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 Post subject: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-08-23 05:35pm
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Padawan Learner
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Joined: 2009-06-27 12:00pm
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Chapter One

Whateley Academy, 21 December 2006

A cavern, a place of ancient and potent magic that even Elder Gods treat with caution. A stone altar constructed long ago by those who presumed to appeal to that magic...

Harmless enough, if left alone.

Disturbed by a trap left by a sorceress for one of her rivals in beauty and magic?

Empowered by the raw and barely trained essence and ki of young masters in the arts of wielding such?

All the ingredients were in place... or perhaps more precisely a key had been turned in the lock. All it awaited was a hand to touch the door.

Had no one been there, had no one touched it, then nothing might have followed. Weather would have swept away the circle drawn on the altar, essence and ki would have trickled away through what channels they found.

Of course, Don Sebastiano was never one to leave well enough alone. Even - especially - when he didn't know well enough to know better. Knowing only that the plan, laid out by Hekate, to lay a critical division between Chaka and Fey had failed to leave them easy prey for a 'rescuer' to sweep in...

The young psychic spread his senses in search of anyone who might have meddled in the trap, allowing the insolent pair to slip free of it.

Normally safe enough.

Normally.

Behind the locked door, out of his view, a ripple deposited a limp female form on the cold stone.

.o0o.

New York, 21 December 2006

"Kurtz!"

The Anti-Paladin changed course as he heard the manager of the New York Chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom call his name. Randall Pierce was holding onto the frame of a doorway - a doorway that, unlike the rest of the chapter house lobby wasn't tearing itself apart as a result of the super-battle that had engulfed it.

With space distorting itself into an Escher nightmare, running to the door turned into a stagger across floor, stair and in two places a wall before Randall reached out his hand and managed to yank his errant 'security staff' through the door.

Having salvaged all he reasonably could from the debacle, the manager slammed the door firmly on the chaos beyond. On this side of the door... was the lobby of the New York Chapter, unaffected by the chaos and the cleaning staff hard at work.

"What?" the mercenary asked, looking around himself and then back at the door.

"May I take that as a sign my ploy was entirely successful?"

Kurtz removed his helmet and rubbed his face. "How?"

“My dear Kurtz, have you ever wondered how the Grand Hall can afford to maintain a Chapter House of this scale and quality in NEW YORK CITY? The ‘house’ is actually 36 large separate and distinct spaces, and over a hundred smaller spaces, spread out through the five boroughs, Long Island, and Hoboken, They are connected in what the Trekkies might call ‘hyperspace’. This allows me to shuffle the interior of the Chapter House around to suit the -"

Knock-knock.

Both men turned sharply and looked at the closed door.

"You don't think...?"

Randall fished a key out of his pocket and locked the door. "Yes, well. Among the many advantages of this arrangement, is that when Korrupt and Pater Tempus violated the security prohibition against teleportation within and without the Chapter House it became my positive duty to prevent our being compromised. And the bylaws clearly state that members guilty of compromising Chapter House security are expendable so..."

"So you created an unstable bubble in hyperspace, slipped in a spare lobby and let things go smash somewhere containable?"

There was another knock on the locked door.

Both men ignored it.

"But what if they hadn't fatally compromised the security of the lobby?"

Randall grinned ferally. "With Pater Tempus, Korrupt and Bête Noir all involved? My dear Kurtz, I only wager on sure things. Bête Noir opening the door right in front of one of those tracking mandalas the Esoteric Chapter was planting around Manhattan made certain."

"And as manager, you'd know all about that."

The manager spread his hands. "I sent her a memo. It's not my responsibility to make sure the Executive Committee read the memo's I send them."

There was another sound from the door, but it wasn't another knock. The key was turning in the keyhole.

Kurtz crammed his helmet back on as the door opened a crack. Rather than an attack though, what came through was much worse.

"Interesting conversation you were having," a voice murmured from behind the door. “Hypothetically, what do the bylaws say about staff who set out to hinder member's plans?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Randall bluffed. "Who are you?"

"I'm the man planning on blackmailing you with a recording. Even if you avoid formal sanction, there are all sorts of informal problems that might arise to someone with the wrong reputation."

Kurtz and Randall exchanged looks, imagining for a moment the likely consequences if someone like Lady Jettatura were to deem them a threat to her security - and therefore expendable. "Not that I'm admitting to your laughable accusations -" the manager gestured for Kurtz to ready himself for an immediate attack, reaching for the door knob. "But what are you after?"

There was a sardonic opportunism in the "What have you got?" that was flung back.

Randall yanked on the door, revealing a serpentine figure - half-dragon and half-man, lurking on the opposite side. Dark demonic power hissing around his sword, the Anti-Paladin charged -

- directly into a kick that dented his armour below the ribs, forcing all the breath out of his lungs. Although he retained the presence of mind to bring his sword down, somehow one of the wings flicked it aside and then his helmeted head bounced off the door-frame.

.o0o.

New York, 21 December 2006

When the pretty lights were no longer clogging his vision, Kurtz found himself sprawled in one of the lobby armchairs, helmet and sword on the coffee table.

"Please hold still, Mister Anti-Paladin," one of the maids asked politely. "I'm still bandaging your head."

"Uh..."

"It's quite alright, Kurtz." Randall moved into Kurtz' field of view. "Mr Abere and I have come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement and the chef is preparing a wonderful roast quail with mushrooms, a suitable dinner to welcome the Grand Hall's newest member."

"Newest... member..."

"Of course. We do have vacancies now that the Ghastly Trio have... moved on. Young Mr Abere was quite amenable to being introduced to a charming and complaisant pair of young ladies of Bête Noir's acquaintance, who she'd thought might endear her to me."

"So you're sacrificing them to the dragon?"

Randall looked smug. "Judging by his more human guise, Mr Abere is perhaps sixteen. We'll get our stories straight over dinner - the debacle this afternoon, how you valiantly defended the Chapter House and my rather brilliant ploy to cut our losses - and then pack him off to Whateley Academy before any of the other members can interrogate the lad."

"And you think you can trust him?" asked Kurtz uneasily. Dragons, in his experience, were never good news. Plus he'd just gotten his ass kicked by a teenager, which wouldn't look good on his resume.

"Trust?" Randall shook his head. "He might be a young opportunist right now, but he's got the makings of a proper professional. Better get in his good books now... and if all else fails, Lady Jettatura would probably be interested in a source of half-dragon blood and bone." He grinned coldly. "And we don't have to discuss how he handled you... wouldn't do to have that on your resume, would it?"

Up the stairs, behind two doors - and halfway across New York City, depending on your perspective, Khrel Abere grinned toothily and looked out the window of the apartment previously assigned to Korrupt. It sounded as if Randall and Kurtz were going to be co-operative, at least for now.

"So," he suggested to the women flanking him - one arm around each of their waists. "Tell me more about this New York place..."

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006

In the small hours of the morning, long after a frustrated Sebastiano had stalked away from the cave, the female form inside stirred and awoke.

Long blonde hair, mint-green eyes, long and pointed ears...

Sarasa Sybaern rolled to place her back against the iron-clad door, eyes wide and concerned. No enemies in sight or hearing... but no allies either. Those same senses told her the cavern was entirely empty.

Other senses told her that that emptiness was nothing to trifle with.

Without looking back, she ran her fingers across the door until she found the lock. With that established, breathing shallowly, Sarasa produced tools from her pockets and went to work.

Sooner than those who'd fitted the lock would have been happier to learn, it snapped open under the elf's ministrations and she pushed against the door.

Nothing.

Mouth dry, Sarasa tapped the door. Bolts, top and bottom. And something else - not a lock but something similar securing another device, intended to alert someone if the door was opened. It was tempting to risk a spell to throw the bolts and let whatever alarm it was sound...

But that might be hopping from frying pan to fire...

It took what felt like an eternity for careful probing with wires to work the bolts and secure the pins for the lock keeping the alarm for sounding.

The door swung open, just wide enough for Sarasa to slip through it. She closed the door behind her and restored the bolts before looking around.

Another door, one with just enough room for this one to open. Lightless to most eyes, the chamber gave up its secrets to her eyes and she gave the runes decorating the door she'd come through a respectful look. It would have been a very bad idea to try to open the door with magic.

Touching the handles, Sarasa frowned. The proportions were... off, slightly. Too large, too high? Something like that. With a shake of her head she reconnected the alarm and went to work on the single lock securing the next door.

This, at least, was easier.

Minutes later and this door too yielded to her efforts. Outside, she found not another door - as she'd half-feared - but on starlit snow. Looking up at the sky, Sarasa could see but the barest sliver of the moon above.

"Now where are..." Scanning the sky for constellations to orientate herself upon, the elf was increasingly baffled.

No Belnimbra's Belt and no Jester in the sky. Seeking the Brow Star to at least identify north, Sarasa thought she'd found it but the stars around it didn't form the Crown of the North.

Searching for that, she missed the formation of stars below it until she'd almost given up.

"The Big Dipper? But that would mean..."

Sarasa hugged herself, uncertain if she was happy or horrified.

"I'm... on Earth?"

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006

While Sarasa would hesitate to call herself a tracker, it wasn't hard to guess that the glow over the hills was a settlement of some kind. And it didn't take an expert ranger to recognise footprints in snow. She could even make out three distinct sets of them.

"Hopefully the footprints I've already made aren't too much of a give-away." The snow was also getting her leather boots soggy but that, alas, was hardly the first time.

Reaching the heights of the hills, the elf took cover below a tree and scanned the newly revealed horizons...

"A crystal dome, an industrial something or other, brick apartment buildings... What is this place?"

Red-brick buildings were scattered around a hilly grove, probably the original complex. At a guess, some kind of ivy-league school or college, but it had been expanded with buildings out of the 1960s, 1980s, 16th century and mid-distance future.

That was on the surface but below the surface... the entire area was dotted with mystic sites, some not so different from the one she'd just walked away from, others more organised. "If this is Earth, there are a lot of things I didn't know about. Maybe I was wrong about that."

And maybe, she thought, leaving tracks as she had was more of a potential problem than she'd considered. The elf murmured a spell, lifting off from the ground and moving into the shelter of the tree branches above. Screened from at least casual view she started to circle the area. She needed information and while going right in didn't sound wise there was probably an access road.

Her expectations were fulfilled when she encountered a substantial stone wall - although one she doubted circled the entire campus - and followed it to where it was pierced by an ornamental double-gate with a well-maintained driveway leading through it. Gargoyles leered down from the top of the gate posts and the placement was entirely too obvious an opportunity for concealed observation or perhaps even defenders for Sarasa to approach closely.

She could see well enough though, to pick out the brass plaque that read 'Whateley Academy'.

A school then. A school that concealed and perhaps even taught magic.

"And if - if - this is Earth as I recall it, then it doesn't advertise that fact." Sarasa glanced up past the gates at the school again. Even at this hour there were lights - from up in the trees she could still look over the hills that would have masked the school from anyone entering the gate at ground level. "And those are electric lights so..."

With a nod she turned away from the school and started following the driveway. Sooner or later it would lead her to a road and a road would lead her to a town and then...

And then, Sarasa mused, we shall see what we shall see.

.o0o.

Dunwich, 22 December 2006

Several hours later, the small town of Dunwich, New Hampshire was more bustling than usual for winter. The scenic Miskatonic Valley brought in a steady stream of tourists at most times of year but colder and wetter months were a slower season. Today the streets - particularly around the small train station - seemed to be full of high school students and their luggage.

No sooner were their numbers depleted by a train departing than another coachload would be on their way down from the nearby boarding school. Only a relative handful of the six hundred-strong student body were collected by family and although a fraction would for one reason or another remain resident over the holiday season this was more than made up for by various members of staff who were also departing.

The Kenner twins, having a half-hour to go before their train left, were leaning against a corner, watching for amusement or something that could be made into amusement.

Bradley was the first of the two blonds to spot an opportunity. "Incoming nerdette," he whispered, eyes assessing the bespectacled blonde scurrying through the snow towards him, an arm-full of papers.

His brother glanced casually in the right direction. "Don't recognise her. Local girl?"

"Could be. Shame if she fell and those papers got soaked."

James grinned. "But some good Samaritans might help her up," he proposed. "And who know what might fall out of her pockets?"

They hardly needed to rehearse the calculated one-two. James - Hamper - needed no effort at all to induce a moment of dizziness in the pigtailed blonde as she straightened up after weaving between a pair of local men. One booted foot came down on the curb rather than an inch to the left and with a panicked "Waaah!" the girl forgot all about her papers - a stack of newspapers it seemed - to pinwheel her arms wildly in an entirely inadequate attempt to stay upright.

Bradley, who'd always had the better poker face of the two, darted forwards - carefully just too late to keep the girl from face-planting. The newspapers scattered into the mess of melted snow and dirt that covered the roads.

"Are you alright?" he asked, offering the girl a winning smile and his hand. Both had, by his calculation, a good chance of distracting a girl from his wandering eyes.

In this case they weren't wandering on areas that might get a slap - after the glorious sights of Whateley's sizeable population of Exemplar girls, plain jane here might as well be part of the scenery. No, he was looking for something like... ah, some sort of purse or wallet, already half-way out an unsecured pocket.

"I... I think so." The girl had lost her glasses in the fall, staring up at him with bleary eyes as she tried to focus. "Can you see my glasses?"

"James," Bradley called, "Help me look for the lady's glasses." He nodded in the direction of them, trusting his twin to be creative.

Once he had a secure hold on the girl's hand, he helped her up, his free hand plucking away the purse and slipping it into the pocket of his overcoat. "Easy does it, can you stand okay."

"Thank you." The girl didn't seem inclined to let go immediately.

James cleared his throat. "Miss, I'm afraid your glasses..." The lenses were fine but as an Exemplar-2 he'd been more than able to twist the frame between his fingers without being obvious about it. The result left the lenses at 90 degrees to each other and the spectacles were unwearable without twisting then back - which might well be the final blow to the nose-bridge.

"Awwww..." the girl moaned. "All this and I dropped all my research too!" She squinted fiercely to look at the newspapers scattered and soggy on the road. As if on cue, a van zoomed past, scattering the papers that weren't ground into the slush by its tires.

Bradley shook his head. "Sorry, think they're gone. Have a Merry Christmas!"

Turning their back on the girl was its own form of fun. Show her what she was missing out on.

James glanced at the reflection in the shop window once they'd gone a block. The girl had turned away towards another corner, not looking back. One of the businessmen from earlier had turned around and was walking back their way, head lowered. "So?"

Bradley produced the wallet. Plastic faux-leather, holding the usual bank cards, a few coins and a driver's license. "Huh, didn't think she was old enough to drive."

His twin looked more closely. "That's not her picture on the license. That's -"

"That's my wallet!" the businessman called out in relief. "Thank god you boys picked it up."

The twins exchanged glances. "Glad to help. Uh, just to be safe..." Bradley held up the driver’s license. "Okay, can I have your name please? Can't be too careful these days."

"Sad but true. I'm Jim Buckley."

With a nod, Bradley handed wallet over to Buckley, who checked the contents. "Just to be... uh. Boys. There were two Jacksons and a Hamilton in here when I lost it. You wouldn't know where fifty bucks walked off to, now would you."

The Kenners exchanged looks, less about innocence and more about what they'd do to the girl if they saw her again. "News to us," James assured the man. "Looks like you didn't just drop it. Better call a cop. If there's a pickpocket going about."

"Yeah." Bradley patted his breast pocket. "Shouldn't carry cash these days, sir." Then he patted his pocket again and opened it. "Crap! My wallet."

James groaned. "Oh man! Get your phone and have the cards cancelled."

"The cards?" His brother grimaced. "I had the train tickets there too!"

.o0o.

Dunwich, 22 December 2006

Around two corners and wearing a face just as false as the one of the nerdy girl she'd worn a moment ago, Sarasa dumped her second wallet of the day in a trash can. Sixty-four dollars and seventeen cents wouldn't get her far, but it was better than nothing and two train tickets to Boston was well over a hundred miles if she chanced using one.

Right now she was more interested in getting a hot chocolate from one of the diners and figuring out where the nearest public library was. Dunwich didn't even have a McDonalds or a Burger King, so either this world had an economy drastically different from what Sarasa expected or the village depended on a larger town for services like libraries.

Right now she was betting on the latter.

The mug of hot chocolate and a muffin in front of her, Sarasa pulled out a leaflet she'd found racked at the station. Listing all the stations along the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle's route, she wasn't spoiled for choice. It looked like the nearest city or perhaps major town was called Berlin.

She'd never heard of the place but the tourist information that filled out the otherwise quite short leaflet suggested it was quite rural - historic paper industry, oldest ski club in the USA, French-speaking traditions...

Tilting the mug back to drain the last of the hot chocolate, Sarasa lowered her head and was surprised to see an elderly woman had sat down in front of her while she was distracted.

"Millie does make excellent hot chocolate."

Sarasa nodded pleasantly. "So I've discovered."

Her new companion leant forwards and spoke quietly. "If you hadn't lifted Jim Buckley's wallet, he'd have been in just the wrong place when an eighteen-wheeler slips out of lane due to ice. Unintentional as it might be, I think he'd agree that's worth the fifty dollars. On behalf of the Town Council, please leave it at that."

"I really don't know what you mean." But a shiver went down her spine nonetheless.

"Yes you do, dear." The woman lifted her own mug and sipped it appreciatively. "I wouldn't advise you rely on those tickets all the way to Boston, it'll occur to the young men that they ought to report them as stolen a few minutes before the next train to leave reaches Berlin. You'll have time to leave the station there before word trickles down."

Face slipping into that of a teenager confronted by an unwelcome non-sequitor from a geriatric or insane elder, Sarasa slipped out of her chair. "Gosh, is that the time? I've got to go catch my train..."

"Good girl." The old woman folded over her napkin and dabbed at her lips. "But do be sure to be back here before the New Year. You wouldn't want to miss your friends at school." There might have been nothing significant in how the woman nodded then - although she did so at a slight angle that meant she was nodding in the direction of Whateley Academy.

"Right..."

The elf left the diner briskly, mind whirling. Should she ignore the tickets and look for transportation other than the train? It was tempting but little that was good ever came of ignoring an oracle. Of course, few stories suggested that fixating on one helped either.

One way or another that old woman was a seer, diviner or oracle. Trustworthy was another matter.

Sarasa's feet took her to the train station while she was still wrestling with the decision. Crunch time...

She decided to take the train. Halfway to Berlin, she'd ditch and continue on foot. That way if an ambush was waiting for her there... let it close on air. If her 'friends' really were going to gather at Whateley Academy then she could get back there easily now. And it wouldn't be hard to tell.

The explosions, riots and other hallmarks of their presence would probably be obvious.

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006

"The tracks go as far as the nearest hill overlooking the school," Reverend Darren Englund reported with unusual terseness. He was on touchy ground since Halloween, even if his removal for the Board had been blocked. "After that... nothing."

Elizabeth Carson nodded from her place at the head of the table. "Quite possibly whatever it was didn't anticipate needing stealth until then. Did Residue find anything?"

"I didn't take her further than the outer door. From what she says it was opened from the inside but by purely mundane means."

"Ordinary lockpicks? That isn't supposed to be possible." The headmistress didn't need to take physical notes but she did make a mental one to have the workshop look into a new lock - and perhaps an entirely new door to the cave. "So we don't have any information on what came out?"

"Judging by the footprints, humanoid. Unless it's a shapeshifter of course."

The Dean of Students shifted in her seat. "Oh happy thought. If it replaced one of the students..."

"We'd be unlikely to recognise if someone's been replaced. That's the worst case scenario. Best case, whatever it was got scared off when it saw got a look at Whateley. Chances are we're almost entirely alien to it."

"Not so alien that it couldn't cope with our locks."

"Quite right, Liz." Dean Shugendo leant forwards. "Have any of our neighbours reported trouble?"

"The tribes have their own concerns, but given how on edge they are I can't see anyone passing through their territory unnoticed. As for Dunwich -" Carson cut off as her cell phone rang. She raised one eyebrow as she put it to her ear. "Can I help you, Mrs Potter?"

She paused, frowned and then leant back in her chair.

"Hmm. I see. I suppose you know we had an unexpected visitor last night?"

The rest of the available members of the Board watched her with bated breath.

"I see. It's like that, is it?" Her eyes flicked from one to another of the Board. "No, I've not heard anything. One moment please." Carson looked to Franklin Delarose, covering the phone with one hand. "Is there any more news regarding Tennyo?"

The head of security shook his head. "Not since Tom Manning let me know she'd gone into the mountain. The CIA are still sitting on that information."

The headmistress nodded and put the cell phone back to her ear. "No, nothing new."

Another moment and then, "Yes and Merry Christmas to you." She closed the phone.

Englund was the first to speak. "Did she know anything?"

"Knowing something isn't the same as being ready to share it, Reverend." She folded her arms. "We're all bid a Merry Christmas - one we shouldn't waste worrying about this matter, she says."

"That's all?"

"It appears we should expect more students than usual to arrive after the vacation. More difficult students."

Dean Shugendo shook her head. "Difficult students? It's not as if we don't have plenty of those."

"She's meddling again," Englund grumbled.

"That seems to be a perquisite of the Board of Trustees."

The Reverend subsided at the reminder of the strings he'd pulled to arrange for Residue's scholarship at Whateley.

"In any case, we may have already heard of one or more difficult students already. I had a call from New York."

"Yes. I need to get back there. Our young angel there will need the protection of Whateley until she can..."

"Perhaps so. However, the call wasn't about her. It seems the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom have a protégé they feel would benefit from a Whateley education."

"They haven't involved themselves for quite a while. I wonder which of their members is behind this."

Carson shook her head. "That, they didn't tell me. Just a name: Khrel Abere."

.o0o.

New York, 22 December 2006

Having politely shed the companionship of Courtney and Ashley, the pair of young ladies set to see to his needs by Pierce Randall, Khrel was busy seeing to needs he didn't particularly feel inclined with the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom.

For one thing, right now Randall and the Anti-Paladin thought he was financially dependent upon them, something they probably thought would let them tie strings to him. They'd hardly have arranged a loan from the Grand Hall's petty cash if they didn't expect him to someday replenish those offers – and with interest.

Even his sponsorship to the apparently not too distant Whateley Academy was expected to ultimately rebound to the favour of the Grand Hall. Since the school was - according to what he'd been told - located in a mountain range miles from the nearest city, going there couldn't really happen too soon. Khrel was getting itchy, surrounded by so many people.

His instincts for where to find a dodgy part of town and shops that did business that would mysteriously be unreported to the local authorities - for taxation purposes or otherwise - didn't seem to have dulled though. When a pawnshop owner offered him fifty dollars for a gold coin, Khrel knew he'd found the right man - or one of them, anyway. Grinning toothily the whole time he produced a dozen more and suggested there should be another number in front of the fifty.

When Khrel walked out of the shop twenty minutes later, there were twelve not especially crisp one hundred dollar bills taking the place of the coins in his pocket. It probably wouldn't have taken so long if he'd been closer in appearance to his actual age.

Heading down the street, eyes open for another suitable shop - or for trouble - he recalculated. He'd only have time for one more shop before returning to the Grand Hall's 'supervision'. It wouldn't do to leave them too suspicious. He'd been sure to 'carelessly' jingle additional coins in his pocket, but the man had been so oblivious he could have missed hearing them.

A jeweller had a sign in the window saying it bought gold. From the look of the displays, Khrel thought that buying gold cheap and selling it on was more likely to pay the rent than the jewellery was. Exactly the sort of place he was looking for.

The clerk was a rat-faced man who might be dressed respectably but couldn't disguise sharp eyes and ears. The former widened when Khrel produced yet more gold coins and narrowed speculatively when the tall teenager took a rather gaudy ring that had somehow ended up among the coins and put it back into his pocket.

This time, with only eight coins on offer, Khrel bargained more sharply and added a thousand dollars to his stake. He also walked out with the clerk's eyes fixed on his back and his hands hidden behind the counter, working on something. Reflected in the glass of the shop across the way he saw the rat-faced man move a phone into view and turned right so the camera caught his good side.

It took only four blocks for a group of teenagers - or slightly older men who'd not matured out of the mind-set - to catch up with him. "Hey, kid, you got a lighter?"

"Nope." And amusing as it might be to light whatever you're smoking with a fireball... that's not what I'm after.

The one who'd asked nodded and pointed towards a shop on the corner. Oh look, an obvious distraction. And right as we pass an alley... "Spare a buck so I can get a lighter than?"

"I don't actually have a dollar bill on me," Khrel admitted and then snagged the wrist of the man who reached out to yank him into the alley. One twist, two quick paces and... WHANG! ...Khrel was standing inside of the mouth of the alley, his assailant having collided face-first with the side of a dumpster. "Why don't you boys ask the nice man bleeding there," he added.

They followed him of course. Two of them produced switchblades and a third seemed to have - although he had the sense not to produce it - a pistol under his jacket.

Khrel never laid a hand on them.

His feet, yes.

And he hardly had to 'help' at all, for one of those with knives to place that knife's blade into the arm of one of the others.

"The quality of modern youth is on the decline," he observed sadly. "Now then boys, why don't you spare yourselves some more bother and tell me who I need to talk to to get connected around here."

"Connected?"

Khrel sighed and applied the tip of his shoe to an unbloodied part of the person making unproductive noises. "Don't just repeat what I say," he chided. "I know you're barely grease between very little cogs but you certainly know someone more prominent than yourselves or the jeweller’s clerk in the field of arranging matters outside the arm of the law. You'd better know such a name, at least."

It would be immensely frustrating if he had to keep doing this in order to catch someone with half a clue.

Something of the intensity in his eyes crumbled bravado. "Turrin. Leo Turrin. He's running a string of call girls over in Jersey. I don't got his number."

"I don't need his number." Khrel stepped over them, shooting a derisive look at the one who'd been carrying. The youth in question gulped and stopped trying to wriggle to get the gun out of his pants - a holster might have kept it from slipping through the waistband and rendering it inaccessible.

Two minutes later and the apparent teenager slipped into the crowded subway, just another anonymous commuter buried in a heavy winter coat, face half-hidden by a muffler.

.o0o.

Berlin, 22 December 2006

A long walk through the woods to Berlin gave Sarasa time to think, always a valuable commodity. Other than tire marks on the logging trails she crossed, she might almost have been back in Faerun.

She wasn't though, so when she entered the town it was in another guise.

The young girl in the slightly faded red winter coat and the woollen cap didn't draw much attention as she tramped up the main street, noting shows where she could assemble a local wardrobe that was more than illusion.

On the right she spotted what she'd been looking for: a red-brick building with a sort of Renaissance Roman arch forming a porch. Outside a tablet in the shape of an open book allowed even the illiterate to know this was the Berlin Public Library. Presumably to allow said illiterates to avoid it.

Sarasa, now Mary-Alice Bellouin (in her own mind and soon to others), stamped her way up the stairs and stared big-eyed up at the woman behind the desk - and the shelves that fill the library. It had been a long, long time since she'd seen so many books in one place.

"Can I help you, sweetie?" the librarian asks, bringing Mary-Alice back to herself.

"I have a project," she explains. "I don't know where to start."

The woman practically melts. A cute young girl and a desire for knowledge, how couldn't she? "Then you've come to the right place. What are you looking for?"

"It's about pary... p-perry-normal..." She sighed and shook her head as if frustrated by her inability to remember the word.

"Paranormal?"

"Un!" Mary-Alice nodded her head vigorously, glad the hat would keep her ears from being revealed. Now as long as she wasn't directed off to a shelf full of nonsense...

"Right over this way." The librarian took a chance and left her desk to guide little Mary-Alice to a set of shelves packed with formidably sized book. The first she took down had a great many pictures, including one of a man in a blue and white spandex suit with a large red C on the chest.

Almost before Mary-Alice could blink she had a half-dozen books in her hands. None of them looked like the sort of heavy reading necessary to give her an in-depth knowledge, but with titles like 'An Illustrated Paranormal History of the Twentieth Century' and 'Superheroes And Their World', she could at least get a reasonable overview. "Thank you!"

"It's no bother dear. If you want to get anything else, you know where the shelf is now. There's a stool at the end - please be sure to use that if you want to get something else from the top shelf." She leant down conspiratorially. "Some of the boys think that they can climb up the shelves like monkeys but it's really not a good idea."

They shared a laugh at that.

"Just put the books on that trolley, behind my desk, when you're done with them."

Mary-Alice nodded her head and said "Un," again. Disarmed by the cuteness, the librarian ruffled her hair before heading back to her desk.

Stacking the books on a table, the blonde girl sat with her back to the librarian to hide the fact she wasn't taking notes - and that she was reading every page at a glance.

Magic, at least, had been around for a long time she gathered. However it hadn't been too prominent until the rise of other paranormals created a niche for the practitioners outside of reclusive study. Superheroes dated back to the 1930s with super soldiers fighting for all sides during World War Two. The predominant issue - aside from the not precisely trivial possibility of nuclear annihilation - since then had been the issue of mutants.

Tracing the broader term of metahuman down in the glossary of 'Who's Who: 100 Superheroes and Supervillains', Mary-Alice found the other broad categories as Imbued (roughly, people who'd found a magic ring or the like), Origin (people who'd been changed, such as a werewolf bite), Baseline (otherwise ordinary people distinguished by especial knowledge of magic or science - or just possession of power armour). Mutants, however, were genetically different and in a consistent fashion - despite being consistent in very little else.

Setting the book down, Mary-Alice frowned. She was fairly sure that anyone seeing her ears would assume she was a mutant. Unless there was a tradition of 'were-elfs' which was a pretty ridiculous idea when you came down to it. There would be queues forming to get bitten.

The girl rested her chin on her hands. Particularly at her apparent age, mutant simply made the most sense. Fortunately a talent for magic wasn't uncommon among mutants it seemed. So... she'd emerged as a mutant, gained a talent for magic and run away from home.

Plausible, she judged. There was obviously some prejudice against mutants...

So where should she go to...?

There wasn't any mention of the school she'd seen, which was obviously aimed at metahumans rather than just arcanists, given what Mary-Alice now knew.

She drummed her fingers on the table and checked a sidebar in 'Superheroes And Their World'. Apparently mutants were legally required to carry an identification card, issued by an agency called the Mutant Commission Office. That would be the best place to start.

.o0o.

New York, 22 December 2006

There were any number of things to do in New York, particularly in the company of two pretty young women. Some of them weren’t legal at Khrel’s apparent age but since Courtney and Ashley didn’t seem bothered about that, he wasn’t going to fret either. Among the list of legal entertainments was shopping and since he wasn’t having to pay the bill Khrel was happy to splurge on the ladies while he was at it.

There was a slight reversal of roles – wearing new dresses Courtney and Ashley were sitting waiting from the back of the store when Khrel emerged with the in-house tailor. “I’m rather pleased with the way this displays your shoulders,” the man said. “Not quite the fashion today, but you really carry it off.”

“I’ve nothing against following fashion as long as fashion isn’t stupid.” Khrel adjusted the cuffs slightly and worked his shoulders. “Some things are classic for a reason.”

“It looks good on you.” Courtney left her chair and walked over to stand next to Khrel, wrapping one arm around his shoulders. “But not everyone can pull it off.”

The boy placed one hand around her waist. “That’s not a problem I’ve generally had.” He looked over at Ashley, sitting over the bags. “So did you lose the coin-toss or something?”

“Actually I won.” She smiled smugly. “Courtney gets to take the bags back to the apartment, so my time will come.”

Khrel gave the tailor a ‘women, what can you do?’ look. “Well you’ve got the credit card, Ashley. How about you settle up the bill for this while Courtney and I get my clothes together. You don’t mind me wearing this out of here, do you?”

“Not at all, sir.” The tailor produced a business card. “And if you want anything else… or if you ever want to turn your hand to working professionally, please give me a call. It’s nice to see another man interested in fashion without acting like a mincing fool.”

“Stereotypes are harsh,” Khrel agreed amiably.

One misdemeanour back in the changing rooms later – Khrel was more or less indifferent to the law and wouldn’t have gone out of his way for the act but Courtney was enthusiastic – he left the shop arm in arm with Ashley. If it encouraged the Grand Hall to think he could be led around then so much the better. Possibly Ossip or Lissa was rubbing off on him. He hoped not, that would be damn embarrassing.

“She has that flush.” Ashley waved down a taxi. “You’re a beast, you know that?”

“A dragon.”

The woman laughed at the joke, not a flicker of concern to suggest she thought he might be serious.

Which he was, of course.

“So we’ve done my shopping for clothes. What do you suggest next?”

“How about a movie? Dreamgirls premiered at Ziegfield, they’re still running that there.”

“What’s it about?”

“Sixties and seventies R&B. So it’s historical, and they’ve got music.”

“Maybe if we eat first.”

“Hey… there’s a place down in Brooklyn that serves food while you’re watching the film. I’ve never been there but it sounds good.”

“Convenient at least. Are they showing the same film?”

Ashley squeezed his hand lightly. “I don’t know. We can find out when we get there. Wanna call a taxi?”

Spotting a flash of yellow in the traffic, Khrel stepped out a little and waved it down, using a little spell to encourage the taxi driver to be helpful and pull over. “We’re going to Brooklyn,” he advised. “The…”

“Nitehawk theatre.”

“I know the place.”

“I don’t suppose you know what’s showing?”

The cabbie grunted and then fished around in his glove compartment, producing a newspaper. “Might say in here,” he offered, passing it back.

Ashley leafed through it, eventually finding a listing. “Aw, they don’t have Dreamgirls.”

Khrel took the paper and ran one finger down the listings. It came to rest on Rocky Balboa. “What’s this?”

“Oh, didn’t you hear about that? Sylvester Stallone’s made another Rocky movie. You like boxing?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Ashley leant over and rested her head against his shoulder. “You’re sure built for it.”

The boy sighed and put one arm around her. What I’m not built for is this city. Another day or two and I’ll go crazy with all the crowds here. At least this school they’re taking about is out in the sticks.


Last edited by drakensis on 2014-08-24 02:52am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-08-23 05:36pm
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Berlin, 22 December 2006

The streets of Berlin were clearing as shops shut. That made it a little too obvious for Mary-Alice to be wandering them - not that she'd be entirely out of place, but the fact was she'd be memorable.

Instead she'd found a nice, sheltered spot in some bushes - well, sheltered from sight. The weather was still cold and snowy so it wasn't exactly where she'd prefer to be sleeping. Fortunately that wasn't the plan.

The first step of her plan was getting a change of clothes. Illusions were all very well, but she'd be subject to considerable scrutiny no matter how well intentioned it might be. Her story would cover for her own appearance but her clothes and other possessions were far out of line with the story so they'd need to be hidden - and it wouldn't do to have no clothes.

Obviously new clothes would also be a problem but used clothes could be obtained reasonably from a charity shop she'd spotted. Equally, however, it wouldn't be sensible for her to be seen buying the clothes - not to mention the hole it would make in her limited supply of dollars. Even a single outfit could easily cost half the money.

Stealing from a charity shop wasn't something she'd be proud of - not unless she was far more desperate than she was right now - but she could leave something other than money in token exchange.

The risk was that the theft could be reported and someone match up what was stolen with what she was wearing. A charity shop probably wouldn't have a detailed inventory of what they had on the racks, which was a plus, but might be more inclined to report a sudden find of gold, feeling they had a moral obligation to do so.

Even so, that probably wouldn't be linked to her.

Once darkness fell - as much as it did in a town with streetlights (electric streetlights, the criminal's worst enemy) - Mary-Alice went back into the streets although she stayed on side-streets as much as possible. If the light was a complication, the way buildings were spread out - and the lack of beggars - almost entirely offset it. Wearing darker colours and weaving an illusion of a more adult height, she didn't attract more than casual glances from the few people she passed.

She wasn't surprised to see the shop had been among the first to close. Volunteers, this close to Christmas, would probably have other things on their minds than working late. Furtive scuttling around the back would have drawn more attention than boldness and at first glance the lock wasn't anything special.

Her first impression was right. She couldn't have unlocked the door much faster if she had the actual key already. She was slowed more reading a sign on the door declaring the shop was closed for the Christmas period.

Inside, close the door and head for the racks she'd noted before as child sized. Despite the dark she could easily read the size labels and it only took her a couple of minutes to pick out clothes that would fit, if not necessarily match.

Bagging them actually took longer and Mary-Alice buffed a silver bracelet, studded with topaz, before placing it on the shelf behind the counter where the staff couldn’t help but find it when they opened on Wednesday, that being the twenty-seventh.

Moments after entering she was out again, bag in hand and locking the door behind her. Now all she needed was somewhere discreet to get changed. Preferably somewhere a bit warmer than behind bushes because it was cold enough dressed. A gust of cold wind when she was half-undressed could leave her with a cold and the last thing she wanted was sneezing fits every time she tried to sneak anywhere.

Fortunately the library had closed early so a little work on one window and she was in the basement. She’d have to make do with her existing underthings. Excuses could be made. The things wore out after all.

Getting back out of the window was harder than Mary-Alice had suspected. Those extra few inches mattered more than she thought, at least in for things like that. Oh well. She’d get them back with time.

The MCO building wasn’t far, fortunately. Just around the corner on Mason and Pleasant. Still, at this time it didn’t matter too much if she was seen. In fact, it might be better all-around if she was.

“Excuse me, Mr Policeman?”

The officer in question, a deputy sheriff engaged in getting two bags of chicken wings into his patrol car, turned and felt a little Christmas spirit at the sight of the girl wearing the cheery Christmas sweater and long velvet skirt smiling up at him.

“Merry Christmas, young lady. Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for the MCO office. Is it around the corner?”

“Just round the corner and to the end of the block,” he confirmed. Putting the food down, he looked at her again. Berlin wasn’t the sort of place a kid her age couldn’t be out alone but… “You really oughta wear a coat in this weather.”

“I noticed.” Mary-Alice rubbed her arms. “But I’m almost there now,” she said with a smile.

“Hmm. Want a ride the rest of the way?”

“Thanks, but it’s just a block. Have a merry Christmas.”

When she reached the corner, out of the corner of her eye Mary-Alice spotted the police car pulling out. She wasn’t surprised a moment later to hear it turning to follow her. Pleased, but not surprised.

The MCO building was a clean, boringly styled office block. The only things that made it look like the MCO might be more than just another insurance company was the helicopter pad up on the roof and the small multi-storey garage attached to one side. Every other business in town Mary-Alice had seen made do perfectly well with a parking lot.

She politely ignored the police car passing behind her as she went up the three steps from the street and pushed open the glass door into the MCO’s reception.

It was a much more comfortable temperature inside, although still on the cool side. The man behind the desk didn’t look like a receptionist. He wore what appeared to be a fairly expensive suit, with a pair of mirror-shades tucked in the top pocket of jacket. Subtle signs of boredom fell away to be replaced by irritation but the MCO man did a passable job of hiding both behind bland indifference. “What brings you to the MCO?”

Mary-Alice pasted a suitably uncertain look on her face. “Um. I’m here to register for an MID… A Mutant Identification Card,” she added when that didn’t get an immediate response.

“I know what an MID is, kid.” The man gestured towards some seats. “I’ll get someone down to deal with you.”

The chairs were the usual institutional rubbish. From where she was sitting, most people couldn’t have heard the man’s conversation over the phone, particularly with the apparently casual way he held it by the bottom of the receiver. Elf ears were excellent and any adventurer worth their salt learned to use all of their senses. Eyes couldn’t see around a corner after all.

“Agent Haustin, it’s Agent Collins on the front desk. We’ve got a live one, she just walked in and said she was here to register for an MID. …. No, sir, a young girl. Looks about twelve, no parents with her. … Okay, not a problem.”

He put down the phone. “One of my colleagues will be down shortly.” He reached into the desk and pulled out a piece of card. “I’ll need your name for a visitor pass.”

“Should I give you a codename or my real name?”

A scowl crossed the man’s face and then settled in to stay. “Real name for now. The codename will go on the MID but until then it’s not official.”

“Okay. I’m Mary-Alice Bellouin.”

He nodded and started writing. “How do you spell Bellouin?”

“B-E-L-L-O-U-I-N.”

“Right then.” Collins put the card in a plastic sleeve with a lanyard and got up from the desk to walk over. “Put this on and keep it on until you leave the building. Once you have your MID, just put it in over this to hide your real name.” He tried to smile confidingly and made a horrible job of it. “You can keep it when we’re done.”

Some sort of tracer in it, perhaps? Mary-Alice put the lanyard around her neck and adjusted it to let the badge hang comfortably. “Thanks.”

He nodded curtly and went back to the desk. A real people person, Collins.

The door on the far side of the reception area slid open two men dressed similarly to Collins. The man in the lead glanced around and took a look at Mary-Alice before nodding. “Collins, you can help me with this. Johnson can take over here for the rest of the shift.”

“Yes sir.” Collins surrendered the desk eagerly to Johnson. He gestured towards the door. “Please follow me, Miss Bellouin.”

Mary-Alice obediently did just that, with the man in charge behind her. Once past the door, the MCO building still looked like an office, a bland corridor with doors off on either side. Most were ordinary but two were obviously elevators.

“Room 308?” asked Collins, tapping the call button for one of these.

“Hmm. Yes, that would be best.” The other man directed condescending smile towards Mary-Alice. “We’ll need to discuss your powers before we can fill out your MID. It’s alright if you’re not sure about the answer to anything we ask. There are some standard tests we can run through. Just to make sure we're on the same page, how did you discover you're a mutant?"

Mary-Alice brushed back her hair to reveal one pointed ear. "I figured these were a give-away."

"Hah. Yes, that would do it, wouldn't it? When are your parents expecting you back?”

“Ah, they don’t know I’m here.”

Oh dear! Mary Alice thought as she noticed that the two men seemed entirely too pleased about that. This isn’t a good sign.

“Well don’t worry about that, this shouldn’t take long,” he said as the door closed behind them and the elevator started to rise.

“I don’t think we’ve been introduced, I’m Mary-Alice.”

“I’m Agent Haustin and you’ve already met Agent Collins.” The door of the elevator hissed open again, revealing a corridor almost indistinguishable from the last one, although there were a couple of people in blue uniforms walking down it.

"Just packing up for Christmas, sir," one of them said to Haustin, giving her a curious look. "Kind of late for you."

"We have a last minute visitor." He pointed at a door with 308 on it. "Just in here, Miss Bellouin."

There wasn't really any graceful way not to have them behind her as she entered. Braced for a sudden attack from behind, she wasn't expecting a puff of air from beside her. An odd, not unpleasant scent filled her nose. "What..."

The door clicked closed behind her. Then there were additional clunks she identified as a locking mechanism.

"Hey!" The room was spartan, a single bunk and a toilet in one corner.

Through a concealed speaker she heard Haustin's voice. "The gas you just inhaled will either make you nauseous or sleepy, Bellouin. Use the bunk or the toilet as appropriate."

"What are you doing? I only came here for an MID! I didn't do anything wrong!" She didn't feel nauseous or sleepy, which strongly suggested someone had made unwarranted assumptions about what would or wouldn't affect her. She checked the bunk for traps, moving slowly as if tired. There were more vents above the bunk but otherwise it seemed more or less what it appeared.

"Is this some kind of test?" She turned back to the door and pressed her hand against it. "I don't understand, please let me out."

"You're not getting out until we say you get out."

Mary-Alice snapped her fingers and the door unlocked itself.

"Uh-oh. She's loose!" Collins' voice rose sharply.

"What...? Dammit Collins, why didn't you lock the door?"

"I did!"

Pulling the door open, the girl was faced not by the suited men, but instead by a woman in the same sort of blue uniform she'd seen earlier. She was also pointing some kind of ray-gun towards Mary-Alice's face and the elf twisted her head sharply and out of the way of a blast. "Whoops."

Without a word or motion she called forth a spell to drop the woman into a deep slumber and caught the blaster as it fell out of her hands. "Huh. I wonder what this does." It wasn't the best moment to play around with an unfamiliar weapon though, so she threw it back towards the bunk and moved out into the corridor.

What to do now? She'd gone to all this bother to create Mary-Alice, would it be better to persist or simply to make her escape, become someone else and look for other avenues...?

Well there was no point stopping being Mary-Alice right now. She trotted along towards the door to the elevator and pressed the call button more to buy time to think than out of any expectation it would do anything. Sure enough, although the light lit up briefly it then extinguished without the doors opening.

"Awwww..." Okay. Next plan. There was a door marked with the sign for emergency stairs. It was locked when she pushed the bar but a little magic took care of that and the door swung open. On the other side was the usual concrete stair well, with broad and sturdy looking stairs leading up and down.

She could be sure of the 'sturdy' part because the stairs down supported a pair of suits of what must be powered armour - or robots but they'd probably look less humanoid. Reflexively, she put the occupant of the first to sleep or rather she tried to.

Mary-Alice was just considering that with the occupant asleep it might be in for a nasty fall down the stairs when the suit raised one arm. "Psi Jammers. Don't leave home without them."

"...aaaaaaaah!" The girl dashed back into the corridor, saw another suit of armour emerging from the elevator and reversed course back to the stairs.

The armoured troopers apparently weren't expecting that, because she was able to slither past the first one and then hop onto the rail when the second one tried to grab her. "H-hey, kid!" The hand didn't catch hold as she slid down to the half-way point and then scrambled for the door out onto the next floor down before they got turned around. She was followed by all sorts of profanity that shouldn't be directed at a young girl like herself.

Bursting out the door she almost bowled over two more people in blue jumpsuits, both of whom conveniently dropped to the ground asleep, unlike whoever was in the armour. She'd really have to... oh yes, that should work.

The elevator pinged and the doors opened to reveal the suit of power armour she'd seen above - fortunately there were markings on the front so Mary-Alice could keep track. "Slade? Colson?" The suit raised a gatling-style cannon towards the girl. "You little bitch!"

"I didn't huuuuuurt them!" she protested and quietly cast a spell on the armour, which proceeded to lock up. The spell was intended to immobilise armoured knights and apparently the MCO's power armour was close enough. Unfortunately she'd cast about half a second before the man inside closed his finger around the trigger.

The gatling proceeded to unload its entire ammunition belt almost but not entirely along the length of the passage, gouging deep into one of the side walls until the bullets reached - and were halted by - the heavily reinforced outer wall of the building.

"...oh crap," the man said in the echoing silence after the ripsaw sound had faded. Mary-Alice thought from the sound of his voice he might have matched action to words. "Sir, she's a mage. Slade and Colson are down, my armour's locked up!"

Mary-Alice back-pedalled away from the fallen suit, looking at the doors. Nothing looked like it led to another staircase or elevator. She might have to display a little more in order to get out of here.

Then a loud voice echoed through the building. "All personnel, we have a Code Ninety-Eight. I repeat, Code Ninety-Eight. We have personnel down, deadly force has been authorised."

Mary-Alice had to reach quite deep into her vocabulary to express herself in a suitable manner.

“Oh poot.”

.o0o.

NORAD-C, 22 December 2006

Sir Michael Aurelus was desperate.

He still wasn't sure how it happened. One minute he had the Wilson girl right where he wanted her and was about to clean up the loose end of her parents and the next...

His eyes dropped to the crudely bandaged stump where his right hand used to be and he shuddered. Despite the pain he thought he might have gotten away lucky compared to the rest of the Knights of the Eternal Presence.

With his left hand, Aurelius typed hastily at the commands for the teleportation booth. With the army securing the tunnels out of Norad C and the formidable shields against teleportation, extra-dimensional penetration and who knew what else, the booth was the only way out. In theory all the Knights would have been using it shortly, but no one else had reached the command centre.

The waves of energy that had crashed across the command centre weren't helping. The more shielded control room Aurelus himself occupied had more or less survived... the Knights manning the consoles outside hadn't been so lucky.

Perhaps it wasn't luck, perhaps it was fate.

Not that it would matter soon: the waves must have been of dimensional energy and they'd played havoc on the ability of the teleportation booth to lock onto its counter-part, thousands of miles away. With a groan he went to the communications panel and flipped a switch. "Nimbus."

"I'm here, Aurelus. Should I assume your plans have reached fruition?"

The words tasted like ashes as the Knight admitted: "Unfortunately not. The teleportation booth isn't locking on and I need the exit. Have your technicians retune the connection from your end."

The distorted and shadowy face on the screen radiated scorn. "I'll be sure to do so, once I'm convinced that it's in my best interests. I hardly want your failure leading back to me, after all."

"What? We had a deal!"

Nimbus nodded. "A deal that I delivered upon, equipment and other resources lavished on your Knights of the Eternal Presence. And yet, you don't appear able to fulfil your side of the bargain... unless you've salvaged the promised source of antimatter out of this debacle?"

"Salvaged?" Aurelus laughed bitterly. "She's tearing down this base one chamber at a time. It's only a matter of time until she reaches this room. Now open the portal!"

"And risk having her come through? You must be joking."

"Damn you, Nimbus!" Frustrated, Aurelus slammed his hands against the teleportation booths controls. To his astonishment, there was the whine - familiar from tests when it was installed - of the systems coming to life and locking on. "Aha!"

Not questioning this sudden stroke of luck, the last - or so he presumed - Knight of the Eternal Presence spun on his heel. His rush for the booth was cut short as he saw a new arrival at the threshold of the command room. The glass scattered across the floor from the aftermath of the energy waves didn't bother Billie Wilson as the teenager floated effortlessly above the floor, naked as the day she was born save for a halo of crackling energy. Her spiky blue-grey hair bristled and her eyes blazed with the same fires he'd wanted to harness.

He thought they did, anyway. It was increasingly difficult to focus.

"You!"

"Me?"

Three sets of eyes flicked in the direction of the teleportation booth - Nimbus had to give up in frustration as the camera pick-up wasn't wide enough but Aurelus and Tennyo (as Billie Wilson was codenamed) saw a girl in her early teens looking out of the booth - more in bemusement than concern at the unconventionality of the room and its occupants.

For a moment, Tennyo thought she was looking at her friend Nikki - red hair and gracefully pointed ears - but a second glance showed her the differences - hair almost wine-red, skin tanned until it was almost bronze. She certainly had a touch of the same presence as she stepped out of the booth though. "Have we been introduced? I don't quite recall..."

"Out of my way!" snarled Aurelus, grasping the new arrival's shoulder to brush her aside. Then he reconsidered and used the stump of his right arm to restrain her while his left sought a hand-grip attached to his belt. Said handle sprouted a three foot blade of energy the knight raised towards the girl's throat. "No sudden moves, Wilson. My hand might slip."

"Let her go, you piece of slime." Tennyo flicked her hand and a glowing blade appeared in it.

His response was a mocking laugh. "Your parents are probably dead by now, do you want to add this girl to it? I'm not sure why Nimbus sent her through -"

"I didn't," the distant mastermind advised patiently. "My booth is inactive - and it'll stay that way until I feel it's safe for me to allow otherwise. Wherever your new guest arrived from, Aurelus, it's not here. Take your chances with it if you want but either way we're through."

"Please, sir knight." The girl Aurelus held didn't tremble in his grip, nor did her voice. "Pray stay your hand."

The words slid smoothly into his subconscious and almost before he realised it the tension went out of his sword arm.

"I..."

"Now surely we can discuss this like civilised people."

Tennyo almost fell out of the air. "Lady, he took my parents hostage, he might have had them killed!"

The girl tsked. "How very unfortunate." She twisted around to look up at him, startlingly deep green eyes snaring Aurelus. "Have you really done so?"

Strangled panting came from the man's throat. "I... I gave... orders..."

"Not the gas?"

"Do answer her," the new arrival suggested smoothly.

Aurelus shook his head. "No... no controller... lost it..."

Tennyo sighed in relief. Poison gas already prepared to be released into her parents' cell she could have done nothing about. Knights, on the other hand, were a more solvable problem.

"Now why don't we do introductions?"

"Billie Wilson... er, you can call me Tennyo. Where did you come from, anyway?"

The girl gave her a sultry smile, quite at odds with her youth. "A most heavenly maiden indeed."

Tennyo flushed but declined to yield to temptation and cover herself up.

"I'm Lissa Firedancer. As for where I'm from... a long story. As, I'm sure, is where I appear to have arrived." Lissa stepped away from Aurelus. "And you, sir?"

"S-sir M-m-michael A-Aurelus." He gripped his weapon. "K-knight of the Eternal Presence."

"As if that's anything to take pride in." Nimbus' voice cut across the control room. "If losing your base to a simple girl wasn't bad enough, now you've let some half-trained wizard ensorcell you, Aurelus. I doubt you've even the wit to clean up this mess and spare me the bother... fortunately, a possibility that occurred to me already."

A panel on one of the desks popped up, revealing a hidden device - one with a LCD clock that was evidently spinning down rapidly.

"That's not good." Lissa pressed one hand against Aurelus' chest and pushed him away from her. Feathered wings burst from her back as she rushed towards Tennyo, grabbing her hand. "Think of somewhere safe. Quickly!"

"What, uh..." Tennyo let the smaller girl drag her over to the booth. Safe? Safe like where? Outside the mountain with the CIA and army leaders? The Tanaka's dojo in Colorado Springs? Her room in Poe Cottage? "I..."

Lissa pulled her into the booth and almost wrapped herself around Tennyo. "Focus!" And then she forced her lips against the Whateley freshman's.

Tennyo's eyes went wide but they certainly didn't see anything.

Jade, what's your Oneesan supposed to do now? she wondered.

Hushed whispers with other girls... and before that with boys had acquainted Tennyo with the phrase 'the earth moved'.

That was what it felt like now.

"Oneesan!" "Billie!" "Billie?"

What?

She pulled her head back from Lissa's. "Uh..."

They weren't in the control room any more. Dust was falling from the ceiling but this was an entirely different room - little more than a hall with heavily secured doors along its length.

Her parents were there, both untied and armed. So was Jinn in her full stuffed toy glory.

Lissa didn't try to hold onto Tennyo as the girl flew into her parent's arms. "You have an interesting idea of safe," she murmured and then blinked. "Is that... cabbit?"

Jinn nodded and uttered a fervent "Miya!"

"Random's fault," Lissa decided. "This has to be Random's fault."

Mr Wilson looked at his wife over their daughter's head. "I think it's time to get out of here." He ruffled Tennyo's hair. "I take it these are friends of yours?" He gave the redhead and the cabbit a not entirely unsuspicious look. "And how many red-headed elves do you know?"

"This makes two."

"If Aurelus is anything like the usual run of troublemakers, he'll have some sort of suicide device to cover his tracks. We need to get clear before he drops the mountain on us."

"His associate just tried," Lissa observed. "I suppose we're fortunate it didn't reach this part of wherever we are. Of course now we're still inside the teleportation wards and I don't have that handy booth to use as a chink in them. I suppose we'll have to hope an entrance was still unscathed."

"Aurelus got away then?"

The elf smiled slightly. "I think we can safely say no to that. So. Which way is the door? I believe we've overstayed our welcome."

"This way." Mrs Wilson and Jinn said together. They looked at each other and then Jinn miyaed again. Mrs Wilson inclined her head and the cabbit led the way.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful," Mr Wilson murmured, "Since saving Billie was without any doubt the first priority, but it's a shame we won't be able to question Aurelus."

"Yes, well. The booth was cramped with just the two of us. C'est la vie."

"How very true. Do you go to school with Billie? I don't recall seeing you when we visited."

"Oh I'm not from around here. I was travelling somewhere else entirely when what I presume to be Aurelus' half-bright fumbling with the booth interfered with my arrival." She shook her head. "I'm not sure there weren't other side-effects. Everything feels... off. Where are we, anyway?"

"A former-military base in Colorado." The corridor led into another, wider corridor. Tennyo recognised it as one of those leading down to NORAD-C's loading bay.

"Colorado? The state?" At the nod, Lissa brightened. "Maybe I can forgive Random."

"I'm sure we can arrange a lift home for you. Your parents are probably worried."

"My parents?" Lissa gave him a puzzled look. "How old do you think I am?"

"Mmm. That always gets me into trouble."

"Daaaad!" Tennyo protested.

Lissa looked down at herself and then, in a crystal-cutting clear soprano shrieked out loud.

"What!?"

"My breasts! What happened to my breasts!?"

"...is this really the time for this sort of conversation?" asked Mrs Wilson.

The elf nodded her head sharply. "You're right. I'm sorry. I need to get out of the teleportation wards first. Someone is going to pay for this. I'm not sure who, but Random'll do to start with!"

"Who is this Random you're talking about?"

"A strange attractor, a roll of the troll's dice..." Lissa gestured for them to keep walking. "There is a door out, I hope?"

Tennyo pointed ahead. "Through the next door there's a broad corridor leading to a loading dock. From there there are two tunnels out to the surface."

"We'll have to watch out for automated defences in the loading dock," warned Mr Wilson. "I'll see if I can get to the control runs before we go in."

"Ah... that probably isn't necessary, Dad."

"Billie?"

"Oneesan blew them all up!" Jinn's enthusiasm was evident. "Pew-pew-pew and they all went boom!"

"Uh... sort of."

The parents exchanged looks. "And this is something they teach at school?"

"Uh... one of them."

"It sounds like a useful school," Lissa observed as they reached the door. "Don't worry about that," she added as Mr Wilson produced some lock picks. The lock snapped immediately open. Whoever warded the base must have worried more about the macro - stopping a brute force entry - and less about specifics like opening the lock on an internal door. Was it a design flaw... or a feature?

Either way, it made it easy for Lissa.

"Is that something taught at your school?"

The half-elf shook her head. "It was more of an apprenticeship. I'm not in any sort of formal education."

"At your age, you really should be," Mrs Wilson observed. "How old are you - thirteen? Do you have a GED or whatever your country call them?"

"We call it the school of hard knocks." Lissa rubbed her face. Well at least that was pretty much intact. "And believe me I graduated at the top of my class."

Tennyo gestured for her to go back. "Jinn and I will go first. She's sneaky and there's not much that can hurt me."

"I'm hardly likely to refuse an offer like that." The smile on Lissa's face made Tennyo's heart beat faster. The girl didn't see her parents’ faces, but Lissa did.

Mr Wilson waited until his daughter had gone through the door. "You didn't say how old you are."

The winged half-elf drew herself up. "I'm older than I look."

The two adults exchanged looks. "I'm sure you are. Thanks for helping Billie out. We've tried to prepare our children but she's had it rougher than the others in some ways."

There didn't seem to be any sensible answer to give to that, so Lissa merely shrugged and listened for any noise from the doorway. It didn't take long for the other pair to reach the far end for only a moment later, Tennyo flew back and pushed open the door so the other three could join them.

"All clear as far as the door into the loading bay," she reported. "I think someone's in there though. Jinn's going to see if she can work her way through a crack I made to find out who it is."

"Is there anyone who might be friendly?"

Tennyo nodded. "The Army was trying to break in earlier." She gulped. "The defences cut most of them to pieces. I managed to get one of the survivors back to the door earlier."

Her mother nodded. "But if they tried again then the defences wouldn't stop them this time."

"How many of them were there?"

"We don't need to know that," Mrs Wilson told Lissa firmly. "We'll probably see too much as it is."

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't feel it was relevant. Death isn't anything new to me. I could stand to have seen less of it but the universe isn't being co-operative."

Tennyo looked at her mother and got a thoughtful nod before reporting: "There were six. I moved the bodies back to the door too."

"Well at least it's not a whole platoon."

They reached the door again in time to see Jinn wiggle through a narrow hole that Lissa would have thought was too small for a creature her size. Then again, she wasn't precisely an animal - more like a very small golem perhaps?

"There are soldiers out there!" The cabbit spat out some metal chunks. "They shot at me!"

"They did what!?" Tennyo, who hadn't set one foot on the ground since Lissa met her, but now she rose even further and there was a visible aura of energy around her. In her hands these intensified into actual blades.

"Don't do anything rash," her father warned. He dropped to one knee. "Are you hurt, Jinn?"

"Only my feelings. That wasn't very friendly of them!"

"Do you think they're working for the Knights? Or has the army sent in more troops?" asked Mrs Wilson, readying the submachine gun she'd taken from the guards Jinn had helped her to disable earlier.

The cabbit shrugged - which looked quite odd on someone with Jinn's shape. "I think it's the Army. They're wearing the uniforms anyway."

"Well that's great. We're almost out and we have to worry about getting shot by the Army?"

"Feels rather familiar, to be honest." Mr Wilson shrugged as his wife gave him a look. "Remember that time in Berlin?"

"It's not my happiest memory."

Lissa looked at the door. "Where are they? Can we get through the door or do they look like they'll shoot us if we try?"

"They're coming right towards the door. I think they'll be here soon."

"If they try to force an entry, we don't want to be near the door. Better let them know we're here. They might lead with a grenade and we don't want to be too close to one of those."

"Should we wave a white flag?"

"Not a bad idea. Do you have anything white though?" Mrs Wilson gestured to her blouse. After losing the fight against their captors, hours imprisoned and then an escape the garment was more grey then white.

Lissa made a thoughtful noise and opened her knapsack. "I've got something." What she produced was white. Also silk, lace and very sheer.

"Well that should get their attention."

"That's gorgeous," agreed Jinn. "I wish I could wear something like that."

"You'll get there." Tennyo took a look at around and flew up to pull on a narrow length of pipe. Almost casually she broke the pipe in two places and ignored the scalding water spilling out. It only took a moment for her to pinch them shut and she flew back down. "I'll open the door and wave this," she decided without looking at her parents. "All of you stay well back. I can take what they could shoot. You can't."

Mrs Wilson gave her daughter a hug. "Try not to put that to the test, dear."

Obediently they all backed up while Tennyo took hold of the door and forced it open a crack. Through the space, Lissa could now hear worried voices. "Don't shoot!" Tennyo called, extending the pipe with the white flag on it.

There was an ominous silence before the reply came: "Throw down your weapons and come out with your hands up. One by one!"

Tennyo rolled her eyes and raised both hands, which extended the flag off at an odd angle before shoving the door wide enough to float through. The soldiers on the other side looked to be wearing the same sort of winter gear she'd seen others wearing when she snuck in earlier with the first attempt to storm NORAD-C.

She, of course, wore not one stitch, which resulted in some wide eyes above the sights of rifles aimed in her direction. "Oh for crying out loud... My eyes are up here, guys."

Gun muzzles, which had started to dip with eye-lines rose - in one case after a smack to the back of the helmeted head behind it from the soldier with the most stripes on their sleeve - a sergeant probably. "You can put your top back on, little lady," the possible-sergeant instructed gruffly. "Anyone else back there with you?"

"Miya!" Jinn bounded out, causing a certain concern among the soldiers.

"Jiiiiiinn."

"Gomen, Oneesan!"

Tennyo rolled her eyes. "And my parents and Lissa." She started unfastening the 'flag' from the pipe.

"Okay, call them out one at a time. No weapons."

"Did you get that?" she called back.

After a second of back and forth - it sounded like all three saying 'After you' - Lissa stepped out. "The 'adults' are disarming so as not to cause concern," she reported drily and then waved her hand dismissively when Tennyo offered her the improvised flag back. "You might as well wear it until we get something warmer. It might help the boys restrain herself... then again, perhaps not."

Slipping the garment on, Tennyo glanced down and realised the lacey silk might cover parts of her but it also provided a degree of presentation that made her feel almost more exposed than being nude.

A sly smile on her face, Lissa opened her knapsack and pulled out a long cloak. "Perhaps this as well."

"You couldn't have offered it earlier?"

Unoffended, Lissa arched an eyebrow. "But darling, it didn't seem to bother you earlier."

"Um. Well, thank you."

"You're very welcome."

Mr Wilson emerged from the door, hands above his head, with his wife a step or two behind.

"Is that everyone?"

"It is," Mr Wilson confirmed. He looked at the men and then around at the room. "Someone did a number on this place."

Tennyo found the floor suddenly fascinating.

"Probably the same person who carried our dead back to the door," the sergeant concluded. "That’s two good turns we owe someone. Thomas, lend the young lady your poncho."

"Why me?"

The sergeant shook his head. "Because you're perfect."

This argument - such as it was - settled the argument and between cloak and poncho, Tennyo was more or less decently clad after a moment. Barefoot, but it wasn’t as if she had to walk. This also left time for the Wilson parents to identify themselves as the rescued hostages.

“Glad you’ve made it out – this far at any rate.” The sergeant pointed back towards the exit. “Now let’s get you the rest of the way. The boffins say they don’t like some of the readings they’re picking up from further in.”

There was quite a bit of wreckage – Tennyo had brought down the entire crane arrangement once used for unloading heavy cargo trucks in order to destroy weapons mounted on it. The nearest trooper whistled under his breath as Tennyo pointed out some of the emplacements. “No wonder our team didn’t get far. This place was a death trap.”

The main door was another heavy hatch – this one held ajar with sandbags. The tunnel outside had equipment stacked along the sides. As they reached it, space was being cleared for stretcher-bearers. Each of the five stretchers held a body-bag, zipped all the way closed.

“Death trap indeed.” Lissa stopped walking when she reached the bodies.

“First time you ever seen death?” The sergeant took her shoulder. “Come on, kid. They don’t get any better for you looking at them.”

“Looking at them, no.”

Lissa ducked smoothly away from the sergeant. A gust of wind down the tunnel set the girls red hair dancing. “Boys, you might want to put them down for a minute.” If the words were a request, her tone made it clear she wasn’t just asking.

“What are you doing?”

“Something stupid, reckless and to my mind necessary. Now don’t interrupt me – I don’t cast this one every day… much less five times.” Then she began to chant in a language none of them knew. Flurries of silvery light started to dance around.

“Should we stop her? Those are our men.”

Tennyo shook her head. “I’ve trusted her this far.” And I’m not sure I could stop her without killing her. “I don’t think she means any harm.”

The words reached a crescendo and the sparkling light descended upon one of the body bags, sinking into the plastic without trace. Lissa paused in her chant and took a deep breath. “That’s one. You might want to get him out of the bag.” Then she started the chant again, recognisably the same one as before.

“Get him out of the bag. What did she do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Miya!” The soldiers and the Wilsons turned to look at Jinn, who was pointing one furry paw at the body bag.

The body bag that was moving.

No, not the bag itself.

The man inside was moving!

Lissa’s chant reached its height again and the floating lights entered a second body bag.

Jinn was the first to overcome surprise and she bounded over to the first body bag, grabbing the zipper with one paw and yanking it open. The man inside twisted and then sat up, revealing an healthy, if grimy head and torso still wearing tattered remains of arctic combat gear. “Jeez, I know I thought I was a goner but they could… have… checked...”

“Before bagging you?” Mr Wilson stepped forwards and offered his hand for the soldier to stand up. “Son, I think they did check. Welcome back.”

Beside him the occupant of the second bag was evidently also alive and Jinn moved on to open it. Lissa was already chanting over the fourth, posture sagging with exhaustion. The magicks she were calling were among the most potent known to her - and each casting of them demanded more of her than the few she considered to be the apex of her arcane accomplishments.

The sergeant grabbed hold of his team’s radio operator. “Get me the general, right now.”

“Y-yeah. No problem, sarge’.” The operator turned to his set, grateful to have something to focus on that made sense.

“Tennyo,” Lissa said clearly after the fourth casting. “I may need you to hold me up for the next one.”

“Hold you up?”

“Vertical. If I fall over and botch the spell… it wouldn’t be pleasant, shall we say.”

“Okay.” Tennyo grasped the elfin girl’s shoulders. “Are you going to be okay?”

“That which does not kill me, etcetera.”

“…oh.”

For the last time, Lissa began focusing her will and the magic she drew from the weave upon the reality she found unpalatable. It was a horribly inefficient way of solving the problem, but it took faith that moved mountains – and deific patronage as a rule – to handle this normally, Lissa was a lot things - some of which could be considered religious - but she wasn't quite so saintly or loved by the Gods as to rely on them for a matter of this degree.

By the time she was mid-way through the chant she was slack in Tennyo’s hands, barely aware of anything but the last body and the need for absolute control of the magic she was wielding.

The last body started to twitch and rolled over.

Lissa's eyes rolled back in her head and the last thing she heard was Tennyo calling for one of the stretchers.

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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-09-26 04:09pm
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Berlin County, 22 December 2006

Sara could still count on the fingers of one hand how often she'd been glad she didn't eat normally any more - and she didn't even have to add any extras to that hand.

Caitlin Bardue's driving was definitely one of those occasions though. The van, speeding down barely lit mountain roads, in the middle of the night wasn't paying more than nodding attention to the speed limit or to road markings.

"Do you have any idea what the Foob is up to?" Eldritch asked as she yanked the wheel to one side, bouncing briefly between a pair of trees as she cut across a hairpin curve.

Sara wrapped her hand - literally wrapped - one hand around the 'oh jesus' grip. "I thought he'd have told you more than me."

The other girl took both hands off the wheel, raising one knee to brace it as she made air quotes. "Eldritch, I can't tell you to go to Hawthorne and give someone a lift to Berlin..."

"Mmmm." Well, she probably wouldn't die if the van hit something. Sara didn't think it would be fun though. "He suggested it was a shame I wasn't near the Berlin MCO office right now."

"MCO?"

"Uh-huh."

"Fuck." Caitlin jammed on the brakes, the van's rear-wheels sliding out - for a moment Sara wondered if she'd changed her mind about the expedition - and then hammered the accelerator to turn onto a side road. "Foob's not usually that cryptic. He's got his issues, but..."

"Deniability. He can swear on a stack of bibles we weren't told to interfere with whatever's going on there."

"Yeah. Just so you know, the Mike Charlie Oscars have a lovely little acronym on my MID. We're not on each other's Christmas lists."

"I think I have the same. DFA?" Sara saw the other girl nod and pursed her lips. DFA: Deadly Force Authorised. The two of them were officially registered with the MCO as too dangerous to even attempt capture of in the event that they clashed. Granted, that was accurate - it was also totally illegal for US citizens who were, at least on paper, still minors. "I think we need some back-up."

"I hope they're fast."

"Trust me." With her free hand, she pulled out her cell phone and hit one of the speed-dials. "Paige?"

"Sara? How are you?"

"Setting out onto the cold dark night to smite the ungodly. I don't suppose you have any notion what might be going on at the MCO office in Berlin right now."

The younger girl's voice was amused. "Meaning you want me to find out? Okay, I can play..." There was a long pause. "Oh... wow..."

"Paige?"

“Officially the MCO Office is under attack by a powerful supervillain and they’re calling in reinforcements from all over New England. There are dropships on their way from Boston, Providence and Bridgeport… an entire squadron from New York. The nearest are thirty minutes out.”

Sara raised both eyebrows. “And unofficially?”

Paige must have been scowling from the sound of her voice. “Unofficially they’ve got every scrap of data on whoever it is under heavy security. More than I can get through in a hurry. But according to the Sheriff’s department one of their Deputies reported he saw a young girl going in, no more than fifteen minutes before things went south.”

“Paige, you’re a doll.”

The girl laughed. “I know you’ll make it up to me. In the meantime I’ve got an extension on curfew to go get thrashed at Scrabble by Diz. Call me if you need me.”

“I promise.” Sara closed the phone. “Did you get that?”

“Some.” Caitlin’s fingers were white where they grabbed the wheel. “I’m beginning to think I should’ve raided the armoury first though.”

“Can you get us to Berlin in under thirty minutes?”

“If you don’t mind taking some short-cuts I’ll have us there in twenty.”

“I don’t mind that at allllllll…”

Sara’s voice was left trailing behind as Eldritch turned the van sharply onto an old, unpaved and unlit logging trail.

.o0o.

USAF Academy, 22 December 2006

Darkness receded and left behind it an institutional ceiling dotted with air conditioning and strip lighting.

"biii," Lissa complained as her head decided her awakening should be celebrated with a marching band and red-hot needles. Writhing around she managed to secure a hold on the thin pillow and press it down over her head.

It didn't help very much.

"You're alright!"

"Lies!" Lissa assured Tennyo from below the pillow. "Vile, vile lies."

"So what's wrong with you?" That voice wasn't familiar. A man, probably not in the best of health to judge by his breathing pattern. He didn't sound like he cared too much why she was hurting.

The half-elf explained in excruciatingly technical detail - and in Sylvan - exactly how her soul hurt after casting a single Wish spell before switching back to English "And I did that five times. Now please leave me alone until the cosmos finishes weaving itself back together around me."

"...I didn't understand a word of that except the last bit."

"That's one hundred percent not my problem."

The man huffed angrily. "Now listen here..."

"That's enough, Frisk."

Despite her condition, Lissa's ears pricked up. The first voice hadn't carried the authority this one did. This man was a commander she concluded. Interesting.

"Miss Firedancer, I'm sorry to disturb you when five of my men owe their lives to you, but there are decisions that have to be made and they do affect you. Since you're able to participate..."

Lissa peered out from under the pillar. A short, fat man with glasses and a suit that tried and failed to be respectable was scowling resentfully up at a tall Air Force officer with stars on his collar. “Oh… love a man in uniform.”

“Ah… Thank you.” He sat down on the next bed over. “Miss Wilson tells me you’re not from around here.”

“Not unless appearances are deceiving and this is really Faerun after all.”

“No, it isn’t. I’m General Manning, US Air Force. The place you arrived at used to be one of our military bases. It fell into the wrong hands. Even if you hadn’t saved my men, I’d owe you for your help there. Unfortunately, doing so’s made you something of a target.”

“I still say they can’t have really been dead,” the fat man asserted. “Maybe they were gassed or something.”

“My medics are capable of telling the difference. If you want a detailed report of their injuries, I can forward one to you. All five were dead before Miss Wilson moved them back to the entrance. Tell me, Miss Firedancer, can you walk on water too?”

“…in theory. Although I don’t like the way it leaves me with wet slippers so I prefer to fly.”

Manning visibly decided not to investigate that. “One of the few things Mr Frisk here and I agree on is that once word gets around that you can actually raise the dead, there will be no end of people wanting to control the capability, to control you. I don’t know how common it is where you come from but here it’s… a matter of myth and legend.”

“Well I am pretty impressive.” Lissa rubbed her forehead. “I may have been a little careless.” Random must never learn of this. “You expect word will get out. No, never mind. Gossip is unstoppable”

“True. Still, it’s not a very credible piece of information and Mr Frisk assures me he’ll do his part in suppressing the information. If you’re out of sight you’ll be safe enough -”

“And we can set you up in one of our safe houses –“

“Shut up, ‘Uncle Ben’.” Tennyo directed a ferocious glare at him. “Look, we’re not trying to run you off, but if you can go back where you came from you might be safer.”

“You’re in enough trouble already, young lady. You sit down and –“

Tennyo did the exact opposite of sitting down. She started to float upwards, power crackling around her.

Her father cleared her throat. “Billie, that’s enough.”

“…sorry Dad.”

“You should be,” Frisk started but paused when Mr Wilson frowned at him.

“Allen, don’t you have a report to file? I sent mine in and I know Thad will have. I’m fairly sure your boss will want to know why you’re late.”

“But I…” Spotting something dangerous in Mr Wilson’s eyes, the spy gulped. “...I’ll do that.”

“That’s how you do it, Billie.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Lissa smiled ruefully as Frisk left the room. “Since I don’t know why I was transported here instead of home, trying again could end badly. I’ll need some time to get an idea of what happened and how to get home.”

“Family waiting for you?” asked Manning.

She closed her eyes and nodded.

“Well, you have some options. Mr Frisk can indeed provide a safe house where you’ll be under the protection of his agency. There may be questions about why particularly you merit that protection but no one will be too surprised if the CIA doesn’t share.”

“I see the downsides.” Lissa hugged a pillow against her. “You realise you can’t keep me here if I want to leave.”

Manning nodded. “I’m not going to underestimate your resourcefulness. Still, it’s a world you don’t know. Miss Wilson here goes to a boarding school for young people with… special talents. No one would question why someone with your talents was there and Whateley is neutral ground. It’s unlikely anyone would target you while you’re on campus.”

“This would be the same school, you mentioned?” Lissa looked at Tennyo. “I suppose I’ve heard worse ideas.”

Manning nodded. “I can pull some money out of my budget – the bean-counters can mark it up as hush money. I can’t promise you luxury, but enough for basic tuition and accommodations.” He shrugged. “I’m accountable after all.”

“I’m sure I can take care of myself.” She concentrated and her wings faded from view. “Best not to attract too much attention I suppose.”

“It’s generally a good idea. If it’s alright with you though, I’d rather get you out of the area. We’ve got an Air Force transport heading east tomorrow –“ Checking his watch he corrected himself. “This morning, in fact. There’s a good chance you and Tennyo will be on campus before rumour reaches anyone.”

“You seem to have thought this through. I’d almost suspect this was some elaborate trap.”

“I think most people your age feel that way about school.”

“I really wouldn’t know.” Would a warning be too much? Lissa decided it might be useful. "I have a short, short list of people I intend to kill personally. If this is a trap, you'll be right below my father."

"Your father?"

"The kindest thing I can say about the bigoted bastard is that he's not come near me since he impregnated my mother."

Mr Wilson chuckled. “Just a short list?”

“I have hot and cold running thugs to keep it pruned.”

“Yes, well I was about to mention parents. It’s not exactly going to be practical to have your guardian’s mailing address be Faerun. I’m sure Frisk would love to have that sort of claim on your time…” Manning said and spread his hands.

“Denied.” Rolling over on her back, Lissa considered the other adults she’d met so far. Discounting the soldiers back under the mountain… “There’s a limited list of candidates, really.”

“The Wilsons do at least have a reasonable track record as parents. Two fine sons and a daughter to be proud of,” Manning told her.

Tennyo pulled a face. “You’ve not got to know Thad very well, have you?”

“I think the Wilsons are a little overburdened in that regard. Which narrows the field to yourself, General, and a fellow named Nimbus who’s definitely on my list. Half-trained am I?”

“Nimbus?” Manning shook his head. “If what Miss Wilson tells us is correct, it’s very likely he’s an up and comer in the Syndicate. They’d probably be first on the list to want you under their thumb once they learn of you.”

“So you don’t think he’s a suitable role model for a girl my age? Oh very well. Put your own name on the paperwork then. I promise I won’t come begging pocket money off you.”

He nodded. “Alright, but stay out of jail.”

“I promise, no matter what happens, I’ll do everything I can to avoid jail – or to leave as soon as possible.”

Manning rested his face in one hand, which gave Lissa a distinct feeling of familiarity with this situation.

.o0o.

Berlin, 22 December 2006

There was a police perimeter around the MCO field office, although perimeter might have been saying too much: three police cars, a sheriff and three deputies plus five men and women in MCO coveralls didn’t amount to much of a perimeter.

“I don’t get the feeling things are going well over there,” Caitlin observed as she parked in easy viewing of the building.

“Hmm, you mean the way there are three factions out there?”

One of the windows exploded outwards, the room behind it apparently engulfed in a fiery explosion.

“That’s one reason, yes.”

Sara giggled. “Okay. Seems like whoever’s in there isn’t getting slowed down much. Although I’m not sure what the Foob wants us to do. Getting in and out won’t be easy.”

“I think I know that guy.” Caitlin opened the door. “Let’s go say hi.”

The two girls crossed the snowy street and to Sara’s surprise, Caitlin approached not one of the sheriffs but an MCO officer. “Well hello there, Agent Collins. Whatever has you out here at this time of night?”

Collins’ face went very red as he saw the two teenagers. “That’s none of your business.”

“Oh I’m just asking.”

Sara wasn’t exactly dressed for the weather but the cold bothered her far less than Caitlin’s driving and the mini-dress and high-heeled boots were fine for attracting attention. Most of the officers could hardly take their eyes off her.

“Can I help you, ladies?” The deputy asking had probably intended to sound more professional than he actually did.

In response, Caitlin produced her MID and Sara, prompted, did likewise. “We were just wondering if we could be of assistance.”

“Hmm.” It was pretty evident when the deputy reached the ‘DFA’ markings. “Now what could kids your age have done to merit some of this? Military secrets…?”

“My adoptive father used to be a USMC Gunnery Sergeant.” True but not the full truth.

“Ah, Gunny Bardue up the road away. I didn’t see the family resemblance until now.” The Deputy grinned conspiratorially – Oscar ‘Gunny’ Bardue was a sixty-four year old Afro-American while Caitlin’s skin was white as marble – and about as yielding.

“These two are dangerous!” protested Collins.

The deputy looked over at the Sheriff and then back at Collins. “Given you’re telling me you got thrown out of the building by a dangerous mutant, having someone ‘dangerous’ on our side sounds real good right now.”

“Are you nuts!? I know there’s PTSD and a Rager rating on that card!”

“Uh-huh. And chances are the former will be going onto the card for the little girl I saw head in there, maybe an hour ago. What occurs to me is that from the cards these two have a much better chance of surviving going in there to negotiate than anyone in the Sheriff’s department.”

“That’s a thought,” the Sheriff agreed. “Kind of rests on her being willing to talk, but it’s a lot more likely she’ll talk to you girls than the MCO. Could be dangerous though. We’re not exactly sure what’s going on in there.”

“No internal security cameras?” asked Sara innocently.

“Those are secured, we can’t access them from here.” Collins shoved his fists into his pockets. “Just stay out of this. Once our reinforcements arrive we’ll take care of things.”

“Because things have gone so well for you so far.” The sheriff put his hands on his hips. “I don’t fancy having a whole company of your goons tramping around Berlin’s downtown.”

“You don’t have much downtown.”

“We’ll have less if you start shooting it up. If we can sort this out without more violence I’m all in favour of it.” The Sheriff looked at the two girls. “I’m not exactly staffed from this and if I recall right, your Headmistress won’t be best pleased that you’re involved in this.”

“I’d rather deal with Carson for getting involved than have to deal with half of Berlin getting levelled by cowboys in power armour.”

Sara nodded. “It’s practically a tradition, as long as you’ll cover us against charges of vigilantism.”

“I’ll deputize both of you. Not that it’ll spare me if you get shot in there.”

“She has a gun?” asked Sara.

“No,” Caitlin explained. “But the MCO do.”

“Ah yes. That would make sense. Wouldn’t the MCO firing on County Deputies be terribly embarrassing for them? More embarrassing than deploying a paramilitary company to confront a little girl who was only there to apply for an MID?”

Collins gritted his teeth. “What the hell are you trying to do?”

“Killing you from apoplexy would be nice. Failing that, since your immediate superior Agent Haustin isn’t here… What’s happened to him, by the way?”

The MCO agent gave her a pained look.

“He’s locked in the trunk of the patrol car,” the Sheriff explained.

“Why?”

“Well predominantly because he’s a weasel.”

“Yes, but he always was a…” Caitlin trailed off. “Really?”

“Oh yes.”

“Right.” Caitlin hated to admit it but that was a little alarming in ways that being shot had ceased to be long before she’d even laid eyes on Whateley. “Well since you’re as close to being in charge of the Field Office as anyone is –“ (and as close to being given charge of it as you ever will be, you career-dead, brain-dead pissant, after this debacle) “- you’d be the one to order all your people out.”

“Our communications are down…”

“There are at least fifteen broken windows. Use a fucking megaphone, you moron!”

.o0o.

Berlin, 22 December 2006

There had been twenty-three MCO personnel in the building – less Haustin, Collins and four other men and women who’d already exited. To the great surprise of Collins, seventeen more MCO personnel now made their exit, filtering out in ones and twos over the course of perhaps ten minutes.

“Slade? Colson? I thought she got you. Bell said…”

“Bell is an idiot.” Colson, a tall, short-haired woman, rubbed her head. “Whatever she did knocked us out but that’s all. Someone dragged us down the stairs before we woke up.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, I was unconscious. Where’s Haustin?”

“Don’t ask,” grumbled the acting head of the field office.

“Tell us about her.”

Colson looked at Caitlin in surprise. “You’re….”

“I’m deputized to act on this matter.”

Despite this her eyes slipped towards Collins but Sara stepped into her line of sight. “Please tell us about the girl.”

“I only got a glimpse.” Colson’s voice was low, hesitant. “Little thing – so high perhaps.” She indicated roughly against herself. “Ran out of the stairwell, looked up at us… and next thing I know I’m on the floor of the lobby.”

“Just like that.”

“Anything unusual? Skin, hair…?”

“Blonde… big green eyes.”

“She’s got pointed ears,” Collins told them.

Sara pointedly brushed back her blood-red hair to reveal the shape of her own ears. “What else did she do?”

“She disabled my armour,” reported one of the men wearing the inner suit from power armour.

“Disabled? But then didn’t do anything to you. That seems very restrained of her.” Sara looked over at Caitlin. “I don’t know about you, but I feel better about going in there now that I hear that.”

“Squeak, squeak.”

“But you’d make such a cute lab-rat!”

“You wanna bet that’s what Haustin thought about our little friend in there?”

Sara nodded. “I’m sure that’s exactly what he thought. Anyway, I have point.”

“Works for me.” Caitlin let Sara get a good three yards lead before following her, checking the pistol hidden under her jacket was loose enough to draw quickly.

The reception area wasn’t too badly damaged although a crack on the ceiling had spilled a jagged line of dust onto the cheap carpet. “Where first?”

Caitlin looked around. “Try the next floor up?”

“Any particular reason?”

“The security office is there. I think the Sheriff would love to have evidence of how this got started.”

“I can think of a few other people who’d like that.” Sara pushed the already ajar door leading further into the building. The frame had been distorted somehow, preventing it from closing again fully. “Of course, we might have to do some guessing as to which it is. It looks like they’re not in the habit of marking rooms.”

Caitlin barely glanced down the hall before declaring. “The door marked 102 is a stairwell.”

“How can you tell?”

“They’re very cute about just numbering the doors but it doesn’t help when they have different door fittings depending on purpose.”

“I see.”

It was indeed the door to the stairs. And scattered down the stairs were the dismembered components of a suit of MCO armour.

“Looks like she didn’t stop at just locking up the suits.”

“Whoever was in the suits had to get out somehow.” Sara picked her way up the stairs past the debris. “This doesn’t look like she tore them apart either.”

“More like field stripping them.” For her part Caitlin went up backwards, eyes on the stairs leading down into the basement. “If she did this herself she’s pretty technically adept.”

“Who else could have done it?”

“Maybe the MCO mooks.”

“They didn’t mention it.”

“They might not remember.”

“Oh now that’s just creepy. And this is me saying that.” The door to the second floor was stuck but not by enough Sara couldn’t force it open.

This corridor had taken quite a bit more damage than the last one. One wall was pock-marked and gouged where a chain-gun had hosed it down and there were scorch marks on the wall. Probably that was related to the backpack tank and the nozzle mechanism connected to it by a flexible pipe.

“Is that a flamethrower?”

Caitlin looked it over. “It is indeed. And somehow I don’t think she was the one using it.”

“If their security cameras took footage of that…”

She got a nod. “Okay, security room is either third or fifth on the left that way, or…” Caitlin looked the other way. “Or that one there.”

‘That one there’ turned out to be a mini-arsenal. The door, which should have been locked, opened freely and several weapons had evidently been taken – only to be tossed haphazardly inside without their ammunition clips which were in the room’s small bin.

“Kind of weird.”

“I guess she doesn’t feel much need for weapons.”

“If she doesn’t know how to use them, that’s probably smart.” Caitlin gestured for Sara to pass her to check the other rooms. “The MCO like their security rooms off the ground in case someone tries tunnelling in – but not on the top floor because of fliers.”

They hit paydirt with the second room – two walls covered with work-stations and a free-standing console with a chair for a supervisor. Many of the screens still displayed parts of the base – and in many cases, the damage done.

Sara’s eyes lit up. “I may not be Paige but I can manage this.” She sat at one of the workstations. “What should I do first? See if I can find our mysterious little girl or download all the incriminating information.”

“This is the MCO. Who knows how much incriminating material you’ll find? Focus on why we’re here. The MCO dropships’ll be here soon and I don’t think the Sheriff can hold them back at that point. They’ll take their building apart brick by brick to find her – and to conceal the evidence.”

Leaning back, Sara scrolled rapidly through the cameras, images flickering across the screens faster than the other girl could follow. “I don’t see her. Either she’s in a blind spot – some of the cameras are out – or she’s gone. Maybe she released the MCO personnel to distract us from a get-away.”

“I wouldn’t blame her. Poor kid.”

“Who are you?”

The redhead and the brunette jerked their heads around and saw a blonde head looking at them over the console with wary green eyes.

Mary-Alice had seen them enter the building, evidently not part of the MCO or even on good terms with them. Perhaps it would have been smarter to continue her invisible escape but they might represent an alternative way to insert herself into the society of this strange, comic-book-like Earth.

“I’m Carmilla,” offered Sara, conscious she’d not turned off the security recordings. “This is Eldritch. Who are you?”

“I’m Mary-Alice. Are you made of stone?” she asked Caitlin bluntly.

“Something like that,” the brunette agreed.

“Did the MCO try to lock you up too?”

“I’m sure they’d like to but they haven’t had the chance.”

“So why are you here?” The blonde girl put her hands on her hips, looking up fearlessly at the taller girls.

“Uh-uh.” Sara waved her finger in Mary-Alice’s direction. “It’s our turn to ask a question!”

“Well go ahead then!”

“Why did you come to the MCO office?”

Mary-Alice shrank back behind the console. “I thought they’d give me an MID card! It’s the law I’ve got to have one! …isn’t it?”

“It is. Which doesn’t make them above taking advantage, I admit.” Sara swung the seat back and forth. “So, you asked why we came here. Someone called the Foob told us we should come here to perform a rescue. I’m not entirely sure if he thought we should rescue you from the MCO or the MCO from you so if it’s okay I’d like to do both.”

“Rescue both?”

“Yep. All the MCO people left the building already. Would you like to come with us? We’re going back to our school. I think the MCO would rather forget all about that.”

“But they were really mean, should they get away with that?”

Caitlin and Sara exchanged looks. “They probably shouldn’t. So, Mary-Alice. Want to help us play a trick on them?”

When she nodded, Sara produced her phone. “Paige?”

.o0o.

New York, 23 December 2006

The sound of his fridge opening was enough to stir Leo Turrin from where he’d been dozing on the couch of his apartment. The TV had dropped on standby at some point after the effect of three beers and a pizza had combined to put him to sleep. Outside, through the blinds he could hear the sounds of occasional late night traffic.

Since he didn’t share his apartment, Turrin’s first move was to the well-cared for pistol he owned, quite legally, for home defence. He’d never fired the gun except on a range, but there was always a first time. That wouldn’t be today though – the gun was right where it should be, taped to the underside of his coffee table, but someone had taken out the ammunition clip.

Sonuvabitch.

“You know, a man keeping your hours should probably eat better.” A burly teenager entered from the kitchen, holding two glasses of fruit juice. He put one of them down in front of Turrin and then sat on the armchair with the other. “Tidy little toy you have there but I didn’t feel like getting shot.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“What a metaphysical question.” The boy sipped from his glass and made a pleased face. “It’s about identity that I’m here. You see, I’m lacking certain paperwork and while I’m sure you don’t deal in such things yourself it would beggar belief for you not to know of those who can arrange to make up for my little deficiency.”

Turrin shook his head. “I’m just a small businessman, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“The nature of your business, Leo, says that you’re lying. More than two dozen lovely and exotic ladies who might – mistakenly I’m sure – be accused of soliciting? It wouldn’t do at all for any of them to be found to be illegally present in New York – or to be under a certain age. Any sensible businessman in your line of work would have paperwork to prove otherwise, no?” The youth indicated Leo’s glass. “Do drink up. I’d rather not have to deal with you being hung over.”

Grumpily the man lifted the glass, sniffed and then sipped. Huh, well it wasn’t going to replace a cold beer in his diet but it was better than the usual breakfast juice. He felt the incipient headache the boy had warned off recede. “Not bad, kid.”

“Naturally.”

“Where’d you get it from.”

“You had a carton of orange juice in the fridge. That, some mineral water and a few other mixers I found…”

Turrin shook his head. “Well if you’re ever looking for a job as a bartender – in about six years or so…”

The boy smirked. “Indeed. But for that one requires paperwork and thus…”

“Well that’s not exactly legal… but nor is breaking and entering.”

“And would the local police offer you a delicious beverage as an inducement?”

“I kind of doubt it. Alright kid, maybe I can help you. But why should I? It’s not like you’re pointing a gun at my head so I’m guessing you’re not gonna threaten me.”

“A good point. I imagine I’ll need to pay whoever you put me in touch with…” The boy paused and drained his glass. “I don’t suppose the recipe for this…”

“Don’t try to kid a kidder.”

“Well it was worth a try.” He reached into a jacket pocket and produced a small silver ring, carved in the shape of a fish biting its own tail. The eyes of the fish were tiny flecks of a green gem. “How about this?”

“It’s a pretty piece of work, but -”

The boy laughed shortly. “I filled your bath with water earlier. Put the ring on and go dunk your head under the water.”

“What!?”

“Trust me.”

“Not in a million years.”

“Do you really want me to make you?”

“Oh I have had enough of – urk!”

The boy was out of his seat and across the table with two smooth moves. On hand latched onto Turrin’s shoulder and dragged him off the couch with enough force to have done the same to the pimp’s lovingly restored Cadillac sedan. “Okay, the hard way it is.”

Oh crap. A meta! Turrin flailed around he was carried into the bathroom, catching onto the door-frame but he couldn’t maintain his grip against the overwhelming force.

“You know this’ll be a lot easier on you if you do it yourself.” The boy held up the ring. “Last chance.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Most people call me Khrel.” Despite the situation, the boy gave him a genial smile. “Really, do you really think I’d go to this trouble just to drown you?”

“There are some weird freaks in this town.”

“Hmm.” Khrel tapped his chin with one finger. “I concede your point. Nonetheless.”

“If I start drownin’…”

“Then you may by all means lodge a complaint. I assure you, the warranty on the ring is quite extensive.” Khrel let go and stepped back, blocking the door.

With a resigned sigh and a forlorn look at the door, Turrin slid the ring onto his left index finger. “Just for a second, right.”

“A little longer than that. A minute, say.”

Well, he could hold his breath that long. Resting one hand on either side of the tub, he ducked his head below the surface.

About five seconds later, Khrel’s hand closed around the scruff of Turrin’s neck and with his other hand he jabbed the man below the ribs, forcing him to exhale sharply.

Water splashed around the room as Turrin struggled to escape, trying to refrain from replacing the air with bathwater. It was a forlorn hope and he felt the water in his mouth.

What he didn’t feel was any discomfort or difficulty breathing.

Shocked, Turrin relaxed. He was breathing water.

He was breathing water!

Khrel gave him a moment to appreciate that before hoisting him out of the water. This wasn’t uncomfortable either, there was no water left in his mouth or nose once his head cleared the surface. “Satisfied?”

“What the hell is this thing?” Turrin asked, turning the ring on his finger. Magic, had to be magic. In the right hands such items could be worth thousands, but he’d heard nasty things about the sorts of strings that came with magic.

“Ring of Water Breathing. Does what it sounds like. Yours in exchange for a call. Should fetch some cash in the right hands, or you can keep it, call yourself Aquaman and run around in spandex – I don’t recommend it but…”

“W-where did you get this?”

Khrel shrugged depreciatingly. “I made it.”

“Oh.” He’s a mage too. Oh hell. “That’ll… do nicely. Why don’t I make a couple of calls and see who can help you?”

“Why don’t you?” The boy stepped aside and let Turrin back into the rest of his apartment.

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 23 December 2006

Getting out of the MCO building and out of Berlin hadn’t been too bad, the Whateley van had reached the outskirts of the small city just as the lights of the first MCO dropships crossed the horizon. Unfortunately, rather than settling into the city, some – perhaps most – of the new arrivals had fanned out into a search pattern.

There wasn’t much traffic on the roads and Caitlin had had to work her way through what she could find, taking a circuitous route back towards Whateley. Quite a number of dropships had been cutting back and forth along those roads, apparently in expectation of intercepting them.

Sara had been able to help there though – she’d cut across enough logging tracks through the forests south of the school while out with the Were tribe that she knew places where the foliage gave them some cover. Even better, one of those tracks fed out onto the road only a quarter mile from Whateley’s turn off.

Caitlin gunned the engine as soon as the wheels hit tarmac. Looking out of the rear window Sara and Mary-Alice saw a MCO dropship descend rapidly and then pull back as Caitlin cut the curb, bouncing the van onto the driveway up to Whateley. In theory they still had more than a mile to go to reach the school… in practise the MCO weren’t at all eager to risk Whateley Academy’s many defences. The categorical defeat of the Syndicate’s Halloween attack on the school was still fresh in their minds.

“Made it.”

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

“What?”

“Oh, you’re okay,” Sara explained to Mary-Alice. “We might wind up in some trouble with the Headmistress though. She’s not a huge fan of students getting up to stunts like this.”

Whatever they said though, Mary-Alice saw that the two girls didn’t lower their guard, still watching the surroundings keenly until they were among the buildings she’d seen only this morning.

Near the crystal dome they pulled up outside a red-brick and mortar mansion. A second van was parked outside and Caitlin greeted the man entering it cheerfully. “What has you up this early, Donner?”

“Who says I’ve been to bed yet?” he grumbled good-naturedly. “Getting buzzed by MCO dropships is better than coffee for keeping me awake. What’ve you been up to?”

“Just fetching a new student… out of the MCO’s arms.”

Donner put his hands on his hips. “Somehow I think Mrs Carson would have given that job to one of the faculty if she knew about it.” He sighed. “Come on, I’d better walk you back up.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“The first time I came to Whateley it was Oscar Bardue that brought me here. Somehow I don’t think he’d be happy with me if I left you out here unsupervised.” Under his breath he added: “The school might burn down.”

“Hah.” Caitlin turned to Mary-Alice, who was looking around wide-eyed. “This is Hotrod. If he doesn’t get thrown back in jail before you’re old enough to drive he might teach you how. Then look me up and I’ll teach you how to drive right.”

“Oi, oi! I’m a reformed man. And I don’t recall ever seeing you in any of my classes, so how would you know how I drive?”

That seemed to shut Caitlin up but Sara moved up to fill the gap. “Do you drive like a demented madwoman with a death wish?”

Donner shook his head.

“Then she has something she can teach… whether or not she should teach anyone that is another matter.”

“I thought Miss Eldritch was a really good driver!”

“…that’s just Eldritch, Mary-Alice.”

“Right right.” Donner pulled the door open and waved for them to enter. “Let’s get this done before things get so saccharine I need to visit the dentist.”

Mary-Alice directed a helplessly innocent look at the man who clapped his hands over his face. “It’s far too early in the morning for this. In! In!” But he ruffled her hair as she went past him and into the building.

Inside and up the stairs they left behind armchairs and a fireplace that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Faerun (except for the electric lamps) and entered a modern office-space. Mary-Alice glanced at a calendar on the wall. So it was 2006 – at least for the next week or so. Pity she’d not memorised any sports events but it wasn’t as if getting whisked off to Faerun had been in anyway planned – and after so many years she’d probably have forgotten the facts.

Besides, the outcomes might be different here.

“Take a seat. I’ll try to soften the blow.” Donner headed for a door at the back marked with the legend: Carson, Headmistress.

Sara pointed over at one of the chairs but she wasn’t suggesting any of them occupy it – there was a girl already sat in it, head leant against the wall. The tips of pointed ears were evident through fiery red hair. “Looks like you’re not the only new arrival, Mary-Alice.”

“She’s very pretty.” The comment was true but it was also a mask for her surprise. Lissa was here. And the only fireworks had been her own experience. How embarrassing. Still, Lissa was at least acquainted with the notion of subtlety, unlike a few other names she could think of.

The door opened at Donner’s knock to reveal an attractive blonde woman, hair pulled back in a bun and a put-upon expression on her face. “Mr Donner?”

“Miss Waite and Miss Bardue have returned with the van and with a stray.”

“So they have.” Her eyes flicked across the three girls. “The two of you are supposed to be among the more mature of our students.”

Neither girl seemed especially abashed at the attention and Mrs Carson shook her head. “We’ll speak at greater length shortly. For now, if you’d wake your companion Tennyo…”

A chastened Tennyo hovered out of the office and went over to Lissa. “Hey, Lissa. Wake up.” She shook the redhead’s shoulder lightly.

One green eyes opened – Mary-Alice could see it was slightly bloodshot. “’m asleep. Go to sleeeeep.”

Tennyo shook her head vigorously, as if shaking away cobwebs. “Did she just use magic on me?”

“I think she tried.”

Lissa opened both eyes and looked at Mary-Alice. “Oh… you brought me a little sister.”

“Miss Firedancer.” There was considerable frost in Mrs Carson’s voice. “Do pay attention.”

“mmmmph?” Lissa yawned and rubbed her eyes, cat-like, before stretching. It would probably have been more impressive if she’d been as curvaceous as Mary-Alice remembered her being. “Ssssa-Sorry. I just closed my eyes for a moment…”

“When we were over Illinois,” Tennyo sotto voiced.

Mary-Alice blinked… Oh dear. Lissa had cast one of those spells and was paying the price for it. Tennyo was lucky all the archmage had tried to do was put her to sleep.

“We merely need to arrange a few minor matters before you can go to bed.” Carson looked the two new girls over and followed their lines of sight. She sighed. “Miss Firedancer, would I be correct in saying you’re not heterosexual?”

“That’s a terribly personal question to ask,” Lissa replied coyly.

“It’s on the application form, which is about forty pages long. We can go through the whole thing now if you’d rather or I can hit the essentials now and deal with the rest once you’ve had a good night’s sleep.”

“One of my boys used to say ‘there’s not enough love in the world to get fussy about details like gender’.”

“I see…” Carson’s voice indicated she not only saw but also read between the lines of that statement. She turned to Mary-Alice. “And what’s your name?”

“Mary-Alice Bellouin.” The girl curtseyed, letting the faint blush in her cheeks fade now the topic had changed.

“I see. And your powers would be…?”

“Erm.” She studied the floor. “I do magic… a little.”

Reflected in a monitor screen she saw Caitlin hold up her hand behind her, all four fingers and thumb extended.

“I’m sure you’ll fit in well with our other little witches.” Carson managed to keep a straight face as she said that - Sara, Tennyo and Caitlin didn’t. “Is there anything else?”

“Um… I think so.”

“Uh-huh. Now, do you remember what I asked Lissa?”

“Ah…” Mary-Alice let her cheeks pink again and fidgeted. “Maybe?”

“So you’d be happy rooming with her?”

Mary-Alice nodded. Perfect, that’d give them a chance to talk privately.

“I see. Tennyo, you can go back to Poe. Take Lissa and Mary-Alice with them and tell Mrs Horton to get some beds made up for them – there are spare rooms in Poe this year. And tell her to give them each their own room.” Carson gave the two new arrivals knowing looks. “Now, Caitlin and Sara... join me in my office.”

“We who are about to die salute you,” Caitlin muttered as she walked past Mary-Alice towards the door.


Last edited by drakensis on 2014-09-27 03:34am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-09-26 04:10pm
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New York, 23 December 2006

Fritz Haustin had occasionally daydreamed about some grand triumph bringing him to the attention of the senior leadership of the MCO.

Now he had that attention but not for anything he’d wanted to have to on his record.

At least he’d returned to his own shape before the deputies handed him over to the MCO reinforcements. Haustin never wanted to see another rat again as long as he lived.

“Preliminary reports are divided on whether the physical damage to MCO Berlin can be repaired or if we’re better off rebuilding from scratch.” Lionel Cranfield closed the old-fashioned manila folder in front of him. “I recommend the latter due to security concerns. I’ll have some preliminary estimates by next week but the impact on our budgets… well. We can hope for a special donation I suppose.”

Displayed on a screen – he’d left the head office for the holiday season and was video conferencing from his home in South Africa – Piet von der Geest folded his hands. “Make sure to include options for scaling the office back to a token presence in the future. We may have to de-emphasise our presence near Whateley in the short and medium term after this… debacle.”

Haustin flinched as the dark eyes settled on him.

“I’ll be dealing with the impact on our public and professional reputation for all the way through next year. Assuming, of course, that it’s still my job to do so. Not exactly what I was hoping for this Christmas, Agent Haustin.”

Wisely, Haustin didn’t indicate his exact rank was – or had been – Special Agent.

The Director of the MCO glanced sideways – presumably at another screen. “I have another call. Kenneth, take over here.”

That got a nod from Kenneth Loman and a moment later the display of Von der Geest’s head and shoulders was replaced by a rotating MCO logo.

The hatchet-man for the MCO’s leader glared down at Haustin and the other MCO personnel who’d been rushed to New York. “There’ll be individual de-briefing in detail over the next week. For now, you’re all confined to quarters pending possible disciplinary action. That means quarters here, on site, no access. One supervised calls to your families to cancel any plans you had for Christmas.”

He let that sink in. “Except for Haustin, get out of here. Take care of that, Cranfield.”

Cranfield nodded and gestured towards the door. “No conversations, ladies and gentlemen. You’re not under arrest but if we find anyone trying to doctor their stories then that can be arranged. Play nicely and I can at least promise you a Christmas dinner.”

There was an uneasy silence after the room was emptied. Loman left his seat to stand looming over the head of the Berlin Field office. There were two guards at the door and a Field Supervisor Haustin didn’t know was sitting at a side desk, presumably as silent witness to the discussion.

“Let’s set aside for the moment the long term impact of this the MCO.” Loman’s voice didn’t hold a shred of compassion. “We’ll start with your procedures and actions. According to the logs, Collins called her in as a visitor about ten minutes before the alarms went off. So what had you done in the way of power-testing in that interval?”

“We hadn’t…”

“There don’t appear to be any notes of any tests, has the data been lost?”

“No sir.”

“You hadn’t made a record of the power-testing? That’s very sloppy, Haustin. Or are you telling me you decided to try to vanish an unknown young mutant without knowing what she could do?”

Well when he put it that way…

“You do recall that there’s a rough correlation between the age a mutant manifests and the extent of their power? A mutant who expresses at eleven or twelve, say – much like this… Mary-Alice Bellouin of yours – is likely to be more powerful than a mutant who expresses at sixteen or seventeen.”

“I…”

“Hadn’t considered that?”

Haustin nodded miserably.

“I can believe that,” Loman agreed calmly. “Since it’s evident you don’t have the brains God gave a flea.” He didn’t even give the words any particular weight. “Shut up,” he added when Haustin opened his lips. “You have precisely two choices right now. The first is to take the full blame for this, including conviction as a kidnapper. If you’d like me to spell out how kidnappers are treated in prison…”

He saw the younger man shake his head. “Then your other choice is to do everything you possibly can to make sure the MCO gets out of this with the least legal culpability and least public damage. This amounts to something well within your capabilities: you say and do nothing without specific permission from the minders appointed to you. This includes eating and shitting, because if anyone has ever shat where they ate…”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 23 December 2006

Amelia Hartford nodded politely to Franklin Delarose as he joined her in front of Mrs Carson’s desk. She waited until the door was closed before asserting: “It can’t be coincidence to have a pair of elfs turn up right after Nikki Reilly.”

“Fey’s been a student here for more than three months. That’s not precisely on her heels.”

“Close enough given how rare they are. And we had three or four already, depending on whether Koala counts.”

“She prefers Spider.”

“I really don’t care about the child’s preference.”

You wouldn’t. Delarose didn’t say that though. It was the season of goodwill after all. “The shape of their ears really doesn’t make a difference. Their magic though…”

“Yes.” Carson reached for her computer but then changed her mind. “What did General Manning have to say about Miss Firedancer?”

“From what he says, she claims to be from somewhere called Faerun. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere in Earth.”

“Hmm. She could be lying – she didn’t seem too surprised by anything she came across. Then again, she’s perhaps half-there at best. Tennyo said it was the after effect of casting a spell but she clammed up about what it was.”

“Thomas claims five of his men were dead or so near to it as made no difference. She cast a spell on each of them – five spells total.” Delarose leant forwards. “You tell me, Liz. What magic would it take to bring a man back from the dead?”

“I taught English, not Mystic Arts.”

“You’re evading the question.”

“In all this time, I’ve never come across it. There are rumours of course. All of those rumours suggest there’d be a price – and a heavy one. The sort of price Darrow or his ilk might pay. Somehow I don’t think the girl being a little sleepy measures up to that.”

“Perhaps Manning exaggerated,” suggested the Vice-Headmistress.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps we’re dealing with something very far outside our experience. That’s hardly unheard of here.”

“And the other girl, Bellouin?”

“Why don’t you tell me, Amelia?”

Hartford shook her head. “No missing girls of that name or that description. Of course, that might simply mean she has the sense to adopt a false name. She didn’t do anything quite so outrageous, did she?”

“Berlin MCO would beg to differ.” This time Carson did reach for her computer. “Once Caitlin and Sara were inside the MCO, they were able to open a chink in their data security. Your protégé Miss Donner did the rest, including the… uh, soundtrack.”

The sound of a drumbeat started to click out.

“What are you going to do with the two of them?”

“Detention in Hawthorne over the holidays, Amelia.”

On screen Mary-Alice pushed open the door to the cell and the MCO panic began, to the accompaniment of Freddy Mercury’s raw voice declaring “Let’s go!”

Delarose shook his head, restraining a grin. “I admire the musical taste but The MCO will have to know we have that.”

“The girls’ proposal is that we make the most of it.” Carson snorted. “Caitlin thinks she can use the same channels used for the recordings of some of the arena bouts to market this and use the proceeds to pay for Miss Bellouin’s tuition.”

“They want to put this on Pay Per View?” Hartford shook her head. “I need to have a word with Paige.”

“Well it’d probably work. The MCO aren’t exactly popular in all quarters. The long term consequences though…”

Carson shrugged. “The legality is… questionable. It would probably be considered prejudicial to any case against them for the kidnapping but the chances of that making it through court aren’t good anyway. The court of public opinion though…”

Hartford ahemmed. “Well. If I was funding the MCO, I can’t imagine this would be seen as a sign I was getting value for my money.”

“Under other circumstances I’d be inclined to suggest they consider the consequences of alienating the MCO in this way. Given the MCO’s already authorised deadly force against Sara and Caitlin… and will no doubt try the same for Mary-Alice…”

“So let them try?” asked Delarose.

“There’s something to be said for distracting them with this while the pieces are in motion to deal with the DFA issues. We’re evidently dealing with a very capable young wizard here – you note she was casting off the cuff. “

“Just like Fey.”

“Perhaps even a little more polished. She might be older than she looks. Sidhe apparently don’t age all that quickly, she could have manifested two or three years ago.”

“And escaped notice this long?”

“That’s a good point. Still… it’s not impossible she hid herself away somewhere. We’ll see what we find out when we do a full interview.”

“And the same for Miss Firedancer.”

“Of course.” Carson steepled her fingers. “Louis?”

Louis Geintz’s astral construct popped into visibility. “Headmistress.”

“What do you make of them?”

“I think we might learn as much from them as about them, given a year or two.”

“That’s unacceptably cryptic given your prompting to Sara and Caitlin.”

“I can’t claim to be that far ahead of you. In point of fact, I don’t get any surface impressions from either of them. It’s quite disturbing. I haven’t tried anything deeper – I suspect they’re well protected.”

“Girls that age?”

“Yes. Something they have in common. Interesting, wouldn’t you say?”

Delarose straightened. “Maybe I’m reaching too far, but the incident yesterday with the Class X site… could there be a connection?”

“I don’t see any particular reason to link them,” Hartford observed almost reluctantly. “But nor do I see any sure reason there couldn’t be.”

“I think we can trust Sara and Tennyo to be around them if there is. Still, we need a better feel for their… inclinations… before the end of the holidays.” Carson looked at her deputy and her head of security. “Thank you for coming in so early today. If you’ll excuse me, I need to discuss Louis’ part in last night’s business with him.”

Louis sighed resignedly.

“Don’t give me that, Brainteaser.” Carson scowled. Once the door closed behind Delarose and Hartford she stood up. “How dare you send two of our students down into that mess? I’m half an inch from firing you.”

“I know. But Miss Bellouin… she’s not just a Sidhe. I don’t know what she was exactly but I’m sure she was never in real danger. Without someone to defuse her encounter with the MCO… I think we’d be missing Berlin right now. I don’t need to tell you how something like that would rebound – for Whateley or for mutants in general. Franklin might be right about her involvement yesterday.”

“And you brought her here?”

“No. I sent Carmilla there and left the decision in her hands. Who better than a GOO to deal with that.”

Elizabeth Carson weighed that cold logic. “You think our students will be less likely to provoke her than the MCO?”

“I think we’re better equipped to deal with that than the Berlin Sheriff – or the MCO.”

“You’d better be right Louis. From now on, she’s your responsibility. If this blows up, I’ll have your body out of Hawthorne and down to your Berlin office if I have to carry it there myself.”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 24 December 2006

Mary-Alice was looking out the window at the landscape around Poe Cottage the next morning when there was a knock on the door. Having ventured only as far as the girl’s bathroom since waking, the girl was more than ready to get a better idea of the school – from the inside this time. Although the Cottage was located on top of a hill, so was pretty much ever

“Hi,” Tennyo announced once the door opened. “Ready for some breakfast? No pizza, I promise.”

“Good morning.” Dressed in the same clothes she’d worn the previous day, the young elf smiled warmly. The pizza ordered in the night before by Sara had been a huge eighteen-inch vegetarian. Mary-Alice had managed two of the sixteen slices and Sara had nibbled on one of the others before surrendering it to Tennyo’s apparently inexhaustible appetite.

The conversation, mostly involving names she didn’t recognise, hadn’t been enthralling. Probably useful though.

“I’m guessing you need some more clothes too,” the floating girl observed as they across to the east facing room. “I’m not sure if the Campus store is open – and if you’re as picky as Fey…”

“Is Fey Lissa’s codename?”

“No, Fey’s one of the other freshman girls – she’s got the whole elf thing going like you and Lissa. She’s home with her family for Christmas.” Tennyo knocked on the door of Room 212. “Lissa, are you awake?”

There was grumbling and then a thump. A moment later the door opened to reveal Lissa. Immaculately dressed in a long, flowing skirt and blouse, she looked like a million dollars. Mary-Alice estimated it’d be a day or two more before the half-eladrin was fully restored to her usual radiance.

“Awake and hungry for breakfast. I do hope that’s what you have in mind…” Her tongue delicately touched her lips for a moment. Mary-Alice knew without seeing it that Tennyo’s eyes remained focused on that for a moment. Classic Lissa.

She gave the girl an innocent look. “That’s a really pretty skirt.”

“Thank you.” The – apparently barely older – girl reached over and adjusted Mary-Alice’s hair. “I love your hair. It’s so soft.”

“Uh, breakfast. Yes.” Tennyo gestured towards the stairs at the north end of the floor. “I’ll show you around a bit too. I got a message that Mrs Carson and Miss Hartford will want to do interviews with you – so they have some idea what to expect in power testing and classes I guess – but that’s not until later.”

Downstairs she led them outside onto the winding brick walkway that stretched out in two directions: a little east of north and a little west of south. Shaded by trees in places and regularly bracketed by pairs of antique lampposts in the form of gas-light.

“It’s a pretty big campus, you may have noticed. The only thing south of us is Hawthorne Cottage. Kids there tend to have problems. They don’t need anyone giving them grief.”

“What sort of problems?” asked Mary-Alice.

Tennyo gestured northwards. “Generally their powers are dangerous to themselves or to those around them. Hawthorne’s where they can get specialised assistance. It’s not always enough.” She pointed ahead. “You see the building up ahead? That’s Melville, the other co-ed dorm besides Poe and Hawthorne. Unfortunately it’s also HQ for the Alphas, the self-proclaimed elite of the school.”

“You’re not on the best of terms with them?”

“It’s kind of complicated but… not really. Some of the people in Melville are okay… even if I can’t think of any names right now.” Tennyo waited until the three of them reached the top of the hill Melville Cottage stood on. From there they could see down into the hollow that held the half-dozen buildings that were clearly the core of the school. It was quite an impressive sight, not least because it took up the space that an entire town would have filled on Faerun.

“Okay, if you can take your eyes off Crystal Hall – that’s the dome over there – and look over to the hills there are two more cottages – see them?”

Unlike Melville’s towering shape, the two cottages were more akin to Poe although while the latter ran north to south, these two were orientated east-west. Another building – quite a large one – was barely visible between and behind them.

“On the left is Emerson Cottage and beyond that is Twain Cottage, they’re boys only. To the right Dickinson and Whitman are the girl’s cottages. I’d guess you’ll either stay in Poe or be moved over to Whitman once Carson and Hardass have interviewed you – we get students who have to work a little to pass for baseline humans.”

Lissa raised one eyebrow while Mary-Alice pulled gently on one of her ears. “And the building behind them?”

“Holbrook Arena. The nearest thing we have to a sports centre. A lot of powers testing goes on there as well as teaching how to use them for various purposes. Also where they had the big Halloween party so things like that.”

“Um.” The youngest of the three (in appearances) raised her hands. “Did you say… Hardass?”

“Urgh. Sorry. Hartford. She’s kind of got it in for me for various reasons. Don’t call her Hardass. Okay, let’s get going. Breakfast’s calling my name.”

The path led them down to a paved square in front of an imposing three wing building. Mary-Alice recalled this was where she’d met Mrs Carson in the small hours of the previous day. The bronze statue in the centre was notable only for the lack of notability about the man it represented: Noah Whateley, according to the plaque.

“Schuster Hall,” Tennyo explained. “Some classrooms on either side, the school offices are in the central section – that’s where you’ll see Hartford and Carson. Most importantly, the Crystal Hall round the back is where we eat.” She led the other two around the far end of Schuster and in through some double doors into the geodesic dome that captured the imagination of anyone looking at the campus.

Inside, sturdy tables and chairs spread out around a sizeable water-feature designed to look like a waterfall tumbling into pools of water below. There were even trees and grass in places.

“Wow.”

“I’m impressed,” Lissa admitted. She looked over towards the selection of food being laid out. “Does my nose deceive me or is that… oh heavens, decent food!”

The three girls stacked food onto their trays, Mary-Alice starting with breakfast cereal, a croissant and a grapefruit. Tennyo, despite the pizza the previous night, built her own breakfast around a ham around the size of her forearm, adding eggs, French toast and a thick stack of pancakes. Somewhere between the two was a substantial English breakfast with all the trimmings that Lissa put together for herself.

Tennyo blinked at the sight. “Hmm. Kind of thought you’d be a vegetarian.”

“Why in the world would you think that?”

“Fey is, and so’s Mary-Alice here. I kind of got the impression all elves were.”

“Well you do a terrible impression then. I eat a balanced diet like any sensible person. Admittedly, sensible people are few and far between…” She smiled sweetly. “Besides, I’m only half-eldarin.”

“Well, I –“ Tennyo recalled she probably shouldn’t talk about Lissa’s arrival around Mary-Alice. “Well I guess that shows me.”

“Is eladrin different from elf?” piped up Mary-Alice, asking what Sarasa already knew.

“Some say so.”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 24 December 2006

Hartford looked at Lissa over her glasses as the girl sat opposite her desk. “I trust you’re fully rested.”

“I believe I’m mostly recovered, Miss Hartford. Thank you for seeing me today, I understand it’s a holiday.”

“It is indeed.” The administrator glanced at the scanty file open on the computer. “Still, you seem quite familiar with our ways, enrolment shouldn’t take too long. I gather you’re not from this world?”

“I was born on Toril, on the continent of Faerun. I’d like to think I’m quite cosmopolitan though.”

“I suppose there’s no use taking down your parent’s contact details then. General Manning is down as your guardian, I see.”

“That’s right, will that be a problem?”

“No, not at all. So, how old are you?”

“Sixty five – that’s by the years of my homeworld of course. And I’m of mixed blood so I probably don’t age at the same rate anyway.”

“You seem to be in your early teens or thereabouts. If your year is anything like ours though, you’d be mentally older than most of our staff, much less our students.”

“Hmm. Well I have completed an apprenticeship in magic.”

Hartford scrolled through the forms until she reached the proper section. Most students, she’d found, didn’t have the discipline to enter information in an orderly fashion. “That sounds relevant, why don’t you tell me about that.”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 24 December 2006

Carson raised both eyebrows. “Usually it takes more than one question before a student clams up on me. Do you have difficulties with your parents?”

“I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

“Did they know about your magic?”

Mary Alice studied the floor. “No. It was before that.”

“And then who did you live with? Other family?”

“Yes, but…” She crossed her arms. “They called me a thief. I had to leave.”

“Hmm.” Carson leant back. “That must have been difficult. And you started doing magic after that?”

The girl nodded. “I needed it. Otherwise… I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

“That must have been difficult. You seem to have it under control now, did anyone teach you?”

“Like, taking a train to Hogwarts training?” Mary-Alice shook her head, hoping the gambit of dropping that name would pay off. “No. I kind of figured it out myself.”

Carson smiled. “Well, I’m not Albus Dumbledore but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 24 December 2006

Fingers white where she clutched the mouse for her computer, Hartford snapped: “Miss Firedancer, if any teacher here suggests for any reason that you should perform such acts, report them to security immediately. Such abuse of authority is absolutely prohibited here.”

“Well… that makes a nice change. So what abuses of authority can I expect?”

“What?”

“Authority exists to be abused. People have likes, dislikes and what is power except the means to act upon them.”

“We’re getting away from the point. It’s against school rules for students to engage in sexual activity and it’s illegal for teachers to do so with students.”

Lissa considered challenging this on the basis that a school this size was definitely past the critical mass of teenagers required for some of them to be having sex. She rejected the idea, as deliberate feigned incomprehension of this fact was probably a requirement of being a school administrator.

“My apologies for the digression. Where should we continue?” And where and who do I go to get laid?

Hartford didn’t explicitly accept the apology but she didn’t reject it. “We don’t have to decide this now, but you should consider what to use as your codename. It’s traditional amongst Whateley students to have one.”

“An identity behind which I can hide at need? I’m familiar with the concept. One of the worlds I’ve visited had a custom of… how would it translate? Beautiful heroes, I think. People who donned masks to shield their true identities from any enemies they made while fighting for justice. A popular entertainment for children.”

“In any case, think about one –“

“Tayuu.”

“Hmm. How do you spell that?”

Lissa smiled at the veiled trap. “I’ve seen your alphabet. It’s similar to one I’ve seen before – phonetic.”

Hartford typed out Tayu into the form.

“Perhaps another U? It’s a little more drawn out at the end.”

“Fine then. So at least you don’t have to learn to read entirely from scratch. (Which puts you one up on those who only had a public education),” she added under her breath. “So now we get to the meat of the matter. What can you do?”

“Make men beg for more, women pass out, a bit of magic, have a class of prepubescent boys undergo puberty as I walk in... little things...”

Hartford made a pained noise and Lissa shrugged. “I was trained in tantric magics…”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 24 December 2006

“Ingenue as a codename?” asked Carson. “Do you know what it means?”

“I was told it means innocent?”

“That’s approximately correct, yes.” She made a notation. “It’s rather convenient that you happened to encounter the MCO right on our doorstep.”

“I don’t think it was a coincidence at all.” Mary-Alice – now Ingenue on paper – looked embarrassed. “I’d been using divination to try to find somewhere I could find people who would accept me… It’s why I’m in this part of the country to begin with. I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn though, assuming the MCO was where the spells were guiding me to.”

“It could be called a naïve assumption, perhaps. You can only act with the information you have, we’ll do what we can to expand that here.”

“I look forward to that. May I ask when classes begin?”

“The new term begins officially on Monday the 8th of January, and classes the next day, so it seems you’ll be with us for two weeks. Plenty of time for you to get caught up. I imagine you’ve missed quite a bit of regular classes.”

“I suppose I have… Will I have to repeat a year?”

“I don’t know.” Mrs Carson typed a quick note. “We’ll schedule some placement testing for classes as well as testing your powers. It’s a good idea to find out of you have other powers besides your magic. I expect you’ll need a year or two in Junior High classes – we only have a small junior division, I’m sure the other girls will like that.”

“Well I suppose it’d be nice to make new friends. More new friends?”

“You were happy in Poe then?”

“Oh yes!” Mary-Alice brightened. “Sara and Tennyo were both very nice.”

“I didn’t expect anything else…” A plink from her desk caused the headmistress to frown. “I’m sorry, just a minute?” Pulling a cell phone out of the top drawer she flipped it open. “Chief, I’m with a student. … Yes, it’s Miss Bellouin. … You what?”

Mary-Alice blinked. Chief? Chief of Security Delarose?

“Franklin, if this is a joke… No, no, I’ll take your word for it, but run it past the accountants just to be on the safe side.”

“Is something wrong?” asked Mary-Alice curiously as Carson closed the phone and put it back into the drawer.

Carson shook her head. “No, I think we’ve just worked out your tuition… through college probably.”

“Pardon?”

“Did Sara mention that she managed to give security tapes of your recent exploits to her friend Paige?”

“…noooo.”

“Do you know what Pay Per View is?”

“…adult television?” Oh no. They didn’t!

Carson apparently lost her nerve. “Something like that. Apparently the video’s earned you approximately half a million dollars… since it was released last night.”

.o0o.

New York, 23 December 2006

“HAUSTIN!”

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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-09-27 02:12pm
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A little too much stuff to piece together at the start, but loving it at this point :)



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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-09-29 11:57pm
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OMG.. this is fantastic!! Keep it coming!
And please, please pile more misery on Haustin :twisted:



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Librium Arcana, Where Gamers Play!
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Me: Nope, that's why I have you around to tell me.
Nitram: You -are- beautiful. Anyone tries to tell you otherwise kill them.

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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-11-01 03:31pm
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Chapter Three


Schuster Hall, 24 December 2006

Hartford scrolled up and down the form, hoping she could get through this without any more shocks. “We’re almost done,” she concluded with some relief. “You’ll need a visa to stay in the USA while you’re a student. Has anyone mentioned that?”

Lissa shook her head, retracting the wings she’d extended a few moments ago to demonstrate them.

“Hmm. I’ll send your guardian an email. Please don’t leave campus until we have that resolved. He’s contacted us to arrange basic tuition. That won’t leave you any spending money though, you can take a campus job to cover that.”

“I’m not in favour of that. Are you sure I can’t just exchange some of my money for local money? Dollars, I think they’re called?”

“Well, what would your money be worth here? There’s no trade with Faerun.”

“Well, precious metals are valuable. What would you say is the most expensive metal around?”

Hartford blinked. “Adamantium probably. What do you have in mind?”

“Ah.” Lissa cupped her chin. “Gold or silver would have been easier, but I believe I can provide a reasonable quantity of adamantium. Would the school prefer to purchase it directly from me or to act as my agent – for the usual five percent?”

“Ten percent as an agent.” The deputy headmistress held up her hand. “And before you start, that’s not negotiable.”

“…you’re no fun, Miss Hartford.”

Behind her glasses, Hartford’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. “It seems suspiciously convenient that you’re confident you can obtain adamantium on short notice. Where precisely do you expect to receive it from?”

Lissa stood. “I’ll create it. Here and now if you want.”

“Create it? By magic I suppose?” Hartford pretended disdain. Adamantium had never been mass-produced – even Charlie Lodgeman’s pet, Techwolf, had little more than an even chance of creating small quantities. If this girl could do that… “I’d be interested in seeing that, Miss Firedancer.”

“Fine then.” Lissa stood and gestured sharply towards the desk. Silver light surrounded her and she saw the shapes of ingots forming before it occurred to her that she might be letting irritation with this bureaucratic bitch get ahead of good sense.

It was a little late for second thoughts though. To Hartford’s eyes the neat stack of metal ingots appeared on her desk simultaneous with the light thump of Lissa crumpling to the carpet.

To her credit, Amelia Hartford’s first move was to round the desk and check the new student hadn’t done herself an injury. To her relief, Lissa was breathing steadily and her pulse was regular, if slow.

“What in the world just happened?”

She turned to see the Headmistress at the door, Mary-Alice peering around her. “I’m not entirely sure – she said she’d conjure precious metals to pay her way and…” Hartford gestured towards the metals and Lissa “…I presume she’s over-exerted herself. “I’ll call Doyle for a medical team.”

“That would probably be best.” Carson looked at the metals and shook her head. “I suppose someone at the Workshop can deal with the metal.”

Mary-Alice rolled her eyes from behind the two adult women. Restraint isn’t just a sexual position, Lissa!

.o0o.

Hawthorne Cottage, 24 December 2006

Sara dropped the end of the Christmas banner she’d been about to pin in place, drawing the attention of Tennyo who was hovering at the other end and Caitlin – who was checking they had it straight.

“Careful,” the latter warned. “You almost dropped it in the food.”

The three of them were busy decorating one of Hawthorne’s function rooms, which was to host a Christmas party that afternoon. Covered trays of food were already occupying several tables. Sara and Caitlin had firm orders not to let Tennyo near any of it until the party started – as their detention overlapped the party time Mrs Cantrel had declared they’d simply have to stay for the whole thing and ‘help out’.

“Didn’t either of you feel that?”

“Feel what?” asked Tennyo.

“What just happened? It was…” Sara shook her head and slid down the latter. “I should go to Shuster Hall.”

“Your ass will be in a crack if you leave Hawthorne right now.” Caitlin took a step back. “Foob!”

“I’m here.” Louis Geintz appeared to walk through the door. “And yes, Sara. I noticed that too. I’m surprised Caitlin didn’t.”

“Would someone tell me what you were feeling?” asked Tennyo. “Or does that only happen when one of us is on a couch?”

“Someone just cast a spell that…” Sara searched for words, “Rewove reality. Only on a very localised scale, but still.”

“Is that possible?”

Geintz spread his hands. “Understand we’re talking on a small scale. A room perhaps.”

“It’s not quite impossible but it’s the sort of thing Aunghadhail probably wouldn’t try. In some ways it’s the purest form of magic: reshaping the world around you into what you want but the price it would demand… Why are you still standing here?”

“Mostly because I’m not picking up any of the usual associations. No blood, death or other sacrifices… if anything I’d say the… feel of it was almost… sexual.”

“I thought that was just me.”

Tennyo snapped her fingers. “Lissa.”

“Lissa? You’re sure?”

The blue-haired girl nodded to Caitlin. “She’s done it before.”

“Do I want to know what she did?”

“Probably not. I think it’s classified.”

Foob blinked. “Oh… my…”

“Ah, forgot about that.”

Sara looked at the Professor. “What did she do, raise the dead without feeding their souls to the dark powers?”

“Well Tennyo’s memories aren’t the best guide to the last part of that.”

Caitlin blinked. “She can do that?”

“So it seems.”

The marble-skinned girl left through the door, barely remembering to open it first.

Foob grimaced and blinked out of the room.

.o0o.

Baltimore, 25 December 2006

Toni Chandler poked her head into the bedroom she was sharing with Chou right now. Whatever was in there had her sword-swinging buddy worried and that definitely sounded like a possible adventure on a Christmas Day that had had one already.

She liked fun and games as much as the next girl, but it might be too much for her parents.

A pretty girl with golden blonde hair and blue eyes sat on the bed. Between the door and the bed, a lanky boy with a straw hat over his face was sprawled out, snoring slightly. It wasn't until the second look that Toni spotted the tail, blonde as the girl's hair, with a small jade key dangling from it.

"Ni hau!"

Toni glowered at the cheerful greeting. This definitely looked like adventure times. And right before dinner! "Who's this?"

Chou shrugged. "I have no idea."

"Toni, I'm surprised at you," the blonde said with a smirk. "Especially since you have a fondness for leopard print."

Leopard print. Leopard print what? Toni was baffled for a moment but then the penny dropped. She didn't know who but she was sure what the girl was referring to. It was hard for someone with her skin colour to blush but her cheeks were definitely hot.

Since it was arguably the worst possible moment for him to do so, Toni's brother Vince chose that moment to see what the excitement was. He gave the girl an impressed look and then turned to his sister. "Yo, freak, like leopard print wha-... You got a guy in here?" he finished.

"Shut up Vince."

"That's a lovely shade of red, Toni it..."

"Sun Wu Kong!" exclaimed Chou with a groan.

"Just Sun," the blonde corrected. "Like in Lost."

There was a groan from the boy on the floor, who rolled over, reaching up to keep the hat between his face and the window. "Nnnng. Like the daystar stabbing at my eyes more like. At least you're not the Lamprey."

"Lost?" Vince looked exactly that.

"Get lost, Vince."

The oldest Chandler son threw up his hands and headed for the stairs. Perhaps he ought to tell Mom she might need to set more places... and imply that checking out the new arrivals could be wise.

"And this would be...?" Toni indicated the boy.

"Random." The boy paused and then added drily: "One-time daimyo of some place whose name I can't remember due to my hangover. Expert assassin and master-ranked drunken bum. Sun told me all about you."

"She did?" Chou asked cautiously.

"Uh-huh." He adjusted his hat again. "Apparently he... she... missed you and Leopard Print over there."

The Monkey King jumped up and hugged both girls. "I really did! Do you want your presents?"

"...okay?" Toni ventured cautiously.

Sun bounced up and down excitedly, producing two packages from behind her. The larger she handed to Toni. "I thought about what sort of things would be appropriate for you and here's what I came up with."

Random tilted his head back and saw Toni produce two DVDs from the wrapping paper. "...Sun... where are we?"

"Baltimore!"

"United States Baltimore?"

"There's another?" Toni asked, while Chou opened her package and produced an eight-sided talisman.

"I've no idea. Is there?" Random replied while Chou was hugging Sun in thanks. He scrambled to his feet and looked out the window. "...it is Earth!"

"I thought long and hard about your biggest problem, which I realized is that people don’t wear swords anymore," Sun explained to Chou. "Destiny’s Wave stands out far too much right now and you need to have some way to hide this fact. See, you attach this talisman to the scabbard and the whole thing goes invisible. Only you will be able to see it, or other Immortals. But otherwise, it will be utterly imperceptible to anyone else. Now you can keep her with you, as was always intended,"

"Toni, what's this I hear about a boy in your room?"

"Uh, Sun brought him, mom."

Valerie Chandler crossed her arms. "And Sun would be...?"

Sun joined her on the landing and held out her hand. “My name is Sun and I know your daughter from the school. It is a pleasure to meet the mother of Bao Ni.”

"Bao Ni?" asked Valerie cautiously.

The blonde nodded enthusiastically. "It means -"

"SUN!" roared Random.

"No, it means Leopard Girl." Sun looked back through

Random pointed at his reflection in the window. "Sun. Explain. Now."

"Oh that!" Chou then saw a wonder, one that ranked among the greatest of her existence. Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King, Immortal pain in the ass rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. "I'm not sure how that happened."

"You're not sure?"

"It's quite a puzzle and I'll let you know as soon as I find out! Anyway, Mei-Mei and Bao Ni can look after you until I figure it out. They have a very fun school."

"School."

"You'll love it!"

Random raked his hands back through his red hair, took a deep breath and straightened his hat before turning back to the door. "Mrs Chandler," he said and bowed in a courtly fashion. "I'm sorry for shouting." He touched his forehead and grimaced. "Very sorry."

"..."

There was a collective silence.

"Is something the matter?"

"..."

"...wow," Toni muttered.

"Vince hadn't advised me the boy in the girl's room was a male model."

"Male model?" Toni muttered. "I've seen girls who aren't as pretty."

Valerie put her hands on her hips. "And is that alcohol on your breath? I doubt you're old enough to drink."

"I seem to have lost a few years. And we weren't drinking around here anyway." Random broke off from shooting a glare at Toni to glance at the window. "I'll leave you to your Christmas."

"Nonsense. I can't turn you out on Christmas."

"You're not." Random smiled but not especially happily. "I will be fine. Sun can find me, I'm sure."

"You really should accept," Sun advised. "You and Bao Ni have a lot in common, and you'll love her school."

"Whateley's great!" agreed Toni immediately. "The dojo is amazing, isn't it Chou?"

"Uh... yes," the Chinese girl agreed cautiously. She reached down and touched the scabbard of the sword she was carrying. "I think... I think it might be important you come to the school."

The boy frowned. "School and dinner are two different things."

Sun beamed. "We can talk about it over dinner!"

Everyone looked at her but the moment was broken by the doorbell. "Whatever next?" Valerie headed for the stairs. "Thank you for the stress ball, Toni. I think I'm going to need it."

"I'm gonna call school and let them know about Jolt and Random!" Toni announced and headed down the stairs too - with a somersault over her mother that resulted in a "Don't do that where Matt can see!"

There was a plaintive "What did Toni do?" from further downstairs.

Chou rolled her eyes. "So... um, do you have powers? Whateley's kind of set up for people do..."

"What sort of powers?"

Thinking back to her team mates, Chou ticked off on her fingers: "Telekinesis, flying, phasing through walls, magic, super martial arts, super-science..."

"I'm not sure what this school can teach me about magic or martial arts," the boy mused. "Might be interesting to find out. As for super-science..." He rubbed his hands together and Chou wouldn't have been surprised if he'd gone all out Diedricks. "You have my attention."

"Uh... there's the Workshop complex under the school. It's kind of grown over time I guess?" Chou shrugged. "It's not really my field but they're working on all sorts of things. Um... my room-mate bought an adamantium baton and a utility belt."

Random's face fell. "Mmmph. For a moment I thought there would be death rays and giant robots involved."

"Oh, sure! I'm pretty sure some of the workshop guys are doing the death rays and Jade says there's a giant robot in one of the shops no one's managed to get to walk so far."

"Well now you're talking my language. What about power armour?"

"Sure. Chaka and I took on a squad earlier today...." She winced. "Um. Could you keep that a secret? They were technically law enforcement."

"Torture couldn't drag it from my lips." He smiled and Chou couldn't help but blush. "Tell me everything!"

That, however, would have to be put off as Toni bounced up the stairs again with her usual endless energy. "Chou! Random! You've got visitors downstairs?"

"Visitors?" Random pointed at himself. "Who'd know I'm here?"

"Yeah. Lanny Kayho and Hey Sang?"

"Lan Caihe Ho and He Xiangu?" Chou darted down the stairs, leaving the others behind.

"Friends of hers?"

"Her guardians, I think." Toni hopped onto the rail and started back down.

"So what did your school tell you?"

The girl shrugged. "Haven't had a chance to call them yet."

"And you'd rather not let them know about the power armour incident?"

"Ah! Chou told you about that?" She reached the bottom and looked back up, placing her hands behind her head.

Random stepped up onto the rail and started to slide down after her, controlled the speed of his descent through tiny movements of his feet. "It came up but I didn't hear the full story."

"Oh well. It was the same old story. A young mutant didn't know how to control his powers and some jackass called in the Knights of Purity to deal with him." Toni turned around, sliding backwards as she tried to mimic Random's close control. "Chou and I weren't going to let that go down so..."

"So... power armoured hit squads hunting down new mutants. Good job it wasn't giant robots or Marvel Comics would sue..."

"They'd probably settle out of court. The Knights are owned by a Goodkind so they're not exactly short of money."

Random nodded his understanding. "Same for any excesses they might carry out in lawful execution of their instructions." If he slightly emphasized the word execution, Toni wasn't complaining.

"Antonia Chandler!" Valerie was standing in the hall. "What have I told you about setting your brother a bad example?"

"Oops... sorry Mom." Toni bounced down and Random slid off the end of the rail, landing neatly on both feet.

"Whoa! That was neat!" Matt ran over to Random and grabbed hold of his belt. "Can you teach me to do that?"

"I could." The boy paused. "It'd take you about ten years."

"Wha-aatt! But that's forever! What if I tried really really hard?"

Random nodded solemnly. "In that case it would take you fifteen years."

"But that's looonger!"

"When your eyes are on the destination they aren't on the path." He reached down and ruffled Matt's hair. "How about we start you on the ten year plan. It starts with drinking a glass of milk every day and eating all your vegetables."

"Even Brussel Sprouts?" Matt asked plaintively as his mother gave Random a relieved look.

"Brussel Sprouts aren't vegetables. They're alien invaders, you have to eat them before they eat you."

"Whoa..."

Toni shook her head, watching the pair head through into the lounge. "Huh. He's actually a good guy. Whoda thunk?"

"Weren't you going to make a call?"

"Uh, yeah." Toni picked up the handset and dialled from memory. Even today someone should be covering the number.

It rang twice and then she heard the irritated voice of the headmistress. "What did you do this time, Miss Chandler?"

"Uh... uhm... uh..."

"Miss Chandler, if you are unable to speak, hand the phone to Miss Lee."

Toni looked around but Chou was out of sight, no doubt speaking to the immortals. "Ah... we kind of rescued a boy from a Knights of Purity team," she blurted.

"You what!?"

"And Sun Wu Kong wants to send his drinking buddy to Whateley."

There was a moment of silence. "I suggest, Miss Chandler, that you start at the beginning and omit nothing."

.o0o.

Doyle Medical Complex, 25 December 2006

The smell of disinfectants and the muted bleeping of monitoring equipment was Lissa’s first clue she was in a hospital. Really shouldn’t have cast that spell without more time to rest, she thought.

At least she was in a decent bed. Almost as comfortable as the luxurious beds she’d had made for customers in Waterdeep. There was much to be said for somewhere with beds that didn’t have to be spelled free of bugs every day.

“Are you awake?”

Lissa forced her eyes open and found the lights had been dimmed. Considerate and it wasn’t as if it impaired her sight. She tilted her head and spotted a familiar face – the stone-skinned girl – sitting in the visitor’s chair. “Hmm… Caitlin?”

“That’s right.”

“Ahhhh. Are you sitting here with me out of natural kindness to a new student?”

Caitlin smiled thinly. A crackle of eldritch energy crackled along one of her arms and she held the limb out and away from the equipment by the bed. “Still working on keeping this under control,” she admitted. “No, I have an ulterior motive.”

“Well I’m really tired – and if you have the body-density of stone you’d crush me – and I know it’s trite, but I actually have a horrible headache…”

“I… you know, never mind. Tennyo tells me you raised the dead.”

“Oh…. That. Yeah. But I totally haven’t walked on water lately!”

Caitlin clenched her hands around the chair briefly. Just remember, she’s pretty spaced out right now. “Could you… bring back someone else?”

“Ah… it kind of depends. There are limits and I’ve pushed them hard enough already.”

“But when you’re recovered… what you do want? What do I have to pay you to…?”

Lissa reached up and rubbed her face. No, it wasn’t making her feel better. “Look, when did whoever it was die?”

“Halloween. Is that too long ago?”

“…not usually. It’s not going to get any harder in the next few weeks. How about you ask me again when… uh, whenever the other kids get back off vacation. When is that?”

“A couple of weeks.”

“Great.” Lissa pulled the blankets over her head. “Good night.”

“…Merry Christmas.”

.o0o.

Baltimore, 25 December 2006

In the lounge, the Chandlers had been joined by two people wearing silks. Both placed their hands together and bowed towards Random. The boy responded with the same gesture, bowing to the exact same degree, then adjusted his hat to cover his eyes and leant back against the wall, abandoned by Matt who was distracted by the new attraction.

Lan Caihe Ho stepped forwards and handed Random a small but heavy pouch. "A small gift," the Immortal said depreciatingly. "It may make life easier."

Opening the top, Random saw the glitter of gold coins. "And I didn't think to get you anything."

"Your presence here at the side of the Maiden - at Chou's side - is gift enough."

The boy's lips curled. "You want a bodyguard?" He weighed the pouch. "I can do that."

The immortal shook his head. "Chou is the Maiden of the Tao. She needs friends more than she needs protectors."

"She seems to have at least one good friend."

"She has many. But few of them understand the weight of her calling."

Random shook his head. "I don't even know what her calling is. As for friends..." He lowers his voice. "She's a child."

That got him a sigh. "In many ways, yes. Ideally we'd like her to have the opportunity to retain those ways while she's at Whateley. Whether the demands of the Tao will allow that..."

The solemn conversation was disrupted as Sun jumped into the room. "I heard you brought gifts! Did you get something for me?" she asked hopefully.

Lan Caihe Ho and He Xiangu exchanged looks and smiles. "Yes," the woman told the tailed girl.

"You did? You never give me presents. What is it? What is it?"

He Xiangu pulled a small strip of paper out of her sleeve and handed it to the excited monkey-girl who looked at it, then blinked and looked again. "Congratulations on your child," she read and turned it over. "You wrote it on the back of a receipt for Whateley tuition?"

"You can pay us back for it," He Xiangu smiled sweetly. "You wouldn't want to set a bad example would you?"

Random's lips paled. "You're appointing Sun Wu Kong as my guardian?"

Lan Caihe Ho bowed slightly. "It is necessary you have one and preferable one that won't actually try to use it as authority over you."

“I do not accept this!”

The two immortals exchanged smiles. “Please note the high-lighted letters on the receipt.”

Sun’s eyes went wide as she read the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum spelled out on the receipt. “You didn’t!” Crocodile tears flowed down her cheeks.

“I don’t accept it either.” All eyes went to Random. “His – ah, her authority over me.”

“What’d they do?” asked Toni quietly, stepping into the room,

“Om Mani Padme Hun is a mantra the Buddha used to restrain Sun Wu Kong before he joined the Journey to the West.” Chou looked at Toni. “What did Mrs Carson say?”

“She wants to speak to Random and Jamal.”

“Toni, you look like Billie does after a double math class. What did she say?”

“She’s not too happy with us getting into two fights already.”

Random folded his arms, sliding each hand into the opposite sleeve. “Perhaps Jamal would like to go first while I discuss with these three certain points of protocol.” He looked at Mrs Chandler. “A discussion we might want to have outside your house, Mrs Chandler as it might detract from the Christmas cheer. Do you mind if you step out into your yard?”

“That might be best.” The woman saw a worried look on Chou’s face and added: “Please don’t run Chou’s guardians off the property though, I know she’s been looking forward to some time with them.”

“Dewd,” he heard Toni mutter to Chou, apparently recovering quickly from her chewing out. “Does it sound to you like Random’s gonna throw down with three of the Immortals? I gotta get me a window seat.”

“You,” her mother asserted, “will be going with Jamal in case he needs your help dealing with your headmistress.”

The door closed on Toni’s anguished: “But MOooom!”

Random waited until they were a few steps from the door – and facing away from the windows in case someone inside was a lip-reader. “Enough with the circular bullshit, I don’t care what the three of you settle up between you all but I’m more than happy to flip the go board over rather than be one of your stones.” His eyes gleamed. “Just on general principles.”

“If you are a stone then so are we. We didn’t bring you here – if anything did, it was the Tao.” He Xiangu bowed to Random. “There is a… a convergence to such things. I believe events draw rapidly around Whateley Academy and – most likely within a year – the first peak will arrive.”

“What business is it of mine?”

“If you are still in this world, do you think you can escape being drawn to this? Your life being as it is?”

“Mmmph. There’s something to what you say,” he conceded. “But her as a guardian?”

“Hey!”

Random waved his hand at Sun Wu Kong in apology. “Don’t get me wrong. I’ll go drinking with you any time. But as a parent? I think not.”

The little girl scratched her head. “I guess that’s fair.”

“Think of it as… ‘sticking her with the bill’,” suggested Lan Caihe Ho.

Random brightened.

“Hey!” The tailed immortal was getting a lot of use out of that.

“That bar in… Dusseldorf, wasn’t it? The one with the really huge steins…”

“I think that was Vienna. Oh, those barmaids!”

“Whatever. Just getting some fresh air, my ass. It cost me a pound of silver to cover the tab you’d run up.” He adjusted the angle of his hat. “Okay, as long a monkey agrees to stick to being the irresponsible elder sibling type – whose name just happens to be on the paperwork.”

“I can do that!”

“I appreciate your consideration.”

The redhead smirked at Lan Caihe Ho. “You’ll appreciate me much more if I’m right about who else is going to get dragged into this ‘convergence of events’ you’re talking about.”

There was a tapping sound and he turned back to the house to see Toni at the window, holding up the handset of a phone. “And I believe that’s my number being called.”

.o0o.

Whateley Academy, 25 December 2006

Elizabeth Carson put the phone down and looked at the form she’d started filling out.

“Another new student?” asked Hartford, standing in the open doorway.

“Two in fact. Probably safer to interview by telephone – I wouldn’t want another one laid out on your carpet, Amelia.”

Hartford humphed. “The Baltimore Police Department were happy to co-operate, at least.”

“Well that closes that security problem.”

The younger woman shook her head. “Those girls need firmer discipline. Otherwise this’ll keep happening.”

“There’s a fine line between enough discipline to get them through to graduation and the point where it would stifle their growth. I believe I may have an idea now where that line is for Miss Chandler.”

“That only leaves five or six of her little clique.” Hartford sat down un-invited. “At one a semester, we might hope for some peace in their senior year if they live that long.”

The headmistress declined to rise to the bait. “It appears that Miss Chandler and Miss Lee have had a visit from some of the Immortals. In addition to the young man they rescued from the KoP, the two of them have now been entrusted with an associate of Sun Wu Kong.”

“Sun Wu Kong? Wasn’t he the one who allegedly stole from the girls in Poe?”

“Correct.” Carson removed her glasses and wiped the lens clean. “If he’s anything to gauge his companion by, matters may become interesting. It may be wiser to place him in Emerson or Twain rather than Melville.”

“I suggest Twain. If nothing else, it should keep the consequences of any shenanigans further away from fragile campus buildings.”

“From what he suggested he might be interested in studying, I think Emerson might suit him more. The Workshop may be the recipient of his efforts I suspect. It’s unclear if the other new student from Baltimore will have his powers sufficiently under control for Emerson so it might be advisable to leave space open at Twain as an option.”

“Unless Hawthorne is required.”

“Quite so.” Carson tapped her fingers on the desk. “No new sidhe have popped up at any rate. Is Miss Firedancer awake yet?”

“No. We do have a preliminary report from the Workshop on what she conjured up. It isn’t adamantium as it happens.”

“No?”

“No. They’re not sure what it is. Outside of our experience and they’ve indicated a willingness to spend a respectable slice of their budget if we can purchase some for testing. Which I suppose makes Miss Firedancer’s tuition merely a matter of accounting.”

“You assume she’ll agree to that?”

Hartford frowned. “Ah. As a matter of fact, that may be an unwarranted assumption. On reflection I believe she’ll wish to bargain for the best possible price she can extort.”

“Well, I don’t think we want to set the principle of exploiting our students. On the other hand, she is a student so ten percent belongs to Whateley in any case. We can debate the rest when she wakes up.”

“If she wakes up.”

The headmistress smiled drily. “On that, at least, I have a good feeling about this.”

.o0o.

Baltimore, 26 December 2006

When the doorbell rang, everyone looked at the door cautiously. It’d be hard to pretend the house was empty but no one really wanted to be the one to open the door when they had a couple of unregistered mutants on their hands – especially when one of them was a fugitive from, if not justice, then at least from the Knights of Purity.

Toni was the first to overcome the reluctance and she grinned in delight once the door was open enough to see who stood outside. “Ito-sensei! What are you doing here?”

“Getting frostbite apparently, Miss Chandler. I heard that you and Miss Lee were up to your usual antics. I am here as well to pass on a message from Mrs Carson.”

When Toni stepped aside and let him in, Chou’s face brightened too. Crusty as he might be, the small martial arts master was someone they’d both learned to rely upon. Chou bowed to the man and to a slighter degree, so did Random.

Ito’s eyes flickered as he saw the redhead and he returned the bow. “Interesting form.”

“What?” Toni looked between them. “He didn’t do anything… oh…”

“Oh?” Chou looked confused and then cocked her head. “You’re always poised to fight?”

“People are always poised to attack me. Being ready for it is the least I can do.”

“Isn’t that a little paranoid?”

“No, I’d be very pleased to greet all who come to me with the open hand of friendship.”

Chou put her hands on her hips. “How does that differ from a knife-hand stroke?”

“It doesn’t usually break bones.” Random turned his attention back to Ito. “It’s a pleasure to meet the instructor of these two.”

“You are too generous.”

“Not at all. I’d envisaged a harried wreck, rocking in a corner in anticipation of their next adventure. Your fortitude and patience are noteworthy.”

“Fortuitously I can pass that burden onto the headmistress.”

Random nodded. “A very formidable woman.”

“Would you like some tea, Sensei?” offered Chou while Toni scowled at Random.

Ito smiled and took a seat. “Dozo.”

“I thought no one from school could pick up Random and, ah, Cousin Curtis.” Toni finished, lowering her voice awkwardly.

“And no one is. I’m merely accompanying certain compassionate souls.” Ito smiled serenely. “I’m not here as a representative of some hypothetical school that may or may not have an interest in any particular young man. I’m merely… bumming a ride to New Hampshire and I’ve been informed by a third party that some kind people are driving that way. If anyone else is coming along that’s really no business of mine.”

Chou returned to the room with a cup of tea but before she could hand it to Ito, another hand snatched it away. Random inhaled blissfully. “Oh I needed this… weren’t you getting something for your sensei too?”

“Well if you hadn’t snatched it…”

“I’ve absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Random sipped on the tea and made a face. “On the other hand, why don’t you and I go back to the kitchen and I’ll show you how to actually make tea.”

Toni sat down opposite Ito. “Sorry about him. He’s a friend of Sun Wu Kong.”

“That explains much. How has your holiday been?”

“Kind of crazy.” She rubbed the back of her head. “I mean – it’s kind of fun fighting H1 goons and ninjas –“

“Ninja.”

“What?”

“The plural of ninja is ninja.”

“…lousy deceptive grammar. Anyway. It was fun and then Sun and this guy turned up and…”

“Here.” Random placed a tea-cup in her hands and then offered another to Ito. “Real tea.”

Toni looked at her cup suspiciously. “You didn’t put anything in it, did you?”

“In tea? What sort of barbarian would do that?”

“Oh well. Allons y!”

Chou entered the room and saw Toni drain the cup. “Er… there wasn’t any sugar in that was there? Toni and sugar are a bad, bad combination.”

“Why would anyone put sugar in their tea?” Random stretched. “Oh, thank you for the offer, sir. However I have some business in Baltimore so I‘d prefer to stay here a few more days rather than go with you now.”

“Business? What business in Baltimore? You only just arrived.”

“I know. And it isn’t on fire.”

“What?”

“It’s distressingly difficult to shop seriously when the city you’re in is on fire. Shopkeepers are a panicky trade in my experience. Besides, if I’m going back to school I’ll want some of the finer things in life to cushion the blow. Your brother tells me the shops will be having after Christmas sales starting today so it’s the perfect time and place to take care of that.”

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 Post subject: Re: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Waterdeep PostPosted: 2014-11-01 03:32pm
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Doyle Medical Complex, 26 December 2006

Mary-Alice suspected students – particularly those who hadn’t had a chance to take a single lesson yet – wouldn’t be allowed to move freely through what amounted to a major hospital building. While Doyle didn’t have hundreds of beds available or the similar number of offices needed to administer patients on that scale the surgical suites and laboratories would probably be the envy of most first-world trauma suites.

I’m not sure half this equipment would even exist on the Earth I remember, she mused as she ‘persuaded’ a lock to open and let her use the emergency stairs up to the floors that held what wards were necessary for the complex.

At that, it was slightly concerning that a school needed enough beds to accommodate more than a tenth of the student body for long term care. Added to the facts she’d learned about students in long term care in Hawthorne Cottage… well, a school for adolescents with super-powers couldn’t be considered safe. She decided on balance it was more reassuring than worrying that Doyle was so well prepared. If it wasn’t realistic to prevent accidents (and non-accidents) then at least it was realistic to be prepared for the consequences of that.

A second door opened and the little blonde slipped into the correct wing. She was dressed for the cold weather and if this involved a grey knit cap and long, heavy coat the same colour… well, that was just convenient to help her blend into the white-walled and grey tiled corridor when the lights were dimmed as they were.

The door to Lissa’s room wasn’t locked but she crouched in front of it, below the line of the glass window and listened. Breathing, slow and steady. Not just Lissa, a second set.

Still? Either Caitlin had fallen madly in lust with Lissa – not unprecedented, historically – or she must have some driving reason to be here all the time. Posted as a guard perhaps? But in that case there would likely be shifts and every time Mary-Alice came here, it was Caitlin sitting with her.

Has she even left to eat?

Well, she might not need to eat, come to think of it.

Retreating to the nearest empty room, Mary-Alice considered her options. If she was going to get a discreet message to Lissa while she was in the hospital room then Caitlin was going to be an obstacle. She had to wonder too, if Caitlin’s intentions towards Lissa were entirely benign. Granted, the N-Ar-tel-quessir woman was usually more than able to look after herself but these were unusual circumstances.

I could leave a written message in most of Faerun’s languages and no one would be able to read it but it’d be hard to prevent someone else from getting a look at it and they might wonder who’s sending her a message in a language only she knows.

Leaving a message here in the hospital is too obvious. Something left in her room could be mistaken for something she’d written herself. I’d still like to know what Caitlin is up to though.

.o0o.

Baltimore, 27 December 2006

Random first spotted the stalkers from the mall’s balcony on the way into the book store, but he didn’t say anything about it since there were more important things to deal with. The gold coins he’d been given had exchanged well at a gold-dealers that morning and he was now in the important process of turning the dollars that resulted into books.

The resulting expedition turned into twelve full bags of books although it had to be admitted that this chain of bookstores had a shameful lack of large plastic bags so some of said bags could only contain a paltry five books – a sad state of affairs. Apparently Whateley Academy had a bookstore and library so that was at least some hope on the distant horizon.

The stalkers, three well-dressed oriental gentlemen, were still out there when they emerged, trying not to give away that they were watching the group.

Shuffling around the bags gave him an excuse to check the eye lines. One watching Chou. One watching Toni. One watching him. Hmm. The first two wouldn’t be a problem as long as watching was all they did – just about every red-blooded male gave the girls a second look.

The third one… well it wouldn’t be the first time he’d had that effect on a man even if he didn’t roll that way. But he didn’t get the vibe from this one, which meant his companions might also be guilty of more than lechery. How very tedious.

“Let’s dump this back in the car before we hit the other stores,” Toni suggested with more practicality than most may have ascribed to her. She wasn’t stupid, just enthusiastic.

“That would be best.” He smiled serenely. “I wouldn’t want to wear down my pack-mules too early.”

“There’s something definitely wrong with a guy and two girls going shopping and the girls being the ones carrying backs.”

“If you’d like you can carry all the others to improve your weight training,” Random suggested. The current distribution of four bags per person was perfectly equitable even if he was carrying the heaviest bags. “Or perhaps your admirers over there can help.”

“Admirers?” Toni looked around quickly but it was Chou who singled out the three Chinese men.

“No one I know,” she said quietly, her hand reaching for the hilt of her sword – which somehow managed to avoid the attention of mall security as they walked around.

“Man… can’t we ever leave the house without trouble?”

It would have been hard for the three men not to have realised they’d been spotted with the way that Toni was behaving but two of them produced newspapers and tried to hide behind them anyway. The third one just hid his face behind one hand for a moment before waving awkwardly in acknowledgement of their attention.

“Well one of them isn’t an idiot.” Random walked over to them, the girls following him, still on guard. “Is there some reason you’ve been keeping an eye on us?”

“If the two ladies were perhaps five years older I’d have a plausible if not particularly polite excuse,” the man joked feebly, his companions putting away their newspapers. “Then I could ask you, man to man, how it was you were accompanied by such lovely blossoms.”

“And how you persuaded them to carry a share of the shopping,” added the man to his left.

Random made a mental note of the nearest bench. If a fight began he could throw his bags there and the books would be relatively safe. “It’s truly a shame that such a fine excuse doesn’t fit the circumstances. Would you like to go away and think of another idea? We’ll be going to the music store next so you could wait for us outside.”

“You are truly generous but I think we can manage.” He bowed. “We represent a department of the government of the Republic of China.”

“Stop right there!”

All eyes – not only the teenagers and three Chinese men but several other shoppers whose attention had been drawn by the conversation – went to a new arrival, a middle aged woman in sober business dress accompanied by two more oriental gentlemen. The woman broke off, leant over and gasped for breath – she evidently wasn’t in the best of shape – unless a sphere was considered ideal.

“H-haw ha… How dare you presume to approach in the name of China!?”

“Why wouldn’t we? We are from the Republic of China after all?”

“You seek to confuse the situation! It is the People’s Republic of China that speaks for China, not your ridiculous little island! Your presence here can only be because you want to deceive the Maiden of the Tao.”

Chou pressed one hand to her face.

“That’s ridiculous!” protested the man. “And who are you to say who can and cannot approach the Maiden?”

“On matters of security, I believe that’s my job now.” Random had a pleased expression. “And I don’t think she should associate with mimes.”

“Mimes?”

“Indeed. After all, you’re acting as if you’re invisible boxes.”

“I am not!” protested the fat woman, trying to take a step towards him only to find out she was indeed in an invisible box.

Random turned to Chou. “So, the books to the car and then the music store. After that I think I like the idea of these computers you’ve mentioned.”

“But what about them?”

“I’m not in the mood for lousy street theatre and my feelings about mimes involve scorpion pits with signs saying ‘learn the words’,”

Toni looked at the six Chinese – even if they might disagree on that phrase being applied to all of them. “Aren’t mimes usually, you know, silent?”

“That just shows how lousy they are.”

“Are you sure you should leave them like this?” asked Chou.

“Do you want to talk to them?” He lowered his voice and added, “They’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Well, in that case, no, not really.”

.o0o.

Dunwich, 27 December 2006

Getting out of New York City had at least given Khrel some room to breathe. He’d almost been tempted to ride on the roof of the train but that would probably cause a panic.

Actually he’d been tempted to do so while stretching his wings but that would have caused a panic in any world, not just this one. He grinned toothily as he stepped off the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle onto the platform of Dunwich station. Perhaps not this town. He had a feeling there was more power under the surface here than anywhere he’d been since his arrival.

Khrel paid attention to his feelings. It was one of the reasons he was still alive.

No one else was getting off here and only two people got on. Either it was a quiet day or this was just a quiet part of the country. Either suited him.

The platform was clear of the snow that otherwise covered the area. Probably someone had laid down salt to keep it from turning into a safety hazard whether the station was needed or not. Professionalism and the young man looked up and down the platform, seeing no one – discretion too. Very respectable.

Not too immediately helpful since his instructions from the school were to wait at the station until someone collected him. But a respectable station made a change from the bustle of the big city.

As it happened Khrel had barely taken a seat in the shelter of the waiting room when he heard a car pull up outside the station. Looking to the door he wasn’t surprised to see it swing open less than a minute later. The lanky African-American woman in the doorway didn’t enter – probably for the best given the grime on her boots from even briefly walking in the snow. “Mr Abere?”

“Present.” He rose to his feet and bowed slightly.

“I’m Mrs Tolliver. Mrs Carson sent me to collect you.”

Khrel nodded and lifted his bags. “Thank you for taking the trouble.”

“It’s no trouble.”

Accepting the polite lie as fact he followed her out to the car – a Japanese import but at least a four-wheel drive land cruiser and not some wretched little two-door town car that would have been an outright hazard on the snowy-roads. This also left plenty of room for his bags in the back.

Mrs Tolliver checked her watch before putting the car in gear. “Sorry I was running a little late. We can go straight to the school now, or if you’re not too tired from travelling, there’s a shop here in Dunwich that can run you up some school uniforms today.”

“I suppose we may as well get it sorted today,” Khrel decided, glancing up at the sky. The weather seemed likely to hold out for a few hours.

“Good. I do recommend buying uniforms from Cecelia to everyone. She’s got high standards and most importantly she doesn’t charge for repairs. Just send anything damaged back to her and it’s all taken care of. I can’t tell you how many ruined uniforms I’ve seen at Whateley.”

Khrel grinned. “I can think of a few people who’d benefit from that service outside of Whateley too. Have you been at Whateley long?”

“Almost ten years now, although I’m not a teacher. I’m House Mother for Emerson Cottage, where you’ll be rooming.”

“Ah. So is it a co-ed dorm? I thought I was going to one of the men’s dorms.”

“We’re not co-ed, no. I share duties with Mr Dunne. Emerson and Dickinson are the original dorms from the school and both have two house-parents. For some reason having a woman on site seems to restrain some excesses by residents.” She gave Khrel an amused look.

“And helpful if a young woman were to stray into Emerson?” he asked innocently.

“Something we frown upon. And the same if young men stray into the female dorms. I know teenagers have trouble thinking about anything other than the other gender but parents get upset if we let you get away with it.”

“Hmm. Most parents I know of are keen on grandchildren.”

“…not at your age. And while you’re at Whateley, you need to follow our rules.”

“I think I can restrain myself,” he said drily. “So what’s this shop called?”

“Rogers’ Fabric Boutique.” Mrs Tolliver pulled over and parked the car outside a shop with that very name on the window. “Be polite please, she might be the world’s best seamstress and she’s every right to refuse service if you’re difficult.”

Khrel laughed. “Have no fear. I’ll be on my very best behaviour.”

Said ‘best behaviour’ included taking and kissing the hand of the attractive young woman in the shop with smooth: “Mademoiselle Rogers, I presume.”

Miss Rogers smiled and then shot a ‘where did you get this one?’ look at Mrs Tolliver when she thought Khrel wouldn’t see it. “Does my reputation precede me?”

“I’ve an interest in fine clothes and Madame Tolliver spoke highly of you. Of course, the fact you’re thriving in the bespoke trade when so much of the world accept off the rack is eloquent testament.”

“I’ll have to try to live up to that I see. Is there anything exotic I should consider in your tailoring?”

“I’ve an alternate form about nine foot tall and more or less proportionate… allowing for the wings and tails. In general I find it’s best to pre-stress the seams so I can at least salvage the clothes later, but I’m open to alternatives. Other than that, I don’t know how many martial artists come here…”

“Oh we get all sorts.”

“That’s good. I usually have to start with ‘cut them for dancing’ and then work from there.”

Miss Rogers’ smile was more genuine at that point. “Long standing experience?”

“Usually I make my own clothes but the chance to meet an expert in the field…”

“Aha!” she nodded. “I thought I saw tailor’s calluses on your hands. Why don’t you follow me into the backroom and I’ll show you how we do things at the cutting edge of fashion.” She made a scissoring edge to illustration of the pun.

“I’d be very pleased,” Khrel said sincerely.

.o0o.

Doyle Medical Complex, 27 December 2006

Feeling more herself – and more to the point, less likely to tear away from the Weave with the associated negative consequences of such – Lissa managed the bathroom on her own. That indignity done with (and as soon as she felt ready to use minor cleanliness magicks again, the better) she found Caitlin waiting outside the door.

“I really won’t be running off.” She turned back the bed and pulled the covers back over herself. “I imagine your healers – doctors is the word, yes? – would prefer to check me out before I depart.”

“That’s check up on you. Check you out… okay, probably accurate but it doesn’t mean quite the same.”

“Let’s assume I meant both.”

Caitlin sat down in the visitor’s chair. “What I asked about earlier…”

“Are the other kids back yet?”

“No, and I’m not asking you to do anything now. It’s more… if you can then what do you need?”

“Someone with a well-placed cushion. I suppose knocking myself out right before classes might be unwise so I can try before then. But listen, this person you want back…”

“Caitlin.”

“Isn’t that your name?”

“I named myself for her when I… changed. It’s a long story.”

“She’s a relative?”

Caitlin’s hands formed fists. “We were going to marry.”

“Ah. Changed?”

“I know, it’ll be different when she’s back… but she’s…”

Lissa nodded. “I understand. But death isn’t a simple thing and bringing someone back who died minutes ago is a different matter from bringing them back after days or months.”

“How?”

“Well there are variations and I don’t know yet how it works on this world but… to bring someone back they have to still exist somehow. That part of a person that doesn’t die with the body. So when you die that part of you goes somewhere else, you understand?”

“So far.”

“Now consider this. Was that spark born when you were? Or was it somewhere else before then.”

“A previous life? Some kind of reincarnation.”

“Pre-incarnation in this case but yes. Sometimes, anyway. Now if someone in that previous life called you back from this life to recreate the life you had in that place you were in before you were born… what happens to the you that exists now?”

“I… don’t know.”

“Nor do I and it’s generally best to find out before meddling in the order of things like that. Pulling someone out of hell is one thing but dragging them out of the heavens is another.”

Caitlin blinked. “Cat… she’d be in heaven.”

“If that’s how things work here. It may not be, but it’s a possibility. Was she particularly religious?”

“Not really.”

“That may help, depending on the local cosmology.” Lissa sighed and sat back. “And me without my usual sources of information. I don’t suppose I’ve had any messages from administration about my finances?”

“I doubt they’d tell me if there was. Do you want me to find out?”

“If everything’s in order for my tuition I might be able to get access to the school library, which could help.”

“That was a yes, right?” Caitlin produced her phone and hit one of the speed-dials. “Hi, this is Caitlin Bardue. I’m in the hospital… No, I’m not hurt, I’ve been sitting with Miss Firedancer… oh cr-ud. Yes, okay, I forgot about that. … Fine, fine, whatever. Look, Lissa has a question…” She offered the cell phone to Lissa. “Hartford wants to talk.”

Lissa accepted the phone and tentatively placed it against her ear. “Like this?”

“What was that?” Hartford asked over the phone.

“Uh, nothing. So the adamantium I conjured up…?”

“It isn’t adamantium.”

“…it isn’t?”

“Possibly we simply use the same word for another material. Still, it does have some value. I’ve talked to the metallurgy department, so we can accept it in lieu of tuition fees.”

Lissa tilted her head. She got the distinct feeling… yes, someone was trying to pull a fast one. “Hmm. That’s very kind of them but if I’ve really conjured up something worth that much, I’m sure I can find a buyer willing to pay me more than enough to cover tuition. I should probably discuss this with General Manning.”

Hartford sighed in a very plausible attempt to pretend it was impatience and not disappointment. “Please let me finish, Miss Firedancer. In addition to the tuition fees this would also cover spending money for you at the school and if you’re judicious then some seed money for college.”

“That sounds a little more reasonable. How much spending money are we discussing?”

“I believe the figure of four hundred thousand dollars was considered.”

Hahahaha. What a lovely bluff. “I’m not really familiar with your currency but for a material so unique… oh silly me, you must mean four hundred thousand a month.”

Hartford choked.

“No?” Lissa looked over at Caitlin innocently. “Is four hundred thousand dollars a lot of money?”

“You could buy a pretty nice house with that much money.”

“Oh?” Putting the phone closer to her mouth, the red-head chirped: “Well four hundred thousand dollars a term sounds great, Ms Hartford. Do I need to sign anything?”

.o0o.

Emerson Cottage, 27 December 2006

Khrel’s room on the second floor of Emerson Cottage was… institutional. There were eight pieces of furniture: two beds, two desks, two chairs and two wardrobes. All had taken at least some degree of cosmetic damage in the past. So had the walls.

“There’s a certain amount of wear and tear as a result of our student body,” Mrs Tolliver explained ruefully. “Freshmen usually have the most trouble controlling their powers and thus…”

“So there’s no point replacing anything that can be patched up – chances are it’ll be broken again soon?” Khrel grunted unhappily. “I trust you won’t mind my making some improvements. There’s nothing wrong with my control and I don’t plan to live in a pig sty.”

“That’s up to you. Within reason the school will repair or replace the furniture here, but anything you add or improve on is yours to deal with – after all, it’ll be your property not ours.” She opened the case she’d collected from an office on the first floor. “Speaking of school property, all students are issued a laptop for school work. You’re responsible for turning it in intact when you leave Whateley and if it needs to be replaced before then you’re responsible for it.”

“I’ve seen laptops in shops.” Khrel accepted the computer and looked it over. “It doesn’t look quite as sleek though. Older model?”

“Heavily reinforced case. We’ve long experience of what you kids can do to things like this. And it’s just for school use – if we find out you’ve loaded games onto it expect to have the game wiped and the discs confiscated. This should’ve been cleared out before it was handed in but I suggest you wipe the hard-drive and boot up from scratch before you use it. Some of our seniors think it’s a fun prank to leave traps or inappropriate files for freshmen.”

He raised one eyebrow. “That… unfortunately doesn’t surprise me.”

“Yes. If you’re not sure how to do that, I’m sure one of your classmates will be able to help or you can sign up for a workshop class – they’re used to helping with this sort of thing at the start of term.”

“I should be able to handle that.” Khrel opened his back and produced a yellow-covered book entitled Computers for Dummies.

Mrs Tolliver stifled a chuckle. “Good thinking. That should cover all the basics for you.” She produced a map of the campus and placed it on one of the desks. “Do you recall where I pointed out the campus shop?”

“Uh-huh.”

“It’s quite well stocked with anything students might need. A lot of you boys seem to find out there’s quite a few things you forgot to bring but rest assured, you won’t have any difficult finding what you need in our store.” She cleared her throat. “Including cleaning supplies. You’re responsible for keeping yourself and your room presentable here.”

Khrel eyed the dents. “You’re not giving me much to work with here.” He opened the wardrobe and found a hanger for his jacket. Then he rolled his sleeves up. “Thank you for showing me my room, Mrs Tolliver, but if this is supposed to be presentable I’ve a great deal to do.”

He waited until Tolliver’s footsteps had reached the stairs before producing a second laptop from his bags and plugging it into the room’s phone socket. “Dunwich… Miskatonic…” he mused and then entered a name. “Let’s see what this world has to say about the mysterious Howard Phillips Lovecraft…”

There was a fair bit there and he settled down to read through it, sparing half an eye for setting up the school’s computer and preparing to format the drives. Better safe than sorry.

.o0o.

Poe Cottage, 27 December 2006

“Lissa! You’re back!” Mary-Alice exclaimed when she saw the redhead step through the door to the cottage. She and Sara were sitting in chairs across one of the small tables in the lobby, Tennyo floating in the air as the three of them played Monopoly. (Mary-Alice had found large pleading eyes were a terribly effective bargaining tool in convincing the other two to agree to deals that didn’t favour them all that much).

Lissa nodded sagely. “Your grasp of the obvious is noted, sweetie.”

“So the Doctors say you’re okay?”

“Well it’s more they think I can be unconscious and oblivious here too and this way they don’t have to wait around in their offices… no, seriously, I have a clean bill of health and just need to rest.”

“I’d imagine you do.” Mary-Alice didn’t think she was missing an edge to Sara’s voice.

Lissa nodded. “You have no idea. Anyway, this is Caitlin – I imagine you’ve all met her by now. She’s my designated stalker. There’s nothing kinky going on though… worse luck.”

Apparently being as hard and pale as white marble didn’t stop the brunette from blushing, which would probably be ample evidence Lissa was lying about the lack of kinky stuff (if that wasn’t evident since it was Lissa - who had so many kinks she was bent back on herself – making the claim).

Mary-Alice went crimson too (although it was hard to do that rather than just laugh) and rose to her feet, stalking over to Caitlin.

“Uh… can I help you?”

With careful deliberation, the little blonde pulled back one foot and kicked ineffectually at Caitlin’s shins.

“What?”

“Don’t stalk Lissa. That’s mean!”

Caitlin looked over at Lissa, then to Sara and Tennyo. Her face clearly displayed the question going through her mind. ‘What the hell am I supposed to do about this?’ She settled on patting Mary-Alice on the head gingerly. “Don’t worry, I’m not really stalking her. That was just a little joke Lissa was making.”

“Don’t tease me like I’m a little kid. You were in Lissa’s room every time I went to see her at the hospital!”

“Oh!” Sara moved up behind Mary-Alice and pulled lightly on her hair. “You went to see her? Are you sure you’re not the one stalking Lissa?”

“N-no!”

Lissa chuckled and ruffled Mary-Alice’s hair. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of me to go around. But first I need to go to bed.”

“Always a good move,” Sara agreed. “Do you want anyone to tuck you in?”

“The flesh is willing but the spirit is weary.” Lissa found herself leaning on the rail more than she wanted anyone to realise as she climbed the stairs, leaving the other girls behind.

She was actually quite touched to find a ‘Get Well Soon’ card on her bedside table, although it didn’t say much for the room’s security. Then she realised the intricate, celtic knotwork design drawn on the inside of the card was written around several words of hamarfae, neatly disguising them from being recognised by anyone unfamiliar with the script used only by a few obscure linguists and the high mages of the Elven people.

“Thank Lliira I’m not alone.” In the ‘privacy’ of the room she let herself slump on the bed.

Then her emerald eyes widened and her hands cupped her youthful bosom. “Oh hellfire and hedony. What if they see me like this? I’ll never live this down!”

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