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Tuesday, 28 March 2023 00:00

Chain Gang (Part 1)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story

Chain Gang


Astrodragon & Polk Kitsune


Part One


Sunday 9th October, 11 am, Meetings after the fight
Eisenmadel with Everheart

"Sit down, Eisenmadel."

Erica saw the expression on the woman's face and did as ordered. It was already quite obvious to her that from the instructor's body language, this was not going to be a good interview. Everheart made her wait while she deliberately and slowly looked over the papers in front of her, before looking up.

"Well, Eisenmadel. As the team leader, perhaps you'd like to tell me why you felt using a chemical weapon on another student seemed like a good idea at the time?"

Erica was rather glad that her mutation didn't allow her to blush, or she'd be bright red right now.

"Ma'am, we didn't realise it would have that drastic an effect on him! The notes we got only said he had a mild allergy, we figured that it would just slow him down or distract him. We knew he was violent and really strong, and not all our team are bricks."

"I see. And where did you get these notes from?"

Erica looked stubborn. "From a student, ma'am, They said something about Combat Trials, so we figured they were connected to what they'd do in a fight."

Everheart gave her a measured look. "You haven't answered my question as to who gave you them."

Erica didn't answer, she sat there with an even more stubborn expression on her face. The woman gave her a minute to respond, then sighed. "Very well, I can't force you to tell me. However I should make it clear if the events of yesterday haven't already made it blindingly obvious, that relying on the reliability of that sort of unverified intelligence in such a serious situation is fraught with danger. Perhaps you should talk to your family a bit more about that."

"Uh.. yes ma'am."

"Now I understand you only put this weapon together to protect your weaker team members. That's the only reason you're escaping a much more severe punishment. However..."

Erica sighed to herself. Yep, here comes the other shoe.

"While I realise that you have been under pressure from Kirsten before the match, and indeed it was due to her that you issued the challenge in the first place, that does NOT excuse the use of unreasonable and possibly deadly force! These are school challenges, not cage fights. So while you are doing your detention, you need to consider the concept of reasonable force. If you can't understand that, then I will need to take further measures until you do. Starting with issuing you with an UltraViolent band. Is that all clear?"

Erica gulped audibly. "Yes ma'am, I do understand! It won't happen again, I promise!"

Everheart used her best ex-military glare, which was quite intimidating. "See that you do. You won't get more chances, Eisenmadel."

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Calliope with Tolman

Calliope tried not to whimper as Tolman gave her a measured and not-at-all-happy look.

"I would say I was surprised, Calliope, but then there was your previous attack. For someone who doesn't come across as a fighter, you do seem to be doing or causing a remarkable amount of damage to other students, don't you?

It took Calliope a few seconds to swallow before she could answer. "Ma'am, I never expected him to have such a severe reaction!"

"No? But you were in favour of making that chemical weapon, weren't you?"

This time Calliope managed enough common sense to stay silent while Tolman gave her that look again.

Tolman sat back in her chair as she examined the girl. "One thing you need to realise - and realise right now - is that we don't just look at the surface of students to consider how dangerous they are. Your sonic power is more dangerous than it appears, and I would hate to think that because of that you think you can get away with attacking other students."

Calliope gasped at the accusation. "Ma'am, no! I just want to be left alone, I don't want to hurt anyone!"

"Nevertheless, your record says otherwise, Calliope. However... you weren't alone in this, so an individual punishment isn't applicable. Bear in mind we will be keeping an eye on you from now on, and after your time in Hawthorne, we will be considering what else you and your team need to learn. Now get along and remember to be at Hawthorne at 5 pm"

Calliope didn't quite make a run for the door, but it was close. As was the closeness of tears for what had happened to her and her friends.

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Tidestriker with Tolman

Vic sat down in front of Tolman, worried about the way she was looking at him while doing his best not to show that on his face. He knew she was going to lay down a punishment, all he could do was go along with it and try not to make anything worse.

"Well, Tidestriker. And what do you have to say about your teams' action?"

"We considered it a reasonable precaution at the time, ma'am, given the data we had on him."

Tolman gave him one of her better scowls. "Reasonable? Hardly that, in a school challenge match! I realise that you have...experiences... before coming here that may have given you a different opinion, but these matches are NOT about putting the opposition down with any means available. Is that understood?"

Vic gulped, wondering just how much data Tolman had on him that she hadn't revealed until now. Probably a lot more than he would have liked - indeed, anything at all would have been more than he liked. "I understand, ma'am. It was an accident..."

"I don't care if it was an accident, Tidestriker! Accidents like that should NOT happen, and part of my job is to make sure they don't! Perhaps before you consider something like this again, you should ask what sort of punishments actions like yours have led to." She gave him a measuring look that was anything but reassuring. "I'm sure some of the Masterminds could help inform you."

Vic tried not to let his worry show on his face. His experiences with the Masterminds and their minder so far had been, well, not pleasant, and he really didn't want to be seen as the latest member. Not that he might have a choice, but there was always hope.

Tolman gave a weary sigh at his lack of comment. "Go on, get to lunch. Your detention at Hawthorne starts later today, I hope the experience teaches you something."

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Dragonsfyre with Ms.Dennon

Morgana looked at the expression on Ms.Dennon's face and sat down quickly and quietly. This obviously wasn't the time not to look contrite about what had happened during the fight.

"So, Dragonsfyre, just why did you think an allergy bomb was a good idea to use in a fight?"

The girl bit her lip slightly as she tried to formulate an answer that would put their actions in a better light, or at least try to avoid them looking a bit less like psychopaths.

"Well, ma'am, we got data on his allergy, and it didn't indicate it was anything like as severe as what actually happened. We built the devise as a holdout in case he went for one of our weaker members, we'd seen how strong he gets when boozed-up and we felt he wouldn't be discriminating enough to be careful how hard he hit in that state."

Ms. Dennon gave her a long and thoughtful look. "That's quite a good justification speech, Dragonsfyre. It doesn't excuse what you did, but it's quite good. You need to practice more. However, the fact remains that it was a dangerous idea to use in a school match. These aren't supposed to be cage matches to the death, you know."

Morgana blushed deeply."I realise that, ma'am. We just never thought it would affect him that badly, and when we saw him about to hit Cally... well, she can't take a hit from someone that strong, unless he pulled his punch he could have killed her, and the way he was acting..."

Ms. Dennon finished the sentence for her. "You used it to protect your teammate. Yes, and that's the reason you're just getting detention rather than a much more serious punishment. However, you need to realise that you cannot risk the lives of other students in this way. So for a start, a weeks detention in Hawthorne should help to drive that lesson home."

Morgana nodded resignedly. It wasn't as if they didn't deserve some sort of punishment, she'd been shocked at how bad Gouyasse had looked after their bomb had hit him. Tanya had tried to tell them all what could happen, but they hadn't really believed her at the time.

"Now I have a question for you in particular. Weren't you concerned about the use of your fire in the fight? We both know you can't control it properly yet."

"I did worry a bit, ma'am, but my team needed me. I wasn't intending to use it with any sort of intensity. Ms.Tolman has had me doing that in BMA, so I figured it would be OK. It wouldn't damage a brick or even someone with reasonable protection, but a faceful of flame does upset a lot of people."

Ms. Dennon nodded in acknowledgment. "Fair enough, but when that water hit you that was hardly a mild use of your power, was it?"

Morgana looked down at her hands and shook her head. "No ma'am, it wasn't. I was only going to get hot enough to protect myself from the water, but when I saw that mini tidal wave about to crash down on me, I sorta lost it a bit and went full out."

For a moment the girl thought she saw the teacher's lip twitch."Yes, Morgana. I have to admit, it was quite effective, and the steam explosion was rather dramatic. However you do need to do something about your costume, the basic loaners we provide are, it would seem, not tough enough for your particular style of combat."

Morgana blushed a deep red. "Ah, yes ma'am. I am doing costume class, but I won't have a better outfit ready for some time. But I am working on it."

"See that you do, we can't have you having a costume malfunction in every fight you get into, can we? Perhaps try and cut it down to an occasional one?"

"Uh, no ma'am. I mean yes. Er, I'll try and avoid them, ma'am."

Ms. Dennon looked down at the tight-fitting black sock on Morgana's foot. "And how is your foot?"

"It's pretty much OK, ma'am. They gave me healing after the fight. When it got banged off the floor at that weird angle I broke some small bones, the sock is just to make sure it all fixes right, I can take it off tomorrow."

"Good. And next time, be more careful when you kick someone!"

Morgana gave the teacher a somewhat aggrieved look. "Yes ma'am... but... who in their right mind wears reactive armour on their CUP!?" The outrage in her voice made it plain she thought it was a highly unfair technique to have used against her.

This time Ms.Dennon did grin. "Morgana... he's a devisor! Trust me, that isn't the dumbest thing I've seen one of them do. Just be aware of it in the future, next time he might not injure himself more badly than he did you."

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Invictus with Dennon

Tanya sat down in the chair in front of Ms. Dennon and tried her best to look calm. From the expression on the teacher's face, it wasn't working.

"Invictus, given your background and your father's job, I am quite disappointed in you. Now I don't know how much influence you had on making that chemical weapon in the first place, but you were the one who used it on Gouyasse."

Tanya bit her lip. She hadn't wanted to even have that weapon in their armoury, but saying that now would just seem like a whiny excuse, and she had been the one to use it.

"I... I didn't mean to, ma'am! It was just with everything happening so quickly, and with Callie about to get hit, I just threw it at him without thinking."

Dennon gave her a measured look which didn't reveal what she was really thinking.

"I see. You do realise that acting without thinking in a fight is a good way to get someone hurt or killed? On either side?"

Tanya hunched down miserably in her chair, and nodded, unable to meet Ms. Dennon's gaze.

"Yes. Well, I'm sure you do now. When you're doing detention in Hawthorne. Perhaps you should think about it. After all, a loose cannon wouldn't make a very good heroine, would she?"

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Cerulea with Dennon

Laura skittered anxiously into the chair facing Ms.Dennon. While the woman's face was impressively neutral, she knew she was in trouble even if she hadn't actually been part of the combat team.

"I'm sorry, ma'am."

Dennon looked at her, face still revealing nothing. "So you should be. While you weren't taking part in the fight, and you didn't make the decision to use the devise you created, you were at least indirectly responsible for badly injuring a student, who could have died if he hadn't received prompt medical attention."

Laura's face turned a darker blue at the accusation, and she had to bite back tears as Dennon continued.

"Being sorry after the fact isn't good enough for something as serious as this. And if you decide to take a more active part in your team's combats, you will need to use far better judgement as to what you use on people. These matches are between fellow students, not supervillains. The devises you have already designed are powerful, and could cause considerable damage if used unwisely, something a devisor always needs to keep in mind."

The woman looked down at some notes on the table, while Laura fidgeted a bit as she got even more worried.

"Now, Laura. We will be punishing the team with a week's detention in Hawthorne. You weren't taking an active part in the combat, so that doesn't apply to you."

"But ma'am, it was my fault! If I hadn't built the delivery system, they wouldn't have been able to use it, so it's just as much my fault!"

Dennon nodded."It was partly your fault, but while it's commendable to admit to your part of the blame, the team is getting the detention, and you weren't on the team. However, I am going to give you an appropriate punishment. You will watch a six-hour series of lessons on the proper safety precautions to use in challenges, and then pass the test - if you don't pass it, you will keep watching the videos until you do! I think that is appropriate to your part in this, and hopefully, it will keep you from making mistakes like that in the future."

Laura bit her lip and nodded, rather grateful it wasn't worse.

"Now run along. And remember - you're a devisor, and your devises can be some of the most dangerous weapons here. So at least think of all the possible consequences next time! Eisenmadel should have made that rather obvious to you and your team, after all!"

She shook her head as the blue girl almost ran out of the room. Hopefully, she'd put the fear of god - or at least Ms. Dennon - into her for the time being. It wouldn't last, of course, but it was usually helpful in the short term.

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Sunday 9th October, 12 am, Crystal Hall

The group of five girls, and Vic, made an unusually miserable bunch as they settled down among the rest of their group at their table.

"So how did it go?"

Morgana shrugged as she answered Bianca. "Eh, about as expected. Tolman and Dennon reamed us all out, told us we were all bad girls - eh, sorry Vic, and boys - and how we shouldn't use chemical weapons in school. I guess they pinned Erica as the leader because she got the fun of getting yelled at by Everheart."


Most of the group looked up at Erica's warning, to see the oversized figure of Drop Bear heading for them. He saw the looks, not all of them welcoming after what his last visit had led to, and held up his hand. "Hey, it's OK, I just wanted to talk."

The group exchanged glances and a few shrugs before Morgana pulled out a chair for the Australian. "OK, sit and tell."

"Thanks, Morgana." He looked around, looking slightly embarrassed. "I wanted to apologise. I didn't realise the data we had was that poor, or I'd have added to a warning about using alcohol like that."

Erica gave him a questioning look. "So where did the data come from anyway?"

Drop Bear looked even more embarrassed. "Well... it's sort of official Whateley data, from the combats the Berets have been in."

Morgana looked like she was trying to work something out. "Hang on, if it's official data - and I'm not asking where you got it from, OK - and it's duff, why are they treating us like enemies of humanity about it?"

The big guy nodded. "Yeah. You do realise you're the fall guys in this, right?"

That provoked another exchange of worried looks between the team before Bianca asked the obvious question.

"Fall guys? How and why?"

Drop Bear shrugged. "The staff are supposed to check out the teams before a match like yours, including checking all their holdouts, not just ones they have registered. There's always someone who 'forgets' about something. You probably noticed, your opponents weren't using anything lethal - stuff like that has to be switched out for safer items. What I think happened was that someone saw you were frosh, nothing registered, and didn't bother with a proper check to ask what you had on you." He gave Erica a look. "You didn't lie about having that bomb, did you?"

Erica shook her head firmly. "No way! No one ever asked us about it."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. So while injuring another student is frowned upon, and they'd tell you off and give you detention for it, my guess is the reason your getting hit so hard is that the staff know someone screwed up and don't want it public."

The team traded some aggrieved and put-upon looks between themselves as the Australian continued.

"Look, it sucks, but there isn't anything you can do about it. There's a second reason you got hit as well - you're the first group to screw up like this for this term. It always happens sooner or later - usually sooner - and they club the first set of guilty baby seals hard to discourage the others."

Erica gave him a quizzical look. "And does that actually work?"

Drop Bear grinned. "Nope, at least not while I've been here. I guess they live in hope or something."

Vic scowled at the remains of his lunch. "So, we get to spend a week in Hawthorne because someone else screwed up. Wonderful."

"We deserve it! I knew making that bomb was a bad idea, I should have stopped Laura from making it!"

Morgana patted Tanya's hand. "Look, Tanya, I know how bad you feel, and we'll know better next time. But it wasn't your fault, OK?"

The lilac-haired girl didn't look any happier at her friends' comments, as Erica turned to drop Bear again.

"So, as you're here, any advice about how we handle Hawthorne?"

He regarded her for a bit. "Um. Well, some, but it's only general. The Thornies aren't bad kids, but they are penned up and bored, so they tend to, well, get a bit quirky with detention kids. Best thing is probably to take any hazing as well as you can, and don't push back too hard. Try and make friends if you can, while a few can get a bit nasty, most of them aren't really that bad. And they probably saw your fight, so they know you can look after yourselves."

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Monday 10th October, after classes.

Classes were over for the day, lunches had been devoured and five students were marching toward their sentence. They walked side-by-side in solidarity and support. They'd gotten in trouble together and they would face the repercussion together.

Callie could feel the cloud of unease and nervousness hovering over the group. They put on brave, unflinching faces: Erica being as stoic and solid as ever, Tanya keeping her cheerful personality propped up, Morgana giving the appearance of indifference while Vic looked like he was bracing himself mentally, but she could still feel a pit growing in each of their respective stomachs...

... As they walked up the solitary hill that led to Hawthorne.

It had only been two days since the match had ended and the words about the victors were still fresh around campus. Minutes ago, they could still hear the murmurs around them about what had happened in the arena as they'd lined up at the cafeteria.

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It was lunchtime at Hawthorne and the delivery carts were being wheeled back toward the Crystal Hall when a chat room opened up on the local network. A list of names lit up as members logged in one after the other. The server was a shared secret among the cottage mates, and while greetings and code words were exchanged, the meeting was about to start as the voice chat began.

"Hello, hello, fellow inmates. It is currently five hours before fish'o'clock, and I welcome you all to the Practical Pranksters Podcast."

"Here he goes again."

"Bah, let him have his fun."

"This isn't even a podcast!"

The first voice continued: "So we've reached the end of the week, and a new rotation begins! Pranks were delivered and I'm sure they won't want to come back here anytime soon."

"Good job, people."

"God, she was a biiiitch."

"She was that bad?"

"Oh yeah. Even Cueball was getting tired of her."

"I believe we still have the playback from our grand finale. There were spills, chills, and a mess that took them a good three hours to peel themselves out of. If you want to watch the highlights, come and see me." The announcer had to snicker as people cheered for the results. "Unfortunately, they didn't have to shave her bald, so we missed a few bonus points there. The chemistry department stole this one from us."


"Eh, too bad."

"Should have stuck to gum. Gum always works."

"But with this, I'd say we've all earned ourselves a good treat. Tomorrow's meeting will have brownies as promised!" The chat room exploded in cheers. "Pat yourselves in the back. Mischief Managed. Now we've got a new week starting up and with that comes some new visitors. What's the plan, BP?"

Another voice coughed up a bit as he was handed the proverbial microphone. "Thanks. All right, here's the rundown: we've got five people coming into detention this week. It's a nice spread overall, so everyone should be busy."

"Any idea who it is?"

"That I do. Has everyone seen the arena match on Saturday?"

"Oh yeah."

"Good match."

"For rookies."

"Guess I'll have to watch it."

"If you didn't, you might want to brush up on it. Thanks to their shenanigans, we have the five participants from M3 coming to our dorm." Someone gave a low whistle, and 'BP' coughed. "So for those who are already getting funny ideas, first of all: good initiative, it's great to be inspired. Second: remember they're willing to fight and some are capable. Don't get yourself hurt because you thought poking the hive was a funny idea."

Someone piped up: "So why are they in detention?"

"By what I could find? Mmmnnn." BP checked through his notes. "Seems they used a really harmful weapon during that match. Something way beyond what's allowed."


"Oh yeah, by the end, right?"

"Yeah, but it's a fight. Isn't it normal that they get hurt?"

"You haven't seen it."

"How bad was it?"

"For those wondering: the guy is still in Doyle, and might not be coming back out any time soon. It's that bad."

"Yeah, but it could have been an accident."

"No. I doubt that." BP brought up another note. "They targeted the guy specifically. It never would have happened if someone didn't tip them off somehow. They might not have predicted how bad it turned out, but it doesn't mean they didn't do it.”

“That’s what happens when you’re cocky, but you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?”

“You think any of them are allergic to itching powder?”

BP continued: “In any case, that’s why they're coming here. If you think you're safe, consider that they did send a pretty tough guy packing to Doyle. Still, we don't know how they'll behave themselves, so we stick to the standard procedure.

Day one is intel gathering. Keep watch, see what they can do, see who's a ticking bomb and what we should be concerned about. If you get assigned someone, we might need your input. Hold off on your tricks until tonight's meeting. Let them get their feet wet first, then we can turn on the heat. After all..." There was a wide playful smirk on the other side of that microphone. "We have all week to play with them."

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As they entered the foreboding cottage of Hawthorne, the five members of M3 found themselves in a rather familiar-looking lobby, with a design closely resembling the Poe household. Familiar, maybe, but they could see that some of the colourful and vibrant images were painted on recently replaced partitions and the comfortable carpet was missing, replaced by smooth, colder tiles. Of course, the bust of Poe was replaced by one of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Further in, they could see Thunderous talking with the house mother, a huge black woman sitting comfortably in a hovering chair, most likely held aloft by the glowing globes attached to it. The boy was the first to notice the group and his expression soured immediately. Following his glare, the woman turned and her eyes lit up.

"Ah, welcome! Welcome to Hawthorne!" She spread her arms wide to the group. "I am Deborah Bardue, the house mother of this cottage." Her smile gave a great motherly impression like she was about to walk out of the kitchen with an apple pie, but Calliope could feel something more behind the welcoming face. Like a mother lion ready to pounce to protect her cubs. The great woman didn't break face though as she asked: "So I take it you're the five who were tasked with detention this evening?"

Erica, who had taken the lead for the group, gave a nod to her. "Yes, miss Bardue. I am Eisenmädel, and this is Invictus," Tanya smiled up at the house mother. "Calliope," Fiorella gave a small wave. "Dragonsfyre," Morgana gave a nod and smiled. "And Tidestriker." Vic gave a small respectful bow to the woman. "Pleased to meet you."

"Ah, and polite too. How pleasant." Miss Bardue said with delight. "Keep that attitude, and your time here will be most pleasant." As far as detention went, at least. "You will be assigned to various tasks around the cottage. Some will involve helping some of our troubled residents, while in other cases, we will direct you to the janitors and handymen of the cottage for help in cleaning or making repairs."

Erica raised a hand. "And if we are done with our assignment?"

She smiled at the girl and waved her meaty hands at herself. "If you believe you are done, you can let me know and I'll evaluate the situation. Some residents may also ask you for more help, though if there's any issues, any trouble at all, you can be reassigned." The house mother paused as the elevator gave a quick 'ding', and she turned about.

As the door opened, a tall strong man stepped out, pushing a large floor polisher out along with him, a stern look on his face. Dressed in overalls, it was clear that he was the janitor on duty, but Erica noted that his uniform looked way too clean for the job. If there was a stain, she couldn't spot it. Pushing the machine to the side, he ran a gloved hand over his gleaming bald head and gruffly said to the house mother: "Situation downstairs is under control. Sorry for the delays." He returned a nod to Thunderous, stood up straight then glared at the five members of M3, his white eyebrows frowning sternly. One could say he looked like the grouchy twin brother of Mr. Clean. "So these are today's recruits?"

Miss Bardue, in contrast, kept her warm smile up. "Why yes." She waved a hand to the man. "This is Jason, the current janitor. He'll be the one taking charge of some of you."

"Greetings." He grunted out of obligation. Cally shuddered from the feedback he was giving off. He felt stone-cold and serious through and through. "Did you cover the safety protocols with them?" The house mother shook her head and waved a hand to the students for him to proceed.

The man grunted. "All right, students. In case you haven't realized yet, the halls of Hawthorne are dangerous for you and us. Many of your fellow students here are in very delicate situations and need special care. Others have little control and can kill you without realizing it." He glared back at Morgana who was looking dubiously at him. "And if you think you can test those claims, it'll be at your own risk."

Miss Bardue nodded and jumped in. "Now, this is normal for us. Do remember that they have very harsh situations imposed on them. They never chose their powers, and we're all working on adjusting to each other. It's not their fault, and you may have to be patient with them."

Daryl nodded along. "If you run into any trouble, run." He pointed down the halls. "When the alarm goes off and an emergency happens, go for the closest exit. If you need to get to cover instead, the janitorial closets and public bathrooms are your shelters for these situations. Don't try to enter one of the student's rooms, you may not know what you're getting into. Deviate from this, and we won't be responsible for the consequences." His stare scanned each one of them as if to make sure the words were etched into the back of their brains. "Any questions?"

"No, sir!" They let out in chorus, a few eyes rolling back.

"Now that's taken care of." Miss Bardue brought her hands together. "What projects need to be taken care of in your duties?"

Daryl's glare lingered on the students for a moment, before he pulled out a tablet, and scrolled down a list. "Third floor has a leak that I need to take care of. I'm not letting the rookies get near that one. So that means I need someone else to take care of Molten's room."

"Ah, yes." The house mother nodded in understanding. "He's been transferred already, and the room has already cooled off."

"Exactly. That'll be a two-man job." He looked back to the students. "Which two of you are the strongest?" Tanya and Morgana looked at each other and lifted their hands. "Good. You'll be coming with me."

"Actually," Miss Bardue brought her hands together. "I believe Dragonsfyre is talented with magic and I have one of our children who could use a hand in getting some hands-on experience. I'll have to take her for myself."

Daryl didn't seem to mind too much, shrugging. "You're the boss."

Vic elbowed Morgana slightly. "Someone got off easy." By the grin she was sporting, the demon-like girl didn't seem to mind.

Daryl moved on. "I still have a two-man job to fill though. How about the next strongest?" It was Erica's turn to raise her hand. "Alright, you two girls are with me. Next." He scrolled down his list. "We also have to take care of the second floor. The tracks are starting to pile up." He pointed to Vic. "You're also coming with. Mopping duty."

"That leaves Calliope." The House Mother claimed with a wide smile. "Please follow me. I believe I have someone who really could use some nice company."

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Getting cleaning duties didn't sound all that bad in retrospect. It sounded like simple chores. Boring, yes, but it didn't quite match what the horror stories they'd heard beforehand. It's why Erica was on guard as the trio followed the janitor down the hallway for their assignment. Something was tripping off a bit of paranoia. There had to be some kind of twist to it all.

Daryl made the first stop at a janitor's closet. "First: ammunition. You're going to need to be properly armed if you hope to be done before the night is over."

"Ammunition? Armed?" Erica then whispered to Tanya and Vic: "You think he's taking it a little too seriously?"

"The war on germs is the only war where a chemical arsenal is required." The man entered the 'closet' that seemed more like a workshop. The trio looked at each other warily, and Erica opened her mouth to ask something when the handle of a shovel was presented to her face. "For you. As for you," Tanya was handed a sledgehammer.

"I thought we were cleaning?" Erica gave the janitor a confused glance.

"You are."

"Then why a sledgehammer, of all things?"

"Because somebody, who shall remain unnamed, decided to break our jackhammer last week and we're still waiting for a replacement. And if you don't want to do the next assignment with your bare hands, you won't destroy this one." Daryl wheeled out a large bin, his scowl growing even deeper as he led down the hallway. With more confusion and concern, the trio followed along until the Janitor came to a stop at one of the many sealed doors. "Here we are, Molten's room." He paused a moment as he put his hand over the handle. "Cover your eyes and mouth, there may be some fallout."

"Wait, what?"

As predicted, as soon as he opened the door, a black cloud of soot rolled out of the room over them. The trio turned away shielding themselves from the dust, Tanya's field keeping her covered, while the other two coughed and protected their faces as they dashed behind her. A moment after the soot settled, they shot a glare at the janitor who almost cracked a smirk. "Warned you. Now let's check today’s damage."

Looking inside, the four couldn’t see much past the door frame as they were greeted by a four feet tall black slab of charcoal black stone that, once their eyes could adjust to the darkness, they could tell spread all the way over to the black far wall and from one side of the room to the other. But besides the rock, there didn’t seem to be anything else in the room.

Tanya was slightly confused. “Doesn’t seem to be anything left in here.” Erica glared at the sledgehammer though, its purpose finally becoming clear.

“All right, rookies,” Daryl called out, as he gave a soft knock on the rock. “The first part of your assignment is to break this stone down and dump it down the chute in the janitor’s closet. Try not to destroy the bed, the safe, and the walls should still be in there. If there’s bits still fused to the wall, we’ll scrape them down later. Count yourselves lucky you only have waist-high levels today.”

“How’d they even get that slab in there anyhow?” Vic piped in. “It doesn’t seem to fit the room, let alone the door.”

“Simple. Molten’s a walking volcano. Once in a while, he ‘erupts’ and can’t stop spurting out gallons of magma. Once the system cools off the manifested superheated sediment, this is the result: a solid block of fused rock.”

That earned a nod of understanding from Vic. “Filling up like a huge granite cake.”

Daryl grunted. “Fitting visual.”

“But Magma?” Tanya noted. “Wouldn’t the building have caught on fire?”

“We have precautions and walls made to resist these temperatures.” His frown gained a few wrinkles. “As long as we don’t spring a leak. Hence: Don’t… Break... The walls. Or you will repair the next mess, even if it goes to the basement. Understood?”

The two girls stood firm and Erica nodded. “Da.”

“Good. You have ninety minutes to complete your assignment and I’ll be passing by to evaluate your progress. Fail to meet the requirements in time, and we’ll figure out a proper motivator for you girls.” There was very little to hide that this was another way of saying punishment, but that was all he’d give before he motioned Vic to follow him upstairs.

That left the two girls evaluating their situation. Erica leaned against her shovel nonchalantly and glanced at Tanya. “Seems pretty straightforward. You break it up, and I shovel behind you? Your thoughts?”

“Sounds pretty good. Let’s see how brittle this is.” She shifted back in position, focussed on her field, and threw a punch right in the middle of the slab with a thunderous CRACK as the stone splintered and a whole new fallout of black ash billowed right over them.

Tanya, who was right at the forefront, simply dusted the ashes off her field and inspected the crater she’d caused. “Not too bad. A few more blows, and we’ll have rubble to-er.“

As she spun around, she saw Erica hadn’t been so lucky, and she had a thin black layer of dust over her. She pulled her arms away from her face, quite unamused, and coughed loudly for emphasis. “I knew there would be dirty work involved, but if you don’t mind, I’ll take a few steps back.”

With a new smirk on her lips, Tanya pulled back for a second punch and got back to work.

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Mrs. Bardue was known to be a motherly woman to many. Always with a warm welcoming smile and soft voice that warmed you up. Morgana just knew that behind that smile, the house mother of Hawthorne was cooking up something nefarious for her.

"My notes say you're a mage, Morgana, is that right?"

The girl nodded, a somewhat confused look on her face. "Err, yes ma'am. I don't have much training though."

The huge woman smiled a bit wider, which did absolutely nothing to reassure Morgana. "Good, then I have someone for you to help. Noelle. I want you to help clean her room, and get rid of any ice or snow - you should be fine at that - then you can see about discussing her coursework with her. She hasn't been able to attend any of the classes, so there are probably things you can help her with."

Morgana gave her a slightly sideways look - it was obvious from the woman's hardly-hidden amusement she was being set up for something but nodded obediently. After all, helping a girl clean her room didn't sound too bad compared to some of the things she could have been given to do.

"Now, I don't want you wandering around here on your own, so Thunderous will escort you to her room."

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Morgana was looking at the back of a rather silent Thunderous as they walked down the corridor. It was rather awkward as the boy was giving her the cold shoulder all the way. Was this normal for detention, or was it simply personal resentment for him? It didn’t quite bother her that much, and the European League pin she'd seen on his lapel suggested why he was annoyed at her. Might as well follow him and get the punishment over with.

The longer they walked, the more sterile the place felt. The walls were smoother, lacking anything like a picture frame or a potted plant between the row of doors. Only paintings that seemed spray-painted onto the walls to combat the feeling of a hospital. She could even catch the leftover scent of bleach hovering in the air. It was pretty sterile, an unsettling feeling sending a shiver up her spine.

A feeling that faded a little when one graffiti of a super team was ‘tastefully edited’ with googly eyes on everyone. Someone had a sense of humour at least.

Just as the realization that the lack of traffic in the hall was another big difference, one of the doors swung open, and a hulking figure squeezed out from the frame, causing Morgana to recoil in surprise at the sight.

The boy was a tall, hulking figure, his body hidden under big hardened plates of craggy crust punctuated by hardened boils that bled a thick sickly green pus that was coating his whole frame. His wide shoulders were encased like boulders, and his large hands only showed cases for three thick fingers. His movement was slow, plates giving a wet crunch as he swung with each step. His head was also encased like it was a football helmet that seemed too big if you could catch a glimpse of his eyes, especially compared to the huge jaw that would seem more apt at calling him a gorilla than a man. The first description that came to mind was grotesque.

Thunderous simply gave a wave to the big guy and took a wide berth to the right side of the corridor, while Morgana simply looked away from the guy and followed her guide.

“So that’s the girl who streaked in the middle of that match? Think we’ll get another show today?”

Those few sarcastic words sparked something in Morgana’s head, and she growled. “Creep. You've probably never seen a pretty girl before.”

Thunderous stumbling was the only warning Morgana got when she suddenly felt lifted off her feet and slammed against the wall. “OOF!”

“What was that, bitch?” The boy growled in a much heavier voice as he leaned in closer to Morgana’s face, the back of his arm pinning her up. She pushed against his arm, struggling to catch her breath, but he only had to lean harder to press his advantage. She looked toward Thunderous for some help, but he seemingly had vanished at the moment. “I don’t care about you or any of your pretty friends.” His rumbling voice filled up with anger, thick slime dripping over his jaw as he pressed his thick, crusty finger into her stomach with every following word: “You’re. Not. Fucking. Welcome. Here. Understood?”

She snarled back in response, trying to push him back, but not only was he huge, with the strength implied by his size, but his surprise push had removed her chance of any leverage to free herself. Nor much opportunity to breathe. Just as she was about to consider her fire - he didn't look flammable, but she didn't know how it would affect him - the boy turned, shoving her to the ground, and continued along his way, leaving a trail of mucus. Morgana gasped for a moment, catching up her breath. Her ribs actually felt sore from where he'd been bearing down on her. He definitely had the strength to match his size.

As she wiped the grime off her chest, a towel was presented in front of her face. She took it, grumbling under her breath. “What’s his deal?”

Thunderous simply shrugged. “We told you not to antagonize anyone. When you press Repugnant’s buttons that way, it can get ugly quick.”

Morgana wiped the grime off her face. “And where did you disappear to?”

He looked away. “When things get ugly, you take cover. It’s how things go around here.”

A likely story. “How brave of you.” She grumbled. If things were going to be like this, this was going to be a long, and miserable week.

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Thunderous hadn't said anything since the encounter as he led Morgana upstairs. He hadn't actually glowered at her, but he hadn't been friendly either. But then, the pin on his jacket indicated that he was a member of the Berets, so the redhead assumed he wasn't happy about what had gone on during the fight. They finally stopped outside a door and he silently pointed at it. Morgana looked up at him in question, and he just gave a small nod. At least this was a fairly normal door, some of the ones they'd passed on the way would have looked more in place in a battleship than a dormitory. There were a couple of heavy coats hanging a few feet away on the wall, but as Thunderous ignored them she assumed they were nothing to do with her. He just turned away and left the girl to it.

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Morgana gave the door a considering look before raising her hand to knock on it. Like all the doors she'd seen in Hawthorne, it had a personalised nameplate, this one including what looked like snowflakes. 'The Snowglobe'. She remembered Mrs. Bardue had said something about ice. Hmm. So rather than a cheerful hammering, the girl knocked carefully on the door - startling a resident of Hawthorne didn't seem like a very safe thing to do.

"Come in."

Well, that seemed friendly enough, so Morgana shrugged, and did as requested. Despite Mrs. Bardue's words, it was a pretty standard room with no obvious signs of snow or icicles hanging off everything like the winter-wonderland she'd been half expecting, just a normal-looking fourteen-year-old girl sitting at her desk looking up at her curiously. On second thoughts, presumably standard for Hawthorne as it was a lot different from the ones in Poe. It wasn't exactly warm - in fact, it was downright chilly for a normal person. Fortunately allowing a bit more heat to infuse her body wasn't too much of a problem for her.

This was the first time she'd been inside one of the kids' rooms, and it was different from what she was used to in Poe in several ways. It was painted a simple hospital white - not, she had to admit to herself, her favourite colour scheme by now - and the walls were obviously a lot stronger than the ones in Poe. They looked tough enough to take the sort of punishment an Exemplar or PK brick could dish out when they got upset. She wondered if that was standard, or if Noelle was a lot stronger than she looked at first glance.

The bed was more interesting - it wasn't just that it was covered with plastic sheets, it looked more like a water bed, but she suspected, given that the occupant had cold powers, it wasn't filled with simple water. Well, sleeping on a block of ice if you had an accident during the night wouldn't be much fun after all. Morgana did grin as she saw the large plush bunny sitting proudly on top of it. Anyway, she'd been sent to help the girl, not examine her room.

"Hi, Mrs. Bardue sent me up to give you a hand. My name is Morgana."

The girl's eyes had widened to the size of saucers as she looked over the tall redheaded girl framed in her doorway. She hadn't expected a cutie like that to come over. Even with those horns, she was really nice... Which is when her head pounded internally, and she put a hand on her forehead to calm that outburst. Okay, okay, I get it. Then she pushed those thoughts down. Besides, she's here to help you, not get stared at.

"Uh... hi, I'm Noelle." She took the girl's hand to greet her. Wow, her hand felt warm. Warmer than anybody else in Hawthorne, at least among the ones it was safe to touch. That got her a broad grin.

"So, what do you need help with first? Mrs. Bardue said something about ice?"

"Oh! Well, yes. You see, I have cold powers, and while I'm getting better at controlling them, sometimes I forget and..."

"You freeze things?"

Noelle nodded a bit shyly. "Oui. I got distracted and forgot what I was doing and froze some of the water in the pipe. Can you do anything about something like that?" She twirled her fingers, embarrassed. "Maintenance hasn't shown up, and it's always a pain to wait for it to melt down if it ever does."

The redhead smiled and held out her hand. The air above her palm shimmered for a moment then fire flickered across her fingers. "Sure, I don't see why not."

"Oh wow! You manifest fire, that's so cool...uh, hot?" She blushed again as she realised exactly what she'd said, but fortunately, Morgana didn't seem to realise. "Is that why you don't mind the cold? Most of my visitors need one of the coats?"

Morgana remembered the coats, which Thunderous had carefully not told her would be needed. She guessed he was a bit more peeved over Saturday than she'd realised, but fortunately, she didn't need one unless the room got a lot colder. "Well, sort of. It's a bit complicated. Why don't you show me the pipe and I should be able to thaw it for you."

Unlike Morgana's, Noelle's room had an en-suite bathroom. She guessed that was standard, quite a few of the kids here probably spent much of their time in their rooms. It was next to her bed, opposite the pillar of a climate control machine that was cheerfully humming to itself as it tried to keep the room dry. It wasn't doing anything like as good a job with the temperature, the room was downright chilly, and she was glad she was in Dragonform and able to channel a bit of extra heat into herself. It did occur to her to conjecture if Mrs. Bardue knew she could do that or had just decided the detention girl could use a cooldown? Or maybe she'd just assumed she'd have been told to take one of the coats.

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Noelle watched with interest as Morgana carefully inspected the tap, tapping it with a suspiciously clawlike fingernail as she listened to the sound to work out where the ice was blocking everything up.

"OK, I think I have this." She carefully held the base of the tap, and Noelle could see the ripples in the air as her hands got hot, though this time there wasn't any actual flame. The tall girl hummed to herself as she worked. "Don't want to go too fast, I might melt something by accident."

"Melt?" Noelle's voice was almost a squeak. Just how hot could Morgana make things, that was a steel tap!

"Yeah, I have to keep things turned down, otherwise they might get away from me. But this is no problem." She smiled as a dribble came from the tap, followed by a stream of water that steamed as it ran down the bowl. She didn't let go until the water stopped, then straightened up. "Don't touch it for a few minutes, the tap and pipe are going to have to cool down."

"C'est parfait! Sometimes it fixes itself, you know, but I was feeling a bit down today, and that always ends up with it being colder in here."

Morgana gave her a sympathetic look. "Yeah, it must be hard being stuck in here like this."

Noelle nodded. "I don't get many visitors, people don't like the cold." She looked at the tall girl for a moment, puzzled. "How come you don't need a coat?"

Morgana grinned, and Noelle gave a small internal gulp as she got a good look at her eyes. Dark gold with radial scarlet streaks, they looked so cool...Non, Noelle, arrête ça!

A thought that was compounded by another voice in her head. --Oui! Arrête ça tout de suite! T'es en train de regarder le Diable dans les yeux, espèce de folle!--

To which the girl rolled her eyes at mentally. --Ferme ta gueule. Elle est vraiment gentille.--

Morgana seemed oblivious to the way Noelle had been staring for a moment. "Well, you see, I use and control fire. And I can use some of it to warm me up a bit if it's cold. Not too much, but normal cold like this isn't a problem... er, would you mind not telling anyone, it's a secret."

"Ah, bien sur!" then she gave Morgana a longer look. "... Why is it a secret?"

Morgana looked rather embarrassed. Being stuck in Hawthorne had seemed to leave Noelle a little naive about what went on at Whateley. "Well, people expect a fire manifestor to be vulnerable to cold, you see. So by pretending I am... it gives me an edge if I need one."

Noelle nodded slowly in understanding. It did make some sense, except for one tiny little detail that nagged her. "Is that important? I mean, that edge?"

"Oh, you have no idea." Morgana said, rubbing the side of one of her horns pensively.

Noelle's eyes opened wide as she finally realised what was familiar about this girl.

"Oh! You were one of the girls in the fight on Saturday! In the blue costume?"

Morgana sighed deeply and nodded. "Yea, that was me. I guess you got the feed in here as well?"

Noelle nodded, not quite sure what to say. "Well, yes. The girl I was with made sure we watched it."

The redhead gave her a puzzled look. "Oh? Anyone I know?"

Noelle blushed deeply. "Er, yes. She was from Poe, she was in detention too. Nina."

This time Morgana laughed. "Oh my, you spent hours with Nina and Glee? And you're still sane?"

Noelle looked down. "Well... I do have issues with my own spirit, so I can sort of emphasize with her, y'know?"

"Yeah... sorry, I didn't mean to be rude about it."

"Oh no, it's OK. She was a bit..." Noelle searched for the right phrase . "Adorable, même ci elle est un peu extreme." She put her hand on her hip, looking annoyed. "Ce qui est beaucoup mieux que ce que je peux dire de mon espris."

Noelle had one other burning question, which she was really trying not to ask. Namely that Morgana seemed to have ended the fight in a rather battered pair of panties. But she couldn't put a suitable question that didn't make it sound like she was, well, perving on what has presumably been a fairly drastic costume malfunction. Maybe later.

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"By the way, did Mrs. Bardue say why she sent you here? I mean, fixing the tap was great, but I hadn't told her about it yet."

Morgana gave a searching look at the books piled on Noelle's shelf and pointed at them. "She did ask about me learning magic, and judging by your bookshelf, you're doing first-year magic as well." The redhead looked a little embarrassed. "Uh...I don't want to seem rude, but she said you might want some help with your coursework?"

The implied criticism didn't seem to upset Noelleas as she straightened up in her chair with a huge smile. "Oh! You're on the magic track too! That's so great. You see, while I'm in here I can't attend the classes, or do any of the practical work." She gestured at the big flat-screen TV fixed to the wall behind a thick protective pane of plastic. "I can attend things like my English and Math classes remotely, but for some reason, the system doesn't work properly in the Magic buildings, and I've had to study by myself. I get homework - well, everything I do is homework," she waved a hand around the room to imply what she meant. "But you know what I mean: it's not the SAME!"

Morgana regarded her sympathetically. "Damn, that really sucks! What can I do to help?"

Noelle thought for a minute, then gave Morgana a pleading look. "The theory stuff isn't too bad, I can read up on that, and I do get my exercises marked and stuff. It's the practicals... they wouldn't let me practice anything here on my own. I can read about all the cool magic that can be done, but I can't practice any of it..." As she trailed off, she gave her guest her absolutely best puppy-dog eyes.

For her part, Morgana sat there looking at her, before a small grin tilted the side of her mouth.

Oooh, does she realise how cute that looks? No, Noelle, keep focussed!

--Laisse pas cette putain t'emcharmer, espece d'idiote! C'est un piege!--

Would you shut up?

Morgana continued: "Yeah, I know, without actually doing the exercises, it can be hard to put stuff into context. You know... I can't see why I couldn't..." Then the redhead looked a lot more serious. "But we have to be responsible about it. Did they show you the safety video, about all the things that can go wrong?"

Noelle winced and nodded. Those scenes were burned in her memory. "Yeah. It was pretty scary, but I guess it was necessary?"

Morgana nodded. "Magic can be dangerous. I mean, we haven't had any major accidents in the lab periods yet, but there has been stuff go wrong." She thought about exploding bunnies for a moment, then decided it was something Noelle didn't need to know. Especially with that big cute bunny dominating her bed.

Noelle intensified her pleading look. "But aren't there some harmless spells you can show me?"

Morgana looked thoughtful, obviously not looking at Noelle right then. "Yes, there are." She focussed on Noelle again. "But I don't want to get us into trouble. Look, how about I ask Mrs. Bardue first, and see what she says?"

"S'il te plais, oui! I'm sure she'll say yes!"

Morgana wasn't quite so sure, but then Mrs. Bardue probably wasn't as scary to the residents as she was to kids doing detention.

"Ok, then let's see what I can do." She pulled her cellphone out and gave Noelle her best reassuring smile. Forgetting that showed her small fangs, which fortunately Noelle didn't comment on.

"Mrs. Bardue? Its Morgana Jones, I'm with Noelle right now. No, no problems, but she has a request I felt I should ask you about first. She wants me to teach her how to cast a few basic magic spells." The response must have been interesting because Morgana winced quite obviously. "No ma'am, nothing dangerous! Just a couple of the cantrips they taught us first in class. Yes, I'll wait while you consult Ms. Grimes."


"She didn't say no, so that's a start. She's going to ask Ms. Grimes about it first though. Said they'll get back to me in a few minutes."

Noelle was almost vibrating in her chair with excitement. "Oh, I'm sure she'll say yes! I mean, I've been good and not tried anything on my own."

Morgana tried not to chuckle at the girl's obvious eagerness. After all, it wasn't that long ago she'd been just like that about starting to learn magic, she could sympathise with the girl's excitement. So she looked around for something to distract her while they waited for Grimes, she wasn't sure if too much excitement would set Noelle off manifesting ice or something. There were some posters on the wall, carefully protected from Noelle's power with heavy lamination. The one of Lady Lightning was easily recognisable, one of her throwing a punch against a background of lightning bolts, but the other two - a woman in a form-fitting red uniform on a beach, and what looked like a poster for a band, she didn't recognise.

"So, I recognise Lady Lightning, but who's on the other posters?"

Noelle simply grinned as she got to show off what she had. And hey, any girl who knew Lady Lightning was good in her book. "She would be Slipstream. A local superheroine back where I'm from." Though she recalled more than a few calling her Baywatch, but it wasn't official. "She tends to stick around the beach and the sea. She's pretty awesome in action. Goes right through the waves of water, and turns them on villains. You don't want to try a boat escape when she's around." She wound back an arm and swung it back forward in a big wave. "WHAM!" Causing her to spin around in her chair a little. Realizing what she'd just done, she blushed and fidgetted. "Ah-hum... Anyways. This was taken as a promotion shoot, and I was able to snatch one up. She's too cool to pass up." Though she wasn't ready to admit the real reason she picked one up. She didn't have to anyhow.

Instead, Morgana picked on something else. "Cool. She must have been quite the sight to see. So you used to live by the beach?"

"Oh? Yeah." The frosty girl fidgetted a bit. "Just across the street from my home. Went to it all the time." She rubbed up her arm, her cheery mood dying down. "Though I don't know if I'll ever get to go back."

She felt a hand on her shoulder with a comforting smile. "Hey, it'll be okay. Things usually work out if you give them a bit of time." She nodded her head to the third poster. "What about that one?"

Noelle happily took the change of subject. The poster had a rock band with two guitarists, a drummer, and at the front, a redhead singing loudly into her microphone. "Ruby Rocks. There was a concert last summer with them. C'etait superbe. Spent the whole afternoon cheering and chanting. Heavy rock influence, slipping in heavy metal at times."

"Must be a local band." The Welsh girl considered. "Never heard of them."

Noelle grinned and spun back to her laptop. "Want me to pull out some of their best tunes?" She could hear the protests in her head, but she didn't pay them any mind.

But that train of thought was interrupted when Morgana's phone gave a peremptory buzz, and she flashed Noelle a quick, and she hoped reassuring, smile as she picked it up.

"Yes? Oh, Ms. Grimes ma'am. Yes, Noelle wants me to teach her some of the cantrips we learnt in the first few weeks. No ma'am, I understand. I was going to start with the light one, that's pretty safe I think." She paused, obviously listening to the magic teacher, while Noelle sat on the edge of her chair looking nervous. "Yes, ma'am, I can do that, it makes sense. Yes, just the one, and I'll come and report to you about it tomorrow? OK, and thanks, ma'am, I know Noelle will appreciate it and be sensible." She took a moment to mouth 'You will be sensible, right?' to the girl, who nodded so hard she almost fell off her chair. "OK, ma'am, thanks. And sorry to disturb you."

"She said yes, didn't she! She did!"

Morgana grinned at Noelle's exuberance, holding up a hand. "Hang on a bit, Yes, she said I could, but there ARE conditions, and they aren't negotiable."

Noelle calmed down a bit at that, as the dragongirl continued. "OK, these are Grime's conditions. First, that I only teach you the light cantrip today. That's pretty safe, the worst you can do is get someone flash blinded for a few minutes, like letting a flashbulb off in their face. Second" - her face got a lot more serious - "you have to swear to only practice this one until I or someone else Grimes nominates show you more. And it's a mage's oath, it will be binding. No practicing any of the others without asking, OK?"

Noelle's face fell a little, but she gave a half-resigned nod.

"Look, I know that's a bit disappointing, but it does make sense. Without guidance, they may only be cantrips, but some of them can be dangerous. We get a lab area to practice in, you just have this room. Setting fire to it would be bad, right? Even if you can make things cold."

Noelle gave what was so obviously a very heartfelt sigh. "I guess she's right."

"Yeah, Grimes is a good teacher. She's not soft, but she is a damn good teacher. I'm to go and tell her how things went on tomorrow, then she'll decide how we can go on."

"But you're going to teach me, right?"

Morgana barely managed to nod before Noelle wrapped her up in a megahug. "ThankyouThankyouThankyou!" All she could do was pat the girl's back and be glad the girl didn't have an exemplar's strength or she'd have had bruises in the morning. Finally, Noelle let go, blushing rather deeply. "I'm sorry, it's just that..."

Morgana chuckled. "But you've been reading all the books and have been dying to try a spell. Hey, at least you were sensible enough not to, that probably is why Grimes will allow this."

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"So what do I have to do?"

Morgana thought for a moment. "OK, first you need to make an oath. And that has to be magical, so first I need to change."

Noelle looked at her, slightly puzzled, then blushed. Morgana couldn't work out why, before Noelle carried on. "er, do we need to be naked or something? I mean, in some of the books it says...."

This time Morgana had to laugh, while Noelle just sat there with growing impatience while the redhead chortled merrily. "Oh, I'm sorry! No, of course not, not for a little spell like this! I mean, we practice them in class!"

For a moment Morgana could have sworn she saw disappointment flicker across the girl's face, but, obviously, she was wrong. "I meant I have to change. And not my clothes."

"Quoi?" Disappointment turned into confusion. "I don't understand?"

Morgana stood up, then started her mental relaxation exercises. "Just watch and see, it will only take a minute or two."

Noelle sat and watched, managing not to do much more than gasp as Morgana's body changed slightly. Her horns slowly vanished, and there were some subtle changes she didn't quite understand to the look of her fingertips. Her skin colour changed too - she hadn't realised, but there had been a reddish tinge to Morgana's tan, which faded to a more normal appearance. After a couple of minutes, the only thing odd about her was her somewhat-pointed ears and her weird eye colour.

"Oh wow! You're a shapeshifter as well?"

Morgana blinked and shivered slightly. Without the extra heat she could use in her dragonform, the room was quite chilly. Couldn't be helped, and anyway she was still an exemplar.

"No, I'm not. It's all rather complicated, it's tied into my power. When I'm in my dragonform, it's harder to control my magic, but when I'm like this it's a lot easier." Well, actually currently impossible in her dragonform, but while Noelle seemed a nice girl she wasn't going to explain too much about herself quite yet. Just the term 'dragonform' was already getting that saucer-sized look in her eyes again. She stretched and then glanced at Noelle's desk. "Now, you'll need some paper and something to write with, and grab that Basic Magic book from the shelf, it has the starter cantrip patterns in it." While she waited for Noelle, she rummaged in her shoulderbag for some precut spell slips and a marker.

"Does it matter what sort of paper?" The girl cast an envious look at the squares of high-quality art paper Morgana had dragged out."

"Not really. Better stuff makes the spells stronger or last longer, but you don't actually want that yet. So anything will do, a notebook, just something to write on." She took the book and flipped the pages. "Now before we start, there's the matter of your oath. Take a quick read so you know what's going on, while I finish getting ready."

Noelle nodded obediently, reading the explanation of the basic binding spell so she'd understand what was going on. Then realised the spell called for blood... She looked up, seeing that Morgana had put a small plastic bag on her table. "Merde! T'as besoin de-You need my blood?" Despite herself, it came out in almost a squeak.

"Yeah, I'm afraid so. This is something you'll need to get used to with magic, quite a lot of stuff, and anything that's tied to you personally uses a blood link. Now this" - she held up the small plastic baggie- "is a standard blood kit." She opened it, placing a small plastic tube, a piece of cotton wool, and a small bandage on the table. Then slid the tube open to show Noelle the small needle protected by it. "Don't worry, we get these from the store, it all comes pre-sterilized."

Noelle gulped slightly, so Morgana reached out and patted her hand. "It's OK, it's your first time. Just do what I say and it will all be fine." She turned the spell book towards her, as she took her paper and marker and slowly drew out the diagram. "There. Now we need a spot of your blood, and I'll power it up as you make the oath." She coached the girl carefully through the few simple phrases, then smiled and passed her the needle. "Now just prick your fingertip, and when you have press the blood onto the spell diagram, right here." She waited as Noelle bit her lip, then stabbed her finger - rather too hard, but it did the job - and nodded in approval as she pressed the blood onto the paper. "Good! Now wipe it with the cotton wool, then pop the plaster on it. I'll wait."

Noelle did as instructed, fumbling a bit as she slipped the plaster on, while Morgana wiped the trace of blood off the needle with the cotton wool. "What now?"

"Now I power up the spell, and you say the oath. Oh..waste bin?"

Noelle pointed at the bin under the table, as Morgana dragged it closer. Morgana held the symbol-inscribed paper in her hands, looking down at it as she concentrated, then relaxed. "There. Now just say the oath."

Noelle gave a big gulp and did as instructed. As she finished, the symbols on the paper seemed to shimmer and glow, then the paper ignited, burning rapidly into ash. Morgana just held it in her palm, the fire not seeming to bother her at all, then smiled and brushed the ashes into the bin.

"OK, now while I wash my hands, take a look at the light cantrip - it's on page 47, then I'll show you what to do."

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Noelle looked up from her tenth attempt at copying the rune. "Et voila! Is it good enough yet?"

Morgana looked closely at it, then nodded. "Yeah, you have the pattern pretty much. Now for the interesting bit - powering it! Now watch what I do..." She took one of her spell slips, quickly tracing the light rune onto it before she looked at it for a moment, and the lines on the paper burst into a bright white glow that illuminated the girls' faces. Noelle gasped, entranced by it as it faded slowly and went out. "So, that's it. Now, you need to do two things. First, draw the pattern, feel it grow on the paper. Then hold it and push some of your essence into it. Not a lot, it doesn't take much."

Morgana sat back as she watched Noelle work, the girls' attention completely concentrated on the paper. The pattern looked good, but infusing the essence didn't go so well. Nothing happened, the lines just faded a bit. Noelle looked up, disappointment written all over her face."It didn't work!"

Morgana patted her hand with a smile. "It takes practice. I only got it to work about one in five times when I started. Keep doing it, it will work."

"OK... " Noelle repeated the work again, and then again. Then on the third attempt, a soft light illuminated the rune, and she almost dropped the paper with a squeal of delight!" I did it, I cast a spell! Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

For her part, Morgana just chuckled. "Yes, I know how it feels. You do know what comes next, though? Lots and LOTS of practice!" She grinned as Noelle grabbed her paper again. "Patience... this is why I chose the light spell, though, it doesn't use much essence and you can practice it safely on your own." She was pleased to see Noelle didn't look too upset at the need for lots of practice. "Oh... and there is one other important thing we need to do. We have to get rid of the blood left over from the ritual. You don't want to leave your blood lying around."

Noelle looked at the bloodstained piece of cotton wool on her table. "... Est-ce qu'un petit montant comme cela peut vraiment être un probleme?"

"I read... is such a small amount such a risk?"

Morgana pursed her lips as she considered. "Well, yes and no. Any blood is useful if someone is trying to do something to you, but a little bit like this isn't too dangerous. But it's good practice to get into the habit of disposing of it. Now normally we'd just toss it into the disposal unit - we have one in the labs - but you don't have one, and while I could do it for you, you should be careful who you trust. So we'll get rid of it here. Now watch carefully, you can do this pretty much anywhere."

With Noelle following closely, Morgana took the bits of the blood kit into the bathroom. She took a few seconds to change back into her dragonform - relaxing a bit as she stopped feeling the cold in the air - and motioned to Noelle to come close as she pulled a waste bin out, giving her a quick grin.

"Now you'll need to carry matches or a lighter, but I never bother with them." Going slowly so Noelle could see what she was doing, she undid the bottom of the needle container, letting the liquid inside wet the cotton wool. She carefully wiped the needle, a tiny amount of crimson staining it from the last of the blood still on the steel, then put the needle back in the container and dropped it in the bin.

"Now that's cleaned the needle, but we put it away safely before we toss it, it is sharp." She held the bloodstained cotton wool over the bin. "Now the liquid is flammable - you can probably just smell it if you try - and now we just get rid of it." Holding it between her fingers, she manifested a small flame and the wool flared up quickly, falling as ash into the bin. "There, all done. If you can't do this right away, pop it all into the plastic baggie and do it later."

Noelle nodded, eyes still fixed on the ash stains on her companion's fingers. Morgana smiled, and just rinsed them off under the tap. "Yeah, I know it's a hassle, but it's like any labwork you need to learn good habits until they are automatic."

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Vic just had to stare, stunned for a moment at the sight. “Soooooo. What happened here?”

Trails of green slime were layered back and forth across the hall as if by a giant snail on some mind-altering substances.

Pools of what he could only identify as dried-up, crusty mucus spread about the place.

And a few burn marks showing evidence Molten might have been in the area beforehand.

But what described the scene closer to a warzone was a huge brown splatter against one of the walls. Embedded in the hardened substance was a bucket, stuck three feet off the floor, and a mop was dangling off the ceiling. In the middle of it, all was a human-shaped void, with little pieces of what could be identified as a uniform left all over the aftermath.

“That?” Jason peeked out of the janitor’s closet, before going back to filling a bucket with water. “Would be the combination of a low-yield explosive, two gallons of an industrial-strength adhesive compound, and someone’s bright idea of detonating it all together. Don’t worry about that part, I’ll be bringing more solvent later. Your job will be to clean the floor. We have all you need for that right here.”

“Okay, but what about the…?” He made a motion of the human silhouette with his hands.

“Ah. That would be the imprint of last week’s recruit. Took us four hours to peel her off the wall, including the time spent in the lab to make a solvent that wouldn’t eat her skin. Once glue like this is set, don’t ever try to pull someone off, you’re more likely to rip the skin off their bones. The weakest link in the chain and all. It’s why the place is such a mess right now, it’s the leftover of the job she was supposed to do.”

A feeling of dread crept up Vic’s skin as he pictured that. “Does this happen often here?”

The janitor simply gave him a deadpan stare for a minute. “This is when I’m reminded your group are freshmen.”

He pulled along the bucket, along with two bottles. He poured the content of the latter into the bucket, where the content began to bubble. “This will dissolve any of the usual suspects here. If your first pass doesn’t soften it enough to be picked up, let it sit for about a minute or two. If you get splashed with it, wash it with water right away.” He handed his tool for the evening: a pair of rubber gloves and a mop. “I expect the whole hallway to be mostly cleared by the time I come back. Understood?”

The boy gave a solid nod and got to work. It wouldn’t be too hard a job, he figured. Just disgusting. He could handle that. Besides, he knew if all else came to fail, he could always just get more water. It might be easier for him to do the mopping than anyone else in the group. Even as he swept the mop through the slime, he could push the water to scoop up more of it and into the mop, before dropping it into the bucket. The chemicals in it did make things slippery, but he could at least admit the crusty parts were coming off easier than the thought.

Looking down the hallway though, he did wonder if he wouldn’t need a bigger bucket.

As he was about to make another sweep, a stray thought came to mind. “So if this was leftover from yesterday, why was it left like this the whole day?”

It was then that Jason stepped out of the janitor’s closet in a full hazmat suit, hauling a vacuum cleaner behind him. He looked through the window of his helmet: “Because some jobs take priority, kid. You don’t send the rookies for the dangerous jobs.”


To Be Continued

Read 3909 times Last modified on Monday, 27 March 2023 23:32

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


Uri David Akavia
8 months ago
Which story had them getting in trouble and being assigned detention?
I can't find that one.

Thank you
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Dan Formerly Domoviye
Dan Formerly Domoviye
6 months ago
That would be Dorms Of Our Lives Season 5, I believe.
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3 weeks ago Like Like Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

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