Monday, 15 April 2024 09:00

A Tail of Two Dragons (Part 3)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

A Tail of Two Dragons

by

Astrodragon
(with help from the usual suspects)

 

Part Three

 

Sunday 17th December, One of the Security Offices, morning

 

Thulia looked at the teachers lined up on the other side of the table. Her lessons advisor, The Imp. Vanessa Barton. Ms Dennon and the old oriental man she’d learned was Sensei Ito, the retired BMA teacher. He didn’t look that retired to her. She wondered what she’d done to deserve the attention of four teachers. Oh right, emasculating her combat finals opponent might have had something to do with it.

They gave her considering looks, none of which did anything to relieve her tension, before Ms Dennon took the lead. “Now, Thulia, while we don’t often bother with this level of detail, this will be your follow-up review of your combat final. After what happened during it, we think we should look at improvements in your skills and defences.”

Yes, she thought cynically. Like how not to get backstabbed by another student with an illegal weapon.

“I’m at your disposal, of course. And any help to stop that from happening again would be very useful.”

Ms Dennon coughed, looking slightly embarrassed at the girls’ somewhat ironic tone. “Well, yes. Of course, these sorts of events are very rare. That weapon was highly illegal, and also we checked on all holdouts – he lied and sneaked it past us. Sadly we can’t keep full control over what a student will have available to them in the Arena, there are manifestors, conjurors, dimensional pockets and so on. So we’re going to talk to see what you can do to protect yourself more adequately.” She winced slightly as she remembered the things Counterpoint had been allowed to get up to.

Thulia thought about that, then looked at The Imp. The other instructors she could understand, but her study advisor? The Imp must have noticed her look, as she gave a big grin. “Among other things, I will be recommending certain classes that should be of help to you.” Oh, that was so reassuring.

“I did a lot wrong, didn’t I?”

Ito regarded her thoughtfully. “In combat, not too much. Your big mistake was to try and protect your fellow student when it was clear he was against you. The scenario was designed, among other things, to put you in a situation where some of your normal fall-back powers weren’t suitable, and to force you to think of alternative methods. You coped with that quite well.”

She sighed. “I realise it was foolish, I didn’t realise a school exercise could be so dangerous. I should have read his intentions better, but I’m afraid I’m still not familiar enough with humans in these situations.”

Vanessa nodded. “Not surprising. That will only come with experience, which we will try and help you with.”

“If my combat wasn’t terrible, what else is the issue?”

Dennon gave her a long considering look. “I think your equipment needs considerable improvement. Better equipment, or a more resistant costume, might well have saved you from such a serious injury. At the least, it would have reduced it.”

Thulia frowned. “I’ve only been here a few weeks, the default gear I have is much more suited to a magical attack than a physical one, and in an environment with more essence available. I had intended to observe the combat finals to get a better idea of what would be best needed here.”

Ito looked thoughtful. “Why was there such an obvious lack of protective covering along your back and spine?”

She sighed. “My usual gear assumes I’d be using, or likely to use my wings, and so my costume needs to accommodate that. There are ways to fix the issue without leaving such an obvious vulnerability, I need to work on some of them.”

He nodded. “You have two main options, I think. Either a form-fitting costume like Dragonsfyre, or some protective robes or a more loosely fitting costume. If you decide on a form-fitting one, I’m sure she can give you an appreciation of what works. You will need to sort out your wings issue, and certainly use better materials. You might also consider something like a PFF, in case your magic barrier gets taken down and you don’t have time to recast it.”

She thought about that. While she could bring up her barrier fairly quickly, it did take a short time, and as she’d just found out, was hard to do if she was under constant attack. She’d seen the use Morgana had made of hers, it was a good idea.

The Imp nodded. “While next term is short, and mainly for special topics, Mrs Ryan does carry on with her costume class on Saturdays. You should register for it. Even if you decide to buy something, the basic lessons she teaches will help you decide on what you need. It will also give you an idea of what materials are available.”

Ito was looking at her thoughtfully, obviously considering something else. “Sensei Tolman teaches a special weapons class. You should take it. There are obvious circumstances where your staff is not the most suitable solution. Your spear was interesting, I suggest you have her evaluate it and then learn to use it – or indeed, when not to use it – in class, rather than in combat. There are advantages to having a sharp weapon as well as a blunt one, depending on the circumstances.”

Ms. Barton stirred. “That quick heal spell you cast was useful, it may well have saved you. Can you do it more often or have it heal more damage?”

Thulia looked thoughtful as she considered the problem. “Maybe. It’s intended as a very quick and simple emergency fix, while I could make it do more that would take longer, and in combat that could be a problem. What I could do more easily is make a different one that has more uses.”

“That would be a good idea. I know you can cast a full healing on yourself if you have the time, but unless you have comrades covering for you, you might not HAVE that time.” She nodded, wincing at an unpleasant memory.

Ms Dennon grinned at her. “One last thing. You need to practice, and the arena isn’t that suitable for you considering some of your more damaging abilities. So we will enrol you in the Sims. Technically you will be part of M3, but given your particular needs we will often run you through either on your own or with a selected squad. In the Sims, we won’t need to set things up the way we did in the Arena.” She looked slightly guilty. “In retrospect, we may have limited your options a bit more than was reasonable for a solo mission.”

Thulia looked worried. “Will the Sims work for me, I mean, I’m not exactly your standard human.?”

Dennon nodded. “I’m sure they will, and in any case, the first thing we do is to check that out fully. You might be surprised at some of the ‘people’ we’ve run through Sims in the past!”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

There were some looks exchanged around the table once Thulia had left.

“So, what are we going to do with her?”

Ito looked thoughtful. “I think we will need a specially tailored program for her, to allow for her current abilities and to make sure she learns the ones we want to teach her. “

Ms. Dennon nodded. “We need to cover the practical skills she will need, as well as teach her how to use her abilities in more normal situations. From what we know, her training has emphasised individual skills, and some of them will need adjusting and care to use in, say, a city.” She carefully avoided mentioning Phoenix.

“The rest of the group she’s associated with - M3 – is planned for Team Training next term, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but while some of that will be good for her – she needs to know how to use her abilities in a group, we also need to work on the abilities themselves. I suggest a mix of some SIM work with an M3 team, and some individual scenarios, at least for a start. We could also look at teaming her up with a more experienced student with a suitable power set. Then we can see how it goes from there. Although I can foresee Dragonsfyre complaining if they are kept apart, but they do both need to work individually as well as a pair.”

“In particular we need to set her tests that can’t be solved just by damage. Her existing skills are good, but they are heavily geared toward damage and magic, and assume an amount of essence that isn’t usually available. She needs them broadened, and a SIM is a good way of making that plain to her. M3 is being aimed at the S&R track, with some added opponents given the needs of some of them. I think that won’t be too poor a fit for her.”

“How is Gouyasse anyway?”

Dennon shrugged. “He regenerates, so the physical damage isn’t an issue. Doyle is deliberately taking it slowly, we want to rub the lesson in.”

Vanessa looked thoughtful. “Even though he'll recover we’ve seen, in the past, how injuries like this can psychologically damage young men and cause them later... difficulties.”

Dennon just looked at her. “Oh dear, my heart bleeds toilet water for him after what he did.”

“Still no idea who put him up to it and why?”

“Not yet, but we’ll keep looking. We don’t need another Sterling incident.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

17th December, Poe Cottage, Morgana and Bianca’s Room, afternoon

 

“So how did your review go?”

Thulia gave a deep sigh as she sat down carefully in the chair. While Pastel’s healing had been very helpful, and she’d checked herself out fully, just in case, it had only been a couple of days and her lower back was still a little sore. She’d need to cast a healing spell in a day or so to make sure she wouldn’t scar.

“I think after that fiasco I need an outfit with better protection. For the next time that I get into a fight.”

Morgana eyed her girlfriend, not bothering to comment on the ‘next time’. “OK, are you going for something like mine or tunic/robes of some sort?”

Thulia looked thoughtfully at the wall as she thought over some possibilities. “Tight-fitting would be interesting, but I’d rather stay out of hand range if I have the choice, so I don’t need it to fight in. Most of my spells work best at range anyway. I do change in size a bit when I go full dragon and I’m not sure how well the fabric you used would stretch. A robe would give me more freedom in that regard. They suggested I attend the Costume Class next term to help investigate the possibilities.”

“You realise a robe sort of shouts out ‘Mage Here!’ to anyone who sees it?”

“But I AM a mage!”

Morgana declined to comment on that. After all, a robe didn’t exactly scream out ‘Dragon!’ either. “You’d want more robust material thanI used. I chose the cheap school stuff because I wasn’t sure it would work. We can get you the good stuff. But we’d want to add spells and stuff to it ourselves, getting it with that is expensive, and you can probably do better yourself anyway. We probably should talk to Mrs Ryan about the best ways to do that, my stuff was just quick and dirty. I can afford to make a better one now, so I’ll need to work on a new costume anyway.”

“I think I’d want it to give me much better protection against physical attacks as well. They seem a lot more likely on Earth. Both from the material and the protective spells. I think I need to check out some stuff while I’m home over Xmas.”

Morgana nodded and put her costuming app on her pad. “Let’s see. We can use my saved form data, we’re close enough for that to work well.” She tapped through some pull-down menus of standard costumes. Then showed the result to her girlfriend. “Something like this?”

Thulia peered at some of them. I rather like the long split skirt, I can still run if I need to. And it would cover my back.” She shivered slightly. “I think I need that.”

Morgana gave her a quick commiserating hug. “What about wings and tail?”

Thulia stopped turning the pad to see different angles, as she considered. “Tail is easy, I do that all the time with robes, they just need to be cut properly. Wings...I need to look up a spell back home over Xmas, it should be doable, it will just be a bit tricky. I might need to look into using materials from home. And the robes make it easy to add magic. But I think I need to talk to Laura about one of her PFG’s!”

“We should work up a list of what you need, then you can pick up stuff when you’re back home over Xmas. If you can get some small pieces of any material you are thinking of using, the labs have a test kit which will show you how strong it is compared to the human materials we have available. I can arrange to get hold of the tech stuff you need. I want to make sure you’re protected.”

Thulia patted Morgana’s hand. “That’s sweet, but I’m not that delicate.”

Her partner put on one of her mulish looks. “After what happened? I’m not taking any chances with you that I can avoid. Even if we have to buy you a tank.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Monday 18th December, Frosh Workshop Lab Area, Afternoon.

 

“So what are you working on? Bit late for the combat finals.”

Thulia pushed the magnifying specs up and looked at Betsy.

“That’s because it isn’t for the Combat Finals. It’s a” – she thought around for the correct English words – “A cradle or holder for my pad.” She gestured at the slab of ruby-coloured crystal on the bench next to her. “It’s intended to interface to other things, like a bigger display, or for direct control of some types of equipment, for example, but the interface is magic-based, it isn’t terribly compatible with tech. So it will slide into the cradle, and that will handle all the tech interface issues. Simple but useful. And it gets me more familiar with the tools you have here for building other things after Xmas, I have ideas about a few things I wish to construct.”

Betsy pouted. “You mean it doesn’t have a built-in death ray?”

Thulia rolled her eyes. “WHY would I want my pad to have a death ray, of all things? Do you have one built into your phone?”

Betsy looked a bit evasive. “You never know when you might need one.”

Thulia wasn’t quite sure if that was a joke or not.

“Wasting time on a simple thing rather than making anything complicated?”

Thulia glared at the two boys who’d walked up to her workbench. Elliot and Marty, if she’d got their names right. Two of the more annoying members of the Lab. Not as crazy as Stark, but what they lacked in insanity they made up for in exuberant stupidity and annoyance.

“It’s what I need, so that’s what I’m making.”

The two exchanged sneering looks. “Hmph. We really shouldn’t let these girls come and take up lab space with their little toys, rather than use it for proper inventions.” Elliot raised his multi-gun to display it. “Ones like this.”

Thulia wasn’t impressed. “Compensating for something?”

The boy scowled at her. “It’s a multi-weapon, something useful.”

Thulia shrugged. “I suppose, if you have a rat problem.”

Eliot half-raised his elaborate gun in Thulia’s direction. He didn’t get further than halfway in his action, he hadn’t realised just how fast the girl was as she slid forward and grabbed him.

He gasped in fear as the front of his labcoat was gripped in a clawed fist, and he was dragged forward like a child. He could feel the heat of the soldering gun Thulia held in her other hand as he tried to focus on something only an inch from his nose.

“Hey!”

“Don’t raise a weapon at me, or it really won’t go well for you.”

He tried to wriggle out of her grip, with no success whatsoever. He was, after all, just an out-of-condition teenage baseline and she was a dragongirl waving a rather heated soldering gun in his face.

“I didn’t mean anything! I wasn’t threatening you, honest!”

She looked at him, then touched the tip of the soldering iron to her tongue, eliciting a soft hiss. “I think you’d better go away and stop bothering me. Otherwise, I might be forced to put this iron somewhere you might find...unpleasant.”

Eliot gasped and staggered back as she released him, nodding like a bobblehead as he took his things and staggered out of the lab as fast as he could.

Betsy looked at her. “You wouldn’t have put it...?”

“Why not, he annoys me. Come to that, he annoys most people here.”

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Tuesday 19th December, 4 pm, Ms. Grimes’s office.

 

Elisia looked up from the notes she was going through to wave Thulia to take a chair.

“I’m sorry, Thulia, there’s always so much paperwork to do at this time of year.” She gave her a close, examining look. “You seem recovered from your little incident.”

Thulia nodded. “Yes teacher, your healers are very competent. “ She didn’t mention that she’d also done a full examination and some minor work herself, it might have seemed rude.

Elisia gave her one of her rare smiles. “That’s good. Now I suppose you’re curious as to why as asked you here today?”

The dragoness nodded. “I hope I didn’t do anything wrong?”

Grimes waved that away. “Not at all, I wanted to talk to you about next term. How much of your curriculum has The Imp arranged?”

Thulia looked a bit puzzled. “Sensai Tolman has suggested I take the Martial Arts Weapons class. Ms. Imp has reminded me that my English class still runs next term, so those are two things I have marked in. Something has been said about a Team Tactics course, some of it with the M3 group, some with other people. While I have to arrange some time in the language lab to tutor Morgana, and I was thinking of looking into the Costuming Class on Saturdays, the rest of the week is free”

“Good, then if you are willing, there is a course I’d like to be involved in, it should fit into your schedule. I will be running a class in Portals and Gates for Dimension Travelling and contacting Entities. It’s for Juniors and Seniors normally, but I want you involved in a somewhat different way.”

Thulia was still looking confused. Of course, she could already make and use portals that way, she’d demonstrated it to Grimes, and she didn’t understand what additional skills she could take from this course.

“Even though I am not a Junior or Senior, teacher?”

Grimes chuckled at the fairly obvious fishing for data from the girl.

“Not in the slightest. I know you have these skills already. What I would like you to do is be my Teaching Assistant for the course.”

For her part, Thulia looked slightly shocked. “But I’ve only been here a month! Surely there are more qualified people than I?”

“No, there aren’t. If it wasn’t the issue of a student teaching other students directly, my observation and analysis of your skill would suggest to me you should teach the course. However, there are... issues... with a course not being run by a teacher.”

Thulia blushed deeply. “That’s very flattering, teacher. What would I have to do?”

Grimes nodded, as she slipped a file folder from the stack on her desk. “It’s pretty straightforward. You will assist me in teaching the course, in particular the practical work involved. The details are all in the folder. Take a look, and just let me know before Xmas if you will accept the job. If you do I will send you more comprehensive details before the term starts.”

Thulia picked up the folder and stood up, clutching it possessively. “I certainly will, teacher. I’m honoured to be considered for the position.”

Grimes watchedasthe dragongirl leftand smiled to herself. Getting a TA qualified to help with this particular course was hard, but as long as Thulia didn’t show anyone how to get somewhere not appropriate for a student – and in retrospect, she should monitor that, their ideas of appropriate might not be the same - she was quite certain the girl had the skills to help her. She hadn’t bothered to mention the course credit the girl would get, she didn’t think that would affect Thulia’s decision anyway.

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Thursday 22nd December, Crystal Hall

 

Morgana slumped bonelessly back in her chair with the sigh of relief of a student who’d finished with her coursework until after Xmas.

“Well, that’s all over till the summer!”

Erica grinned as she scarfed down the last roll on the table before Tanya could make a grab for it.

“Don’t slump like that! Remember you’re supposed to be a refined lady now!”

The redhead raised a lazy finger in response. “No, I’m not. Ladylike is Bianca’s issue, she’s the princess! "The princess in question just responded with a rather un-princess-like gesture with one finger, which Morgana ignored as she continued."I’m just a perfectly ordinary dragongirl who’s finished all her exams for the term. And who intends to start celebrating with a big breakfast.

Thulia looked up from her demolition of what looked like the best part of a pig's worth of sausages and ham. And not a small pig.

“But you always have a big breakfast?

Morgana nodded. “Well, sometimes.” The use of that particular adjective led to quite a few raised eyebrows and at least one barely-concealed snicker.”But now the exams are over and I did well, in the important subjects, I can enjoy it without all the stress. Now I can relax, and get ready for the flight back to London.”

“So what’s left to do anyway?”

The dragongirl ticked off the points on her fingers as she replied to Vic.

“We have the end-of-term dance this evening. It’s not full-formal, but I need a dress. And yes, Vic, that means at least a suit or something smart-looking for you! So that’s a visit to Cecilia in the town for that, and a nails and hair job at that dinky little salon. I booked an appointment time for a group, so it just means catching the bus. They do haircuts and stuff for men as well as girls.”

She smiled over at Thulia. “This is the first time I’ve been able to take you to an event, I’m looking forward to it.”

Erica frowned. “And the kids who are going to insult the two of you about being lesbians when you dance together?”

Morgana snerked. “After Thulia’s combat final? Anyway, the staff will be there, so I don’t see any issues. That’s tonight, and tomorrow I have to pack, there’s a school bus leaving after lunch to take the European kids to Boston International, and then I catch a British Airways flight to London. My sister will collect me from there.”

Bianca gave her a look. “And what about Thulia? Are you just abandoning her all on her own at Whateley for Xmas?” she grinned “I thought I’d need a much bigger crowbar to pry you two apart!”

Thulia patted her leman on the hand. “Well, Xmas isn’t so big for me, we don’t celebrate it as a major holiday like you do. And Morgana deserves a few days with her family, and I’d like to spend a few days with mine. But I will be joining her for some time over the New Year, I want to meet her family, and waiting till a few days after Xmas seems sensible.”

WA Break Small_Solid

A small group of M3 continued to lounge around their table in the Crystal Hall. After the stress of the finals – both combat and academic – it was nice to be able to linger over breakfast and chat a bit. A process aided when Thulia produced a large, fancy box of chocolates.

“And where did you get those?”

Thulia smiled and patted the box. “They were a gift.”

Erica peered a little suspiciously at the attached note. “For your actions in the combat finals, Brita. Odd, from her, I thought she didn’t like us?”

Laura shrugged. “I don’t think she does, but she’s been a lot more restrained recently, maybe someone had a word with her?”

Morgana looked at the box with a more practical eye. “Still, they are very high quality, it would be rude not to accept them, wouldn’t it?”

Bianca patted her roomies hand back from the box. “Not yet. Let’s check this out first, just in case it’s a trap of some sort.” She drew out one of her spell slips, quickly scribing a glyph on it, as Thulia watched with interest.

“You keep a spell to detect poisons and such ready?”

Bianca shrugged as she activated the spell, the box glowing a pale yellow. “Well, you never know. Especially when it's chocolates. “She ignored Laura’s blush, as she carried blithely on.”Anyway, looks like it’s clean, at least for humans.” She cast a querying look at Thulia. “And dragons?”

Thulia shrugged. “If it’s OK for humans, it’s OK for me. My digestion is pretty robust.”

WA Break Small_Solid

Some minutes later, half the contents of the box had mysteriously vanished, with appropriate pleasurable comments.

“Not bad. Maybe you should hit some of the more annoying boys with your tail again?”

Thulia winced slightly at Erica’s joke. “I’d really rather not, I only did it because I was so upset and in pain.”

Morgana patted her leman's hand. “Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to make a habit of it. Now, we do have other things to discuss. The End of Term Party.”

“So, who have we got coming?”

Morgana looked around and checked. “Let’s see. Me, obviously, I need the salon and I need a dress for tonight. Thulia’s just going to have her hair and claws trimmed, she says she already has a dress and it’s supposed to be a surprise.” That led to more than a few snerks from the assembly, who’d had a little experience of Thulia’s sense of style. “Not that sort of surprise...I think. Anyway, all of us girls need the salon, I’ve done a block booking for us this morning. Not sure how many others need a dress, if Cecilia is a bit pricey, there’s always the store. And the guys need something better than a t-shirt.” She glared at Jimmy and Vic, ignoring the fact she was one of the poster girls for schlepping around in jeans and a t-shirt herself, as Vic made a lazy finger at her.”

“Do I have to?”

Morgana gave Bianca a stern look at her pleading comment. “You’ll be leaving tomorrow to head back home, right? They’ll expect you to look neat and ladylike, so yes, hair and nails. And you need to decide on a dress colour – if it’s not white, you have to choose one of these things called colours.

Bianca sighed. “I guess you’re right.”

Laura looked uncomfortable. “But I have to check my kit for Japan again.”

Morgana looked at the blue girl. “Look, you’ve been prepping it for weeks, it’s all ready. If you keep on checking it you’ll just get in a tizzy and end up forgetting something. Take an evening off, have a break and enjoy yourself, then you’ll be fresh in the morning to pack it all up without missing anything. Trust me, OK?”

Laura gave her a doubtful look before giving her a reluctant nod.

“And Antonia will appreciate you taking the time to dance with her, won't she?”

WA Break Small_Solid

Fairyfire looked over the Crystal Hall, smiling as she recognised the couple of horned heads she’d been looking out for. “Oh good, they’re together. We can ask them both at the same time.” She walked quickly over to the two girls she wanted to talk to – no need to let them have time to escape, after all!

“Excuse me?”

Two horned heads turned to look at her, one in plain curiosity, the redheaded one with considerably more suspicion. At least the two girls had paused in their meal to look at her. Given that they were both energizers, she took that as a positive sign for her prospective sales pitch.

“Can we help you?”

Yes, that was a definite air of suspicion from the redhead, Morgana, if she hadn’t got the two mixed up. They looked more alike than she’d realised.

“Well, if you have a few minutes, I’m forming a group you might be interested in?”

This time the dragongirls exchanged one of those non-verbal communication looks between themselves before Morgana gave her a more curious look, one eyebrow raised in question.

“Go on then, what sort of group and why should we be interested in it? In our copious free time, of course.”

She could almost see the sarcasm being layered onto that statement with a trowel. She wondered what they were up to that kept them so busy. Still, she slid into a seat next to them and gave them her best and brightest smile before launching into her recruitment spiel.

“Well, you see, I’m getting some kids together to form a dance troupe. Not a normal one, one based on the elements – the traditional ones like earth, water, and fire, not the science ones. We’d include manifestation and use of them along with the usual dance routines. It’s for fun, really, and maybe to help those who want to pursue careers as entertainers, but if it takes off I was thinking of getting the band to buy into it, maybe do a show alongside their act?”

For some reason, Morgana’s face bore a rather twisted smile at the suggestion of the band. Thulia, however, was showing a lot more interest – she’d even paused in her eating to listen.

Morgana shook her head.“I’m sorry, but I don’t dance well, I don’t think I’d be very good in your group. And I really do have a very crowded schedule.”

Thulia put her hand on her friend’s. “Love, I know you do, but mine isn’t quite as bad. And it’s been a while since I’ve danced, I missed it.” She turned to face Fairyfire. “I’d like to be involved, if I may. Will you be doing an audition or something?”

Fairyfire grinned. “From what I’ve heard, you two do fire. Do you use a prop, or...?”

Thulia grinned and pulled her sleeve back. A moment later a yellow-red flame was dancing along her her hand, caressing her fingers playfully. “No props.”

Fairyfire looked rather impressed at the casual display of fire manipulation and control, her eyebrows raised in interest. “Cool, you’re a fire mage too then? Wow, you’re good! We’ll be having a meeting and some trials after Xmas, can I put your name down?”

Thulia nodded and held her phone out to get the contact details. “I have my own costume, should I bring it?”

That little tidbit of information made Fairyfire grin. If the girl had a costume, she’d danced before. “Oh, yes, please! Especially if it's fireproof. Most of the other elements are easy, but fire is always a problem.” She practically danced away once their conversation ended.

Morgana watched the girl happily bounce away. “I think you made her morning. Especially when you said you had a costume.”

Thulia nodded and resumed the important process of eating. “I used to dance back home, it was fun and a break from work. I have a couple of costumes, I’ll bring them back with me over the break.”

Morgana gave her partner a sideways look. “I’d love to see you in them. Though maybe I should check, I suppose they’d want one suitable for an Earth audience?”

Thulia pouted. “It’s only a dance costume, what were you expecting?” Morgana’s eyebrows made that clear.

“Oh, OK, you can check. Maybe a private demonstration first?

Morgana leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now that I look forward to!”

Thulia giggled at that. “Besides, it will be good for me to meet more people socially, you’ve been telling me that.”

“I have, haven’t I? I should have kept my mouth shut and locked you up in my room.”

“Promises, promises...”

WA Break Small_Solid

Thursday 22nd December, Dr Bellows Office

 

With a sigh, Alfred Bellows picked up his phone to make a call.

“Hello, Mrs Selkirk. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Of course, Doctor. Is it urgent?”

“Not really, it’s not time-critical.” He paused for a moment as he worked out what to say without revealing too much of what he knew in confidence. “It’s about the suggestion of moving Thulia in with Tanya for the next term.”

Mrs Selkirk sounded slightly concerned. “Is there a problem? I wasn’t aware you were seeing either of the girls.”

“It’s not a problem with them. Well, not exactly. I am seeing Morgana Jones, Thulia’s cough partner, it’s actually to do with her. Obviously as she’s my patient, I can’t go into too much detail, but some things have come up that I think it would help if you were aware of.”

There was silence for a few moments. “Go on, Doctor.”

“I’m sure you are aware of the issue at the end of the Combat Finals that affected Thulia. Now, Thulia isn’t my patient – I don’t think any of the staff is qualified to analyse a dragon – but the issue did affect Morgana, more than I would have expected. Since the two girls are close, it wasn’t that surprising that Morgana was upset by it, but the strength of her emotions and reactions was a bit unexpected. She took the whole incident a lot worse than I had expected, and she’s been left rather emotionally fragile.”

“I see, Doctor, but what has that to do with my room allocations?”

“Well, one of the results is that Morgana is worried about Thulia, her ability to look after herself, her safety, not unexpected things really after what happened to her. Having Thulia move in with Tanya would actually be a good thing. She trusts Tanya, knows her and perhaps more importantly trusts Tanya to keep Thulia safe, at least for long enough for Thulia to defend herself. So if the move does go ahead, it would ease my worries in that area. Of course, room allocations are up to you, not me, but I felt I should at least inform you.”

“Hmm. Well, of course, there are other things about all this I have to consider, but thank you for the information.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

22nd December, outside the bus stop for Dunwich, 10 am

 

“OK, have we got everything? Purses, coats, agenda, Vic?”

“I’m not that bad about getting my hair done, you know?”

Morgana ignored Vic’s plaintive comment as she counted heads. “Bianca, Cally, Erica, Thulia, Laura, Vic, Jimmy. No, Tavi, I’m not counting you!” She managed to refrain from telling Tavi to do his own hair, she didn’t want to be responsible for the expected fashion disaster.

“What about Tia?”

Morgana made a face. “Apparently Melville has got things like a salon for the poor deprived students who go there, to save them from having to go out and mingle with us common peons.”

She ushered them onto the bus as it ground to a halt next to them. “Now remember, some of us are going to Rogers after, the rest of you will be on your own. Don’t worry, Tavi will look after you.”

Tavi’s image puffed up a bit. “Tavi will look after everyone. Just have to do what Tavi tells them!”

There were several sidewise glances at the exuberant ferret, as well as a mutter of ‘Yeah, that’s what worries me.”

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Morgana looked at herself in the mirror and nodded. For once she’d foregone the customary casual braid in favour of letting her hair be styled to fall down her back, held by a couple of gold-coloured hairgrips. Not only had the salon done her hair, but they’d filed and trimmed her claw-nails and given her a manicure. She wondered about the familiarity with her claws, but then they did get a lot of Whateley kids here, the manicurist hadn’t even blinked as she applied the scarlet polish. As it was Xmas, she’d asked to add some little snowflakes on the back of her nails. The final touch was her horns; they’d been buffed and polished, then oiled to give them a golden sheen that went well with her hair. She’d wondered if that was a bit too far, but Thulia had insisted, her own horns now showing a rich bronze tint.

The most amusing part of the whole experience was watching Jimmy and Vic get quite pedantic over how they wanted their hair to be cut – both had refused to mention the ‘style’ word. This was the first time she’d actually had a chance to get herself properly groomed, the term had been so busy. She worried a bit about how ‘girly’ this was – despite the last term, she still hadn’t properly internalised being a girl, but going out with Thulia had made her decide she had to look good for her, she wanted to make Thulia proud of the way she looked. Then she saw Vic arguing again about getting his hair trimmed just right and smiled internally. Maybe not.

“So, who’s coming with me to Rogers? Not you, Thulia, I want the dress to be a surprise for you this evening. Laura, Tanya? I’d love your help and opinions; this is the first time I’ve bought a dress for myself since I manifested.”

The rest of the girls seemed to think they already had outfits for what, after all, wasn’t a formal event. She had her doubts about Bianca, but assumed she’d be put into something more suitable for her Family position when she got to Chicago. Probably in white. She’d heard Chicago had a lot of snow, no doubt she’d blend in well.

Waving goodbye to the rest of the crew, who’d decided to do some window shopping until the next bus arrived, the three headed for Rogers Fabrics. It wasn’t very far to walk, after all.

“So what is it you’re looking for, Morgana? You didn’t seem to want Thulia to see it.”

“Nothing special, really, just a nice dress for parties. There’s this one, and then if anything comes up over Xmas or New Year I have one available, just in case I need it. I thought it would be a nice surprise for her to see me all prettied up.”

“Nothing like Thulia’s outfit then?”

Morgana gave a half-hearted glare at her blue friend. “I don’t think I could pull that off, I’d be too embarrassed by all the attention. And it would be a bit chilly for a December evening. She wouldn’t tell me what she was planning either, so it only seemed fair to keep mine a secret too.”

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Ms Rogers's store in Dunwich

 

Ms Rogers was presumably the lady doing a final fitting on one of the older students posing in front of her. She stopped for a moment to give the group an inquiring look.

“Hello Ms Rogers, I’m Morgana Jones, I booked for dress fittings at 12?”

The lady half waved, her attention fixed on the girl she was fitting.

“Just sit down for a minute, girls, I’ll be finished in a few minutes.”

The girls did as instructed, but then Tanya gave Morgana an odd look. “Fittings? I thought you were only getting one dress?”

Morgana patted her hand. “Patience, young Padawan, and be instructed,”

Tanya gave her a more suspicious look but sat back down. It was only a dress fitting, after all, it could hardly be a nefarious plot of some sort. Although Morgana was being innocent, which always worried her. After things like the Combat Finals, she was beginning to realise that Morgana’s outgoing and cheerful appearance was hiding a very devious dragongirl indeed.

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“So, what can I make for you?”

Morgana stood up to go first. “I need a dress. First off for the end-of-term dance tonight, but also if I want something for anything that might go on say at New Year.” She held out a photo, showing an ankle-length dress in some sort of gold material, certainly displaying the model's body well, but not indecorous. The dress covered one shoulder, but the other shoulder and her arms were bare as the dress cut down one side. There was a visible slit, again hardly indecent, but quite obvious. “I was thinking of something like this, the slit gives me freedom of movement and my arms free, just in case. It’s cut low at the back, so I need some sort of bra that isn’t visible?”

Cecilia was looking between the picture and the girl. “That’s pretty easy, it’s a rather classic look. What about colours and materials?”

Morgana thought for a minute. “I’m not sure if that colour would work for me, I was thinking of something darker, maybe blue-purple, that would go with my skin and hair colour? As to material, I’ll leave that up to you. The dress in that photo is silk, but something that looks similar but is a bit more...robust... might be a better choice?”

Cecilia nodded. “I do try to merge appearance with durability for Whateley girls, it’s always seemed a practical choice.” She gestured, and a few bolts of cloth unrolled themselves to hang in mid-air next to Morgana. “yes, something purple-blue would go well with your colour. Do you have your measurements?”

Morgana nodded, handing out her phone with the measurements she'd had done for her costume displayed. “Here you go.”

Cecilia nodded, all but one of the bolts swinging back onto the shelves as she started to use her power to form the remaining one into the desired outfit. While the girls had heard about Celicilia’s talents, actually seeing a dress form so quickly was rather amazing. In ten minutes, it was all done. A dress, and matching underwear. Tanya and Laura made appreciative noises. Cecilia had even made up a belt of what looked like bronze links to wear with it. It seemed she could work in just about any costume material, not just cloth.

“Now what about the other two of you?” Both girls tried to explain they hadn’t come here except to keep Morgana company. The girl in question grinned, holding each girl by the arm. “A dress each. I’m paying.” That brought protests from both girls, which she quelled with a rather severe look. “OK, now look. These are Xmas presents. Laura. You’ve done a ton for me this term, and I never properly repaid you. Tanya, you’ve been a friend when I needed one, so letting me get you a present each for Xmas is the least I can do.”

It took a bit more persuading over the girl's protestations, but the dragongirl refused to budge. Giving up, both girls selected a design from Cecilia's catalogue – she had a very good eye for deciding what would work for them, and again the three watched the complex ballet of cloth and materials formed into dresses.

“Now, while the materials I’ve used aren’t Kevra, they are rather tougher than they appear. They can be dry-cleaned. And I’ll put instructions in the boxes for you. “

“Oh, there are two other things I want.”

Cecilia looked at Morgana, an eyebrow raised. “It's winter. I was thinking of a full-length cloak, for practical and visual appearance.” She nodded. “That's simple enough, colours and sizes”

“One in greenish, I think, to go with my hair and dress. The other, a dark red. You can make them both to fit me.”

“Are they both for you?”

Morgana blushed slightly and shook her head.”One is a present for my girlfriend. She’s my size, so making them both to my measurements will fit. She has long ebony hair, and the same coloration as me, so I thought or a dark red cloak. Maybe with fur, as it’s winter?”

Making a couple of cloaks was even faster for Cecilia than the dresses had been, even after she prettied them up with some practically-warm fur.

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“I still can’t believe you bought me a dress like this for Xmas!”

Morgana grinned at Laura. “Come on, Laura, I wanted to get you something nice and I think this works for us.”

“But the cost...”

Morgana shrugged. “Wasn’t too bad, we didn’t ask for anything exotic. And you two are well worth it.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

22nd December, Poe Cottage, 6 pm

 

The M3 Poe contingent had gathered in the Poe foyer, along with a few friends from the cottage.

“So, we all ready?”

There was a sort-of-chorus of assent. Morgana patted Laura on the arm. “Now Laura, I want you to have a fun time. You can worry about Japan tomorrow, not this evening.” The blue girl still looked slightly guilty about not going through her trip preparations one more time. Morgana gave her a wry look, as she slipped the cloak she’d bought for herself a bit more around herself. It might only be 6 pm, but it was 6 pm on a cold New Hampshire night, and she’d got her dress for appearance, not for warmth. The fur lining in the cloak did feel good, she would quite happily have snuggled in it regardless of the cold. And as they had to pick up Tanya and Thulia, she loved its comfort.

They’d collected Tanya first, and Morgana kept an interested eye on Vic as he saw her in the new dress. It did suit her, and she wondered... yes, Vic was politely offering her his arm. Not in a ‘possessive lover’ sort of way, but as a gentleman. Well, it was a start. It had certainly taken the two long enough to admit to something that their friends had seen ages ago, the betting pool kept getting extended due to the lack of action between the two. She was pretty sure she’d lost her money on that one.

She’d wondered to herself what Thulia would wear to the dance, but while it was one of her nicer robes it was fairly decorous. OK, decorous by Thulia’s standards, it still looked fairly exotic but didn’t reveal anything much. Morgana’s gift of the other cloak to her leman had been met with the appropriate exclamations, and the deep red did look good with that lovely ebony hair. Vic could be as gentlemanly with Tanya as he wished – After all, it had taken him all term just to get this far, at least in public - but for her part, she slid her arm into Thulia’s with a much more possessive grip. It was obvious to anyone who looked at them that they belonged to each other, and she didn’t care about the grins her friends gave her when they saw. She wasn’t going to hide the way they felt about each other, why should she?

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Room 226, Twain Cottage

 

It was times like this, working against a deadline, that Max Livingston could resent his best friend's penchant for dropping out of sight.

So far, for over a week. The worst part had to be that everyone he worked with was just as close-mouthed. If something didn't give soon, some cages were going to get rattled!

"...Sir, while I've been instructed to 'lie like a lying dog that lies, and tell Max that everything is fine', I trust that you'll accept in its stead the news that Mr. Keeling has returned to his residence and is expected to be in the office later today."

Max processed that change of status as best he could.

"Where do I send the flowers?"

That got a laugh from the gatekeeper. Whatever Benjamin had been up to, it had been touch-and-go even by his standards.

"To the office, of course."

"How many poppies?"

"..."

"How many? I'll play it for laughs later, but, for him, I need to know."

"Three. Let him call you when he's available."

"Will do. Thank you."

Max hung up, then counted ten in three languages before plugging in another number.

"Hello, this is Max Livingston! I'd like to place a delivery order for office hours today."

"Something with red camellia, Chinese winter chrysanthemum, balm, and allspice. Got that?

Good."

"Now comes the tricky part: it also has to include exactly three red poppies. It's going to Mr. Benjamin Keeling, Suite 701, 13 Kapala Town Center."

"Which office? Check the address."

"Yeah. Going to that floor, the front desk will handle everything."

That much handled as best as he could, it was now back to other business! Max grinned at his party suit on its hangers, imagining his face grinning back from the hundreds of red and green sequins worked into the tuxedo's trim. No one would guess that the exact colours had been selected to complement Dafira's skin tone and Ekene's scales. By escorting two lovelies to the dance, his reputation couldn't rub off on either one.

Heh. Shower, makeup, costuming, and a show. What more could anyone ask for? He wondered if there would be drone footage he could get later to show off to his friends.

 

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“Holbrook Hall looks a bit different tonight.”

Morgana nodded, as the group paused for a minute to admire the Xmas decorations and lights that now adorned the front of the building. They were probably visible from orbit.

“It’s pretty, even if those Reindeer look more than a bit dodgy. I’m not terribly convinced about the purple and green colour scheme, let alone the plaid. Come on, let’s go in and see what’s going on.”

“You just want to get at the food early!”

Morgana just stuck her tongue out at Laura, as she took Thulia’s arm and led her inside.

She paused for a moment before entering the dance hall. The small sort-of-Godzilla statuette that sat by the door was wearing a jaunty Xmas bobble hat for the occasion, and she grinned and gave it a small pat. Looking at Thulia’s raised eyebrow, she smiled. “For luck.”

Wanting to collect everyone in their group before the party meant a lot of the students were there already. And also a couple of drones, idly circling the attendees, just in case, of course. No doubt just taking party pictures for the kids, not laden with heavy anti-personnel weaponry at all. She remembered what Flower had told them about this party – It was a cheerful end-of-term thing, and the sort of exuberant events that Halloween was notorious for were discouraged. It was an occasion to relax after finals, not to seek revenge on anyone. Inside replicated the Xmas decorations from outside (with rather less disturbing-looking reindeer, thankfully).

Everyone was happy to hand their coats and cloaks in to one of the staff who was manning a desk by the entrance while looking around to see what was going on in the already-crowded hall. The Hall wasn’t as packed as she’d expected, but then she remembered this party was for Frosh and Soph students.

Most of the group were looking around for friends to wave hello and call Xmas greetings to, while Morgana, Thulia and Erica made a concerted move on the snack-laden tables along one wall. The exception to the heavy-eating crew was Tanya, who managed to put the lure of food aside for long enough to smile and wave to her friends.

“I’m glad to see they aren’t trying to starve us.” Morgana took one of the glasses of punch, sniffing it before taking a careful sip. “Hmm, too sweet and no alcohol.” She shrugged and started to laden her plate. “Can’t be helped, I suppose, Americans think Cider is Apple Juice...”

Behind her she could see the Poe contingent being refreshed – Bianca had spotted Tinker, who was working her way through the crowd to her, and Antonia had already spotted and taken possession of Laura. She hoped Laura would relax and enjoy the evening, she’d been working so hard she really needed a break.

Morgana looked at Erica. “Think Bianca and Tinker will get up the nerve to dance with each other tonight?”

Erica gave the girls an appraising look across the hall where Bianca, for one not completely in White even if she had a white jacket on, was greeting Timker. “Dunno, I mean they seem to develop cases of terminal blush just being close, a dance might make one of them spontaneously combust.”

Morgana shook her head. “I don’t see why the two of them are so worried.” Beside them, Cally gave a small cough. “Oh. Sorry, Cally.”

Erica gave her a disappointed look. “We don’t all have a girlfriend who’d likely put anyone who insulted the pair of you in Doyle.”

“Thulia wouldn’t do that! She’s a gentle girl...” A girl who was right now involved in the complicated topological exercise of seeing how many of the appetisers she could fit on a plate.

“Yeah. Gentle. I’m sure Gouyasse would agree.”

WA Break Small_Solid

“So, A.J. how are you getting your dragon home? I heard about the fun you had getting him here at the beginning of term.”

“A bigger transport tube and a crowbar.”

 

“So OK, Wilder and Rachel are dancing. What odds do I get for guessing the number of bodies in their wake?”

 

“So how DID Laura get out of really doing a Combat Final without getting punished?”

“Dunno, I heard it was something about getting some medical thing ready to take to Japan.”

 

“They are going to do a Special Topic for P.E. next term, Pole Dancing.”

“They offer a class in Pole Dancing?”

“Special Topic – Aerobics for the Financially Challenged.”

 

"Why is there a flock of Moa in the forest we aren’t supposed to go into?"

"They're Chocobo, actually. Petshop just discovered the Final Fantasy games."

“Well, they’re certainly the most colourful and fluffy chocobo I’ve ever seen...”

 

“So what went wrong in your Devisor Practical?”

“Look, I meant to do that!”

 

“You know, the first rule of Survival class is that you don't wear a shirt with the words 'Kidnap Me!' on it."

 

“So why do you want me to live in a bunker? Just because I sweat hypergolic compounds shouldn’t mean I get discriminated against.”

"Oh, that reminds me... we'll be needing you to sign this waiver in case you spontaneously self-combust."

“You wouldn’t make me do that if I was a cute girl!”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Pastel looked around at the various clumps of teenagers scattered about the room as she set her food down on one of the small tables.

 “So neither of us have a date, but the nun does. How does that work?” she asked as they stood off to the side of the Christmas Dance. 

Helsing sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I'm happy being single. My life is confusing enough right now. I am so not ready to even think about a date.”

“What about Grande, I thought you were good friends with her.”

The devisor blushed. “That's all we are. And she didn't want to come to the dance. She's still shy about her looks, so she's having a little Christmas party with the other Thornies. Where's Shisa?”

Pastel sighed and adjusted her strapless white dress to show a bit more cleavage. “Her and large groups don't mix. If I had to guess she's out in the woods depopulating the more dangerous wildlife. I wish my combat final had gone better.”

“You kicked ass in it. I don't see how you could have done much better.”

“Yeah, it was great for my marks. Not so great for romance. Not a lot of guys want to kiss a girl after she acts like a horny porn star and then leaves a brick screaming on the ground with a broken jaw when she kissed him.”

Helsing had to nod at that. “Fair point. But did you really have to kick the asshole in the mouth after you took him out?”

“Yes, I did. He'd been bothering me for weeks. Maybe he'll finally understand what 'stay the fuck away from me' means.”

“It doesn’t seem to be bothering Thulia after she nearly neutered Gouyasse. Not that he didn’t deserve it.”

Pastel sighed again. “Her girlfriend is a dragon...Well, I'm bored. You want to dance with me?”

Blushing again, Helsing looked at her feet. “I'm not really...”

Pastel grabbed her hand, dragging the girl onto the dance floor. “I'm not asking you for a date. Girls can dance together, and I already told you I don't swing that way. I'm just bored and maybe we can attract some attention by showing off our moves.”

She started dancing using all of her mighty exemplar two grace to twist and sway in time with the music. Helsing tried to copy her, much less comfortably and with far less skill. 

“I meant, I don't know how to dance,” the devisor said.

Laughing, Pastel said, “You know twenty different ways to kill a person, can fight eldritch monstrosities, and are really good playing with spears, but you can't fucking dance?”

Helsing's cheeks could light up the entire room. “I know how to slow dance. This isn't slow dancing. I’m not even sure if some of it counts as dancing...”

“When we get back from Winter vacation, I'll teach you. For now, just shake your hips and go with the flow.”

“You will? Thanks.”

“Yeah, it'll be fun. And it will help make up for me being a bitch to you in November. Maybe Emiko would like to join in? I can show her some moves that will drive her boyfriend wild.”

It was Helsing's turn to laugh. “Yeah, I don't think Emiko or Red are quite ready for that.”

At that moment, they both saw Emiko walk in with Red, and their jaws dropped. The modest Japanese-Canadian was wearing a tight black dress that hugged what few curves the girl had, her makeup looked perfect for a night of clubbing, and her short black hair was done up into a cool-looking pixie cut.

“That's Emiko, right? Not her twin or something,” Pastel asked.

“Uh yeah,” Helsing said. “I didn't know she had any clothes like that.”

“Damn! She actually looks hot.”

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Emiko wasn't sure who was more reluctant to enter the Christmas dance, her or Red.

Her roommate had given her the dress and got it properly fitted for her, before doing her makeup and hair for her, so Emiko didn't want to let it all go to waste. Still getting fashion advice from a girl whose big dream was to become a world-famous porn star probably wasn't the smartest thing she'd ever done. And she'd never felt so exposed.

And despite her embarrassment, Red was even more reluctant to go inside, even though he was wearing nice trousers and a button-up shirt, both of which were in black. “We can still go back to Twain and watch a movie or something,” he offered.

“Nope. You said you'd start pushing some of your boundaries, so we're pushing them. You can't hide away from the world all your life. Now let’s dance,” she said.

“I don't know how to dance.”

“Neither do I,” she said, smiling at him. She was supposed to be wearing heels with her dress, but she was already a hair taller than Red, so she'd decided to wear flats. She just had to tilt her head a little to look him in the eyes. “But then neither do a lot of kids on the dancefloor, and it isn’t stopping them. Let's learn together, and just have some fun.”

He smiled back, lost in her eyes. With his closed-lip smile, he didn't look scary at all, she thought he was rather handsome in fact. Then he was walking with her to the dance floor. “OK, strawberry, let's dance.”

Blushing at his pet name for her, Emiko suddenly didn't care what she was wearing. As long as Red thought she looked beautiful, nothing else mattered.

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Not all the students were dancing, of course. There were quite a few guys and girls without dates, and a group had appropriated one of the tables to chat, watch the dancers, and gossip.

“So how DID Laura get out of really doing a Combat Final without getting punished?” “Dunno, I heard it was something about one of her lab projects for one of the Magic Arts facility.” "I heard that Laura failed her Combat Final with her little stunt." "Nah, I heard she passed." "How?" "Maybe she’s got a project that’s bribing someone." "Administrator? Or a teacher. Or maybe someone outside with big money supporting the school."

"Well, she's been hanging out with the Japanese students a lot, and she DID take a trip to New York with Hikaru." "Maybe something to do with the Japanese PM? Hikaru's supposedly connected to the Japanese government." "That'd be enough 'influence' to get her a passing grade for that bullshit stunt!"

There followed more comments, some about who was dancing with whom, a number of the combinations were not what they’d been anticipating, providing them with yet more gossip-fuel.

“Laura is dancing awfully close with Antonia.”

“Yeah, let me tell you about that...”

WA Break Small_Solid

 

"That was strange. I dreamed I attended a mud wrestling match, with Ratel, some chick who looked like Wilder, Dragonsfyre, and her sister all competing against each other."

"Did you fall asleep watching WWE again?"

"I'll totally do it again. They were all wearing bikinis! Small bikinis..."

 

"I've had enough mental scarring this week without trying to imagine a devisor bra."

 

“Look, we all know telling us we can't use antimatter on a planetary surface is just H&S overreacting, right?”

 

"I see Horace finally got his boob job!"

"Poetic justice that he was last on the surgery list. It was his fault!"

"Dude, I didn't hear you complaining much about what the chocolate did to you!" Cups hands. "You had some bigguns!" Sheepish look.

"Well, they DID get me a lot of sympathy dates from some of the girls! But they were a PAIN!"

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“Look, Hat Trick, I want to join the Transgender Alliance. Why is that such a big problem?”

Pat Barnes sighed deeply to himself. If he was being honest. Gravedigger was actually doing a pretty good impersonation of a teenage girl. The dress, makeup and wig were first-rate. He even had a lot of the movement right, or at least a lot better than a lot of boys dressed as girls managed.

“It isn’t exactly a problem, but it could be an issue. I mean, after you’ve come out you can’t really go back in the closet again. You have to be sure it’s what you want.”

“You’re a female->male preop, I’m just a male->female preop. Not much difference.”

Pat sighed again. What the kid had said was quite true, there was just something about this particular issue that gave him an odd feeling of disquiet. Nothing he could quite put a finger on, but...

“OK, send me the application form and we’ll sort it out over Xmas, how’s that?”

Pat watched Gravedigger saunter away. He still had a worried feeling, it was a Xmas party, with mistletoe courtesy of Flower. While he didn’t think Gravedigger would mind, a boy who agreed might find out later that he was a boy in drag, and that likely wouldn’t end well.

WA Break Small_Solid

“I’m surprised she isn’t wearing a UV armband. After what she did with her tail in the combat finals, I heard she even burnt her roomies arm as well. She’s not safe!”

“So who is?”

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“So, finally getting some seasonal-appropriate clothing?”

Noelle groaned. “Pour cesoir. I mean, just for tonight.” She looked down at the blue knitted sweater with a plethora of snowflakes and a jolly snowman front and centre and managed not to wince too openly.

“Mom has ‘traditions’ that I’d rather not risk my neck by trying to get out of. It’s so hot, though... Juste une

seconde.” She lifted the heavy sweater off, showing she wore at least a t-shirt under it, flipped the sweater around her back, and crossed the sleeves around her neck like a scarf. “Ah, Beaucoup mieux, I feel so much better now.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Thulia was slowly working through her plateful of food while she looked curiously at the dancing. Or at least at the kids who were happily gyrating in the dance area. Some of whom really shouldn’t have been allowed near a dance area.

“It’s not quite the sort of dancing I’m used to.”

Morgana grinned. “What do you expect, they’re teenagers.”

Thulia raised one surprisingly expressive eyebrow at the eight-foot orc escorting two pretty girls, one of whom Morgana recognised as Ekene, towards the dance floor.

“I didn’t expect two girls and one Orc...”

Thulia looked at her leman and pouted prettily. “I was hoping for some of those slow dances you showed me...”

Morgana patted her on the arm. “Later on, when they do some more traditional songs.” She leant close to whisper in her ear.”I didn’t practice those dances so I couldn’t hold you close, after all.”

Thulia glanced up at the small bunch of foliage and berries her partner had been steering them towards, Morgana saw her upward glance and grinned. “It’s a custom here at Xmas, it’s mistletoe, and you kiss under it.”

She didn’t give Thulia time to think through it and ask questions, instead pulled her even closer as their lips met in a long, gentle kiss which suspended time for the pair. It must have lasted longer than she’d expected, judging by the smiles and grins of the people watching them, and some clapping, and she saw at least a couple of people settling bets. She’d have to thank Flower later for her appropriate contribution to the festive decorations.

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

There was a stir of interest when the Unladen Swallows set up. Most of the kids had heard by now that they’d won an off-campus competition, so expected them to be better than last year’s band. There were of course a few pessimists who remained unconvinced.

Cally was nervous about singing in front of so many students, but the band had insisted that their singer did some traditional Christmas Carols for the party. To help her nerves, as she moved to the microphone she could see the M3 group in front of her just in case anything did happen. Erica gave her a smile and a thumbs-up as she tapped the microphone and started to sing.

Nel buioturisplendi a noi,
abete di Natale.
Sui rami tuoiscintillano
le lucicolorate.
Dei bimbigliocchibrillano
di Dio le lucivedono.
Accanto ad un presepec’è
l’abete di Natale.

Ricordi a tutti gliuomini
idonicheipastori
portarono al bambin Gesù
la notte di Natale.
Col cuorepien di giubilo
li misero sui rami tuoi:
per questofesteggiamote,
abete di Natale.

Abete chericordi a noi
la notte di Natale,
nelgelodell’inverno sei
un segno di speranza.
All’uom di buona volontà
la stradaturicorderai
che porta dritta, come te,
al cielo del Signore.

While the words were in Italian, the tune of ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ was clearly recognisable to most of the kids, who actually quietened down a bit to listen. She followed it with a number of renditions of traditional carols in Italian, and received a round of applause at the end.

WA Break Small_Solid

 

23rd December, a secret meeting hall buried deep under London

 

“Very well, the meeting will come to order.”

There was a slow quieting of the voices from the group of people sitting around the table in rust-red robes.

The Grandmaster nodded. “Good. Now I assume you have all read the report that Nephandus supplied us concerning the conduit one of our members tried to create and the subsequent events?”

A number of the members were observant enough to note the phrase ‘one of our members’ rather than ‘us’. It indicated an early suggestion that the Grandmaster was already distancing himself from the operation and its unfortunate failures. The set of Master Olrun’s face was telling.

“Now the initial proposal from Master Olrun was that once he had determined the experiment was a success, and that the subject had been located, an extraction would be arranged and we would carry on the initial experiment in one of our more secure facilities. However, the results of the report from Nephandus and his father are rather concerning.

While the first two aims have been attained, they have given us a clear warning about the issues that might occur if we extracted the girl from her present school. I asked Master Domon to look into these and present a conclusion.”

The aforesaid mentioned Master cleared his throat. “The problem in this case is that the school, Whateley Academy, has a very lethal reputation when it comes to protecting its students. I refer the members to what amounted to the destruction of the Tong that merely threatened the parents of one of the students. An asteroid strike was mentioned...

I see no way of extracting the girl without incurring their wrath. Apparently, their protection extends to the student's families, as well as when they are off-campus. Given the extreme nature of the retaliation that would likely be employed, I cannot recommend that we go ahead as planned, the risks are simply not worth it.”

That led to some considerable discussion among the Masters, they were not used to being told they should accept being warned off like this.

Master Olrun finally got to his feet and bowed politely. “Grandmaster, while I understand that the survival of the Order is of paramount importance, I do feel that the problems have been overrated or exaggerated. After all, the girl cannot remain at Whateley all the time, and if she isn’t, there are more deniable possibilities.”

The Grandmaster frowned. “I take it you are considering a deniable act? In which case, it needs to be fully deniable by us.”

Master Olrun didn’t look happy. “Yes, Grandmaster. I would treat this as an exercise done purely by myself, not as part of the order.” He didn’t look happy at that, but it was clear where the Grandmaster's decision was leaning, and if he succeeded without the Order's obvious help, his position after would be considerably strengthened.

There was considerably more discussion before the Grandmaster reached his conclusion. “Very well, Olrun. Officially the Order will take no more action concerning the girl, and anything you do will be denied as the actions of a rogue member.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

23rd December, Poe Cottage, Bianca and Morgana’s room, before lunch

 

Morgana hummed happily to herself as she finished packing up her last gifts for friends and family.

Before she sealed up Bianca’s gift, she gave a final read of the instructions, just in case. It looked like a pair of sunglasses (in white, of course) and a small phone-sided block of electronics, but it was rather more than that. Paired with the electronics, the glasses would show a heads-up display of up to 6 close conversations. In the original language, of course, but that was hardly a problem for Bianca. It was more complicated to work out how she could reply, but just being able to translate what someone was saying could be useful. It wasn’t like her friend still didn’t have enemies out there. Satisfied, she sealed the box and put it on Bianca’s bed with a label. Hopefully, it would be of use.

The gifts for Ceri and Ree looked like simple scarves or pashmenas, but in fact, were anything but. She’d got them from Electradyne after seeing some of the things the girl could do with her special fabric. They had wifi electrical circuits that would display the colours played on a phone connected to them, either as static colours or ones which varied with the music. Something a bit different, and with the addition of a brooch or something that could be worn like a sort of wraparound skirt, she thought that would work for Ceri. She wouldn’t tell either of them what the material really was, some people got squicked on finding out it was hair.

She’d already got Laura and Tanya their presents – the rest of the crew were much more difficult, so she’d gone with the old standby of a card and chocolates. She looked around the room. Even with all the sigils Bianca had drawn all over the walls, it had an air of comfortable familiarity, something she wouldn’t have thought she’d have felt even a few months ago. It had been a busy term. Still, she seemed to have got everything, time to go have lunch before she had to set off.

WA Break Small_Solid

23rd December, Crystal Hall, lunchtime

 

Morgana was busy stuffing energy bars into her backpack, wondering how many she’d need tonight, in between taking bits of her lunch. She really should have done this earlier, but...

“So you’re off right after lunch?”

Morgana nodded to Erica. “The bus goes at 13.30, taking us to Boston International. All my stuff is packed, I just need a few food bars for the trip and go meet the bus.”

“So they don’t fly you guys from Berlin?”

“No, Vic, it’s about the same time on the road, and we get dropped off right at the airport. We only have to get through one set of control at the gate, and we’ll have a couple of teachers there to help it all go smoothly. So then it’s either Air France to Paris, British Airways to London, or Lufthansa to Frankfurt I think. – they’re all hub airports, so plenty of connecting flights for those who want them. My sister will pick me up at Heathrow, so it’s all simple.”

Bianca smiled. “And Thulia?”

Thulia shook her head. “I am going to visit, but after Xmas. Morgana deserves a few days with her family first. Besides, if I go myself I can portal in and out rather than use one of those planes. Morgana did warn me about aeroplane food.”

Morgana patted her hand. “And you’ll get to spend some time with your family as well. Don’t forget to say Hi to Bruce for me!”

Cally looked a bit troubled. “Isn’t using a portal well, difficult?”

“Oh no, it’s quite simple. As an exchange student, Grimes gave me permission to use the ones here, and there are plenty for me to use in Britain. I’ll use a close one, and then it’s an easy car ride to Morgana’s home. Then I get to meet the parents...”

Most of M3 kept quiet about the idea of casually using an interplanar portal rather than a rather more mundane aeroplane to get home as simple. Not to mention her calmness about the fun-filled experience of ‘meeting the parents’.

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Boston International Airport.

 

The presence of other students heading to Heathrow and the presence of a Whateley teacher reassured Morgana a bit. The last time she’d flown, she’d been terribly nervous about everything. The teacher had had a few words with the airport staff first, so they were aware they were getting a group with MIDs. Since Boston International did these sorts of group flights a couple of times a year, the manager was familiar with it all. So the woman behind the desk had taken Morgana’s paperwork and flicked through it quickly and professionally. She actually smiled at her when she handed them back, as she pointed over to a door to the side labelled ‘Special Passengers’. She remembered something similar from London, so thanked the girl as she took her weighed baggage back and headed for it.

It wasn’t quite the informal approach they’d taken in London. But then they had a whole group of mutants to clear through an airport already looking clogged with Xmas vacationers. So she put her bag on a vacant checking platform and started to fill out the forms she’d been given. She’d found some of the questions about what she was carrying amusing when she was leaving Heathrow. Now she’d attended Whately she was a bit less critical of some of the more bizarre questions on the list. The only one that affected her was the one stating she was a mage, which said she had to go to a specific counter. What, she was really going to use magic on a plane she was inside of?

“So, do you have your athame with you?”

She nodded to the man, she’d been briefed about this before she left.

“Yes Sir.” She carefully took the knife out of her bag and passed it to him. He gave it a look, then produced a small box a bit bigger than her athame.

“We can’t allow an unsealed weapon on an international flight. Please put your athame in the box.”

She nodded, opening the box and slipping her athame onto the padding. He took it back, latching the box shut and pressing his thumb to the thumbprint seal. “There. Now it’s safe to take it on the plane with you. Don’t try and open it until you arrive, that will set off an alarm and get you into trouble. Use the ‘declare’ channel when you arrive, they’ll open it and give you your athame back.

She was slightly amused at all the precautions for a knife, given some of the quite lethal magic items she could have been carrying, but presumably, the need to do security theatre was ingrained in the official psyche.

She smiled her thanks as she tucked the case back into her carry-on, and we wordlessly pointed at the exit, where a few students were queued up waiting for a pair of MCO officers to allow them through. A pair who didn’t look that happy seeing as they were under the scrutiny of a teacher, who clearly had no intention of letting the pair get away with anything.

WA Break Small_Solid

Morgana managed to fit her carry-on into the overhead compartment before slipping into her window seat with a sigh. She hoped the flight home wouldn’t make her as upset as the flight here had, but this time she wasn’t slipping out of the country just ahead of the Order, so she was feeling more relaxed. Or at least as relaxed as a girl could feel faced with the prospect of a 7-hour flight in a small and ill-fitting airline seat that wasn’t designed to fit a human, let alone a dragongirl. Maybe next time she could upgrade her seat?

“34..35..36. Ah!”

She looked up to see a fairly normal (by Whateley standards of normal) girl with dark brown skin, who’d been searching for the seat next to hers. Finally getting her hand luggage stowed, she slid into the adjoining seat with a relieved sound. When she finally settled herself, Morgana smiled and held out her hand to the girl. “Hi, I’m Morgana.”

The girl smiled back as she shook hands. “Hello, I’m Tabitha.”

“Heading home for the holiday?”

Tabitha nodded. “My family runs a hotel and other lodgings in London. What with the holidays and all, I’m sure to be expected to lend a hand here and there.”

Morgana smiled in sympathy. “Still, it’s a break away from crazy.”

Tabitha gave the alien in the next seat a pointed look. “You’ve obviously not been in a specialty hotel in London, have you?”

Morgana shook her head. “Afraid not. Led a sheltered life until last summer.”

Tabitha grinned as she settled down. “A hotel in London over Xmas has its own sort of crazy, but it’s a familiar sort of crazy, y’know.”

“Yeah. Whateley is fun and all, but I’ve missed my family”

“You have to go far from Heathrow?”

Morgana shook her head. “We live south of Reading, so my big sis is going to pick me up from the airport, it's only an hour's drive.”

“Lucky, I have to suffer the rail line.” She made a face to show exactly what she thought about the British Rail link to the airport, especially at Xmas.

“Better than trying to drive a car into London.”

“True, only a fool does that.”

WA Break Small_Solid

 

“I think I saw your combat final. Didn’t you get a car thrown at you?”

Morgana blushed slightly. “Yeah, that was me. Some kids don’t quite seem to understand ‘non-lethal’”

“You must be pretty tough – or was it a PFF? I’m glad it wasn’t me.”

“PFF, I’m a mage. Have to use something to stop the idiots puncturing my delicate little epidermis. I was lucky it wasn’t a big car...”

Tabitha snorted. “You wouldn’t believe some of the idiots we have staying with us. I swear some of them don’t bother to collect their brains from customs.”

Morgana gave her a sideways look. “You did say specialty hotel?”

“Yeah, we have a lot of odd types, some of the agencies recommend us, and we try our best to keep them low-key,”

Morgana thought quietly about having to look after some of the people agencies had working for them and decided she didn’t really want to know. Not her guests, not her circus.

“Surely they won't have you holding down a desk all holiday?”

“Nah, it’s not that bad. I may have to help out if they get busy, but the rest of the time I’m going to relax. Do some drawing, watch TV, go shopping.”

Morgana flinched slightly at the word ‘shopping’, causing a big grin from her seatmate. “Surely a big tough mage isn’t afraid of a little shopping.”

Morgana tried for a casual reply but didn’t think she’d fooled Tabitha. “Well, it’s not my favourite hobby, at least not clothes shopping.”

“You know there are specialty shops in London for mages and all sorts of weird shit? If you know where to look for it.”

Morgana looked a bit more interested. “I did try looking on Google, but most of it seemed to be tourist-trap tat.”

Tabitha patted her hand. “You know, I was going to spend a day shopping, I want some new stuff that isn’t just out of the store. Wanna team up, I promise I’ll protect you from the evil shoppers.”

“Actually... that might be fun in a group.” She was a bit uneasy, but she was a girl, she had to get used to the shopping experience, and going with friends would help. “OK if my big sister comes along, I think you’ll like her?”

Tabitha nodded. “Sure, the more the better the protection!” She held out her phone. “Swap details? You can send me a text when you know you’re coming in.”

 

WA Break Small_Solid

 

Saturday 24th December, 0800, Heathrow Airport

 

Morgana thanked the customs man who’d opened the sealed box and gave her back her athame before she slipped it into her backpack. She didn’t think wearing such an obvious blade openly around Heathrow was a good idea, legal or not. There were enough armed police wandering around to worry her a little, even if it was normal for the airport.

Next to her Tabitha inspected the crowds with a more professional eye. “Busy, but then it is Xmas.”

Morgana nodded, then waved exuberantly as she spotted Ceri waiting at the exit with a big ‘Welcome back Morgana’ sign to help her spot her. Dragging Tabitha along in her wake, she trotted over and gave Ceri a BIG hug! “Oh, it’s so good to see you!”

For her part, Ceri returned the embrace, then looked questioningly at Tabitha, who gave her a small smile.

“Oh, I’m sorry! Ceri this is Tabitha, she’s from Whateley too we were on the plane together. Tabitha, this is

my big sister Ceridwen.”

Tabitha chuckled at Morgana’s verbal exuberance, holding out her hand politely. “Nice to meet you.”

Ceri smiled back. “So, heading off? Do you need a lift?”

Tabitha shook her head. “That’s kind, but I live in London. So a quick train trip and an Uber from Paddington and I’m all set.”

Morgana grinned and gave the girl a light hug. “Stay safe then, and have a good Xmas! I’ll text you later about some possible shopping.”

WA Break Small_Solid

Ceri and Morgana were working their way through the crowd to the car park when Ceri gave her sister a sideways look. “Shopping? Since when have you been a shopper?”

Morgana blushed slightly. “We were talking on the flight, she lives in London and told me she knew of some good places, including ones for some magic stuff. So I thought maybe a day trip before New Year? If we wait a few days, we can take Thulia, she loves shopping.”

“I’m sure you need some more clothes.”

Morgana tried not to look too worried. She had experience of her big sister's taste in clothes, but at least it might stop the rest of the girls complaining about the deficiency of her wardrobe. She suspected that once all her Japanese tech work was done with, Laura might be sending her a list.

“Did you get me what I asked for to give Tim?”

Ceri nodded. “In my room, all packed up, you just need to label them.”

Getting some Whiskey was easy enough, but Morgana was still underage, and especially at this time of year shops tended to check.

“Thanks, Sis. I’m looking forward to a family Xmas, even if I’m a bit different from last year.”

WA Break Small_Solid

Read 2028 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 May 2024 13:24
Astrodragon

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

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