Tuesday, 09 January 2024 01:00

A Tail of Two Dragons (Part 1)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

A Tail of Two Dragons

by

Astrodragon

 

Part One

 

Sunday 20th November, Lunch, Crystal Hall

“So, anything interesting happening this afternoon?!”

Laura’s question was mainly answered by shrugs from the rest of the feeding kids.

Thulia paused from her gustatory exercises. “I have a meeting for evaluation of my flying.”

Morgana raised an eyebrow at her girlfriend. “That’s fast, you only just arrived.”

Thulia took another forkful of food, eyed it with interest and popped it into her mouth. “Until I have one, I can’t fly over the campus even on Green Flag days. It’s not as if I can’t fly already, they just need to give me the OK.” For her part, the dragongirl seemed supremely unconcerned about actually passing the evaluation.

“Sounds cool, I’ll tag along and watch you. Anyone else want to come?” Morgana looked around, only Laura seemed interested.

Laura piped up immediately. “Yeah, I want to see how her wings look!”

Morgana looked at Tanya. “How about you, you’re our resident flier. If we ever get in more group flights, knowing what she can do will be useful, and your opinion would be good.”

Tanya finished chewing as she looked thoughtful. "OK, why not, it's a nice day for it anyway."

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Sunday 20th November, late afternoon, Flight Training Area

Thulia looked over the short girl in front of her with a curious interest. She looked like some sort of cross between a human, a fairy, and some sort of bird (presumably; she didn’t know what sort, but she had greenish-blue iridescent feathers instead of hair, which she was pretty sure was a bird trait here on Earth). She had four wings – two on each side, translucent with golden veins spreading from the centre of her back. While they looked delicate, she presumed they were stronger than they seemed at first sight they couldn’t be that delicate, or they wouldn’t be able to support her when flying.

“So, Thulia. I got your name passed on after your examinations – none of the details, though, just that you could fly?”

Thulia nodded, as the energetic girl continued cheerfully. "Well, I'm the leader of the school flight club. To fly at the school, you need to pass a test to show you're a competent flier. But I can do that for you, or at least OK the flying part of it and pass the form on for formal approval. They do so love their paperwork. You’re a mage, I understand, do you fly using magic?”

Thulia gave her a considering look. "Well, not really. Maybe if I change it will be more obvious?" Taking the girl's enthusiastic grin as agreement, she first shimmered for a moment as she changed her Whateley garments for her unitard, then let her wings and tail flow out of her back.” As you see, I have wings. The tail helps my balance when flying, but it isn’t essential. However, if you're going to look at my flying ability...

Thanagila gave a small clap as Thulia carefully opened her wings, giving her a good look at them. “Oh, the colours look so cool!”

Laura turned to whisper to Morgana as she saw the 15-foot wingspan. “Now I see why bras were an issue for her! We need to do some more shopping to sort something out for her. Maybe something that goes with those lovely red and black patterns across her wings?” Morgana winced slightly at the idea of more shopping, but kept quiet and just nodded.

Thulia gave a small appreciative chuckle at the girls' excitement. “So, how are you going to test me?”

Thanagila gestured at the area in front of them, which shimmered as it changed from an open oval of grass to what was some sort of obstacle course.

“Right here. We use the base area for training the new fliers, but we use the holographic course for the experienced students and the flight club who need something a bit more challenging. Do you want to start on the basic course, or the advanced one? They didn’t say anything about your test results except that you could fly and asked about flying on campus. If that all goes well, maybe Tanya could help us with some competition as a reference? Most of the kids we enroll don’t have much experience, but I understand you’ve been flying a while.”

Tanya thought about it, then nodded. "Sure, why not, it's a good day for flying. I’d be happy to help. How about if we start with the advanced course? Then we can see how she does compared to me rather than just on a course. ”

Thanagila gave the dragongirl an appraising look, then nodded to her assistant. “Marvin, please set up the advanced course. We’ll start at level one and work up as necessary. She took Thulia’s arm and led her over to a start line, as the holographic image shimmered into seeming solidity. "Now, see the yellow dotted line? That’s the course for you to follow. You’ll see some yellow arrows at times, those are to let you see where the course changes direction abruptly. Marvin will give you a countdown of five, then just follow the course. We give you three run-throughs, the first is to let you familiarise yourself with the course, and then we’ll set you on a couple of timed runs. To get an idea of your speed and manoeuvrability. All clear? Any problems?”

Thulia cast her gaze along the first part of the course, looking confident. “It all seems straightforward enough.”

“Yes, it’s doing it at speed that’s the problem. Don’t worry about crashing, the area has safety fields, they stop you from crashing too hard – usually, the worst we get is a few bruises."

Thulia nodded, still examining the projected course with interest, not giving any sign of being worried about a crash. Thanagila wondered if she was a bit overconfident, or maybe just tough enough a crash wouldn’t cause her any issues, especially with the safety field. Well, the course will soon show her which. She certainly seemed confident enough now, but the course would show up any issues she had.

Tanya was eyeing the insouciant dragongirl as she settled into a half-crouched stance, obviously readying herself to take off. The girl's wings flared a bit, her attention already fixed on the course, as she whispered a comment to Morgana. “Is she really that good? The course can get pretty tricky to do at any speed.”

For her part, Morgana shrugged. "I haven't seen her fly a course like this, but she's been flying since she was 8. I don't think she'll get too overconfident."

Tanya’s eyes widened a bit at the response, then she turned to watch as Marvin counted down from 5. As he reached zero, a buzzer sounded, the noise almost lost in the clap of air as Thulia launched herself along the course, her wings already beating as she speeded up. Laura coughed as the cloud of dust caused by the takeoff settled around them, the dragongirl already well along the course and speeding up. Despite being told the first run was for familiarisation only, she seemed to the blue girl to be going pretty fast, although she wasn’t an expert at following fliers. The way Thanagila looked at Marv with a raised eyebrow did rather suggest it was a bit unusual.

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A little while later, Thulia was coming into land as she finished the third and hardest version of the course, dropping down to the ground with a gracefulness that belied her wingspan.

“So, how did I do?”

Marvin and Thanagila exchanged glances, before Marvin scrolled down the report, blinking a few times at the numbers. “Wow.” That got him somewhat annoyed looks from the rest of the spectators as he finished analysing the data before telling them the results.

“Ok, well a first cut, she’s fast, very fast. Than, she’s faster than any of us in a straight line. She isn’t as manoeuvrable as you are, but not at all bad.”

Thulia grinned as her partner gave her a celebratory hug. “Some of the tight turns were too tight for me to make at full speed, I’m afraid, I didn’t want to hit anything.”

Thanagilas lips were moving without speaking as her finger traced down the data report. “I think wow about sums it up. Thulia, you are really good, especially considering you aren’t being dragged around by a PK field. I don’t think there is any issue about putting you down for a local flight approval.”

Thulia looked interested. “And just what does that mean?”

“Oh, right. Well, I have to get it approved by the school, which takes about a week depending on how busy they are. You do have to pass a quick test on which areas on the campus area are out of bounds, after that, you can fly around here on green flag days. I’m afraid with your wings – lovely as they are – yellow flag days will be out. A full license for off-campus is more complex, there are several exams to pass on how to fly safely – not your flying ability, things like communication, avoiding other flying people and craft, navigating, all the stuff to keep you and everyone else safe. We’ll need to enroll you in flight class for all that to be official.”

Thulia gave that some thought. It didn’t seem unreasonable to know about these things, presumably there was some sort of document describing what she was supposed to know. Some of the humans flying craft were dangerously fast, she didn’t want to get in the way of one, that wouldn’t end well for either party.

“Thanks, I do look forward to being able to fly around, even if it’s limited to green flag days and the training area.” She turned to look at Tanya. “Now the boring bits are done, would you like to do some aerobatics with me? I’d like to see what a PK-flier does?”

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As the two girls prepared to have some fun doing some casual flying, Thanagila turned to Marvin, who was still working his way through the course data.

“She was really that good?”

Marvin nodded. “Yes, she was, she pretty obviously has been flying for a long time, given the issues about working her wingspan around some of the corners. Some of the ways she worked her wings to get around the tighter bends were not something she learned yesterday!” He pointed at various sections of the screen currently displaying the final course report. “She must be tough, look at some of the g’s she was pulling on the tighter parts.”

“I want her on our team.” The girl smiled. “And just think of how the first few round bets of betting odds will be when we introduce a frosh...”

The two exchanged a somewhat conspiratorial glance before breaking into big grins.

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Monday 21st November, London

Master Olrun looked at Nephandus with the somewhat annoyed expression of someone who was paying through the nose for services and not seeming getting much for his investment.

“I hope you have some progress to show me this time?”

Nephandus returned his look with one of ‘contractor working hard for you despite awkward circumstances’

We have made a fair bit of progress. Mainly my eliminating all the things that didn't happen to your conduit, but we now have a clear set of leads to follow up. It has taken a little while to go through the possibilities, but it was necessary in order not to alert AEGIS to what we were up to. We have prioritised secrecy and security over speed. It might have been faster if we had been able to interrogate the mercenaries we recovered" – which would have been a lot easier if you hadn't killed them far too soon, was his unspoken comment – "But we have found out what didn't happen to her. "

That hadn’t done much to improve Olrun’s disposition. He'd been very short with the request for 'further detail interrogations' of the mercenaries, he had decided to terminate them and he expected Nephandus and his team to just work around that little inconvenience.

“Get on with it then.”

Nephandus shuffled his papers a little – not to do anything, but he enjoyed the way the little time-wasting annoyed Olrun.

“She is definitely not at, or part of, AEGIS. We confirmed she was released from their medical facility, and after spending some time at their base. She wasn't sent to outside accommodation, as we found no signs of her being assigned to a school or some sort of temporary arrangement. We checked out the ones used by AEGIS families, the semi-public ones for accommodating GSD mutants, and the normal school network, both public and private schools. Since by her appearance she is too young to be out of the school system, we also investigated the people AEGIS employs for private tuition, in case her powers and abilities indicated that as a solution.

This investigation has taken most of the time we spent on it – while, apart from the AEGIS facilities, none involved major levels of security, there were a lot of possible leads to eliminate.

Now at the same time, we also checked and tracked her movements. There was considerable obfuscation of these, hence the need to eliminate possible schooling destinations, but we finally proved that she had been put on a flight to New York at the beginning of September.”

Olrun's expression brightened. “So all we need to do now is trace her path in America, and we have her”

Nephandus coughed slightly. “Well, it’s underway. There was confusion as to what happened to her after she arrived in New York – there was some sort of MCO alert at the airport, transportation was cancelled, delayed or altered, and the path was not as clear as we would have liked. However, we now have a destination somewhere in the New England area, and it should be just a matter of time before we have a fix on her location. We think the most likely place is one of the mutant and paranormal research facilities in the area, but again we have to check them all without raising their attention.”

Nephandus left unsaid the personal worry which was keeping the investigation much more concealed than would normally have been necessary. There was a certain school in the area of concern used to house and educate mutants, and no matter how it upset Olrun, he and his father had NO intention of doing anything that might upset Whateley or invite the sort of retaliation they employed. Of course, there were other possibilities, but he didn’t want to burn assets checking on Whateley until it was absolutely necessary.

“So how long?”

Subtle as ever, thought Nephandus.

"We aren't sure exactly, but we think a few weeks. Once we have her location pinned down, we will assemble a suitable recovery team to get your asset.”

Olrun’s eyes gleamed. Almost there, and after all, what sort of a problem would it be to recover the asset from a school or even a research facility?

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Monday 21st November, Magic 101 Theory class

Ms. Grimes looked around the class and then clapped her hands for attention before waiting a few seconds. At least by this point in term, all but the most incorrigible students had learnt to quiet down and pay attention when prompted. And by now she was just working out how to ease the ones who couldn’t learn out of her class at the end of the first year.

"By now, I think all of you will have heard about the Combat Finals that we hold at the end of term." Several nods and worried looks from the students showed that they had indeed been informed of that interesting part of the Whateley Curriculum. If not by teachers, by some of the older students who had probably enjoyed themselves embellishing the details into something more resembling a cage match. She kept the smile off her face as she continued.

“Now as some of you are already aware, I don’t personally approve of teaching you magic just so you can use it for fighting. That isn’t the point of The Art at all! But despite what you may have heard from some of the older students, the Combat Finals, despite the rather unfortunate choice of name, are not really about fighting. You will be given one or more tasks to do, maybe singly, maybe teamed up by random choice with one or more other students" – yes, she thought as she examined faces, and some of you might really believe it's random, some students were after all more gullible than others– "and you will be graded on how well you do. Whether you decide to fight or not is up to you, but beating the challenge without fighting is actually a preferred solution. You are being graded on how well you can do the job, not how many bodies you leave scattered around. It’s not an action movie set.”

She paused for a moment as Toison raised her hand uncertainly. “Ma’am? What about those of us with weak powers, or powers not suited for combat or evasion?”

“We aren’t testing your power levels, Toison. Not using your powers can in fact give you a higher score. If you do use them, you will be marked on how creatively and sensibly you did with them, not on your absolute power level. And on how well you would have done in a similar real-world scenario”

She turned to the whiteboard behind her and picked up the marker. “However, it would be sensible to at least plan on using your magic. Since the action in these scenarios is pretty fast, you need to plan ahead and decide which spells you will use by preference, and also pre-prepare them if necessary. I would not recommend extemporising your spells unless you don’t have a suitable prepared option, or somehow find you have the time to work in. To that end, I recommend you choose at least one defensive spell, one attacking spell (preferably a non-lethal one), one spell for evasion and concealment, and for those of you without speed powers, something for movement. Have a thought about what will work for you in those areas, and I will discuss them individually later this week. Four spells might not seem that much, but having four useful ones you can use easily and accurately is better than a large range of spells you are not nearly so practised with.”

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“So what are you going to use, Morgana?”

Morgana grinned at her friend. “But if I tell you, Bianca, you’ll be expecting it!”She gave her friend her best innocent blink. Given the complete failure of that to impress her friend, she looked around at some of the kids who were obviously talking about her combat record, as well as Biancas. ” Quite a few seem worried about having to face off against a Mafia Princess, judging by the worried looks being cast in our direction.” It didn't occur to her that some of them might have been worried about fighting her.

Bianca snorted. “Remember what Grimes said? Probably more points to solving the problem without combat. Anyway" – she eyed her friend sideways – "I have no intention of fighting you if we were teamed up. Running away or surrendering seems far more safe and sensible unless the scenario allows us to cooperate!”

Morgana nodded. “Unlikely to happen anyway. I looked at the records Drop-Bear gave me, and it seems they don’t pair up roomies. Too much bad blood after, I guess. We might get a soph, though, that would be more of a challenge. So all that talk about the finals being random pairings...”

Bianca finished it for her. “Are about as random as a stacked card deck.”

“Yep.”

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Grimes allowed a certain amount of subdued comments and speculation before calling the class to order again.

Bianca whispered to her friend. “Do you think she’s going to tell us more about combat magic?”

Her friend shook her head. “I think she’ll leave us hanging and make us work out preparations ourselves.”

From now until the start of the Combat Finals, most of your practical coursework will be practising and preparing for them. In these classes, I intend to review the magic we have taught you that will be most appropriate for such a setting. Of course, you are welcome – even encouraged – to prepare outside of the syllabus. Remember when you are looking at offensive spells that you are NOT supposed to kill or even permanently injure your opponent, so while a damage spell might be useful for taking out inanimate objects, you should have something less damaging to use against a real person.”

Morgana gave Bianca a small nudge with her elbow. “You did note she said nothing about non-permanent injuries, right?”

Bianca’s answer was a small nod and a somewhat worried look.

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Monday 21st November, 10 a.m. Outside the English for Dummies classroom.

Thulia looked at the classroom – who would have thought a plain wooden door would look so scary? - then made an effort to push down against the butterflies that the nerves caused by attending her first class were trying to let escape from her stomach, and pushed the door gently open. Which of course meant it opened with an audible creak and everyone already there turned to stare accusingly at her, the last thing she wanted. At least there was no teacher here yet, so she wasn't late. She hoped the course title - English as a Second Language - would be appropriate, although she worried about being dropped into it so much later than the other students. She'd had the usual tales about this class from M3, which usually got referred to as English for Dummies, but since they had tales - ones that varied from outrageous to horrendous - about pretty much all the classes at Whateley, she wasn't ready to believe them without corroborating evidence. It was just a class, what was the worst that could happen?

“Er, hi”

One of the boys, a chubby teenager with pink eyes, stopped walking around the class where he’d been putting pastries on tables, to give her a small wave of greeting.

“Hi, I’m Donut. You’re the new member?”

She nodded, wondering where the appetising smell of baked goods was coming from.

“Take a seat, we have a few minutes before Ms Barnes arrives. And let me know what sort of pastry you like.”

Thulia had no idea as to where he was getting the various wonderful-smelling dessert treats he was putting in front of the class – some sort of dimensional storage, or old-fashioned sleight-of-hand? – but even with it being so soon after breakfast she wasn’t going to refuse anything that smelled so good.

“Do you have something with a coffee taste? Or chocolate?”

He just nodded and placed a chocolate-covered coffee doughnut in front of her. She smiled shyly and took a nibble. Then a bigger bite when she realised what it tasted like.

Thulia tried not to stare at the rest of the class, using her nibbling of the treat to hide any direct looks – she hoped. It wasn’t so much the GSD on a few of the kids – she was getting used to all but the most extreme cases – but a very short girl had a variety of small objects circling her head. That was a bit different, was it a defence of some sort? Surely she wouldn’t need one in class? Maybe they exploded... Morgana had told her she probably wouldn’t get attacked in class, but just what did ‘probably’ entail in the way of safety?

Still, the wonderful coffee/chocolate treat was at least distracting her from worrying too much, even if the class – and certainly the boys – were eyeing her while nibbling on their individual delicacies. She was expecting the questions to start as soon as the pastries were consumed, but at that point, the door opened to let in a surprisingly young-looking teacher. She took her own doughnut off her desk as she looked the class over.

“Now, I’d like our latest member to introduce herself. Thulia? Don’t be shy, stand up and tell us a little about yourself. Don’t worry, most of the class doesn’t bite.”

She stood reluctantly, giving a quick look around to see who had teeth worth worrying about getting bitten by, then drew up her resolve. She could do this,

“Hello everyone. My name is Thulia Firedrake, I’m not from around here, and I’m here to learn how to speak English idiomatically and properly. It’s nice to meet you all.” Of course it was, it was scary, but at least most of them were smiling. So far so good. Well, apart from a large boy, with what looked like some sort of weird makeup on – was it common for human men to wear makeup, it did look odd - who was giving her more of a glare than a grin.

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11 am, Dojo, BMA class

Thulia tried to look calm as she tied the white belt around her gi. She’d invested in some underarmour at Morgana’s suggestion, which would at least not show too much if she needed to remove the top and manifest her wings. While she didn’t normally consider supporting her breasts necessary, given this was a combat class the extra support the top gave probably wasn’t a bad thing, it would at the least stop her nipples rubbing against the gi. Besides, humans had such odd reactions to the suggestion that she just take her top off as needed.

“All ready?”

Thulia nodded to Morgana and Laura. “Yes, I think so. Tolman gave me a long list of things not to do, so I’ll try and keep to it.” For some reason that made Laura snicker. "To start with, I'll be using my human form, I need a lot more practice fighting in that, and Tolman told me it would help me from damaging people unnecessarily.”

The room was a lot more crowded than when she'd been here for her testing, a line of students arranged around three sides of the rather capacious mat, sitting in an odd position. Ah yes, she'd been told about that. Following her two friends, the three of them went to one end and settled themselves down, waiting for Tolman to appear. Of course, settling down would have been a lot easier if she hadn’t kept getting all those looks from the other students. There had been a few comments in the changing room, but the presence of some of the other M3 girls had kept it to a minimum. Out here, most of them seemed to be speculation about who she was, looking so much like Morgana. She gave a small smile when she wondered what their expressions would be if she manifested her wings.

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Ms. Grimes's office, 2 p.m.

Thulia wasn't sure what Ms. Grimes wanted to talk to her about so soon after her tests but hoped it wasn't yet more restrictions. It wasn’t that the ones she’d been given so far weren’t unreasonable, she just wished they weren’t bearing down on her like a load of weights.

"Ah, Thulia! Do you have the study program I asked you to read and annotate?"

Thulia nodded, holding out the notes she'd been working on earlier to the teacher. "Yes, ma'am. As you asked, I've marked some subjects that would seem to be helpful for your review."

"Good, I'll look it over later, and we can see about assigning you some formal lessons for the next few weeks.

“Uh, teacher? While I’m here, I have a favour to ask of you.”

Grimes raised an eyebrow. “What is it, Thulia?”

Thulia coughed slightly nervously. “Well, it’s to do with me making things for Morgana.” She held out a couple of small silver disks, with complicated spellwork in gold laid on it.”

Grimes made a questioning noise as she held her hand out for Thulia to hand her one.

“Interesting. What do these do that she can’t do for herself?”

“Well, I know there are issues with using too much fire near human clothing, it’s rather more combustible than I’m used to. So I made some of these for my own use, and I felt that Morgana could use a couple of sets, at least until I show her how to make them.” She saw the questioning look on Grimes’s face and continued, struggling a bit to put the technical words she needed into English. "Keeping it simple, our fire is tied to our auras, but since Morgana’s clothes aren’t, the fire affects them. This spell - well, it fools the aura into thinking the clothes are part of us, like our bodies, so the fire doesn’t affect them. So if Morgana were to catch fire for some reason, her clothes wouldn’t be burnt off. I understand that when that happens in public it’s not always, well, socially acceptable here?”

Grimes turned the small disk over a few times in her hand as she examined it. “Useful. Is that all it does?”

“Yes teacher, it doesn’t protect her against anything else, it just protects her clothing against fire. I thought one set for her underwear and another for her combat outfit. I believe her underwear would satisfy your standards of propriety, and as she's put so much work into her outfit, it would be a shame if..."

Grimes thought about the issue, then nodded. “I don’t see why you shouldn’t give her these, on your promise you will teach her how to make them later.”

“Of course, teacher. It's just that she doesn’t have the level of fine control over her power to make one easily yet, showing her that will take a little time. They are a little tricky to make, as they have to be connected to her aura.”

Grimes resisted the urge to raise her eyebrows at Thulia’s definition of a ‘little tricky’ for something that would work with a person's aura. “Very well, I will approve this. Especially since the effect of a full costume malfunction during the Combat Finals could be an issue, it would be such a public reveal.”

Thulia stood and bowed politely as Grimes handed the disks back. “Thank you, teacher, I’ll see about attuning a few for her.”

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Monday 21st November, late afternoon, Magic workroom, Bianca and Morgana.

Bianca glanced over curiously at her friend, who was currently using some polishing paper to give a final finish to a long crystal rod she'd been working on for the last hour. Given that they were the only two in the workroom, Morgana hadn't been trying to hide what she was doing. Seeing that Bianca was her roomie, there didn't seem much point.

"One thing puzzles me?"

Morgana looked up at her friend. "Oh? What's so confusing about me polishing a crystal for a wand?"

"Because it’s a clear crystal. Quartz?"

Morgana nodded. "Yep." She held it up for a moment so the light refracted off its facets in a fractal rainbow of colours. “Pretty, isn’t it?”

"Surely for a fire spell you'd be using a different crystal, not a clear quartz one?"

"Well, yes, I would, but this isn't for a fire spell." She grinned. "Do you really think I'm that predictable?"

Bianca snorted. "You're a cunning devious dragoness, that's what you are!"

Morgana's only reaction was a massive grin, as Bianca continued. "So it's not for a fire spell, I guess?"

"Nope." The redhead took a package from her bag and showed it to her friend. It was a hollow silver rod, about 8" long, and sized to fit over the crystal she'd been working on. Bianca took the offered wand and examined it with interest. "Silver and clear quartz. Water magic?"

"Close, but not quite, Ice magic. I figured most people would assume I'd be casting fire everywhere, and ice has a few uses you can't easily do with fire."

Bianca nodded. She remembered the fiasco that was the end of the band trip. As well as the reason no one with the slightest sense of self-preservation let The Imp drive.

"Sensible. A wide range of options is always useful."

"It is, and Ice tends to be a lot less destructive than fire. Overdestruction is an issue I keep having to be aware of – so many things seem to catch fire so easily! And with a wand, I can cast the spell without as much concentration. My usual magic is flexible, but except for fire not as fast as your built-in spells. As long as I keep it simple, it's basically just pouring essence into the crystal."

"Surely the Combat Finals aren't that dangerous? I mean, it's a school exercise!"

Morgana held the crystal up to the light to give a final considering look at the rainbows refracting through it before replying. "Well, they aren't supposed to be. Not from the point of view of the exercise. I've been talking to the Bear, and he says it's more a case of some of the competing students getting a lot too dangerously competitive. And some of them are thugs who look on the finals as an excuse to get violent without being grabbed for bullying – you know the ones. Or, of course, the ones who get all excited and forget about little things like control or restraint. So, prepare for the worst, and if it doesn't happen, no harm done. Apparently, there have been a few cases in the past of things getting quite nasty, but if that happens I can always see how fireproof they are. Anyway, you regenerate so you should be fine."

“And how are your healing lessons coming along?”

Morgana shrugged. “Steadily, they need a lot of practice. That book my Uncle gave me helps, it's all about the sort of injuries you get in combat. I don’t feel happy yet about healing someone else – a lot of things can go wrong - but I think I can help myself a bit if I have to.”

"So will the wand be ready in time?"

"Oh, sure. I just need to inscribe the silver holder for the spell effects I want, slide the crystal in then spend an evening powering it up. You're still going for a gun as a ranged weapon, I assume?"

Bianca nodded. "I know how to use one and what it can do. I don't think the CF will give us the luxury of thinking too long about what to do."

Morgana put the silver part of the wand on the bench as she started to hunt around in the drawer for her burin and marker pen. "You're right, if it goes down to combat it will be quick and dirty with no support from friends. That's why I have the stuff I got from Cherry, and this wand. My spell use is versatile, but too slow for one-to-one combat unless I get a chance to ambush someone. Still, I can always hit them!"

Bianca grimaced. "Say's the girl who enjoys BMA. If it comes down to that I think I'll consider surrendering gracefully. Or just surrendering! Maybe running, running away fast is good..."

Morgana laughed as she finally found the inscription tools she’d been looking for in the drawer, waving the wand at Bianca to make her point. "You aren't that bad, you know. At least you try and work at it. And you aren't bad on the combat awareness part of the training. And out in the real world, awareness is a lot more important, it isn’t formal combat. Besides, Tia is much better at running away than you are. You could always ask her for lessons..."

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Monday 21st November, late afternoon, Thulia's Magic workroom.

Thulia carefully took a packet of small silver disks out of her backpack, the product of the admittedly well-supplied magic supply section of the store. She'd feared she'd have to fasten some attachments on them herself, but they had had some in with that already done, which was a help.

She put one of the half-inch disks on the bench as she got the rest of what she'd need - a burin suitable for scribing on silver, a gel pen she'd bought with a gold suspension, and her pad from home for reference. If she'd had more notice, she'd have done this before leaving, but time had been short. So she’d have to do it all by hand. In her opinion whoever said ‘the old ways are the best ways’ was far out of step with modern technology. Finally she extracted some goggles from their packaging; they were supposed to magnify and make detail work easier, so she wanted to give them a try. Humans did make some rather useful toys.

An hour later, she finished working on the last disk, wriggling her fingers to ease the cramps. Putting three of them aside in a silk bag – she’d attune them for Morgana later – she knelt before starting to scribe the necessary spell diagrams onto the floor. She was missing her smart circles already.

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Monday 21st November, evening, Poe cottage, Flower's room.

Morgana wasn't too worried as she knocked on Flower's door. When she'd asked some of the older girls about the party, it hadn't seemed too exclusive, so she thought she'd be able to invite a guest.

"Come in!"

"Hey, Flower, have you got a minute?"

The older girl swung around in her chair; she'd obviously been working at the table, likely homework.

"Sure, what can I do to help?"

Morgana tried not to blush obviously. Even after all her experience since the summer, she hadn't really internalised all the issues of being a girl, even if she was getting a lot better at mimicking them.

"It's about the hot tub party tomorrow."

Flower just grinned as she deliberately waited for Morgana to continue.

"It's just - I'd like to bring a guest if it's allowed."

Flower kept the girl waiting for a moment for her answer, just for fun.

"Of course you can, it's not exactly a secret, just that we want to keep it private. I assume the girl in question is Thulia?"

Morgana nodded. It seemed that her escorting Thulia around had left quite an impression. Not that she'd even tried to keep their relationship a secret - first, it would have upset Thulia if she tried to deny it, and she wasn't going to do that, and second trying to keep secrets at Whateley was an exercise in futility, about as hard as finding an honest politician.

"Yeah, it is. Now she's actually at school, I wouldn’t feel happy about going without her."

"Have you told her about the issues? It's all-girl, no swimsuits, and" here she fixed Morgana with a stern look "It's basically a girl's night out, so no obvious personal interaction.

Morgana blinked. After all, she'd heard stories... "None?"

Flower smirked. "Nothing you wouldn't do in public in Poe." Then she looked a bit more serious. "Some of the girls aren't used to that, even some of the avowed lesbians can be shy in public. Thulia is a lesbian, I assume? Considering the relationship the two of you have."

Morgana coughed. "Err, well actually she's Bi, I'm the lesbian. But I'd better tell her about the rules, she isn't exactly shy."

"Yeah, I did see that outfit she wore the other Sunday."

"Mm, yes." Morgana had to break off for a moment, while she remembered how Thulia had looked in that dress... "Anyway, I'll make sure it isn't a problem. If it helps, she does know about the Poe secret."

Flower nodded. "That's always helpful, but to remind you - and her - if it isn't all Poe or cleared friends, to keep quiet about it. For all public purposes, it's a perfectly normal gathering of hot wet lesbians.

Morgana raised an eyebrow at the expressionless way Flower had managed that statement.

"Oh, right, of course it is. What could be more innocent?"

This time Flower didn't even try and conceal her giggle.

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Tuesday 22nd November, Mid-evening, Bianca and Morgana's room, Poe cottage.

"So why are we heading for the showers before we go to this party again?"

Morgana patted Thulia gently on the shoulder, as she steered her in the direction of the Poe frosh bathroom. "The hot tub is for lounging, chatting, hanging out and enjoying the hot water, not to wash in. It's only polite to get clean first."

Thulia nodded thoughtfully. “Makes sense.”

Her leman and co-conspirator chuckled. "It's a pure coincidence it gives me an opportunity to help you wash your back.”

Thulia sighed happily at the feel of the strong soapy fingers rubbing up and down her back and massaging her. It was a shame this was such a public place. She could get used to this. Then purred in appreciation as Morgana dug her fingers a bit harder into her neck and shoulder muscles, giving them a deeper massage. “Ooh yes, more please!”

Morgana gave a quiet giggle. “Hmm, I thought you might like this. She worked her fingers a bit harder. “you did feel tense. Problems?”

Thulia frowned slightly, not that her partner could see it anyway. “Not really. Just a lot of new things, new people, new stuff to learn. A lot of people and stuff, it’s a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I get worried at the sheer amount of it all.”

Morgana paused for a moment to gently kiss the tip of one pointed ear. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. And you know I’m here if you have any problems.”

Her leman giggled slightly at the kiss and leaned back into the massage. "I know. Mmmm, yes, like that. Keep doing this and I think I’ll have to keep you.”

Morgana’s response was to slide her hard nipples teasingly across Thulia’s back. “Yeah yeah, promises promises.”

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“You don’t think anyone will be upset at you bringing me?”

Morgana paused to fasten the belt of the traditional long black woollen robe more securely as she shuffled her feet into slippers. “Nope. Flower was pretty supportive. Mind, I think quite a few of the girls will want to ask you all sorts of stuff about yourself. And us, probably. That is when they aren’t ogling you.”

"Oh. Will they do that?"

Morgana hugged the rather nervous-looking dragoness. “Why so worried? You’re hardly shy about being naked?”

Thulia shrugged, producing some interesting jiggling. She still looked slightly uncomfortable. “It’s not just being naked, exactly. I mean, I’ve been doing rituals naked since I was old enough to take part in them, and when it’s people I know, it’s fine. Just that I worry a little that some of the people here will be looking in a way that implies they are interested in me sexually. It’s not the naked, it’s the looks. And I don’t want them when I have you.”

Morgana smiled gently. “You’re beautiful, of course they will look at you. Don’t worry, they won’t do more than look. And if they do, just slap them.”

Thulia looked a bit less worried at that. “So just how much have you told them about me?”

The redhead shrugged. “Some, it varies from person to person. Don’t worry, if they ask something you don’t want to answer, or aren’t sure, pass it off to me. Or say it’s classified, that’s always a good excuse.”

There was a tap on the door, followed by Flower looking in, a big smile plastered across her face as she looked the two girls up and down.

“All ready, both of you? I’m going to show you how to find the place, just follow me.”

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While it was dark outside the cottage, and Flower needed to use her torch to see where she was going, neither of the two dragongirls needed more light. Just as well, the route was rather convoluted and the entrance to the cavern containing the tub was pretty well concealed. The entrance itself was disguised as the stump of a massive old lightning-damaged oak tree, opening to a ladder that led down into a cavern fairly well-lit with several concealed coloured lights.

“In here, girls.”

The two followed Flower inside, making their way to the tub itself. Morgana thought tub wasn't the best description, it was more like a natural pool filled with hot water, steaming in the cooler air of the cavern.

“Is it natural or real?”

Flower grinned. “It’s fake, but a rather good one. It's a legacy thing, they tried to make it look as much as possible like a natural pool, but it has built-in heating and cleaning arrangements. Also, the bottom is a lot more comfortable to sit on." The pool was already partly filled by several girls; Morgana knew them all by sight so gave a cheerful wave as she looked for something to hang her robe on. Given that there were several eyes on her, she posed naked for a second, making sure she stayed close enough to Thulia to make it clear they were a pair, before cautiously dipping a toe into the water. It was steaming gently in the air, so she assumed it was warm, but you never knew.

Behind her, Flower chuckled and pointed her towards one end of the tub.

“That’s the hottest end, I figured the two of you might prefer it there!”

Morgana nodded her thanks, ignoring the slight smirk accompanying the double entendre, as she took Thulia's hand and led her to the warmest part of the pool, easing herself in gently. Flower was right, this part was lovely and warm. She could hear the pleased sigh from behind her as Thulia entered the water. A few seconds after they’d relaxed in the steaming water, the questions started. Whatever the girls already there had been talking about, it was obviously less interesting than asking awkward and embarrassing questions about the two new girls. She could feel Thulia flinch slightly, and slipped her arm around her to reassure her. Doing that just brought some grins, and more than a few knowing looks.

“So how DID you two get together? It’s obvious you’re pretty close now.”

Morgana winced. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been expecting someone to ask the obvious question, but it still disturbed her, the only good answers revealed far too much about things she was either unhappy with or wasn't supposed to talk about, or both.

“It was during my manifestation time, actually” – she remembered Grimes’s stern injunction not to mention Thulia messing with BITS – "and we sort of got attracted to each other. Then we go back together when she arranged my escape." No need to go into details as to what had really happened, the girls who needed to know already knew, and the rest were just being nosey.

She’d half-hoped that would cover it, but that was a pretty optimistically unrealistic hope. After her initial and rather limited start. The girls had lots of questions about her and Thulia, and it was hard to cope with them while not giving too much away. It was fortunate in a way that Thulia was cuddling close with a nervous expression, her obvious discomfort kept the girls down to questions rather than an interrogation.

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Wednesday 23rd November, Shutterfly's room, after lunch

“So, is it all ready?”

Morgana looked at the rather busy collection of gear on Shutterfly’s desk, raising an interrogative eyebrow.

Shutterfly pushed her devisor goggles up onto her forehead and smiled. “Of course, I’d have texted you if it was a problem.” She pushed some of the stuff on her table to one side and held out the dark blue mask, the new inserts over the eyeholes glinting a faint gold colour.

Morgana took it, turning it over in her hands. “Looks good. Now I just have to put everything together.”

Shutterfly nodded. “Eye protection plus flash protection is pretty standard. Maybe when you do another costume you’ll ask for something more complicated.

Morgana nodded, slipping the mask on over her head to check everything fitted properly.

“Do you do stuff for, oh, sunglasses? I think I’ll have need of a pair.”

Shutterfly nodded. “Oh yes, again it’s a pretty common request. Just let me have the glasses, or just the frames, and I can fab up a new pair of lenses.”

Morgana nodded. “I’ll do that. I need two sets done, the specs will be the same. Won’t the combat finals be an issue?”

“Oh no, not for something simple like that. I just have to put the specs in, and the machine will fab them while I’m busy.”

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Wednesday 23rd November, Outside Kane Hall, early afternoon

"So why do we all have to go and see about an MID? I know mine’s provisional, but surely most kids won't have changed?"

Jeanne chuckled as she gestured for Morgana to precede her into the building, ignoring the slight whine in the girl's voice. Unsurprisingly she was less than enamoured at having to get another plastic piece of bureaucracy. "More changes than you'd think. Especially for the data on the card that you can't actually read without help."

Morgana paused for a moment and blinked. "Hang on. You mean there's data on the card we can’t see?"

Jeanne nodded as they joined the queue to enter the room. "Quite a lot, and that's one of the reasons we don't get the ones issued by the American MCO.” Morgana was still looking rather confused when one of the older students stepped up. One of the tech crew, by the lab coat he wore, and happy to explain it all to the pretty girl.

"It's quite simple. The card has quite a lot of data about you in the memory card on it, and a lot of the Commonwealth governments don't trust the American MCO to use it properly. There have been incidents."

"Incidents?" Morgana was starting to get more than a bit worried, given her personal history.

"Bad ones. Where some data was misrepresented, which caused the holder a problem. Anyway, we now use the ones issued by our own governments." You’re a Brit, aren’t you?

Morgana nodded. "Yeah."

"Then what happens is the school sends your encrypted data to London, they make the card, including the two levels of data you don't see, and send it to Ottowa. The other governments involved do the same, and a Canadian official brings the stuff here in a diplomatic bag and we all get issued with them."

Morgana thought about it for a moment. "It does seem a sensible system. But... two levels of hidden data?"

"Yeah. The first one is low-security stuff, things that people like the police or people like airlines can read with a reader. The second one is a lot more secure, it's for stuff you need a special reader and security clearance for."

Helpful as he'd been, Morgana gave him a suspicious look. "And I suppose you guys haven't cracked the security?"

He made a face and a hand gesture. "Yeah, but it’s pretty good and we have to keep redoing the cracking. In any case, really serious info is only referenced on it, so they can look it up on a secure system. It's not perfect, but it's about as good as reasonably practical. In any case, all you have to do is go through what's on the card and the first encrypted section and verify it's OK. The US kids have to go through a full interview, they don’t premake the cards."

Thulia poked her a bit, making her move up the line.

"I don't see why you're complaining, I have to have a new one even though the old one is only a few weeks old."

"That, love, is because they hadn't done your power testing. All that is new or amended data on you to be added. At least yours come from the Canadian MCO, not the US one, which got severely spanked some years ago, but now they’re starting to push their luck again. There have been a few lawsuits over some of the hidden data when it has been cracked, and at least a few civil lawsuits. None, sadly, that have got very far."

For her part, Thulia didn't look enthused at the idea of the human authorities having yet more data about her and her abilities, but she supposed if it was a serious problem the Order would have told her. Of course they would have, right? Maybe she should ask them next time she went home, just in case.

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Wednesday 23rd November, Crystal Hall, early evening

Morgana saw the girl she wanted to talk to get up from the FSHA table and head off to bus her tray. Giving Thulia a small nod, she headed off to intercept Caro.

For her part, Caro only realised a dragongirl was heading for her as she placed her tray away. Given all the ‘fun’ of her previous experience with Morgana, she waited to see what the girl had to say.

“Hi Caro, do you have a few minutes?”

Caro nodded. “I’m not doing anything right now, what can I do for you?”

Morgana dithered a bit. “Well, actually, it’s what I can do for you.” Caro raised an eyebrow as the dragongirl continued. “It’s about the ring. I know you made a second blank but didn’t enchant it, and when I told the story to Thulia – and she stopped laughing – she told me that if you want she can probably explain what went wrong, and how you could make it properly the next time?”

Caro gave a glance at the M3 table where the other dragon in question was grinding her way through her second dessert. “Well, I have some time now if you want. I’m still not sure exactly what went wrong, but if she knows what she’s talking about – well, I would like the ring for my project and the combat finals, yes.”

Morgana grinned and waved over at Thulia to join them. “Thulia has her own lab space in the magic department, maybe best to talk there away from all the prying ears.”

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The three girls were on their way to the magic labs when Caro realised she hadn’t asked the obvious question. “Thulia, you’re only a freshman, How come you got an individual workroom so early? Usually, you have to be a junior to get one.”

Thulia gave her a sideways glance. “Well, just because I’m officially a frosh doesn’t mean all my magic is all at the level. And Grimes did mention something about a solo lab being simpler to fireproof.” Caro tried not to gulp too obviously at the casual implication of setting fire to one's work area. But then presumably she was as fireproof as her – sister? If that were the case, a single lab made a lot more sense.

Thulia had taken advantage of her solitary work area to add a couple of comfy seats, not usually part of the department's standard fitments, but judging by the small pile of magic tomes next to one, and the warnings on a couple of them, she clearly preferred to do her research in comfort. And judging by a title or two that Caro ‘accidentally’ saw, she was certainly not covering frosh material. She was surprised she'd got hold of a couple of them given the 'restricted' stamps on them. Curioser and curioser.

Caro sat as suggested, looking closer at the two girls. “Thulia, are you Morgana’s sister? You do look alike. Are you a dragon too?”

She immediately wondered what she’d said to cause such amusement on Morgana’s face. “No, Caro, we aren’t sisters. The physical resemblance is due to quite a different reason. And yes, Thulia is a dragon – at least, she’s more of a dragon than I am.”

Caro nodded. She clearly wasn't to get a better explanation right now, but that level of complication was rather normal for Whateley. She was still curious, but patient enough to work it out of them later.

Morgana had settled herself in rather close to her companion. “Caro, I gave Thulia a rundown of what happened, but maybe you could give her a full explanation? So we can work out how to make it work properly next time.

Caro shook her head. If truth be told, she'd rather hoped that the little misadventure with the ring could be left as a small footnote of incidents, and hopefully lost among the mass of incidents in the tunnels. She hadn't reached the point where she could look back and laugh at all the craziness that had ensued. So she went on to narrate the whole incident with the 'One Ring', from forging it to its final disposal. Now and then Thulia paused the narration to offer a follow-up question, the depth of her insight making it clear why she had her own workroom. Caro wondered to herself how a frosh had such obvious and extensive skills. Maybe she had her own spirit advising her? She hadn’t mentioned being an avatar, and Gemma had made no comment, but it would explain a lot.

By the time Caro had finally run out of input, the look on Thulia’s face was an equal mix of amusement and chastising. She gave Caro a final long look before she started on her comments.

"OK, let me summarise. You made the blank ring, and that all went fine. Then, with the aid of your assistant spirit, you laid out the enchantment spells on the ring, and from what you and Morgana told me it was precisely done. So far so good. Now the start of it going wrong was adding dragonblood to the item to infuse it with power. I’m not surprised it didn’t work as intended, you made a couple of errors at this point.”

Caro’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?” There was a touch of frost in her comment, she wasn’t aware of anything in particular that she’d done wrong, and part of her resented the implied criticism.

Thulia ignored Caro’s reaction as she carried on with her lecture.

“A couple of things. First, you weren’t using the blood of a full dragon. To use Morgana’s blood properly needed some adjustments made, which you didn't know about and in any case, probably don't know how to do anyway. The knowledge of how to do it isn’t that common on Earth. Second, you were being far too ambitious, to bind the power of a dragon with a few drops of blood and no additional source of power.”

This time it was Morgana looking rather confused. “A source of power? Isn’t my blood a source of power? I’ve been trying it in some of my inks, and it’s certainly improved the effect. Grimes did tell me it could be considered magical.”

Thulia wiggled her hand in a ‘maybe-yes-maybe-no’ gesture. “It’s a source of power, but not nearly enough for the effect Caro wanted. A power boost in something like an ink for one-off use, sure. But a permanent item needs a source of power, and your blood would only supply the start.” She held up her hand, showing one of the gold rings on her finger, the jewel set into glowing a dark red in the light against the finely inscribed gold. “The stone provides the essence the enchantment needs. I can recharge it myself, or it will slowly recharge itself with sufficient time, but there is only so much a small item like this can do. Of course, you can bind the power draw to the entity who supplied the blood, but that’s hardly a safe process.” She gave Caro a somewhat intimidating look. “And even if you knew how, I would be rather upset if it were even tried.” Caro gulped slightly at the air of casual menace Thulia projected without apparently trying. She was glad now she’d been honest with Morgana from the start.

Caro looked at the stone, glinting sanguine in the ceiling lights. Her grandmother used to have plenty of gems as part of her estate in the UK, but she didn’t remember having seen one quite like this before; it gleamed and almost glowed with magic. While the concept of using jewels of different types was familiar to her, she’d not made any yet – the cost wasn’t small, and she wasn’t exactly flush with cash. Mistakes with gems tended to destroy the gem. Digging into her purse, she pulled out the remaining gold ring blank.

“As you can see, I didn’t allow for a spell crystal in the design. Does that mean it won’t work without one? I intended for just an engraved spell set into the metal, and when I worked I hoped the metal would take in the power of the dragon's blood.

Thulia peered over and squinted as she gave the ring a long, careful look. “Not exactly. It won’t work as well without one, while gold is quite a good material for containing magic, there is only so much a small ring can hold. But it can still be made to work, it rather depends on what you want it to do."

Caro frowned down at the ring sitting innocently on the palm of her hand. “I was aiming for an emergency trinket, I’m not as tough as you two. A dragon’s blood just felt like a good enough material.”

“Well, the blood issue can be worked around. What you need to do is filter and purify the blood to extract the active parts of it you want for the spell. That should get rid of all those inconvenient side effects.” She stopped for a moment to glower at Morgana’s attack of hilarity at that point. The redhead gave an apologetic gesture. “Sorry, but in hindsight creating the one ring by accident is amusing.”

Thulia shook her head sternly. “When making magic items, amusing is NOT what we are aiming for. Now, I can help show you how to handle the purification, that’s not terribly hard. The other issue is what you want it to do – limiting it to some aspects of the dragon is far more likely to achieve the intended result. And even if it wasn’t an issue for me, trying to siphon off Morgana’s power wouldn't end well, for several reasons. So what parts of a dragon's power are most important to you?”

Caro thought about that carefully. If she was only going to be able to get part of what she’d hoped for from the ring, best keep it to what she thought was the most important.

"I'd like to get some fire resistance and as much extra strength and toughness as I can. Those would be most helpful to me."

Thulia nodded. “That seems reasonable. Fire resistance is straightforward. It won’t be to the level Morgana and I have, but it will certainly help you against getting burnt. Same for strength and toughness – we can work in what she can. Bear in mind that without an additional power source, the effects are limited, and the more power you pull into, say, toughness the faster it will run out of power. While it will recharge itself, it won’t be fast enough to help you in a fight.”

Her companion shrugged. “Hey, if it's just for a holdout, it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing. Especially since people won’t be expecting it, it's not as if you have other dragon powers. And being reasonably fireproof will help if you want to do more metalwork.”

Caro looked a bit disappointed, but then even a limited set of dragon abilities would be much better than none at all. “OK, so how do we go about this?”

"First we need to get the second ring engraved like the first, but before that, we have to purify it to get rid of the tainted blood. Morgana told me she gave you a sample? Then I'll purify that for you, and we can use it and go for a more limited set of powers. Simple really. Once it's engraved, we'll take it over to my workroom – I'd prefer to show you how to use the blood inside a circle – you don’t want outside influences again, I’m sure that’s the sort of thing that went wrong the first time.”

Caro didn’t comment about the ‘simple’ part, but the rest of the plan seemed logical enough.

“It’s kind of you to help.”

Thulia grinned. “It’s not that complex, and I’ll be interested in seeing the spells you put on the ring with human magic. And Morgana told me you agreed she could watch and learn?”

Caro nodded.

“OK, then we just have to fix a convenient time.”

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Wednesday 23rd November 2016, The Ambrosius Academy, UK

Dr. Fairfax gave a quick look around his study before his visitors arrived. It gave a very good impression of the working space of a busy and accomplished wizard – books, many old and leather bound, the faint smell of them tinting the air with age, a fair number of artefacts of various sorts, and an imposing oak desk for him to sit behind. Mainly all fake stuff, of course, intended to give the intended impression to a visitor and to put them into the right frame of mind for his sales pitch.

There was a buzz of the bell by the door, and his secretary looked in.

“Your 10 am, Doctor. Mr and Mrs Pierce and their son Malcolm.”

He stood up politely as the family was ushered in and sat down, before introducing himself as the headmaster, then gave the parents a long look before starting.

"Now, first of all, I want to explain what sort of schooling Malcolm will get here if we admit him. We are the oldest school of magic in England, and we have nearly 500 students at present. The majority of them are not wiz-class, and the curriculum is geared accordingly, with more of an emphasis towards theoretical studies. In addition to a comprehensive magical curriculum, we also offer the usual classes in subjects like English, Mathematics and a selection of the arts and sciences, so Malcolm will get a fully rounded education. Even if he decides not to become a mage after he graduates, he will have all the education he needs for a less magical career. After all, just being Wiz-class doesn’t necessarily mean he has a vocation for magic.”

“You mentioned that most of the students won’t be Wiz-class mutants? How will being one affect Malcom?”

Fairfax smiled at the father. "It should actually help him. Let me explain this simply. The normal issue for a mage is getting hold of enough essence to work with, which is why our magic curriculum emphasises the theoretical. Now pupils like Malcom have an advantage here, as their mutation allows them to garner essence much more easily than a non-wiz student. He will be able to do more practice at casting spells than normal, and we arrange things to make this possible.”

He smiled benignly at the parents. “Now there is one other advantage to the school itself. Mages can store essence for later use, by them or by someone else. We will expect Malcom to donate some essence each week, for the use of students not so generously endowed. By agreeing to this we can offer a substantive discount on the usual fees. There is also an advantage for him – when they start out, Wiz-type mutants usually cannot properly contain their essence, it often leaks out to cause unfortunate side effects. By giving up some of his essence every week, we can minimise or eliminate these. Donating essence will not harm him in any way, in fact by reducing any overflow it will be safer for him.”

The father at least was looking more interested, the suggestion of reduced fees was an attraction for parents of modest means, and the idea of it not being dangerous, in fact helping the boy, had brought a small smile to the face of his mother.

“And what about him being a mutant?”

Fairfax smiled. “Well, if he’s donating essence, that matter will hardly be a secret. However being an essence donor means the other students will see him as a valuable aid to them, and as Malcolm has no other mutant traits that we are aware of and no physical changes, his integration will be simple. The only unfortunate circumstance is that due to the law on mutants, we cannot allow him to take part in organised sports. While there can be certain issues over being a mutant, they tend to be far less of a problem here than in a state school”

“How soon do we have to make a decision?”

He smiled back at the mother. It sounded from her tone of voice that she had pretty much agreed to let Malcolm attend already.

“Not urgently. We’re heading up to Christmas, so it would be simplest to have him attend at the start of the Spring Term. I can provide you with all the necessary details, as well as what he will need to start, and letting us know by Jan 1st would work fine.”

Malcolm was still looking somewhat worried – not surprisingly, deciding on a new school like this was always an uncertain issue for a child.

"Talk it all over and go through our paperwork. We have a website where you can find additional information, and of course, the school administration is always available to ask further questions."

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Thursday 24th November, evening, Biancas and Morgana's room

“So, has Laura told you what you’ll be doing yet?”

Morgana shook her head at Thulia. “Not yet, it's supposed to be a family trip. Including shopping.” She shuddered at the thought of the reputation American Black Friday shopping had, but she could survive it! Really she could! Probably. Maybe she should double-check her shield spell just in case...

Thulia eyed her girlfriend. “You don’t sound particularly confident, and are you going equipped?”

Morgana sniffed. "Of course I'm confident!" her expression rather denied the statement, but she went on. "I'm taking a few things just in case. The belt buckle I made, I can easily pass that on if I have to, and I’ll take my new ice wand. It’s easy to conceal, and it’s less destructive than my fire. I’m not so much worried about myself as the others. Even Laura is pretty squishy, and her mother and sister are worse.”

Thulia’s expression was still a trifle dubious as she nodded. “I wish Grimes would let me outfit you properly, but I understand her reasoning, even if I don’t like it.”

“You’ll be OK visiting home?”

“Oh yes, it should be straightforward. Ms. Grimes is letting me use a school portal, so I can go and see the Order, I have to give them some details of my first few weeks here. Then I have to do some shopping of my own, I need some things I wasn’t sure about needing before, and if I get time I’ll visit my family. I’ll be back on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how long everything takes.”

Morgana grinned. “I’m still waiting for my invite to see the Plane of Fire in person, you know!”

Thulia distracted her with a kiss on the cheek. “So anxious to meet my family already?”

"Err, well, visit, yes, meet the family – I need to prepare myself a bit, after all, what if they don't approve of me?"

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Monday 28th November, late afternoon. One of the rooftops over the Campus

Thulia paused from her careful wiping of one of the gargoyles as a purplish glow floated up the side of the building towards her, reflexively holding her hand ready for a spell, just in case. Then relaxed, it was Tanya, who settled to the roof with the easy assurance of someone with a PK field. She stretched her back a little to relieve the muscles, then smiled.

“Hi Tanya, come to see the statues?”

Tanya smiled back. “Not really, but it seemed a bit mean, you having to be up here all alone cleaning, and since the Imp forbade Morgana to visit you, but didn’t forbid anyone else, she asked if I'd be willing to check up on you. You DO look like you could use the company."

That gave Thulia a moment to think. While her leman had told her about Tanya, she hadn't interacted with her much yet. Her main impression was of a quiet helpful girl who ate huge amounts of food. Where the slender girl put it all she had no idea!

“That’s kind of you. You didn’t have to. It does get a bit boring up here, I suppose that’s one of the reasons The Imp gave me this detention.”

Tanya giggled. “And of course, nothing to do with you making the gargoyles nice and clean so she can sit on one and do her brooding Batman impersonation?”

Thulia blinked. “Sit on it? And what’s a Batman?”

That got her an eye roll from the purple girl. “Oh boy. Let me explain...”

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“So this character sits on a gargoyle on top of a high building and just broods?

Tanya nodded. “Well, he does other stuff as well. Haven’t you seen the movies?”

“Not yet. There’s so much culture to get through... I’ll have to ask Morgana to show me some of them.” Her voice trailed away rather wistfully.

Tanya gave the dragongirl a questioning look. “You really miss her right now, don’t you?”

The only response was a nod and a very soulful sigh. Tanya had worked out a while ago, from the way Morgana had talked about Thulia and the way they'd acted since she joined Whateley, that the two were close, but she hadn't actually taken in just how close they seemed to be.

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Monday 28th November, evening, Crystal Hall.

“So, how’s the detention going?”

Thulia gave a very human sigh before answering Laura. “It’s not terrible, it’s just a bit boring and I keep thinking of all the more useful things I could be doing with my time.” Her wistful glance over at Morgana led to wide grins from the rest of the group, who were all pretty sure what ‘useful things’ involved.

“So, just a load of boring, dirty gargoyles? Nothing interesting or magical? No statues of giant bats? No students brooding menacingly over the campus?”

“Sorry, Erica, none of the ones I’ve been ordered to clean are magical. Just rock. Mind...” she dug in her bag and pulled out a small plastic card “I did find a few weird things on the rooftop, like this, remember Tanya?”

She passed the card over to Erica, who looked at it, turned to look at the back, shrugged and put it down. “Makes no sense. What’s the point of leaving a card written in code or some sort of weird language hidden on a rooftop no one uses anyway?"

Thulia shrugged. “How would I know? At any rate, it isn’t magical.”

Tanya piped up. "It made no sense to me either, but it's a bit well-preserved to just be a random something.

Laura grabbed the card and passed it over to Bianca, who’d been eating quietly and ignoring the byplay. “Here, surely you can read it?”

Looking slightly put-upon as she was forced to leave her dessert for a moment, the pale girl examined the plastic.

“Interesting. It seems to be coordinates and directions for a point in the tunnels. Oh, and what looks like the code for a door lock. Why would something like that be encoded and left put on the roof?”

She looked around at the group, most of whom just shrugged, But Laura took another slightly puzzled look. "Can you write it down for us? I might be able to recognise it."

Bianca shrugged, and did as the blue girl asked, before returning to the far more important matter of her dessert.

“So, do you recognise it?”

Laura looked like someone who was trying to recognise something, but failing. She pushed the paper over to Morgana, but the other frequent tunnel visitor looked equally clueless.

“No real idea Laura, I don’t know of anything in that section. We could always go and take a look?”

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Fortunately, Laura at least was reasonably au fait with the tunnel layout, just as well as the other tunnel visitor, Morgana, claimed that with the lack of vending machines, she had no idea where they were. Finally, the blue girl stopped in front of a quite nondescript door with a keypad. Nothing unusual compared to the usual doors around the tunnels. She fumbled with the card, typing in what she assumed was a passcode written on it.

For a moment nothing happened, and Laura’s face started to fall in disappointment as it seemed the data on the card was not what they’d hoped. Then there was a quiet grinding noise as the door slid to one side, letting out a puff of very stale air as it revealed quite a large room space inside. Laura was going to take the sensible approach of examining the room before stepping in, an approach which was rendered useless by some of her friends pushing in to see and forcing her in regardless. Luckily nothing happened – no alarms, no death rays, no mutant tribbles. Just some rather dim lighting that seemed to have come on as soon as they entered. All rather anticlimactic really.

“Wow, it's pretty big! Are all the secret rooms down here like this, Laura?”

Laura sighed at Erica's words. It could have been worse, she'd half expected something along the lines of 'Cool, it's bigger on the inside.”

“They vary a lot, actually. But this one is pretty big.”

Vic had been checking out some of the furnishings – not many, some had clearly been removed leaving some marks on the floor as well as some old fittings."

"It doesn't look much like an evil tech lair. Is that a dishwasher? Do evil lairs have dishwashers? Where are all the death rays?

Laura gave Erica a look.

“Apart from this. That worries me a bit, I’ve never seen anything like it before. What do the words say, Bianca?”

Bianca bent down to get a better look at the writing. Her lips moved without speaking, then she stood upright. “I don’t know, I can’t read it.” She looked at the two dragongirls. “Magic?”

The two girls looked at each other before Morgana made a 'go ahead' gesture to Thulia. She examined the block closely for a couple of minutes, before moving her left hand in graceful movements and circle almost as if she was writing something in the air. There was a faint red glow that even the non-mages could see for a moment, then she shook her head with a sigh. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be inherently magical. And it’s not doing anything magical either.”

“Maybe it’s just ornamental and the symbols just look like they should be writing?”

Morgana traced a claw tip carefully along the block. “I dunno, Cally, it seems a rather odd thing to just leave sitting here. Maybe it’s some sort of funky coffee table?”

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A little while and some closer examination of the room and some smaller areas leading off it led to a few conclusions. Judging by what remained, and some extrapolation of what had been there before, it was some sort of meeting room. Nothing about it indicated ‘mad-science lab’, and it seemed too big to be one of the little ‘private’ rooms, Laura had heard about.

“So who owns it?”

Every eye turned to Laura at Vic’s words. She looked around at them all and gave an expressive shrug. “I have no idea, it’s obviously disused. Maybe we should report it.”

Erica mulled that over for a moment. “Hang on – isn’t it finders keepers down here in the tunnels?”

"Well, yes and no. If you have a secret room, if it's found then security will lock it, destroy it or take it over. If it's an official space then it has to be registered with them, but at least then no one else can take it over."

The rest of the group looked at Bianca, who they hadn’t expected to be an expert on these matters.

“Does that mean we can, well, take it over ourselves?”

Laura paid close attention to the notes scrolling down her pad. “Maybe. If it’s not claimed, and it isn’t a space that security wants to use, it's possible to register it." She scrolled down a bit more. “You need to go and make a claim at security, either as an individual or as a group.”

Morgana was still regarding the mysterious block curiously. “As a group. We’re a registered group, could we claim it?”

“It says in the notes we can. They’d set us up with a lock and so on, if we do it together we can claim it as ours. That would be cool.”

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Tuesday 29th November, Thulia and Nefertiti’s room, Dickinson

Thulia sighed internally as she saw the ugly expression on her roommate's face. She still wasn't that familiar with humans, but the look of disgust, bordering on hatred, was apparent even to her. There was going to be another rant, she just knew it. She hated rants, after her experiences with her family she was still sensitive in that particular emotional area, and not having done anything to deserve it wasn't helping her emotional state one little bit.

“Bloody Cally!”

Thulia wasn't sure if a reply was expected, but still. If she said nothing she was sure the girl would just carry on anyway. Might as well get it over with.

“What happened?”

“The boy-girl brushed up against me in the showers! I’m sure it was deliberate, she almost rubbed herself against me!”

Thulia didn't understand. The showers weren't exactly spacious, and the occasional bump well, just happened. She'd seen Cally in the showers – rather than aggressively push herself against people she had, if anything, been shy about the whole experience, almost trying to shrink away and avoid contact.

“Really? It wasn’t just you imagining it?”

Nefertiti shook her head violently as she scowled even more deeply at Thulia, making her wonder what she’d done wrong this time.

"No, it wasn't!" Her look took on an ugly aspect. "And stop trying to defend the sexual pervert."

Thulia was starting to get annoyed now. She’d been in a somewhat fragile emotional state after the events in Phoenix, even if she’d been trying to hide that, and being accused of – what, exactly? She wasn’t even quite sure what sexual perversions were involved here, though a part of her was rather interested in more details – for reasons of Science, obviously. However, asking Nefertiti about them didn't seem like a good idea right now.

“Look, I’m just trying to say...”

All that got was Nefertiti getting right up in her face and screaming at her so hard little flecks of spittle impacted her cheek. Her temper was hardly at its best right now, and she was getting more than a little tired of Nefertiti shouting at her whenever she was upset. This annoying detention was taking time away from Morgana, which was making her resentful, as much as she was trying not to show it. So she put an arm up, intending to push her away. Instead, the girl hit her. Not that it would have had any real effect, she wasn't exactly fragile, but in the state she was in she really didn't try her hardest to restrain her automatic reaction, of flaring her aura in response.

She’d forgotten the unfortunate lack of fireproofing that affected most humans, as a flare of fire bloomed from where the girl's arms touched, followed by a scream of pain as Nefertiti lurched backwards, batting at the small flames running along her sleeve to put them out.

“You burned me”

Thulia was torn between being upset she’d hurt her, and a guilty feeling of revenge for the bad feelings she’d been subjected to over the last week.

“I didn’t mean to...”

The girl was backing away as she made for the door, eyes wide in shock. “You’re a monster! You should be in Hawthorne where you belong!” With that, she escaped through the door, pausing just long enough to slam it shut after her.

Thulia blinked. OK, she shouldn’t have burned her, but that reaction seemed a bit excessive. She sighed. She wasn’t a monster, did accidentally burning someone make her one? And she’d heard all sorts of things about Hawthorne, she didn’t know what to believe. She sat down trying to get her thoughts together, before a knock on the door announced the arrival of Mrs. Selkirk.

“Thulia, we need to have a talk.”

Oh crap.

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Doyle Medical Centre, administration area, early evening.

“So what are we going to do?”

Mrs Selkirk shrugged. "For tonight, we're keeping Nefertiti in Doyle on the pretence of her burnt arm. At least that gives me until tomorrow to come up with something a bit longer-term. Luckily she wasn't badly burned, but it gives us a good excuse for keeping the two girls apart tonight."

Dr. Betty Markham looked at the housemother and sighed. “Nefertiti’s burn is difficult enough – despite her screaming about monsters, Hawthorne and ladyboys, none of which actually made much sense – we can probably deal with that by moving her, although it might be simpler to move Thulia.

“We are a bit tight on space for freshmen right now, but I could move someone around. How about if I switch her with Mouse, at least for a few weeks? That would leave Thulia with a PK brick, so if we did have another accident she’d likely be OK.”

The doctor gave it some thought. "As long as you're happy with it, it should work, at least as a short-term solution. I do hope we don't get a repetition of the incident, though, if we did we'd have to move the girl into Hawthorne, and that would bring its own issues."

“I wasn’t thinking of it being a permanent solution, moving girls around is always a problem, but a few weeks would give me time to sort something out before the end of term. I’m not exactly happy about it, but we need a fix now, it’s going to be bad enough with the two girls seeing each other around the cottage. I do have a few ideas, but I need to work on them.”

“You can give Mouse the wonderful news she needs to pack, then.”

 

To Be Continued
Read 2126 times Last modified on Monday, 08 January 2024 20:55
Astrodragon

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

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ReadingIsGood
1 month ago
Okay, so this Malcom kid is introduced, and the Headmaster of the school seems eager to get him enrolled. I have to wonder just what sort of binding contract might be hidden in the enrollment paperwork.

"We will expect Malcom to donate some essence each week." I suspect that these "donations" will not be strictly voluntary, and there was no mention of just how much 'some' is, or how long they will continue. Do they end with him leaving the school, or will he be forced to continue after his supposed "graduation"?
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Astrodragon
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Astrodragon
1 month ago
Quoting ReadingIsGood:
Okay, so this Malcom kid is introduced, and the Headmaster of the school seems eager to get him enrolled. I have to wonder just what sort of binding contract might be hidden in the enrollment paperwork.

"We will expect Malcom to donate some essence each week." I suspect that these "donations" will not be strictly voluntary, and there was no mention of just how much 'some' is, or how long they will continue. Do they end with him leaving the school, or will he be forced to continue after his supposed "graduation"?


I'm afraid you'll have to wait and see on Malcom, but you WILL see more of him
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1 month ago
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