Monday, 28 August 2023 19:00

A Dragons Tail (Part 2)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

A Dragon's Tail

by

Astrodragon
With help and input from Ames, Domoviye, Elrod and Null

 

Part Two

 

Thursday, Nov 17th, Assistant Headmaster’s Study, Whateley

Robert Turner looked up from scanning his Pad, currently showing a summary of the girls' morning activities with some additional comments from the police, his years of experience managing to keep a smile off his face and out of his voice, instead inserting a certain amount of sarcasm.

"Well, ladies, I hear you had a rather interesting trip here from Montreal?"

Jeanne McDonald blushed and looked embarrassed while Thulia just looked confused. Robert chuckled at the expressions on the girl's faces, they were all he'd expected.

"No, Jeanne, I'm not going to punish you for fighting - this time. You didn't instigate it, and according to Sergeant Villeneuve, you only stepped in when police and civilians were in danger. And in any case, Thulia doesn't know our rules on this, and we can't punish just one of you."

Jeanne's worried expression eased into one of relief. "Thank you, Sir. We didn't mean to get involved at first, but..."

He nodded. "I understand. But..." Both girls looked apprehensive at that word. "There are going to be some consequences. Thulia, as soon as you have the time, I want you to read the section in the student handbook about getting involved in fights off campus. No matter how good you think the reason is. There are very good reasons why we crack down on this, make sure you understand them. If any of it is unclear, please ask Jeanne or one of the older students to explain just why we take this so seriously."

"Yes Sir, I'll do that."

"Good. Now the second part" - this time his smile was far more shark-like - "the two of you were very lucky that your particular power sets made this a fairly easy fight for you. Such luck is not to be depended on, and I have made an appointment for you both to see Ms. Dennon, who will go over what you did in detail and explain all the mistakes you made. You will take her instruction to heart."

Jeanne gulped audibly, but when Thulia looked at her she just gave a tiny shake of her head. Robert just looked on for a moment, before tapping the table.

"Now that's out of the way, we need to get Thulia sorted out. Jeanne, we are grateful for your help, but we need to let you get back to your lessons. I've arranged a student to give Thulia the basic show and tell, then take her to Dickinson to get settled in."

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"Why did you look worried when he mentioned this Ms. Dennon, Jeanne?"

Jeanne sighed. "She's one of the senior combat instructors, she's very good at it - and unmerciful when it comes to tearing apart how your fights went. And then making sure you get trained to do better the next time. She's very much into the 'train hard, fight easy' school of thought."

She saw the expression on Thulia's face, then smiled and patted her on the shoulder. "Don't look so worried. She's tough but fair, and we did make quite a few mistakes. Best to work on them when your life isn't on the line, eh?"

"I guess so." Thulia didn't look convinced.

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Their conversation was interrupted by a short girl, who was almost buzzing with excitement. For a moment she almost gave Thulia the impression she was bouncing up and down, even though her feet never actually left the ground.

"Hi!! I'm Hannah Samish, but you can call me Assay, everyone does, and I'll be your hostess at showing you around Whateley this afternoon!"

The smile that accompanied her statement almost made Thulia wish she'd bought sunglasses while in Canada. Thulia didn't know quite what to make of the girl, so settled for a small smile, just in case. Jeanne grinned, as she paused for a moment before leaving to whisper 'better you than me' into Thulia's ear, leaving her with a growing worry as to just what she'd been dropped into. However, the energy radiating off the girl didn't give her a chance to do any serious worrying.

"Wow, your aura is amazing! Are you Dragonsfyre's sister, you look so much like her! And your aura tastes similar as well!"

Even as Thulia tried to form a sensible answer that didn't give too much away. While she was still puzzling over that idea her aura had a flavour, the girl grabbed her hand and started to pull her along with her. For a second, she considered planting her feet and staying put, but then this was part of her introduction, the assistant headmaster had said so. So, with a growing sense of unease, she allowed the rapid-fire commentary to slide past her ears. Assay didn't seem that concerned that Thulia wasn't actually answering her questions, she seemed happy to provide a flowing and voluminous verbal assistance all on her own.

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An exhausting hour later, Thulia had been treated to a whirlwind-like and somewhat ear-numbing tour of the Whateley Campus. Although Assay hadn't stopped talking the entire time, she still felt she didn't really know anything important. While voluble, her current tour had seemed less instructive than her recent stroll around the campus with Morgana. The only unusual difference had been seeing the trophy room and the weird portrait, and that had mainly made her realise that superheroes seemed to have poor taste in uniform styling. And that Guzman, whoever she was, was in desperate need of a Swiss Bank Account for her gold.

Finally, the lightning tour of the campus seemed to be finished, and the two girls ended up in front of one of the 'cottages' - this one being Dickinson, apparently the one she was going to be inhabiting while she was here. Just as well, despite passing by most of the classrooms - they were in use at this time of day - she was feeling exhausted. She rather hoped Assay wasn't a typical Whateley student, she didn't think she could cope with that level of energy daily.

It wasn't what Thulia would have called an imposing building. It was only four stories tall, and she wondered how they fitted all the students in it. Oh well, she supposed she'd soon find out. So, she allowed Assay to drag her up to the front door without resisting.

The comfortable chairs and fireplace were the first she'd seen in a foyer, a couple of girls in the chairs giving her a curious look as an older woman bore down on them.

"Hello, dear, you must be Thulia. I'm Mrs. Selkirk, one of the dorm mothers here, and I will be looking after you during your stay here."

Thulia wasn't sure how to reply to that, so she settled on a politely neutral gesture of greeting. House Mother implied a position of authority - at least, it probably didn't mean she birthed houses - so being polite would be the safest bet for now.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm Thulia. I'm sorry I'm late, we got caught in a blizzard and didn't get here till this afternoon."

"Not to worry, dear, these things happen. Now I'll show you to your room, and I have some paperwork here to help you get oriented. Your luggage has arrived, and it's already in your room."

Thulia nodded, then turned to give Assay a smile of thanks before following the lady as requested. Something about her manner made her feel she wasn't used to being disobeyed.

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Mrs. Selkirk stopped in front of one of the doors, unlabelled apart from a small number - 219.

"Now we're putting you in with Nefertiti Copeland, I'm sure the two of you will get on fine together."

Well, she'd been expecting a roommate, Morgana had explained the system here a while ago. Mrs Selkirk fumbled at the security lock on the door, as Thulia put her thumb on it, the lady muttering something about fingerprints. The door opened, leaving Thulia rather unimpressed by such a simple lock, but then again it was just a room, she supposed. The room was pretty bare, one side littered with what was presumably Nefertiti's stuff, the other bed unmade with her suitcases sitting on it.

"Nefertiti will probably be back once she's finished classes, I text her to say you'd arrived. Feel free to unpack, and later on, when you come down, I'll introduce you to the girls."

Thulia gave a quick visual check her cases were there, as the woman sailed out of the room. Still... She sat on the bed and summoned her staff to aid her as she cast a spell on her gear. A few minutes were sufficient to confirm that no one had been into it since she left this morning, and she relaxed slightly. You could never be too careful in a place like Whateley.

She was in the middle of putting her clothes away - the drawers and wardrobe had fairly obvious uses - when there was a knock on the door followed by the entrance of a girl.

"Hi, you must be Thulia? I'm Nefertiti, your roommate." The girl held out her hand, and Thulia was careful with her claws as she shook it.

"Yes, I am. I was putting my stuff away. I hope that's OK?"

"Oh sure, all the space on that side of the room is for you." Just as well I didn't want to swing anything big, like a rat, Thulia thought.

"So Mrs. Selkirk said you were foreign?"

Thulia nodded. "I'm not from around here. I hope that won't cause a problem?"

"Nah, shouldn't. We have kids from pretty much everywhere in the world attending, you'll fit in. Now, once you have your stuff away, I'll show you where the showers and stuff are, and then you have to suffer a quick meet-and-greet downstairs with the other girls."

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After the dorm meeting, Erica and Cally had cornered Thulia and insisted on escorting her to dinner. She'd just had time to wave to Nefertiti on her way out, although the girl had an odd look as she saw who was escorting her. She wondered what that was all about.

"So did Morgana know you were coming and kept it a secret?"

Thulia shook her head at Cally's question. "No, it's going to be a surprise for her. Hopefully a good one."

She wasn't quite sure about the way Erica seemed to be almost choking trying not to laugh. She hadn't said anything funny, had she? "It's all a bit complicated, if you don't mind, I'll tell you all at dinner."

Friday evening meal at the Crystal Hall was always quite busy, however, Thulia was pleased they had as good a selection of food as her earlier experience there. At least wearing jeans and a t-shirt didn't get her nearly as many comments and looks as her dress had. Which she was thankful for, the last time she'd been reassured by Morgana's presence next to her.

Erica and Cally let her lead the way up the stairs, hanging back with wide grins on their faces. Why was obvious when they got to the M3 table, and Morgana turned around to look at them.

The SQUEE! she made could probably have been heard all over the campus. It was a good job the 'glass' the Crystal Hall was made of wasn't glass, it probably wouldn't have survived. Thulia had to put her tray down hurriedly as Morgana shot to her feet and headed in for a serious, and long, hug, only letting go of her when the contrived-sounding coughs from her friends got a bit too obvious.

"What are you doing here? Isn't your visit supposed to be next week?"

Thulia grinned widely. "Not now. Due to some... recent events... I'm enrolled as a student here. And it's all supposed to be sorta-secret, so I had to surprise you”.

That actually made Morgana stop talking, her mouth open, before she finally spluttered "How on earth did you manage that?"

Thulia grinned as she motioned to her partner to sit down. "Well, it wasn't actually all me, and it wasn't managed on Earth." Even giving an abbreviated account of her doings with the Order, and leaving out a lot of unnecessary parts, as well as some things she didn't think she was supposed to say, it took a while. Long enough in fact that everyone had pretty much finished eating by the time it was done. Granted the occasional interruptions and exclamations from the group hadn't helped it go quickly.

"So, now we've eaten, we have something important to discuss."

Most of the group, at least those who were, despite Erica's words, still finishing eating, looked at her in puzzlement.

"Thulia needs a codename."

There was a collected 'Ah!" from most of the teens, and a confused look from Thulia.

"But why do I need a codename? It's not as if I'm here under my real name."

Tanya raised an eyebrow with a naive lack of understanding of the power and use of True Names. "You aren't?"

Thulia shrugged. "Of course, I'm not. In any case, I doubt if you could pronounce it anyway."

Bianca cleared her throat diplomatically. "Nevertheless, Thulia, you need a codename to try and disassociate yourself from the name you use here. Anyway, it's compulsory. So, if you don't choose one, the school will choose one for you, and you probably won't like it."

Morgana patted Thulia's hand. "Don't worry, I'm sure we can help you come up with a suitable name that's cool as well." Thulia wasn't entirely convinced of that when she saw the smiles on some of the other faces in the group.

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Some little time later, they were no further along with a suitable name. Laura had brought up an app on her laptop, and it was surprising how many names were already in use. Dragons, it would seem, were more popular than any of them had realised. The ones that had been suggested that weren't had caused Thulia to frown, and Morgana to growl more than once at the total unsuitability. Which, when Vic's idea of 'Firefang' was one of the better ones, it either showed a lack of imagination or, more likely, the teenage sense of humour.

Meanwhile, Morgana had been muttering as she searched on her pad, trying to find something vaguely appropriate and not the sort of name that could defeat a villain by making him fall over laughing.

"I think I have something."

All eyes turned to the redhead, as she carried on reading. "Yeah, I think this would work. Darling, how do you feel about Dracaina?"

Thulia thought about it for a moment, mouth sounding out the name as she tasted the sound of it. "It's not terrible, and it does suggest a dragon. Does it have a meaning?" Given some of the earlier ideas, she had realised that finding out what a name meant, not just what it sounded like, was important.

Morgana nodded, it does, that's why I suggested it." She started to read out some of the details off her pad. "Let me see. It's from mythology, In Greek mythology drakain, in the original ancient Greek: δράκαινα - is a female serpent or dragon, sometimes with humanlike features. So not perfect, but not a terrible match. Drakain sounds a bit of a male name, and it also sounds a bit close to some already in use, like Drakkun, so... Dracaina?"

"It's - well, not bad. Actually. I could live with that."

Erica grinned. "It's pretty good, as codenames go. Trust me, you don't want to have to take an assigned one." She thought for a moment explaining just what the German government had done to a certain German girl of her acquaintance but decided it would just confuse things.

"Ok, so how do I go about taking it?"

Tanya smiled brightly. "Well, you can just get the school to register it for you, or if you have Power Testing soon it will get done as part of that."

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As they left the Crystal Hall, Morgana slipped her arm possessively around Thulia. In return, she gave her leman a questioning look.

"Poe, love, we need to go to Poe first. I know it's been a long day for you, but there's something we have to do." She ignored the barely-muffled snerk from Bianca. "And no, it's nothing like Bianca's dirty mind is implying, it's not as fun but it's something we do have to do. I'll explain when we get there."

Once they got to Poe Morgana ignored the curious - and in a couple of cases, lecherous - looks at Thulia, grabbing her hand and leading her upstairs. "We need to have a word with Mrs. Horton, in private."

Thulia just let herself get pulled along, in the hopeful expectation her leman knew what she was doing. Morgana stopped at a wooden door simply labelled 'Mrs. Horton, House Mother' and knocked politely. A moment later they heard the "come in" from inside the room.

Thulia recognised the older lady from the experience with Morgana's parasite and bowed deeply. She had been kind to her, as well as allowing the two girls to use the bowl, and deserved her respect.

Mrs. Horton smiled in welcome and gestured to the two girls to be seated.

"Now, girls, what's the problem?"

Thulia looked at Morgana, who was looking as if she was trying to frame an appropriate response.

Mrs. Horton smiled and reached to one side to offer a plate of cookies. Thulia sniffed in appreciation. Granted, she'd just eaten, but chocolate cookies were always appreciated by a dragon. And surely refusing them would have been rude. Once the two dragongirls had each taken one to nibble, Morgana had finally worked out what to say.

"Ma'am, we have - well, not exactly a problem, but something which might become one. Specifically, Thulia knows about Poe's secret, or at least the changelings, and isn't in Poe. So, we need a way of her keeping the secret."

Mrs. Horton nodded in understanding as Thulia looked a bit confused.

"Ma'am, Morgana has told me some of the issues with Poe and changelings here, but at the time we never expected me to be a student here. Does that cause a problem?"

The older woman looked thoughtful. "It might do. I ask the Poe residents to accept a binding spell not to reveal the secret, but that's water under the bridge as far as you are concerned, in that you effectively knew before Morgana came to Poe. There are students outside Poe who know of it, like Tia and Cally, but we use the same spell on them."

Thulia was looking rather upset, causing Morgana to raise one of her eyebrows at her, as she struggled to put her argument together.

"Ma'am, Morgana, I do have an issue. I have no intention of putting Morgana or any of the other changelings at risk, but asking me to accept a binding spell..."

Mrs. Horton nodded. "Yes, I rather thought that might be a problem. In any case, it's quite a subtle spell, and I'm not at all sure how it would affect a dragon in the first place. Added to that, you have already been talking about the things the secret is meant to conceal."

Thulia didn't comment on the fact that Mrs. Horton knew what she was, she knew from their previous encounter that she was involved in the school magic system and she had expected her to know, as the moment continued.

"But still, I think I have a solution. Thulia, you were good at keeping to the restrictions we asked you to submit to. If I were to fully explain the issue to you, and you were to swear to keep a binding oath, I think that would work out. After all, letting the secret out could affect Morgana badly, and I don't think that's something you want to do."

Thulia nodded. "I would be agreeable to an oath. Perhaps a full explanation first would be helpful?"

Well, that did take a little time, not helped by the occasional interjection from Morgana. While Thulia found it quite weird and inexplicable why humans were so concerned with the particular issue of what sex or orientation a person was, let alone the issue of what they had been born as she was prepared to take Morgana and Mrs. Horton's word for it.

"Very well, ma'am. How about if I swear to protect the secret in the same way Morgana does, except to people who already know about Morgana's - issue - that I put her into?"

Mrs. Horton nodded. "I think that will work, dear. Now, I'll just write that down and then we can make that formal."

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"Well, I didn't expect that!"

Morgana shrugged expressively. "It's a thing, it happens. Cally got a lot of flack - in fact, she's still getting it - about getting exposed earlier in the term. Everyone here is still a bit twitchy over the whole issue."

"Does that mean we can't go out together?"

Morgana drew Thulia into a rather long, deep kiss. "No, of course it doesn't! We're just two normal lesbian lovers, no changeling issues need to be involved."

"Oh, OK. I was a bit worried..."

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Friday, November 18th, Dickinson - Crystal Hall, 8am

Erica and Cally had again claimed possession of Thulia to drag her over to the Crystal Hall. Given that having breakfast was the primary intention, this hadn't actually caused Thulia to object in the slightest.

"So, what have they got you doing today?"

Thulia shrugged at Erica's question, "Power Testing. They told me to leave all day free for that."

Erica and Cally exchanged glances. "So soon? Not even giving you a few days to get settled in?"

"They told me I had to start classes on Monday, so I suppose they wanted to get it out of the way?"

Erica gave her the cynical look of a teenager who'd already been through the process and hadn't enjoyed it. "Oh, of course, I'm sure that's the reason." The tone of her voice didn't convince Thulia.

Halfway to the Crystal Hall, Erica eyed Thulia again. "If you have testing after breakfast, don't have to big a breakfast."

Thulia looked puzzled. "Why not? I like breakfast, and I'm hungry!"

"Because part of the testing is physical, with a lot of effort, so kids who have a big breakfast first... well, it tends to end on the floor!"

Thulia gave her a questioning look, but Erica did seem to be serious, although she was still very new at working out if a human was teasing her. And it did make sense. She sighed at the thought of her looked-for breakfast vanishing fast over the testing horizon. Maybe Morgana could give her some useful advice.

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9am, Start of power testing, Doyle Medical Centre.

Thulia looked around the room curiously before focussing her attention on the doctor who was busily getting her paperwork together. Nothing unusual in that, except for the fact she was also using her long, mobile hair to help organise things. The room was fairly empty apart from the desk, and she wondered if they were going to do any tests in here.

"Er, ma'am? I don't see any testing equipment?"

Dr. Tenent turned and gave her a reassuring smile. "This is the first part of testing, first we do a full medical, so we know where we're starting from. Most of our actual medical tests are done elsewhere in the building" She took another look at her pad, pursing her lips. "I see you have more than one form, like Dragonsfyre?"

Thulia nodded. "Well, three actually. Maybe four, it depends a bit on how you count them,"

Dr. Tenent's eyebrows rose high. "Four! That's very interesting. Your notes say your body and physiology are similar to Dragonsfyre, but she only displays two body types."

Thulia nodded. "That's because she hasn't mastered her control yet. There were... issues... due to her possession, but in a while, she should be able to control herself properly as well. I was going to bring that up with her as soon as I'm happy that she's fully recovered."

Ophelia looked at her thoughtfully. In the sort of manner an experimenter looked at one of their lab rats. Some things transcended dimensions, and Thulia wasn't reassured by it. "Perhaps you could show me them first, then I can see about what tests we'll need. I don't want to repeat everything four times unless we have to. I doubt if you want me to either!"

Thulia looked down at the hospital gown she'd been made to put on and gestured at it. "It would be easier if I took this off, it would only get torn when I changed." She was hoping the room was large enough to manifest her wings and tail properly, everything humans used was built to such a small scale!

"Go ahead then, I'm curious. That wasn't an issue with Dragonsfyre."

Thulia nodded, slipping out of the garment, before stopping halfway through folding it. "Ma'am, why do you keep referring to Morgana by her codename?"

Ophelia chuckled. "Once we get your testing started, it's all recorded. So, just in case, we don't use real names. Did you decide on a codename for yourself?"

Thulia put the flimsy garment down next to her and nodded. "Yes ma'am. Last night Mor - sorry, Dragonsfyre - and her friends helped me work one out.

Ophelia smiled. From the expression on Thulia's face, and her knowledge of the way teenagers thought, it was clear a lot of the suggestions had been unhelpful, to say the least. "So did you decide on one?"

Thulia nodded. "Dracaina, ma'am."

"I'll note it down, for all the testing we'll call you that, and we'll get it changed on your records. Now, these various forms of yours?"

Thulia moved to the middle of the room to give herself some space. "Well, this is my first form, it's basically to help me blend in here on Earth as much as possible. While it's not exactly a human body, the bulk of the differences are internal or not obvious. The next expression you've probably seen on Morgana." The air around her shimmered slightly for a moment, as horns manifested from her head, and her skin colour darkened a little, more red apparent in her tan. Olivia nodded, she'd seen this before on Dragonsfyre, and apart from a few small differences, the only real disparity was the colourful blaze of fire that was the girl's hair.

"The hair looks interesting, Dragonsfyre's doesn't change."

Thulia blushed slightly, and her hair faded to a more normal-for-humans ebony silkfall. "It's more an effect, ma'am. It just looks cool that way."

The doctor chuckled. "You're right, it's an impressive effect. So, it's just a spell, then?"

Thulia thought for a moment. "Well, yes, sort of. It does use a bit of essence, and it might be a bit of a problem, my hair is hot like that and I'm not sure about what it would do to human clothing."

Ophelia looked up from making a note on her pad. "How do you manage normally then?"

The girl just shrugged. "My normal clothing is fireproof."

"Ah, of course it is. Anyway, you mentioned other forms?"

Thulia nodded, and again that odd shimmer encompassed her for a moment. This time the physical change was much more dramatic; a large pair of dragonwings sprouted from her back, the surface covered in convoluted patterns in crimson and black, and a long powerful tail emerged from the base of her spine, the end twitching slightly. There was also a more obvious dusting of small, delicate scales on parts of her skin which Ophelia hadn't noticed before, and her skin was now a definite reddish colour.

Ophelia's eyes widened. "Oh my, that is dramatic. And your wings look so lovely..."

Thulia blushed. "Thank you, ma'am." She twirled a little to give the doctor a better view of her wings and tail, being careful not to spread her wings too widely. There wasn't enough room here.

"Are they functional? The wings, I mean?"

"Oh yes, ma'am. So is the tail. I don't have to manifest them both together, but the tail helps my stability in flight a bit, and it's a useful weapon. But most human rooms aren't suitable for wings and a tail, so I only manifest them when I need them."

"Sensible. Hmm, does anything else change when you manifest them? If not, we can just test you like this and skip retesting without them, that will save some time and spare you an extra set of tests."

"Nothing really changes otherwise, ma'am." She thought for a moment. "This is actually just one form; it was just convenient at times not to have wings and tail getting in the way."

"Good, now you did say there was another form you could take?"

Thulia nodded and concentrated again. This time the visual changes were a lot more apparent. Much heavier scales grew over parts of her body, covering her shoulders, spine, and some of the more vulnerable parts. Where the obviously hard scales didn't cover, her musculature was much more defined. Even on the rest of her skin, scales were apparent, although more delicate than on the heavily armoured portions, and the red tinge had changed to a more obvious scarlet. Her claws and fangs were notably larger and more dangerous, and her tail was now protected by more armour plates, as well as having grown spines down its length.

Ophelia had to control herself not to step back automatically. Deliberate or not, the girl now looked a lot more like a dangerous dragoness, and that caused a primal response in her. One she didn't want to show, it was always important as a doctor not to show any signs of fear or disgust at the way GSD or other changes could affect a student.

"That looks a lot more dangerous?"

Thulia nodded. "It's designed for physical combat, ma'am, just in case I need it. There are changes to my strength and other factors, so I suppose they'd want to test me like this as well?"

"Oh yes, we definitely will!"

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Late morning, Power testing Underground Labs

Thulia gratefully accepted a towel from one of the staff to use to wipe herself clear of sweat. The physical testing had been very thorough, especially as she'd had to do most of it three times. The final tests had been of her flying, and while the speed tests had been simple enough, except for the high-g turns she'd had to make that were necessary to stay in the oval at her fastest, the obstacle course had been hard. Not impossible for someone who'd been flying since they were eight, but she'd had to cut her speed to make it possible - there was no way she'd have been able to make some of the needed manoeuvres at full speed, even though they'd made some adjustments to allow for her 15-foot wingspan. Not perfect, since some sadist on the testing crew had done a change to one of the obstacles in midflight, his excuse being he wanted to check she didn't have some sort of danger sense while flying. Meh, she could have told them she didn't, but her knee still ached a little from the hit. The impact had also seriously trashed the obstacle, which she felt suitable compensation for the pain it had caused her.

"Is that all the physical tests done?"

The lead tech looked up from his pad and nodded. "Yes, Dracaina. Sorry we had to repeat them, but your physical abilities do differ considerably in your different forms. Next, we need to do the tests for the non-physical mutant abilities, but we can do all those in whichever form you feel most comfortable in."

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. She decided to de-manifest her wings and tail - she was already realising how accurate Tanau's advice about tails and human furniture and doors had been, not to mention the restrictive space in many of the rooms - and she knew that the things they would be testing for wouldn't depend on the level of magic she was using internally. The magic tests might, but she'd already been told they'd be done last.

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Some hours later, she was impressed despite herself by how thorough the Whateley tests were, including ones for some of the more exotic psi and warping powers she'd not touched on in her research. She would have loved to have been able to talk about and inspect some of the more exotic testing equipment they'd used on her, but the testing crew had been insistent on going through their tests rather than explaining them. Most of them had proven negative, although some of them had been negative in interesting ways. She knew she had no psi abilities, but it seemed she had a small amount of resistance to mental effects - the tester had described her as 'slippery' at the first try, which they thought was probably more to do with her being a dragon than any mutant ability. She'd tested negative for any warping abilities as well, which again she could have told them, but they were insistent on testing everything. They'd even tested how sensitive she was to taste! True, she could have imitated success in a few of them, but that was magic, not inherent warping. Cheating on these tests seemed silly, and she was just as interested as the testers in finding out the results.

The energiser testing she'd found amusing. She'd told them what she could do with fire, and as soon as one of them mentioned 'Dragonsfyre' they'd got a lot more cautious. She needed to find out just what her leman had done to cause all the worried looks, she suspected it might be interesting. After a quick explanation of how hot she could get, they'd agree to let her use her own leotard, and just add some sensors over it. She'd promised to stop before she reached their melting point, which had seemed to reassure them a little. Her final tests had been with some remote sensors and a force-field to protect the testers, and that had all gone smoothly. What, they didn't think she could control her fire properly?

They'd left the testing for gadgeteer and devisor traits to the end. These were the ones that really interested her, after some of the suggestions that had been made about her possibly being a mutant, and she'd gone through them all as far as she could. Some of them had seemed easy, some had seemed impossible, but from the looks on the tester's faces as they jotted down notes on their pads, they were finding out something, and she was impatient to find out what. Despite a few plaintive appeals to tell her, they'd just shaken their heads and told her she'd have to wait till they'd analysed the result.

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Thulia looked at the vending machine and wondered if she had time for another drink before Ms. Grimes arrived to examine her. The energy drinks didn't taste wonderful, but the Powers Testing people hadn't fed her, and after all her exertions for their tests, she'd been starving. Fortunately, Morgana had told her to take energy bars with her, and she'd scarfed four of them down rapidly, but one sip of what the machine had said was coffee had made her decide it was an evil lying piece of human mechanism, and she'd gone for the energy drinks instead.

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Ms. Grime's Office, Magic Arts in Kirby Hall, afternoon.

"Good afternoon, Dracaina."

Thulia looked at the woman sitting behind her desk and bowed formally. "Lady Grimes, will you be arranging my testing?"

Elyzia chuckled. "Oh no, I'll be doing it personally!" She smiled even wider at the girls' expression. "Surely you don't think I wouldn't want to do it myself?"

Thulia was still feeling shocked. "But your time..."

Grimes fixed here with a stern expression. "Thulia, first off I'm not a Lady. The correct way of addressing me is Ms. Grimes or ma'am, or teacher if I'm giving instruction. Second, my job here is to train new mages. And a considerable part of that is doing that work myself, although we do have several teachers in the department. While you are of course a very interesting student, I do test all the new arrivals myself. But please don't put me on some sort of a pedestal I don't deserve."

Thulia nearly opened her mouth to comment but decided maybe it was best to keep quiet. She'd seen the quality of Ms. Grimes's talent before, and if she wanted to pretend she was just an ordinary teacher, well, who was she to argue? After all, some of the Masters at the Academy did teach and mentor students, although they didn't pretend to be something less than they were. Human customs could be so confusing!

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Elyzia put the last of her testing crystals back in the padded box. It had taken quite some time to go through all the tests, not helped by the number of questions Grimes had asked during the process. She'd tried to be reasonably honest, only shading the facts where they impinged on things she didn't want to be made too public about her powers.

"Well, that's all your testing done for now."

Thulia allowed herself a small smile of relief as Grimes flipped a switch on a small box on her desk. "Now, we're no longer being recorded. I wanted to have a word with you about a few things that are nothing to do with your testing, so there's no need for them to be on the official record."

Thulia blinked. "Is there a problem, ma'am?"

Grimes looked thoughtful. "Not a problem, or at least not yet. I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things to avoid them becoming a problem."

Thulia bit her lip. Grimes was looking quite serious, so whatever it was she wanted probably wasn't minor. "Of course, ma'am. What are the issues?"

Grimes relaxed a little at Thulia's air of helpfulness. "One which affects you, one which might affect Morgana. Now the first is the fact you've shown the ability to modify a BIT."

Thulia winced noticeably. "You aren't going to ask me to, are you? It's not safe!"

Grimes held up a hand. "Quite the contrary! Trust me, I know how dangerous such an attempt is, and to be honest I am amazed you managed it even with limited success."

The girl wriggled a little in her seat. "Well, to be honest, I cheated a little. The one time it's possible to try and work with a BIT and make it last and get a result close to what you're looking for is during a manifestation. And even then, there were issues. Once it's settled, the chances of anything good resulting are minimal. At best."

"Oh, I understand that, Thulia. The problem is, we have quite a few students unhappy with the way they have changed. Some with the way they look, some with the way their powers work. I'm worried that if what you did with Morgana becomes widely known, you'll be pressured to do something for them."

Thulia thought about that, the expression on her face unhappy. "What do you suggest, ma'am?"

"Well, I'd suggest two options. First, keep quiet about it. That might not work, some people know Morgana had things done to her BIT and eventually, that might get out. The second is to tell people that you can't do it, your method only works on a manifesting mutant, and as they have manifested it's too late."

Thulia nodded thoughtfully as she examined the ideas. "I think that will work. In any case, I couldn't do anything here, my equipment is all back in my workshop, and it's not designed to work on Earth."

"I think that's wise." Grimes looked at the somewhat distant, unfocussed expression on Thulia's face, one she was unfortunately quite familiar with. Oh dear. "Thulia... you can't work on an existing BIT, can you?"

Thulia started slightly, broken out of her semi-trance by the comment. "Ah... not really, ma'am. Not with any sensible chance of any sort of success."

Grimes gave her a severe look. "Thulia, I understand your need to experiment. But please, not with BITS. Not here." She thought for a moment. "We have some very restricted records in our secure files as to the consequences of such work. I'll make a note for you to have access to them. I hope they will show you what a bad idea messing with established BITS is."

The girl nodded. "I'll do that, ma'am. If you wish, I will agree not to consider any work in that area without consulting with you first."

"I think that's a wise decision, Thulia. Now, the second part of my request. This isn't about danger so much as about Morgana's development."

This time Thulia looked uncertain. "I don't think I understand, ma'am?"

"Thulia, one of my tasks here is to make sure someone like Morgana develops her magical abilities to her best potential. So far, she's been progressing very well, but your presence has the potential to raise some issues. First, as is obvious from your tools and weapons, you could if you wished give Morgana some quite powerful aides. But if you do that, she won't get the experience and practice of developing or making them for herself, and that wouldn't let her develop her skills properly."

"Oh. I think I see. But does that mean I can't help her at all? Even if she needs it to stay safe?"

"Well, of course, she's supposed to be a school student, not a superhero..." Grimes had to hide a chuckle at the obvious 'you don't really believe that, do you?' expression on the girl's face.

"Ma'am, I did promise to help her with learning how to control her magic and abilities."

"Thulia, I don't see a problem with you helping her, providing that help is to teach her how to do things for herself, as long as you teach her the background, not just a packaged spell she doesn't understand."

Thulia thought about that for a minute, casting her mind back to her lessons and tutors. "I think I see what you mean, ma'am. I do want her to grow, while I want to keep her safe, I want her to be herself."

This time Grimes did smile. "That's a very sensible attitude. How about if we agree you can teach her spells and such as long as you teach her the theory as well as the practice?"

"I can do that, ma'am, teaching her the way I was taught should work. In any case, in order to learn them properly she will need a working knowledge of the Draconic language."

"And if you have any questions or worries, my door is always open for you to talk about them." Grimes managed to keep the surprise at the idea of one of her students learning Dragon off her face. While various languages were useful for magic use and research, that wasn't one she was familiar with!

"Thank you, ma'am. But what about providing her with things? She doesn't have any decent attack or defence!"

"No, she doesn't. Again, I don't see an issue with you helping her to develop them, remembering that some spellwork is different here than on your home plane. But again, just help her, don't make it so she doesn't learn." She saw the worried look on Thulia's face. "If you find there is something you feel she needs badly, and it's impractical to teach her how to make it, come and talk it over with me. I won't be unreasonable, I'm sure we will be able to agree to a sensible solution."

"I don't want to be a bother, ma'am..."

"Don't worry, Thulia, it's part of my job. And discussing magic from your point of view will be interesting for me too. Now, we need to get you to the Dojo for your testing on your combat skill, then we will meet with a few people to give you the full results of all that power testing. I think you'll find some of the results interesting."

Thulia gave her a somewhat suspicious look at the word 'interesting', but Grimes had her poker face back on again. "Yes, I would like to know what you've learned about me."

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Whateley Dojo, late afternoon.

Thulia looked at the four teachers who were all looking at her with interest. What had she done to need four teachers to evaluate her? The tall black woman in some sort of tight-fitting suit took a step forward.

"Dracaina, my name is Sensei Tolman, I teach the general Martial Arts courses here." She gestured to her fellow teachers. "This is Sensei Beaumont, she teaches Kendo among other things, and she's here to help evaluate your weapon skills. Ms. Dennon" - here she gestured to an older woman, who projected an air of solid strength - "who will be looking at your combat form in particular. Finally, Sensei Ito, who is the retired head of Martial Arts here, and because of your unusual background I have asked to add his experience to our evaluation. Do you have any questions?"

Thulia looked a bit overwhelmed. Four senior teachers, just to evaluate her? It wasn't as if she was some sort of combat expert!

"Ah... no sensei. "

Tolman didn't give her much chance to think more on just what sort of testing needed four different teachers, carrying on with the confident attitude of someone who knew what they wanted and expected their students to do as they were told. "Well, I've been told you have some combat training, but also you have different physical forms. Does your training cover them all?"

Thulia gave it a moment's thought. "No, Sensei. I have considerable training in fighting, either without weapons or with a staff. However, that's been mainly in my intermediate form" She thought for a moment about explaining that she'd actually changed a few things about herself when she designed her current form, then decided it would just complicate things.

"Ah yes, Power testing mentioned three forms. Could we see them, please?"

Despite the 'please', that was not a request. "Yes, Sensei." Then she gestured at the jeans and t-shirt she was wearing. "However, these clothes aren't suitable, especially if you want to test me. I have a combat outfit; it would be easier if I changed to it."

"Very well, for now, that will be acceptable. However, in training, we normally insist on a gi, unless we specifically tell you otherwise."

Thulia nodded her understanding and summoned her staff. The crimson crystal, faintly glowing with its imbued magic, caused a widening of eyes among the teachers, except for the old oriental man, who remained completely expressionless. Well, at least now she had a good idea who the most dangerous teacher was. She spoke a snarling Word as she fed a small amount of power into the staff, and the air around her shimmered for a moment as she switched her current outfit for her combat costume. Or at least, just her leotard.

"I have some magic weapons and tools as well, Sensei, should I use them?"

Tolman examined her closely. "No, I would prefer to see how you do without magical aids for our first examination. If they have magical effects that modify your combat, we can evaluate them later with the assistance of the Magic department." She eyed the six-foot staff. "Is that staff for magical use? You mentioned you'd been trained in staff use; we do have a variety available if you need one?"

Thulia smiled brightly. "Oh no, sensei, this is my combat staff as well as a magical tool. I'll just not use it for magic if you want to test me."

This time the look Tolman gave her was more appraising. "It's robust enough for such use? Some of the students you will be sparring against have enhanced physical abilities or weapons, and it looks rather fragile."

"It isn't really that fragile, Sensei, and it does have a" She struggled for the appropriate human words for a moment. Ah yes. "a structural reinforcement field, it's very tough."

This time it was Ms. Dennon that commentated. "Very well, it's your staff after all. But I would suggest that later you allow us to check how much force it can handle, there's no need to risk getting it broken by accident."

"Of course. Shall I show you my forms now?"

Tolman nodded, so she took that as a yes.

"This is what I term my baseline form, it's as human as I can make it but as a result, it's not suited for physical combat. The Powers testing people told me it was roughly equivalent to between an Exemplar 2 and 3, physically. I never intended to fight using it, so I have no actual training with it."

"Your notes stated your next form you call your 'normal' form?"

Thulia nodded, and heat shimmered around her for a moment as she changed; horns curving around her head, her fangs and claws more obvious now. She allowed her tail to manifest behind her, and her dragonwings curved behind her back."

Tolman examined her carefully again. "Interesting. Very much like Dragonsfyre, but she doesn't have wings or a tail."

"I can control manifesting them, Sensei. Inside buildings and in confined spaces they can be awkward, so without them, yes, this is basically Dragonsfyre's form. This is the one I have been trained for combat with, both with and without my wings and tail, using my staff."

Ms. Beaumont eyed the wings with interest. "Do the wings not get in the way in close combat?"

Thulia nodded, interested in the woman's accent, but this wasn't the time to ask about it. "It can be tricky, Sensei, that's why I usually only use them in open spaces. They give me the mobility to select my distance, and better use my magical attacks. The tail is useful, given the space, and it's a powerful weapon in its own right."

"I see from your notes it's a similar power to Dragonsfyre’s dragonform. May we see your third form, please?"

Thulia concentrated again, as she pushed her essence feed into her cells. Her body changed significantly; her skin was now made up of small scales, and heavier plates protected her more vulnerable areas. Her claws and fangs were more obvious, and ridged spines ran down the length of her tail. It was a powerful form, obviously designed for physical combat, as the expressions of the three teachers showed. Only the old oriental man remained expressionless, just a small smile tugging the corner of his lips.

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Thulia wiped the sweat off her face with a towel as the teachers conferred for a moment. She hadn't been this tired from physical exercise for a long time, but all the testing was starting to catch up with her. She was starting to dream about what she'd have for dinner.

"Thulia, thank you, we now have a reasonable idea of your unarmed capability. Your use of magic in combat will be covered by Ms. Grimes later on, but the final thing we have to do is to ask about weapons, and your skill with them."

Thulia thought for a moment and nodded. "As far as non-magic weapons go, there are three that I have training with. The staff you've had me use. While my own is a source of magic and spells for me, that's mainly for me to use at a distance." She gestured, and her long knife appeared in one hand. "I am quite familiar with this, although at home its normally used for hunting use, rather than fighting."

Tolman looked interested. "You don't use your magic for hunting?"

Thulia shook her head. "Not normally, sensei. We have restrictions on hunting weapons so as not to overhunt the game. I can use my staff, but a blunt weapon isn't that useful against larger creatures. My knife is a tool as well as a weapon. Oh, and I am also familiar with a bow."

"A bow? Interesting, not many students currently here are familiar with them."

"I've used it a lot on hunting. I'm not sure how it compares with similar weapons here, I've not found out much about them."

"I see. What sort of draw weight does it have?"

Thulia's eyes unfocussed for a second as she did the mental arithmetic necessary to convert into human measurements. "About... 1200kg, sensei."

There was a moment of silence, while Tolman had an odd expression on her face. "Thank you. With the bow, and using your staff in its weapon mode, we will make an appointment for you to do some testing and evaluation at the Ranges. We don't have the facilities here. Until then, please don't use them here as you won't know if and how you can use them safely at Whateley. Some of the other students are fragile."

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Final Power testing interview

Thulia sat down to face Sensei Tolman, Ms Grimes, and Dr Tenent, who were, she hoped, going to tell her what the detailed results of a whole, and very busy, day of testing her had revealed. After exchanging looks among themselves, Ms. Grimes coughed and looked down at her pad for a moment.

"Well, Dracaina, I'm sure you'll be happy to know we've finished our testing for the time being."

She noted without comment she'd said 'for the time being'; Morgana had told her that the power testing people had a fanatical dedication to their dark arts, and any student who proved different, or interesting, was likely to be dragged back in for further examination.

"What were the results, ma'am?"

This time Dr. Tenent spoke up.

"Well, first of all, we examined you physically. That wasn't too different from what we'd initially expected, as we were assuming you would be similar to Dragonsfyre. However, there were more differences than we'd expected to find in the DNA."

Thulia nodded. "I could have told you that, ma'am. My... treatment... of Dragonsfyre used genetic material as well as a considerable amount of magic while she manifested, so while we look similar, and she has the specific changes at the cellular level necessary to handle her channelled essence, her manifestation did change some things."

Dr. Tenent made a note on her pad. "When we have some time, I'd love to talk with you about that."

Thulia kept quiet. There were several parts of her process she didn't want to reveal, and she was still embarrassed about the emergency changes she'd inflicted on Morgana to save her, so she just waited for the Doctor to continue.

There was a shuffling of notes again.

"Now, the interesting question was, are you a mutant, at least as far as human standards go? Your body chemistry and DNA isn't normal for us, which was hardly a surprise, but we did find some signs of mutation, although the specific gene we usually test for in humans was masked. But as a result of our tests, we consider it very likely you are a mutant. Not necessarily physically, as you told us your body was designed - and again, I'd love to talk with you about that! - but you have some of the mental traits."

Thulia perked up with interest - this was what she'd hoped the Whateley testing would determine.

"What traits are those, Doctor?"

"The opinion of out testing team is that you are a Gadgeteer. Probably around level 2, they were uncertain as to the exact level as your trait seems to be aimed at the use of magic. That's very rare, usually a gadgeteer trends to a particular physical study. But they are quite confident after all the tests that you are a gadgeteer. As to other mutant powers, you have the characteristics of an energiser, like Dragonsfyre, but that probably isn't a mutation. At some point, we would like to get you and Dragonsfyre in together to investigate differences to that trait."

Thulia gave a half-smile at the thought of what Morgana would say to that - she'd grumbled enough about all the testing she'd gone through already.

The Doctor gave her a thoughtful look, before continuing. "Physically, you are less powerful than Dragonsfyre in your fully human form. We assume that she's an actual Exemplar, and that had some effects. While it's not correct, of course, we'd class you as a faux-exemplar 2 in human form. Now in your intermediate form, like Dragonsfyre we'd class you as an Energiser-5. Your control is considerably better than Dragonsfyre, but the power levels are similar.

The wings and your flight obviously interest us, and we need to arrange a detailed examination and program for that. We'll ask Thanagila - she's the head of our flight club - to talk with you soon, and then a proper program for you can be sorted out.

Your 'combat' form was unusual and interesting. Much more physically powerful than your other forms. It's also visually intimidating, so it might be best if you minimise your use of it here, at least until people are more familiar with you. Scaring teenagers with powers is often not the safest thing to do, either for you or anyone else in the vicinity!"

Thulia shrugged. "That's not surprising, the amount of power available is set by the inter-cellular and other mechanisms, as well as the magic that links me to the source of Fire."

This time Ms Grimes looked interested, and Thulia decided that for the time being she'd keep quiet as to what was actually going on in her body. There were some aspects of it she really shouldn't be talking to humans about, even if they didn't seem to have any hostile intent. The amount they had worked out already from their tests was beginning to worry her.

"Yes, Doctor. The actual mechanism is quite complex, but basically, there is a limit to how much essence I can draw and control, if it's going into physical strength then it's not available for spells."

"That seems logical and would explain our readings. Some energisers and PDPs have similar issues, and we have a familiarity with them. We weren't sure exactly how to qualify you in that form, but based on power use we think you are still an Energiser-5, just with the power going to your physical form."

She looked up from her pad to examine Thulia. "One question I have, is why doesn't Dragonsfyre have the other forms? Was that due to how her manifestation went?"

Thulia gave Grimes a look. "Not exactly. Doctor. It's due to the issues with that parasite. In order to manifest some parts of my intermediate form, like wings and tail, and to access the combat form at all, she needs to finish healing her damaged essence channels, and learn to control the energy properly. Once she's done that, she should be able to manifest as I do."

Dr. Tenent scribbled some more notes on her pad. "Fascinating. We do have some similar cases in the literature, but nothing quite like what you achieved."

"Uh... thank you, Doctor?"

Dr. Tenent grinned at the worried tone. "Anyway, we decided that as a mutant we'd need something to classify you to put on an MID. So, we are listing you as a faux-Ex-2, En-5, and Ga-2. It's not a very good reflection of what you do, but then MIDs aren't very accurate at all. And the classification gives us an idea of how to handle your training."

Thulia raised an eyebrow. "Do I need to have an MID? I thought they were only a thing for human mutants?"

Sensei Tolman nodded. "It's far better if you have one. First of all, the tests show you are a mutant. And second, if you don't have one people might wonder where your powers come from. It's a lot easier to explain a mutant than a dragoness!"

Thulia thought about that for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully. "That is a good point. While I suppose it's inevitable my identity will come out here, it would be better if it wasn't a public thing."

"Exactly. And apart from anything else, if you're the only student here without an MID, the kids will wonder why you are different, and that could easily lead to problems. We usually arrange that in a few weeks, before a lot of the students go away for the Thanksgiving holiday, but until then you shouldn't need one.

"So, Doctor, now I've been tested, what happens next?"

Ms. Grimes gave her the sort of smile that said, 'Ah yes, now the preliminaries are out of the way'.

"Now we have to work out a study plan for you. This is usually done by your academic advisor, but in your case, it's more complicated than usual - you've come from a completely different educational background, and we need to tailor one specifically for you. Now this breaks down into three parts. Sensei Tolman?"

"Thank you Elyzia. Dracaina, having tested your performance in the martial arts we have decided that we need to cover your differing forms and the skill you already have with some of them.

First your 'human' form. As we found, your skill in fighting in that form is very minimal, and we need to enhance that." She raided a hand to forestall Thulia's comment, and the girl closed her mouth again. "For several reasons. First, while we understand it's not your favoured form for fighting, the appearance of looking human means that outside of Whateley you will likely be using it a considerable amount of the time. There are several scenarios we can envisage where you would need or prefer to remain in that form, so we need to make you able to defend yourself and know what you can and can't do in that form. So, we intend to put you in BMA to train you. My suggestion is to put you into the third-period class. That will allow you to train alongside Dragonsfyre, and she will be able to help you. Also, since both of you are fireproof until you have more experience, accidental damage will be minimised.

That class will also allow you to practice in your 'normal' form. Although no other students except for Dragonsfyre are completely immune to your fire, many have physical powers that will make it a challenge for you to handle. For the time being, we will concentrate on the physical aspects, and ask you not to use magic until you are comfortable with training. Some of the other students are more fragile than others, and one of the lessons we will be teaching you is the correct amount of force to use when fighting a human.

Thulia nodded thoughtfully. That all seemed sensible, and she was looking forward to training with Morgana.

"Now the final issue is what you call your 'combat' form. This concerns us slightly, as without the knowledge to control your power while fighting humans, you might inadvertently injure someone. Also, most of the students in BMA are not skilled enough yet or strong enough to pose a serious challenge. So Ms. Dennon has agreed that once you've shown a good basic knowledge of BMA in order to accept you into her Brick class. That will probably be after Xmas and will help in not overloading you with classes until you have settled in here. Also in the New Year, you should be able to take part in our simulator programs, which will allow full use of your powers without risk to others or our facilities. Is that all clear?"

Thulia nodded. "Yes ma'am, it all seems logical. Should I plan on using my staff in combat?"

Tolman pursed her lips. "Not immediately, after all, it might not be available in a real incident, to start it will be bare-handed combat."

Thulia didn't comment on the fact that the staff couldn't truly be removed from her use - it was, after all, a part of her, and she wondered if they realised it was more than just an aid to her magic. Ah well, things would clear up once she started training, no doubt.

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"Now, Thulia, as to your magic schooling." Grimes looked down at her pad again and nodded. "Your academic knowledge is considerable, but there are areas that we cover here that you didn't cover at home. Joining one of the magic courses wouldn't really work for you; they are intended to lead the students through the various part of the Art, and then help them choose an area to specialise in. Your training, in general, has been quite comprehensive, however, there are a few areas I would like to start working on. First is your handling of essence. While the amount you can handle is impressive, you lack some of the techniques we teach to minimise the losses and use essence more efficiently. Your home has a higher natural essence level, so this is far less of an issue there, and it's obvious that you are used to handling the issue in different ways. However, on Earth you need to conserve essence more efficiently, especially as you don't have a good source of non-fire essence available. So, I will give you a set of specialised exercises to work on. Secondly, I want you to attend specific lectures and classes to fill in the gaps you have in the human use of magic you aren't so familiar with."

Grimes had to hide a chuckle at the ways Thulia brightened up at the idea of learning more and different magic. She knew she'd read the girl correctly.

"What I'm going to do is ask your advisor to leave two class periods free for you. That way you can attend a course if one is running that would be useful, and if not I'm sure you are more than capable of private study. In the future, we do have more specialised courses next term, and we will discuss later if any of them are particularly suitable for you."

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The Imp's Office, early evening.

Thulia didn't know what to expect when she knocked on the teacher's door. The warning signs on the door were clear enough, but surely, she wasn't meant to take them literally. Still, she carefully took a quick step back after knocking, keeping a wary eye on her surroundings. Just in case. For a moment she considered a spell to detect any traps, but maybe seeing if she'd do that was a trap in itself?

"Come in!"

The voice was female and cheerful. That still didn't reassure her.

Giving a final look for any potential ambushes, she pushed the door open and stepped in. The woman sitting behind the desk was a surprise. Not so much her appearance - she had a pretty set of horns, and a nice dusting of dark scales around her face and neck, but the sign on the desk read 'The Imp'. She wasn't any type of Imp she was familiar with.

The woman gestured to the chair in front of her desk, and Thulia cautiously sat down, eyes still fixed on her. The woman frowned slightly in disapproval of the look on Thulia's face. "Something the matter with the way I look?"

Thulia shook her head. "No, ma'am. It's just...the sign? I've never met an Imp like you before."

The woman gave her an odd look, then broke into a wide grin. "I see! That's because I'm not AN Imp, I'm THE Imp! I'm the amazing, one and only truly improbably genuine Imp! It's my name..."

Thulia blushed. "Oh! I'm sorry, I thought..."

The strange woman didn't stop grinning. "Don't worry, they told me you weren't from around here. But now you are here" - she gave a sweeping possessive gesture that encompassed her room - "let's get started. As I said, my name is the Imp, you can call me Ms. Imp, or Ma'am, I don't mind, I'm going to be your academic counsellor, and now you're here we're going to discuss what classes you're going to take."

Thulia paused for a moment to process the flood of information, then nodded. "Yes ma'am. I was told you'd been sent some notes on my academic performance from my home?"

The Imp nodded, still looking worrying cheerful for someone involved in the rather boring task of setting up a study program. "Oh yes, it was fascinating!"

That particular adjective wasn't the most reassuring one that could have been applied, but Thulia supposed it could have been worse.

"Do you have any recommendations, ma'am? I was told some types of classes were mandatory."

The Imp nodded, tapping her keyboard. "Yes. There's a requirement to take either Martial Arts or Self Defence - I have a note here saying that Ms. Tolman and Ms. Grimes have already evaluated you about that, but I have a note saying Period 3 BMA, so we'll put that in for now."

"What about other classes, ma'am?"

"Well now. Since you're listed as a mage, that normally means two periods allocated to that, but I have a note from Ms. Grimes about that as well, I think she's talked to you about that?"

"Yes ma'am, she said to arrange two free periods, but that she'd be arranging what I did in them herself, week by week. Apparently, she's going to put me into various lectures that she considers helpful, rather than one of the existing courses."

"That's fine, we'll sort out some other classes for you and then we'll slip them in last. Now it says English isn't your native language. You seem to be pretty fluent?"

"Ah... well, ma'am, I'm using a translation spell. It works adequately, but it's rather literal."

The Imp nodded. "I see. So that explains why you have a British accent, and you speak a bit more formally than most teenagers?"

Thulia nodded. "I got it for when I was in Britain, so..."

"Hmm. You say it's rather literal? What happens if you lose it?"

"Uh...well, it's literal in that it just translates, it doesn't give me context, it's just a magical translation program, and it has real issues with things like slang. I have a little English now - using it a lot has a learning effect - but my language skill is pretty poor. If I lose it, I'd be pretty useless at English right now."

The Imp nodded. "That makes sense. We have a class for kids whose English isn't the best, I think we'll put you in that. That should help with the context, but it might be good if you could stop relying on your translation device."

"Yes ma'am. Would it be OK if I kept it until my skill was better? It does help me learn, and I don't have enough English to cope with other classes without it."

"I don't see why not, I'll make a note for your teacher to keep an eye on your progress with the actual language, she might suggest not using it in some of the classes, we'll have to see."

The Imp rubbed her hands. "Now, we need to put you into a science class. Anything that particularly interests you?"

"I did read the notes on the courses, ma'am. Could I take one of the Electronics or Computing ones? They seem to be different from what I'm used to, I think it would be useful."

The Imp fiddled with her mouse a bit more. "We can do that. I'll arrange for you to take a test later on, that will give them an idea of what class would fit you the best. Let's put that down as Period 6. Now...non-science classes. Your notes mention human history and culture as desired topics.

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Imp gave the proposed schedule a final look and nodded to herself.

"So. We have you down for English as a Second Language in Period 2, BMA in Period 3., then after lunch World History in Period 5, and then Electronics 2 for now in period 6, leaving you a break for lunch. We leave periods 1 and 7 free for Ms. Grimes to allocate appropriate magic classes and labs as she sees fit, she'll coordinate those with you on a weekly basis, Between 1600 and Dinner will be for Workshop, although that may overlay with Magic Lab work as well. It says on your file you are a gadgeteer and mage, so I assume there will be a certain degree of overlap Saturday we'll leave free for now, although if you're interested quite a few of the morning classes are happy with walk-ins if you have an interest. There's a morning Art class I hear is quite popular. There's also the issue of arranging flight classes, we can see where they will fit in best a bit later."

Thulia thought through the details and nodded. "I think that will cover everything, ma'am. If there are any problems with the classes, can I come to you?"

"Of course, it's what I'm here for! You're an unusual case, so if you find a class that doesn't work or is too advanced - or too simple! - come to me and we'll sort something out for you. Now..." The Imp paused to click a few buttons, and her printer started to push out paper. "A paper copy, just in case. It also tells you what books and supplies you'll need. And I've sent a copy to your email as well."

Thulia looked at the sheets of paper she'd just been handed and blinked. Paper. Combustible paper, rather than fairly fireproof parchment. How...quaint...

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Saturday, November 19th, Crystal Hall, Breakfast

"I wonder if we should tell the catering staff to stock more food?"

Morgana put her rather overfull plates of ham, bacon, sausage, and potatoes carefully next to the one containing her pancakes, and glared at Erica. Then at Erica's plate, which was almost as full. Then snorted quietly. Erica just gave her a completely innocent smile in return.

"I'm a growing dragoness, I need my food!"

Erica gave another meaningful look at Thulia, who was sitting quietly next to Morgana. While full, her plateful of food wasn't quite as large and contained a rather more eclectic variety of food. Clearly, she was still experimenting with what human food she preferred for breakfast.

"SHE at least has left some for others!"

Thulia look puzzled as Morgana cut off a piece of ham small enough to choke a small horse, or at least large enough to give it a swallowing issue.

"Should I have taken less? There seemed to be plenty, and Morgana told me to take whatever I wanted."

Vic chuckled. "No, Thulia, they have plenty of food and yes, you can take whatever you want." He was polite enough not to mention some of the more unusual combinations on the girls' plate, as he continued. "She'd just make a bad joke that you didn't take as much as Morgana."

Thulia gave that a moment's thought, then shrugged. "We both need food to handle our energiser powers, it's just that I am more familiar with mine and so use the food more efficiently.

Morgana cut another piece of ham, this time dipping it in the maple syrup oozing down her stack of pancakes. "Besides, Erica, you're hardly one to talk about portion sizes!"

Bianca coughed quietly for attention, looking to move the subject to something less contentious. "So, Thulia, what did you have planned for the day?" She left unspoken the suggestion that she should stay clear of her room for a while.

Thulia looked sideways at Morgana. "Morgana has suggested several things." She looked rather puzzled at Erica's grin until Morgana came to her rescue.

"It's quite a busy day. Costume class first, we're cutting and starting to put together our costumes. With this combat final thing coming up soon, Bianca and I need to do that. Thulia wants to see how we do that it's quite different from what she's used to. Then after lunch, we're going to take in the Weapons Faire. I have a few things in mind, and anyway, I want to give Laura some moral support. After that, I have to take Thulia to the store to pick up her school uniform, books, and all that sort of stuff. Boring but necessary."

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Saturday, November 19th, Costume Class, 0900

"So, this is what you do on Saturday mornings?"

Morgana nodded. "Yeah, it's a bit of a break from the usual academic stuff, and it's helped me design a combat outfit. Which I have a feeling I'm going to need, so it's worth skipping out on sleeping in on Saturday”.

Thulia nodded thoughtfully. "I already have one, of course, but I'd be interested to see how you go about it here. Mine is mainly designed for magic attacks; it might be an idea to make one for use on Earth."

"This is a good day to come along, then. All of us who have our designs done are cutting the material ready for assembly - a lot of the materials need a specialised fabricator to put them together - and then I want to at least put the mask together, there's someone I want to talk to about it at the Weapons Faire this afternoon about some custom parts for it, and having it ready will help."

"I still don't believe they let your students sell weapons, in public."

Morgana grinned widely. "Oh yes. Though to be fair, weapons are only a small part of what they sell, and a lot of stuff is defensive. Or defective. Since the stuff is made by the devisors and gadgeteers it also tends to be cheap. It's after lunch, so I'll drag you along to check it out."

Thulia looked a bit shy as Morgana led her into the classroom. "You're sure the teacher won't mind me being here?"

"Nah, we have visitors all the time. It's not exactly a formal class except for those of us registered for it, so as long as you’re quiet and don't cause any trouble you can hang out here."

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Thulia peered over Morgana's shoulder to get a better look at the hologram. "So, this is what you've been designing?"

"Yeah, at least the material part of it. I want to add some spells to it later, and probably some holdouts, but having a base suit that is already fairly tough will help."

Thulia turned her head to look around the holoprojection. "It's pretty much full coverage. Doesn't that limit your movement?"

"Not really. Well, a little bit, but I can't just go for a bikini and magic forcefield! People would make comments... and besides, a forcefield isn't always working, or charged up. Mrs. Ryan has been good at showing us how to style and adjust the costume so that it doesn't really hinder us. I don't have your skill with magic yet, so a robe isn't the answer."

"You have weapons to go through a magic forcefield? I didn't realise." Thulia wisely kept quiet about the 'battle bikini' she used for some of her trips until she had a chance to find out what humans had against them. Maybe it was some sort of cultural thing. She was still having a lot of issues with human culture; a lot of it seemed similar to what she was used to on the surface, but as soon as you got into the details it was totally different.

"Ms. Grimes says there are, both magic and mundane ones, so you have to allow for them. And some mutants' powers aren't stopped by them or can negate them."

Thulia looked a bit more thoughtful. "Hmm, I must look into that. I might need to look at upgrading my protection for Earth, especially as there isn't as much essence density as I'm used to. If nothing else, I think I need more essence storage." She gave the image another look. "I'm not quite sure about the colour, though. "

"Hey, I think dark blue looks cool! Anyway, you can make these things in all sorts of colours." She cast a quick look across the room, to where Tanya was carefully going over her hologram for one last time. "Even lavender... Just stay clear of white, it's a bitch to keep clean."

"What are you going to do about attachments for weapons?"

Morgana gave her girlfriend a look. Sometimes she forgot Thulia came from a rather more...aggressive...culture.

"I'm adding a belt, so I can hang a few things from it if I need to. I don't want a gun; I don't care how casual Americans are with them! I'll see how that goes for a start, anyways."

"A start?"

Morgana nodded. "Yeah, this is my Mark 1. That's why I'm not using the best quality materials until I redo it after seeing how this one works." She gave her partner an 'innocent' look. "Besides, I probably want some advice on the best spells to add to it."

"So, if you're going to add spells, why the Weapons Fair?"

"Well, no need to research and use essence if I can just get an easy tech solution. And having a multi-layered defence is never a bad idea. Besides, we don't have THAT much time before the finals, so there's a limit to how much magic I can prepare. Some tech holdouts widen my range of options, and besides most kids tend to assume a mage will just use magic."

"And how are you going to manage your fire powers not affecting it?"

Morgana chewed her lower lip a little. "I'm working on that, OK?"

Thulia refrained from comment even though Bianca gave a hastily muffled snicker at the answer.

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Saturday, November 19th, early afternoon. Whateley Weapons Fair. A supposedly secret location in one of the tunnels that everyone really knows about.

Thulia looked around the tunnel complex as the group wended their way through it with its majorly complicated geography and was impressed by Morgana's apparent lack of problems in navigating around it.

"How on earth do you find your way around in this maze?" This place reminded Thulia of stories she'd heard of the fabled complexity of Dwarven cities, not that she'd ever seen one.

Morgana ignored the rather plaintive comment behind her and just grinned as she finally found the door with the sign taped to it. "It's not that bad, it just takes a bit of practice." She ignored the sotto voce comment of "I bet she just follows the smell of the coffee.", from one of the peanut gallery. Some people just didn't appreciate a properly intense brew of coffee, and if there was one thing she could count on from the lab crew, it was devisor coffee.

It wasn't just Thulia who she was dragging around with her. She'd pointed out to Bianca that part of their ongoing plan was more holdouts, and this was the place to get cheap unconventional ones, even if Bianca had balked at the idea of buying a gun from here. Bianca was a firm believer in properly registered gun stores with a reputation for selling known, high-quality weapons. Preferably ones with a history of supplying the Family. Erica and Cally were also along out of curiosity; while they both seemed to have a good source from Erica's family - and that was a story she wanted to hear quite badly - they didn't have much else to do that afternoon and fancied some window-shopping. Laura of course was already at the Fair, with her very own table of techie-toys for sale. They also had Vic hanging along, with the rest of the girls. Vic had come with them, overwhelmingly tempted by the suggestion that some of the wares might be cheap. Morgana was still curious as to the source of some of the kit he'd had for their rather dramatic challenge - she had her suspicions, but Vic wasn't talking. Wherever he'd got it, it was better than the loaner gear she'd had to settle for, and she was pretty sure he hadn't bought it off Amazon. They'd even managed to drag Tia along with them, despite the fact there would be devisors selling at the fair.

For a collection of gadgeteers and devisors, the room was surprisingly neatly laid out, and so far was pleasantly absent of the usual confrontation between some of the workshop members, This might have had something to do with the two upperclassmen standing along one wall, one in a quite impressive set of power armour, the second with the faint sparkling of her forcefield that she was not attempting to hide.

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Shutterfly's Stall

"So why are we here first? We don't need any camera kit, do we?"

Morgana sighed as she tugged her nearly-complete costume mask out of her backpack.

"Because, Vic, I need something for my mask, and it probably needs altering to fit properly. So, I'm getting this out of the way first."

Vic nodded thoughtfully as Morgana stepped up to Shutterfly's stall.

"Hi, I need some eyework for my mask?"

The girl held out a hand, and she put the mask in it for her.

"Ok, so you want, what, protective lenses over the eyes?"

"Yes, please. I know I'm fairly tough, but my eyes are always a weak spot. Also, I'd like something for flash protection, if possible."

Shutterfly turned the cobalt blue mask over a few times in her hands, looking closely at the eye holes.

"Yeah, should be easy enough. Protection and flash protection are pretty standard stuff. When did you need it for?"

Morgana took a quick look at her calendar. "This week, if possible? I need to put the whole costume together on Saturday."

"Oh yeah, no problem for something this straightforward. I can get it done by Wednesday; I have a couple of other orders first. I'll just need to measure this up first, then it’s all automated”.

Morgana smiled. "Cool! So, what’s the damage?"

Shutterfly looked thoughtful. "Standard fitments, but a slightly odd shape. $400, and I'll fit it all up for you. Just leave me the mask and your contact details and I'll text you when you can come pick it up."

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Cherry Bomb's stall

In the queue ahead of them, Morgana saw one of the guys from her Calculus class talking to a much younger girl wearing a purple witch hat. From AJ's and Bianca's descriptions, that could only be Tek Witch, who she was pretty sure was known to everyone as 'Twitch'. They were being seriously upstaged by an 8-foot-tall orc with Dayglo hair, who seemed to be arguing with Cherry about some of her wares. She couldn't quite make out the conversation, which rather worryingly seemed to involve words like 'propane' and 'liquid oxygen' but figured if it was anything important Tia would tell them. Tia's ears had flattened slightly already, which was a worrying clue to what was being talked about that only she could hear.

Luckily for everyone, the boy accompanying Twitch stepped in, and after a few quiet words that again she couldn't make out the orc laughed, shrugged, and walked away. As he did, his mane of hair changed from dull indigo to brighter lime green.

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"Why do we have to shop with Cherry Bomb?" Twitch asked. Much lower, she whispered, "She's a Cape, you know. Even if she is nice."

Icejack gave her a grin as he leaned closer to whisper. “For one thing, Gideon can't complain about you having your smoke bomb unless he's in it."

"Oh." Her eyes widened. "Oh!"

"For another, the rubes will see two Seeds buying from her and consider it an endorsement."

That sounded rather calculating to Morgana, but it made sense.

Twitch frowned cutely. "But more sales means she has more money to work with."

"Unless she wants to sink her rep, and the Capes' rep, more stock sold means more time she has to work on replacing that stock (harder for devisors) and less time getting into trouble (also hard on devisors)."

"I heard that that fight in Berlin wasn't her fault!"

"If you heard otherwise, stop listening to that idiot."

"Okay. But are you buying anything?"

"Hopefully. I need in-house smoke bombs, tear gas, maybe some smoke flares that can't be duplicated by any old hack, and maybe some pyrolant rounds that run up the thermite sequence to silver if not mithril."

"TODAY?" Even Twitch knew it took time to put a custom order together.

Except for that last item, the shopping list hadn't sounded unreasonable to Morgana. She'd have to ask Laura if getting a thermite-style compound to that high a temperature was even possible. Also, what would a guy want it for, aside from some serious incendiary work? Oh wait, Peter was a Seed, wasn't he? Remembering that didn't exactly reduce her worry at the request.

"That's the other reason to come early: get yourself on the top of their order list. If they don't run out, you're getting a secure shipment shipped the next day. If not, you're a much better customer than Mr. and Mrs. Just Looking."

Twitch glanced up at Icejack. "Now you sound like Daddy."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"No. But when I told him about your parents giving you a baby sister, he hadn't heard of them."

"Awesome. My parents like to keep a low profile."

"He's heard of you. Daddy wouldn't tell me what he'd heard, though."

Icejack sighed. “I would like to keep a low profile. Despite that, stuff happens, y'know."

"That's okay. Peter? Can I still bring my computer to you if I have problems?"

"You know where the Secure IT Labs are?"

"Uh-huh."

"Any time."

By that time, the two were at the front of the line.

The expression on Cherry Bomb's face showed that knew the two Bad Seeds even if she didn't know them personally. Listening to the haggling, Morgana, standing in line behind them, momentarily wondered whether she should be more worried by the mad glint in Kerry's eyes kindled by Peter's orders or the way she asked if she could ask for a computer repair favour. What? Hadn't she ever met a guy who didn't try to stare down her cleavage? She was in Poe, after all.

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Morgana was happy to finally get to see Cherry's stand after the Bad Seeds had wandered off with a bag full of mixed ordnance. She'd hoped to buy a few holdouts from her after seeing some of them in action a few weeks ago. Especially since she and her friends had been seriously encouraged to do so.

"So, Cherry, what have you got for sale today?"

The older girl gave Morgana one of her expansive grins. "Quite a lot, are you looking for lethal or non-lethal loads?" She gestured at the small containers in front of her."

"Non-lethal. Really. I want something for the combat finals, or in case of an emergency, I'm not trying to kill anyone! The sort of things that would have helped us escape in that Berlin fiasco without actually killing anyone”.

"Just as well, the straight explosives take some practice to use properly, and the school rather frowns on lethal load-outs in the Finals just in case they get used on one of the participants. Still, I have a nice selection I'm sure you'll find interesting and useful."

Morgana poked gingerly at the colour-coded containers on the table. She wasn't awfully happy about the label on the booth either - 'Cherry's super destructive explosive and other accoutrements' didn't exactly create warm and fuzzy feelings, even by the standards of Whateley devisors. Still.

"OK, so what have you got for us?"

Cherry picked up one of the containers, coloured in grey and white stripes.

"As you can see, these are a standard size and weight. Easy to throw accurately after you practice with a dummy bomb. Or" - she cast a quick look at Bianca - "For those of us who don't have enhanced strength, I sell a portable launcher, or they fit onto a type B-2 drone weapons clip for those frustrated aerial bombers among you. They'll also fit properly into one of the standard utility belt sockets. I have smoke - this isn't your standard smoke, it's the good stuff, it will blind a thermal sensor as well, what I call a glitter bomb, which disperses a mix of metal particles and mini-window foil to blind most microwave sensors, a really GOOD flashbang - just don't drop it on your foot, a tangle web bomb, it’s a lot stronger than the ones they sell in the store, and while of course, I can't sell you a CS gas grenade - at this point in her sales pitch she made an attempt to bat her eyelids innocently at the dragongirl which made even Morgana's attempts to do so look good - I do have a proprietary gas mix which, coincidentally, seems to have similar effects. And finally, for those of you who are disciples of Edison, a bomb which sets off an area tazer effect. So which ones of these can I interest you in today?"

Morgana nodded as she thought, then pointed at one Cherry hadn't mentioned, one marked in bright yellow and red stripes. "And this one?"

Cherry patted it in the way normal girls patted their kittens. "I didn't think you'd be interested. It's a pyrolant, it goes up to about 3,500C. A bit unnecessary for you. And it would probably set Bianca's spell slips on fire."

"Yeah, it's a bit unnecessary." How much are these?"

Cherry pursed her lips. "$200 each. And well worth the price."

Well, of course, Morgana thought, SHE isn't paying it! Still, she'd much rather pay Cherry than Amazon. And while Bianca had an account with Sin D'Rome, she wasn't going to give them her personal details unless it was an emergency.

"Ok, I'll take one of the smoke bombs, one of the glitter bombs, and a flashbang."

Cherry held out a terminal for Morgana's card. "And I'll throw in a dummy one so you can practice throwing."

Morgana took the cheerfully-coloured bag with a smile of thanks before turning to her roomie. "Thanks. Did you want anything, Bianca?"

"I think just a couple of smoke bombs, they'd help me get away without damaging anything too badly."

They took possession of a couple of bags, with a slightly worrying logo of a brightly coloured cherry with sparks coming out of its stalk, then waved goodbye to Cherry as Morgana led the group over to Laura's table. To Morgana's concealed amusement, the table not only had Laura's nameplate, but also a rather obvious notice reading 'No, I have NO chocolate, and I'm not selling any or taking orders'. Morgana's lip twitched. She'd dodged a bullet earlier in the term regarding the already-infamous devisor chocolate, no telling what it might have done to her admittedly-odd metabolism. Thulia was looking in some confusion at the zero-chocolate notice before her face cleared as she remembered Morgana's stories about the incident.

"How's it going, Laura?"

The blue devisor looked up from her table with a small smile. "Not too bad, thanks. The PFG's aren't quite the design I've been working on for you, this model uses a battery, so it won't last as long."

Morgana grinned. "But then they won't incinerate the user if they aren't fireproof, yes?"

Laura blushed a rather attractive shade of lavender. "That's true, although I haven't given up on that idea yet. But it's proving more complicated to get to work than I'd expected."

Bianca chuckled. "That, and you seem to have about half a billion other projects you're working on!"

Laura didn't respond, but her shade of lavender deepened a little.

"No zap-guns, Laura?"

Laura shook her head at Erica's query. "No, my personal model is - well, it's a bit too complex for general use. I had thought of a simple, non-adjustable model, one that would just stun people, but selling them could cause some serious problems with the patent stuff I'm doing in Japan. But that reminds me..."

She bent down under the table to produce two wrapped packages which she placed carefully on the table. "Here you go. One for you, Tia, and one for Morgana. Battery-powered I'm afraid. The instructions are inside."

Tia took it with a smile. "Yeah, but that's a lot better than depending on my skin! Thanks, Laura!"

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Smith's Table

Sprite stood on Smith's table so he could talk to her properly. She had heard his rep on metalworking and hoped he could make what she needed. After all, it wasn't like she could get the miniature items she needed at a normal shop. Once she'd finished explaining, however, the frown on his face didn't fill her with confidence.

Finally, he looked back at her. "Ok, you have several problems here. First is the materials you want them made of. Working with some of the magic metals isn't easy. The second is making the things small enough for you to use. Now that is doable here, we have micro-machining gear in the workshop that would do that. But the third issue is the magic. I don't work with magic items, but usually, they need spellwork as part of the manufacturing process, and certainly for inscribing and powering the runes on them you've been telling me about. I can't do that, and offhand I can't think of anyone who can."

Sprite looked dispirited. "So, it can't be done?"

The boy shook his head. "I didn't say that. I think you need to approach the problem from the other direction. Talk to a mage or two, get a solution to that part of making your items, and see if the mage can arrange the actual machining bit."

His lips twitched. "You might try asking Malefis, I heard she'd been making something similar recently. If not her, she could possibly recommend a suitable mage."

Sprite sighed as her wings fluttered and she took to the air. "Thanks anyway, Smith. I'll see about talking to some of the magic students."

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Helsing's Table

Pastel leaned against the table that was covered in an array of devises, most of which were disguised to look like ordinary items. “Doesn't seem like many people are interested in your spirit stuff.”

"Meh, I'm not worried. It's not like I need the money,” Helsing said, shrugging her shoulders as yet another group of potential buyers walked past with no more than a glance at the table. “I'm mostly here because it's the thing to do if you don't want to be seen as the bottom of the workshop totem pole. And I've sold a few things.”

On a clear corner of the table, Shisa seemed to be asleep. But Pastel could see her eyes were slightly open, and the tip of her tail flicked every few seconds. Moving a little, she saw the cat-girl was watching Petshop's little petting zoo a few tables over.

“Shisa, don't go eating more of Petshop's rainbow monstrosities. Nyx is still complaining about how you gas-bombed your room the last time you ate one of them,” Pastel reminded her.

Helsing made a face. “I could smell that in the hallway an hour later. I'm surprised you didn't explode.”

“It was tasty, like blueberry pie,” Shisa replied with an innocent look.

“I'm so glad I live in Dickinson,” Emiko said.

“So, are any of you interested in shopping, or are you just here to keep me company?” Helsing asked.

“Shisa and I are broke, so we're just waiting to see things blow up,” Pastel said.

Emiko looked around the room. “I'm not really into weapons.”

That earned a couple of smirks and laughs that quickly turned into coughs. Pastel, having less of a filter than her friends said, “Tell that to the Elf you clobbered with your stick. You need to work on the whole pacifist thing.”

“He startled me! And I only hit him twice.”

“Where's your boyfriend? I thought this was his thing,” Helsing asked.

“You know he doesn't like crowds. And he doesn't want to walk around school with weapons, he only uses them in class. He doesn't want to take chances with them,” Emiko explained.

Pastel was about to say something, then realized that someone who'd been here a few minutes ago was now missing. “Where's Shisa?”

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In the meantime, the M3 group had come across Petshop's table. Which was, as expected, a menagerie of extremely cute and colourful small creatures. With the emphasis on the level of cute that would send a normal person into insulin shock. Even though the M3 group was as a whole somewhat willing to admit that the walking plushies were indeed extremely cute, none of them were willing to say that, even about the small purple plushy-looking chibi Godzilla making cute and soft 'rawr' sounds as he looked up at them with adorably large eyes. So only a few grudging words to that effect were uttered as they inspected the animated display of cute.

Oddly the most interested in the animals was Thulia, who was eyeing them with the sort of calculating look that was making Morgana curious.

"Something about the fuzzballs that's interesting?"

Thulia nodded, even as Petshop bridled a bit "They aren't fuzzballs, they're my babies!"

Thulia looked at the pets, then at the girl. "You're babies? You give birth to them?"

Petshop coloured a bit at the rather obvious implication in the girls' words. "I'm a biodevisor, I design and make them!

Thulia waved a hand in acknowledgment. "I see." She was still looking intently at the creatures. "May I cast a small spell to check them out?

Petshop squinted as she gave the girl a closer look. She looked far too much like the notorious redheaded bunny-exploder standing next to her for her comfort. "I don't know, it won't hurt them, will it? Promise?"

Thulia smiled, being careful not to show her fangs. "No danger of hurting them, it's just to see if they have a certain potential I'm interested in." Seeing Petshops' still-worried look, she added. "I swear it won't hurt them. It's not a spell on them, just one to let me examine them."

Despite her obvious reluctance, Petshop gave a grudging nod. Thulia have the pets a glance, then raised a hand and started to make complicated gestures with it. A small trail of faint fire-sparks trailed her fingers for a few seconds before dissipating, only Morgana seeing the complex spell diagram she was weaving in the air before her eyes. Finishing, she gave a penetrating look at the creatures, one by one, finally ending with a look of disappointment.

"That's a pity. No magic potential at all."

Petshop immediately bridled at any criticism of her babies. "I'm a devisor, I made them to be cute and fluffy, not magical!"

There were some curious glances from the rest of the M3 crowd, and a curious look from Morgana at her partner as she tilted her head in question. In response, Thulia moved the two of them away as she whispered. "You’re human, and at some point, will probably need a familiar, I was seeing if her creations were likely to have the potential, but they are just mundane animals, even if rather bizarrely coloured."

Morgana gave her a look before relaxing. "I don't quite see, but we should probably talk about this later, in private."

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It all started with Stark, which possibly wasn't entirely unexpected. He'd been arguing vehemently with Cherry about something; voices had been raised but given Stark's reputation with the Workshop, no one was paying any attention to what he was starting to rant about. That changed very quickly when as a result of him slamming his hand down on her table, one of Cherries' bombs bounced into the air and arced across the room.

Fortunately, it was one of the training dummies she'd been offering - even Cherry had the sense to keep her more damaging toys in less vulnerable a position - but not knowing this, the people who saw what had happened were taking cover, if only temporarily.

The bomb arced across the room, landing close behind Shisa. That would have been fine, but even Cherries training bombs had a small charge. Instead of the expected 'thunk' when it hit the floor, there was a firecracker-loud bang. Most of the kids hunkering down were happy they'd done so - just in case, in the Workshop you were never that certain what a devisor-created item would do - and quite a lot of the rest either sought their own cover or started looking for an exit.

Shisa had been eyeing up Petshops attractive and, to her, tasty-looking little pets, not so much to do anything as drastic as eating one, more as a form of amusement by annoying Petshop. The loud 'crack' of the bomb startled her into giving a cat-like leap forward, right into one of the legs supporting Petshops display table.

Shisa might have been a cat, but she was quite a large and heavy cat. As she hit one of the table legs, it made the table half-collapse as the colourful pets skidded off the surface and onto the floor with a chorus of chirps, meeps, and worryingly cute noises that rather resembled an explosion in a kitten factory.

The creatures went everywhere and started to immediately try and find cover as their instincts told them. Unfortunately, the available cover was under tables, behind (or even under) already startled and twitchy kids, and let's face it, being colourful, cute and plushy didn't actually make the ideal camouflage for hiding with. The results were somewhat predictable. Some of the kids kept on trying to hide, some started heading for the door, some tried to brush the pets away as if they were some sort of poisonous critter, and, inevitably, some tried to shoot them and solve the problem with superior firepower.

Tia gave a loud 'eep' and her ears flattened as she looked around for a way out of this. Erica took one look at the distance to the door, and the mob heading for it which definitely wasn't going to fit and started to herd the M3 group into a corner. Tia at the back, surrounded and protected by the others. Morgana gave a quick look around, then broke away with a call of 'I'm going to help Laura!"

Morgana skidded to a halt next to Laura's table. The blue-skinned girl was already tossing her display items into a bag as she gave worried glances at the chaos rapidly taking over the Fair. Morgana took up a position between Laura and the mess, hissing at her. "Get it all packed, and we'll get you out with Tia once the doorway is clear.

The rest of the group huddled in a protective group in one of the corners, as the zap and crackle of energy weapons and the bang of guns, followed by the terrified noises of the pets, only grew worse. Erica reckoned they weren't in any real danger, and once the confusion and the mass crush at the door cleared, they could safely make their way out. Which was a sound enough theory, except the situation didn't calm down as she expected. In the confusion, someone had either knocked or stepped on the remote control for a robot. Bianca had recognised it - it was an updated version of the one that had injured her earlier in the year, and given the table was manned by the same kids she'd seen back then, she'd been staying well away from them. Just in case.

The robot's head turned as if looking around, then its flexible arms stretched out in front of its rotund body, little caterpillar tracked driving it forward. Straight in the direction of M3. Bianca of course couldn't turn any whiter than her normal shade, but her cry of 'stop it!' made it clear that they had to do something. Erica was trying to hurriedly guess if she or Tanya were immune to the electricity starting to spark and coruscate between the pincers at the end of its arms when Thulia pushed her aside to step between them and the advancing mechanism. Erica opened her mouth to protest - Thulia was new here, and she probably wasn't experienced in handling a runaway robot - then the slender girl simply closed her hand around the staff that had suddenly just appeared in her hand, and said a few words in a weird, almost growling and snarling like language that none of them recognised, and suddenly the ground around and under the robot was bristling with red tentacles, that seized and held it, stopping its progress towards them.

"Should I destroy it?"

Erica gulped at the nonchalant way Thulia said that.

"Maybe not, as long as it isn't going anywhere, give them a chance to turn it off?"

Thulia nodded at Erica's words. "Oh, it won't be going anywhere for a little while, locked down like that, If it could have broken free, it would have done so already."

Tanya started to move the group to the door now the crush of bodies there was dying down, making sure she and Erica stayed in front of the more squishy members, just in case. She wasn't worrying too much about Thulia, who seemed quite capable of looking after herself, but kept an eye on her just in case as they escaped the mania of a normal catastrophic ending of the Weapons Fair.

It wasn't until they finally got clear of the room, and headed off before Security made a surprisingly belated appearance that Vic noticed Shisa make her exit. The 'cat' was covered in specks of something from Cherries bomb, but in her mouth, she had a red, plump pet, squeaking piteously (if cutely) at its expected fate as Shisa's supper. He decided it was probably best if he hadn't seen that.

linebreak shadow

Late Afternoon, the Quad, after the end of the Weapons Fair.

"Well, that was an interesting way for things to finish up."

Morgana sighed. "It's rather traditional for everything to go to hell at the Fair. But they always hope for better..."

Thulia chuckled. "That sounds like your human optimism?"

"It is."

"So now what?"

Morgana took a quick look at the planner on her phone.

"We need to shop. You need school uniforms and kit. Did you get a book list?

"Yes. On paper." Thulia shuddered slightly as if that was something unnatural. "These uniforms - will they include those uncomfortable bra things you showed me before?"

Morgana grinned at the rather pitiful tone in her friends' voice. "There is an alternative you'll probably find more comfortable. I'll show you when we get there."

"You said this store stocked everything? Including magic supplies?"

Morgana nodded. Most of them, at least all the stuff we use a lot. And it can order in anything special to order for you."

"That's good. Lady Grimes did include a list of stuff she thought I would need, and there are a couple of things I want to get for myself. I did bring some supplies from Home that could be hard or expensive to get here."

Morgana raised an eyebrow as the pair wended their way to the magic section of the store. "Anything unusual from the store then?"

Thulia pursed her lips. "I don't think so. I need a few small blank medallions to cast spells onto - nothing fancy, silver will do - and a pen that handles metallic inks to write on them with. If they don't have something suitable in silver, I can work with iron."

"They should have those. We're still using paper of some sort to write on, Grimes said we'll cover other things next term. And I know they sell metal ink writing pens; I used something similar when I set up the bowl. That's a large one, but I'm sure I saw smaller ones. Was there any particular metal?"

"Gold-infused ink or a gold suspension would be ideal, there are a couple of other possibilities, but they aren't as good. I want some things that will last for a reasonable time."

Morgana raised a fiery eyebrow. "Well, it's your money, after all."

Thulia gave her partner a look. "If you're going to cast spells, do it properly. Never go for half-measures, that always ends badly."

"So, let's see... magic supplies, books, uniforms, decent bedding, a couple of gi for BMA, cleaning stuff for your clothes, basic human makeup, horn care products. Not much left on your list."

Thulia made a face. "Underwear. Those horrible bra things. But I am impressed they had everything I needed here. It's a shame these uniforms are so boring."

"Boring?"

"Boring colours, boring shape, don't the people running this place have any imagination?"

Morgana raised an eyebrow. "This from a girl whose normal dress is just a plain robe. And nothing else."

Thulia huffed. "I just wear them for work. And I do have nicer things, you saw one."

"Well, just think of these as work clothes then." As Morgana muttered quietly "It's not as if some of the kids wear the uniforms as little as they can get away with anyway."

"Told you I had a fix for the bra issue." Morgana finally led her partner down an aisle marked as 'Protective Clothing' before stopping at a section labelled 'Under Armour.'

"This is what I use for underwear most of the time. It's comfortable, tough, and even a bit fireproof. Not to our level, of course, but it all helps. And as you can see, no bras, just sports tops. Hopefully, you'll find them more suitable."

Thulia nodded as she started to go through the options. "Now I just need a design that won't get in the way of my wings!"

Morgana grinned. "Once you're happy with the fit and feel of the tops, get some in a light colour, so it won't show under the school shirts."

Thulia shook her head. It's not enough they invent bras, then they have to be colour-coordinated. Humans!

 

To Be Continued
Read 6269 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 May 2024 13:23
Astrodragon

Incredibly cute coffee-loving dragon. What else needs to be said? 

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Tuftix
9 months ago
Astrodragon's back. :D
Awesome work, as per usual. Been really neat seeing Thulia's perspective on events and the school as well.
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Astrodragon
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Astrodragon
9 months ago
Thanks. Of course, so far its been about Thulia surviving her arrival at Whetely. The reverse has yet to be seen...
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Tuftix
9 months ago
I'm sure Morgana will try to keep her out of trouble. "Try" being the operative word, of course.
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