Switchblade protested nervously. “You don’t have any proof…”

"Do you really think I need proof for that?” I asked him flatly. The look on his face was enough to show that he understood and didn’t like what the results would be.

With that, I pulled Needle away from Centurion’s throat and backed away from him. However, I didn’t put Needle away just yet. He slowly got back to his feet, looking more than a little shaken.

"That’s just not right,” Slingshot said, giving me a dirty look that made me glad she couldn’t kill with her looks. “That’s…not fair.”

"I never said I played fair,” I responded grimly. “Now fuck off and leave me alone.”

I made a show of turning my back on Centurion, knowing that he wouldn’t dare try anything again. And if he did, Dana was keeping a close watch and would react to immediately deal with him. I was done with Centurion and his friends so turned my attention to Collin instead.

"Are you okay?” I asked him, giving him a worried look.

"I think he may have broke something,” Collin admitted with a wince of pain. He was standing up, which I took to be a good sign, but he was using Fixx for support. “But I’ll be fine…”

I gave Collin a gentle hug, thankful that he was all right. “Thanks,” I told him quietly, knowing that if he hadn’t interfered, Centurion probably would have killed me. Then on an impulse, I leaned over and gave him a kiss. He didn’t protest or try to pull away, which I took to be an even better sign. “Now let’s get out of here…”

linebreak shadow

Monday morning, Nov 19th, 2007

I staggered towards Crystal Hall with my friends, moving like a zombie and letting out a loud yawn as I did so. Unfortunately, I hadn’t slept well last night and really could have used another hour or so in bed. In fact, if it wasn’t for my growling stomach, which was insistently demanding breakfast, I would have just stayed in bed to get what little extra sleep I could.

I couldn’t help but thinking about the arena match yesterday, which was a large part of the problem. The event had been exhausting, but I couldn’t get my mind off the subject and had ended up thinking about it for half the night. Even now, it was hard to really think about anything else.

After the match was over, we’d been met at the exit by a healer who used his powers to fix Collin’s cracked ribs and bruised shoulder. Then we’d been forced to sit through a debriefing with Chief Delarose and Officer Everheart before we were finally released to go celebrate our victory. Before long, Dana and Jinx had gone to the room they used to share in order to celebrate in private.

Even though we’d won the match, I couldn’t help but thinking about the mistakes we’d made and what we might have been able to do better. Should I have been more subtle with how I’d dealt Centurion, perhaps taking him out without him even realizing I’d done it? Or maybe I should have been less subtle and poked him a few more times with Needle. After all, the whole reason for the match was that I needed to make a point, and Needle had a very sharp one.

One of the other things I worried about was the fact that we’d had an audience, which was something I’d forgotten all about while the whole thing had been happening. Now that it was over, I realized that I may have revealed too many of my tricks. Until now, very few people had any idea of just how much control I had over my faeries or what I could really do with them. But now, it would be open knowledge. Everyone would know I could control them remotely, use them to spy on people, and even store things like my explosion spells in them. I had a feeling that this could come back to bite me in the butt later on. After all, my biggest advantage had always been the fact that people underestimated what I was capable of.

With a shake of my head to clear it, I looked to Dana, who was loudly complaining about having to get up so early. I rolled my eyes at that, wondering what she had to complain about. After all, she’d not only had two cups of espresso already, but she was also an exemplar and was wide awake and full of energy as soon as she woke up anyway. I suspected that her complaints about the morning were mostly a mixture of habit and just general principal.

As we got into line to get food, Dana began piling waffles and bacon onto her plate, enough to feed a family of six for a single meal. I shook my head and was a little more sparing, grabbing only one waffle and then hesitating over the bacon for a few seconds before deciding not to bother. Lately, meat in general, just hadn’t been all that appetizing for me, and I’d thought it was because of the way the Whateley cooks prepared it. However, I’d recently learned that it was a Sidhe thing. Apparently, the Sidhe didn’t eat a lot of meat and a lot of them were straight vegetarian.

"I’ll be damned if I become a vegetarian,” I muttered, changing my mind and taking a single piece of bacon just on general principal.

A few minutes later, we were sitting down at our normal table, but this morning it was a bit more crowded than usual. It seemed that half the Poe freshmen wanted to sit with us this morning so they could talk about the match. Cindy and Lina usually ate breakfast with us, but Breakdown, Downpour, Shawn, and Hardwyrd were only occasional presences at our table. This morning, not only did we have all of them, but Voodude as well.

"That was fucking awesome,” Lina exclaimed with a broad grin. “I mean, the way you stabbed his hand with your spear…”

"Personally,” Breakdown commented thoughtfully. “I liked the way Fixx glued Stoppable to the ground…”

There were a few nods, but since Fixx wasn’t a Poe resident, his contributions to the fight tended to get overlooked a bit with this crowd. The same thing was true for Collin, though Dana and I both got a lot of praise for what we’d done.

"I barely even got a chance to fight,” Dana complained. “I mean, sure I got to mess with Switchblade a bit, but he isn’t a real challenge…”

"I thought you did great,” Jinx assured her. “I mean, you were there to watch Gwen’s back…”

"Oh, I watched it all right,” Dana responded with a smirk that made me blush while Jinx elbowed her. Then she gave an exaggerated sigh and told me, “No offense, but I wish they weren’t calling us Team Absinthe…”

"It’s because we didn’t actually pick a team name before it started,” I pointed out with a shrug. I certainly hadn’t picked that team name either.

Dana nodded at that, then added, “Next time, we’ll need to come up with a team name then…”

"Next time?” Jinx asked in surprise.

Cindy nodded and said, “Yeah, I think you guys make a pretty good training team. You should make it official.”

I just laughed at that, then reminded everyone, “We were pretty good together, but we aren’t a training team. Besides, this was a one time thing.”

"Well, you are going to need a training team sooner or later,” Cindy pointed out. “You might as well stick with one that works.”

Dana had a thoughtful look before telling me, “She does have a point.”

"What I thought was neat,” Downpour said, speaking quietly as she always did. The fact that she was talking at all was enough to make everyone pause to listen. “What I thought was neat was how you got Centurion to admit that he was the one who jumped you.”

"What?” I asked in surprise as well as confusion. “How’d you know that?”

"We heard it,” Jinx pointed out with a smirk. “Everyone did.”

Dana and I both stared at her and blurted out, “What?” Then I added, “How’d you hear that? I mean, I know they showed footage of the match, but I thought there wasn’t any sound with it…”

"There wasn’t at first,” Jinx said.

"Normally there isn’t,” Cindy told us. “I mean, I know that they do record it all and that the guys monitoring the match can hear it, but the audience usually can’t…at least not lately. I think it’s supposed to be a security thing. But while we were watching it, the sound suddenly came on, right when Centurion was bragging about hurting you.”

Breakdown nodded and added, “Rumor is that someone hacked the system, though I don’t know who.”

Jinx just laughed and said, “Wow, it sure was lucky that it happened right then…”

I just thought about it for a moment and, “Everheart,” came out of my mouth without my really thinking about it. I wasn’t sure why, but I was suddenly sure that she had something to do with the sound being turned on at that point. I didn’t have any real reason to think she was involved, but I was still pretty sure it was her anyway. That probably meant my esper abilities were acting up.

"So anyway,” Lina said with a smirk. “Everyone in the audience heard Centurion bragging about how he jumped you…”

"And we heard what you were saying about the MCO,” Breakdown added. “I mean, about doing public relations stuff instead of spying…”

"Unfortunately,” Lina said with a look of disappointment. “The sound turned off again as soon as you won. I mean, you kicked Centurion’s ass again after that, and I couldn’t even hear what you said to him…”

Dana just burst out laughing at that, then said, “She threatened him and his friends with the worst thing possible…” Everyone stared at her expectantly and she just held off a few more seconds to give a nice dramatic pause before adding, “She threatened to tell their parents what they were up to.”

"Ouch,” Cindy responded with a smirk while everyone at the table began chuckling at that.

Normally, that kind of thing would be frowned upon and was against some unspoken rules, but I didn’t particularly care. What I cared about was making sure that those idiots left me alone from now on. After that demonstration, I was pretty sure they would.

Unfortunately, Delarose hadn’t been thrilled with my threat and had actually chewed me out for it during our debriefing. Actually, he hadn’t been so upset about my threat to tell their parents but by the fact that I’d used their real names in the arena. Apparently, we were only supposed to use codenames while in the Arena for security reasons, but I hadn’t known that. But in spite of how angry he’d appeared, I couldn’t help but noticing the hint of amusement in his aura over my unusual tactic.

"I thought threating families was a huge no no,” Breakdown commented, looking just a little confused.

"It is,” Dana agreed. “But as Abbie here pointed out to Delarose during our debriefing, she never threatened their families at all. She just said she’d send them a letter…and there aren’t any rules against that.”

"Sometimes you can get away with a lot by following the letter of the rules,” I commented self-consciously, hoping that Dad never heard me admit that.

While we were eating, various people kept coming over to congratulate Dana and I on our victory. I was a little surprised by some of them since there were not only people I’d never met, but a few who I was pretty sure didn’t like me. Still, it seemed that they’d enjoyed the show if nothing else.

Rapier came over and exclaimed, “It was like watching a magic show. I just kept watching to see what trick you’d pull out next.”

"I really thought you were going to get your ass kicked,” Iron Rose told me, then almost reluctantly added, “Good job.”

Caitlin came walking past our table along with a snake girl who was slithering along beside her. She paused long enough to give me an approving nod and said, “I’m glad to see you’re making good use of Needle.”

I just grinned back at her and said, “Yeah, I couldn’t have done it without Needle. Thanks again.”

Caitlin nodded at that, then smiled as she responded, “I was just repaying an old debt. I’ll see you this weekend for our run.” With that, she and the snake girl wandered off.

When Jade arrived a minute later, she excitedly told me, “I loved the way you beat them up with pixies… That was awesome… And I really liked that trick where you tied string to your knife, but next time, you might want to use nanowire instead…” She gave me a grin that was almost evil as she added, “You could cut them to pieces instead of just tripping them…”

"Thanks for the advice,” I responded cautiously, though I had to admit, it was actually a really good idea.

The multiple interruptions made it difficult to focus on either eating breakfast or continuing the conversation with those at my table, so by the time breakfast ended and we had to get to class, I was almost glad. At least in class, I’d be able to focus on what was going on without other people constantly coming over to talk with me.

Once it was time for Powers Theory class, I slipped into my usual seat near Collin, Fixx, and Porcelain. The way Collin was sitting suggested that he was still a bit tender from his injuries, even after the healer had fixed him up. Of course, I knew first hand that just because someone uses magic or super powers to heal you, that doesn’t mean you’re back to full health right away.

"How are you feeling?” I asked Collin.

"Not bad,” Collin responded, staring at me with an appreciative look before he quickly tore his eyes away, blushing as he did so. I couldn’t resist smiling faintly at that.

"He’s doing a lot better than Centurion,” Fixx added with a smirk that had us chuckling.

However, Porcelain pointed out, “Except that Centurion has regeneration and will have already recovered from his injuries…”

"Take all the fun out of it,” Fixx teased her, though he was grinning cheerfully as he said it. “If it’s all right with you, I’m going to keep imagining that he’s walking with a really bad limp.”

"You may if you like,” Porcelain responded, sounding faintly amused, though it was difficult to tell with her muffled voice.

"Did you hear about Centurion?” Collin asked me, lowering his voice as class had just started and Dr. Quintain had begun his lecture.

When I shook my head, Fixx added, “Rumor has it that after the match, he was called to Mrs. Carson’s office…”

"What?” I asked in surprise.

"He confessed to attacking you during the match,” Porcelain explained. “I believe that security now has enough evidence to respond to his actions.”

I sat there for a moment, feeling giddy about the idea of Centurion being hauled into Mrs. Carson’s office and actually having to pay for what he did, even if this did take a long time coming. Then something suddenly struck me. Delarose and Everheart had arranged for Centurion and I to settle our differences during this match, and then the sound just happened to be turned on right as Centurion and I ran into each other, then turned off again before I blurted out Centurion’s real name. It was almost like someone was controlling what information had been released to the audience. I couldn’t help but wondering if Delarose and Everheart might have set this whole thing up just as a way to get something on Centurion.

While I was distracted with these thoughts, Fixx continued, “Rumor also has it that he’s been given detention…”

"Detention?” I asked with a sinking feeling. That hardly seemed like a decent punishment for what he’d done.

"For a month,” Fixx continued. Then he paused to smirk before adding, “In the sewers.”

"That sounds…highly unpleasant,” Porcelain said.

"That sounds pretty detailed…for a rumor,” I pointed out wryly.

Fixx just shrugged and told me, “I heard this all from one of the guys in the maintenance department, so it should be pretty reliable. Apparently, the sewer maintenance guys have been notified that Centurion will be working for them for the next month, and if he doesn’t show up or refused to do what they tell him, they’re supposed to report it to Mrs. Carson right away.”

"It sounds pretty disgusting,” Collin said with a grimace. “But he’s still getting off pretty light for what he did…”

"I am not certain of that,” Porcelain commented. When I gave her a curious look, she explained, “I have heard that there are a great many dangerous creatures living in those sewers.”

"I’ve heard that too,” Fixx agreed, nodding emphatically. “I mean, this is Whateley. What do you think happens when some biodevisor flushes a genetically modified goldfish down the toilet, and it gets in with some super soldier serum that someone poured down the drains? Or when some nanites get into the sewage and turn it into a sentient poo monster? I’ve heard from some pretty reliable people that they don’t ever go down there unless they’re heavily armed.”

I was more than a little skeptical of that, though Porcelain stated, “From what I have heard, being expelled may be a preferable punishment to the one that Centurion received.”

"Excuse me,” Dr. Quintain announced, looking straight at us. “I do hope I’m not interrupting your conversation with my lesson…”

I cringed in embarrassment and muttered, “Sorry,” before lowering my head and at least looking like I was paying attention to his lecture. My friends did the same, with even Porcelain somehow seeming embarrassed at having been called out like that.

When lunch arrived, I once again found myself back at my usual table with my friends, though this time it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had been this morning. The four of us who’d competed in the arena match were present, as were Jinx and Porcelain. Cindy and Lina had also joined us for lunch, but everyone else from Poe seemed to think that they’d already done their congratulating and had returned to their normal routines.

As I sat there, I had my faeries hovering overhead, keeping a watch over the cafeteria and looking out for any potential threats. Normally, most students ignored them, but I noticed a couple people were actually pointing to them. I frowned at that, realizing that thanks to my match, people now realized I was using them as scouts.

From one of my faeries, I did overhear some of a conversation, with one boy gesturing towards my table and saying, “And she’s spying on the MCO for Mrs. Carson…”

I couldn’t resist chuckling at that. That rumor was no more accurate than the one about me spying on the school for the MCO, but it was less likely to get me attacked. Or at least, it was less likely to get me attacked here at school. If some of the people in the MCO like Whells heard it, they’d probably take it to heart and try to act on it.

Once I turned my full attention back to my own table, I realized that Collin kept giving me odd looks before quickly looking away. At first, I thought he might be checking me out again, but then I began to worry that it was something else. I tried to act as though I hadn’t noticed anything, but I was getting worried.

"I think we did damn good yesterday,” Dana said, looking to those who hadn’t been sitting with us during our breakfast conversation. She looked to Cindy and grinned. “Maybe we should make it official…”

"Make what official?” Fixx asked blankly.

"She means,” Jinx pointed out with a grin, “that you guys should become an official training team. You know, get your own team name and everything…”

"What?” I asked in mock hurt. “Isn’t Team Absinthe good enough?”

Almost everyone at the table responded with a resounding, “NO,” at once.

I just grinned and said, “Well I like it…”

"You worked well as a team,” Porcelain said carefully. “When you were working as a team.”

"True,” Collin agreed, not seeming offended by that. “Yesterday was Gwen’s show and the rest of us were just playing backup.” Then he paused for a moment before admitting, “I’m happy to help out, but I’m not sure I’m happy just being a backup player…”

"It was just a one time thing,” I told him, quickly adding, “And I really appreciated it.”

Collin nodded at that, seeming to be pleased by my comment. Then he said, “Admittedly, my powers are a little too specialized for me to be much of a starting player… Hell, Fixx can pretty much do what I do using a bottle of glue.”

"Perhaps,” Porcelain said thoughtfully. “But he cannot instantly release his prisoners, reposition them, or move the trap to a new location. You have a great capacity to remove dangerous players from the battlefield, and working in tandem with Gwen or Dana, you can lead them into your waiting trap.”

"I think your powers are awesome,” I told Collin. “I mean, you can stop teleporters. Who else can do that?”

"Thanks,” Collin told me with a grin.

"You are adept at distraction and misdirection,” Porcelain told me. “And you’ve demonstrated other surprising abilities as well.” She looked at Dana and said, “You have a potent combination of offensive, defense, and maneuverability.”

"You guys are pretty cool,” Fixx agreed.

Then Porcelain turned her full attention to Fixx, and though I couldn’t see her eyes through her mask, I was pretty sure they were locked firmly on him. “You often speak as though you are inferior to other devisors because you do not work with advanced technology, yet you easily convert common items into effective tools. Your versatility could be a great asset to a team.”

"That’s true,” Collin agreed with a grin. “I mean, you turned a squirt gun into a flame thrower. How long did it take you to do that?”

Fixx sat there for a moment with a thoughtful look on his face before responding, “After I had the parts, it took me about fifteen minutes to put everything together, then I had to treat the insides of the tanks and barrels so they wouldn’t dissolve from the ingredients, and that took about an hour to completely dry…”

"There you go,” Jinx told him. “Most devisors would build a flame thrower from scratch and probably spend days making it.”

"You’re like a walking episode of Mythbusters,” Dana told him with a smirk.

"I love that show,” Fixx responded with a broad grin. “I watch it for ideas of things to try at home all the time…”

Dana and I looked at each other, then at one we both blurted out, “It figures.”

"The point I am attempting to make,” Porcelain continued, slowly looking around the table, “is that you have the foundation to be an effective training team, if you learn to work together. You would benefit from additional membership, such as a probability manipulator who can ensure things go your way…” She looked at Jinx as she said that.

Jinx burst out laughing and said, “Sorry, but I’m not the training team type.”

"And we aren’t a training team,” Collin pointed out cheerfully. “We’re just friends.”

Porcelain merely bowed her head at that, then added, “Perhaps. But you should keep this in mind for when it comes time to pick training teams.”

We continued talking about this for the rest of lunch before we all separated to go to our next class. Since my next class was martial arts, I just hoped that Ito or Tolman didn’t put me up against Centurion again. After what we’d gone through yesterday, it would be a good idea to avoid him as much as possible from now on.

My last few classes of the day went the same as always, though a few students and one teacher complimented me on my arena match. However, not everyone was a fan and almost as many said, “You cheated,” or “You just got lucky.” And one guy who was apparently part of a regular simulator team, simply told me, “Wait until you go up against a real team.” Someone else had quickly added that they couldn’t wait to see the Grunts kick my team’s ass.

"We’re not a training team,” I protested several times. “This was just a one time grudge match…”

I was glad when classes finally ended for the day, and as I started back towards Poe, I met up with Dana. “Don’t worry about it,” she told me with a shrug. “In a day or so, everyone will have forgotten all about our match. I mean, I hear the Grunts and the Outcasts have a big sim match coming up and that should take everyone’s minds off some no names like us.”

"I know the Grunts are the junior ROTC,” I told her, also knowing that Slapdash from the Parkour Hooligans was one of their members. “But I don’t know who the Outcasts are…”

Dana just gave me an odd look and burst out laughing. “I think your buddy Eldritch is one of them.”

"Caitlin?” I asked in surprise. When Dana nodded, I imagined the two Hooligans going at each other and said, “I’m definitely going to have to watch that.” If Caitlin could make something like Needle for me, I just had to see whatever she’d made for herself.

A minute later, Dana and I reached Poe, only to find Mrs. Horton standing at the front entrance and talking to a petite Asian girl, who looked like she was about nineteen or twenty. I’d never seen her before and didn’t think she was a student, but with the way some of the kids at Whateley looked, it was hard to judge by her age. Maybe a member of the school staff…

They stopped talking as we approached and the Asian woman stared at Dana for a moment before simply saying, “Sphere.”

Dana froze, her eyes going wide while her entire body tensed up. After a moment, she stated, “Twist.”

I was a little confused by what Dana meant, until I realized that this Asian girl had to be Twist. Dana had told me that when she’d been traveling to Whateley and got caught up in a fight with the Liberty League, that she’d ended up fighting a hero called Twist. From what Dana had told me, Twist had actually let her go.

"What are you doing here?” Dana demanded, her voice almost accusatory.

Twist stared at Dana for a moment, though she was much more relaxed than my roommate. “The Liberty League is sponsoring a new student here at Whateley,” Twist finally said, using a casual tone as though talking with a friend. “I just finished getting him settled into Emerson Cottage and thought I’d come over and say hi to Mrs. Horton. I used to live here in Poe after all.”

Dana hesitated a moment, then cautiously asked, “So you’re not here for me?”

Twist smiled faintly at that and shook her head. “No, but it is interesting to run into you. If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk with you. Maybe we could go into Dunwich for dinner. My treat.” Then as Dana stared at her in surprise, she added, “I’m not trying to arrest you or anything. As far as I’m concerned, what happened before is over.”

Dana relaxed at that but quickly glanced to Mrs. Horton. When Mrs. Horton just had an amused smile, she looked back to Twist and said, “I’m not telling you where Ja…where Pinball is.”

"And I’m not asking,” Twist assured her. “Just a little friendly conversation. And maybe I can fill you in on what’s happening with that MCO agent responsible for that debacle.”

"Oh, you mean Owens,” Dana said, getting a faint look of surprise in response. She looked a little smug as she added, “The MCO has been keeping me up to date…”

"I’m a little surprised that you’re on such friendly terms with the MCO,” Twist said carefully. “Considering how they were after you…”

"Oh sure,” Dana told her with a chuckle. “Some of my best friends are with the MCO.” Then she gestured to me and said, “This is my roommate Absinthe. She’s with the MCO.”

For about the first time, Twist really looked at me, her expression being one of surprise and confusion. “Okay,” she said, sounding a little skeptical.

"Grace Winslow is my reporting official,” I offered, knowing that she’d know who Grace was if nothing else.

"I see,” Twist responded, still looking a little surprised by that.

Just then, I heard a familiar voice calling out, “Hey Gwen…”

I turned and was a little startled to see Collin coming towards us. He quickly caught up to me, though gave a curious look at Twist.

"Hey,” I greeted him, wondering what was going on. After all, we didn’t have a study session scheduled and we’d be seeing each other at dinner soon anyway.

"Can we talk?” Collin asked me, looking a little nervous. Then he glanced to the others and added, “In private…”

"We can talk in my room,” I said, then paused to glance at Mrs. Horton. Since Collin had already stumbled onto Poe’s secret, even if he didn’t know any of the details, I wasn’t sure if she’d be comfortable with him being here and perhaps finding out more. She stared at Collin for a moment before nodding.

Collin stared back at her and simply said, “I don’t see anything. I don’t hear anything. I don’t say anything.”

"So, you’re saying you’re a monkey?” I teased him while Mrs. Horton smiled.

Twist gave Collin a curious look but didn’t say anything. Dana nodded to me and said, “I guess I’ll see you guys later.” Then as we started inside, she turned back to Twist and commented, “You said your treat… You do know I’m an energizer?”

Collin didn’t say anything as we went inside, though he did seem increasingly nervous. His behavior only made me nervous as well.

When we got to my room, I looked to the violet haired pixie who’d slipped in among my faeries sometime after lunch, and told her, “We’d like a little privacy.”

Violet, as I’d begun thinking of her since she’d never told me her name, nodded at that and then left before I closed the door. Collin watched the exchange with a curious look.

"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said as an explanation. I wasn’t sure if he was ready to believe that there were a group of real pixies living here at Whateley.

"This is Whateley,” Collin reminded wryly. “I’m learning to believe a lot of new things.”

We both chuckled at that for a moment before things settled into an awkward silence. I finally broke it by asking, “So, what’s up…”

"I’ve been thinking about yesterday,” Collin said after a several second hesitation. “About how Centurion nearly took your head off…”

"But you saved me,” I reminded him with a smile.

Collin nodded at that. “But I was worried about you getting hurt, even before then. During the whole part where you were going one on one against him.”

"I was worried too,” I admitted quietly.

During my fight with Centurion, I’d thought about the previous times we’d fought, when he broke my arm while sparring and when he’d put me in the hospital. I’d been very aware of the fact that if he got his hands on me at all, it would all be over. I’d been afraid of him, which was why I’d been so determined to take him down.

"I’ve also been thinking about…that argument we had,” Collin continued in a near whisper. “And our talk when you were in the hospital.”

"Oh,” I said awkwardly, not wanting to talk about that again. The last time we’d talked about it, I’d cried myself to sleep.

"I’ve been thinking about who you used to be,” Collin said, making an effort to look me in the eyes as he did so. However, I had a hard time meeting his gaze. “I wanted you to know that I don’t think of you as Adam. I realized that when I think of you, I only think of you as being Gwen. A lot of times, I completely forget that you weren’t always…”

"It’s getting easier for me to forget too,” I told him wryly. “But…” I paused at that, unable to put it into words.

"I didn’t really know Adam,” Collin told me, sounding almost guilty. “I was a complete and total jerk to him, and I never bothered to know him. But I do know Gwen...and I like her.” He was blushing bright red at that.

My heart was racing at these words, but I didn’t know if it was from happiness or dread. I both anticipated and feared where this conversation might be going since it could go several different ways.

"You’re gorgeous,” Collin exclaimed, now looking beet red. “You’re smart, and funny, and I love how you look at things. I’m always looking forward to seeing what you’re going to pull next…” Then he paused before blurting out, “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t care who you used to be. I like YOU and I want to be with you.”

I stared at Collin for a moment, feeling almost giddy with happiness. At the same time, I felt guilty for feeling that way. After all, I was excited about a guy saying he liked me…

"Are you sure?” I asked him awkwardly. “I mean, I’m a total mess.”

"You don’t seem like a mess to me,” he insisted.  I just laughed at that.

"I went through a sex change,” I pointed out bitterly as a part of me actually tried driving him away. I knew the irony of that even as I did it. “A lot of my thoughts and emotions are all confused… The first time I had my period, I freaked out and made half the floor start hallucinating. I share my ancestor’s memories, and last night I dreamed about when she was pregnant. I have to go see a shrink every week…”

"And I don’t care about that,” Collin stated, looking me in the eyes. “I can’t imagine what it would be like going through all that, but I don’t care who you used to be. I care about who you are NOW. I like who you are and I want to be with you…if you’ll have me.”

I just stared at Collin for several seconds, fully aware of the way my heart was racing. Then before I realized it, we were kissing. The feel of his lips on mine was enough to drive back much of the confusion, making me aware that at the moment, I was very much a girl and quite happy about that fact.

For a brief moment, I glanced towards the bedroom door, afraid that Dana would walk in on us at any moment. But then I remembered that she’d gone off to Dunwich with Twist and probably wouldn’t be back for a few hours. This meant that Collin and I had the room to ourselves until then, and I intended to take full advantage of that time.

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Sunday morning, Nov 25th, 2007

I was in the middle of a dream, one of THOSE dreams, the kind that I had every few days. Whenever I shared one of Vauldrene’s memories, I never knew what I’d end up experiencing. Sometimes, I shared her greatest moments of fear, shame, or loneliness, while other times I’d get the excitement of outwitting an enemy or the easy joy of dancing among a cloud of pixies. Whatever the dreams were, at the time I had them, they always felt like they were my own experiences, not secondhand memories from a long dead ancestor.

In my current dream, I was a little Sidhe girl, and I was standing in the middle of an open courtyard with a giant Sidhe warrior. Or at least, he seemed like a giant to me, as did all the adults. In his hand, he clutched a spear, one that was twice as tall as I was. I knew Father was very proud of that spear and that he said it had saved his life many times.

Now pay attention Vauldrene,” my father told me with a gentle smile.

With that, my father attacked a training dummy with his spear, then looked at me to do the same. My spear was much smaller than my father’s, but it was all mine and I was very proud of it. I attempted to do as my father showed me, though I did not do so very well. But instead of chastising me for not doing it right, he merely smiled and showed me again. Our lessons with the spear continued for some time before they eventually broke down into a session of my father tickling me, as these lessons often did.

When I woke up, it was with a smile, which was something that I was rarely able to do after one of these dreams. Even Vauldrene’s pleasant memories often left me depressed, due to the fact that I knew what had become of her. Still, this was definitely one of the better ones.

I sat up in bed and looked across the room to Dana, who was still gently snoring from her own bed. I smiled at that, then grabbed the dream journal from my nightstand and quickly began writing down the details of this dream. This was definitely one of the ones I didn’t want to forget. In fact, there was something else I could do to help the memory of this one to stick.

A few minutes later, I was dressed in my workout clothes and making my way down to the Poe basement. Once I was there, I transformed Needle into its spear form, then began to practice some of the moves that I’d learned in my dream. In my dream, the spear moves I’d been taught were basic ones, but they were also similar to the things that Ito had been teaching me in class.

While I was practicing with Needle, trying out the new moves I’d learned from my dream as well as the other things I’d previously been taught, I realized that I wasn’t alone. One of the pixies had come in without my realizing it and was sitting on top of a pile of luggage, watching me as I practiced.

"Hello Blue,” I greeted the blue pixie.

Three of the pixies from the grove kept following me around, but none of them had told me their names. Because of that, I’d simply begun referring to them by their hair colors, Blue, Green, and Violet. Instead of being offended by that, they actually seemed amused. Blue nodded her head in acknowledgement and made no effort to correct me by providing a different name to use.

I took a break and watched Blue for a moment, noting that she was the only one of the pixies who was here, which was rather odd. My most frequent pixie visitor was Violet, while Blue herself was the one I saw the least of. At the same time, Blue also seemed to be the most serious of the group.

After a few seconds, I noticed that Blue was holding a tiny spear of her own. Without a word, she stood up on top of the luggage and made a lunging motion with her spear. She looked to me, then repeated it several more times. I blinked at that, then realized that she wanted me to do the same thing. So I took Needle and copied her movements. She nodded, then made another lunge that was somewhat different. I copied that move as well.

As strange as it was to realize, Blue was actually trying to teach me how to use a spear. I’ve previously been given lessons by Ito, Toni, and from my dreams, but I still paid close attention since the tiny pixie seemed to know what she was doing. We continued these spear lessons for more than an hour before we finally stopped.

Blue flew up into the air and came towards me, pausing to hover about a foot away from my face. She smiled at me, then gave a faint bow before saying, “Until next time, big sister.” And with that, she flew off.

I chuckled at that and mused, “Now that has to be the most unusual teacher I’ve had so far.”

I took a few minutes to practice some of my other moves, then I returned Needle to its kunai form and went back upstairs so I could get showered up before breakfast. After that workout, I was feeling pretty hungry, and there was no way I wanted to miss out on Sunday breakfast.

When I got back to my room, I found Dana was already up and was sipping a cup of espresso with a satisfied look on her face. “This stuff is pretty good,” she told me cheerfully. “Are you sure you don’t want me to make one for you?”

"No thanks,” I told her with a wry smile. “You know I’m not a huge fan. I prefer my morning caffeine in the form of hot cocoa.”

"Well, I can steam the milk for that,” Dana pointed out with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes, knowing that she was about to go into a spiel about all the great things her espresso machine can do. I decided to beat her to the punch by exclaiming, “It slices, it dices, and it makes julienne potatoes in nothing flat…” She stared at me for a moment then we both just burst out laughing.

As I got ready to go take my shower, I noticed that I had a missed call on my phone. I was a little startled to see that it was from my dad, especially since it seemed a bit early for him to be calling me. Maybe he was just calling to wish me a late happy Thanksgiving. I debated calling him back when Dana let out a groan.

"Oh yeah,” Dana told me with a sigh. “Last night, Amanda told me that she caught Beltane snooping around the showers. She thinks that she caught her before she could pull anything, but we need to be on the lookout just in case…”

"Good thinking,” I agreed, knowing that if anyone had been lucky enough to ‘accidentally’ stumble across Beltane when she’d been in the middle of setting up a prank, it was Jinx.

Fortunately, there were no surprises in the showers, or at least none other than when Lina got a boner and had a few of the other girls teasing her about it. However, that was pretty common, as was her responding with profanity and the occasional threat of physical violence.

Breakfast was the same as it usually was on the weekends, relatively quiet and laid back since so many students took the opportunity to sleep in. In fact, it was even quieter than usual, since some students had gone home for Thanksgiving weekend, and hadn’t returned yet. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been one of them, and had spent the holiday with my friends here.

After that, we returned to Poe and I went to work practicing some spells, trying to find some new ones that I could add to my repertoire. Illusion spells were pretty easy, but so many other spells twisted on me when I attempted to cast them, so I hoped that I could find a way to twist them in a way I could use.

It had been a week since my fight with Centurion, and though he’d left me alone since then, I didn’t want to let down my guard. Centurion might very well decide to come at me again, regardless of the threats that Chief Delarose or I gave. If that happened, I wanted to be ready. I wanted a few more tricks up my sleeve, especially since I’d revealed too many of them during that match.

"What are you working on this time?” Dana finally asked me, which was being patient of her since I’d been occupying the center of our bedroom during all this practice. She smirked, then asked, “Working on more of those faerie bombs?”

"Not right now,” I told her with a grin. I might not be able to make a proper fireball to throw at someone, but those exploding faeries had been pretty effective. Since they were my only real offensive magic, other than causing illusionary pain, I was definitely going to keep using them. “Right now, I’m working on something else.”

I looked up at my faeries, which were flying around near the ceiling. Most magic users considered hobgoblins to be mistakes, nuisances, and a waste of magic, but I considered mine to actually be the most important part of my power. They were versatile and extremely useful, as I’d demonstrated quite well during that arena match.

One of the most useful things about them was that I could use them as scouts…and as spies. But since I used them to spy on others, I’d become increasingly aware of the fact that other people might very well spy on me the same way. Because of that, I’ve been working on some spells that would let me have a little privacy.

The spell I was currently working on was a combination of three different spells, a very basic anti-eavesdropping spell…which would probably be really easy for someone who knew magic to get around. One was a privacy spell that Mrs. Lauriant had tried teaching me yesterday, though it twisted on me a little whenever I tried casting it. And the third was a spell of my own devising, one which had been inspired by Ripple. Where Ripple’s power let him bend light around himself, this spell actually bent sound, or at least created an illusion of bending sound, creating an area which let no sound in or out, and did it in such a way that it shouldn’t mess with the nearby acoustics. Hopefully, once I’d combined these three spells, I’d have a privacy spell that worked.

Once I was finished with my spell, Dana apparently decided that she’d had enough of being good because she teased me, “So, you and Collin…?”

"We’re just friends,” I told her with a bright blush.

"Yeah, sure,” Dana responded with a smirk. “That’s why he had your lipstick all over his collar…”

I blushed even brighter at that, then reminded her, “I don’t wear lipstick…”

"But you should,” Dana told me with a broad grin. “That way you’d have something to leave on his collar to mark him as yours…”

Dana had a smug look on her face as she added, “You know, Cindy told me that when I was out having dinner with Twist, you and Collin were in here together the whole time…” Then, just when I thought she couldn’t get any worse, she asked, “Did he pop your cherry?”

I nearly choked at that before blurting out, “No… We just kissed…” Then I paused before admitting, “And I let him feel my boobs…through my shirt.”

Dana and I nodded at that, then admitted, “Amanda and I haven’t really done much more than that either…”

I could still hardly believe how much I’d enjoyed making out with Collin last week, or that we’d done it one more time since then. However, the idea of going all the way both excited me and scared the hell out of me at the same time. Not that long ago, I’d been a guy myself, so the thought of actually having sex with one… I shuddered at that, having a feeling that it would take more than a few more sessions with Dr. Bellows before I was comfortable enough to try something like that.

"You know,” I told Dana with a sigh. “What really scares me are the dreams I have…Vauldrene’s memories.”

"Oh?” Dana asked, obviously startled by the change of topic.

"I keep sharing her experiences,” I explained wryly. “And in those dreams, it really feels like it’s me… So when happens when I finally have a dream about her having sex?”

Dana thought about it for a moment, then chuckled. “That could be kinky.”

"I’m not ready for something like that,” I told my roommate with a roll of my eyes. “I mean, it would be like losing my virginity without actually losing it.”

"I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Dana responded.

For a moment, I just stared at Dana, then admitted, “I just don’t want my first time to be…secondhand from her.”

"Oh,” Dana said with a look of sudden understanding. “Yeah, I guess that could be weird.” She was silent for several seconds before saying, “So you’re afraid to have sex, but you’re also afraid that if you wait too long, you’ll get it from her instead of on your own.”

"More or less,” I said with a shake of my head. Then I gave her another wry smile and said, “This whole thing is so confusing.”

Dana just nodded at that. “I know what you mean. I mean, my own Mom threw me away while one of my best friends is a super villain. If you’d tried telling me that a few months ago, I would have laughed my ass off. And when you add in the fact that I’m a girl now too…”

We both chuckled at that, then sat there for several minutes before I said, “Crystal Hall should be opening for lunch in a couple minutes. Let’s get everyone together for lunch.”

Dana grinned at that. “That sounds great to me. I’m starving.”

Just then, my cell phone started ringing, and when I glanced at the caller, I saw it was my dad. I hesitated a moment, then decided that I’d rather get to lunch than listen about whatever rule I broke this time. Actually, I was pretty sure he’d found out about my fight with Centurion and wanted to chew me out for letting things get that far, or maybe just for not telling him about it. Either way, I’d deal with that later.

Dana and I went to her old room, then she started singing, “Knock knock knocking on heaven’s door…,” until Jinx opened up.

"Singing is definitely not one of your powers,” Jinx told Dana with a faint smirk. “It’s a good thing you’re so cute.”

"And I’ve got a great rack, too,” Dana pointed out cheerfully. Jinx blushed but nodded at that, making me laugh.

We were just about to leave Poe when Team Kimba returned, coming in as a group and looking a little worn. From what I saw, my guess was that they’d just finished with one of their simulator matches, which from what I understood, were like the arena matches on steroids.

"I can’t believe Loophole pulled that on me,” Toni complained with a shake of her head. “I mean, I completely had her, then she gets me on some technicality…”

"What else did you expect,” Nikki pointed out wryly.

I nodded to Nikki, no longer wanting to turn and run the other direction. In fact, I was still a bit embarrassed about all the times I had done just that. Fortunately, the talks I’d had with her had eased those problems a great deal. And of course, the dream I’d had a few days ago had helped remove my remaining fear. It was difficult being afraid of someone when I remembered her sneaking me treats when I was a little girl.

Then on a sudden impulse, I used something I’d learned in one of my dreams and made a traditional Sidhe greeting, even using the proper hand gesture. Nikki looked a little startled, then she smiled in amusement and gave me the traditional response.

While Nikki and I had this exchange, Jade bounced around in a hyperactive state while exclaiming, “Lollypop bazooka for the win…”

"Do I want to know?” I asked, giving Jade a worried look.

Phase shook her head and responded, “No, you don’t.”

Then Toni gave an exaggerated sigh and announced, “Some things, once they’re seen, can NEVER be unseen…”

Jinx leaned over and whispered to Dana and I, “Just be thankful you two weren’t here when she discovered that Atomic Kitten card game…”

Team Kimba all continued upstairs to their floor, while Mrs. Horton watched them go with a faint shake of her head. Then she turned her attention to us.

"Don’t forget that afternoon seminar,” Mrs. Horton reminded us, making me grunt.

Yesterday afternoon, the school had sent out an announcement to all the cottages, that today, there would be some sort of optional seminar on how to deal with MCO harassment. Apparently, it was all put together at the last minute, and it obviously wasn’t well planned or they would have done it on a school day rather than on a weekend when a lot of students still hadn't even returned from Thanksgiving vacation. Besides, who wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon taking some kind of class when you didn’t have to? I know that I didn’t.

Mrs. Horton looked at me and said, “Gwen, I strongly recommend you attend.”

I just nodded at that, not at all surprised by her recommendation. After all, the seminar was on how to deal with the MCO, so of course she’d think I should attend. Maybe she thought I could offer some ‘valuable insight’ or something. If it had been someone other than Mrs. Horton, I probably would have assumed that they just wanted to rub my nose in the fact that no one liked the MCO.

As we left, Dana pointed out wryly, “I’ve had plenty of experience with MCO harassment…”

"It might be nice finding out how to avoid it,” Jinx pointed out. Then she looked at me and said, “At least you’ve never had to deal with that kind of thing.”

I snorted at that and responded, “Want to bet?”

When I’d caught the flight from Seattle to Whateley, I’d run into an MCO agent at the airport who’d been quite a bastard, just because I was a mutant. If my dad hadn’t interfered, I didn’t know what I would have done. I was pretty sure I would have missed my flight at the very least.

"Imagine serving coffee to some guys who hate your guts,” I said, thinking of my time working in the Berlin field office. And that didn’t even cover the fact that Whells had tried to have me killed afterwards. “I spend more time with the MCO than you guys, which means I have more opportunity to run into the assholes.”

"Ouch,” Jinx said sympathetically.

We reached Crystal Hall and got in line just as Collin and Fixx arrived. And before we could even greet them, I saw Porcelain coming our way as well. The fact that we’d all arrived here at the same time was quite a coincidence, or at least it would have been if Jinx hadn’t been here with us.

One of the Whateley security people stood a short distance away, casually watching out over the cafeteria.  We frequently saw security making a presence in Crystal Hall, though it was largely for show, to remind the students to behave.

Then I saw Centurion walking across the cafeteria, though his skin had red blotches all over it and he was scratching furiously at his arm. I quickly looked away, not wanting him to see me staring at him. Instead, I shifted my perspective to one of my faeries and used that to stare at him instead.

"What the hell happened to Centurion?” Collin blurted out in surprise. Then he looked at me and asked, “Did you…?”

"I haven’t been near that asshole since our match,” I responded with a scowl. The only time I’d come close to him had been in class, when I didn’t have a lot of choice. Even then, Ito and Tolman had been keeping me and Centurion apart.

The guy from security obviously heard us because he came over and commented, “Centurion has been like that for the last few days. Honestly, Chief Delarose thought you were behind it at first too…”

"But I haven’t been near him,” I protested again.

"I know,” the security guy responded with a chuckle. “But this kind of thing does fit your MO and what you’ve done to him before. We looked into it and verified that neither you nor your faeries have been anywhere near him, and the doctors say there’s no trace of magic. It looks like he’s just having some kind of allergic reaction…probably to something he encountered in the sewers.”

The guy from security chuckled faintly, obviously not having a lot of sympathy for Centurion. Then he wandered off to continue walking around the cafeteria.

We all stared in Centurion’s direction for a moment, watching as he scratched himself with a look of misery on his face. Then Fixx commented, “Those look like some pretty nasty hives…”

"Yeah,” Collin agreed. “What in the world could he be THAT allergic to…?”

"Strawberries,” I answered with a faint smirk, suddenly having all of my friends stare at me with looks of surprise.

"Okay,” Dana said, giving me a suspicious look. “Spill it Abbie.”

"Let’s sit down first,” I suggested, making a point of putting more food on my tray.

Once we all had our food and were sitting down at our usual table, I activated the privacy spell that I’d cast a short time ago. It created a bubble of privacy around our table, which I hoped would be good enough. I was pretty confident it would prevent any kind of casual eavesdropping or spying, but I wasn’t sure about listening devices someone might bring inside.

"What do you know?” Dana asked me.

"Yeah,” Jinx agreed, looking curious. “I mean, security said that wasn’t caused by magic.”

I just sat there for a moment, soaking up all the impatient looks of curiosity that my friends were giving me. Then I finally started, “Hypothetically speaking…”

"Hypothetically,” Collin agreed with a smirk.

"Before Delarose told me not to retaliate against Centurion anymore,” I explained with a grin, “I started to put a plan in place. You see, Centurion is allergic to strawberries. I mean, bad enough that they put it on his MID.”

"Wow, that is allergic,” Fixx responded with a look of surprise.

"Then I assume you somehow fed him strawberries,” Porcelain commented thoughtfully.

"Hypothetically speaking,” I said again, smirking as I did so. “If I wanted to really mess with someone with a strawberry allergy, I might go to a biodevisor or gadgeteer and have him make me a concentrated strawberry extract…one that was loaded up on the elements that might trigger a specific type of allergic reaction.”

"No magic,” Collin said thoughtfully. “Just strawberries…”

"That was the plan,” I agreed with a shrug. “But I cancelled it after Delarose warned me not to retaliate. I was holding onto the stuff in case Centurion started to make a pest of himself again, but…”

"So, what changed your mind?” Porcelain asked me curiously.

I shrugged again. “Nothing. Let’s just say, someone…or several someones who knew what I’d previously had planned, decided on their own initiative, to teach Centurion a further lesson by pouring this stuff on his pillow and blankets.”

I stared at the table in front of me where Violet was standing, looking rather smug. She made a show of buffing her fingernails and then blowing on them. Green was hovering in the air, giggling to herself.

"But Centurion has regeneration,” Collin started to point out.

"Yeah, but it has a bad reaction with strawberries,” I explained. “Whenever he activates his powers and tries to use his regeneration, the regeneration only makes the effects worse.”

"Damn,” Fixx exclaimed.

"That is…very devious,” Porcelain said, staring at me though I couldn’t see her expression.

Jinx nodded at that, then said, “And nasty. How long is that going to last?”

"Until he changes his sheets and pillow,” I responded with a shrug.

Dana just burst out laughing. “Everyone is already calling him Stinky because of all the time he’s spending in the sewers lately. Between this and that…his reputation is toast.”

"Burnt toast,” Jinx added with a giggle.

"Hey,” Collin suddenly exclaimed, pointing to Violet. “Is your faerie doing a victory dance?”

Everyone stared at Violet, who made an exaggerated bow, then flew up into the air and took off, with Green following right behind her. My friends all stared at the departing faeries with confused expressions, then looked to me.

I just shrugged and wryly commented, “It’s almost like they have minds of their own.”

It took an effort not to look in Centurion’s direction again, at least not with my own eyes. I was still keeping an eye on him with my faeries, though from a distance. I didn’t want to give Delarose any reason to think I was ignoring his warning about retaliation, at least not for the immediate future. However, I did still have half a vial of that strawberry extract left and that might come in handy someday.

When we finished eating, Fixx announced, “I’m going to check out that Seminar. Anyone else interested?”

"I am,” Collin responded. “My aunt has a lot of encounters with the MCO, and she told me that it’s a good idea to be prepared when you’re dealing with them.”

I snorted at that, then pointed out, “Most of her time with the MCO is spent filling out paperwork in the field office.”

"True,” Collin agreed. “And she HATES paperwork.”

We debated on whether or not to go, though I definitely didn’t want to. However, since Collin was going, I figured that I’d keep him company. Before long, everyone had agreed to attend the seminar.

A short time after lunch, my friends and I arrived where the seminar was being held, a large classroom that was far too small to hold the entire student body. Apparently, the school administration realized that most students wouldn’t want to spend their Sunday afternoon attending a class on the MCO, especially when it was optional. Still, the room was filled a lot more students than I would have expected.

"Every mutant has to deal with the MCO,” Collin pointed out to me. “That makes this a very practical seminar.”

When the class actually began, Mrs. Carson stepped up to a podium and looked over the gathered students. As I looked around, I realized that there were more than a few staff and faculty present as well.

"Everyone present has had some experience dealing with the MCO,” Mrs. Carson started, echoing what Collin had told me a few minutes earlier. “They issue our MIDs, provide a security check point at airports, and of course, many here have had unpleasant experiences with them.”

"That’s an understatement,” someone said, and there were a lot of muttered agreements.

"Regardless of your personal opinions on the MCO,” Mrs. Carson continued, “as mutants, dealing with them is a fact of life. Because of that, I have invited an expert to Whateley in order to speak on the subject.”

With that, a man came into the room and walked up and stood beside Mrs. Carson. He was tall and athletic looking, with short cropped dark hair that was turning to gray. He wore a dark suit and projected an air of stern professionalism as he stood there. My jaw dropped at the sight of him.

"Let me introduce Miles Wylann,” Mrs. Carson announced. “An agent from the MCO’s internal affairs division.”

"Isn’t that your dad?” Collin gasped while I nodded dumbly.

"Your dad?” Fixx asked in surprise.

"Why didn’t you tell us your dad was coming?” Dana asked me, watching my dad, since unlike Collin, this was the first time she’d ever seen him.

I just let out a loud groan, then admitted, “Because I didn’t know.”

"As Mrs. Carson just said,” my dad began, “my name is Miles Wylann, and I am an agent of the Mutant Commission Office.”

There were several loud boos from around the room, though Dad acted as though he hadn’t heard them. Instead, he slowly looked around the room, his eyes stopping only when he saw me. A very faint smile formed on his lips, but I was probably the only one who noticed it.

"I have served with the MCO for seventeen years,” Dad continued. “In that time, I have worked as a liaison for several super groups, the most recent of which is the Seattle Supers, and I even spent some time issuing MIDs here at Whateley. During those years, not a single mutant has mysteriously disappeared on my watch. In fact, I take a great deal of pride in following the rules and ensuring that any mutant suspects are read their rights and have access to their lawyers.”

The air was filled with skepticism and hostility, and I was pretty sure that students would begin to get up and walk out at any moment. After all, the MCO was definitely not popular in Whatley, so Dad was fighting an uphill battle just to get them to listen.

"I am currently assigned in the internal affairs division,” Dad said, still acting as though he hadn’t noticed the hostile mood. However, I knew Dad well enough to know that he was undoubtedly very well aware of it. “As I said, I take a great deal of pride in following the rules, and my current job is to investigate and deal with the MCO agents who violate those rules. In fact, I was in the area investigating an agent who attempted to murder a young mutant when Mrs. Carson invited me to come speak with you.”

"Yeah, right,” someone called out. “Like you’d ever arrest one of your buddies…”

"All you bastards hate mutants,” someone else added.

"I can assure you,” Dad stated, looking at the speaker and then around the room. “I have no personal feelings against mutants…”

There more jeers and outright skepticism at that, and then Rapier called out, “But you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one…” That elicited a few laughs.

Dad actually looked annoyed at that, or even offended. “Actually,” he responded, careful not to look in my direction, “since my daughter is a mutant herself, it wouldn’t surprise me if she married another one.”

It was obvious that a lot of the students in the room didn’t believe that, so I called out, “Hey Dad, you never told me you were coming…” I knew that this would probably make things easier for Dad, but it might cause me problems later on. Still, I had to help him.

"Hello Gwen,” Dad said with a smile, looking straight at me. “You should answer your phone more often.”

Suddenly there was a different kind of murmuring from around the room and nearly everyone was staring at me. I turned bright red and slumped down in my seat at all the attention, knowing that I was probably going to pay for this later on. After all, if the students got the wrong idea because the MCO was paying for my tuition, I was sure that they’d also react to the news that my dad was with the MCO.

"Now that my family reunion is out of the way for the moment,” Dad joked, which was a rare thing as he wasn’t usually big on humor. “As I was saying, the MCO operates on rules and regulations, though unfortunately, not everyone follows them as they should. My office is responsible for dealing with those who disregard these rules, though that isn’t why I’m here today. Today, I’m here to talk about your rights and responsibilities as mutants. Overzealous and unprofessional agents may attempt to take advantage of any ignorance you have about your rights, so the more you know about your rights, the better you can deal with the situation.”

"But what if the MCO doesn’t follow the rules?” someone called out, though it actually sounded more like a legitimate question than taunting.

"Good question,” Dad responded with a serious look and a nod. “As my daughter recently pointed out to a colleague of mine, mutants who suffer abuse or a violation of their rights at the hands of an MCO agent have little recourse. Because of that, we are implementing a program which allows these acts of misconduct to be reported.”

Dad continued his lecture for the next two hours, going into a lot more details of the rules and regulations than I thought he needed to. And unfortunately, most of this was incredibly boring, especially since Dad had already made me sit through all this before I even came to Whateley.

Most of the outright hostility quickly vanished as everyone realized that Dad might be an MCO agent, but he was also the first one they’d ever encountered who was openly siding with mutants. Or at least, he was teaching them about what their rights were and pointing out the legal limits of the MCO’s authority. By the time Dad finished, he even got some clapping and cheers.

"Students on campus are cheering for an MCO agent,” one of the teachers commented with a look of amazement. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

After this, several students went to talk to Dad and ask him questions. However, he wasn’t the only one who had people approaching him with questions. Rapier came over to me and asked, “Is that really your dad?”

"Yeah,” I responded self-consciously. “He’s the one who got the MCO to pay my tuition.”

After answering a couple similar questions, I finally managed to approach the front, where Dad was responding to one of the students. “No, I’m not concerned by having so many mutants gathered in one place,” Dad explained. “I personally believe Whateley to be a great idea. Mutants who don’t know how to control their powers are a danger to themselves and everyone around them, and this school provides a safe place to learn that control…”

Then Dad saw me and smiled, giving me a hug as he did so. It was a little strange since Dad had never been this affectionate with me back when I’d been a boy, but I had to admit that I kind of liked it.

"Hey Dad,” I greeted him with a grin. “What in the world are you doing here? I’m pretty sure that you didn’t fly all the way out here just to teach a class…”

"No, I didn’t,” he admitted. “I had a short notice business trip to the Berlin field office, and only found out about it yesterday. When I called the school to arrange a visit with you while I was in the area, Mrs. Carson talked me into this…” He gestured around the classroom.

I nodded at that, then gestured to my friends who’d followed me up to the front of the room. “You’ve met Collin.”

"Um…hi,” Collin said, suddenly looking nervous. That might have been because Dad was with the MCO, but I had a feeling that it had more to do with the fact that the two of us were dating. Of course, Dad didn’t know about that yet. I hadn’t exactly told him or Mom that I was into guys now, much less that I’d begun dating one.

Dad nodded, obviously remembering Collin, then said, “When Crucibelle found out I was coming to Whateley, she asked me to bring you a care package. I have it out in my car.”

"Okay,” Collin responded in surprise.

"This is my roommate, Dana,” I said, gesturing to Dana, who looked just as nervous as Collin did. Then again, she’d had a lot of bad experience with the MCO in the past.

"It’s nice to meet you,” Dad told her, giving her a curious look as he shook her hand.

I introduced Fixx and Jinx as well, then realized that Porcelain was nowhere to be seen. Apparently, she’d slipped away when I hadn’t been paying attention, though I didn’t know if it was because my dad was MCO or if she just had a general disinterest in meeting him.

After this, Dana, Jinx, and Fixx took off while Collin and I went to my Dad’s car so Collin could pick up his care package. As soon as Collin had the box in hand, he tore it open and got excited.

"Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, pulling out some cookies, and then what appeared to be a utility belt and some shuriken. “She sent me some holdouts…”

"Did you bring ME anything?” I asked Dad, giving my best ‘puppy dog eyes’ look. Since I was a girl now, I thought I should at least try it out.

Dad suddenly looked uncertain as to what to do until Collin spoiled the effect by laughing. I stuck my tongue out at him but he just grinned. For a moment, I thought he was going to give me a kiss, but then he gave my dad a quick look and that passed.

"I’ll see you later,” Collin told me with a grin. Then he held up the box of goodies and said, “I need to go make a phone call…” And with that, he hurried off, leaving me with my dad.

"I do have something for you,” Dad said, now looking faintly amused. “But I’m afraid it has to do with business.”

"Does this have anything to do with that asshole Whells?” I asked him.

Grace had asked me to be patient and let her deal with Whells, and I’d been trying. However, I hadn’t heard a lot of progress on the situation, other than that my dad had gotten involved in the investigation. That was the only real business I could think of that would bring Dad to the Berlin field office.

Dad nodded at that. “One of the Humanity First people who attacked you is willing to testify that Whells was their informant as well as a regular attendee to their meetings. We have enough to bring him in right now, but our investigation has also tied him to several prior incidents…as well as to some questionable agents we don’t have any evidence against yet.”

"So you’re not going to arrest him?” I asked, feeling hurt.

"Oh, we will,” Dad assured me, his eyes getting a look of firm determination and cold anger. “But for now, we’re giving him plenty of rope to hang himself with, and when the time comes, we’ll hopefully get a few others along with him.”

I nodded at that, frustrated that they weren’t moving against Whells just yet. It pissed me off that he’d tried to kill me and he was still walking around free. However, I’d seen that look in Dad’s eyes and knew that Dad was taking this very seriously. I could be patient a little longer.

"But when you arrest him,” I told Dad, looking him in the eyes. “I want to be there. I want to see it.”

Dad hesitated a moment before responding, “I can’t promise that. But if the circumstances allow this to happen safely, then I’ll try to arrange for you to be present.”

I nodded at that. “Thank you.”

"There is something else I wanted to discuss with you while I was here,” Dad told me with a faint smile. “Something relating to the new misconduct reporting program that we’re putting in place. However, that can wait for a little longer. Right now, I want to know how you’ve been doing…”

I began filling Dad in on what I’d been up to since arriving at Whateley, though I toned it down and left out quite a few details. He didn’t need to know about how bad my feud with Centurion had gotten, or how vicious I’d been when it came to taking him down during our arena match. In return, Dad was extremely vague when it came to telling me about what he’d been up to as well. Of course, he used words like ‘confidential’ and ‘need to know’ as an excuse to avoid talking about the cases he’d been working on, but I figured that it all balanced out.

While we talked, I noticed from some of my faerie scouts that several people from security were following us at a distance. I mentioned that to Dad, but he wasn’t the least bit surprised and merely said, “I wouldn’t expect them to allow any agent of the MCO to wander around here unsupervised.”

I would have taken Dad to see my room, but I had a feeling that the other people who lived in Poe wouldn’t appreciate having an MCO agent walking through the halls. Fortunately, Dad didn’t ask to see my room so I didn’t have to make any excuses.

Dad and I went to Dunwich where we wandered around as we walked. It was strange to just be hanging out with Dad like that and talking because we’d never really been that close. In the past, most of our bonding time together had taken place on the shooting range. Then while we were having dinner, he brought up the subject of the new program he’d talked about during his lecture.

"What we have in mind is a simple form that people can fill out and submit to my office,” Dad explained. “We won’t be able to use these complaints in any form of legal capacity, but they should show us who our trouble agents are and who we need to investigate.”

"That sounds pretty cool,” I said, knowing that there were a lot of kids around Whateley who would love to file complaints. “I mean, it’s great that you’re doing this…”

Dad nodded at that, then pointed out, “It was your idea. You told Grace that it would be a good idea if mutants had some recourse to deal with misconduct. She told me and I agreed that it was a good idea.”

"Wow,” I said, more than a little surprised that a casual observation could lead to something like this.

"I’ve talked to Mrs. Carson about this,” Dad told me, “and she agrees that it would be beneficial to have an MCO representative on hand to answer questions about the program and help assure the students that we are taking this seriously.”

I nodded at that, then said, “I guess I’ll be seeing more of Grace then…”

"Grace has her own responsibilities,” Dad told me, actually smiling, which set off warning bells. “Actually, I was thinking that you would be perfect for this.”

"What?” I blurted out, sure that I must have misheard.

"You’re at the school full time,” Dad pointed out with a serious expression, “which means that you’d be on hand and available should you be needed. And you’ve already proven yourself to be more than capable of acting as an intermediate between students and the MCO.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I asked, “Would I get a raise?”

Dad smiled faintly at that before responding, “This would mean further responsibilities which are outside of your previous agreement, so I’m sure we can come to some arrangement.”

I stared at Dad for a moment, not bothering to ask if he was serious. After all, Dad was ALWAYS serious. I also knew that he wouldn’t even have brought the subject up unless he’d already thought about it a great deal.

"What would I have to do?” I asked him thoughtfully.

Dad and I talked about what would be expected of me, and to my relief, it wouldn’t be anything too difficult. I’d just have to be available to help students fill out the complaint form and answer all their questions. And as with my previous tasks with the MCO, a large part of my job would be public relations, showing that the MCO was taking this new program seriously.

After we’d returned to Whateley, I told Dad, “I need to think about it a bit more.” But the truth was, I already knew that I’d accept this job.

In spite of all the trouble I’d had because of helping Grit, I’d actually enjoyed the experience and the fact that I’d been able to keep the MCO from steamrolling over him. It made me feel like I was doing something useful, like there was actually a purpose to my working with the MCO beyond just getting my tuition paid for. And of course, the additional money from doing this would certainly be nice as well. However, though I’d probably never admit it to Dad, the fact that he actually trusted me with something like this was all the motivation I really needed.

Then Dad finally told me, “I’m afraid I have to get going if I want to make my flight.”

"It was nice seeing you,” I told him honestly, a little surprised at myself after all the time I’d spent resenting him while growing up. I even gave him a hug, which was something I never would have done before turning into a girl.

"It was nice seeing you too,” he responded with a faint smile that reached his eyes far more than his expression. “You’ve changed…and more than just your appearance. I suppose that means you’re growing up...just not in quite the way any of us expected.”

Dad had never been big on long goodbyes, so a minute later, and after telling me to call my Mom, he climbed into his car and left. I watched him drive off, having mixed feelings and wondering if maybe I should have told him more about what was going on. What would he have said about my having a magic knife? About my having real pixies following me around? Or about my inheriting the memories of an ancient Sidhe ancestor? The truth was, my life had become pretty weird and I wasn’t sure how much of it my Mom and Dad could possibly understand. Dad was proving to be a lot more open minded than I would have previously believed, but this would probably be too much for him.

I slowly made my way back to Poe, lost in thought the entire way. After I entered Poe, I was so distracted that I nearly walked right into Iron Rose in the hallway.

Instead of glaring at me like she usually would, Rose merely said, “Your dad doesn’t seem too bad…for MCO.” It was a grudging admission, but more than I would have expected of her. Then she snorted, looking a little skeptical as she added, “But let’s see if he puts his money where his mouth is.”

"Fair enough,” I agreed before continuing to my room.

When I reached my room, I was surprised to find Dana sitting on her bed crying while Jinx sad beside her with an arm over her shoulder. “What’s going on?” I asked, feeling worried and hoping that we didn’t need to call a Downpour protocol. Then Dana suddenly burst out laughing, though tears were still pouring down her cheeks.

"She got an email,” Jinx told me while Dana just nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Your dad shows up for an unexpected visit,” Dana said, giving me an odd smile. “And at the same time…I got an email from my mom.”

I stared at Dana for a moment, suddenly realizing exactly why she was acting like this. Dana had told me that when she was in the middle of manifesting, her mom had pretty much disowned her and turned her over to the MCO, or at least to some dirty agents who’d tried to make her disappear. According to Dana, she hadn’t heard a word from her mom since then.

"Are you okay?” I asked cautiously, taking a look at her aura and seeing that it was mostly happy though streaked with nervousness.

"Yeah,” Dana said, bending over to look at her laptop and saying, “Listen to this. She said…I miss you David and I hope we can talk…”

I nodded thoughtfully, then pointed out, “She called you David. She doesn’t know about...?” I gestured to Dana, pointing out that she didn’t look anything like a David anymore.

"I’m pretty sure my dad told her,” Dana admitted with a shrug. “I just don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I mean, she hasn’t actually seen me since I changed. Dad told me that he’s been working on her…trying to get her to accept that I’m still me, in spite of being a mutant...so I guess he’s made some progress. This isn’t a huge apology or begging my forgiveness…but it is a first step.”

"A BIG one,” Jinx added with a grin. “And to think, you both get unexpected contacts from your parents on the same day. What a coincidence.”

"Yeah,” I responded wryly, knowing that Jinx took a certain pride in all the coincidences that happened around her. “What are the odds?”

"Come on,” Jinx exclaimed excitedly, jumping to her feet and trying to pull Dana up. “Let’s go out for ice cream to celebrate. My treat.”

Dana grinned at that, then pointed out, “But the ice cream in the Crystal Hall is free…”

"Then you can have an extra scoop on me,” Jinx responded smugly.

"Oooh, that sounds kinky,” Dana stated with a grin, only to make Jinx blush bright red. But in spite of the blush, Jinx continued to half drag Dana out of the room. From watching them, I never would have guessed that Dana was the one who had enhanced strength.

"Good for her,” I said, feeling happy for my roommate. Dana didn’t talk about it much, but I knew she really missed her family. I definitely hoped that this worked out for her.

I sat down on my bed, deciding to look through the information packet that Dad had given about that new misconduct reporting program, when I suddenly had a feeling that someone was at the door. My esper powers weren’t very strong, but on the occasions they did give me a ‘hunch’, they hadn’t been wrong yet. I got back up and opened the door, just as Jade was about to knock on it.

"Hey, Gwen,” Jade greeted me with a smile that made me instantly wary. “Can we talk?”

"Yes,” Beltane added from beside Jade, giving me a similar smile to the one Jade had. “I think we need to talk.”

The fact that Jade and Beltane were approaching me together gave me a VERY bad feeling, one that came from my common sense more than my powers. “Okay,” I responded cautiously.

"Jade and I were talking,” Beltane said pleasantly, “and she accused me of starting our little disagreement by making her dress like Jericho. Now, while I think that sounds funny, I didn’t have anything to do with it…”

Jade nodded at that, then added, “And Belle here says that I hit her in the face with a whip cream pie…which I haven’t done in like…months.”

"So, it seemed to me,” Beltane continued, not taking her eyes off me, “that someone set us both up. So we got to talking about who might have the ability to pull something like that off…and the motivation.”

"It wasn’t a long list,” Jade added with a grin. “And guess who was on top of it?”

"Thorn?” I asked with a forced smile of my own, naming the third big practical joker on campus. He was a sophomore who had almost the exact same powers as Beltane, not to mention a similar sense of humor.

Beltane and Jade both shook their heads at that, letting me know that they weren’t about to follow any more red herrings. They knew I was the one who set them against each other in that little practical joke war, so there was only one thing to do for it. Come clean.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I admitted.

"That was really funny,” Jade admitted with a broad grin. “You really got me good…”

"That was quite a unique retaliation,” Beltane agreed with a gleam of amusement in her eyes. Then a hat suddenly appeared on her head, just so she could take it off and give an exaggerated bow. “My compliments on your work.”

"Um…thanks,” I responded, not having expected them to be such good sports about it.

Jade just giggled, then started down the hall saying, “Just wait until Billy hears that you were the one who did that…”

Beltane just smiled, then started to walk away as well, saying, “You’ve won this round.”

"This round?” I repeated, gulping since that indicated there was going to be more. “Oh shit.”

I sat down on my bed with a sigh, realizing that I might have gotten Centurion off my back, but now I’d have to keep looking over my shoulder for Jade and Beltane. Their methods weren’t nearly as violent or direct, but they were bound to be a lot more creative.

If nothing else, those two would keep me on my toes and force me to be even more devious. I would definitely have to improve my game if I wanted to get the best of them again, especially now that they knew what I was capable of. Still, that could be quite an interesting challenge. Then again, Whateley was full of odd challenges.

Everyone on campus knew that I worked for the MCO, and after today, everyone would also know that my Dad did as well. After my fight with Centurion, most of the students had backed off on the whole ‘MCO spy’ stuff, though not all of them had. A few students seemed to take my ties to the MCO as not only a personal insult, but also as one against all mutants. Those same students would probably dislike me even more after today, regardless of the fact that my dad was trying to help make things better.

Centurion and his friends had been dealt with, but I wasn’t confident that this was for good. In spite of the threats that both Delarose and I presented, I’d hurt Centurion’s pride a great deal and he wouldn’t forget that. And unfortunately, since my pixie friends had retaliated against him on my behalf, that could potentially come back to bite me as well.

And of course, there were all the challenges and complications that came from turning into a girl, becoming Sidhe, and just being a mutant in general. Each of these things was having a dramatic impact on my life and sense of self, and any one of them would provide enough emotional fodder to keep a psychiatrist busy for years. It was a good thing for me that Dr. Bellows’ services were included with the Whateley tuition.

But in spite of all the problems and challenges that had come into my life since I’d manifested and turned into an elf girl, there had also been a lot of great things. I’d developed some incredible powers and had even learned real magic, something that I never would have imagined possible before this. I was having dreams from another life, which while traumatic at times, were also educational and were giving me a unique perspective on things. I was seeing and experiencing things that most kids my age…that most people could only dream of. I had even gained Needle, a real magic weapon that had been made just for me.

Ever since I’d come to Whateley, I’d made some friends, ones who actually understood me and the issues I was going through. I’d managed to not only turn my old school bully into a friend, but into my boyfriend as well. I still had a hard time believing that one myself, as Dr. Bellows would definitely hear more of.

And then there was my relationship with my dad, which had improved in ways I never would have expected. I would have thought that turning into a girl would have brought me closer to my mom, and though it had a bit, it had done far more for my relationship with my dad. The two of us had never been close and I’d always thought he was strict, inflexible, and completely disappointed in me. Perhaps my being a girl had softened him, or maybe it just took my being a mutant before I had the opportunity to see a different side of him. What I did know was that I was proud to call him my dad, even in a place where doing so could cause me problems.

As I thought about all the pros and cons of my new life, I found myself leaning back on my bed and absently watching my green faeries flying around the room. I smiled faintly while I did so, still amused by the sight of these things, even after they’d become so much a part of my life that they were almost like extensions of myself. These faeries had become like my eyes, ears, and hands, not to mention constant companions.

Sure, I still had a lot of problems ahead of me and challenges to deal with, but I had enough going for me that I was sure I could handle anything. Centurion, this new job, Jade and Beltane, or even that asshole Whells. Whatever came next, I’d deal with it.

With that, I grinned and said, “Bring it on.”


This endeth book 2.
Read 5864 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 19:35


2 months ago
Would love to see the further adventures of Gwen. After all Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder
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Dan Formerly Domoviye
Dan Formerly Domoviye
2 months ago
Morpheus is finishing up some of his independent stories. He'll be finished soon and coming back with stories for all his characters, including Absinthe.
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