Tuesday, 30 January 2024 01:00

A Tail of Two Dragons (Part 2)

Written by
Rate this item
(12 votes)

A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

A Tail of Two Dragons

(with combat finals)

by

Astrodragon

 

Part Two

 

Sun 4th December, 10 a.m., Morgana’s shared magic workroom.

Thulia and Noelle sat perched comfortably on the workroom counter as they watched Morgana with interest as she finished inscribing a protective circle before turning her combat outfit inside out and laying it down inside.

“So what are you going with?”

Morgana paused to show Thulia her pad, which scrolled through a few spell diagrams. “Mainly a protection field. Geared a bit towards magic and psi since I have Lauras PFG to boost my protection against physical stuff.”

“Just a protection spell?”

Morgana shook her head at her lemans rather disappointed look as she arranged the costume so she could draw a spell diagram on the inside of the back. “I’m adding a parachute spell to my kit, just in case, and one Grimes suggested – it goes under the mask and helps to make you unrecognisable to any recording devices.”

“That’s not a lot.”

Morgana shrugged as she fiddled with the suit to get the wrinkles out of the suit to get the back flat enough to inscribe her spellwork on. “It’s only a first draft costume. And I know you have better ones, love, and you know why Grimes insisted I do these myself. “For my next attempt I’ll get your advice first, and make sure I learn the necessary spells while I’m building the costume, but this is just to see how it all works, after all its only for Combat Finals, not serious fighting. I don’t exactly have a lot of costume making experience, I didn’t want to go mad on something that might have turned out a disaster.”

Thulia nodded, holding up a small silver disk. “When it’s all ready, I did this to stop your own fire affecting it. Leave it till the end, though, otherwise it might interfere with your spells.”

Morgana’s face brightened. “Thanks, that will be cool. Setting my own protection on fire would be a bit embarrassing!”

Noelle peered over at the costume. “Couldn’t you just have bought a costume? I mean, if you weren’t sure how it would turn out...”

Morgana gave a final tweak to the layout, arranging the utility belt she’d bought next to it. before looking up. “Well, yea, I guess I could have. But a good one isn’t cheap, and ones with built in device or spells can get very costly. Actually, making a costume myself on Saturdays was a nice change from all my classes, and I learned a lot about how to make a costume to show the effect you want it to have on people. Why, were you considering getting one?”

Noelle hummed and hawed a bit. “Not sure. I’m still not at all sure I’ll need something like that, and I’m not a close range combatant like you two, so in any case it would be different.”

“Maybe something more like Bianca’s trenchcoat? They do a new course in Costuming in the summer. I think I’ll be going again, with the results from this outfit I can build a proper set of gear, with better materials. Now I know what to plan for. Mind, I might go for a robe, when I know more magic. But an outfit like this doesn’t scream mage to anyone with nasty intentions.”

Noelle sat back, obviously thinking about it, while Morgana laid out the guides on the cloth for her to draw her spell diagram and grabbed the gold-ink pen. “OK, please be quiet for a few minutes, I need to get this accurate.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

“OK, now you’re all done, let’s see how it looks on you.”

Morgana grinned at Noelle, as she first stripped off her clothing down to her panties, then slithered her way into the close-fitting combat suit. She finally tugged the mask down over her head, before posing facing her two friends with a ‘ta-dah!’ look. Noelle clapped her hands, but Thulia was giving the outfit a much more investigative look.

“You’re bigger.”

Morgana looked down at her bust, then poked her tongue out at her girlfriend. “Mrs. Ryan was very insistent on us putting padding in certain sensitive or embarrassing places! In any case, even with the boob padding I’m barely a C-cup. At least it doesn’t pad out my butt.”

Thulia nodded, then looked at the black utility belt Morgana had fastened around her waist. “And that is for?”

“All the things this costume doesn’t have pockets for. Cherry’s toys, phone, athame, snacks. Important stuff.”

“The colour scheme does look good on you.”

Morgana gave a grin and a twirl at Noelle’s comments, showing off the royal blue suit with some black and dark red highlights as the lighting glinted off the hexagonal pattern of the material. “Thanks. Mrs. Ryan gave me a few tips, they made it look a lot sharper. She really knows her stuff!”

“It won’t restrict your movement?”

Morgana did a quick couple of katas, which seemed to involve her bending and stretching into implausible positions, to check her flexibility. “Nope. Mind, I will have to come up with some way of getting my wings out in the second version, once you’ve shown me how to manifest them. For now, well, until I can fly reasonably well it’s a problem that can wait. Until then, I do have the parachute spell.”

Thulia was still looking thoughtful. “It’s interesting, it might do a lot better against Earth threats than mine, which is mainly aimed at magical threats. And sorting out the wings and tail is achievable, it will just take a little work and thinking through the problem. I’ll have to give it some thought after I see how people do in these combat finals. I was considering a robe, but it will be interesting to see how these tight outfits work in practice.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Monday 5th December, evening, Crystal Hall

Thulia, snuggled up to her partner, seeming a lot happier now she wouldn’t have to spend her time polishing gargoyles.

“So we now have splendid, polished and clean gargoyles?”

Thulia nodded. “Well, a lot of them, anyway. While I understand the effort was for my detention, I was slightly puzzled when I finished.”

“Oh?”

“The Imp was crouching on one muttering something about ‘beware she who hides in the darkness.”

She looked around in some puzzlement at the amused responses from the rest of the group. “I’m not getting another human thing, am I?

 

linebreak shadow

 

Vic paused in finishing his dessert as he looked thoughtful.

“So, how is the room we found coming along?”

Bianca (who seemed somehow to have gotten lumbered with the job due to Laura’s frequent absences) looked down at her pad. “If we aren’t in a hurry it’s actually pretty simple.”

Erica smirked. “Define pretty simple.”

Bianca sighed. “Ok, we’ve done the registration, that’s going through the system and will be done in a few days. Security will check the lock, and set a new passcode for us. We can keep that or set a new one. Now if we don’t want to do all the work ourselves, we can arrange to have it done. Once we are the recorded occupants we can book services to come and give it a deep-clean – we certainly need one, and I’m not doing it! – then they will take away any of the broken appliances, clean and check any that are OK. It takes a couple of weeks for them to fit it into their schedule, so likely before the end of term. Then we have to get new stuff we need, and again they will bring it, fit it and sort out things like power and water. Unless we are in a rush, it will be all ready and squeaky-clean for us at the start of next term.” The pale girl looked around for comments.

Vic looked thoughtful. “We are all very busy these next weeks, with finals and all. Seems a good idea to get it all done for us, and we can start using it when we get back. How much is it going to cost?”

“Depends a bit on how much new stuff we need, but we don’t have to buy it all at once if we don’t want to. Says here about $3,500 – lets say $4,000 just in case. So it’s around $400 each.”

Morgana nodded. “It’s not that cheap, but it will give us a lair for the next 3 years. I’m up for it.” One or two of the others looked a bit leery of the cost, but no-one objected out loud.

Biana gave a medium level glare at her roomie. “It’s not a lair, it’s a meeting room.”

“Of course it is.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Monday 12th December, Whateley Arena

There were a considerable number of students packed into the area outside the arena to watch the combat finals. The frosh hadn’t seen a final before, and a lot of them were hoping they wouldn’t be first called, so they could see what they were in for. Someone was going to be unlucky, they just hoped it wouldn’t be them. However, one of the advantages of being in a team that came with its own Mafia Princess included was the way the group had got themselves a good place to view the finals from, without being crowded out by older students. It had been quite amusing to see some people find odd excuses for why they had to be somewhere – anywhere – else to watch the finals. Given that none of M3 had actually taken part in a final, that was pretty important to them. Having got used to it by now, most of the team just settled comfortably into the seats and arranged their snacks.

 

linebreak shadow

 

The group, and especially Morgana, looked up at the screen where a pair of MIDs were currently displayed.

The first MID to hit the arena's overhead displays bore a UK-passport blue surround, with a UK Crown and Unicorn image:

 

Code name: Dragonsfyre

Ratings: Ex-3, Wiz-2, EN-4

Techniques: Magic, Fire, Hitting things

Weak vs.: Knights, lack of coffee

Backup/Team affiliation: M3, Commonwealth, Classified

 

The second MID was much more typical for Whateley, this time with a US-eagle-style overlay.

 

Code Name: Esquire

Ratings: Tk-5, Ferrokinetic

Techniques: Manipulating metals, subtle strategy

Weak vs: Non-magnetic materials

Backup/Team affiliation: Bad Seeds, Parents

 

“I’m surprised they put so much on yours, even with the classified bits.”

Morgana shrugged at her roommate as she stood and started to give a final check to her gear before heading down. “Don’t see it’s that useful, really. I have to declare my magic, anyway, and now I have a lot better control over the fire. Still waiting on running into a knight, mind. But I figured some irrelevant or rather misleading stuff would stop them digging for stuff I really don’t want to be plastered all over my MID.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Bianca gave Morgana a good luck hug before she walked down, whispering some final advice in her ear.

“Don’t trust him, he has a vendetta going against me and as my roomie that will probably include you. Expect him to stab you in the back at some point.”

“I’ll be ready for that. I hope. And he won’t know about all of my holdouts. After all, I’m just a sweet innocent frosh, right?”

She ignored the stern look Bianca gave her as she walked down, putting her gloves on and slipping a spell-slip into each wrist.

“She will be OK, won’t she?”

Erica patted Thulia’s hand at the dragongirls rather plaintive question. “Of course she will, these are just a better quality BMA match with added scenery, not a cage fight.”

“Oh. What’s a cage fight?”

 

linebreak shadow

 

The staffer giving the required lecture tried not to look too bored as she gave it yet again. “Now, there are some rules you need to follow – Dragonsfyre, please take careful note as this is your first combat final. The scenario is one to retrieve a package and deliver it to a specific address. It’s small enough to carry. Please note you have the option of cooperating to get and return the package, or to proceed independently. One thing that’s important is that the package is heat sensitive, so too much heat will destroy the contents”. She made a specific point of looking at Morgana as she mentioned this, and the girl frowned slightly. Pretty obvious that was to make sure she didn’t try melting the scenario in order to win. Didn’t they have fire insurance?

“Now, you have 20 minutes” – she passed both of them an address card – “Go here first, they will send you on your way. Points for success will be assigned if you deliver the package, to both of you if you do it together, or separately if you’re on your own. Other points will be added or subtracted for various actions during the test. If you do decide to attack each other, don’t maim or kill. That’s an automatic fail for you. The ANTS are expendable. But attacking an innocent bystander usually results in a deduction of points.”

Morgana heroically refrained from a cynical look – why not just say the one who backstabs first wins and be honest about it? Instead, she tried to look as innocently gullible as possible, just in case Gideon fell for it.

“Now, are you planning on doing this together or separately?”

Esquire gave her a calculating look, followed by an innocent smile Morgana didn’t believe for a moment. “I think we’ll do best together, Dragonsfyre?”

She nodded, still preserving her best innocent young girl face. “Yeah, a much better chance if we work together. Cooperation sounds good to me.”

She pulled her face mask up from behind her neck, pushing her hair braid to one side to slip it on as Esquire fastened a small domino-style mask over his eyes. She did notice him eyeing her braid as it fell down her back and smiled to herself. The domino made him look particularly daft, but she wasn’t going to comment. Out loud at least. Looking down at the casual clothing she wore over her costume, she gave the instructor a questioning look. “Don’t these masks rather make any sort of disguise pointless?”

The woman shook her head. “No, as they are mandatory, the system software doesn’t register them, if the rest of you looks normal the ANTS will treat you as such. If you decide to wander around in a supersuit, some of them will take notice, or maybe run away. Now, if you’re both ready, we’ll insert you into the scenario.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

The kibitzers in M3 looked up from their phones as a horn sounded and the two came out of a door onto what looked like a pretty normal US street, both of them looking around as they tried to orient themselves. “Looks like they’re paired up for now?”

Bianca nodded to Erica. “For now, I bet he has a betrayal planned, that’s the way he thinks.” Then she looked over at Thulia, who was looking tense. “Remember, what happens in the combat finals stays in them. You can’t take any action against him for what he does.” The dragongirls face fell a bit, and she gave a reluctant nod. “I suppose so, it is only a school exam, after all.”

On the screen, the pair had looked at a small card each of them had been given, looked at each other, and then headed off together.

Erica grinned. “And they are off! Come on Morgana, I have money on you...”

Tanya gave her friend a slightly disapproving look. “You bet on your friend?”

Erica laughed! “Damn right I did, $100. How about you, Bianca, I saw you looking at the bookie's odds.

Bianca couldn’t actually blush, but she managed to give the appearance of doing so as her skin remained paper-white. “um. $250.” There were a few raised eyebrows from the others, as she shrugged. “Hey, she’s my roomie and lab partner, I’ve seen what she’s been preparing. I know the sort of things he can do.“ She refrained from saying she’d fought and beaten him once already this term, and she’d seen no sign of the ‘subtle strategy’ on his MID. “I think he’s in for a shock, expecting her to be a gullible frosh. Besides, I don’t like him.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Morgana looked at the card in her hand, then quickly tapped at her phone, currently displaying what looked somewhat like Google Maps, but which had been taken over by the area software to show the local ‘city’, before pointing in what she felt was the right direction. “That way?”

Esquire had been doing the same, and he nodded. “Looks like it. Come on.” He briskly started to walk in what they both hoped was the correct direction, Morgana having to stretch her legs a little to keep up with the taller boy. It looked to her like he was already trying to establish his dominance in the party. For now, she’d let him carry on and assume he was doing that. Anything that was more likely to make him overconfident was a good thing for her. And being in front of her made it just that bit more difficult to stab her in the back. Even so, her magic forcefield was up and running, just in case.

The two kept up a fast pace – they needed the directions to the package, and didn’t have much time to waste – until they reached their first target, what looked like a fairly disreputable pawn shop. After a quick glance at each other, Gideon shrugged and pushed open the door. The room was dirty, and dusty, with a rack of presumably pawned items around the walls, and an equally disreputable man looked up at them from behind the counter.

“OK, you’re here to get the package?”

At the nods from the pair he handed them each what looked at first like a pawn ticket, but had directions and a set of GPS coordinates.

“Here you go, one each, just in case.” He didn’t actually say in case of what, but Morgana had her suspicions.

“Go there, grab the package, and bring it back here. It’s in a building owned by the Outfit, so you may encounter opposition.” He waved his hands at them in a shooing motion.” Off you go.”

Esquire hesitated before the pair left the shop. “What does the package look like?”

Not a bad question, thought Morgana, then had to suppress a groan as the man showed them a photo of a statue of a black bird about a foot tall. Oh well, it should be easy to carry. And unmistakeable. And clichéd.

Looking at her phone map, the building seemed to be about half a mile away. She wondered how they managed that, the Arena wasn’t big enough to hold all this space. She’d have to ask Laura. Still, better make a move. She nodded to Gideon and headed out into the street again. Never a taxi around when you need one, guess they’d have to walk.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Despite the fact that both of them were wearing masks over their street clothing, none of the ‘people’ walking around seemed to take any notice, although she did get a few appreciative whistles as she went past. Great. Not only did she get unwanted attention from guys she wasn’t interested in, but now she was getting it from a horde of robots. She had to wonder about the social lives of some of the techies who programmed these things. The building they were heading for loomed in front of them, and Gideon held out his hand to stop her.

“Wait a moment, if it’s an Outfit base they probably have spotters out. Let’s take a quick look.”

Morgana tried to take a look around while supposedly looking at the traffic. It wasn’t easy, looking around while trying to appear not to do so, and when Esquire nudged her and showed her where to look, she was grateful. Seemed like being a Bad Seed was useful for some things. He probably did this sort of thing while out shopping for a load of bread. The pair waited, then walked across the road trying to look like they were just casual passersby. There was a man watching them from a doorway, his attention uncomfortably sharp on them.

“Can you take him out quietly?”

Morgana nodded. “If you give me a minute, yes.” She moved behind Esquire to cover what she was doing as her fingers weaved a spell into the air. Done, she moved him aside and put essence into it. Quite casually, without any fuss, the watcher closed his eyes and slumped to the floor, snoring.

“Sleep spell?”

“Yes, it should take some serious action to wake him.”

“OK, then let’s make our way in, Directions say the bird is up high, so probably the top floor.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Judging by the flights of stairs they’d walked up, they were about halfway up the building before they ran into anyone they’d need to deal with. They’d heard sounds of people moving behind the access doors, presumably doing office-like things. But this was a couple of men with suspicious bulges under their jackets. At least, Morgana assumed they were suspicious, going by TV shows. Esquire stopped just before they’d be in clear sight, and looked at her. She nodded, pausing to make some twisty gestures with her fingers again, then held the spell ready, nodding to Esquire. Who took what looked like a small ball bearing out of his jacket pocket, and tossed it into the air where it hung for a moment, before hurling itself at the head of the first man. It impacted with a nasty crunch, and he started to fall to the floor. His companion started and then reached under his coat. Before he could do more she released her spell, and he smashed to the ground under a good 10g of gravity. Enough to make his head hit the ground and leave him unable to do anything. He was making attempts to get up when they walked up, and Esquire gave him an accurate kick in the head, after which he slumped unconscious. The two looked at each other, nodded, and kept climbing.

 

linebreak shadow

 

The two students looked at the rather fancy mahogany door, as Esquire shrugged, then made a ‘wait’ gesture to the girl. She signed back, nodded and stepped to one side, as he made a few gestures at the lock. There was a clicking noise as he smiled, and he smiled even wider as he casually opened the door. Metal manipulation, she guessed. Three men turned to look at them as they two walked through the doorway... Two classic goons, ni ce suits but both in the act of drawing guns. The third man was quite different. Not so tall, but very wide, in a much more expensive white suit. It would have looked sharp on him if it hadn’t made him look like a dressed-up gorilla. Sitting there in front of him on the desk was the McGuffin they’d been sent to fetch, as he slowly stood up, glaring at the pair of them.

“And just what do you think you’re doing? Who are you two?”

She was trying to think of one of those appropriately witty comments people always seemed to have on the tip of their tongue in the movies, when Esquire rather short-circuited any explanations. He waited till the goons had drawn their guns, then moved his hands, his TK grabbing the pair of guns and ramming them hard against the side of the men's heads. Hard. Neither had a chance to react, or even make a sound, as they crumpled to the floor, blood pooling on the carpet around the head of one of them.

She glanced around the room as the men collapsed, Looking for backup or any obvious weapons. Nothing. So, either they were hard to see, or the Boss was tough. She very much doubted that the staff would have given them such an easy takedown, and the look of the boss just screamed ‘brick’ at her.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Still, all they had to do was grab the statue and escape, nothing in their briefing indicated they had to fight the boss. Their positions as they entered had left her closer to him, so she stepped forward and gave him her best Aikido kick to the belly. Which didn’t have much effect other than to make him stagger back, it didn’t seem to have hurt him at all. While she was doing that, Esquire had made a grab for the statue. Tucking it into his jacket, he grinned, spinning as he exited the door, leaving the girl facing a now thoroughly annoyed boss. Maybe she should have gone for a more powerful attack, but entering on top of him as it were hadn’t left her any time, and Esquire had done a runner, so he was now useless as a distraction. What she needed was a small amount of time, so she slithered backwards as she tossed one of Cherries' little toys, a blinding flash and a loud bang, distracting him while she moved away. Given how he’d taken her blow, she didn’t think grappling with him was a sensible idea.

 

linebreak shadow

 

She glanced at the now-closed door for a moment and sighed. Well, as expected, he’d betrayed her. Now it was on her to do something to remedy the situation, before he scampered back to the pawnshop with the statue. The two goons were still flat on the floor as the boss moved around the table, hands open and a nasty expression on his face, eyes blinking as he recovered from the flash. She didn’t know for certain if he was a brick, but everything he’d done certainly gave the impression of being one. She heard the faint sound of an alarm through the door. Whether her flashbang had done that, or the boss had pressed some sort of secret button, she didn’t know and it didn’t really matter.

She didn’t have time to fight him, even if she could beat him – and that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. She assumed he’d been set up as able to take both of them out – and running wasn’t a good idea, that had been a very final ‘now I’m locking myself’ clunk when Esquire had shut the door after himself. It wouldn’t take him that long to scamper back to the pawnshop, so she’d better do something decisive and fast. So she moved around the office, turning to keep the desk between them as she looked around for something that would help her. It was a nice office, but remarkably underequipped with convenient plot devices for dealing with him. And she could already hear the pounding of feet on the stairs, presumably some more of his men coming to help after hearing the alarm.

But then she grinned. They had the McGuffin – or at least Esquire did – and he wasn’t here. So she could use her fire safely. Of course, knowing her luck the boss was either fireproof or had a forcefield on, but then she didn’t actually have to beat him, she just had to escape. She gave the door a quick look – it didn’t look armoured - but then she’d run into his men, with him close behind her. That didn’t seem like a good escape route while the two in the office had only seemed to have had guns, no reason why the outside crew didn’t have more dangerous equipment. The locking of the door behind Esquire would work in her favour here. But the windows... the large windows that gave a good view of the city were sealed, and now the door was shut...

She smiled and her aura blossomed with fire, heating the room as fast as she could. And the air, which enthusiastically obeyed Boyles law, As she heated it fast, the air expanded equally as fast, and while it wasn’t quite an explosion there was a whoomph as it blew the boss back against the wall, blew the desk over and did what she’d been hoping for – blew out the ornamental windows with the pressure pulse. It doesn’t take too much to blow out a window. Even as the boss struggled to his feet with murder in his robotic eyes, she ran to the gaping hole where the window had been and, before she could tell herself this wasn’t a good idea, hurled herself out of it.

She fell the first 50 feet thinking about how useful a working pair of wings would be around now, but then this situation was why she’d prepared a parachute spell. All these tall buildings in a city were no doubt an irresistible urge to the scene creators to push you off of one. The spell slip was ready inside the wrist of her glove, and it only took a pulse of essence to activate it. Her falling slowed considerably and she started to drift down – still quite quickly, but much more safely. Peering down, she saw the ground closing fast, and couldn’t resist it.

Landing on one foot and kneeling, in the classic superhero landing pose. Impractical as hell, but you had to preserve appearances. Now to find that backstabbing s.o.b and demonstrate what a bad move that had been. She’d have been perfectly happy to share the success, but nooo, he had to be an ass.

 

linebreak shadow

 

“Did she just make a soft landing into a superhero landing pose?”

Staff Sergeant Wilson grinned. “She did indeed. She didn’t make the obligatory crater, though, so only half points for it. Nice try though.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Morgana barely paused as she closed fast on Gideon. He’d obviously already spotted her, and as his powers were ranged, hanging back would just let him use them. Much better to close, she didn’t think he had any close-in powers, but there were always holdouts and presumably as a sophomore he had combat training. He was only a baseline, though, so she’d have to be careful not to break him. Bending him a bit seemed acceptable under the circumstances.

Gideon had been keeping an eye on the girl even as he headed for the shop, and it was clear to him she’d intercept him first, even though he could see the pawnshop in the distance. Well, shouldn’t be too hard. She was only a frosh, and out in the street like this was perfect for using his powers. He’d hoped the encounter with the Boss would have slowed or even stopped her, but she showed no signs of a battle. He put that out of his mind as he concentrated, waving an arm at her as miscellaneous pieces of metal from the street and trash cans levitated, then hurled themselves at the girl.

Morgana cursed as various pieces of metal hurled themselves at her with gay abandon. It was hardly surprising, but she was rather worried he’d found and hurled so many loose pieces at her from the junk cluttering the street and pavement. She could see small pulses of magic from her essence shield, and his tactics were obvious. She was a mage, and likely had a shield, so keep hitting it. Even if nothing penetrated, the constant barrage would degrade the shield and run it out of power. Not a bad idea, really.

She was still too far away to hit with anything but a long-ranged spell, and given the volume of junk bouncing off her field, she didn’t have time to stop and prepare a suitable spell, she needed some sort of distraction first. So she grabbed one of Cherrie's little toys from her utility belt and tossed it at him. She wasn’t too worried about it being sent back, the bomb was plastic, not metal. There was a sharp crack of an explosion, and a cloud of smoke billowed out, spreading rapidly and shrouding him. That was fine, she knew where he was and if he couldn’t see her he couldn’t hit her with stuff.

Esquire cursed at the smoke as it made him cough. It was a common enough tactic, but he didn’t think a frosh mage would be equipped with smoke bombs. But he’d been hit with smoke enough times to have a plan for it. Grabbing a long piece of metal from the sidewalk, he twirled it rapidly in mid-air, the flow of air from the makeshift propeller pushing the smoke away and dispersing it. She was still closing on him, and he remembered the MID. Ex-3, strong enough to take him out if she got close. However, she wasn’t the only one who was equipped with holdouts. Unlike hers, his were in metal cans which he could easily control, and a moment later there was a loud crack and a flare of light right in front of her. Which to his surprise didn’t seem to worry her as much as it should have done.

Morgana was glad of the precautions she'd taken, While not all of the flashbang effects had got through, her lenses and earplugs had protected her from the worst of the effect. The lenses in her mask had blacked out for a second, as the anti-flash coating did its thing, and while she didn’t actually hear the noise through her ears. It was loud enough to make her head shiver; Laura had warned her that there were limits to what a pair of earplugs could stop. So she carried on closing, wondering if she should try another holdout. He’d cleared the smoke pretty effectively, and she supposed the same trick would work against her glitter bomb. It was a shame she hadn’t been able to get a gas bomb before the finals, but she’d been warned they were only iffy at best. Sadly most of the non-lethal area attacks could be blown away, something he’d obviously been aware of.

Still, she’d pretty much closed now, and close in she had a big advantage. Esquire cursed and then grinned as he reached out and grabbed the thick swinging hair of her braid. Oh yes, sucker, she thought, please don’t throw me into the briar patch. Why did he think she wouldn’t tuck it into her costume and out of the way? It only took her a moment to flare some fire into her hair, turning it into a thick mass of red-hot strands. From Esquire's cry of pain and curse at his burned hand, he wasn’t fireproof it seemed.

While she was still debating with herself as to how to hit him without too much damage, Esquire frowned and lifted both arms as if lifting something heavy. The bits of metal still pounding her forcefield obscured her vision for a moment, then she realised why it was as he stepped back and a small car came hurtling straight at her. She had a moment to mentally complain about the ‘no lethal damage’ they’d been told to stick to before a ton of hurling metal hit her full-on. She’d put her arms up to protect her face – just in case, but the mass sent her hurtling back, and a final cascade of dull red hexagons showed her the impact had finally used up her magic forcefields energy reserve. The rest of the car's kinetic energy hit her like, well, a car, and she gave a pained gasp as she was rammed into a wall, and a flash of pain indicated that while her costume had likely helped, she hadn’t got away unscathed. That felt like a rib at least. Thankfully the car hadn’t blown up like they did in those action movies.

Esquire grinned as the car pinned her against the wall. The way it had reacted meant that pretty obviously her forcefield was down, now taking her out should be simple. She’d obviously made the classic frosh mistake, depending on her forcefield, not expecting her opponent to just overload it till it failed. This would have been the case if Morgana hadn’t reached down to her belt and switched on the backup PFF Laura had made for her.

Esquire picked up a piece of steel and it hurled towards her fast, obviously expecting it to take her out, or indeed stop her and distract her from trying to put up another forefield. The look on his face when it just bounced off another PFF with a flicker of energy was priceless, and she used the few seconds it gave her time to slide the wand she’d made out of her pocket and pour some essence into it. He’d seen her point it, but only had time to shield his face – she suspected he’d been expecting fire, it wasn’t as if her affinity to it was a secret, but instead, a sheet of ice shot along the floor, under his feet and sending him flying onto his back with a loud yell of surprise.

At that point she considered just closing a bit more and hitting him – the car had annoyed her, as well as breaking at least one rib, and she was rather over being ‘Ms. Nice Dragoness’ by this point. But she didn’t know how hard she’d have to hit him to take him out without seriously hurting or killing him, and despite his careless actions, it was only a school final, not life or death. So instead she poured more essence into the wand, aiming it at his hands and feet, the rapid buildup of ice locking his prone body to the sheet of ice already coating the floor under him.

That would stop him from moving, but then he was a TK expert, so he didn’t actually have to move to hurt her. She had a few seconds – his instinctive reaction to being frozen to the floor had been to get up, which wasn’t going to happen with only baseline strength to work with, and that gave her time to cast a well-used and fast spell, as a brilliant light blossomed in his face, and the cry of pain showed her he didn’t have eye protection as she did. Sucker.

She wasn’t depending just on that, as she finally got to him, ripping his jacket as she pulled it over his head, effectively blinding him. What he couldn’t see, he couldn’t toss stuff at, after all. A final casting from her wand stuck the cloth to the floor with ice. She was tempted to just cover his face with ice, but that was really a bit too dangerous. Instead, she took the statue, smiling as she gently – and teasingly – patted his cheek with a final ‘goodbye, sucker’ remark and trotted off happily to the pawnshop. Given the sort of noises coming from under the jacket covering his face, it was probably a good job all those innocent young students watching couldn’t hear them. She sniffed in derision. the boy had NO imagination. She knew she was only holding him for a short time, but she didn’t need long to get the McGuffin home and win. Her ribs hurt, but she could live with that for a few minutes, her tight costume would hold things in place.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Staff Sergeant Wilson gave the two teenagers a look, hiding the smile that wanted to come to his face at the sight of the damaged and fulminating boy.

“OK then, let's score you.” He turned to face the rather battered Esquire who was still having his burned hand bandaged by one of the medics.

“You started off OK, you obeyed instructions, and checked out the building rather than just charging in, which was all good. Now, your backstab wasn’t bad, you chose a good moment for it and left the bad guys to take care of your ex-partner, which was sensible. You did waste some effort on your way clear – at least one of your engagements with the guards wasn’t really necessary, you were just showing off. However you did then head to the drop-off without further diversions, which was good, you were on a timer. Having those windows blow out wasn’t exactly subtle” - he glanced at Dragonsfyre, who just grinned – “and it should have made you realise that something had gone wrong with tossing her to the boss. To be fair, there wasn’t much more you could have done at that point than head for the drop-off, but you should have assumed a worst-case of her coming after you. We did have a couple of locations on the route that would have given you a better ambush position or set up a diversion to let you get away free if you’d looked for them.”

He stopped for a moment to consult his pad. “Now, while it was clear she was going to catch you, you got suckered into a fight you should have tried to avoid – you already had the McGuffin.You didn’t do that well in combat with her, as a sophomore versus a frosh we expect better. And you fell for the obvious sucker trap – her hair. You were lucky she went for a non-lethal result, there were a couple of occasions she could have hurt you badly or even killed you. And your attack with a car wasn’t a good idea – it was potentially lethal, and angering a brick in proximity to you is never a clever idea, and you lost, and she returned the package. So nothing appallingly bad, but you should have done better. So we’re giving you a C.”

Dragonsfyre smiled to herself, trying not to wince at the way her rib moved. Judging by the look on his face, he wasn’t happy with that score. Serves the backstabbing little bastard right.

“Now, Dragonsfyre. You were expecting a backstab, which was prudent, although if Esquire had been playing it safe, you’d have disadvantaged yourself. Avoiding combat with the boss was good, he’s a trap, and the way you escaped was very good. Did you know the windows would blow out the way they did, or was it just luck?”

She shook her head.”I thought they would – the room was sealed, and with the heated air expanding, it had to go somewhere. I figured the windows were likely, but any other breakout would have been nearly as good. The Laws of Physics can be your friend.”

He nodded and made a small note. “You didn’t waste time after that, and it was clear you were going to catch him, but you rather fixated on that. What would you have done if ambushed by the rest of the gang? However you handled the fight well, and the restraint in using your more dangerous power was noted; we aren’t trying to kill people here, and if you’d seriously injured him you’d have got a fail.

However you did win the fight, immobilised him and delivered the package. Just in time. So while there were a number of things that weren’t done well, overall we’re giving you a B+.

The girls grin and the way she pumped her hand in the air showed her appreciation of that.

“Ok, you can go now Dragonsfyre. Esquire, let them finish your hand, then off to Doyle for them to OK it. Dragonsyre, if you’ll follow the medic into the side room, we’ll take a look at that rib you’re trying to pretend isn’t hurting you.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

“So how did you do?”

Morgana slid into one of the seats with a sigh of relief. “B+, and he only got a C. He didn’t look at all happy.”

“You held back at the end, didn’t you?”

Morgana nodded to Erica. “Of course I did, I was trying to win a school competition, not seriously hurt anyone. Besides, my holdouts worked well, I don’t think he was expecting some of them.” She patted Laura on the shoulder.”And thanks again for the PFF. He really wasn’t expecting me to have that backing my magic one, and it let me hit him when he was expecting me to waste time reforming my magic one.”

Thulia eyed her partner worriedly, still looking her over carefully to check that she was, in fact, OK. “The Ice Wand was a nice touch, from the reaction here I think everyone assumed you’d use fire. But I have a lot of ideas for the next time you do one of these. And why are you being careful about your ribs?”

“I saw no reason to be predictable. He broke a rib with that car, they healed me up, I just have to be careful for a day” She looked over at Bianca, who was studiously flicking through her winnings from the bookie. “You bet on me?”

Bianca didn’t pause in her counting to nod. “Of course, I know you and I saw some of your preparation. He didn’t stand a chance, even with you holding back.”

“I hope I didn’t set him off at going for you again, Bianca?”

“Nah, he’s an idiot. He’ll do it anyway, but at least now he’ll be worried about you.

“Well, that's my final done, I can sit and watch all the others now. Who’s got the snacks?”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Esquire sat down heavily with the rest of the Bad Seeds, getting a mix of sympathetic looks and quite a few grins. He looked at A.J. and growled.

“Why didn’t you tell me she was so tough?”

A.J. paused from absently scratching Smokey to shrug. “She’s physically tough for a frosh mage, as you saw. What else was there to surprise you?”

“Her holdouts.”

Icejack stifled a laugh at the disgruntled look. “Well, if you’d gone to the Weapons Fair like some of us. No, don't give me that look; you knew when and where it was! You’d have seen her buying stuff. So at the worst, you’d know she was preparing holdouts. What grade did you get, anyway?”

Esquire looked even more grumpy. “A C.” He left out the fact his mother wouldn’t be happy with that result, they all knew about his mommy issues.

“Oh well, at least you didn’t fail. You’re lucky they didn’t fail you for hitting her with a car.”

Esquire didn’t look at all happy at that remark. Even less when he saw A.J. take some winnings. “Did you bet against me? Some friend you are!

A.J. grinned as Smokey blew a derisory smoke ring. “She’s a lab partner. She’s a lot more devious than she looks.”

Esquire growled at his ‘friend’. “NOW you tell me...”

linebreak shadow

Wednesday 14th December, London, England

Nephandus finished going through the recording with his father a final time, then gave a deep sigh as he pushed back from the table.

“So it’s confirmed what you suspected?”

He nodded to his father, who wasn’t looking at all happy either after seeing the recording of this years Whateley Combat Finals.

“I’d pretty much worked it all out, this was just the final confirmation. The girl is fairly identifiable with those horns and colouration. Even if she’s using the standard mage tricking of shadowing her face, it doesn’t conceal her horns or the rest of her. Plenty of confirmation that’s our target, now we just have to deal with it.”

Hexmaster looked thoughtful. “I don’t see we have that many options. Attacking a girl at Whateley – we might as well just turn ourselves in, it would be easier and less painful. Attacking her over Xmas, with her family probably involved, is an even faster form of suicide.”

His son nodded unhappily. He still remembered the incident with the Tong of the Black Madonna, while he’d been at Whateley, and while he hadn’t been involved with it, what had been done to them was the sort of thing to leave a lasting impression.

Nephandus brought up the contract they’d made with the order, scanning it with an expert eye. “This says we have to locate the girl, and find out what happened to her once she left their lair. We’ve done that. It doesn’t actually say we have to rescue her, although it does mention putting together a list of all the required people and preparations.

“So we’re in the clear if we decline to recover her?”

“Yes, though actually providing a list of requirements would be a bit iffy. But they aren’t going to be happy.”

Hexmaster looked up at the ceiling while he thought. “ Olrun isn’t going to be happy, but he answers to their council. Now if we were to point out the consequences of any retrieval action, and the likely effect on their order, they might be prepared to cancel the operation.”

“Cut their losses and get out while they still have an Order?”

“Exactly. They lose the conduit, but these things happen.”

“Olrun still won’t be happy, he’s mortgaged his reputation in the Order for this. He’d probably try and insist on doing it anyway.”

His father shrugged. “His problem. If he wants to be a loose cannon, not our problem, after all we can show we told them what would happen and NOT to try it.”

“If he does that, he’ll try and get us to help.”

“Not in this Universe.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Prequel – some 10 days before Frosh Combat finals,
Ranges briefing room

Sergeant Wilson looked through the final, short list of names for the Year1-2 finals.“So, about the awkward students we have left to deal with. Crashes?”

Tolman peered at the list with interest.“There is one I think needs one. Dracaina.”

Wilson raised an eyebrow. “Oh, why her in particular?”

“She got into trouble on her way to Whateley, and attacked a couple of supervillains.”

“Wasn’t that the one in Canada that Polar Vortex was involved in?”

“Yes. Now we didn’t treat them harshly, but they were very lucky in that their powers were conveniently suitable for taking that particular pair down. While Polar Vortex is experienced, I don’t think it’s got through to Dracaina that she was actually very lucky and things could have got worse. She’s more experienced in magic than a normal frosh, so I’d like to toss her into a scenario where the setting works against her, not for her. She needs to learn that she has to cope with a hostile environment.” There was of course another reason, that little incident in Phoenix, but even the existence of that was a close secret on a need-to-know basis.

Dennon pursed her lips. “I take your point about her needing to learn, but how are we going to handle it? All her ranged magic and attacks won’t do the Arena a world of good, and in any case, it may well not be large enough. You know how mages like their ranged attacks. Normally we’d just put her and another ranged attacker in the Sims, and let them blast the hell out of the virtual environment, but she hasn’t been here long enough to be Sims-qualified.

Ito stirred. He might have been retired from full-time training, but his experience was always useful for the awkward cases.

“Looking at her power set, she’s a mage and a flier. She also tends to set fire to things rather enthusiastically. Nothing terribly unusual for an older mage, she’s just a bit younger than usual. So let’s remove her main advantages. Set this one in one of our sewer scenes, and load it with patches of Methane. The lack of visibility will limit her range advantage, she can’t fly in the sewers, and the methane will stop her trying to burn her way out of it.”

“Isn’t she fireproof?”

“She is, but she isn’t explosion-proof, and tunnels have a regrettable tendency to collapse if you set off an explosion inside them. Now if we put her against a close combat fighter, she’ll be forced to go in close. That severely limits a mage, they aren’t exactly experts up close and it will make it clear to her she can’t depend on having a situational advantage.”

“She may do better at that than you think, she does have hand-to-hand training.”

“So? Let's make her opponent tough then. How about Gouyasse, he’s needed taking down a peg or two. I don’t see her taking him up close, but it will teach her not all fights can be won at long range, and she’s unlikely to have the time to use her magic.”

“He gets strong and violent when he gets drunk. Can she stand up to that? We don’t want him to kill her by accident.”

“He’s a Junior, he’s likely to see a frosh as not much of a threat, even if she has been tossed into a crash. If she puts up a good fight, he’s likely to take it badly.”

Dennon snorted. “Have a look at the file. She isn’t a brick, but she’s a remarkably non-squishy mage. Strong enough to survive if he gets out of hand. At least long enough for us to step in. If he wins, she will hopefully learn the lesson. If she wins, it might teach Gouyasse to take women seriously.” Dennon’s tone of voice made it clear she didn’t really expect that to happen, but odder things had happened in the combat finals

 

linebreak shadow

 

Friday Dec 16th, the Arena

The first MID to hit the arena's overhead displays bore a Canadian-style imprint.

 

Code name: Dracaina

Ratings: Ex-3, Wiz-2, EN-4, Gag-2

Techniques: Magic

Weak vs.: Demons

Backup/Team affiliation: M3, Commonwealth, Canadian Government, Classified

 

The second MID was much more typical for Whateley, this time with a Belgian-style overlay. Which made some of the students frantically look up the Belgian crest, it wasn’t exactly well known...

 

Code Name: Gouyasse

Ratings: Ex-2, Sh-3, Re-2

Techniques: Stronger form fuelled by alcohol,

Weak vs: Anti-alcohol organisations

Backup/Team Affiliation: Euro-promotional Alliance, OSD

 

Thulia sighed and got to her feet. “It seems silly giving me one of these when I’ve only been here a few weeks. What do we know about Gouyasse?

Morgana was flicking her fingers across her pad. “We fought him in that challenge we did against the Berets. He’s the one that got sent to Doyle?”

“Oh, you mentioned that. How did you manage it?”

Thulia didn’t notice Tanya blush deeply at the question.

“He’s powered by alcohol. The more he drinks, the bigger and stronger her gets, and the meaner and more violent. Not that he isn’t a prick when he’s sober. But he’s allergic to Isopropyl alcohol, and we hit him with some. He had some sort of attack and spent a few weeks in Doyle. We all got detention because of that. They’ll probably tell you not to use any of that after the last incident”

Thulia mulled that over for a few seconds. “So, strong, and probably tough. Got it. Does he have any ranged attacks?”

Morgana shrugged as she kept scrolling through her notes. “It didn’t list any, but he’s a junior, I’m sure he’ll have holdouts to compensate for that. If he’s got any sense, he’ll have some sort of ranged thingies. Mind, he didn’t strike me as the smartest brick in the load.”

“He isn’t anything annoying like being fireproof, is he?”

“Don’t think so. But remember, no killing or permanent damage. So burning him to the ground is out.”

Thulia paused for a moment from checking her equipment. She was already wearing one of her short casual robes over her leotard, so having to change wouldn’t be an issue. “How rough can I get in these things?”

Erica gave an eloquent shrug. “They can get a bit violent. He’s a regen-2, so anything that doesn’t kill or maim him should be OK. Maybe he’ll agree to cooperate?”

That last statement was met with looks from the team that varied from ‘unlikely’ to ‘you have to be joking”.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Emil Duval was as usual sitting with the Outstanding dudes to watch the finals. The group had been jeering and making disparaging comments at anyone they didn’t like, or they thought might have disrespected them. A nudge in the side made him look up to see the screen, and he scowled.

“A crash and I have to face a frosh. What’s so special about her anyway?

High Gear shrugged. “No idea really, she arrived late at Whateley.” His fingers flew across the pad on his lap. “Rumour has it she got into some sort of a fight on the way here, and she must have been in trouble, she got detention after Thanksgiving. Nothing saying what she got it for. It seems a bit late for the arrival stuff, but whatever it was it’s been kept quiet.”

Emil was busy checking his bandolier of beers and his holdouts. “Hmph. What about her power set?”

“Not a lot. She’s a flier, so you’ll have to allow for that. She’s on the mage track, so she won’t be much cop up close. You know how mages hate getting into hand-to-hand combat.”

Emil grunted as he slipped his coat on over his costume, and leered at the picture on High Gears laptop “It isn’t hand-to-hand combat I’d like to get into with her. Anyway, she’s a female frosh, how much of a problem can she be?”

High Gear refrained from commenting. Given the girls’s looks, he wouldn’t have minded some up close and personal interaction with her himself, but the combat finals were hardly the place for that.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Scenario briefing room.

“OK, I’m here to give you the details. This is a non-standard event, while you still have to find and come back with a package, it’s not in a city. It’s set in the sewers.” She grinned at the look on the students' faces. “Oh, and to make it a bit more interesting, there are some pockets of flammable methane gas in parts. So I wouldn’t recommend setting fire to anything, and tossing lightning around is rather problematic as well. Unless of course you want to blow the whole scenario up. Which, by the way, is a loss for whoever does it, even if you survive the tunnels collapsing on you.”

Thulia grimaced at the setup. It couldn’t have been rigged more against her if they’d tried. No long-distance stuff (even assuming she could see at all), no flying and no fire. Not to mention sewers. The large boy in the weird slashed costume just shrugged as if fighting in sewers didn’t bother him. She could smell the beer on his breath even over here.

“Now, as in the previous finals, you can separate, team up, or part later. You can bring the package to the collection point either separately or together.”

The boy gave a nasty smirk at that. “I don’t see that I need any help from a little girl to do this. Why let her slow me down?”

Thulia sighed. Oh well, it would probably be easier if he wasn’t getting underfoot anyway. He didn’t really look like someone who would be helpful. She might not be that familiar with human expressions yet, but she could see and hear the arrogant sneer in his voice already.

“Do these sewers have lighting? And how are we supposed to find the package anyway, just wander around in the muck till we fall over it?”

Officer Canterbury gave her a look. “No real lighting, and as for finding it...” she handed each of them a small wristwatch-sized device. “Trackers. So they should lead you to it. Now it’s a rule that both of you have to wear a mask, to protect you in case someone who shouldn’t sees all this.” She looked at Gouyasse, who pulled a small mask out of his pocket and fasted it on, while Thulia cast a spell she’d been told by Grime she would need. It didn’t exactly conceal her features, but it made it impossible for anyone – or any camera – to get a properly detailed idea of what she really looked like, it looked like her face was in some sort of permanent shadow. Sadly, it didn’t disguise her horns.

Thulia thought fast. No lighting, so she’d bet it would be dark. And smelly. And disgusting. Her usual lighting method, her firehair, wasn’t going to be practical here. She wasn’t sure if it would ignite methane, but best to play it safe. So, some sort of alternative magic illumination would be required. As to the rest, as long as she avoided her fire and lightning-based spells she could cope.

 

linebreak shadow

 

“They’ve really borked her power set, haven’t they?”Bianca nodded to her roomie. “Can’t think of much else they could have done, except say ‘no magic’.

Morgana looked thoughtful. “What’s it done to the odds?”

Erica looked at her pad. “Quite a bit, it’s gone from 2:1 against her to 6:1 against her since they stated the conditions.

“Cool, then I’m going to put $200 on her!”

There was a rather stunned silence at Morgana’s cheerful words. Finally, Bianca made a quiet comment. “You aren’t just doing that because of your relationship?”

Morgana grinned like a thief as she brought up the betting site on her pad. “Nope. Remember, she’s a dragon. I know what she can do at close range, even without fire. Gonna sucker the bookies for all I can!”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Thulia looked around the dank, smelly tunnel she’d been let into. There were a few patches of moss sticking to the walls giving off a faint green crepuscular light, but even with her night vision, she couldn’t see that much. Lovely. With a resigned sigh, she summoned her staff into her hand and pushed some essence through one of the stored spells, making the staff give off a soft red glow, bright enough that she could now see clearly. It was just as well her sense of smell wasn’t as good as her vision.

Seeing the sewer tunnel clearly wasn’t a great improvement. It was lined with rough stonework, drops of what looked suspiciously like slime dripping down to make a stream of something she’d rather not identify running down the middle of the tunnel. There were bits floating along in it which she was quietly pretending weren’t there. She was rather glad her costume included boots.

She couldn’t see anything but the malodorous tunnel, so took a look at the wrist monitor they’d given her. So far it just showed a red dot, indicating the package was around somewhere. She was worried that these tunnels would have more than one level, but at least she had a starting direction. Before she headed off, though...

She made some sweeping gestures in the air in front of her, the purple lines forming a spell diagram that flared crimson before leaving her seeing a small gold arrow in her vision. She grinned – she’d gambled that she and her opponent would be the only two actual people here, most of the bystanders in these scenarios were what they called ANTS, some sort of fancy robot. But if there was only one other human here, she could be as ruthless as she liked with anything else. The arrow didn’t point towards the package, at least not yet, but she’d keep an eye on it. Sighing, she moved down the tunnel, doing her best to stay out of the trickle of filth as she made her way towards a bend in the tunnel.

She paused as she heard an odd scratching noise from up ahead. Whatever it was must have been small, she still couldn’t see anything. Trying to see what it was almost left her caught by surprise as a large and suspiciously fat rat scrambled along the tunnel and leapt at her. She almost fried it by instinct, but luckily managed to restrain herself. Instead, she hammered her staff down on the disgusting rodent, managing to hit it as she batted it down along the tunnel, it responded with an annoyed squeak as it bounced off one of the walls. The impact had made a satisfying crunch when it was hit, but the rat had obviously survived it, and her staff was a blunt weapon, not ideally suited to this. She pondered for a moment, then dismissed her staff in favour of her spear. It only took a moment to cast her light spell on it, and while it didn’t have the versatile range of spells in her staff, it would be better for dealing with annoying rodents. Not using its fire ability still left it as a five-foot spear with a razor-edged tip.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Gouyasse wasn’t terribly impressed by the sewer tunnel they’d dropped him into, it was really way over the top as far as special effects went. Someone on the staff had been watching way too many of those American zombie movies. His hand flicked on the light on his headband, and he wondered if the frosh girl actually had holdouts to do this. He remembered she was a mage, but even if she was using a light spell of some sort it would deplete her essence, and the less she had, the less she could do. In any case, she was probably cowering and trying not to touch anything in here. He shrugged, looking at his wrist monitor, and started off in what seemed the best direction to find his prize. Now to find it and get out, he didn’t really fancy the idea of spending the entire Final time wandering around in these scummy tunnels, they smelled like some of his friends after drinking too much proper beer and depositing it on the floor. He’d worry about fighting the girl when she got close, but right now he didn’t see any problems.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Thulia paused to take a look at the new threat that was staggering along the sewer towards her. So far, her spear had dealt admirably with the occasional wandering, and suspiciously plump, rat - a viper-fast impalement of the rodent followed by flicking the corpse back into the stream with a twist of her wrist. After all, it wasn’t as if leaving rat corpses floating down the stream would make this place any more disgusting than it already was.

Whatever the thing was, it looked humanoid. For sufficiently fuzzy value of human of course. The green and white patchy skin wasn’t any form of colouration she was familiar with, unless it had GSD, and the staggering, lurching gait was odd. It was holding out its arms – surely not the best way to attack someone? – and its fingers were tipped with pus-oozing claws. Lovely. Maybe this was the Whateley idea of a sewer worker.

She wasn’t quite sure of the best way to attack it, but maybe immobilise it first? She took a step back, then thrust her spear into its knee, twisting it. The thing fell to one side and collapsed as the necrotic tissue disintegrated. Unlike the rats, while that had stopped it walking, it was still trying to move towards her, crawling along the sewer floor as it dragged its ruined leg behind it. She considered it. Fire of course would be simplest, and easiest to use, but the faint reek of methane she could smell made that a non-viable option. She had plenty of time, it wasn’t as if it was fast, after all. Maybe the head or the body were more lethal than a shot to the knee? She slid her spear out, the razor-sharp tip slicing through what was left of skin and muscle protecting its chest, but the only result of spearing where its heart should have been was a puff of dust from its mouth. Head next, then. This time she sliced sideways into the side of its skull, the force behind the blow separating the top and bottom of its skull and brain cavity. It shuddered, then stopped, collapsing as a faintly green-glowing something fell out of its brain cavity. That was interesting, she knew where to aim now. She wondered if decapitation would work as well.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Gouyasse knew that he hadn’t really been here that long, but the tunnels and the stench were already starting to get to him, every so often a particular strong stench making his eyes water. So far he’d been attacked by rats – which burst quite nicely when he smashed them, and some sort of zombie. At least, he assumed it was a zombie, it was doing everything except mutter ‘brains’ at him. However, the tracker on his wrist had been flashing faster, which probably meant he was close to the whatever-it-was he was supposed to collect. He kicked another of the zombies hard, the rotten flesh and bone collapsing under the force of his kick to spray rather unsanitary pieces all over the floor of the tunnel. In front of him, he could see the tunnel opening out into a space of some sort. He couldn’t quite make out what was in it, but he’d turn his light up once he was there and take a look.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Finally, Thulia saw a change. Instead of just more tunnels, the passage opened up into some sort of large vaulted chamber. In the centre was some sort of raised area, and on it, sitting behind some sort of bench, was a giant rat in a lab coat. Well, of course there was. She moved forward cautiously, as the rat chittered and raised some sort of weapon in her direction. Whoever had designed this seemed to have what she considered an unhealthy obsession with rodents.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Gouyasse heard something from the space in frontof him, and he could see some sort of reddish illumination. With a cunning grin on his face, he slipped forward, rather surprised to see the girl facing off against a giant rat in a Whateley labcoat. He hadn’t expected her to get this far. The Rat was firing a gun at her, with lousy aim - well, after all, it was a rat. And she was dodging around evading him. It was clear she was trying to get closer and use the spear she seemed to have acquired.

Just in case, he chugged another beer from his bandolier’ deciding he’d move closer and let her do the work while he waited for a suitable opportunity. Still, nothing to stop him from playing a bit, as he took some ball bearings from a pocket in his suit, and hurled some at her. A one-pound steel ball being thrown by a brick makes a quite effective weapon.

 

linebreak shadow

 

There was a shuffling as three of those odd humanoids came out of the shadows behind the Lab Rat, and she fell back a bit. At least he was wasting an occasional shot at the boy, while grunting when hit, it didn’t look like he was going down any time soon. So, she twisted her hand into the movements for another spell. Area damage spells were always greedy on essence, and she wasn’t sure what would be best, so she compromised. Gravity under the shambling creatures intensified, and she snarled, adding more essence as the field went over 10g and climbed. Whatever they were, they weren’t structurally sound enough to resist collapsing into piles of bone and diseased meat under the strain.

This was getting silly, thought Thulia. Gouyasse seemed more interested in attacking her than anything else, and that giant Rat in a lab coat was randomly attacking either or both of them, but in particular it seemed to have her as its main target. So far, her forcefield had protected her, to Gouyasse’s obviously growing frustration, but she had to decide which to take out first. The Rat, she thought, it might be possible to reason with the boy, though she had serious doubts.

The Rat had changed his weapon for something odd, a short gun that flared into a bell end, which he waved around at the pair. Gouyasse stumbled as he nearly tripped over the body of one of the humanoid things, already rather distracted by watching what she had been doing rather than concentrating on his own attacks, and the Rat cackled madly as he took aim. Thulia didn’t really think about it too much – in retrospect, a bad idea – as she moved to let her forcefield take the hit instead of Gouyasse’s unprotected side. Granted he wasn’t her friend, but he was a student, and the staff had emphasised no deaths or serious injuries after all.

There was a quite brilliant flash as the weapon discharged a bolt of lightning right against her shield. There was a momentary glimmer of crimson hexagons surrounding her as the energy input caused it to fail, the remains of the lightning knocking her over. So much for lightning setting off the methane, she thought. Now she’d have to reform the field, and that would take a short bit of time. She might have it though; the Rat had thrown down the weapon and was looking for something else to wield.

Gouyasse only realised he’d been targeted when he saw the lightning bolt hit the girl who’d leapt in front of it. Stupid bitch, he thought, doing something like that. Then he gave a very nasty grin. This girl had been a real pain attacking him, now it was time to show just how useless she was with her forcefield obviously down. The girl was on her hands and knees as she tried to get up, and her bare back, uncovered by her tunic, was such a tempting target. So, he’d get into trouble, he could deal with that. He drew the blade from his pouch, flicking it on as the highly illegal vibroblade came to life with an evil grinding hum. She started to turn as he stepped forward, plunging his hand down and aiming for her spine. Her eyes wide, she tried desperately to twist away, but the angles made that only partially successful, as the shimmering blade plunged into her back, a spurt of blood showed where, even if it had missed her spine, it had impaled a kidney.

Thulia screamed at the pain as she tried to writhe away, the boy’s eyes staring madly at her as he raised the blade again. She raised a hand, casting the spell in one of her bracelets, and before he could close and stab her again, a writhing mass of crimson tentacles rose up from the floor to cover him. She could hear him cursing as he flailed around, his blade sending sections of severed tentacle around the room, but at least she had a few seconds. The pain was too much for easy concentration, as her vision tried to grey out, but... she used the ring on her left hand, and the stone in it flared with green light as she used her instant-heal spell. It couldn’t do much, it was just a quick and dirty effect, but it reduced the pain and stopped most of the blood loss. She staggered to her feet, glaring at him. Well, he started it.

There was a shimmer in the air around her as her body changed, her skin tone darkening, plates lapping over her vulnerable points and her claws and fangs growing noticeably as she assumed her combat form. She let her tail extend - not her wings, there wasn’t room to fly here – and growled at him. Not the usual growl of an annoyed student, this sounded more like a leopard starting up.

It didn’t take long, but he’d managed to free himself from the tentacles, as she jumped forward, her jaws closing around the hand that held the blade. He screamed as she crunched down savagely, the blade falling from his mangled and now-useless hand as she spat the taste of his blood, and a couple of fingers, onto the floor. He was half crouched, holding his ruined hand as she circled. Now to finish this farce.

She slashed at him a few times with her claws. His costume was fairly tough, but not that tough. He screamed again as she slashed, and some spurts of blood showed where he’d been hurt. She grinned. Now he was distracted... she half turned, then whipped around, ignoring the sharp pain that the movement caused her back as she slammed her tail around and up as hard as she could. Straight between his legs.

Granted, he’d been wearing a box. That did little to help, as it was rammed up hard into his genitals, smashing and mangling them as his face turned white before he collapsed, body twitching slightly. She smiled, stepped forward, and quite deliberately spat on him, the bloody spittle running down his cheek.

She looked around. What about that Rat... Oh, he was heading out, she saw the end of his tail exiting through one of the passages – he obviously wanted nothing to do with a majorly annoyed dragon. Just as well, now she’d finished with the other student she was less able to put off the pain. The speakers were saying something about an aborted scenario, and for her to wait for rescue. That sounded like a good idea, she needed to heal herself properly and that would take more than a few minutes.

 

linebreak shadow

 

There were gasps from the audience, first at the sneak backstab that sent a spray of blood into the air, then another one as Thulia assumed her dragonform, something only a few had seen. When she savaged his hand, the gasps – and a few gulps of people trying not to be sick – only got louder. The use of her tail caused considerably more gagging, especially from the boys in the audience, quite a few of whom were shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

 

linebreak shadow

 

In the control room, Wilson was cursing up a storm as he ordered the quick-reaction squad to enter the arena. “What are her vitals like?”

One of the techs was frantically scanning his pad. “Not good, that was a kidney shot. Her readings are not good”

“At least he missed her spine, she’s not a regenerator. Get the healers ready, we’ll need them.” He passed as an odd green flash illuminated the girl's back for a moment. “What was that?”

“I think she just did some sort of minor heal. It’s stopped some of the blood and stuff, her blood pressure is rising a bit, but her kidney is still ripped.”

Wilson glared at the ready squad. “Go go go. Stop it and get her out!” He knew that even with the HUDS showing them the real layout, it would take them a minute or two, the two combatants were in the centre of the arena. Then there was a loud scream from the speakers, and he saw what the girl was doing to the boy's hand. “Bloody hell! Get them both out!”

 

linebreak shadow

 

The M3 group were all on their feet, Tanya and Erica holding Morgana to stop her from heading straight down.

“Don’t, you can’t get in through the arena forcefield anyway.

“Wow. That was a thing.” Vic was looking rather green around the gills after what they’d just seen.” For once, even Tavi was speechless.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Brita blinked, twice. That had been, well, dramatic even by Amazon standards.

“He’s going to feel that in the morning.”

She laughed heartlessly at the comment. “If he can feel at all. We should really try and get her as a member.”

“Not sure if she’d be interested, she's pretty tight with Dragonsfyre and the M3 group.”

Brita knew that, and she growled inside at such a powerful sister tied up to that British ladyboy. Still, things could be adjusted, given care and time. Worth seeing what could be done, anyway. The two could be separated, and then she would see.

“Worth looking into, though. In the meantime, I’m sending her a box of chocolates for that little display.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Dracaina gasped as she stepped out into the ready room, as a new wave of pain hit her from her damaged kidney. The emergency magic healing she’d done wasn’t nearly up to handling something as complicated as a kidney injury, and she needed to find somewhere to do a proper healing. Which wasn’t going to be easy, under the circumstances, but it had to be done before she passed out.

She looked over to see Gouyasse, who’d been dragged out of the arena by a couple of security guards, not that gently and barely conscious. His hand was still bleeding all over the floor, and she didn’t feel sorry one little bit. A guard helped her ease herself into a chair, as she watched a slender girl with odd coloured patches on her skin approach them.

Sergeant Joshua looked at Gouyasse and then at the girl. “Pastel we need you to do a couple of healings for us. Gouyasse first, he’s bleeding all over the floor. He stooped down a little to whisper to the girl, Thulia could just barely hear it.

“Pastel, give him the minimum healing you can to stabilise him. Fast and dirty is fine.”

Pastel looked a bit concerned. “You don’t want something better? After that hit he took to the balls...”

The Sergeant shook his head. “It’s not the first time he’s tried to injure someone. After what he did today... well, let's just say that being in Doyle for a few weeks is to help drive it home to him that actions have consequences. And as soon as you have dealt with him, Dracaina has some serious injuries.”

Pastel thought about it for a moment, then nodded. She wasn’t quite sure, but she’d seen what he’d done in the fight. So, she stepped over to Gouyasse and grabbed his damaged hand. Holding it for about 20 seconds as she stopped the bleeding, but doing little more. The Sergeant nodded, as he gestured to one of his men to put him onto a stretcher. “Now Dracaina.”

The dragongirl looked up with a pale face as Pastel approached, trying not to move too much, her pain obvious.

“Just stay still, I’ll take a look and see what I can do to heal it.”

The girl nodded, as Pastel lifted up the short robe and hissed as she saw the jagged wound, obviously deep enough to go right into her kidney. The staff had told her, while the combatants were being recovered, that her vital signs showed no immediate critical damage, at least not yet, but even so... She smiled at the girl, her best reassuring smile as her fingers delicately and carefully traced the wound as she applied her healing in full. Slowly the torn flesh knit itself back together as Dracaina relaxed and sighed in obvious relief, as the darkness crawled its way up the healer's arm. It took some minutes before she was satisfied with her work.

"There you go, I've fixed the worst damage and the little stuff will heal pretty soon. Just take it easy for a couple of days unless you want me groping you again."

The girl smiled her thanks. “Thank you, Pastel, I owe you one.”

The healer shook her head hard. “Nah, I’m just doing my job.”

Draicaina smiled. “Nevertheless.”

 

linebreak shadow

 

Thulia paused as she gingerly stood, but all that remained that she could feel was some soreness in her lower back. Still, she’d want to do a detailed scan of herself that evening, just in case. Then she paused as something – or rather the lack of something - made her frown, looking at the security man. “hang on, what happened to the smell? And that disgusting slime? I just feel a bit sticky, and I can’t smell anything?”

The man grinned widely. “You don’t think we had enough slime to cover the arena? Especially with that special aroma!

Thulia gave him a highly suspicious look of someone convinced that someone, somewhere was pulling a fast one on her. “Then how...?”

He grinned even wider. “Smoke and mirrors. The only ‘real’ slime was some KY Jelly, which will wash straight off. The rest was only ever local to you, following you around. We had a few people on it. Manifesting ectoplasm as necessary, and someone controlling smells to give that little extra bouquet. Just wash your clothes and take a shower, you’ll be fine.

 

linebreak shadow

 

When she stepped into the main control room, a number of people were waiting for her. Ms Dennon she knew, and the old oriental man she remembered from her testing. The third man – Sergeant Wilson, she thought he was called, cleared his throat.

“Now, Dracaina, we have the results of your final. First, we want to apologise for the highly illegal sonic blade that was used against you.”

She nodded. “I am surprised it was allowed, given its lethality.”

Wilson looked embarrassed. “Yes, well, even ignoring its illegality, we do normally remove lethal weapons, just in case someone forgets in the heat of the moment. He didn’t declare it. So, we will take care of that later. Now, you did well in the sewers, you dealt with all the distractions there competently and without any fire or other effects that might have been problematical down there. Given that the appearance of Gouyasse in the final chamber made some sort of fight pretty well inevitable, you coped well with it, and made no attempt to use a lethal attack.”

She shrugged. “Given that it was only a training exercise, seriously injuring my opponent seemed unnecessary.”

Dennon gave her one of her looks, one eyebrow raised. “And your final attack on him with your tail?”

She scowled. “He’d just tried to cripple me! If I hadn’t managed to dodge a bit, that blade would have gone straight through my spine! I was annoyed! And my attack wasn’t lethal, it was intended to hurt him and take him out, but I understand he regenerates, so it won’t be permanent damage. Pity.”

Wilson coughed. “Ah yes, well, given the circumstances it was unsurprising you were provoked. So, we aren’t marking you down for that, as you said you could easily have followed up with a crippling or killing attack. So, overall, you did well, handled all the situations we set, and recovered the package from the Rat. Or at least were sitting with it when he did a runner. You made good use of the powers you had available and didn’t use the ones dangerous in the circumstances. So, we’re awarding you a B+”. He paused for a moment as Dennon glared at him. “Ok, sorry, an A-.”

Thulia smiled. “Good. Is there anywhere I can shower and change? I still feel sticky?”

Wilson chuckled and pointed at the restroom symbol on one of the doors.

 

linebreak shadow

 

Evening, in the Doyle Medical complex.

Emil opened his eyes as he realised there were three people in the room with him. Even with the drugs they had him on - the good ones - it hurt just to lie there, let alone move, but he managed to turn his head a little to look at them. Sergeant Wilson, Ms Dennon and Ito.

“We’ve come here to give you the grading for your combat final.” Wilson’s tone didn’t seem all that happy, he seemed to be trying to suppress his emotions...

“Now, you didn’t have to team up, and you dealt with the sewers themselves reasonably well. You weren’t doing too badly until you dragged out that sonic blade. You DO realise they are illegal to possess, let alone use. And you sneaked one into a combat final. If it hadn’t been for luck, you’d have left Dracaina paralysed. All those mean you get an F, and if there was a lower score you’d get that.”

He scowled. He’d been hoping for a good final result to boost his grades before Dennon carried on the appraisal.

“Fortunately for you, you regenerate, so you won’t be permanently damaged.” Her tone of voice made it clear she wouldn’t be worried if he did. “But you will be in here for a while, the doctors tell me they won’t let you out until after Xmas. And when they do – “she grinned quite evilly – “I have 4 weeks of detention ready for you. You aren’t going to enjoy the experience.

"You're the luckiest person on this planet right now - someone unnamed managed to convince the Headmaster that there was a tiny possibility that you MIGHT be salvageable as a human being, though most of us don't believe it." Dennon glared at the boy for a few long seconds, barely restraining a snarl of disgust. "He was a 'send' button away from having the MCO come here to arrest you for attempted murder." Dennon watched as his eyes widened. If the headmaster was ready to INVITE the MCO on campus... "You're on such thin ice right now that if you so much as roll your eyes sarcastically at a staff member for the rest of the year, a LOT of staff members are going to urge him to push that 'send' button. I know he's keeping the draft e-mail - just in case."

 

linebreak shadow

 

On the way to Doyle

Neither of the two dragon girls said much as they walked over to the medical complex. Tanya was worried about that. She’d offered to escort them; neither girl seemed to have it together right now. Thulia seemed annoyed after what had happened to her, and Morgana was worryingly quiet for a girl who normally tried to put a cheerful (or at least silly) spin on everything.

When they got there, Tanya and Morgana were put in one of the waiting rooms while Thulia was escorted off for ‘some scans’, apparently to check Pastel had healed all the damage. Morgana tried to keep a cheerful face, but Tanya could see it was forced. Once Thulia had gone, Morgana just stood there, trembling slightly. Tanya had never seen her act like this before, and she had to urge the girl to sit. Sitting down next to her, she held her hand. She was still trembling.

“Look, it's fine, they just want to take some scans just in case.”

Morgana turned to face Tanya, who was shocked to see a fat tear running slowly down the redhead's cheek.

“DF, what...?

Pulling her hand away, the girl put both hands over her face as she sobbed. “She could have DIED!. That bastard stabbed her in the back with something lethal, I think he was aiming for her spine.”

She looked up at Tanya again, tears streaming down her cheeks. “What would I do if she died? Tanya, it’s hard enough with all the crap in my life, I just couldn’t go on without her!”

Tanya didn’t have a good reply to that. All she could do was hold Morgana and try her best to comfort her through her crying spell, as the redhead whimpered piteously in her arms.

“Look, DF, she’ll be fine! She got a healing and everything from Pastel, and she’s good at it. They just want scans because you know how paranoid the doctors are here.”

Morgana was now reduced to sniffling. “I know. But just because I know that it doesn’t help much!”

Tanya took some tissues from her bag. “Now, let’s get your face cleaned up a bit. If she comes back and sees you like this, she’ll be worried for you.

The girl made a half-hearted attempt at a smile. “OK, I guess. She’s got enough to worry about without me adding to it. She has all sorts of issues – dealing with Whateley, dealing with home. It’s been wonderful having her here, but I want to help her deal with things, not be just another burden on her. DAMN these idiotic combat finals!”

Tanya looked at her closely as she removed the marks of the crying jag. “She truly means that much to you, doesn’t she?

Morgana nodded. “She means everything to me, for all sorts of reasons. I can’t even begin to list everything.”

Tanya finally finished and tossed her tissue in the bin. “There, all done. Now we try and get you a bit more composed before she comes back again and gets worried.”

The dragongirl took a deep breath as she tried to calm herself. “OK, I’ll do my best. Maybe those meditation exercises will be useful.”

linebreak shadow

Friday Dec 16th, afternoon after the Combat Finals end, the Arena

The two boys had been a rapt audience for the Combat Finals, much more interesting to them than revision for their boring classes.

“I think we’re going to have to revise our plans a little.”

“Oh?”

“I figured that splitting her up from a girl wouldn’t be too hard, but after seeing what she did in her final, do you want to get in her way if she gets annoyed?”

Shades thought back to the way Gouyasse had looked, and the bloodstain at his crotch that had leaked even through his costume. Even now thinking about it gave him a bit of a chill.

“It could be a bit of a problem, yes.”

Beatdown snorted. “Really? I think we’re going to have to come up with a whole new approach after Xmas. Unless you have a lot stronger box than Gouyasse had!”

“Do you think this – Dracaina – is another one of the White Ladies minions?

“I dunno. If she is, she’s a definite upgrade on her last one. But that doesn’t mean she won’t need more. We should work on the idea over Xmas, come up with a new plan for next year.”

linebreak shadow

Monday 19th December Bianca and Morgan’s room, early morning.

“It’s going to be a bit of a letdown after the Combat Finals.”

Morgana scowled. “My academic scores are far more important to me than some points given for hitting people, Bianca! I could really do without all the drama”

Her roommate chuckled. “Well, we have practicals too, for Magic anyway. Grimes did say they’d be more of a marked test than the mid-term appraisals were.”

“I wonder how they are going to do them? Grimes did say the mid-terms were more of an assessment?”

“ I think the Combat Finals will play a part, remember how she briefed us about the sort of spells we’d need? And we both did pretty well, so that’s a help.”

“Won’t help me in French.”

Bianca smiled at the gloomy face of her roomie.

“Well, you won’t have to take it again next term as long as you pass.”

“Yeah, I have a different language task for next term. I need to ask Erica about the language labs and how you book personal time in them.”

 

To Be Continued
Read 1826 times Last modified on Monday, 29 January 2024 07:07
Astrodragon

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

Add comment

Submit