Monday, 22 November 2021 15:59

Glyph 4: Putting Pen to Paper (Part 4)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

Glyph 4: Putting Pen to Paper

by

Morpheus

 

Part Four

 

Poe Cottage, Monday morning, Oct 24th, 2016

I grimaced as I tried to mentally prepare myself for the trial that was called a morning.  And not just any morning either, but a dreaded Monday morning, the worst of all mornings.

At the moment, I stood in the hallway, having completed as much of my preparations as possible.  I was already showered and dressed, which felt like an enormous accomplishment.  Now, I just had to get breakfast, then I’d be ready to face the rest of the day.  In theory.

The hallway was filled with girls who were about to take the long trek to Crystal Hall, the same as me, though they presented a wide spectrum of moods.  Some, like myself, were lacking in energy or enthusiasm, and rightly so.  However, there were others…or at least one…like Nina, who was practically bouncing off the walls.

A variety of conversations took place around me.  Some were about plans for today, some were about personal drama, and some was just the kind of mindless gossip that spread like some kind of infection.  And of course, some of this was about what had happened yesterday in Berlin.

“I heard you guys fought a supervillain,” someone exclaimed.  I was still a little too groggy to tell who.

“Again,” someone else added.  This time, I recognized the voice.  It was Nina.

“Honestly,” Laura corrected, “Bianca and Janine…Tinker were the ones who really fought him.  Morgana and I only came in at the end.”

“What?” Chessa asked, giving Laura and Morgana confused looks.  “Where were you guys then?”

“Yeah,” I teased Morgana with a smirk.  “Where were You?”

Of course, I already knew where my roommate was when I’d been fighting Hardcore.  She and Laura had been busy with their own problems, specifically, a bunch of Hardcore’s armed goons.

“Bite me,” Morgana responded, cheerfully giving me the finger.

“You have to admit,” I continued to tease her.  “You were rather late to the fight.”

“Nonsense,” she replied with a smirk.  “A dragon is never late.  She always arrives precisely when she intends to.”  Then, before I could think of a comeback, Morgana continued, “Besides, the most interesting part was when you kissed Tinker.”

My eyes shot wide at that comment, and I would have turned bright red if my pigmentation allowed for that.  Instead, I gasped, “What…?”  I could barely believe she’d said that with so many other people around.  No, scratch that.  I could believe it.  This was Morgana I was talking to.

“You kissed Tinker?” Nina asked with a grin.

“Oh yeah,” Morgana cheerfully continued while I was too stunned with embarrassment to speak.  “They were all over each other.  It was damn near indecent…”

“About time,” Chessa exclaimed.

Bailey added, “I was wondering if you two would ever hook up…”

My eyes widened even more at that.  “Wait…  You thought that was going to happen?”

“Of course,” Chessa answered with a smirk.  “It was obvious…”

“Tinker has been giving you goo-goo eyes for weeks…,” Zapper explained cheerfully.

“Oh God,” I groaned, putting my hands over my face.

I’d had absolutely no idea that Janine might be interested in me like that, at least not until yesterday when she’d surprised me with that kiss.  I still didn’t know what she felt about me…or even what I felt about her.  We hadn’t talked about it yet.  But now, I was suddenly getting the impression that everybody else…or at least, everybody in Poe might have known about her interest before I did.

“I think Pat won the pool…” Bailey said, looking disappointment.  “I had them down for not hooking up until after parents day…”

“After Christmas for me,” someone else grumbled.

“I had them down for never,” Zapper commented.  Then she added almost defensively, “I figured Bianca might prefer guys…”

I groaned again and stared down at the ground, unable to look anyone in the eyes.  I couldn’t believe that everyone had been talking about…even BETTING on my love life.  Fortunately, this probably didn’t go beyond Poe.  At least, I REALLY hoped that it didn’t.

Fortunately, I was rescued from this humiliating conversation when Mrs. Horton appeared a few seconds later.  “Laura.  Bianca.  Morgana.  Come step into my office for a minute.”

“Okay,” I responded, letting out a sigh of relief, right before I gulped nervously.

I might have escaped that conversation, but I suspected that I was about to be getting another lecture over what had happened yesterday.  I was really getting tired of the lectures.

After we’d returned to campus yesterday, our entire group had been unceremoniously ushered into the security offices in Kane Hall.  Following that, there had been hours of debriefings over what had happened, and of course, lectures on what we should have done differently.

However, we’d done exactly what we’d been instructed to do in case of trouble.  At the first sign of danger, we ran and tried to avoid any direct confrontations.  None of us had really fought until we’d been cornered and had no other choice.  And because of that, none of us had been given detention or any real punishment.  Well, none of us except Cherry.  For some reason, they seemed to blame her for the whole mess.

Once we’d all stepped into Mrs. Horton’s office, I gave her my full attention, expecting her to begin another lecture, or even worse, announce some punishment for getting in trouble yesterday.  Maybe grounded to our rooms or just to the cottage itself for a couple weeks.

“Girls,” our housemother announced, “Last night, a security officer delivered these bags.”  She gestured to the corner where there was a small pile of plastic bags.

“Our stuff,” I exclaimed in surprise, recognizing the shopping bags that we’d been forced to abandon.

“It seems that someone delivered them to the security offices last night,” Mrs. Horton explained.  “Cherry was there at the time and was able to identify who owned these bags, so we were able to ensure their return.”

“Thank you,” Laura blurted out, already digging into the bags.  She let out a sigh of relief once she verified that the parts she’d bought were there.

“My coffee,” Morgana exclaimed, pulling out one of her bags of beans and giving it an appreciative sniff.

Not one to be left out, I quickly counted my own bags, making sure that all my purchases were also present.  Card stock from the stationary shop.  A few pieces of clothing and…

“Here it is,” I gasped, pulling my new jacket out of a bag and holding it up.  I’d spent the last of my money on this thing, so it was an enormous relief to get it back.  “My new coat…”

“It looks awesome,” Morgana told me with a nod of approval.

“Very nice,” Mrs. Horton agreed with a look of amusement.  “But unless I miss my guess, you girls have a schedule to keep.”

“Thank you,” the three of us exclaimed in near unison before hurrying out of the office with bags in hand.

Berlin NH, Monday morning, Oct 24th, 2016

The middle-aged man sat in the driver’s seat of his luxury sedan, slowly sipping his coffee.  He was careful not to spill a single drop on his expensive suit…or on the immaculate interior of the car.

A cellphone rested on his leg, open to an internet message board for golf enthusiasts.  He glanced at the phone, checking for new messages.  Then his eyes went to the clock.  Half a minute left.

Thirty seconds later, he stared at the building down the street from where he was parked, the police station.  He thought he heard a ‘BOOM’, but it might only have been his imagination.  The thick walls would have muffled the sound of small explosions, and then there was the distance.  Outward, there was no visible signs of what had just occurred.

The man took one more sip of his coffee before setting it aside.  A new message had just appeared on the message board, one demanding his full attention.

‘A GOOD DAY ON THE COURSE.  A HOLE IN ONE ON THE NINETH HOLE.’

His inside man had just reported in, though of course, it was all in code.  If he’d said that he had a good day on the green, instead of on the course, that would have indicated that he was compromised and to ignore the rest of the message.  The number of the hole specified had meaning too, with each hole communicating something different.  The nineth hole meant that his inside man had a clean exit.

But of course, the most important part of the message was the ‘hole in one’.  That indicated that the mission was a complete success.  If the message had specified a number of strokes, that would have indicated the number of survivors.

It hadn’t been easy to find someone on such short notice, who could infiltrate the police station and slip explosives into several of the cells.  Fortunately, a complete success was worth the rather hefty expense.

After reading the message, Robert Grace Sr. closed his internet browser.  The message had been delivered and there was no need for him to respond.  Instead, he glanced at the back of his phone, at the faintly glowing symbol that had been etched into the case.  This was a magic spell, or at least part of one.  He didn’t understand how it worked, only that it did.  This was part of a magic encryption system that let him communicate with his employer without risk of interception.

“Mister Scorn,” Robert greeted his employer a few seconds later.  “The loose ends have been dealt with.  Hardcore and his men have been eliminated before they had a chance to talk.”  He paused to listen for a few seconds before responding, “That won’t be a problem.  Our inside man is under the impression that he was hired by the Family.  In fact, anyone who knows of the White Lady’s involvement in the incident, will assume that the Family killed Hardcore in retaliation.”

Once the call ended, Robert put his phone away and started the car.  For a brief moment, he considered visiting his son at school since it was only a short distance away, but he quickly discounted that idea.  He couldn’t risk being seen by the White Lady…or having the school realize that he was in the area.  That might bring the kind of attention that he and his employer had gone to a great deal of trouble to avoid.

And with that decided, Robert began the long drive back to Chicago.

Crystal Hall, Monday late morning, Oct 24th, 2016

I stood in the slowly moving lunch line, waiting to get my food.  However, even as I stared at the large container of mac and cheese, my thoughts were somewhere else entirely.

Last period, during BMA, I’d gotten yet another lecture over what had happened yesterday, though admittedly, this one was a little more on the practical side of things.  Sensei Tolman had pulled me, Laura, and Morgana aside almost as soon as we’d arrived to class, and then she’d asked about what had happened, or at least, the actual fight parts.  She’d already read the reports from security, so she’d already known most of it.  Unfortunately, after telling us how we could have done better, she’d put us into sparring for the rest of class.

“Why is Bacon even in our class?” I asked Morgana with a sigh.  I’d been forced to spar against Bacon for the entire class period, probably because Tolman wanted to give me more practice going up against someone much bigger and stronger than me.  As if that wasn’t something I had to deal with all the time anyway.  “I mean, shouldn’t he be in a brick class instead?”

“Yeah,” Morgana agreed. “But they don’t let you take the brick…or the more specialized classes until you’ve done BMA 1.  They want you to know the basics first.”  Then she shrugged.  “Besides, some of the PK bricks like Bacon and Tanya can turn it off, or at least way down, long enough for practice.”

I nodded at that, already having known that.  I’d spent a good part of the class going against Bacon without either of us using our powers, not that it made much difference.  Even with his PK turned off, he was still a lot bigger and stronger than me.

“You’re just mad because you’re out of spell cards,” Morgana pointed out.

“Maybe,” I reluctantly admitted.

I’d used up most of my spell cards but hadn’t had a chance to make any new ones yet.  Of course, Tolman knew that, so that was probably part of why she threw me at Bacon.  It was probably meant as a lesson, to teach me to always keep more backups or something.

With a sigh and a shake of my head, I mused, “I foresee a lot of time in my lab in the near future.  I’ve got a LOT of new cards to make.”

Then I looked down at the food again and began to absently load up my plate, though I only paid half attention to what I was grabbing.  At the same time, the rest of my attention was on my surroundings as I kept glancing around me.  I told myself that I was just looking for potential threats, the same way I always did, however, I also knew the truth.  I was looking for Janine.

Janine had kissed me yesterday, but I hadn’t had a chance to talk to her about it since then.  Every time the two of us had been together since then, there had been other people around.  And then this morning, she’d quickly disappeared after class, giving me the impression that she might be avoiding me.

“I hope not,” I muttered, feeling a little hurt by the idea.

“What was that?” Morgana asked.

“Nothing,” I quickly responded.

Then with a sigh, I took another quick glance around.  Still no sign of Janine, though I did see a couple students looking towards me.  I wasn’t sure if they were actually looking at me or just looking in my general direction, but after what had happened yesterday, I would not be the least bit surprised to be the topic of new gossip.

Then I spotted Shades, standing back with Beatdown.  Shades was looking in my direction too, but I had absolutely no doubt that he was staring at me.  I shuddered in disgust, silently praying that he didn’t take my notice as an invitation to come over and talk.  The last thing I wanted to deal with at the moment was another of his attempts to hit on me.

“It looks like stalker boy is still into you,” Morgana commented as she noticed where I was looking.  Then she gave me an evil grin and suggested, “Maybe you should go out on a date with him…”

“WHAT?” I gasped in horror, almost recoiling from the suggestion.

Morgana snickered a little at my reaction and continued, “You just might make a certain someone else a little jealous…”

With that, I took another quick glance around for Janine, blushing brightly…or more accurately…blushing stealthily.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I protested weakly.

“Sure, you don’t,” my roommate responded with a chuckle as she gave me a gentle elbow in the side.

Crystal Hall, Monday late morning, Oct 24th, 2016

Melody Sheridon slipped into a seat at the table, right across from Bobby Grace…Crysis.  She didn’t have a tray, but she wasn’t there to eat.

“Bobby,” she greeted the boy with a fake smile.

Bobby looked up, still chewing his food.  He met her gaze and grunted slightly in acknowledgement, but he didn’t respond until he’d swallowed.

“Melody,” Bobby finally responded.

“People are talking about a supervillain attack in Berlin, yesterday,” Melody said, leaning forward and whispering.

“There was?” Bobby asked, not sounding as surprised as he was trying to look.  “I hadn’t heard…”

Her eyes narrowed.  “You told me not to go there…”  There was a sharp question in her tone and a hint of fear.

The boy scowled and gave her a warning look before he smiled, a smile that was just as fake as the one she’d greeted him with.  “Of course…  You wanted to go play a practical joke, but I didn’t want you to do anything that could get you in trouble…”

Melody hesitated, wanting to ask Bobby if he knew anything about that attack.  The fact that he’d warned her away from Berlin…right before there was an attack…  It was more than a little suspicious.  However, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to know the answer.  After all, plausible deniability was a thing.

“Thank you for looking out for me,” Melody finally said with another fake smile.  “I was only planning a harmless little prank, but I appreciate you keeping me out of trouble.”

“That’s what friends are for,” Bobby agreed.

The two of them sat there in silence for nearly a minute, though Melody kept glancing around.  She wanted to ask more questions, to find out what was really going on…regardless of any plausible deniability, but they were in the middle of Crystal Hall, surrounded by hundreds of other students.  Obviously, neither of them wanted to say anything that could be overheard.

“Its too bad,” Melody finally said.  “About that supervillain, I mean.”  She gave Bobby an almost predatory smile as she thought about some of the students who’d been in Berlin at the time.  “Someone could have been hurt.”

“Yeah,” Bobby agreed as he went to take another bite of his lunch.  “Too bad.”

Schuster Hall, Monday afternoon, Oct 24th, 2016

Robert Turner and Samantha Everheart stood in the headmaster’s office, scowls on both their faces.  A short distance away, Geoffrey Mazarin, the current headmaster, sat behind his desk.

“The incident in Berlin is troubling,” Everheart said.

“Of course, it’s troubling,” Turner pointed out with a shake of his head.  “Some of our students were caught in it and could have been killed.”

“True,” Everheart responded, “but I was referring to all the contradictions.”  She paused for a moment, glancing over to Mazarin before she continued, “Hardcore is a mercenary, not known for small robberies.  Robbing a jewelry store is well beneath him, especially considering the size of the crew he brought with.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Turner agreed with a sigh.  “I doubt they would have been able to get enough to pay for all the expenses of that job, much less make a profit.”  He shook his head.  “Perhaps they were in desperate need of a quick cash infusion…”  However, his tone of voice made it clear that he was doubtful.

“Hardcore clearly announced that they were only there for the robbery,” Everheart continued.  “Yet when the students ran, he seemed more interested in following them.  His actions mark the robbery as a secondary priority.”

“He announced the robbery as his goal,” Mazarin stated, “yet his actions indicate otherwise, especially considering the specific students he ended up confronting.”

“This wouldn’t be the first time St. Claire was targeted for assassination,” Everheart added grimly.  “And Jones has her own history.”

“There is some evidence to suggest this may have been another assassination attempt,” Mazarin mused with a look of annoyance, “yet nothing solid enough to act upon.”

Turner shook his head.  “Circumstantial evidence and contradictions.”  He gave a look of disgust.  “Unfortunately, Hardcore and all his people were killed before any of them could talk.”

“Explosives snuck into their cells,” Everheart said.  “Whoever did this has resources.”

“Probably the Family,” Turner suggested.  “Retaliation for attacking St. Claire.”

“They do seem a likely possibility,” Everhearet agreed.  “Though I’ve heard of no evidence to support that.”

“That was not the Family,” Mazarin said, drawing Turner and Everheart’s attention back to him.

Turned blinked.  “You know something about Hardcore’s death?”  He was careful to keep any hint of accusation or suspicion out of his voice.  The headmaster did have a someone…questionable history…but he didn’t want to bring any hostility into their working relationship.

The elderly man ran a hand over his goatee, looking thoughtful.  “I also suspected that the Family might be involved with Hardcore’s death…so I contacted an old acquaintance within the Family.  He assured me that the Family had nothing to do with this.”  He gave a faint smile. “This occurred before the Family even had a chance to organize anything.”

“And you believe him?” Robert asked.

Mazarin nodded.  “I do.  As he said, the Family didn’t have time to properly organize a response, and this strikes me more as an attempt to silence Hardcore than as an act of retaliation.  Especially not a retaliation from the Family.”

“Then we still don’t have anything,” Turner stated with a sigh.  “We still can’t be certain this was a direct action against our students…or who directed it.  We can make assumptions, but without evidence…”

“We will continue to investigate,” Everheart assured him and Mazarin.  “Whatever the truth, we will uncover the evidence we need.”

Monday late afternoon, Oct 24th, 2016

I stood motionless, silently straining to hear the sounds around me.  Numerous sounds came through the tunnels, most of them faint, distant and far too indistinct to make anything out.  And most importantly, I didn’t hear any footsteps.

Letting out a sigh of relief, I took another look around.  There were no signs of those robot insects that had been following me around, nor any indication that a person was following me either.  However, I wasn’t about to simply accept that I was in the clear.

There was already a spell card grasped in my fingers, and with only a small amount of essence, the symbols on it began to glow.  I dropped it to the ground and watched as the symbols spread out beyond the boundary of the card, which was now crumbling to ash.  The symbols glowed faintly for several more seconds before fading from view.

This was a simple little spell, a ward to warn me if anyone else passed through this way within the next hour or so.  Just because no one seemed to be following me now, that didn’t mean that someone wasn’t waiting further back in the tunnels.

Once I was sure that I was in the clear, I continued walking through the tunnels, heading to my lab.  I’d burned through most of my spells during that incident with Hardcore and his men, so I need to replace them.  Fortunately, I now had some extra supplies, like the card stock that I’d bought from the stationary store in Berlin.

“Thankfully, someone saved it all,” I mused, grateful for whomever had gone back and recovered our lost shopping bags.  Probably one of the security people who’d gone there to clean things up.  I adjusted the backpack which was slung over my shoulder, containing my new supplies.  “I’m going to need it for the new cards.”

It didn’t take long for me to reach the side corridor where I had my lab, though once I did, I froze.  One glance was enough to immediately tell that something was wrong.  The camouflaged outer door was open.

“No,” I gasped, my eyes going wide as I rushed forward to get a better look.

I was relieved to see that the inner door…the main door was still closed, though that didn’t make me feel much better.  The door itself looked intact, but there were scratches and scuffs on the concrete around it, and the decoy keypad was missing entirely.

“They found it,” I exclaimed in horror.  After everything I’d done to create a secret entrance that was completely hidden…someone had still managed to find it.  “Damn…”

I looked over the door and was relieved to see that it was still intact and locked.  Someone had obviously been trying to break in, but it didn’t look like they’d succeeded.  They must have given up and left.  For now.

With trembling hands, I placed my magnet into the correct spot and then traced the key rune into the door.  It opened up without a problem.  Then I took a deep breath and stepped inside.

“Nothing,” I said, relieved to see that there was absolutely no indication that someone had managed to get inside.

I closed the door behind me and locked it, feeling just a little better as I did so.  My secret lab hadn’t been completely violated, but the location was no longer secret.  I should have felt grateful for that, but instead, I still felt violated.

“My lab,” I whispered, thinking about the intruders and what they could have found.

Everything was intact and exactly where I’d left it.  Then my eyes went to a blank spot on the concrete floor.  I activated my built-in earth rune, then used the power to move the concrete aside.  I’d only cleared a small amount, but it was enough to reveal the hollow space that had been hidden beneath it.

“Everything is still there,” I mused, looking over the special inks that I’d hidden away.  These were the rare inks, the ones that had taken the most work to create, and the ones that contained my own blood.  “Nobody messed with them…”

Since I was already there, I began setting everything up at my desk so I could make my new cards.  I still needed to replace my supply, and that didn’t change just because someone had found my lab.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to focus on my work.  All I could think about was that someone had tried breaking into my lab.  They may have failed, but they’d tried.  They’d come far too close for my comfort and I had no idea that they’d be back…or someone else would.

“The Cadets,” I spat out, sure that it was them.

The Intelligence Cadet Corps.  The Spy Kids.  Those damn stalkers who’d been following me around for weeks.  It was them.  It had to be them.  Nobody else at Whateley had been as determined to get into my business as they were.

I clenched my fists, thinking about all the times that they’d tried planting bugs on me…including literal ones.  Those little robot bugs that kept trying to listen in on every conversation I had, which kept trying to get into my dorm room.  I had to keep my window locked…and heavily warded…just because of those things.  And that didn’t even take into account all the times Mouse and the others followed me around, watching everything I did.

There was no doubt that I had a lot of problems in my life, ones much worse than those obsessed stalkers.  Scorn had murdered my family and kept sending people out to kill me too.  I still wasn’t sure if Hardcore had been one of his assassins or not.  I was sick and tired of those threats…of problems that I couldn’t do anything about right now.  But those Cadets…

“At least I can do something about them,” I announced, finally making up my mind to do something about them.

Those stalkers had been an annoyance, not a real threat.  Not like Scorn.  I’d tried ignoring them.  I’d tried to simply deal with their spying, without giving them the satisfaction of acting out or reporting them.  But now, they’d gone too far.  They still hadn’t graduated from annoyance to threat, but they had crossed the line.  They’d invaded my privacy just a little too much…trying to break into the one place that was my very own.  The one place that I’d thought was my sanctuary.

“Its time to do something about them,” I stated, already having several ideas of exactly what that would entail.  After all, they’d been annoying me for weeks, so I’d had plenty of time to think about how I wanted to retaliate.  Not that I had actually planned to do that…until now.  “Finally.”

Then, I began to grin, suddenly feeling as though a bit of weight had just been removed from my shoulders.  I had so many problems in my life, ones that were overwhelming and that I was powerless against.  But now…  Now, I finally had a problem that I could actually deal with myself.

Poe Cottage, Monday evening, Oct 24th, 2016

“Hey,” I greeted Morgana as I stepped into the dorm room that we shared.

“Hey,” she responded with a nod, barely looking up from her homework.

I slipped off my backpack and carefully set it down on the corner of my bed.  A second later, I placed stack of newly made spell cards onto my desk.  It had taken me about two hours to create all of these, which was really fast progress, though I still hadn’t replaced all of the ones from yesterday.  Still, I felt a lot safer now that I was armed with more spells.

“Replacing the landmines will be a real pain,” I muttered, thinking about how many times I’d have to copy the same spell.  That was going to take a couple days at least, and my hand almost ached at the very thought of it.

Next, I went back to my backpack, opening it up and removing several vials, which I set on my desk.

Morgana gave me a curious look and said, “I thought you were keeping that stuff in your lab now.”

“I was,” I responded with a deep scowl and a surge of barely contained anger.  “But someone tried breaking in…”

“What?” my roommate asked in surprise.  “Did they take anything?”

I shook my head.  “No.  I don’t think they actually got inside…but they certainly tried.”  I scowled and clenched my fists.  “I’m pretty sure it was those Spy Kids.”

“Probably,” she agreed, looking nearly as unhappy as me.  “Those idiots have been nosing around way too much for it not to be them.”   Then she let out a snort.  “Miss Violet and Mister Blank make all us Brits look bad.”

“And there are a couple that make all Americans look bad,” I agreed with another shake of my head.  “But mostly, they make themselves look bad.”

Morgana nodded.  “So, what did you do?”

“I made these,” I answered, indicating my new cards, “then sealed my lab completely.”

When I’d left, I’d used my earth element ability to move the concrete around and plug the entrance in front of the door.  Now, it not only looked like a plain concrete wall in front of the door.   It actually was a plain concrete wall.

“Now I have to find another lab,” I complained bitterly.

“Too bad,” Morgana said, giving me a sympathetic look.  “I know how much work you and Janine spent getting it up and running.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, even angrier as I thought about that yet again.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to have to do something about those jokers,” Morgana told me.  “Preferably sooner.”

“Yeah,” I repeated, nodding agreement.  Then I smiled faintly.  “I already have something in mind…”

Morgana straightened up at that, suddenly looking more interested.  “Really?  Anything I can do to help?”

“Not yet,” I told her.  “I already have a few people in mind, but I’ll let you know…  But for now, I have to go buy a few things tomorrow…”

My roommate looked a little disappointed that I didn’t have something for her to do immediately.  “Hard to be your minion if you don’t have work for me,” she joked, referencing the fact that the Spy Kids seemed to think that she was one of my hired minions or something.  “But I thought you were broke…”

“I am,” I admitted with a sigh, reaching over to pick up my new jacket.

I looked it over, thinking about the modifications I would need to make to it before it could be very useful.  First, there was some special ink that I’d need to make, and then I’d probably need some specially treated threads….  Then I realized that I’d gotten a little distracted in the middle of my conversation and that Morgana was still waiting for me to continue.

“I called Marcus…my regent on the way back here,” I explained with a self-conscious shrug.  “He’s sending me some more money…”

“Oooh, it must be nice,” Morgana teased me with a grin.  “You blow your allowance, then you just have to call home for more…”

“It’s my money anyway,” I protested a bit defensively.  “Technically.”  Of course, I’d inherited a lot of money from my grandmother, though I couldn’t actually touch it until I turned eighteen.  Until then, Marcus was in charge of it and of giving me a stipend.  “Marcus doesn’t have any problem sending me more...if it’s for security or training.”

“And dealing with those jokers could probably be considered both,” Morgana pointed out, nodding in approval.  “So, what do you have in mind?  Lure them all into a bunch of boobytraps?”

“Well, that has worked pretty well for me so far,” I said with a chuckle, thinking of the previous bullies who’d come after me.  Esquire hadn’t come anywhere near me since I’d done that to him.  “But no…  Not this time…”  I gave her a smile.  “This time, I have something else in mind.”

“Oh?” she encouraged.

“I just have to be really careful,” I explained thoughtfully.  “I want to push back…but I can’t do anything that will escalate things too much…”

My roommate nodded.  “Probably a good idea.  Boring, but smart.”

“And,” I added, putting a little emphasis on that word.  “I also have to be really careful not to do anything that would get security interested.”

“Also a good point,” she agreed.  “Whatever you’ve got in mind, just let me know how I can help.  Those bastards have been after me too, you know.”

“Of course,” I told her with an almost evil grin.  “But for the moment, I still have to get a few things set up.”

With that, I slipped my jacket on and adjusted it.  It was a great fit, and I had to admit that it looked good on me.  Of course, once I was done with my own modifications, the whole thing would be even better.

“You know,” Morgana announced with a grin.  “All you need now is one of those wide-brimmed fedora type hats…”

“And here it comes,” I muttered to myself.

“Then you’d look like some kind of like the good guy from Spy vs Spy,” she finished.

“And there it is,” I added under my breath.  Then I added a little louder, “I was actually expecting a bleached Carmen Sandiego reference.”

“You have to admit,” my roommate continued cheerfully, “it would be a good look for you.”

“Maybe,” I admitted.  “But I’m not a hat person.”  And of course, I wouldn’t want to risk everyone calling me a bleached Carmen Sandiego or a spy either.  Then I paused, suddenly remembering something else that I’d wanted to take care of before bed.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes…”

Without bothering to explain, I quickly hurried out of the room and rushed upstairs.  A minute later, I reached my destination and knocked on the door.  I was half surprised when the door didn’t immediately swing open, though it did open fifteen seconds later.

“Bianca,” Cherry greeted me from the now open doorway, looking just a little surprised to see me.  Then she looked me over before flashing me a grin.  “Nice threads…”  I glanced down, realizing that I’d forgotten to take my new coat off before leaving my room.  “It really suits your coloring…”

“Thank you,” I responded, pleased by the compliment while at the same time being a bit self-conscious.  “That reminds me…  Do you know who found our bags and turned them into security?”

“Sure,” Cherry answered with a chuckle.  “You remember that old guy who showed up after Hardcore was out?”

“It was him?” I asked in surprise.  She nodded, but before she actually said anything, I pointed out, “You already knew him…”

“Of course,” Cherry said with a broad grin.  “I used to babysit his daughter…”

“Really?” I asked, more than a little surprised.  I couldn’t imagine Cherry babysitting anyone…or any reasonable parents allowing her to.

Then a sharp laugh came from inside the room.  “Yes,” Scrye’s voice announced.  “Until everyone decided that the kid was a bad influence on Cherry...

“Hey,” Cherry protested before grinning again.  “Get it right.  They said we were bad influences on each other…”

I blinked at that, still trying to get past the idea of Cherry being a babysitter.  Who in their right mind would possibly ask her to babysit?  And from what the two of them had just said, I was curious about the full story.

“Anyway,” Cherry continued, gesturing for me to come inside.  “You’re probably here for Callista, so I’ll take off and give you two some privacy.”

“Thank you,” Scrye said as Cherry left, closing the door behind her.

I turned my full attention to Scrye, who was sitting at her desk with a laptop.  She stood up, absently adjusted her clothes and gestured behind her. “I was just working on an assignment for my computer science class.”

“Computer science?” I asked in surprise.

Scrye gave a wry smile at that.  “Surprised that a magic user is taking computer science?”

“A little,” I admitted.

“Magic is not the only way to gather information,” she explained.  “I’d be a fool to ignore my other options.”  Then, before I could respond to that, her expression turned all business.  “I assume that you’re here because the Spy Kids have been snooping around your new lab.”

I nodded, not really surprised that she already knew about that since she was probably the top information broker on campus.  However, I was pleased by the confirmation of who had been messing around with my lab.

“Yes,” I answered, shifting into my own professional mode and going straight into my purpose.  “I’d like to know the location of the Spy Kid’s clubhouse.”

Crystal Hall, Tuesday late morning, Oct 25th, 2016

The cafeteria was crowded, as always.  Too many people.  Too much noise.  Too many opportunities for people to spy on me without my knowledge.  Or to attack me.

I bit back on my nerves, though I didn’t stop scanning my surroundings.  Morgana liked to tease me about being paranoid, but I just considered this to be justified caution.  After all, as Sunday had proven, people really were after me.  Well, the truth was that I still wasn’t sure whether or not Hardcore had been one of those, but he could have been.

“Most people won’t do anything with so many witnesses,” I quietly reminded myself.  And there were security cameras everywhere.  In spite of the huge crowd, this was probably one of the safest places on campus.  “Except for food fights.”

Then I noticed one of my most obnoxious annoyances coming towards me.  Shades.  And even worse, he had that smug grin that made me think that he probably had some new pickup line that he wanted to try out.  I shuddered at the very thought, thankful that I’d never been anything like him back when I’d been a guy.  How could girls stand that kind of thing?

This time, I was prepared for Shades…and anyone else who might have tried following me.  I pulled out a spell card and activated the rune that was painted on it.  A moment later, I reached out and slapped it to the back of some guy who was walking past.  The paper crumbled away but the magic remained.

“That should do it,” I mused, hoping that Shades had been paying attention.  It was hard to tell since I couldn’t see his eyes through the sunglasses.

A few seconds later, I let out a sigh of relief.  Shades was no longer staring at me, but at the boy whom I’d just tagged with a ‘look here’ spell.  In fact, Shades was even starting to follow the other boy, though it wouldn’t last long.  Just long enough for me to slip away.

When I reached the table I’d been heading for, I gave a polite, “Hello,” before sitting down.

Almost without thinking about it, I placed a card down on the table in front of me, activating the eavesdropping protections that had become a normal part of my life.  There was no doubt that I made these runes more often than any others, though the spells were always improving.

“Um…  Hi,” Janine returned the greeting a little self-consciously.

Janine had still been avoiding, at least when we were outside of class.  And even then, she had several of her friends present so we still didn’t have the privacy to talk about what had happened last Sunday.  Or at least, not to talk about what had happened after defeating Hardcore.

“Bianca,” Giggles said with a smile.

“Hey,” Dodo added.

And then Blackberry, the last person at the table, nodded.  “Hi.”

“I heard about that attack in Berlin,” Giggles told me.  “That must have been scary.”

“Yeah,” I agreed with a sigh, wondering just how much Janine had told them.  But after looking at Janine and seeing how badly she was blushing, I couldn’t imagine her having told them about the kiss.  “It was pretty intense.”

“You could say that again,” Janine said.

If she’d said that near Morgana, my smart-ass roommate would have undoubtedly honored the suggestion and repeated the comment.  However, I was not my roommate so merely nodded agreement.

“You know,” I told Janine, trying to hide my own nerves and keep a calm tone and expression, “we should probably talk about what happened on Sunday…”

“Oh,” she squeaked, her eyes going wide.

“The whole thing with Hardcore,” I added, more for the benefit of the others.  I was pretty sure that Janine realized this wasn’t what I really wanted to talk about.  At least not entirely.  “Maybe after classes today…”

Janine hesitated for a moment before nodding agreement.  “Okay…  That’s fine, I guess…”  There was another pause before she added, “Maybe in my workshop…”

“That sounds good to me,” I agreed.  “I’ve got some ideas for your security that I wanted to run by you anyway…”

“Okay,” she said, staring down at her food.

I felt nearly as self-conscious, and though my own instincts were to just pretend that nothing had ever happened…just because that would be less awkward…I knew that I couldn’t do that.  After everything that had been going on, after all the insanity, I wanted to take a little control over my own life.  That meant I couldn’t run away and hide from everything that made me uncomfortable, no matter how much I might want to.

That line of thought reminded me of the other reason I’d come to this table.  I looked up at the other girls, Giggles, Dodo, and Blackberry.  They’d been watching my exchange with Janine, not interrupting, though I suspected they wanted to.  I could see that all three were still curious about the incident with Hardcore and his goons.

“I was wondering if I could get you to do something for me,” I said, once again feeling self-conscious, nervous about asking them for help and worried that they’d turn me down.  If they did, I didn’t know who else I could go to.  “I can pay you for your time…”

“What is it?” Blackberry asked, sounding a little suspicious.

“Nothing illegal,” I quickly assured them. With my reputation, they HAD to be thinking that I was trying to draw them into something illegal.  “But the Spy Kids have been harassing me for weeks…and they just tried breaking into my new lab…”

Janine gasped at that, probably thinking about all the work we’d done trying to keep it hidden and secure.  “Oh no…”

“They didn’t get in,” I quickly assured her.  “They couldn’t get past the door…  But they tried…”

“That sucks,” Giggles said, scowling in annoyance.  “I hate it when people mess with my lab work…”

“So, what did you have in mind?” Dodo asked me curiously.

I glanced to my spell card, verifying that it was still active.  Then with an evil grin, I began to explain.

Tuesday late afternoon, Oct 25th, 2016

I stepped through the open doorway, then paused for a moment to look at the door.  It was metal, but nowhere near as sturdy or complicated as the door to my lab.  Then again, Janine didn’t need that kind of security for her workshop.  All she needed was to keep people from messing with her projects, and the location of her workshop took care of that for the most part.  The location of her workshop wasn’t a secret, but it was pretty out of the way, so most people weren’t likely to come here unless they had a real purpose.

Of course, I had promised Janine to help her with a little magical protection, and I had a few ideas that I wanted to put into place.  Specifically, I was going to draw a small chain of runes out in the hallway, one that would work to keep people away while conserving essence.  All I’d need would be a couple wards to detect people who shouldn’t be there, and if those were tripped, it would activate the normally dormant runes which would project a ‘nothing to see here’ effect.

“That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped for my lab,” I quietly reminded myself.

Fortunately for Janine, she didn’t have people after her the way I did, so this should work to keep random people from wandering in.  I was tempted to start work on those runes immediately, but that wasn’t really why I was there at the moment.

“I’m here,” I called out before stepping into the larger space.

Janine’s workshop was actually just a large open room in the tunnels, the perfect place for her to set up her dominos and Rube Goldberg contraptions.  She’d kept most of that space intact and clear, except for the complicated domino chain that was half built.

Most of Janine’s actual workshop equipment was set up on the outside walls.  There were numerous shelves, each packed full of supplies and equipment.  There had to be a dozen large boxes containing nothing more than dominos, and that didn’t even take into account all the random items she’d collected to use in her various chains.

One wall had three work benches set up, side by side, so that they almost formed one long workspace.  One of these benches was covered with clutter, the various items she was in the process of building.  None of these were inventions in themselves, but were just components for her domino chains or Rube Goldberg machines.  Another table had a couple old-fashioned clocks, completely disassembled and spread out.  This was where Janine had been experimenting the various springs and gears of clockwork technology.  And then there was the last table, which was mostly clear at the moment.  This was where Janine was currently seated.

“Um…  Hi,” Janine said, giving me a nervous smile.

“What are you working on?” I asked.

But as I got closer, I was surprised to see a shotgun on the table in front of her.  I’d never seen Janine with a weapon before.

“This,” Janine answered, indicating the shotgun, though she made no move to pick it up.  “After what happened in Berlin…I thought it might be a good idea to get something to defend myself with…”

“Good idea,” I said, nodding my approval. “But isn’t it a little…”

“Low tech,” she responded with a sigh.  “I know.  A couple people in the labs offered me other weapons…and Weaponeer even tried to sell me some of his extras…but they’re all too…complicated.  But this…”  She picked up the shotgun, “is really just mechanical sequencing…so I can understand how it works.  Heck, I can probably make one that works even better…”

I chuckled faintly.  “I was going to say...big.  As in, a bit too big to really carry around all the time…”

Janine deflated a little.  “Oh, yeah…”  She stared at the shotgun for a moment as she set it back down.  “I can fix that…  I can make it shorter…and better…”

I nodded at that, then suggested, “You’ll want to take firearms safety so you can get it registered on campus…  And you’ll need to practice with it…”

“My dad taught me to use his shotgun,” Janine admitted.  “That’s part of why I’m more comfortable with something like this…”

“Maybe we can do some target practice together,” I offered.

Janine brightened up at the suggestion, looking excited for a moment, but then she started at me and turned bright red.  A moment later, she bit her lip and stared down at the table, obviously embarrassed. 

We stood there in awkward silence for several long seconds, both reminded of the elephant in the room.  There was a reason that I’d come here to talk with Janine and it wasn’t for her self-defense plans.

“About what happened Sunday,” I awkwardly started, not sure of where to go with this.

“I…  I’m sorry,” Janine gushed out, staring down at her table and avoiding looking at me entirely.  Tears were starting to run down her cheeks.  “I got carried away…and I didn’t mean to offend you…”

I blinked at that, a bit stunned by this reaction…and confused.  “I…  I’m not offended,” I protested, trying to think of what to say.

Janine continued, almost as though she didn’t hear me.  She was starting to shake as she explained, “I guess I kind of like girls…”  Then she winced with a look of shame.  “I don’t think my dad would understand…  I don’t really get it either…”

“Janine,” I whispered, starting to tear up myself.

“I didn’t even realize it until recently,” she quietly admitted.  Then she finally looked up at me with her tear-filled eyes.  “I…  I kind of have a crush on you…”

For a moment, I just stood there, feeling as though my heart was squeezing up into my throat.  I didn’t know what to say to this.  I didn’t even know what to think.

Ever since my old life had ended…since my family had been murdered and I’d been transformed…I hadn’t really thought about girls or dating.  There had been too many other things to think about…to worry about.  The whole subject had just been…unimportant.  Honestly, I hadn’t even known if I still liked girls since I’d become one myself.

Since words didn’t come to me, I reached out and gently grabbed Janine into a hug instead.  I held onto her, tears running down my own cheeks as my emotions broke free and gushed out.

“I…  I wasn’t offended by your kiss,” I quietly told Janine, nearly whispering it into her ear.  “I…  I liked it…”

Once again, I was blushing like crazy, or at least I would have been if I’d been capable of showing it.  My heart was racing and it was hard to say anything else, though I managed to force the words out.

“I like girls too,” I awkwardly admitted.

Of course, there was a lot more to it than just liking girls, something which I’d only fully realized was still true on Sunday.  I used to be a boy, and deep inside, a large part of me still was.  Maybe that would make things less awkward for Janine, though I wouldn’t know since that wasn’t something I was just going to blurt out.

“What?” Janine gasped, looking more than a little confused.

This time, I didn’t bother with words.  I wasn’t sure what to say, so I simply acted on impulse instead.  This time, I was the one who kissed Janine.  For a brief moment, she seemed stunned at this and confused, but then she began to kiss me back.

Poe Cottage, Tuesday evening, Oct 25th, 2016

I stepped through the door of my dorm room, relieved that I’d been able to make it back in time.  Tonight, I’d cut things a little close, just barely making it back to Poe before curfew.

Of course, curfew wasn’t really as big a deal as most people made it out to be.  There were always people wandering around campus after curfew. Some were devisors who’d been working in their labs and lost track of time, some were students who had night classes and were given waivers, and others were just kids who simply ignored the curfew.  Still, I didn’t want to get lectured by Mrs. Horton, so it was a good thing that I’d made it back in time.

“Hey,” I cheerfully greeted Morgana as I sat down on the edge of my bed.

“Hey,” she responded, giving me a curious look.  “You’re in a good mood…”  Then her eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “Too good…”

“Too good?” I asked a little blankly.

“What’s up?” Morgana asked me curiously.  “Did you start Operation Payback against the Spy Kids?”

I chuckled faintly at that.  “Well, I set things in place and got the ball rolling.  The fun won’t start until tomorrow though.”

“So then,” my roommate repeated, “what’s up?”

I rolled my eyes at that as I picked up my new jacket and spread it out.  I carefully looked it over, ignoring Morgana’s steady gaze.  However, she didn’t get the hint and continued to silently stare at me.  Finally, I let out an exasperated sigh.

“I was just down talking with Janine,” I explained, doing my best version of a bright blush.  “That’s all.”

“Uh huh,” Morgana responded, looking a little skeptical.  “Talking.  With that goofy grin you had a minute ago, I’d think the two of you were snogging…”

Once again, I was immensely grateful for the fact that my skin didn’t allow for any blushes to show.  As it was, I stared at the floor, unable to meet my roommate’s eyes.

“YOU DID!” Morgana exclaimed, bursting out laughing.  “You two were making out…  Congratulations.  It’s about time.”

I squirmed awkwardly.  “Just a little…”

Morgana’s expression turned serious for a moment.  “Did you tell her about…  Well, you know…”  She gestured at me and it took a moment to realize that she meant my transformation.

“No,” I shook my head emphatically.  There was no way I was going to tell Janine that I used to be a guy, at least not anytime soon.

“So,” Morgana teased me, shifting back to a grin.  “Did she make the first move again or did you?”

“I’m not going to kiss and tell,” I said, trying to sound firm.  From her smirk, she just took that as an encouragement to continue.

“How far did you two go?” she asked.  “Did you get to second base, as you Americans say?”

Yet again, I was hit with an invisible blush, though I tried to hide my embarrassment by turning my full attention back to my project.  “I’m not going to talk about it,” I insisted, reaching for a bottle of some special ink that I’d made.

Morgana just chuckled at that.  “Fine.  Fine.  I’ll play along…for now.”

I let out a faint sigh of relief, then pulled out the notes I’d been working on over the last couple days, mostly during slow periods during classes.  These were the designs for a couple spells that I’d been working on, ones that I was finally ready to start using.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” Morgana said, gesturing to my new coat.  “What are you working on?”

I grinned at that.  “You know how you’ve been telling me that I need to get some holdouts…?”

“Yeah,” she responded. “And you’re making your new jacket into a holdout?”

“I’m putting a few spells on it,” I explained cheerfully.  “I’m limited by the materials on hand, but between the coat and lining, I should be able to get three solid spells on this thing…  Protection from penetration, impact resistance, and something to block scrying…”

“Maybe something to protect you from rain and cold,” Morgana added.

“I would,” I told her with a sigh.  A little magical protection from the weather would be great, especially for an upcoming winter in New Hampshire.  “But I’d need better spells and materials.  As it is, I could do that…or the protection spells.  Not both.”

My roommate just smirked at that.  “Well, there’s always Scotchgard.”

 

To Be Continued
Read 5618 times Last modified on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 01:17

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Frazikar
1 year ago
Come on Bianca, repair that 'secret door' and this time leave a 'Try Again' trap, after all, who's going to look for a secret door that obviously isn't there, even if it is (bonus points for the right soundtrack) ...
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