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World of Darkness: The Academy - Chapter 6: The New Old Dalton

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Earlier...

The form moved through the hallways, clinging to the shadows that offered him shelter. Something was very wrong at Dalton, and he was angry that his progress was being impeded. Someone should suffer for that, not that he was sure it would happen. He wasn't sure he would be able to mete out such punishment. Something that could bar the Door was strong indeed.

Brahn of the Ravens crept out of Lancaster, his eye on the golden mote hanging in the air before him. It was invisible to all but him, a beacon meant for his sight alone. He frowned when he saw the dimness of the mote. With a burst of black feathers, he disappeared.

Now...

Ryan

Ryan sat on his ass, trying to figure out where that vision had come from, why he'd seen it so clearly. "What the hell?" he whispered, not expecting an answer.

"That's what I've come to ask, Ryan," a voice said behind him. Ryan turned to see a man leaning casually against a tree. In the night, his skin was dark, making it hard to see his features. Ryan saw his teeth flash in a smile, but not his eyes. Instead, they seemed to catch the light and refract it, like a cat’s. “I want to know why the door’s been barred for nearly a week. I told you – that won’t stop them. That will never stop them for long.”

Now…

Sylvia

The halls of the girls’ side of Lancaster were filled with giggles and the hisses of girls trying to be quiet. But it was Friday, and most of the girls were all too happy to be up past curfew. It was still early enough in the semester that it shouldn’t have too great an impact on their studies. Sylvia was willing to let that sort of infraction go tonight, so long as the girls made a token attempt to remain in their rooms and keep the noise down.

But Sylvia couldn’t ignore the creaking of a door from the attic of Lancaster. It sounded like someone was up in the storage lockers. She wasn’t in a mood to just let that slide. Her hair nearly bristling, she marched up the steps to see what was so important that a girl would break curfew over.

Now…

Frida and Renata

The two girls stood there after Sylvia stalked away. They glanced at one another: Renata’s gaze hard and suspicious; Frida’s preternaturally calm. “So…” Renata started as a prelude to moving away from the weirdo. Her gaze was drawn by movement and she gasped and ducked behind the car. Frida turned to see, only to have Renata reach up, grab the arm of her jacket and drag her down too.

“What?” the girl asked calmly, attempting to not get dirt on her clothing.

“Shut up! It’s Pritchard!” Renata hissed, pointing to the woman and a group of goons not far from the central statue. From here, they couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was clear she was very angry.

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As she reached the top of the attic steps, Sylvia's eyes narrowed. The attic door was ajar, creaking slightly on its hinges. She'd already started working up a stern lecture in her mind; the attic was supposed to be off-limits, even during daytime hours. There was no flicker of light, however, not even the slight glow of a flashlight or candle, and that most likely meant that whomever had been up here had already left... and neglected to close the door behind them.

Unlike the older houses, Lancaster was a product of the 1970s. As such, it boasted a light switch just inside the door, rather than a pull chain in the middle of the darkened attic. Sylvia reached through, flipped the switch... and got nothing but a soft click for her efforts. "Wonderful," she muttered. "Need to get maintenance up here...." Closing her eyes for a long moment, she stepped forward into the gloom and closed the door to rest against the catch behind her, opening them only when the light of the stairwell was blotted out, hoping to readjust to the slight light of the stars and moon through the attic windows.

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Something unitelligeable was whispered by a vaguely familiar voice, a moment later it was followed by, "Hello? Who's up here?"

A flashlight beam winked into existence and washed over the area, ruining the little bit of night vision Sylvia had managed to acquire. The beam dipped down below her head once the stranger had identified her, "Ms. Dorn! Wonderful, I was hoping we'd run into someone in the know before anyone else. It's Lucia."

The "runaway" student body president carefully picked her way through the dark attic, another dark shape trailing behind her. "Ahvia, this is Ms. Dorn, she's the house mother of Lancaster, the dorm where the Door is. Ms. Dorn, this is Ahvia. She helped me find a way home. Apparently the feathers I had weren't raven feathers, something to bring up with whoever's in charge of the animal exhibits in the science annex."

The light from the flashlight illuminated the girl's face enough to show her pursed lips, "We've been walking for weeks. How long have I been gone here? Ahvia's told me that sometimes time runs differently between the worlds." Her lips twitched in an attempt at a smile, the hope in her voice overshadowed by a realistic cynicism, "I don't suppose it's only been a couple of hours?"

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Sylvia blinked in the sudden glare of the flashlight, but was nothing short of stunned to see Lucia standing there, with or without someone else in tow.

"Lucia, you've been missing for over a week! We all thought you'd run away...." At that moment, her eyes finally caught up with the surroundings and she truly saw who - or rather, what - the "runaway" Lucia had brought home with her, illuminated to some degree in the dim light. What at first glance had seemed another girl was suddenly and obviously something different. The newcomer - Ahvia, according to Lucia - had feathers, and not as decoration: they actually moved, raising slightly in reaction to Sylvia.

"...oh my." Swallowing, she took a deep breath and tried for a smile. "Ahvia, welcome to House Lancaster. I would ask that, for safety sake, you not leave the house, and that you stay with either Miss Blake or I until we can work out some sort of arrangement." She looked around the attic; with the lights out and a lack of reasonable furniture, it wasn't the best of places to have a discussion.

"All considered, let's go down to my office. I suspect we have quite a bit to discuss, the three of us."

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Renata watched the ensuing gesticulations for a moment through the car's smudged side window for a moment, then rather unnecessarily whispered to Frida, "She doesn't know my face. I'm gonna see if I can get close enough to hear what they're talking about. Stay down though...if she connects me to you, it all falls apart."

She stood up from behind the car, dusting off her hand as if she'd just stooped over to pick something up that she'd dropped. She then set off at a brisk pace towards the campus on the other side of Pritchard and co. If her path would bring her right past the quarrel, well, sobeit.

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Frida blinked slightly, but nodded to Renata. After a moment's consideration, she laid down flat on the ground on her stomach, watching the situation through the space between the bottom of the vehicle and the ground.

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Now...

Sean and Swan

Originally Posted By: Swan
"You have granted me grace, shelter and food, and it is fair that my weapon steals life from you? If I could, I would return what was stolen, both to you and others."

She looked angry. "I do not know why or how I would have such a weapon. But I do know that I don't want any part of it."

Sean met Swan's solid, obsidian eyes steadily, for once not creeped out or concerned, as she stood there, rigid, hands fisted at her sides, defiant, yet vulnerable. He gave her a wide smile, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"I think that has just told us a lot about who you were and who you want to be, Swan." Sean turned back to glare at the baleful, black blade. "Let's see what we can do to make sure the sword can never hurt anyone else again, then."

His eyes, a tempestuous grey-blue, bright and hard, flicked around the garage, looking for something that could break a sword. Sledgehammer? Nah, I saw on Deadliest Warrior that swords were supposed to be bendy, I might put a dent in it, but it'll probably bounce all over the place. Blow-torch? How hot is a forge fire? Ah! That will have to work. Sean's smile turned fierce as he stepped to the other side of the garage and picked up the pair of bolt-cutters.

Sean walked back to the work bench, giving Swan a small wave with the bolt-cutters, then glaring at the sword again. "Okay, sword, we don't like you and you don't like us, or at least, you don't like anyone except Swan. That's too bad, because I have bolt-cutters."

Sean took a deep breath, then stubbornly picked up the blade again, that cramping tingle running up his arm as he slammed the sword into the vice clamped to the workbench and spun it close as tight as he could. He picked up the bolt-cutters again and looked over his shoulder at Swan. "Step back to the door, Swan. Just in case the bits of metal start bouncing all over the place."

He placed the bolt-cutters about three inches from the tip of the blade, took several preparatory breaths, feeling a surge of strength running up his arms, then pulled the handles of the cutters together as hard as he could, the tool vastly enhancing the force he was exerting.

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Lucia glanced back over her shoulder at her friend and motioned for her to pull up the hood on her cloak. "Didn't Renata tell you guys where I went? And I left a note with Rosa...oh, god....if it's been a week...My mother is gonna kill me...."

She swallowed and nodded to Sylvia, "Yeah, let's go to your office. Have you guys found out more about the Caramines? I mean, nothing really seemed to be happening when I left, but if it's been a week here, surely you've found something? Deacon had said something about looking through some old records, and Brahn and Brihn were going to come back for more lessons on the Doors and different worlds and stuff."

As they exited the attic into the well-lit hallways of Lancaster, Sylvia could see a definite change in the Juno girl. Her dusky skin was now nearly golden from exposure to the sun, and lighter brown highlights ran through her chocolate-colored hair. She was thinner than she'd been a week ago, some of the softer curves of her body now much more taut and toned. Ahvia spoke quietly in another language to Lucia, and after a short reply from her friend ventured a timid, "It is nice to meet you, Sylvia of Lancaster. I am Ahvia of Burnt Rock."

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Ryan leaped to his feet and spun round at the other man's voice. Standing, leaning really, as though making a casual visit, was a dark man who's eyes refracted and reflected the light back like a cat's. Ryan's own went wide and despite the cliff behind him he quickly backpedaled away from the newcomer. Heedless of the danger presented by the cliff not five feet away he shimmied backwards.

          Four feet...

                  Three Feet....

                          Two feet …

Ryan stopped with a squeak even as the dark man moved forward towards him. Something in his head had opened up and Ryan was suddenly acutely aware that his last step would have been a doozy. He found himself able to sense everything around him in space. He knew how close the man was, how quickly he was moving. He could sense all of the trees, the ground, the rocks, the log he'd fallen over. Worst he could sense with absolute precision the abyss of air behind him and down the cliff face and to the ground below. One more step and Ryan would learn the hard way that even trying to break the law of gravity carried a capital punishment for severe infractions.

Gulp. ”Oh shit.”

Nausea and vertigo assaulted him and Ryan pitched forward to the ground to escape the death drop. Shutting his eyes didn't help as somehow, beyond any manner of understanding, he could still sense everything. Ryan crawled forward, clutching at the grass and ground like a drunk afraid of being hurled off the world. “What are you doing to me?!” he yelled up at the dark man looking down at him.

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Renata

"-want them found! I'm tried of those smug leeches thinking they can waltz in here whenever they want!" Whatever was going on had the older woman in an uproar. "Fan out, search the buildings. Leave the dorms for last. Move! I want them found before they contact the students again."

Renata hid a smile. Her plan was working! She listened closer, trying to get more, but her path took her close to them, close enough to garnish attention. "You!" she heard Pritchard call. Renata turned and looked - running would be more suspicious. "What are you doing out? I believe it is after curfew."

Back at the Jeep, Frida watched anxiously.

Sean

With slowly increasing force, Sean leaned into his task, his muscles straining. Just when he thought he didn’t have anything else to give, he felt a surge of power in his body. The sword seemed to screech in protest before snapping with a loud crack.

Sean grinned at Swan, who looked surprised. “What was that?” she asked. “I f-”

She was cut off by a feeling of negative pressure in the room. Sean looked down at the vise and the two halves of the sword, realizing they were the source of the strange sensation. “Oh, shi-” he managed to say before the surge of pressure reversed.

It was like an explosion without the heat or fire. Sean was hurtled across the room since he was at ground-zero; loose objects and debris were tossed around as well, knocking Swan to the floor as she was hit in the torso with a flying board. Sean landed against the garage door before slumping to the floor. As the two began to pull themselves together, they noticed two things: a fine silvery dust hung in the air and the car alarms were screaming.

Ryan

“Ryan, I am doing nothing to you,” the man said. As he stepped forward into the moonlight, Ryan saw that he wasn’t just dark-skinned; it appeared to be almost black. His eyes were oddly flipped and weirdly inverted. Tattoos marked his hands, though Ryan couldn’t see them clearly. He stopped well away from Ryan and dropped into a crouch, balancing on his toes. “You are doing this.

“This is your manifestation of your powers,” the stranger continued. “I don’t know exactly what you are doing or seeing, but it is none of my doing. Come, Ryan, pick yourself up and let’s go to the others. I need to speak with you, especially about who barred the door.”

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It was a well constructed garage door, hardly bent from him getting thrown into it. Which did nothing to cushion the blow. Sean sat up with a groan, clutching his aching head, pounding in counterpoint to the blaring of the two car alarms. Stupid sword... His thought trailed off as his eyes fell on Swan, knocked down by the house door.

Sean jumped to his feet, then caught himself on Cassandra's sportscar before he fell down again. He staggered pass the fallen motorcycles and knelt by Swan's side, tossing aside the plank of word and gathering her up in his arms. "Swan, you alright? C'mon, this is so unfair. I didn't want the sword to cause you any more distress."

Sean stood back up and pushed the door open with his back, carrying Swan back into the house. "Here, I'm gonna set you down in bed, 'kay? Then I'm gonna find myself some Advil and the damned keys to turn off the car alarms."

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"Bullshit! I was fine, well, OK, maybe I wasn't fine, but I wasn't trippin' on whatever the fuck this is!" Ryan pushed himself to his hands and knees and looked at the other man, studying his features. "Back off asshole," he said as he scuttled backwards and rolled into a crouch similar to Brahn's, the disconcerting sense of everything around him was still there and Ryan knew that three feet behind and to his left was the cliff, he knew that the mystery man was within a quick step of the end of his fist or a leg kick if Ryan flipped to his hands.

Brahn held his hands up, empty, "I have not done this, I mean you no harm."

Ryan sized up his visitor, "I don't believe you. First Swan, and now you ... two people in the same night who are very clearly not normal. No way that's a coincidence..."

Brahn's head tilted, and he looked at Ryan with one glassy eye, "Who is 'Swan'? Does she look like me?"

"No, she's like, I dunno, like your opposite, white skin an' stuff. Me an' ... we found her outside our dorm and helped her." Ryan rose to his feet and circled around, being able to sense everything around him was still disconcerting but he found it useful to keep his eyes on the stranger while still being able to pick his way through the forest. At night. Without tripping on something. He moved toward the tree line, "What door?", Ryan asked, suddenly, recalling what the man had said he wanted to ask Ryan about. Man this shit just gets weirder and weirder.

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An increasing look on non-comprehension spread across Sylvia's face as Lucia tried to catch up on what she had missed. The best she could manage was, "Let's wait until we're in my office."

Once there, the strange alien offered a polite greeting of her own. Despite the situation, Sylvia couldn't help but smile; in her travels she'd encountered many who learned English as a second language, and was always struck by how quickly some could become reasonably fluent; if Lucia's claim of a few weeks away was right (time runs differently between the worlds, she remembered Lucia - and perhaps someone else - saying as a hint of a headache started to form), this feathered girl was a fast study indeed.

"It is nice to meet you as well, Ahvia of Burnt Rock. Please," she said, indicating a chair in front of her desk and hoping that wherever she was from people still sat on chairs, "have a seat." Sylvia moved around behind the desk, settling into her own chair as the smile faded back to a concerned frown.

"Miss Blake, something has most certainly happened here. But I can't tell you what it is. There was a flu of some sort a week ago, around the time of the student social, and nobody - student or staff - seems to have a complete memory of exactly what happened. We're starting to piece things together; we know that there was an attack of some sort. I know that I was stabbed. And we've indication that something or someone very much outside the norm was involved." For the moment, she didn't mention Swan; that was a particular detail that could wait.

"Those few of us who have noticed these inconsistentcies have also found that we're experiencing... certain personal oddities. The only one I know who appears to have a full memory of this is a particular member of the Board of Directors, and she has proven hostile and capable of things rather beyond the bounds." She sighed; Mrs. Pritchard's apparent abilities with golems and willingness to send her creations against students to get what she wanted was a grim matter indeed.

"And now, you are here and asking about things that are, at best, vaguely hinting at the very edge of memory. I can't tell you who or what a Caramine is, I've never heard of anyone named Brahn or Brihn, and for the life of me I can't imagine Mr. Knight researching anything that didn't somehow involve a massive prank." Oh, how I wish this was all one of Deacon's pranks, she rued, then realized just what she had done. If she thought fondly of the activities of Dalton Academy's chief trouble-maker, events had come to a bad turn indeed.

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Sean

Swan groaned as he picked her up. Sean was relieved that she didn’t seem to be too badly injured. She curled against him, her form warm against him. As he started back toward the garage, Swan reached out and caught his arm. “Thank you,” she said softly, her fingers squeezing lightly. She sagged back into the couch as he left, one arm cradled around her stomach. This time, there would be no magic to heal her.

Sean hurried into the bathroom and dug in the drawers until he found some Motrin. It wasn’t, he thought sourly as he stared at the pink label which promised relief from monthly pain, exactly what he wanted, but painkillers were painkillers. Popping two in his mouth, he dry-swallowed them and quick-stepped to the garage.

The keys were in a small lockbox next to the door; it took Sean ten minutes to remember that the key to that box was on his mother’s house-key ring. Once he had that, it was easy enough to get it open and click the alarm buttons on the bobs, silencing the screaming horns. The absence of noise was shocking after the blare of the horns.

Ryan

“White skin?” the stranger asked, stiffening. His hands clenched as he asked, “And what color are her eyes?”

“Black,” Ryan said after a moment of hesitation. “Do you know her?”

“I do,” the man said, his voice hard and angry. “She’s the reason I have been so desperate to get back. I knew she’d been left here, too, and I worried that she’d blocked the door in order to kill you all.” He stood, his posture tense. “I am relieved and confused to find you safe, Ryan. I was sure I was returning to find you dead or missing. What of the others? Has she harmed them yet?”

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Renata forced a sheepish, aw shucks, ya got me, smile onto her face and reached back to scratch the back of her neck.

"Yeah," she admitted, "I was studying and I lost track of time. I'm heading straight back though, if that helps any."

She nods at the men she'd been shouting orders at a second ago. "What's with the Brute Squad?"

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Ryan laughed, but it was a mirthless, nervous sound, "Swan? Kill us? C'mon, she's not dangerous. She doesnt't ... well she did have that sword." He looked at Brahn, "Wait a minute, how do I know I can trust you? Maybe you were the one who was hurting Swan! You seem to know a hell of a lot about me an' my friends for somebody I've never seen before." Ryan's eyes narrowed, despite the darkness his new senses, Sweet I got fuckin' bat sonar!, would allow him to go full out through the forest if he chose to flee, and it would give him an upper hand in combat unless the stranger's odd eyes let him see better in the dark than Ryan could. Than I used to...

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He couldn't help but notice that Sean had quite the home. Impressive indeed. His little walk had proved to be a good idea. It gave him the time he needed to try and sort through his thoughts on the weirdness they had all been sucked into. He was just thinking he was still getting that strange feeling from doors when he heard a loud thud followed by innumerable car alarms.

"I sure hope this isn't round two" he said to himself as he headed for the source of the noise. Judging from all he car alarms it was the garage. Upon arrival Everett flung the door open to find Swan and Sean amidst the carnage. They were the only people other than himself in the garage...no fighting.

"What happened? You guys alright?" he asked the two as he entered the room looking from one to the other.

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Sean opened the door to the house with Swan in his arms and found Everett there. "Sword exploded, kinda. We're battered, but not broken. Give me a minute and I'll explain as much as I can."

He settled Swan back on the couch, giving her a smile and a return squeeze of the fingers, then found a blanket to cover her up with. In the bathroom, he didn't find what he was hoping for, but found something he expected in a house of just girls. After finally getting the car alarms shut off - without punching a hole in the wall - the silence was thunderous.

He sat down on the step to the door, closing his eyes with a sigh and rubbing his temples. When he opened his eyes again, he tilted his head to side. On and around the workbench and spreading across the floor, there was a silvery glitter, the remnants of the damned sword.

He gave a shudder, then tip-toed across the garage, got the shok-vac, and sucked all the argent dust he could. He wasn't sure if it was still dangerous, but he wasn't willing to find out. He ran back to the kitchen, got an extra-strength Ziploc bag and returned back to the garage, emptying the shoc-vac into the bag.

Looking at the stuff in the bag, he had a horrid thought and quickly looked down at himself. He let out a loud sigh of relief, none of the silver shit was on him - the explosive force had struck him before the sword had turned into metallic confetti.

Going back to the living room to keep his eye on Swan, he tossed the bag on the coffee table and nodded at it. "That's all that's left of Swan's sword," Sean said to Everett. "Apparently, it sucks out life - not a pleasant sensation I'm tellin' ya - and gave it to her. She didn't want to possess such a weapon so I took a pair of bolt-cutters to it. Apparently, the sword objected, 'cause when I snipped it half, it exploded. Not with fire and heat, just... I dunno, it felt like I got hit by a pillow the size of an elephant. It didn't precisely hurt. Hittin' the garage door did, though."

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Click to reveal..
Memory check: 1d10=9, 1d10=9, 1d10=5 2 suxx

Lucia frowned. "Yeah, a bunch of us got sick after the social. And some guy, a Caramine apparently, numbered people off at the social. And the white woman with black eyes.....um...Relana, I think she said her name was. She...well, she was the one that stabbed you. You really forgot that?"

She bit her lip and thought, "Maybe the board member was there when all this started? When the cease fire was created? Is she human, or someone from another world, do you know?" She stood up and started pacing, "Well, probably not, if you've all forgotten about everything. Has everyone forgotten? Renata, Frida, Ravi, Deacon, Ryan, Sean....everyone?"

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Sylvia's eyes went large at the description of 'Relana'. If it wasn't Swan - sword included - it was a damned good imitation. Then, Lucia asked the obvious question, and there really wasn't much for her to do but sigh and nod.

"Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. We've had an incident tonight that brought us together - apparently not entirely by happenstance - and while small flashes of recollection have occurred, many of which match up disturbingly well with what you describe, most of our memories of that time have been suppressed somehow."

And what do I say about Swan... or Relana, if that's her name? It was a valid concern; she'd apparently been willing to wield deadly force against her students and herself not so long ago. But now? The strange girl with her lost memories seemed to have turned a very new leaf indeed.

After a moment of hesitation, Sylvia selected a middle route. "If you'll give me a moment," she said to Lucia and the feathered Ahvia, then flipped through a reference file before dialing her desk phone. It was late, but she doubted that Sean would be getting much sleep tonight, and this was important.

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Everett followed as Sean made his way into the living room with Swan in tow. He sank into a chair as Sean laid down their charge on the couch.

"Her sword exploded?" he asked confusion bordering on disbelief filling his voice. He looked from Swan to Sean as the latter moved about purposefully. Ev could only assume the ziploc bag was for the pieces of the sword in question. Moments later he was greeted by more noise, this time that of a vacuum. It wasn't long before Sean returned with a bag full of silver dust.

"Okay, so you took bolt cutters to it and it 'exploded'? My question is how did you manage to shatter a sword with bolt cutters?" he lifted the bag from the table to closer examine the contents of the bag.

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"They weren't tiny bolt-cutters - I can cut through chains and padlocks, easy, with these things," Sean elaborated, leaning back in the love seat and staring tiredly at the ceiling. "The sword wasn't any thicker than those, thinner really. It was a hell of a lot harder to cut though. And it didn't shatter, I snipped it in two - then it... well, 'exploded' is the best word. That's what-"

Sean nearly jumped out of the seat when the phone rang, for a second hearing the blaring of the car alarms again. Grumbling under his breath, Sean snatched the phone before the second ring, not wanting it to wake Swan."

"Who's this?" he said brusquely.

"Mr. Cassidy, please moderate your tone, thank-you. This is Ms. Dorn-"

"Oh! Sorry, Ms. Dorn," Sean apologized, chagrined, "The phone surprised me and Swan is resting."

"Understood, she is why I've called you actually." Ms. Dorn made sure her tone was neutral and non-accusatory. Sean seemed to have taken to looking after Swan - or Relana - quite seriously. "Mr. Cassidy, I've come into some information about our guest. She has, in the past, been a distinct danger, and I cannot recommend strongly enough that you keep her away from that item she brought with her. While she seems to have had a change of heart, I cannot dismiss the danger."

Sylvia heard Sean inhale sharply before he replied. "Uh, Ms. Dorn, I don't think that's going to be a problem. It sorta exploded."

There was a moment's pause. "It what?!?"

"Well, I showed it to her after you guys left," Sean quickly added, tongue almost tripping over the words in his haste. "It... did something and healed the bruises on her face - It sucks out life or something. Swan didn't want anything to do with it, and I didn't think we should just leave it laying around, so... I took bolt cutters to it. Sword didn't like that." Sylvia could hear the wry anger in the muscular young man's voice. "There was no fire or heat or anything, but the damned thing threw me across the garage and into the door."

A distinct sound of concern came across the line. "Are you

alright? Is she? Was anyone hurt?"

"We're a little battered, but we'll be okay," Sean assure the oddly fierce history teacher. "Maybe a headache in the morning. The Mo- the Advil I took seems to be working, anyway. I shok-vac'ed what was left of the sword - some sort of silvery

dust - just in case."

A sigh of relief, then, "Alright. Stay safe, and keep a close

eye on your guest. Call my office in the morning, please. We've had an unexpected return of someone with a good deal more information about all this."

"Will do, Ms. Dorn." Sean hung up the phone than looked at it for a moment. His gaze shifted to Swan, resting on the couch under a light blanket. "Huh." Sean met Everett's eyes. "Looks like they found someone in the know back at Dalton who's willing to talk."

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Hanging up the phone, Sylvia looked up to meet Lucia's knowing gaze. "Relana's still here." Holding up a hand to forestall the likely objections, she added, "And without her memories, even of her name; we've been calling her Swan. That said, she's been confronted with some of her likely past actions from what we could piece together, and has demonstrated quite firmly no desire to go back to an adversarial stance." She sighed. "And the sword is destroyed. It seems we may have a new friend... if this change of heart holds if and when her memories return."

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Lucia shrugged, "She seemed pretty annoyed with babysitting duty anyways, but I'd keep her away from the sharp objects until we know what's going on."

She tapped her finger on her lip, thinking. "Well, it's a fair guess she wasn't the one that did it, then. I mean, still possible, but that would be a pretty big mistake. What about the Caramine boy or his flunkies? Has anyone seen them around?"

"Also, it was about noon where on Ahvia's world. I don't suppose we could get some food from the cafeteria or something? I'm quite hungry."

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"We've not see any more examples of Swan's - of Relana's people, no. And I've already a fairly good idea of who is responsible for the memory problems. I'm not sure how familiar you are with the Board of Directors for this academy, but I recommend staying clear of said Board for the time being."

Mention of the time difference between two worlds brought an involuntary mental twitch along with it; it simply wasn't the sort of thing one was used to hearing in casual conversation. "The cafeteria would be closed and locked at this hour." The house-mother looked back over her shoulder at the door to her actual suite and sighed. "But you can raid my pantry tonight. Not much there, but there's at least bread and jam," she said, standing to lead the pair to a little corner of her quarters that bore, along with a small cupboard, a tiny hotplate and minifridge. Only once there did she stop to look back at Ahvia. "I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with your usual diet, and that this is a rather poor introduction to ours."

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Ryan

The man stared at him. “Your name is Ryan,” he said softly. “I am Brahn of the Lhesk, and I came to extol your people to defend themselves against the Caramine. They are going to invade your home and take people for their Harvest. Your friends went to fight the Shovat’s shadows, but you chose not to fight. But you have been selected for the Harvest, and now I surmise your powers are coming into fruition. Hiding is not an option, Ryan of Dalton. I would like to help you and your people against the Caramine, but I’m afraid someone else is hindering us. You have lost your memories of the vital details you need and I fear for you.” He sighed. “You have no reason to trust, but I ask you now to take me to this Swan. If she is no longer a danger, then I need to confirm this. If nothing else, she came through the Door, and I would like to see where she is from. There might be others with white skin and night-black eyes.”

Renata and Frida

Ms. Pritchard smiled though it was tight and forced. “We have students from a rival school on campus, making trouble, young lady. I suggest you go to your room. I will overlook this violation of curfew if you go now.”

“Wow!” Renata said, her eyes wide. “Are they dangerous?”

The woman hesitated. “We don’t know. But…” She paused, as if considering something. “Well, it will be news soon enough. Two security guards were found killed last week. It wasn’t on the main part of campus, but it has meant that we’ve increased security significantly. I’m sure you’ve seen more guards than usual around. And the police are patrolling out here more frequently, as well. They believe a transient took up residence in one of our outer maintenance buildings and attacked when security asked him to move on. We think he’s moved on, but we’re being cautious for now. We didn’t mention anything to the students because we feel the threat has moved on, but it would be advisable for you to go back to your room and obey curfew.”

Lucia and Sylvia

Ahvia merely inclined her head. “Any food you share will be excellent,” she said softly, her feathered eyebrows rising slightly. She paused, then asked, “Are you sure the Caramine is reverted?”

“Um, I think you mean ‘converted’,” Lucia told her. Ahvia’s feathered crown rose and she asked Lucia a question in a strange, fluting language. Lucia replied in kind, then Ahvia spoke again.

“Is she truthfully converted?”

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Ravi was bored.

This was a somewhat strange set of affairs considering all the fuss and bother recently, but there was a tense lull that had fallen over the Academy campus that didn't sit easily with the aristocratic young man. He was, for want of a better term, simply sitting around and waiting for something to happen. That, and there was a distinct lack of feminine companionship in his vicinity. Now Ravi was capable of going without female company, but he would really rather not. And when combined with restless boredom...

Well, that combination was absolutely intolerable.

So, taking the usual five minutes or so to run his fingers through his thick black hair, Ravi stepped out and went a-wandering. Perhaps he would come across Mari. Or Frida. Or someone else equally interesting. At any rate, it would be better than sitting around in his room moping.

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As Brahn spoke Ryan listened. What Ryan heard wasn't what Brahn said however. There were matters of intonation, phrasing, and just plain ol' big fancy words. Twnety five cent words, as his Dad would call them. Ryan was no dim bulb but book learning wasn't his strong suit, and as a result the message sent and the messages received were as alike as the phrase at start and finish of a game of telephone. Played by a fiften people. From fifteen different countries. None of whom spoke the same language.

That alone would have made Ryan's reply a confusing mess, but the cherry on top was another flash of memory, or dream, where somebody, something, was forcing Ryan to tend a garden. Seriously, what the fuck? Ryan, started to back away, the trees behind him were trivial to maneuver around given his new-found sense. Brahn followed, moving through the trees at pace with Ryan. Moving backward without fear of tripping or backing into a tree was one thing, but the human body just wasn't designed to move quickly in a rearward fashion.

"Woah, Woah, WOAH! Back the fuck off you perv. Nobody is shovin' anything in my ex-hol. Exit only mutherfucker." Ryan snarled, "And another thing, I ain't gonna harvest no fruit-a-tition. Fruit-ation." Ryan scowled, "I ain't picking your damn fruit! I'm not gonna let you do anything to me involving caramel. Or my hinder, for that matter. Not you, not somebody else, not nobody. My hinder, my rules. My memory may be messed up, but I remember not being into guys. Freak."

Ryan spun around a large Aspen, its leaves shot through with golden as they changed for the fall, and bolted. He didn't need to look back to know that Brahn was following him. Ryan poured on the speed as best he could, his legs pumping. Despite the uneven ground his feet avoided every stone, every fallen branch, every root, and carried him safely. Cross Country would be a slice of pie when you could sense with absolute precision everything in your path. Deep in the back of his sense Brahn simply vanished. The shape of the man, of the pervert, fuzzy now with distance, just ceased to be, and then he was in front of Ryan stepping out of the shadow under a pine.

"Holy fuck!" Ryan exclaimed as he skewed left, his feet skidding and sending leaves and needles into the air to fall lazily to the ground. Over the fallen oak. Between the close grown firs. Pivot on the Aspen sapling. Ryan employed every ounce of his formidable dexterity and talent to evade and escape the man in black. The man who wanted to do things like harvesting fruit and touching his hinder and ex-hole. Ryan burst out of the forest more or less on target. He blasted across Sean's back yard and bound up the stairs of the massive back porch four at a time yelling at the top of his voice. "RAPE! Some guy is trying to rape me!" His hands fumbled with the keys and he realized with dismay that he didn't know which one would unlock which door, let alone that door in particular. He started slapping his hands on the glass and pounding on the varnished wood, "Guys! Somebody let me in!!!"

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Sean was just resting in the love seat, eyes half closed and debating whether to settle Swan upstairs before he crashed or not, when he heard the banging on the kitchen door and the muffled yelling. His headache subsiding under the effects of Motrin and adrenaline, Sean jumped to his feet. and dashed for the kitchen.

"Everett, keep an eye on Swan, I'm gonna check this out," he tossed over a shoulder as he pounded out of the living room, muscles surging as he ran down the hall. He grabbed the door frame, using it to spin into the kitchen, then slid across the tiles with familiar ease.

He couldn't quite make out who was at the door in the door, but he wasn't willing to ignore someone with that much desperation in their voice. He slammed back the dead-bolt, yanked open the door, and... blinked when he saw Ryan tumble in.

"Dude! What the fuck! You scared the crap outta me! I've had enough already with twig-men and magic and explodin' swords and now a damned headache - I don't need an asshole playin' pranks too. Here."

Sean reached down and easily hauled Ryan back to his feet, then took a long look outside. "Relax, man, there's no one out there," the jock assured, rubbing the bump on his head while he began to swing the door close.

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Ryan kept banging on the door, he could barely see anything inside but he was pretty sure that it was Sean coming to it. Had he been less freaked out he would have backed off the door instead Sean jerked it open and Ryan fell into the kitchen. He rolled with the fall and used the momentum to slide him across the linoleum to sit with his back against the cupboards facing the door.

"Dude. Not a prank. Some guy ... some guy, jumped me outside and wanted to shove something... somewhere. Actually that's kinda fuzzy, I'm not really sure where my extol is. An' he said he wanted me to harvest his fruit," Ryan gulped, breathing heavily from his run, "I think he was trying to get me to do oral or something." Ryan rambled on in a genuine, if exaggerated, panic, "And he said something about caramel and my hinder. Dude, I don't swing that way man. I mean, yeah sure its OK if that's your thing or whatever but, not me man, no way."

Sean looked out the closed door again and threw the deadbolt. "Relax, man, there's no one out there," the jock assured.

Ryan just shook his head, continuing to protest food related sodomy when he suddenly stopped, dead quiet, holding his breath, and looked into the shadow in the hall adjacent to the kitchen. "NO! Get the hell out of here, this is private property," Ryan burst out and pointed into the shadow. Sean rolled his eyes to the darkness as a figure with black skin and inverted eyes emerged from nothingness and into the room.

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Ravi

‘Equally interesting’ was not necessarily a good thing. Ravi’s wanderings took him toward the stables – after all, young women had such a fascination with the beasts – where he hoped to find suitable company. At first, he thought he’d struck out, but as he was preparing the hunt elsewhere, he heard a soft sigh. Pausing, he listened intently and heard the sound of someone moving, ever so slightly, up in the loft.

Ravi smiled. Images of a lovely, lonely girl hiding in the loft to escape the cruel torments of teenaged life sprung into his mind. With a little thrill of excitement, he silently grasped the ladder and eased into the hay-filled loft. There was a form there; he could barely see it in the darkness. All he saw was dark skin and a full, form-covering dress of some sort – or perhaps a cloak?

Ryan, Sean and Everett

"My apologies for the abrupt entrance, Sean," the man said, bowing. "As you controlled the portal, I assume that this is your house?"

"Ah, yeah... wait, how do you know my name?" Sean asked, tensing up and preparing to defend himself.

"So you have all forgotten," the man sighed. “Sean, Ryan, I am Brahn. But a week ago, I was your ally in your fight against the Caramine. Not the caramel, Ryan, that is a confection, yes? Regardless, I have been blocked from visiting for nearly a week, so when access was granted again, I and my sister came to see what was afoot. And we find that all involved have lost their memories, including one we suspect to be our enemy, Relana. I would see this woman, this Swan, to verify that she is or is not Caramine.”

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Moving with slow, stealthy grace, Ravi padded forward towards the dark figure. For a wild, strange moment he felt the urge to pounce, to bear the other to the ground and hear the girl shriek in surprise and fear. All in fun, of course.

But that sort of fun could backfire on a first meeting. Not every girl liked being jumped on by a strange boy, even one as admittedly gorgeous and charming as himself. So it was that Ravi opted for the more... restrained introductory gambit. Pouncing could wait for a second date.

"Hello there." He said softly from a safe distance: not so close that the girl would feel threatened, not so far that she wouldn't look around to see the two beautiful green-gold eyes staring at her. "Hope I'm not intruding on you."

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“Is she truthfully converted?”

It was a very good question. Sylvia had seen more than her share of conversions of various sorts; trips to remote corners of the world and the final vestiges of tribal societies had shown her degrees of sociological and religious change in both individuals and groups. But the degree of that change varied, and some hint usual remained of the "old ways", even if under a veneer of Western culture.

There was no hint of that underlying layer in the girl she had come to know - briefly - as Swan. Her disgust at the idea of violence, her quest for friendship, all of it was as her heart worn on her sleeve.

"Yes," Sylvia finally said, "she is truthfully converted, like nobody else I've ever known."

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"Zkran."

The word just blurted out of Sean, still tensed with this...intruder in his house, his colouring a near opposite of Swan's. Brahn's eyes widened for a moment, his hand clenching for a brief second. Sean shook his head, dispelling the odd word, the gibberish, from his mind.

"I know Swan more than I know you... Brahn? Brahn or your sister." Sean unconsciously rubbed his thigh. "And whoever she was before, she's not that person anymore, she decided to be someone else. She even refused to accept her sword back." Sean kept his voice even, though the heat in it was obvious, and he moved to put himself between Brahn and the hallway to the living room, his large fists coming up. "So if you think I'm gonna let you hurt a girl who's unarmed and injured already, you have something else comin'."

Sean keep his stormy eyes steady on Brahn's inverted ones, except for quick glances over his shoulder towards where Swan was resting. "Seems like no one likes who she was before, not even her," he muttered under her breath, before locking eyes with Brahn again. "Wait here, and I'll go ask her if she's willin' to see you. You called her people... Caramine? What do her people call yours? She deserves to know, hearin' it might let her remember something, help her decide."

Brahn was silent for a moment, before saying, cool, with a hint of reluctance, "We are the Lhesk."

"Lhesk, right. Wait here. Ryan, keep an eye on him," Sean ordered as he turned to head back to the living room.

"Dude! What the hell do you expect me to do? He walks through freaking shadows!" Ryan exclaimed.

"Watch him and watch your ass. If he moves, maybe yell and give me a warnin', eh?" Sean suggested before stalking down the hallway.

Sean strode into the living room, tense and anxious. "Everett, looks like the strangeness is still following us. Some guy with grey skin and fucked up eyes - different than Swan's - is waiting in the kitchen, wanting to see Swan. He says he's our ally, but stay alert, eh?"

Sean knelt on the rug, next to Swan where she was resting on the couch, giving her shoulder a gentle nudge to wake her. "Swan? Swan, wake up, I need to ask you something."

Swan's eyes squeeze tighter at first, then shot open with a small start, her obsidian gaze meeting Sean's grey-blue eyes. "Yes?"

"There is a man here, named Brahn, who comes from a people called the Lhesk. He says that his people and yours, the Caramine, are enemies and he wishes to see you, to see if you are still an enemy of his. The woman he is looking for is - was - called Relana."

Sean kept his hand comfortably on her shoulder, his voice gentle and fierce. "The choice is entirely yours, Swan. If you don't want to see him, then I'll throw him out and if you do want to see him, then I'll do everything I can to make sure he behaves. I won't let him hurt you. Whoever you were before, whatever you've done, it doesn't matter anymore."

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"Sounds like a job for the police," Renata observed. "Or the Sheriff."

Something about that buzzed in her head. The sheriff. Breaking glass. Had she taken something?

As quickly as it had come, the fragmented memories receded, leaving her with her fingers pressed to her forehead as if warding off a headache. Thinking fast, she gave Ms. Pritchard an apologetic shake of her head. "Sorry. Tired. Headache. I should get to bed."

On sudden impulse, not willing to let this gab session with the witch end on that note, she added, "Hey...what courses do you teach?"

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As Sean entered the room Ev rose from his seat. Interesting development there was someone else who had business with not only Swan but them as well.

"And so the weirdness continues. I hear you we're at Defcon 1." Everett moved to the couch where Swan lay as Sean spoke to her.

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Ryan, Everett and Sean

Swan looked scared for a moment - an odd expression to the two boy, which was an odder thought for them - before she nodded. "I will see him. If he has information, something to help... then I will see him." She was already pushing herself upright, ready to meet him in the vertical.

Sean nodded at her and rose, entering the kitchen again. Ryan was pressed against a counter, his wide eyes locked on Brahn. Brahn seemed to be looking over the food in the kitchen, his expression one of casual curiosity. He was examining the remains of the hamburgers that Sean had cooked, nostrils flaring slightly. At Sean’s entrance, he turned and fixed those unsettling eyes on him. “She’ll see you,” Sean told him.

“Excellent.” The word was culturally a poor choice, but Brahn seemed unaware of the connotations that Americans could apply to the utterance of that word. “Please lead on.”

Sean reluctantly led him back to the room Swan was in. He wasn’t sure what he expected from Brahn, but he was ready for anything. The strange man simply stared at her when brought into the room. There was a moment of silence, and then Swan asked, “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” Brahn said. “You’re First Wing Relana of House Iron Moon, stationed with the Raven Division of the Caramine Army. You’re assigned to Shavot Mascai, heir to the throne of Caramin. You are his battalion commander, quite a high position. You are his attack dog as well as his bodyguard – though his shadows were allowed to do so more effectively than yourself. That is what I know of you – you’ll have to ask your people to know more.”

Frida and Renata

“I do not teach classes,” Ms. Pritchard said. “I am an administrator.” She waved in the general direction of the dorms. “Run along, then.”

Ravi

The woman started, as anyone who found themselves no longer alone did. “Who are you?” she asked. He caught a flash of teeth, and the general sense that she was pulling back on herself. Her fear trembled in her voice and the sound was sweet to his ears. Before he could answer, she asked, “What are you?”

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Frida bit her lip slightly in a faint sign of nervousness. Now that the woman was shooing Relana off, she hoped she wasn't discovered. She also wondered how long Mrs. Pritchard would stand there after Renata left.. her hands were starting to hurt from being pressed into the gravel of the driveway.

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Sean had meant to keep his eyes on the dark-skinned Brahn, but at the revelation of who Swan was - had been - his eyes widened in surprise and his eyes whipped around to look at the milky-skinned woman, to see her expression. Sounds important. Her people will come looking for her. He could see the same thought pass across her face.

He moved to her side, holding her hand reassuringly tight. "I think Swan suits you better," Sean said with grin, weak though it was. It faded quickly under his determined expression. "But whatever decision you make, learning this, I'll back you."

... "You... you killed a Shadow?" His father sounded proud...

Unconsciously, Sean's free hand clenched into a tight fist at his side and he glanced at Brahn again. "These... This guy's 'shadows', what were they?" He was surprised that he said 'were' instead of 'are', but it felt right.

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Ryan pushed himself to stand, his back sliding up the cabinets. He was still marveling this odd new sense of everything and still supremely freaked out by Brahn, but he followed the others into the living room to listen. At the mention of the Shadows, capital S shadows, Ryan's leg twinged with pain where he'd been bitten by the dog earlier in the week. That was no dog. Ryan swallowed loudly. "I am number eight."

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