Absinthe


Absinthe
By
Morpheus

This is a fan fiction taking place in the Whateley Universe.

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What do you do when you have an angry mutant on your tail, chasing after you with every intention of killing you, or at the very least, kicking your butt? In my case, you just run like hell.

My name is Adam Wylann, and at fifteen years old, I was a little shorter than most of the guys in my class. However, I made up for that by being lean and athletic, due in no small part to all the free running and parkour that I’d been doing for the last year and a half. At the moment, all that practice was coming in very useful.

I ran down the sidewalk of the busy Seattle street, jumped down over a set of steps that were in my path, hit the ground and rolled at the very bottom and then sprung back to my feet to continue running without any delay. My pursuers continued chasing after me, albeit in a somewhat more normal fashion. I glanced back, then changed directions and sliding across the hood of a car parked car, just like they used to do in the old cop shows. I made it look pretty smooth and effortless, but that had actually taken a lot of practice and a fair number of bruises to perfect that move.

My main pursuer was Collin Reynolds, who was tall, athletic, and pretty good looking. It was an open secret around school that he was a mutant, a low level exemplar. That basically just meant that his mutant powers were that he looked good and had a slight improvement to his physical abilities. If he had any other powers, I didn’t know about them.

“Stop running,” Collin yelled at me angrily. “I’m gonna kick your scrawny punk ass…”

“That doesn’t give me much motive to stop,” I called back.

Of course, as if having Collin chasing after me wasn’t bad enough, I also had his best friend Mike. Mike was a tall and muscular black guy who’s head was shaved completely bald. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that he was an exemplar as well, but as far as I knew, he was just as much a baseline human as I was. Mike, as usual as of the last six months, was dressed up like some kind of gangster thug, which always made me laugh when I saw him. After all, his Dad was a big shot lawyer and I knew that he had one of the highest GPAs in school. In fact, he was probably going to go to Harvard and follow in his Dad’s footsteps, so this whole thug act that he’d been pulling lately was just that, an act. This was probably just his way of rebelling against his Dad, not that it made much difference while he was chasing me.

Collin and Mike were both in great shape, but they couldn’t quite keep up with me and the way I was using obstacles to my advantage. Unfortunately, that forced me to slow down a little just so they could keep me in sight and feel like they actually had a chance of catching me. Suckers.

My pursuers weren’t among the normal school bullies, and as far as most people were concerned, they were pretty good guys. However, Collin had a problem with me and was determined to make my life miserable because of it. The problem had nothing to do with me specifically, or at least not with anything I’d done. It had to do with my Dad and what he did for a living. My Dad worked for the Mutant Commission Office…the MCO. Because of that, a mutant like Collin saw my Dad as the enemy, and me too by extension.

I could have reported Collin to my Dad…and the MCO, and they certainly wouldn’t take well to a mutant who was harassing and bullying a baseline. And if he didn’t have an MID and wasn’t registered as a mutant yet, which I had no idea if he was or not, then that would add another level of trouble. Collin might be trying to kick my ass, but I didn’t think he deserved to have his entire life ruined because of that. So, I was dealing with Collin in my own way, mostly by keeping well out of his reach.

“Come back here you little punk,” Collin yelled at me again, still chasing after me. “Fight me like a man, you little chicken…”

There was absolutely no way that I was going to stop just so I could fight a round or two with Collin and Mike. First, there were two of them and only one of me, and then they were both a bit bigger and stronger as well. I wasn’t a chicken like Collin thought, but I saw absolutely no reason to fight him. I didn’t like fighting, or more accurately, I didn’t like getting hurt.

“I’ll give him this,” I mused to myself. “Collin is pretty determined.” In fact, he reminded me a bit of a cat, a lean and dangerous hunter.

My cat Gozer was a great hunter and he was frequently bringing ‘presents’ into the house. I’d lost count of how many dead mice and birds I’ve had to get rid of over the four years we’ve had him. One of the things he’d love to do was chase the squirrels in our yard, and I’ve watched him spend countless hours chasing after the little fuzzy tails, only to watch them scramble up a tree or over a fence and escape. At the end of the day, the squirrel always sat on top of the fence, waving his tail at Gozer and taunting the tired and frustrated cat. This had taught me an important lesson, that I’d rather be the squirrel than the cat.

“Come on and catch me if you can,” I called back with a grin, slowing down just a little more.

Collin and Mike weren’t the first would-be bullies to come after me, though they were the first to do so in a long time. Being smaller than the other boys in my class, I used to have a problem with bullies trying to mess with me, and I’d gotten into free running as a way to help me stay ahead of them. Ever since then, most of the others had eventually given up in frustration or simply learned that I wasn’t worth the trouble.

Once Collin and Mike were close enough, I changed directions and began going up, scrambling up the side of a building that I’d used for this very purpose before. If you didn’t know where the hand and footholds were, it could take forever trying to climb that thing, which meant that my pursuers were left behind as I got to the second floor and blew them a raspberry. If I’d had a tail I would have waved it at them.

“So long little kitties,” I called out, slipping through an open window and losing them for the day.

“God DAMN it,” Collin called out in frustration. “That little punk did it again…”

“Are you sure he isn’t a mutant?” Mike asked his friend. “I mean, with moves like that…”

“No,” Collin told him. “If he was, his rat bastard of a Dad would have made him disappear.”

I ignored Collin’s comments about my Dad, being used to them. Some people thought that since he was with the MCO, my Dad was a hero who fought to protect normal humans from dangerous mutant threats. Other people, such as Collin and Mike, thought that he was some kind of jack booted fascist who was out to terrorize innocent mutants. But to me, he wasn’t either of those things. He was just…Dad.

While Collin and Mike were busy cursing me, I made my way through the hallway, wondering what the people in these apartments thought of my antics, or if they were even aware of them. In spite of how I’d taunted Collin and Mike, I didn’t enjoy making fools of them…at least not too much. I’d just gotten so sick and tired of bullies chasing after me for their own amusement that I’d decided I might as well start having fun with them in return. Instead of running for my life in fear, I turned it into a game.

“I might have to start scouting some other areas,” I mused, knowing that they wouldn’t fall for that again, at least not with this building. And when trying to escape pursuit, it not only helps to be fast and maneuverable, but also to know the terrain. Dad used to be a Marine and had once told me that. It was one of the few things he’d told me that had really stuck. “Good thing I already know a few others.”

I took my time as I went home, arriving quite a bit later than I would have if it hadn’t been for that little distraction. That wasn’t a big deal, or it wouldn’t have been if my Dad’s car wasn’t sitting in the driveway. Dad was often away on business, but when he was home… I shook my head, braced myself for what was to come, then went into the house.

“You’re late,” Dad stated the moment he saw me.

My Dad was something of an imposing man, standing at just over six feet tall with an athletic body that he maintained with an hour of exercise every day. He still had the same bearing and intensity that he did back when he’d been in the Marines, and when he was in his MCO uniform this helped to make him appear every inch the figure of authority. His close cropped dark hair, which was starting to turn gray, gave him an added sense of dignity as well.

Dad gave me a flat look as he gestured to the clock on the wall. One of the rules of the house was that five o-clock was the dinner curfew, that I had to be back home by then because we always ate dinner at five thirty. Mom never really cared if I was late, just as long as I made it home before we actually sat down for dinner. But my Dad…

The clock showed that I was six minutes late, so Dad simply said, “You know the punishment.”

“I was just going for a run and got distracted,” I protested my being grounded, though I already knew it wouldn’t do any good. Once Dad made up his mind, it was hard to change it unless I had a damn good reason. Of course, I could have told him that I was being chased by a mutant and that would have done it, but I wasn’t about to do that to Collin, no matter how big of a jerk he was.

Unfortunately, Dad was very ‘by the book’ and seemed to live by the motto that ‘there’s a rule for everything and every rule must be followed’. Dad didn’t bother yelling at me or anything else, nor was there any reason to. As far as he was concerned, I broke the rule and knew the consequences, so there was no need to focus on that any further. He wasn’t big on unnecessary expression. However, I knew that he was disappointed in me, but that was nothing new. I was used to his disappointment.

I knew that Dad loved me, in his own unspoken way, but the two of us couldn’t be more different. Instead of being strong and imposing like him, I took after my Mom and was smaller and built to be more graceful. Instead of being a fighter who met every challenge head on, I preferred to avoid direct confrontations. And where he was proud to follow the family tradition of serving in the military, I had absolutely no intention of doing that. Of course, there was also our biggest philosophical difference, my belief that rules are made to be broken.

When I was younger, Dad used to push me to be more manly, taking me out shooting and trying to get me into football. I actually liked the shooting, but the football…not so much. Eventually, Mom had a talk with him and he backed off so now he pretty much just let me do my own thing, at least as long as I didn’t break any of his rules around the house.

In spite of the fact that Dad and I clashed on just about everything, our relationship wasn’t entirely bad. He never yelled at me, even when I’d done something stupid, and he at least tried to treat me with respect. He actually approved of my free running, probably because it meant that I was out of the house and getting exercise. And every month or two, we’d actually go out to the shooting range for target practice, which was about the extent of our father/son bonding time.

“If you two are finished sitting there and scowling in silence,” Mom said as she came into the room. “Dinner is ready.”

Dad glanced to the clock again, probably to note that dinner was a few minutes earlier than normal. I snickered faintly, wondering if he was about to chastise Mom for breaking one of the rules. That would certainly be fun to watch, though even Dad knew better than to try.

My Mom wasn’t all that impressive, and in fact, she was about as unassuming as Dad was intimidating. She was the same height as me, with a slight build and the same light brown hair that I had. And though she was normally very calm and soft-spoken, she was also the only person who could flat out steamroll over my Dad.

Once we sat down to eat, we began the normal dinner conversation. It was general talk about how our days were, though Dad often grunted and didn’t give a lot of detail, at least not at first. It was always interesting to watch Mom gently nudge it out of him.

“I spent half the day filling out paperwork over that airport incident,” Dad complained with a grumble. “All because a mutant decided to make a scene over the security procedures.”

“That’s too bad,” Mom said sympathetically.

“Having mutants go through our security checkpoint isn’t discrimination,” Dad stated firmly. “It’s common sense. You wouldn’t just let anyone walk onto a plane with a knife or gun, not without extensive security checks and assurances. Why should a mutant be given special treatment just because their weapons are a part of them? These procedures are in place for everyone’s safety, including theirs.”

Dad was normally pretty quiet and liked to keep things bottled up, but Mom was always good at getting him to open up and vent. Afterwards, he always seemed a little more relaxed, having gotten it out of his system.

“What about that criminal your office has been after?” Mom asked him curiously. “What was his name…? Slippery?”

Dad nodded at that, not looking happy. “We thought we had Slippery cornered up in Queen Anne, but he slipped away from us. Again. This time, he was using the alias of Jimmy DiGriz. Being as lucky as he is, we’re starting to think he might be a probability warper. I’m not sure how we’d even hold him if we ever manage to get him in custody.”

“Why not offer him a job?” Mom asked pleasantly, pausing to take a bite of her dinner. “If he’s as good as you say, wouldn’t it be better to have him working for you?”

Dad scowled at that and gave a faint dismissive grunt to show his opinion of that idea. It wasn’t at all surprising that Dad would dismiss the idea. After all, giving jobs to mutant criminals was definitely NOT normal MCO procedure.

After a few more minutes of pleasantly interrogating Dad, Mom turned her attention to me. She gave me a faint smile and asked, “So, how was your day, Adam?”

“It was okay,” I responded with a shrug, stuffing a bite into my mouth.

“You aren’t having more trouble with bullies, are you?” she asked with a faintly concerned look.

I let out a faint sigh, wondering how she always seemed to know what was relevant. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought she was a mutant with some kind of psychic ability.

“Nothing I can’t outrun,” I told her with a grin.

Dad scowled and shook his head faintly, showing his disapproval at that tactic. He always thought that if I had a problem with bullies, I should confront it head-on...as long as I did so within the rules. And even then, he’d much rather that I get into a fight at school than run away like some kind of coward.

The last time I’d seriously gotten roughed up by bullies had been just over a year and a half ago. A couple guys had jumped me after school and beat the crap out of me, not that it took a lot of effort. That incident had been what inspired me to get better at running away and avoiding that kind of thing.

Dad had been pretty mad, mostly by the fact that I was a punching bag who couldn’t even defend myself. To show his disappointment in me, and also attempting to teach me a lesson, he’d actually signed me up for a women’s self-defense course Apparently, he thought that my pride would be offended and that I’d demand to take a real martial arts class, though that had never happened.

With that, I leaned back in my chair and smiled, thinking about my encounter with Collin and Mike earlier today. Though Dad didn’t know about it, I owed the whole thing to him. Ironically enough, it was his attempted insult which had indirectly led to my becoming much better at running away from trouble.

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It was an old and respected tradition that teachers were to make school as boring and tedious as humanly possible, just as it was an equally ancient tradition for the students to sleep through class. At the moment, I was clearly not the only one who felt like nodding off. Clive Bowen, who sat beside me was actually swaying in his seat.

“Mister Bowen,” our teacher exclaimed, glaring at Clive.

“I don’t feel so good,” Clive said. “I feel kind of dizzy…”

Mrs. Morgan stared at Clive from the front of the classroom, looking highly skeptical at first. But she apparently decided that he did indeed look sick enough that he might not be faking it.

“Then go to the nurse’s office and get checked out,” she told him, some sense of sympathy creeping into her voice.

“I guess something is going around,” I told Clive, thinking about how two other people I’d been sitting next to had complained about feeling sick or dizzy today. “I hope I’m not next.”

Clive stood up from his desk, then suddenly blurted out, “There’s a monkey…”

“What?” I asked in confusion.

Clive pointed to the front of the classroom, right at Mrs. Morgan’s desk, which she wasn’t sitting at right then. “There’s a monkey on your desk.”

Mrs. Morgan glanced to her desk and scowled. “I don’t have time for your jokes, Mister Bowen. Since you seem to think this is…”

“More monkeys,” Clive exclaimed, looking around the classroom with a look of surprise and disbelief. “Where’d they all come from?”

There were some chuckles around the classroom at that as well as a few nervous giggles. Mrs. Morgan was starting to look extremely annoyed at Clive’s joke, but as I watched him, I began to realize that this wasn’t a joke. There was something seriously wrong with him.

Clive jumped back, looking around frantically, his expression turning to confusion and fear. Then he staggered back, tripping over his own feet and landing on the floor. More laugher filled the room.

“I think there’s something wrong with him,” I told Mrs. Morgan. “I don’t think he’s faking…”

Mrs. Morgan stared at Clive for several seconds before nodding. Then she gestured to one of the students, “David, please help Clive to the nurse’s office.”

David nodded at that, and without a word he went to help Clive to his feet. Clive still looked unsteady and his eyes continued to dart around the room for several seconds before his expression began to relax.

“The monkeys are gone,” he said in obvious relief as David helped him out of the classroom.

“All right class,” Mrs. Morgan announced with a forced smile. “Now that we’ve had our little break, let’s continue where we left off…”

I glanced to Clive’s empty seat and shook my head, feeling sorry for the guy as well as a little worried. Whatever it was that had gotten to him, he hadn’t shown any signs of it last period or any of the previous ones. However, the girl who was sitting in front of me was starting to sway in her desk just a tiny bit.

When class was over and I was done for the day, I let out a long sigh of relief. Clive hadn’t come back after his little outburst so I didn’t know if he was okay or not, but I was worried, and not just about him. It seemed odd to me that several people had gotten sick today, and all of them had been sitting next to me.

“It makes me feel like I’m contagious or something,” I joked as I walked out of the school building.

I was just walking off the school grounds when I suddenly found my way blocked by Collin. Mike was there too, stepping in beside me to prevent my escape, the way I’d done yesterday when they’d tried something similar.

“I don’t think so,” Collin said with a smirk. “We never finished our talk with you yesterday.”

“Sure,” I said with a forced smile, looking around for a chance to escape. However, it looked like dumb and dumber were being very careful not to leave me any openings to run. “I’m always willing to talk.”

“This is how things are going to go down,” Collin told me with a steady look. “We’re going to fight. You can either fight back, or you can be a punching bag. Your choice.”

“If it’s all right with you,” I responded with a cheerful smile, “I’ll choose option three and avoid the whole thing.”

“Not an option,” Mike said, trying to pose and look tough. It only made him look like a poser. The preppy look he used to go with had actually looked a little more natural on him than this whole gangster thug thing.

“So, two of you against one of me,” I said carefully. “That hardly seems fair. I mean, are you so scared of me that it takes both of you to beat the crap out of little old me?”

Collin scowled at that and shook his head. “I’ll tell you what,” he finally said with a confident grin. “I’ll make this a little more fair for you. Mike here will stay out of it…unless you try and run. It’s just you and me…and I’ll even let you throw the first punch for free.”

I gave him a skeptical look and asked, “Free?”

“Go ahead,” Collin told me with a smirk, obviously confident in his chances against me.

I nodded, then threw a ‘surprise’ punch at his face, which he was obviously expecting. He pulled back so my fist easily missed, but my follow through elbow didn’t and I smashed him right in the face. Then in a quick move, I drove my heel into the back of his leg, right behind the knee, causing his leg to collapse and him to drop, just enough so that I could knee him in the solar plexus. Then, I finally took a real punch at his face, leaving a bloody nose as he dropped to his knees, unable to get a decent breath thanks to my hit in his solar plexus.

“Holy shit,” Mike blurted out in surprise.

“Just because I prefer not to fight,” I commented almost pleasantly, “that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to.”

Mike glared at me but was immediately by Collin’s side. The two of them might hate my guys, but they were friends and definitely had each other’s backs. I couldn’t help but respect that, even as I turned and walked away. I’d made my point so there was no reason to stick around.

With that, I began running, not only to get away from Mike and Collin in case they decided to try coming after me, but also because it was the fastest way for me to get around that didn’t involve an engine. I practiced my free running as I went, taking shortcuts and using obstacles to my advantage. I always grinned as I ran towards a bench and used it as a springboard to reach the top of a nearby wall, then flipped over it and continued on my way.

It didn’t take me long to reach my destination, a three story building that held a different business on each floor. The one I was interested in was on the bottom floor and was merely labeled with a sign that said ‘Self Defense’.

This was the place where Dad had once tried to shame me into learning martial arts by signing me up for a women’s self-defense class. The joke was on him because I’d actually continued coming here ever since. Coming here for class was about the only acceptable excuse for missing my dinner curfew and arriving home late, and even that was somewhat begrudging.

As I walked towards the door, I saw the sign in the window that said ‘Learn to defend yourselves. Great for women’. This was the sign that Dad had seen and which had made him sign me up for the classes here. Apparently, he’d never read the smaller signs, much less went in and talked to the instructor. Ironically, if he had, he probably would have signed me up for classes here anyway, just not as a joke.

There was a smaller sign above the door, which Dad had obviously missed. It said ‘Frankenstein’s Self-Defense’. That alone should have given Dad a clue that this wasn’t the kind of place that he’d expected.

I went inside and saw the instructor standing in the middle of the open and padded floor. “Greetings sensei,” I said giving him a bow.

“Don’t give me that sensei crap,” he responded with a look of annoyance, fully aware that I’d done it just to mess with him. “How many times have I told you punks just to call me Doug.”

Doug Chambers was an imposing looking man, even more so than my Dad. He was six foot four, pretty well-muscled, and he had a scar right across his face. In fact, he had a lot of scars all over his body, which was why he’d been nicknamed Frankenstein during his days as a fighter.

Doug used to compete in mixed martial arts, but he freely admitted that he’d spent a lot more time fighting in illegal underground fights where just about anything went. And though Doug would never confirm or deny it, rumor said that he used to be a leg-breaker for a loan shark until he’d been replaced by a low level mutant.

As Doug was quick to point out, he taught self-defense, not martial arts. And during my first day in class, where I’d come here very reluctantly, he’d actually given a speech to the class that had really clicked with me. For the first time, someone had talked about fighting in a way that made sense.

“I’m not here to teach you martial arts. I don’t give a damn about some ancient philosophy and code of honor. I could give a flying fuck about teaching you rules and traditions that have been passed down for centuries. I don’t care about perfect form or competing in tournaments. That’s all bullshit that distracts you from the real point.”

At the time, Doug’s words had caught me completely by surprise since I’d never heard anyone talk about self-defense like that. Until then, people had always said I should learn some martial arts in order to defend myself, but the martial arts had never seemed very appealing. Martial arts had always seemed to be about looking strong and showing off, and people were always talking about learning discipline and tradition. What did any of that have to do with keeping someone from beating the crap out of me?

“In the end, I’m going to teach you to protect yourselves. I’m going to teach you how to keep other people from hurting you. My job is to make sure that if you ever get into a real fight, you’re the one who walks away.”

Those were the words that had caught my full attention and made me think that maybe this class wouldn’t be a waste of my time. I didn’t care about learning discipline and traditions from some other culture. I didn’t care about learning fancy martial arts forms or being able to impress other people. But protecting myself and keeping other people from hurting me… That was what I was interested in.

“In a real fight, there’s no such thing as honor or playing fair. You don’t want to give the other guy a fair chance to kill you. You want to use every tool and advantage you possibly can because your life may damn well depend on it. Remember, in a real fight, the only rule is that there aren’t any rules.”

Doug’s philosophy on fighting really made sense to me, as did his actual lessons. And when I’d admitted that I didn’t like to fight at all and preferred to run away, he hadn’t been disappointed or called me a chicken. Instead, he told me that running away was a legitimate strategy.

“The best way to survive a fight is to avoid it completely,” Doug had told me. “But sometimes you don’t get any choice.”

After that, Doug introduced me to a couple of local free runners who taught me everything I knew about the sport. I still ran with those guys a couple times a month, at least every other weekend and sometimes even more often.

Dad had originally only signed me up for a month long course in self-defense, but I liked Doug’s philosophy enough that I actually decided to stay. Ever since then, I’ve been coming back a couple times a week, though my parents thought it was only because I could hang out with some girls. I hadn’t bothered to disabuse them of that notion.

I smiled faintly as I looked at Doug, wondering what Dad would say if he knew who really taught the class. It would certainly be interesting to see Dad’s reactions if he ever came in to watch a class, but I kind of enjoyed keeping this all secret from him. It made me feel that I actually had a life of my own.

After a minute, I went into the back room and changed into my normal clothes for a class, a T-shirt and pair of gym pants. Doug didn’t believe in a uniform and let us all wear pretty much whatever we wanted, though most classes were taught barefoot in order to keep from tearing up the mats.

A short time later, I was in the practice area along with the other seven students, wondering what Doug was going to teach today. He didn’t have a specific style of his own, and in fact, he actually liked to brag that he preferred substance over style. What Doug did teach was a variety of different moves and techniques from different martial arts styles, all mixed with a heavy dose of dirty street fighting.

Earlier this week, Doug had spent the entire class having us practice throws and falling. The class before that, it had all about grappling on the ground and getting leverage on our opponents. Doug never seemed to have a lesson plan and just taught whatever he felt like that day, even if it made the class run long or if it got cut short. His teaching style was as mixed up and piecemeal as the material he taught.

“Today,” Doug announced to the small class. “We’re gonna go over the techniques that are usually taught specifically for a women’s self-defense class.”

“But that isn’t fighting,” Tyson blurted out in surprise.

Tyson was the new guy in class and was one of only two people who was wearing a traditional martial arts uniform. Apparently, he had previous martial arts training before he’d recently moved to Seattle. This was only his third class with us, and I was pretty sure he still didn’t get what Doug was about.

“Nope,” Doug agreed with an intimidating grin. “It sure as hell ain’t. At least not the kind you’re thinking of. But these are moves and techniques that are designed to be used against someone that’s bigger and stronger than you.” Then Doug looked even more menacing as he added, “Now, what are you gonna do if you’re in a bar and some guy like me comes and grabs you from behind?”

Tyson didn’t have an answer to that so Doug began the lessons, showing us how to get away when someone grabs you from behind. His lesson plan today included elbowing someone in the solar plexus, punching them in the throat, and kneeing them in the groin. Doug ran through this particular lesson at least once a month so I’d been through it numerous times before and always paid close attention. After all, almost any guy I fought would likely to be bigger and stronger than me.

Tyson continued to seem offended, reacting much the way that Dad had expected me to. When Doug had us practicing to knee opponents in the balls, he finally blurted out, “But that’s cheating…”

Doug gave him a flat look and snarled, “If you aren’t cheating, then you aren’t trying hard enough.”

Tyson looked scared of Doug, which was probably a smart move, and he looked a bit offended. I had a feeling that this was the last time I was going to see him here.

Out of all the students in class, I’d been her longer than almost any of them. Most people who came to Doug’s classes weren’t here to learn a real martial art, and those who were soon left for other places. Some people were put off by Doug’s attitude and teaching style so ended up quitting, and those who were serious about learning often became comfortable enough in their ability to take care of themselves that they stopped coming after a few months as well.

Doug paired me up with Javier, who’d been coming here almost as long as I had. He was bigger than me, which was no surprise, so he took the ‘aggressor’ role and gave me plenty of opportunity to practice getting away from him. But since I was already well practiced in these moves and tactics, it gave him plenty of opportunity to figure out how to counter them, which only encouraged me to think sneakier as well.

By the time class ended for the day, Javier was staggering and complaining about being dizzy. I watched him nervously, remembering Clive and the other kids at school who’d gotten sick as well.

Then Javier froze, staring at the wall with a look of surprise and fear on his face. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head, muttering, “No, that isn’t really there… It can’t be… I must be seeing things…”

“What?” I asked Javier in surprise. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” Javier admitted with a forced chuckle. “Either purple flowers are growing all over that wall, or someone slipped me some acid.”

“Well, it sure ain’t the first,” Doug commented as he overheard and came over. He looked Javier over and then asked me, “You didn’t hit him in the head or anything, did you?”

“Not today,” I responded. I put a hand on Javier’s arm and asked, “Do you need a doctor or something?”

A strange smile formed on Javier’s face and he mused, “Oh look, kittens are growing out of the flowers…”

Doug and I shared a look before Doug shook his head and told me, “Go home kid. I’ll call an ambulance for mister acid trip here.”

I nodded at that, then went to the back room to change back into my normal clothes. As I got ready to leave, I rubbed at my shoulders, feeling stiff and a bit sore. I hadn’t thought I’d worked myself that hard during the class, but my muscles were definitely starting to ache.

“Time to go home and take a nice hot shower,” I mused with a smile. Between that and dinner, I’d be much better.

Then, I suddenly felt a strange tingle run through my body. When it passed, I gasped in surprise as there were glowing lines running through the air around me. All I could do was stand there for a moment, staring at the glowing lines and feeling confused. It took me several seconds to realize that I was just seeing things, the same way that Clive and Javier had.

“Great,” I muttered, feeling worried about what was happening to me. “Now I’ve got it…whatever IT is.”

With that, I felt a strange twisting sensation inside of me, right before I had an odd feeling of ‘something’ popping. An instant later, the glowing lines had vanished, but now there was a glowing green faerie floating in the air in front of me.

The faerie was tiny, about four inches tall and shaped like a sexy and very naked girl. She had delicate features with pointed ears, and her skin and hair were both green. A faint green glow surrounded her as she hovered in the air, apparently being held aloft by the dragonfly type wings that grew from her back.

“At least you aren’t a monkey,” I commented, not at all happy with the idea that I was seeing things that weren’t there.

A moment later, the little faerie flew around me several times, then flew of and vanished. Once I lost sight of the hallucination, I shook my head and let out a sigh. Since everything appeared to be back to normal, I decided to just go back home and get some rest. After that, I definitely needed it.

--------------------

School was over for the day and I was walking home, not even bothering to run like I normally would have. The sky had just been overcast when I’d left school a short time ago but the rain had begun to come down in a steady drizzle. At the moment, that suited my gloomy mood.

When I’d arrived at school this morning, I’d been relieved to find out that Clive had recovered pretty quickly after his freak out yesterday afternoon. In fact, everyone who’d gotten dizzy and had to go to the nurse’s office had quickly recovered. However, the same thing had happened again today.

Students who’d been sitting near me in class began to get dizzy again and had to rush off to the nurse’s office, and two of them had freaked out the same way Clive and Javier had. One boy said that there were pink squirrels all over the floor while a girl said that her Grandma’s ghost was talking to her. They’d both been pretty freaked out and I didn’t blame them.

It hadn’t escaped my notice that every student who went through this had been sitting next to me at the time. In fact, it left me extremely worried and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though I wasn’t sure what it meant. Was I somehow causing this? I didn’t see how I possibly could be.

One of the things that had me most concerned was the fact that I’d been hallucinating as well. Several times today, I’d caught glimpses of that little green faerie again, almost as though it was following me around. Fortunately, none of these hallucinations lasted for very long.

I finally let out a long sigh, deciding that when I got home, I was going to tell Mom about this so she could take me to see a doctor. For all I knew, I’d caught some weird disease and was infecting other people.

“At least Collin left me alone today,” I mused, remembering the odd looks that he and Mike had given me. I think they’d finally realized that I might be good at running away, but that it wasn’t a very good idea to corner me. Several other bullies had previously been forced to learn that lesson the hard way. “Hopefully, they’ll leave me alone from now on.”

The rain began coming down even harder, making me groan in response. I was wearing my hoodie with my hood up to keep my head dry, but I was still getting pretty wet. At this rate, I’d be completely soaked by the time I got home. It was enough to make me wish I’d caught the bus home, which was what I usually did when the weather was this wet. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been this bad when I’d started out.

Just then, I caught a flicker from the corner of my eyes and turned to see the little green faerie again. This time, she was sitting on top of a Starbucks sign, appearing to just be watching me. I shook my head, but when I looked back, she was still there.

“I definitely need my head examined,” I muttered, doing my best to ignore the hallucination and continue home.

I was nearly home when I suddenly heard a dog growling nearby, so I quickly looked around for the source. It only took me a moment to see where the growl was coming from and it made me gasp in surprise.

Standing a short distance away was a creature that looked something like a werewolf, though in this case, he looked more like a were-dalmatian. He was the general size and shape of a human man, but his head was definitely that of a dog rather than a human. He was wearing a pair of black pants and combat boots, leaving his entire upper body exposed, showing that he was covered with short white fur with black spots.

“This is him,” the dalmatian said in a low growl. “Wylann’s pup.”

My eyes widened that and every mental warning went up. Since my Dad was with the MCO, I’d always known that some mutants would be perfectly willing to hurt me in order to get to him. Collin had been a perfect example of that.

“I followed his scent,” the dalmatian said to his two companions, who I noticed for the first time. “This is him.”

“Good job, Spot,” said a man who looked incredibly normal. There was nothing about his features or clothing that stood out as memorable, so he could probably have slipped into a crowd and completely disappeared.

“I told you I’d find him for you, Slippery,” the dog man, Spot said eagerly. “See, I told you.”

I gulped, remembering Dad mentioning a mutant criminal called Slippery, though Dad had talked as if the guy was just a thief and con-artist, not violent at all. Still, I wasn’t about to relax in the least.

The last member of the group was a young woman who was dressed in a black outfit that was more than a little goth. Her hair was black and streaked with purple, but there was something odd about her skin since it seemed perfectly smooth and a little shiny, almost like it was made of plastic.

“Nothing personal kid,” the woman said, staring at me with a cold look. “But we’re looking to send the MCO a lesson, and you’ve been volunteered.”

“Oh shit,” I blurted out, instantly turning and running as fast as I could.

The three mutants chased after me, so I couldn’t help but thinking of the other day when Collin and Mike came after me. This time, I didn’t slow down so they could keep me in sight but hauled butt as hard as I could in desperation to get away.

Spot was fast and was just about to grab me when I suddenly leapt to the side, sliding across the roof of a parked car and them jumping out into traffic. Spot ran across the street to get me and was nearly hit by a car.

“Don’t let that baseline brat escape,” the woman called out angrily.

“Don’t worry Vindigo,” Slippery called back in a confident tone. “We won’t.”

Suddenly, Slipper was standing in front of me and grabbed my arm, slamming me to the ground. I grunted more in surprise than pain, then cursed as the other two caught up with me as well.

“Sorry about this kid,” Slippery told me, actually sounding like he regretted this. “I don’t usually like violence, but the MCO needs to learn that if they come after us, we’re going after their families.”

“Just kill the brat,” Vindigo snapped. She held out her hand and a ball of purple light appeared in the palm.

It was then that my hallucinations started up again and the glowing green pixie flew down into view. The tiny thing flew right in front of Spot and circled Vindigo. To my surprise, she actually swatted at it.

“What is that thing?” Vindigo demanded in clear annoyance.

“You can see it?” I blurted out in disbelief.

Vindigo hit the tiny faerie with her hand it and suddenly vanished. As startling as that was, I was already taking advantage of the distraction to lash out with my leg, kicking Slippery in the ankle and rolling away from them and back to my feet.

Spot jumped at me but I kicked him in the balls, calling out, “Bad dog,” as I burst into motion again. The dalmatian just let out a loud yip of pain and dropped to his knees while hauled butt.

Slippery appeared in front of me again, revealing himself to be a teleporter. However, this time I was ready for him, and when he grabbed at my arm, I swung my other hand up and caught him in the face. He yelled out as I tried digging my fingers into his eyes, vanishing again before I could do much.

“Gat that bastard,” Vindigo yelled. “I’ll be damned if some baseline kid gets the best of me.”

I picked up the speed as much as I could, though I was concerned about the fact that all the rain meant the sidewalks were wet. That meant everything was slippery and I was at a much greater risk of something going wrong and getting hurt. However, slowing down and being careful meant that I was guaranteed to get hurt.

The fact that I had three mutants chasing after me filled me with fear, but my adrenaline was surging and I was too focused on where I was running to dwell on the fact that I wanted to shit my pants. And weird as it was, there was actually a small part of me that almost felt excited by this.

This chase was almost like a challenge, a chance to prove what I could do and test my running skills when they actually mattered. I couldn’t help but wondering if this was what a squirrel felt like when it was running away from Gozer.

Just as Spot was about to catch up with me again, I scrambled up the side of a building, getting onto a ledge and then leaping to the next building over. I used the fire escape and railing to climb the rest of the way to the roof, then ran across it, leaping from there to the next building over, where I hit the roof and rolled. By this point, I was soaking wet, filthy, and sore, but I was almost starting to have fun.

Then Slippery appeared in front of me again, swinging a baseball bat right at my head. I let my front legs slide forward ahead of me so that I fell on my butt, causing the baseball to miss me completely. Then before Slippery could swing again, I punched upwards at his groin. He teleported to the other side before I connected.

“You’re a feisty one,” Slippery said, giving me a look of approval. “I can appreciate being hard to catch.” There was almost a note of respect in his voice.

Slippery swung the bat at me again, but I moved to the side and tried to grab his arm so I could get leverage and drive him face first into the ground. However, when I grabbed him, I couldn’t hold him at all. It was like he was a greased pig or something. I just couldn’t get a grip.

I changed tactics and turned to run again, only to find Vindigo floating in the air in front of me, a pissed off look on her face and a ball of purple energy in each of her hands. Spot arrived only a moment later, snarling at me and growling.

My excitement over the chase was officially over and I was terrified once again. Still, Doug had told us time and again that freaking out was the best way to get your ass handed to you. If you wanted to survive a fight, you had to keep your head.

I looked around for any opening that I could run through, and failing that, any opportunity to take out one of them so I could create that opening to run. I was surrounded and it didn’t look like they were going to give me time to find a solution.

Suddenly, my hallucinations started again and I saw a glow around each of these three mutants, tied to some of the glowing lines in the air. My eyes darted around as I frantically looked for a way out of this.

Slippery grabbed for me, saying, “I’ll try to make this as painless as possible…”

At that moment, something inside of me seemed to explode. I let out a scream and suddenly found myself surrounded by more than a dozen tiny green faeries just like the one I’d seen previously. They were darting through the air, and to my surprise, Vindigo was swatting at them while Spot was chasing them around and barking.

“It’s Champion,” Slippery exclaimed with a look of fear as he stared at an empty space in the air. Then he vanished.

I was confused about where all these little faeries had come from but wasn’t about to waste an opportunity. I launched at the distracted Vindigo and punched her in the throat then kneed her in the stomach. Dad always said that you should never hit a woman, but Doug taught us to never go easy on an opponent.

Spot was still running around in circles, hunched down and doing so almost on all fours. I almost felt guilty as I kicked him in the face, then again between the legs. Once he hit the ground, I gave him several more swift kicks before I turned and started running for home as fast as I could.

When I got home, I burst through the front door, gasping for breath and nearly staggering. There was something wrong with me, seriously wrong with me. I’d felt it since the moment all those green faeries had appeared around me.

“Adam,” Mom exclaimed, jumping and rushing to me. “What’s wrong?” Then she blurted out, “Your hair…”

“I was jumped on the way home,” I gasped, collapsing onto the couch in spite of the fact that I was soaking wet and filthy. I just needed to sit down…to rest.

“What happened,” Mom demanded, her voice calm but there was a flash of worry and anger in her eyes. Then she paused to look me over, scowling intensely. “Why don’t you change into something dry. I’ll make some hot cocoa and then we can talk about this.”

I nodded at that as I got back up, knowing that Mom was just giving me a chance to calm down and collect my thoughts. I definitely appreciated it though, especially since I felt miserable and uncomfortable.

I went straight into the bathroom and began stripping out of my wet clothes and dropping them to the floor. Before I got dry clothes, I wanted a nice HOT shower. My whole body was starting to shake, probably from the stress of what I’d just gone through.

Just as I was about to climb into the shower, my muscles seemed to turn into rubber and I staggered, barely catching myself before I fell onto the floor. I grabbed the bathroom counter and used it to hold myself up, but then I noticed my reflection in the mirror.

“My hair,” I gasped, staring at myself in blank confusion. My hair was…green.

Questions filled my mind, but the answer had already come to me. Over the last few days, a lot of weird things had been happening to me, well before those mutants had shown up to jump me. And they’d been just as surprised by those green faeries as I was, so they obviously weren’t responsible for them. And now, my hair had somehow changed color and turned green.

“I’m a mutant,” I gasped in realization, knowing that it couldn’t be anything else. That was the only explanation. Then in a moment of panic, I yelled, “MOM…”

“Adam,” Mom called back. “Are you all right in there?”

At that moment, I had another attack of rubber muscles and I collapsed to the floor, barely able to move at all. I gasped for breath, suddenly feeling extremely hot, as though I was starting to burn alive. That seemed ironic since I’d been really cold a minute ago.

“Adam,” Mom exclaimed opening the door and stopping to stare down at me, where I was lying naked on the floor. “Oh my God…”

I felt so hot and sore… It was getting hard to focus, to think at all. Mom crouched down beside me and put her hand on my forehead, then her eyes went wide with a look of intense worry. I just moaned and closed my own eyes, having a hard time keeping them open.

Mom was talking, saying something to me, but only about half the words made any sense. As everything quickly faded away, the last word I was able to make out was, “Burnout.”

-------------------

When I woke up, I found myself in a hospital room, staring up at the plain white ceiling tiles while a sterile and chemical laden scent assaulted my nose. As I started to look around, I saw a glowing line through the air and quickly closed my eyes again. It took several more minutes before I was ready to open them a second time.

At first, I was confused about how I got here, but then I remembered those three mutants jumping me on the way home. I’d done my best to outrun them, but between their powers and everything being wet and slippery from the rain... However, as frightening as that had been, what scared me most now was the memory of looking into the mirror and seeing green hair.

It didn’t take long before a nurse came in to check on me. “Oh, you’re awake,” she said, giving me a nervous smile and staying back. “I’ll get the doctor.”

The doctor arrived a few minutes later and gave me a gentle smile. He was probably about my Dad’s age, but his badly balding hair made him seem a little older. The badge on his jacket said Doctor Haskins.

“How are you feeling?” Dr. Haskins asked me carefully.

“Weird,” I told him honestly. “And a little scared.”

“I suppose that’s to be expected,” he told me gently, “considering your situation.”

“And what is my situation,” I asked him, trying to keep my voice steady and calm. “I’m a mutant, aren’t I?”

Dr. Haskins nodded at that before answering. “I’m afraid so.”

I let out a sigh at that, then quietly told him, “The nurse seemed a little nervous around me…” In fact, he seemed just a little nervous as well, though he was doing a better job of hiding it.

“It’s to be expected,” Dr. Haskins explained almost pleasantly. “We don’t know what powers you may have, so we don’t know what could possibly happen near you. However, myself and two of the nurses who were looking after you began having dizzy spells. One of the nurses even began to hallucinate. It seems that whatever your powers are, they have this reaction on people who stay close to you for too long. We’ve been trying to keep our contact with you to a minimum because of this.”

I closed my eyes, thinking of Javier, Clive, and my other classmates. It really hadn’t been coincidence that they started getting sick because of me. It was my fault.

“Fortunately,” Dr. Haskins continued, “the symptoms fade away quickly and we haven’t noticed any continuing effects.”

“Why am I here?” I asked him quietly. “I had a burnout didn’t I?”

Dr. Haskins nodded at that, giving ma faint look of surprise, probably at the fact that he didn’t have to spell everything out for me. Since my Dad was with the MCO, I probably knew a lot more about mutants and how their powers worked than most of my classmates. I knew that a lot of mutants who were first manifesting were in danger of going through a burnout, which was when their powers and the changes their bodies were going through would actually overwhelm the body. It was a dangerous condition that could very easily lead to death.

“You went through a level three burnout,” Dr. Haskins explained sympathetically. I nodded at that, knowing this meant I was bad enough that I required hospitalization, but not so bad that I’d almost died. “Fortunately, you pulled through fine and are mending quite well.”

There was something in Dr. Haskins’ voice that seemed off, and for a brief moment I saw a flicking glow around him that somehow seemed…stressed. I frowned at that, staring at the doctor and wondering what it could be.

“Do…do I have GSD?” I asked him, my voice shaking slightly.

GSD was Gross Structural Dystrophy, which had some technical definition but tended to be used as a general term to refer to any mutant who’s body had been…deformed by their mutation. That mutant Spot, who’d looked like a were-dalmatian had been a perfect example of that.

Dr. Haskins heisted for several long seconds and gave me a sympathetic look which provided my answer. “You’ve been in the hospital overnight,” he said carefully, “and during your time here, your body has changed noticeably…and appears to still be changing.”

I let out a gasp of horror, “No…”

With that, Dr. Haskins put his hand on mine and gave it a gentle squeeze. Considering what he’d said about how I made people near me become dizzy, this was quite a show of comfort.

“It probably isn’t as bad as you fear,” he told me gently. “But it will be different.” He let out a sigh and stood up. “I’m going to get a mirror so you can see. I’ll be back in just a couple minutes.”

Dr. Haskins left the hospital room, and as he’d promised, he was back in just a few minutes. Without saying a word, he held up a round mirror that was about a foot in diameter, giving me a good look at my face.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but the face that stared back at me certainly hadn’t been it. My face had always been on the delicate side, making me look a little more like my Mom than I’d been comfortable with. But now, it had become even more delicate looking…delicate and feminine. My face looked like that of a girl, and a very beautiful girl at that.

The first thing I noticed about my face were the eyes. They somehow seemed just a little larger than was normal and slightly slanted. My irises, like the eyes in general, seemed a touch larger and they were now a brilliant emerald green which was flecked with gold.

Last night, I’d seen that my hair had turned green, and it still was. My hair was now dark green and had grown until it was down past my shoulders. And when I ran my fingers through my silky smooth hair, I accidentally revealed my ears, which were now pointed.

“No way,” I gasped in stunned disbelief. I looked like some kind of elf, like I’d stepped out of one of those Lord of the Rings movies.

Considering how my face looked, tried looking over the rest of my body, which was impossible to do in the hospital bed, especially with Dr. Haskins standing right in front of me. However, when I’d felt my chest through the sheets and hospital gown, it had felt sort of…puffy.

“I’m afraid that your entire body is becoming female,” Dr. Haskins told me with a sympathetic look. “It hasn’t finished yet, or at least it hadn’t at the time of your last examination, but the way your body is changing does appear to be obvious.”

I didn’t know what to say to that so just sat there in stunned silence, trying to absorb what he’d just told me and having a hard time. Being a mutant would be hard enough to get used to, but turning into a girl… The idea almost seemed like it was some kind of joke, but I knew better. In a world where your mutation could turn you into a were-dalmatian or some kind of hideous monster, a sex change would almost be minor in comparison.

“Your parents have been waiting to see you,” Dr. Haskins said, startling me out of my thoughts. “I’ll tell them you’re awake, but they won’t be able to stay with you for very long.”

“Because of that dizzy thing,” I said, nodding in understanding.

Dr. Haskins nodded at that. “And you also need to rest a bit more before we can let you go home.”

A few minutes later, Mom and Dad came into the room. Mom immediately rushed to my side and gave me a hug while Dad stood back for a few seconds, staring at me with a grim expression.

“I guess I’m a mutant,” I said awkwardly, not sure how Dad would react to that. After all, he was with the MCO and his job was to keep an eye on dangerous mutants.

“It appears so,” Dad responded without revealing what he was thinking.

“Are you okay?” Mom asked me gently, taking her hand in mine. “Oh Adam, I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault,” I told her, feeling a little guilty. “Not unless you’re a mutant and never told me.”

“No, I’m afraid not,” she responded with a faint smile.

Mom and I talked for several minutes, but she didn’t really say anything important, though she kept asking how I was feeling and if I was going to be all right. I could see she was really worried about me but didn’t know what to do.

“On the plus side,” I joked weakly. “You always said you wanted a daughter.”

“There is that,” she agreed with an almost pained smiled. “But don’t worry, we’ll figure this out together.”

“I hope so,” I told her quietly. “If I wasn’t so tired, I’d probably be freaking out right now.” What I didn’t tell her was that I was pretty sure that I’d still be freaking out before long. Right now, I was still too stunned by all this.

We continued talking for several more minutes, with Mom holding my hand the entire time. Dad stood back and didn’t really say much, letting Mom do all the talking. But then, Mom started to get an odd look on her face and began to sway a little. It was obvious that she was starting to get dizzy.

As Mom slowly backed away from me, looking guilty for doing so, Dr. Haskins commented from the doorway, “It feels a little like being drunk. Don’t worry, it should fade pretty quickly. At least it did for me and the nurses.”

It was then that Dad came closer and stared at me with an expression that was difficult to read. “Your mother said that when you got home, you claimed to have been attacked,” he stated carefully. “I heard reports of several mutants chasing a boy through Seattle, one that matched your description.”

Mom gasped at that, apparently not having heard this information before. I nodded at that, trying hard to keep my voice steady as I began, “They said they wanted to teach the MCO a lesson.”

Dad’s scowl deepened at that, if it was even possible. “Tell me everything that happened…and everything you remember about them.”

I told Dad everything I remembered about my three attackers, and his eyes narrowed at the mention of Slippery’s name. I told him about how I ran away from them and gave them quite a chase before they finally caught up with me. It appeared that the only thing that saved me was my own mutant power manifesting at that time and catching them by surprise.

“Vindigo is a known murderer,” Dad told me with a scowl. “She’s been known to target humans who are vocal in their anti-mutant views, but who usually aren’t dangerous beyond that. She’s generally considered as having a low power level and not being a high end threat.”

“Oh dear,” Mom gasped in horror, giving me a worried look. “And this person tried to murder you?”

“I’ve never heard of this Spot before,” Dad commented almost to himself. “But my office has been after Slippery for the last two months. He’s a con artist and thief, but I haven’t known him to be violent before this. And to be honest, you’ve just given me far more information on his powers than what we previously had.”

It didn’t take long before Dad started showing the first signs of becoming dizzy as well. But instead of immediately backing off, he stared at me with an odd expression that I couldn’t read.

“You did very well against your attackers,” Dad finally said, much to my surprise. “I know trained agents who couldn’t have done as well.” And with that, he gave my hand a gentle squeeze before he backed off.

“I think visiting time is over for now,” Dr. Haskins told my parents. “You’re both being affected by her…his powers and we don’t want to risk it getting worse. And besides, Adam needs more rest after his ordeal.”

After saying goodbyes, Mom and Dad left for the time being, though they promised they’d be back later. Once Dr. Haskins was gone as well, I let out a sigh of relief and just lay back down in my bed, suddenly feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

I had no idea how long I remained there like that, with tears flowing down my cheeks. Finally, I sat up and wiped the tears away, realizing that I still hadn’t even checked out the rest of my changes. If I was crying just from seeing my face, what would the rest of it do to me? However, there was only one way to find out.

I climbed out of the hospital bed, and dressed only in that flimsy hospital gown that left my entire backside exposed, I went into the small bathroom that was attached to my room. This way, I’d be able to check myself out with at least a little privacy, or at least without fear of Dr. Haskins or some nurse walking in on me.

The hospital gown came off and I looked myself over, trying to remain calm and collected as I did so. It was immediately obvious that my body had indeed changed, having become softer and more feminine. The most obvious sign of this was the fact that I now had a small pair of breasts on my chest.

“I never thought the first pair of boobs I’d ever be able to get my hands on would be my own,” I muttered almost bitterly.

Then I hesitantly looked between my legs, and to my relief, my equipment was still there. My penis and testicles were all a bit smaller than before, but they were still present. However, there was something else weird going on down there as well and I felt sort of itchy at the base of my ball sack.

“This is crazy,” I gasped, turning to look into the small bathroom mirror. The same girl with the green hair and beautiful emerald eyes stared back. “I can’t be a mutant. I can’t be a girl.” However, I knew that I didn’t really have a choice about either.

When I was done checking myself out, I put the hospital gown back on and returned to the bed. Just this little bit of activity had left me tired, and my muscles still felt sore and rubbery so I didn’t want to push things any further than I already had. It didn’t take long before I drifted off to sleep again.

--------------------

I was nervous as I rode home from the hospital with my Mom, though probably not as nervous as she was. She drove with all the windows down, just in case my power to make people dizzy was due to pheromones or something similar. And halfway home, we pulled over and got out to ‘stretch our legs’, though this was just an excuse for Mom to get away from me for a bit and air out the car. I couldn’t help but wondering, if we got pulled over by the police, could Mom get charged with driving under the influence?

By the time we got home, I was feeling depressed and miserable. It was bad enough that being a mutant was turning me into a freaky looking elf girl, but my power was to make people around me sick. So far, everyone who’d gotten sick had gotten better again almost as soon as they were away from me, but what if they didn’t get better? And even if they did, would I have to spend the rest of my life in some kind of quarantine just to protect everyone else?

“I’m sure we’ll figure out how to control this,” Mom assured me, realizing what was bothering me. Or at least, what was bothering me at the moment since I had plenty of other worries as well.

After I’d woke up in the hospital yesterday morning, Dr. Haskins had kept me there for another day for observation and to make sure I didn’t have a relapse. During that time, my body had continued changing, though the further changes were less extreme and more subtle, mostly just finishing up what had already begun. As far as anyone would be able to tell just by looking at me, I was an exotic but very beautiful girl. The truth was, my changes still hadn’t finished.

Though I looked almost completely female on the outside, my equipment had yet to give up the final ghost. Sure, my testicles had pulled up into my body and had left only an empty sack, and sure Little Adam was now about the size of a toddler’s, but technically I was still male. Barely. And according to Dr. Haskins, I could probably expect that to be corrected within the next day. He’d told me that most of my changes were already complete, though my body was still finishing up with my internal plumbing. Occasionally, I could feel an odd twinge in my guts that made me want to squirm around self-consciously.

As soon as we got home, I went back to my room and plopped down on my bed, letting out a long sigh and wondering what I was going to do. I didn’t know how to be a girl. I didn’t know how to be a mutant. And the truth was, I really didn’t want to be either. I felt as if the big guy upstairs had decided to play some kind of practical joke on me, though it seemed that I was the punchline.

I knew that this couldn’t be easy for Dad either. After all, Dad had already been disappointed in me for not being manly enough, so I could only imagine what he thought about my turning into a girl. And since he was with the MCO, my being a mutant would have to be like a slap in his face.

Half an hour later, Mom knocked on my bedroom door and then stepped inside without waiting for me to answer. She stood at the doorway, staring at me with a sympathetic look, though she tried to force a reassuring smile. “Adam,” she said carefully. “I know this isn’t easy on you. Heaven knows, I can’t even imagine what you’re going to be dealing with because of this. But I am here for you.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I told her awkwardly.

She came over and gave me a hug, then backed off before my weird power had a chance to really affect her. I’d already noticed that being close to me for any length of time was enough to start triggering it, but actually being in physical contact made it much faster.

“Last night, your father and I talked about this,” Mom told me with a serious expression. “Being a mutant means that you’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments. We all are. To help make things a little easier, your father and I came up with a list of things that you’re going to need.”

“Of course,” I responded wryly, pretty sure that the whole list thing was Dad’s idea. After all, he was about the only one I knew who could take something like my life being turned upside down, then try to make it nice, neat, and organized.

It hadn’t escaped my notice that Mom was the one giving me this talk while Dad was nowhere to be found. He was off at work, probably chasing after Slippery or filling out some paperwork to report my being a mutant. Doing that kind of thing was probably a lot easier than dealing with me right now.

“I know you probably aren’t going to be ready for a lot of this,” Mom told me with a gentle smile. “But these are things we have to deal with, and we think that the sooner we do the better.”

I gulped at that and braced myself for the worst, pretty sure that I could figure out most of it. While I’d been lying in my hospital bed all day yesterday, I’d had plenty of time to think about my situation and what it would mean. And though I’d never admit it to Dad, I had come up with my own list of things that would change.

“You’ll need a new name,” Mom stated as though that was a simple fact. “You no longer look like an Adam, and your father and I both agree that having a girl’s name will help you to adjust to your new situation.”

I glared at her for a moment, though I’d already realized that I’d need to pick out a new name to go with my new look. I just hadn’t expected anyone to bring it up so soon. “I suppose you have some ideas,” I carefully responded, trying to keep my voice calm and steady when I really wanted to just yell that I didn’t need a new name.

“Indeed, I do,” she told me with a faint smile. “I was thinking about it yesterday, and well, I decided on Gwendolynn Adelle Wylann. It’s what we would have named you if you’d been born a girl.”

“Adelle after Grandma,” I said quietly while Mom nodded. I had fond memories of Grandma, back when I was little and before she’d died. After a moment, I nodded my acceptance. Then I gave Mom a weak smile and joked, “I never thought of myself as a Gwen though…”

“It’s okay, Gwen,” Mom told me with a faint smile. “You’ll get used to it.

“And let me guess,” I said with a sigh, remembering some of the other things I’d previously considered. “I’ll need new clothes too…”

I looked down at myself and sighed at the fact that I was wearing clothes that had come from my Mom’s closet. Fortunately, she’d brought a pair of slacks and a sweater to the hospital for me to wear home rather than something too girlie, but it was still embarrassing. At least I had my own shoes, even if they were a little too loose on me now.

“I’m afraid so, Gwen,” Mom told me gently. “We’re about the same size so you can wear some of my clothes for now, but we’ll have to go shopping for you later today. There is one thing though that probably won’t be able to wait…” At my blank look, she let out a sigh. “You definitely need to start wearing a bra.”

For a moment, I just stared at her and then I reluctantly nodded my acceptance of the fact. I now had a pair of breasts that one of the nurses at the hospital had said were about a B cup, and they were quite perky. I had no doubt that if I was wearing a T-shirt instead of a sweater, my nipples would be pretty visible through the fabric. In fact, I suddenly wondered if that was why Mom had chosen the sweater in the first place.

“I’ve seen what happens when girls at school don’t wear one,” I admitted self-consciously, remembering that there had been some pretty rough teasing.

Mom seemed both sad and fairly pleased by my response at the same time. She left my room and came back a minute later with several bras for me to try on. “You’re about my size,” she told me. This should work until we can get you properly fitted later this afternoon.”

I felt absolutely humiliated as I took off my sweater and stood there topless in front of my Mom, my new breasts clearly visible for her to see. She didn’t laugh or anything, but she did give me a look of sympathy and then stood back and told me how to put one on. It was obvious that she was trying to avoid getting too close to me. After I’d fumbled around for several minutes, Mom finally came over and helped me with it.

The bra fit but was just a little loose. I couldn’t help but feeling a little relieved at that since it would have been embarrassing if I’d had to wear a bra size bigger than my Mom’s, and not just for me. Still, I had the bra on and it was a bit uncomfortable, but not enough that I couldn’t ignore it.

“How are you doing with that, Gwen?” Mom asked me after I adjusted it.

I looked at Mom, having noticed that she kept using my new name, finding every excuse to do so while we were talking. She probably thought she was being subtle about it, but I realized what she was up to. She was trying to get me used to that name, so I didn’t say anything and just let her think she was being sneaky.

“Not too bad,” I admitted to her with a sigh, knowing that I’d have to get used to wearing this kind of thing now. “But kind of itchy.”

“Itchy?” she asked

I nodded at that, scratching at my shoulder and chests as the itching just kept getting worse and worse. It finally got to the point where I scrambled to take off the bra, finally managing to do so by myself. I dropped it to the floor in relief and then realized that Mom was staring at me.

“Your skin,” she blurted out, coming over and touching my shoulder.

I stared down, startled to see that I actually had a rash on my shoulder and all over my breasts, wherever the bra had been touching me. My skin still itched a little, but nothing like it had a minute ago.

“How did this happen?” Mom exclaimed, giving me a worried look. “I’ll get the skin cream…”

Mom came back a minute later and helped me rub the cream on my skin, which really helped with the itching. In fact, the rash itself looked like it was already starting to fade, much to my relief. I just couldn’t understand why I’d suddenly broken out in a rash like that without any warning.

“I think I’m allergic to bras,” I joked weakly.

“Or maybe just the material it’s made out of,” Mom responded with an odd look on her face. Then she gave me a weak smile and said, “Excuse me, Gwen…” With that, she walked out of my room, muttering something about blue squirrels.

Mom stayed well away from me for more than an hour before she came back to talk with me again. By then, I was wearing the sweater again but was without a bra. After what had happened, I had become even more reluctant to try one of those things on than before.

“We need to deal with school as well,” Mom pointed out with a sigh. “I’m going to contact your school to see about getting your homework, but I doubt that you’ll be going back. Even if the school and other students don’t have a problem with your new status as a mutant, your changes are bound to cause certain social problems that would create far too large of a distraction.”

I actually felt a little relieved when she’d said that since I’d been afraid of having to go back to school like this. The idea of facing all my friends and classmates and having to explain that I was now both a girl and a mutant… I shuddered in dread at the very idea.

“Your father and I are looking into other options,” Mom told me with a sigh. “But we may end up going with home schooling.”

“Home schooling wouldn’t be too bad,” I mused to myself. If I was home schooled, I wouldn’t have to deal with stupid school rules and even stupider bullies.

“Now, Gwen,” Mom said, giving me an apologetic look. “I know we were distracted earlier, but the subject of your bra isn’t just going to go away.”

“But I obviously can’t wear it,” I reminded her, shuddering at the memory of that itching.

Mom gave me a thoughtful look and mused, “Maybe not, but I want to test a few things…”

After this, Mom and I went to her bedroom and she began pulling out almost every article of clothing she had, including her leather jacket and bras. She’d hand them to me one after another, and some of them made my hands begin to itch almost immediately. We tossed those aside and continued doing this experiment, finding that there was a pattern. Things that were made with cotton, wool, or leather didn’t bother me at all, but anything polyester or that was made of synthetic material tended to irritate my skin.

“It seems you’ve developed a sensitivity,” Mom said, digging through her bras and then handing me one that was made of silk. “Why don’t you try this on while I go take a break…?”

Mom hurried out of the room again, staggering just a little and staring at the corners with a strained expression on her face. I was tempted to ask her what she was seeing, but she was obviously trying to avoid worrying me about the hallucinations. Unfortunately, that just made me feel guilty about causing them in the first place.

I held the silk bra in my hands for several minutes but didn’t feel the least bit of itching. I’d already tried this with a silk scarf a few minutes ago, which was how we’d known that silk didn’t seem to trigger my new sensitivity. After bracing myself, I put on the silk bra, struggling with it for a couple minutes but being able to manage it without help.

“I can’t believe I have to wear this stupid thing,” I muttered to myself, knowing that I’d have to get used to it. After all, I’d probably be wearing bras for the rest of my life.

Once I had the bra on, I looked myself over in the full length mirror that my Mom had sitting in the corner. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the sight of a beautiful elf girl staring back at me, but at least I knew that no one would think the bra looked out of place.

“The guys will never let me live this down,” I muttered, thinking of the guys I did my free running with. Then I shook my head and wondered what Doug would say, not that I planned on letting any of them know. It wasn’t until that moment when I realized that I might not be able to see any of my old friends again. After all, how could I possibly explain any of this? “Stupid mutation.”

I put the sweater back on and then went back to the living room where I found Mom sitting in her recliner, rubbing her temples and nursing a cup of coffee. She saw me coming towards her and winced slightly. It wasn’t much, but I still felt hurt, as though she was rejecting me. It was bad enough that Dad had always been disappointed in me, but I didn’t know what I’d do if Mom was too.

“It’s not your fault,” Mom exclaimed, seeming to guess exactly what I was thinking. “I still love you just as much as before, but staying close to you for too long makes me feel…”

“Drunk?” I responded with a sigh, remembering what Dr. Haskins and one of his nurses had told me.

Mom nodded at that, then chuckled slightly. “It’s a bit like being drunk at first, then it becomes more like tripping on acid.”

I stared at Mom in surprise, wondering at the way she’d compared my power to being on acid. The way she’d said it made it sound like she knew from experience. I shook my head, pretty sure that there was no way my Mom ever could have done something like that.

“At least it doesn’t take long for my head to clear,” Mom told me with a gentle smile. “Please just stay back until it does.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again, feeling guilty and depressed. What if it was like this for the rest of my life, making everyone sick just by getting close to them? I began tearing up and blurted out, “I don’t want to make people sick…”

“Oh honey,” Mom said, getting up and coming over to me and giving me a hug, in spite of having just said she needed to keep her distance for a bit. “I don’t really feel sick exactly. It’s not too unpleasant, just…disorienting.”

I began to break down and cry as I grabbed Mom and held onto her almost like some kind of security blanket. But then, I felt something strange ripple through me, and when I looked around I could see glowing lines in the air again…and a glow around Mom. I jumped back in fear, worried that I’d somehow hurt her with these powers I didn’t understand. Then, there was the strange pressure and a popping sensation, followed by another tiny green faerie appearing in the air in front of me.

“Oh dear,” Mom said, stepping away from me. “I definitely need to clear my head…” She was staring at the faerie as it began flying around the room.

“You can see it?” I blurted out, realizing that this wasn’t the first time someone else saw these glowing green faeries that kept appearing near me. The mutants who’d attacked me had definitely seen them as well.

Mom turned to stare at me with a look of confusion, “Wait… You can see it too?”

I watched the faerie for a moment and then gulped. “I don’t think it’s a hallucination…” I just wished the thing would come closer so I could see it better.

To my surprise, the faerie came towards me and just hovered there, giving me a clear view of her. I stared at her in confusion and amazement, taking in all the details of this little green woman. Then I noticed that one of the glowing lines was connected to her…with the other end leading right back to me. I was somehow connected to this faerie with a glowing thread.

“Can you talk?” I asked the faerie, but she didn’t answer. I held out my hand and she actually landed in my palm, much to my delight. “Oh my God…”

“Is that actually real?” Mom asked, coming over and carefully touching the faerie. It took off and flew around the room before settling down on top of the ceiling fan and peering down at us.

“I don’t know,” I answered her honestly. “But she certainly felt real.”

The two of us continued staring at the faerie for another minute before Mom shook her head. “Unless you’re also seeing the walls moving, I need to clear my head again.”

I winced at that and apologized once again, “Sorry…”

Mom just let out a sigh and shook her head. Then she gave me a gentle smile and said, “Anyway, once my head clears up the rest of the way, we’ll see about going to get you some clothes of your own.”

“You still want to go shopping?” I asked in surprise. “After all this…?”

“You still need clothes that fit,” she reminded me, glancing to the faerie. “And I’m sure you don’t want to keep raiding my closet…”

“Not really,” I admitted. Wearing my Mom’s clothes was…weird. Even if they did fit better than my own.

After that, Mom stepped outside to get some fresh air and I sat down in the living room, silently watching the faerie who had moved to the top of the lamp shade. When I held my hand out, she immediately flew to me and landed in my palm again, which made me grin in spite of myself. I continued staring at her for another minute before I burst into giggles, suddenly imagining how Gozer would react to a creature like this. After all, if a squirrel was able to drive that cat insane, I could only imagine how much worse a faerie could be.

--------------------

I awoke to one of the most obnoxious sounds in the world, my alarm clock going off. The fact that I didn’t have to go to school today somehow made the infernal device even more annoying than normal, especially since I’d been in the middle of a dream. Even now, the details of the dream were quickly fading away, but I vaguely remembered there being some kind of beautiful but alien city.

“And I think there was a dragon,” I muttered to myself, deciding that I definitely had too much Lord of the Rings on my mind lately.

“Come on Gwen,” Mom called out from the hallway. “Time to get up. I heard your alarm going off and know you’re awake.”

“You were just hallucinating that,” I called back grumpily.

With that, I sat up in bed and reached between my legs. I wasn’t at all surprised that my old equipment was gone and there was a feminine slit in its place. After all, I’d pretty much been to that point last night when I went to bed. However, expecting it and being happy about it were two different things.

“It’s official,” I said with a bitter sigh. “I’m a girl.”

I climbed out of bed and looked myself over, shaking my head and getting annoyed with the long hair getting in my face. It was hard to believe this was all me.

“It could be worse,” I reminded myself, knowing that a lot of mutants had bad cases of GSD and looked like monsters. At least I still looked mostly human, and with just a little care, I could still pass as normal.

Yesterday, I’d spent most of the afternoon out shopping with Mom. I’d used my hair to hide my pointed ears, and between that and wearing sunglasses, no one really thought of me as anything other than a beautiful girl with dyed hair.

It took me a few minutes before I could build the motivation to leave my room. I threw on the bathrobe Mom had bought me yesterday, then staggered out of my room to go get breakfast. I was only halfway down the hall when I caught the scent of pancakes.

Mom was in the kitchen making breakfast, and to my surprise, Dad was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. I’d thought he would have been at work by now. Instead of his MCO uniform, he was dressed in a dark suit that he often wore for work. He looked up and stared at me for a moment, though his expression was as unreadable as always.

As I sat down at the table across from Dad, it suddenly dawned on me that with my power to make people around me hallucinate, I was probably now considered a dangerous mutant. And Dad’s job was to deal with dangerous mutants. I gulped at that, feeling nervous and self-conscious.

Dad took a sip of his coffee, then fixed me with a steady look. “Gwen,” he finally said, sounding almost like he was testing the name. “You’re already aware that your new powers create certain…difficulties.”

“Yeah,” I admitted, staring down my hands which were folded in front of me. My fingers actually looked feminine now, almost delicate.

“You now possess powers that you don’t understand or fully control,” Dad continued in an even tone, reminding me that he’d actually been a bit unhappy when he got home last night and found out about the shopping trip Mom had taken me on. “They could very well be a danger to yourself and everyone around you. When you went out yesterday, you could have accidentally hurt someone.”

I nodded at that, unable to meet his eyes. I couldn’t help but feeling guilty, realizing that he was right. I didn’t understand my new powers and someone might have been hurt because of it. I began to tear up a little, knowing that I never would have been able to forgive myself if that had happened.

“It’s imperative that you get some power testing as soon as possible,” Dad continued. “We’re going to do that today. Once you have a better understanding of what your powers are and how they work, you can begin working to control them.”

“Don’t scare the poor girl,” Mom warned Dad in a pleasant tone that held just a hint of steel.

I thought about getting my powers tested and had mixed feelings about it. I knew the local MCO office had a power testing clinic and they encouraged new mutants to come in and get checked out, as well as get registered for their MIDs…their mutant identification cards. And while I was burning with curiosity to find out more about my new powers, I was also rather nervous. I’d heard a number of conspiracy theories about what ‘really’ goes on with MCO power testing.

Mom fixed Dad with a flat look and continued, “She’s having a difficult enough time without you putting the fear of the MCO in her.”

Dad grumbled something under his breath that sounded like it might have been an apology, but whether to me or Mom, I wasn’t quite sure. However, Mom began setting food on the table and that settled the matter for now as we all turned our attention to eating instead.

The green faerie that had been flittering around the house since yesterday landed on the table and sat down to watch me. Dad gave her a suspicious look but didn’t say anything, though Mom just seemed amused. I offered the tiny thing a bit of syrup covered pancake, but she seemed to have no interest in eating and soon flew off again. I just continued to watch her while I ate.

Yesterday, while Mom and I had gone shopping, this little faerie had actually followed us the entire time. After I noticed her and became worried that someone would see her, she actually began hiding and being sneaky about it. I might have worried more, but apparently the first green faerie had followed me around for a whole day without being seen until she’d come to my rescue against my attackers.

In spite of the free entertainment, which my Dad didn’t seem to enjoy, I hurried through breakfast as quickly as I could and then left the table before my power had a chance to make Mom and Dad dizzy. I’d been a little nervous eating with them at all, but we’d managed a meal together fine last night, though they had begun to get dizzy towards the end of it.

Since Dad clearly had plans for the day, I didn’t waste a lot of time goofing off. Instead, I went to the bathroom so I could take my shower and get ready. I was actually a little nervous about doing so, but I knew that I’d have to get over this discomfort with my own body or it would drive me insane.

When I climbed into the shower, my first impulse was to shower as quickly as I could and get this over with as soon as possible. My body felt weird and I just didn’t want to deal with it. But when I thought about it, as strange as my body felt, it also felt surprisingly normal. Sure, my chest stuck out more than I thought it should, my skin was a little more sensitive, and there was a rather obvious absence between my legs. But in a way, those were just details…the icing on the cake. Had I been focusing too much on the details that I overlooked what was still the same? Had I been so concerned with the fact that my chocolate frosting had become strawberry that I missed the fact that the cake itself hadn’t changed?

I thought about this the entire time I was in the shower, making sure to take my time and slowly scrub my entire body. Giving my body this much attention felt awkward and embarrassing as it made me even more aware of all the differences, but at the same time, I had to admit that it didn’t really feel all that bad. Strangely enough, by the time I climbed out of the shower, I was almost in a good mood.

Once I was out of the shower, I began to dry off, quickly finding that my soaking wet hair was heavy and not nearly as easy to dry as it used to be. I had a sinking feeling as I realized just how much trouble my long hair was going to be to take care of. Fortunately, Mom came in and showed me how to brush and dry my hair, giving me advice on how to properly hair for long hair the entire time.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to cut it short?” I asked her in exasperation. Mom just gave me a look of horror that effectively cut that topic short instead.

A short time later, I was dressed in my new clothes, which included a pair of silk panties and a silk bra that fit me a little better than the one I’d previously borrowed from Mom. Fortunately, Mom hadn’t pushed me to get anything too girlie like skirts or dresses, and she seemed perfectly satisfied that I was willing to wear any girl clothes at all, especially the bra. Because of that, I was wearing a pair of jeans that actually fit me and a shirt that wasn’t too bad. And on top of that, I threw on my new hoodie, which was a dark green that matched my hair color pretty well. I presented the image of beautiful elven tomboy.

“I was thinking of going out for a quick run,” I told my parents awkwardly.

Ever since my transformation, I haven’t had any real chance to cut loose and see what my new body was really capable of, and I thought some free running would definitely help with that. I was really growing curious about how I’d perform now compared to before my manifestation.

“I don’t know,” Mom said hesitantly.

Just then, I let out a sneeze, only to find a glowing green faerie had suddenly appeared right in front of me. She looked exactly like the one that was currently sitting on the ceiling fan, and a moment later the newcomer flew up there to join the other one. Neither of my parents said a word, but Dad gave me a flat look that spoke volumes and clearly stated that I could forget my run.

A short time later, I was sitting in the car with Dad as we drove to get my powers tested. I was extremely nervous about this, and when Dad stopped the car to get out and take a break from my presence, I actually thought about jumping out and running. But the truth was, my curiosity and need to know more about my powers overrode my fears. And after we continued on our way, I quickly realized that we weren’t heading towards the MCO testing center. We were driving in the opposite direction. However, Dad didn’t say anything so I bit my tongue and didn’t ask.

We came to a three story building with a red brick façade and a gated fence around the parking lot. And as we stopped in front of the metal gate, Dad spoke into the call box, “Miles Wylann, MCO.” There was a long pause before a beep sounded and the gate opened to let us through.

Once we were through the gate, I saw that the parking lot was more than half empty, having only a dozen vehicles, including an RV and a trailered boat in the back. Dad still didn’t say a word as he got out of the car and then removed a gray metal suitcase from the back seat. He gave me an odd look, then started towards the door with a grim expression on his face. It was raining, so I pulled up the hood on my hoodie to keep my head dry, then followed behind Dad, growing increasingly curious about what was going on.

The building entrance had a metal door without any windows, though there was a video camera clearly visible. Dad reached for the call box beside the door, but before he even touched it there was another beep sound followed by the door clicking open.

“Let me do the talking,” Dad told me before we went inside.

Dad and I stepped into what was obviously either a lobby or waiting room, though it was much nicer than any of the ones I’d been to before. For one thing, the chairs actually looked comfortable, the kind I might not even mind having at home to watch TV from. There was even a book shelf off to the side that was filled with real books, not just cheap magazines. However, I didn’t spend much time looking around the lobby as there was also a woman standing at the other end of it.

The woman was in her mid to late twenties, with shoulder length blonde hair and the kind of beauty and athletically sexy body that almost screamed ‘exemplar’. She was wearing a red and gray costume which looked like spandex, but which I suspected was really some sort of bulletproof material instead. Her costume included a red cape which was pinned on with gold metal broaches, a pair of gold metal wrist bracers, and a gold metal belt.

“Crucibelle,” Dad grimly greeted the woman, who I recognized from TV…and the report I’d done on her in school last year.

Crucibelle was a famous local hero as well as the leader of a local super hero team, the Seattle Supers. Personally, I’d always thought that their team name made it sound like they should be a sports team instead, but they’d never asked me for my opinion on it. Still, I was surprised at suddenly being in the same room as her, though she looked less than pleased about seeing us.

“Agent Wylann,” Crucibelle greeted Dad with an expression that reminded me of someone who was sucking on a lemon. She gave Dad a flat look and asked, “What can we do for the MCO today?”

Dad was silent for several long seconds before stating, “I’m not here on behalf of the MCO.”

“Then why are you here?” Crucibelle asked Dad a little suspiciously.

“Today,” Dad said as he gestured to me, “I’m here as a father.”

I wasn’t sure why Dad brought me here, but I recognized my cue and pulled my hood back, letting Crucibelle see my green hair and pointed ears. She stared at me with a look of surprise, then she looked back to Dad.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” Crucibelle said carefully.

“I usually prefer to keep my personal and professional lives separate,” Dad responded. “But several days ago, a group of mutants attacked her, attempting to use her to get to me.” Crucibelle scowled at that, definitely not looking pleased. “Gwen manifested during the attack and was able to escape because of it.”

“Who was it?” Crucibelle asked grimly.

“Slippery, Vindigo, and a GSD case called Spot,” Dad answered, a bit of anger creeping into his voice and surprising me. “We’re looking for them.”

“I imagine you are,” Crucibelle said wryly. Then she looked at me and said, “Hi, I’m Crucibelle…”

“Ad…,” I started, then paused with a bright blush and corrected myself. “Gwen.”

Crucibelle stared at me with a raised eyebrow, suddenly looking more interested. I had a funny feeling that she knew who I really was, which meant that she’d probably known a bit more about Dad’s personal life than he’d prefer. Then again, if I was a mutant super hero who had a lot of dealings with the local MCO, I’d probably do my research and learn everything I could about who I was dealing with.

“I see,” Crucibelle said carefully. Then she gave me a reassuring smile and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Gwen.”

“I brought Gwen here to see if your people would perform her power testing,” Dad admitted, not looking very happy at having to ask this.

Crucibelle stared at him for a moment and smirked faintly as she asked, “But what about the MCO’s vaunted powers testing clinic downtown?”

There was a long pause before Dad explained, “There are certain individuals who I would prefer not have access to her testing results should anything unexpected turn up.”

“So, you don’t trust everyone in the MCO,” Crucibelle said triumphantly, as though she’d just won an argument or had at least won a major point. Dad scowled but didn’t say anything. “Well, you have always been straight with us…unlike some of your coworkers.” She looked to me for a few more seconds before nodding. “Of course we’ll help. Come in in.”

Crucibelle led Dad and I out of the lobby and down a hallway before taking us into a room that looked sort of like a large and high tech doctor’s office. There were some odd looking machines that looked like they should have come out of a science fiction show…or a mad scientist’s lab. At the same time, there was also a good quality dart board hanging on the wall.

“Wait here,” Crucibelle told us, giving me a reassuring smile and ignoring Dad. “I’ll have the doctor come in and begin your testing.”

Crucibelle left the room, leaving me and Dad by ourselves. I gave him a curious look, but he just took my hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. Dad wasn’t much on being expressive, so this was sort of the equivalent of getting a heartfelt hug from him.

A minute later, a man stepped into the room, wearing a dark blue and gray costume that was very similar in style to what Crucibelle wore. But instead of the cape, he wore a gray cloak with the hood up. And instead of the gold metal writs bracers and belt, his looked silver. I recognized him as Doctor Tempest.

“You’re a real doctor?” I asked in surprise. “I always thought your name was made up because it sounded cool.”

Doctor Tempest chuckled at that, then admitted, “I was a pediatrician before I became imbued. I won’t be performing your power testing, but I will do a quick physical examination. It’s always a good idea to check for physical problems or abnormalities that result from your mutation.”

After this, Dad was escorted out of the room while Crucibelle came in to act as a chaperone while Doctor Tempest performed the examination. He had me strip to my skivvies, which was extremely embarrassing, then he went through the usual things from my last physical. Then things began getting weird as he took a blood sample and used several odd looking machines to scan me.

“These are devices that we purchased from a specialist,” Doctor Tempest explained. “I have no idea how most of them work, only that they do.”

“Doctor Oswald does most of the actual power testing,” Crucibelle told me while I stood in the middle of a strange looking contraption that kept humming and buzzing. “But since Doctor Tempest is already doing your physical, it makes sense to get you started on the other things at the same time.”

“I was going to tell her that,” Doctor Tempest told her with a chuckle. “You stole my thunder.”

Once Doctor Tempest was done, I was allowed to get dressed again. Doctor Tempest and Crucibelle left the room while Dad returned along with a dark skinned man who was wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt.

“Are you Doctor Oswald?” I asked a little skeptically. He didn’t look like either a doctor or a super hero, not unless he was on vacation.

“I hope so,” he responded cheerfully. “I’m wearing his underwear.” Then he chuckled and told me, “I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a powers theory specialist, so there isn’t a lot of call for me to look professional all the time.”

“He has a good reputation for being thorough and accurate,” Dad assured me. From Dad, that was pretty high praise.

With that, Dr. Oswald sat down at a computer and looked over some information, which I assumed were the results of all the testing that Doctor Tempest had performed. “Unusual physiology,” he finally said, more to himself than to me. Then he gave me a curious look before saying, “Now tell me about your powers. Tell me what you can do, anything odd you’ve noticed that might be an indication of a power, and how you think it works.”

I glanced to Dad, who gave me a faint nod of encouragement. “To start with,” I said thoughtfully, “my body changed…a LOT. That kind of suggests I might be an exemplar with a weird BIT or I just have GSD. I don’t think I’m really any stronger than before, so if I am an exemplar, it would be a low level one. But I kind of changed over just a couple days, and I don’t think exemplars change that fast unless they’re high level.”

Dr. Oswald gave me a look of surprise as well as amusement. Dad had a faint smile as well as well as an expression that looked a bit like pride, though I was sure I had to be imagining it.

“Interesting analysis so far,” Dr. Oswald told me with a smile. “Please continue.”

I suddenly felt like I was at school and the teacher had just called on me in class to explain something. I suddenly felt a bit self-conscious, but tried not to show it as I continued. “I guess that being an avatar might cause this kind of thing, but I haven’t heard any voices in my head or felt anyone in here with me…” I tapped my temple and gave a shrug.

“Go on,” Dr. Oswald urged me.

“I haven’t felt any urges to fix things, take them apart, or make anything,” I continued, deciding to run through a few of the powers I was pretty sure I didn’t have, just to show that I did have some idea of what I was talking about. “And I don’t suddenly understand anything new, so I don’t think I’m a devisor, gadgeteer, or paragon.”

“And what about what you can do?” Dr. Oswald asked me curiously.

I frowned slightly since I’d just been about to explain why I was pretty sure that I wasn’t a warper. “I can make them,” I said, gesturing to the two faeries which had snuck in her with us and were hovering around near the ceiling. With just a thought, I ordered them to come down to my side and they immediately obeyed. “I think I’m probably a manifestor.”

Dr. Oswald stared at the faeries with a look of interest. “Interesting,” he said. “I’ll ask you to show me how you make them in a little bit. But for now, please continue.”

“People start getting dizzy if they’re around me for too long,’ I said, giving him an apologetic look along with the warning. “Then they start hallucinating. I was thinking that it might be some kind of pheromone or maybe some kind of psychic effect.”

“Sitting next to an open window with a fan blowing doesn’t slow down the effects,” Dad pointed out. “I doubt its pheromones.”

“Still, that is good reasoning,” Dr. Oswald told me, looking pleased. “It seems that you’ve done your research a bit when it comes to mutant powers.”

I just shrugged at that, though I was actually pleased by his compliment. Since my Dad was with the MCO and I’d wanted to understand what he did better, I used to go online and read up on everything I could about mutants. There were a lot of anti-mutant websites which went on about how bad mutants were, for one reason or another. And then there was the pro-mutant sites, which were much fewer but still obnoxious since they tended to go with the idea that mutants were the next stage in evolution so baseline humans should give into the ‘inevitable’ and let mutants take their rightful place on top of the food chain. Wading through all the pro and con propaganda to find legitimate information had actually been a pain in the ass, but the process had taught me a lot about how other people viewed mutants.

“Oh,” I exclaimed as I remembered something else. “I keep seeing these glowing lines through the air and glowing auras around people. At first, I thought I was hallucinating, but now I wonder if it might be some kind of energizer power…with me seeing some kind of energy.”

“Possible,” Dr. Oswald agreed cheerfully. “Now let’s go find out how close your guesses are.”

Dr. Oswald had me go into a changing room and put on an outfit that looked like a one piece spandex jumpsuit that was filled with sensors, then we began the testing. We started off by testing my physical abilities, measuring my heart rate and breathing while I ran, lifted weights, and checked my reflexes. None of my physical abilities were above baseline level.

Once the physical tests were out of the way, we did some quick testing for gadgeteer and devisor traits but found no hint of any, nor had we expected to. Still, Dr. Oswald seemed compelled to do at least a quick test for those and psychic abilities, which also turned out lacking.

Then we finally began testing the abilities I did have, starting with my ability to make people sick. He’d already received some personal experience with that during the testing, and had been taking breaks away from me since. It was interesting to find that while Dr. Oswald was wearing a fully sealed environmental protection suit, my powers still affected him, ruling out a pheromone cause. And since I’d already been ruled out as psychic, he was obviously curious as to how I was actually causing these hallucinations.

“I’d like to take a closer look at your pixies,” Dr. Oswald told me once we began investigating my ability to create the faeries.

“No problem,” I told him, willing the two faeries to come down.

While the two faerie came to me, I suddenly realized that one of them was very weak, though I wasn’t sure how I knew that. I was pretty sure that it was the first one I’d created though. Once they landed in my outstretched palms, the oldest one sort of popped and vanished, leaving only one behind.

“A limited duration manifestation,” Dr. Oswald mused thoughtfully. “Most manifested items will fade away or deteriorate after a period of time. Not all, though.”

I had the other faerie cooperate as Dr. Oswald tried to scan it, but after going into one of the odd devices, that faerie vanished with a pop as well. I couldn’t help but feeling just a little guilty for that, though I wasn’t sure it had ever actually been alive in the first place.

“I’d like you to try creating one intentionally,” Dr. Oswald told me with an eager grin that suddenly reminded me of a little boy who was waiting to see a magic trick.

“I’ll try,” I told him, not sure how to create one intentionally. So far, all the little faeries had been created by accident. But since I’d created them by accident, I didn’t think it should be too difficult to duplicate.

For the next several minutes, I tried to think of what I’d been doing each time I summoned one of the faeries. The only thing that they really had in common was that I was seeing those weird glowing lines at the time. I tried to see them again, and they snapped back into view with no effort. And when I looked at Dad and Dr. Oswald, they both had glowing auras around them.

“Let’s see,” I mused, reaching for one of these lines and then I suddenly felt a tingle of energy through me. I gasped in surprise and released it, only to have two more of the green faeries appear beside me. “I guess that’s it.”

I attempted this several more times and ended up with a half dozen green faeries flying around the room, each of them connected to me with a glowing thread. During this testing, I realized that I could actually feel each of them and sort of sense where they were, even when I couldn’t see them.

We were just about to test and see how many of these faerie manifestations I could have out at one time when a newcomer walked into the room. She was a pretty girl with auburn hair who looked to be about my age, though she was wearing a red and gold costume in the same style as Crucibelle and Doctor Tempest’s, but hers included a red witch hat.

“This is Witchling,” Dr. Oswald introduced her.

I stared at Witchling, having seen her on TV and knowing that even though she looked like she was my age, or even a little younger, she was older than she appeared. After all, she’d been with the Seattle Supers for about ten years and still looked the same age as when she’d started.

“She’s going to be my lovely assistant for the next phase of the testing,” Dr. Oswald announced with a grin. “Testing your magical affinity…”

However, Witchling just stood there, staring at me with look of surprise. Then she turned to Dr. Oswald and said, “You didn’t tell me you had a Sidhe in here…”

“A what?” I asked in confusion. That seemed to surprise Witchling even more, and she gave Dr. Oswald a curious look.

“Gwen is a mutant who recently manifested,” Dr. Oswald told her.

However, Witchling gave Dad a suspicious look and said, “And that means she has to have an MCO agent watching her?”

“I’ve had this one in my custody for years,” Dad stated, which made my eyes go wide. Dad had actually told a joke…sort of. It wasn’t unheard of, but it was pretty rare. Then he explained, “This young lady is my daughter.” Witchling gasped in surprise and she stared at me, looking even more curious.

“What did you call me?” I asked her again.

“Sidhe,” she answered, still watching me with an odd expression. “They’re one of the faerie races…but they’re extremely rare. I’m pretty sure you’re a faerie of some kind, and I’m fairly confident you’re Sidhe.”

“A faerie?” I asked in surprise in confusion. “In spite of the pointed ears, I’m no more a faerie than I am a Vulcan… I’m just a mutant…”

Witchling snorted at that while Dr. Oswald shook his head. “My magic sight definitely shows you as being faerie of some kind,” Witchling stated firmly.

“Your physiology is rather odd,” Dr. Oswald mused. “Let’s just say, you’re less human than you appear.”

“What?” I gasped in surprise.

Dr. Oswald was staring at me with a thoughtful expression, “We were just about to test your magical affinities, and it seems that it was just in time.”

“Magic?” I whispered, shaking my head. With everything that was happening to me, I hadn’t considered magic as the explanation. After all, I looked far too much like some kind of elf to possibly believe I could actually be one.

“I’ll be taking over your testing from this point,” Witchling told me. Then she told Dad and Dr. Oswald, “Please don’t bother us until we’re finished.”

Witchling led me to another room, one that definitely looked like it was used for magic. There were all sorts of circles and symbols drawn on the floor that looked pretty magical. There were several shelves filled with odd items, including a crystal ball and a human skull.

“Tell me about your entourage,” Witchling said, gesturing to the faeries that were following behind me.

“I can make them,” I told her, feeling a little proud of that fact. “I guess I’m a manifestor.”

Witchling stared at the faeries, then walked over to one that was hovering in the air and poked it with her finger. I saw some glowing threads swirl around her and the moment she touched the faerie, it popped and vanished.

“Hobgoblins,” Witchling stated with a hint of disdain in her voice.

“Actually, I think they’re pixies,” I told her. They didn’t look anything like goblins, or at least like what I imagined goblins to look like.

“When a magic user loses control of their magic,” Witchling explained with a grin that made her momentarily seem like she really was my age, “the magic sometimes takes a life of its own. It forms what we call hobgoblins…which can look like just about anything and tend to be mischievious. It’s quite common for beginning magic users to accidentally create them, and dealing with them is considered something of a rite of passage.”

“Really?” I asked in surprise.

The faeries all settled down and watched us, which seemed to interest Witchling. “Fascinating,” she said, her expression once again more mature than her face. “They all look alike and they’re obeying your will. That kind of control over hobgoblins is…uncommon, especially for someone with no experience at all.”

“So, I’m not really a manifestor?” I asked, to which she shook her head.

“No,” she responded with a grin. “Hobgoblins are usually just considered unfortunate side effects of a mistake.” Then her expression turned serious and she said, “I’d like to examine you thoroughly, but I need your permission to do so.”

“Okay,” I said, wondering what she had in mind. I hope it didn’t involve getting undressed again.

Witchling had me stand inside of one of the circles on the floor, and I watched as a shimmering light formed around the circle. There were glowing lines all through the air, and Witchling was actually touching some of them and controlling them. It was fascinating to watch and was all the evidence I really needed to convince me that I really did have some kind of magical ability.

“Very interesting,” Witchling mused. “Absolutely fascinating…”

“What is?” I asked her, not sure that I liked the sound of that.

“According to my tests,” Witchling told me, “You are indeed Sidhe, or at least mostly Sidhe. I think there may be hints of other faerie lineage, but I can’t be certain.”

“But that isn’t possible,” I protested. “I mean, both my parents are baseline humans.”

Witchling gave me an odd look, then explained, “My spells indicate that you have Sidhe ancestry in your bloodline, though it appears to be very far back. It seems that your mutation awoke your distant Sidhe blood…and brought it to the surface.”

All I could do was gape at her in disbelief, sure that she had to be wrong. I might look like an elf, but that didn’t mean I really was one. Did it? My thoughts were still caught up in this while she did a few more things that I only half paid attention to.

Once Witchling was done with having me stand in the circle, she had me step out and then just stared at me thoughtfully for several long seconds before stating, “All of the powers and symptoms you’ve told us about so far are a direct result of either being a magic user or of being Sidhe.”

“Like making people sick?” I asked skeptically, though I had noticed that she wasn’t showing any signs of becoming dizzy yet.

Witchling nodded at that, then gave me a wry smile before explaining, “From what I know of the faerie races, which is admittedly rather limited, some of them had a glamour…a magical aura that seemed to be a natural defense mechanism and could have different effects on those around them. Some glamours could make other people more attracted to them, make them more…cooperative, drive them away in fear, or even make it so other people simply didn’t notice them. It seems that you have a glamour that…interferes with people’s perceptions.”

“It makes them dizzy and hallucinate,” I pointed out bitterly.

“Fortunately, it isn’t very strong,” Witchling pointed out sympathetically. “It takes some time before it builds up enough to actually have an effect. If it caused this to happen immediately…”

I shuddered at that, imagining what it would be like if people started getting dizzy and seeing things the moment I got near them. As it was, at least I could talk with people for awhile before that started to happen, but that didn’t mean I liked it. This whole hallucination thing was...frustrating.

“I’m able to shield myself from it pretty easily,” Witchling continued with a hint of smugness. “I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to learn how to control it.”

That was actually a big relief, as well as one of the things I’d been hoping to get out of the whole power testing thing. However, Witchling didn’t spend any more time dealing with my glamour and instead gave me a series of other tests that didn’t seem to make much sense at first. She showed me a dozen rocks, each with symbols painted on them, then asked me to point out which ones glowed to me. Then she had me point out the glowing lines I saw in the air, what she called ‘ley lines’. After a few more tests like this, she finally seemed satisfied.

“There is one more thing I want you to do,” Witchling told me. She handed me a metal sphere with strange symbols carved into it. “I want you to grab the strongest ley line you see, and pull the energy towards you. This artifact will hold the energy and measure how much you’re able to draw.”

Witchling gave me a little more instruction on what she wanted, then I attempted to do as she asked. I felt a little hesitant though since every other time I’d actually touched those glowing lines, the ley lines, I ended up creating these green faeries but not doing anything else. She’d explained that this was because I wasn’t actually controlling the magical energy before, but this time the sphere would help me do that. I did as she asked and reached out for one of the ley lines, feeling a tingle of raw energy run through me at the contact. However, the sphere seemed to take the energy and absorb it, charging up like a battery until I finally let go of the ley line and the energy.

“That was kind of a rush,” I admitted, feeling kind of excited.

“Thank you,” Witchling told me, looking rather pleased. “You charged this up with enough energy to replace much of what I expended during these tests. But for now, I think we’re done.”

Next, Witchling led me to another waiting room, one that was smaller and a little more casual than the lobby. In fact, it was less like a lobby and more a break room with vending machines and a refrigerator in the corner. There was even a counter with a half-empty box of donuts. Dad was already there, sitting at a table and working on his laptop while a cup of coffee and half eaten jelly donut sat in front of him.

“Are you finished?” Dad asked, though I wasn’t sure if he was talking to Witchling or me.

“We’ve finished with all the magic testing,” Witchling responded, giving Dad another suspicious look. “She’s definitely a magic user. However, I want to talk with Oswald before we finish up.”

Once Witchling left, Dad gave me an odd look and said, “So, you’re a magic user. And a Sidhe.” His tone was even and his expression was unreadable.

I nodded self-consciously, then began telling Dad about the testing that Witchling had done with me. I even repeated what she’d said about having some Sidhe ancestor who provided the DNA for my new look. Dad just looked grim at that.

Witchling and Dr. Oswald came back a short time later, with Dr. Oswald bringing a computer tablet with him. They both sat down at the table with Dad and I. Witchling had a serious expression which seemed at odds with her youthful looks. Dr. Oswald with smiling, as though he was having fun.

“You should be interested to know that we have your power ratings,” Dr. Oswald stated cheerfully. “You are a wizard, level four.”

I nodded at that, not surprised since Witchling had already made it clear that I had the wizard power trait, which basically meant that I had an affinity for magic and the ability to draw more than a baseline magic user would. I was just a little surprised at being rated as a level four since I’d expected to be rated lower. Power ratings go between level one and level seven, with seven being the most powerful. As a level four, I had a respectable, but not especially impressive power level.

“As a level four, you’re powerful enough that you will definitely need to get training,” Witchling told me seriously. “If you don’t… Well, uncontrolled magic can be extremely dangerous to you and everyone around you.” She gave Dad a nervous look. “And just as importantly, you might get targeted by unscrupulous magic users who want your power for themselves.”

I groaned at that, feeling a little excited by the idea that I’d be able to do real magic, but just as nervous about all the dangers and risks that came with it. Unlike some mutant powers, I don’t think performing magic was something that you could just start up and do. I think that my wizard rating just meant that I’d be able to do magic, but I’d still have to go through a lot of training and practice in order to learn how to actually use it.

“And then there’s the matter of your being Sidhe now,” Witchling continued. “From what I’ve been told, Sidhe tend to have a sensitivity to synthetic fibers and dyes, which may limit your clothing options.”

“I already found that one out,” I muttered, thinking about the bad rash I’d gotten from Mom’s bra. I was just glad that it had healed up pretty quickly.

“And the faerie races in general have a bad reaction to cold iron,” she continued. “I’ve been told it not only disrupts their magic, but that physical contact can be painful.”

“Oh shit,” I gasped, making a mental note to avoid touching anything iron. I suddenly realized, that could be a bit of a problem considering how much of the stuff was around. I might have to invest in a pair of gloves. “Iron, clothes, making people hallucinate… Is there anything good about being a Sidhe?”

Witchling gave me an odd look for several long seconds before answering, “Sidhe measure their lifespans in centuries instead of years. Barring accidents, disease, and whatnot…you may live for a VERY long time.”

I nearly choked at that, sure that she had to be joking. However, she looked deadly serious, an expression that matched the one my Dad had almost exactly. Dr. Oswald just seemed fascinated and was watching me was a gleam in his eyes.

“Now that we’ve finished your initial testing,” Dr. Owens said, glancing to Dad. “I believe you need to be issued an MID.”

“I’ll take care of that part,” Dad said.

Dad opened up the metal briefcase he’d brought in with him and revealed that it had some small devices stored in it. Without a word, he used a cable to plug his laptop into the devices and then began typing. I leaned over to look at the screen and was surprised to see that he had the form up to create a Mutant ID.

“You said that she’s a wiz four,” Dad said, looking at Witchling and Dr. Oswald for confirmation. When they nodded, he asked, “Any other power ratings?”

“Well, she demonstrated some esper sensitivity,” Dr. Oswald admitted. “But it was just under the threshold for an esper one. It’s more like a very good sense of intuition.”

“Women do have better intuition than men,” Witchling pointed out a little smugly.

Dad typed a few more things, then turned to me and asked, “Gwen, have you thought of a codename you’d like to use?”

“Not really,” I admitted, realizing that I probably should have. After all, ever since I’d manifested as a mutant, I’d known that I’d have to get a MID. And MIDs were usually issued out to code names rather than real names due to privacy issues.

“How about Acid Trip?” Dr. Oswald asked. “That is quite an interesting ability, especially if you’re able to focus it…”

“Not a good connotation,” Witchling pointed out. “How about Glamour.”

“That makes it sound like I want to be a super model or something,” I complained.

Then Dad simply stated, “Absinthe.” At my blank look, he explained, “Absinthe is a strong alcoholic drink that has the reputation of causing hallucinations. It is also commonly referred to as the green faerie.” He gestured to one of my own green faeries which sitting on the table and watching him.

I thought about it for a moment before nodding my agreement. I kind of liked the way it sounded, and it definitely fit with both my powers and new appearance. “Okay, Absinthe it is.”

Dad typed my new codename into his laptop, then a moment later something started to print out from the machine in the briefcase. When it was done, Dad pulled out a plastic laminated card that was about the size and shape of a drivers license and handed it to me. It was my official MID.

When I looked over the card, I was surprised to see that it didn’t really have very much information on it at all. It listed my codename of Absinthe and said I was a Wiz 4 in the ratings section, but in the section listing my techniques, it just said ‘classified’. In the section listing my weaknesses, instead of saying ‘iron’ it was also listed as ‘classified’. And for the section for backup team and affiliation, it said ‘MCO’. I took a closer look at the card and realized that this wasn’t an MID, it was an MMID. That was a Military issued version of the MID, usually only given to military members and dependents.

“Though it is rarely used,” Dad explained with a faint smile, “regulations do allow the MCO to issue MMIDs to dependents and mutants in our employ.”

“A mutant with the MCO listed as their group of affiliation,” Witchling commented with an amused look. “That is so funny…”

“But I imagine it might make it easier getting through the MCO airport security,” Dr. Oswald said, giving Dad a curious look. Then his eyes widened slightly. “You had all the power testing done here so the MCO doesn’t have the results on record anywhere. And this MMID doesn’t give away much either…”

“You don’t trust your own people,” Witchling commented, looking amused.

“Not where the safety of my daughter is concerned,” Dad answered, giving me a faint smile that startled me. “We have rules and regulations in place to prevent abuse of the system, but as I am sure you are aware, there are some within the organization who are too willing to overlook them. And unfortunately, there are those who would mean her harm merely for being what she is.”

Witchling and Dr. Oswald both stared at my Dad, looking surprised that he’d actually admit the MCO wasn’t perfect and above corruption. I was surprised as well, but mostly because Dad seemed to be bending the rules quite a bit in order to protect me. I didn’t think he was even capable of breaking the rules.

“Won’t your bosses question you about this?” Dr. Oswald asked.

“Perhaps,” Dad responded, not seeming the least bit bothered by that. “But I have done nothing illegal or even against regulations. I had Gwen tested at an authorized power testing facility and regulations do allow MMIDs for dependents.”

I just stared at Dad for a moment, finding it funny that even when he was being a rebel, he was still doing it by following the rules. I just hadn’t realized that he could be that sneaky, though I definitely felt a new respect for him.

“Now for the next matter,” Dad said as he disconnected his laptop from the equipment in the briefcase and put it all away. He looked at Witchling and stated, “You said that Gwen will need training to control her magic. Where can she get this training?”

“There’s a special school back east,” Witchling said very carefully. “They have a great magic program.”

“Hogwarts is real?” I asked in surprise.

“Wrong country,” Dr. Oswald commented with a grin.

“If you’re referring to the school I think you are,” Dad said with a wry smile. “I am quite familiar with it.” Witchling gave Dad a look of surprise and he continued, “I spent some time on campus interviewing students for their MIDs.” Then he looked to me and said, “I was hoping for something a little closer and more immediate. If her magic is as dangerous as you suggest, the sooner she learns to control this magic…and her glamour, the better.”

“Agreed,” Witchling responded thoughtfully. “I would give her a few lessons, but I don’t have the time and my style of magic wouldn’t be compatible with hers.”

“Compatible?” I asked in confusion.

Witchling nodded at that. “Think of magic as being like light, that it comes in a spectrum of different colors. Some magic users have an affinity for one color while others are sensitive to a different one. The one I use requires artifacts and precise rituals to control. You have an affinity for a different type of magic and would need a different method of controlling it.” She had a thoughtful look on her face before abruptly announcing, “I know just the person.”

“So, this person will be able to help Gwen control her magic?” Dad asked carefully.

“I’m confident she can,” Witchling answered. “But I can make no promises about whether she’ll agree to or not. Still, I’ll contact her and arrange a meeting.” Then she stared at Dad with an almost evil grin as she added. “And one more thing. She REALLY doesn’t like the MCO.”

--------------------

The weather was cold and damp, but Mom kept the car windows rolled down, insisting that the fresh air blowing through would help her fight off the effects of my glamour. She didn’t seem to fully accept the idea that my glamour was really magic and continued to act as though it was due to pheromones. I couldn’t really blame her though because I’d never fully believed that magic really existed, at least not until a couple days ago.

It had been two days since my powers testing with the Seattle Supers and I was still trying to get my head around what I’d learned. It was one thing to be a mutant with an odd case of GSD, but it was another entirely to have suddenly transformed into some kind of faerie. I’d joked about how my mutation had turned me into an elf, but now I wasn’t joking anymore.

According to Witchling and Dr. Oswald, my mutation had caused the DNA from some long forgotten Sidhe ancestor to suddenly awaken and become dominant. I’d thought it would be weird enough being a mutant, but now I’d become another species entirely. Still, I had a hard time thinking of myself as anything other than human, just like I had a hard time thinking of myself as anything other than a guy.

“Better get used to it,” I mused, knowing that I would have to either adapt or die. That was one of Doug’s favorite sayings, ‘adapt or die’. “I wonder what he’d say about all this.” However, it wasn’t like I’d find out because I haven’t gone back to class since my change and had no plans for doing so. It would be…awkward.

I stared out the window of the car, watching as Mount Rainier slowly drew closer. Mom and I were on our way to the appointment that I’d been looking forward to for the last two days, the one with the magic user who was going to tutor me in magic, at least enough to keep me out of trouble. Dad would have brought me, but Witchling had made it very clear that he wouldn’t have received a very warm welcome. Because of that, Dad decided to avoid that distraction and had Mom drive me instead.

Our drive took longer than it normally would have because we stopped multiple times in order for Mom to ‘stretch her legs’ and clear her head from the effects of my glamour. I tried not to take it personally that she had to keep getting away from me, but I couldn’t help but feeling a little hurt anyway. Out of all the powers I could have gotten, why did it have to be one that made other people keep their distance?

“Will you keep those things under control?” Mom asked when one of my three current faeries flew through the car. I gave it a mental command and it landed on the dashboard and sat down to watch the sights. “Thank you.”

We finally arrived at our destination, a small farm that was surrounded by a lot of wooded land. At first, I wondered if Witchling had given us the right directions or if we’d made a wrong turn somewhere. Then I shifted my vision so that I could see ley lines and auras and almost immediately let out a loud gasp. With the way the ley lines and magical energy were wrapped around the property, we definitely had to be in the right place. I even felt a strange tingle along my skin as we passed through the perimeter.

As Mom and I got out of the car, I noticed an old woman had come out of the house to greet us. At least, my first impression was that she was an old woman, but as she came closer, I was no longer certain. She was wearing a long, old fashioned dress and had pure white hair that was pulled back, but her face was smooth and didn’t look more than thirty.

“Gwendolynn Adelle Wylann,” the white haired woman greeted me with my full name, catching me by surprise because I hadn’t even given my full name to the Seattle Supers so I didn’t know how she knew it. There was a strong note of formality in her voice as she stated, “Welcome to my home. Enter in peace and be welcome in peace.”

“Thank you,” I said a little awkwardly.

“You can call me Mrs. Lauriant,” she introduced herself politely.

“I’m Joyce,” Mom introduced herself, looking almost as nervous as I felt.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Mrs. Lauriant responded before turning her attention back to me. She stared at me for a moment before saying, “Please come with me.”

We started towards the door to her house, though my attention was drawn to the massive tree that grew from the middle of her yard. There was something about that tree that demanded I look at it, and when I shifted to my magical vision so I could see ley lines, I realized that the whole tree was filled with magic.

“Do not approach that tree,” Mrs. Lauriant told me with a faint scowl.

I just stared at the tree, suddenly wondering what it would be like to climb something like that. I was a city boy…girl and had never climbed a lot of trees, but being told not to even get near the tree suddenly made the idea appealing.

Mom stared at me and then let out a sigh. “Mrs. Lauriant,” Mom started carefully. “I’m certain you have a good reason for that, but can you please tell us what it is.”

Mrs. Lauriant fixed Mom with a flat look that suggested that she barely tolerated Mom’s presence. She finally answered, “The tree is what you might call a magical battery. I use it to store magical essence for later use, and as such, it is heavily protected with wards. Getting too close could prove…painful.”

“Ouch,” I said while Mom gave me a warning look.

“I learned a long time ago,” Mom told Mrs. Lauriant with a faint smile, “that when telling Gwen not to do something, she doesn’t accept ‘because I told you so’ as a legitimate reason. If you want her to do as you ask, you have to provide at least some kind of explanation.”

Mrs. Lauriant scowled and gave me a flat look before responding, “I see. Thank you for the warning.”

With that, she gestured for us to go into the house. Once inside, she poured three cups of tea, then we sat down at her dinner table while she asked me about my magic and what I knew about it.

“It has been…many years since I last encountered a Sidhe,” Mrs. Lauriant commented, giving me a curious look.

“I don’t know much about the Sidhe,” I admitted self-consciously. “Or magic. This is all new to me.”

“Ignorance can be corrected,” Mrs. Lauriant told me gently. “The only crime in ignorance is when one chooses to embrace it.”

“I’m afraid that I’m even more ignorant about magic than Gwen is,” Mom said with a faint smile.

“Gwendolynn and I will need some time alone,” Mrs. Lauriant told Mom in a polite tone. “You may wait in my living room while we work. There is water for tea on the stove, scones on the counter, and if you need distraction there is a bookshelf with a moderate selection.”

“Okay,” Mom said, looking a little uncertain.

Mrs. Lauriant led the way out the back door and to her barn. After she opened the side door and let us in, I looked around in surprise. This didn’t look quite like what I’d expected of a barn. The whole thing was neat, clean, and even had polished hardwood floors that wouldn’t have been out of place in the living room.

“Wow,” I said, not sure what else I could say.

A third of the barn was filled with bookshelves, which not only contained books but also bottles, vials, and some random seeming items. Another third had a large desk, what looked like a work bench, and a fireplace with a comfortable looking recliner in front of it. The remaining space was mostly empty.

“I am a practitioner of natural and arboreal magics,” Mrs. Lauriant told me as she gestured for me to sit down beside the desk. “My sister told me that you have an affinity for faerie and natural magics, which means I might be well suited for helping you learn to control your abilities.”

“Your sister?” I asked in confusion.

“You call her Witchling,” Mrs. Lauriant answered with a faint smile. I was a little surprised at that, but not nearly as much as when she added, “My elder sister if you must know.”

“Elder?” I repeated in disbelief.

“I was told of your unusual hobgoblins,” Mrs. Lauriant abruptly changed the subject. “Please demonstrate them for me.”

I nodded at that, then willed the three faerie I had out to come down and join us. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that none of them had come into the barn with me. And when I focused on them, I noticed that they couldn’t get into the barn. It was as though some kind of invisible wall was blocking them.

Since I couldn’t bring my little pixie hobgoblins in, I decided to create a new one. Now that I knew how to do it, it was actually pretty easy. A moment later, a new one appeared right in front of me.

Mrs. Lauriant stared at it for a moment before saying, “Fascinating.” At that moment, I could suddenly believe that she and Witchling were related, though I still had a hard time believing their actual relationship.

“I’m starting to get used to having these girls around,” I said with a grin. “They’re sort of like pets.”

“Or familiars,” Mrs. Lauriant observed. “For most mages, hobgoblins are but a nuisance and a waste of essence. But you are somehow bonding with yours, much the way you would a familiar. I wonder if you can actually use them as familiars…” She stared at me thoughtfully for a moment before saying, “But that is for another time. To start with, we should begin with the basics, narrowing down your strengths and weaknesses so I know what to build.”

Mrs. Lauriant began putting me through a series of tests that were very similar to the ones that Witchling had put me through a couple days ago. We continued with the tests for more than an hour before she was satisfied with the results and let me stop.

“That will do for now,” she stated, giving me a thoughtful look. “Come Gwendolynn, I must speak with your mother.”

We went back into the house where I found Mom sitting in the living room, sipping on a cup of tea while flipping through a book. She looked absolutely bored, at least until she saw us. Then she smiled in relief.

“I believe I can teach Gwendolynn the basics of control,” Mrs. Lauriat told Mom in a crisp tone. “This will give her the foundation in which to build her skills as a mage. True mastery, however, will take a great deal of study and practice on her part.”

“But will she be…safe?” Mom asked, looking as though she couldn’t quite decide what questions she should ask.

Mrs. Lauriant gave Mom a flat look before answering, “I will teach her how to avoid unleashing her magic by accident and hopefully, how to harness her glamour.”

“Great,” I said, grinning in anticipation.

“That’s a relief,” Mom added in agreement.

“However,” Mrs. Lauriat started, pausing to give Mom a firm look. “I will need her for three days, beginning now.”

“What?” Mom and I both blurted out.

Mrs. Lauriant frowned faintly, then explained, “I need three days with Gwendolynn, without outside distractions, so I may begin building the foundation for control. Leave her with me and return in three days.”

Mom and I shared a look of surprise since neither of us had expected me to be here anywhere near that long. In fact, we’d only expected to be here for a few hours, then perhaps set up some kind of schedule for additional lessons.

“I’ll be fine,” I told Mom, knowing that I couldn’t let this chance go, especially not over a few unexpected requirements. Then I insisted, “I think I need this.”

After a few minutes of convincing Mom, the two of us hugged and then she went back to her car. I stood in the driveway, feeling an odd mixture of emotions as Mom pulled out and drove off, leaving me here alone with a virtual stranger.

“Come back to my workshop,” Mrs. Lauriant told me once Mom was gone. “It’s time we begin your training.”

--------------------

I was in Mrs. Lauriant’s barn, sitting down on a hard and uncomfortable chair with my eyes closed. My will and awareness was stretched out around me as I felt the ley lines and magical energies that I was just learning to access. My tutor sat a short distance away in a comfortable recliner, watching me intently and occasionally giving me instructions and advice.

Yesterday, Mrs. Lauriant had begun putting me through the crash course on how magic worked. She’d started the lessons just minutes after Mom had driven away and continued with them until it was time for bed, stopping only for dinner and tea breaks. By the time we were done for the night, I was exhausted and felt like my head was going to explode. Then first thing in the morning, we’d started up again.

My stomach growled since I was hungry and hadn’t yet eaten breakfast, but I tried to ignore that and continue focusing on my lessons. Mrs. Lauriant seemed to believe that you shouldn’t have breakfast until you’d built up an appetite, so I tried putting thoughts of food out of my mind for now. After all, I was also in the middle of something very interesting, or at least something that was important to me.

For most of my lessons so far, Mrs. Lauriant had been teaching me how magic worked as well as how to manipulate it on a basic level. This had included how to draw energy from the ley lines, hold it, and even do a few things like create a ward that would help protect me from outside magical influence. This morning, we’d moved on to working with my glamour.

Thanks to Mrs. Lauriant’s teaching, I was now able to sense my glamour, to feel it as an energy that seeped out of my body and flowed around me as part of my aura. I could even tell just how far it radiated away from me and who was being caught under its effects. What I was trying to do now was turn it off, to stop releasing these energies. I’d been trying this all morning with limited success. I could hold it for about fifteen minutes, but then it would become uncomfortable and escape my control. It was like trying to keep from breathing out so that you didn’t release carbon dioxide.

“Perhaps a ward would suffice,” Mrs. Lauriant commented thoughtfully. “If you created a ward that held your energies in rather than shielding you from outside influence…” She tapped her chin for a moment before musing, “A definite possibility, though it would take some time to set up properly.”

Just then, a gray squirrel scampered across the floor and climbed up to the table beside Mrs. Lauriant. She didn’t blink twice at the squirrel’s antics, which wasn’t a surprise since this was her familiar. She’d told me that his name translates to ‘Finder of Much Food,’ which was easy to believe since Finder was constantly running around looking for something to eat. Without saying a word, Mrs. Lauriant held up a nut, which Finder quickly grabbed from her fingers.

“I wonder,” Mrs. Lauriant mused, looking at Finder and then at one of the dozen faeries that were flittering around the barn rafters. I’d created a number of them on accident while I’d been practicing, and though they were fragile and tended to vanish on their own after a day, they did tend to build up a bit. “We might as well make those things useful.”

“What do you mean?” I asked Mrs. Lauriant.

She was still staring at my faeries with a thoughtful look, which was a little different than the look of disdain or annoyance that she usually gave them. Though she was curious about why my hobgoblins were so obedient to me, she seemed to have the opinion that hobgoblins in general were just nuisances and mistakes. I just thought the little faeries were neat and I kind of liked having them around.

“Your hobgoblins certainly aren’t real familiars,” Mrs. Lauriant pointed out with a look of disapproval. “But there are enough similarities in their bonds to you that you might be able to use them as such, at least to some small degree.”

Yesterday, Mrs. Lauriant had told me a bit about familiars and how they were used, right after introducing me to Finder. According to her, a familiar was an animal which was magically bound to a magic user, and which could help with various spells in different ways. I wasn’t sure that I completely understood what she was saying, but I guessed it was sort of like having an assistant.

“Observe,” Mrs. Lauriant instructed me in a crisp tone.

I shifted over to mage sight, the special vision I had that let me see ley lines, auras, and magic in general. Then I looked at Finder, noticing the glowing lines which connected him to Mrs. Lauriant, similar to how I was tied to each of my faeries. However, there was definitely a difference as far as the strength and quality of the bonds, as well as the fact that the bond Mrs. Lauriant had with Finder seemed to go both ways.

“I am going to transfer some essence to Finder, who will then hold it for me,” Mrs. Lauriant explained. “From there, Finder can assist me in the casting of certain spells and even perform a few simple ones himself. I am certain that much is well beyond what your hobgoblins would ever be capable of, but they are bound to you and the principal holds the same.”

I watched carefully as Mrs. Lauriant sent magical energy to Finder, using the glowing thread that bound them almost like it was a power cable. In moments, the little squirrel glowed with the energy, almost as if the thing was now a battery. Then Mrs. Lauriant explained what she wanted me to do and I went to work practicing.

I picked one of my faerie at random and began practicing with her, gathering my own essence and sending it to her. I accidentally destroyed her and then a second faerie by pouring the essence in with two much force and popping them, but before long I’d gotten the hang of it. I now had a faerie hovering in front of me, charged with my essence as though it was a little flying battery.

“It is highly unlikely that your hobgoblin will ever be able to cast spells for you,” Mrs. Lauriant told me, looking pleased with my progress. “But they should be able to hold extra essence for you, should you ever need it.”

I felt rather proud of my accomplishment, but I knew that the goal for this exercise wasn’t to turn my faeries into batteries for my magical essence. Instead, we had something a little better in mind. With that, I returned to my practice, but this time I wasn’t sending essence to a faerie. This time, I was gathering the energies that formed my glamour and sending them instead. After several attempts, I got it to work.

“All right,” I exclaimed triumphantly, staring at the little faerie who looked no different than before, though my mage sight showed the energy she was now starting to hold.

I’d not only transferred all the energy from my glamour to the faerie, but I was continuing to send the energy as my body produced it. The faerie wasn’t radiating this glamour the way I had been, but was instead holding it inside of her, acting like a battery. What this really meant though was that I’d just found a way to turn off my glamour. I didn’t have to worry about accidentally making people sick anymore.

“Well done, Gwendolynn,” Mrs. Lauriant told me with a nod of approval. “Now, let’s go have breakfast.” I thought it was much closer to time for brunch, but I certainly wasn’t about to argue.

Mrs. Lauriant and I went back inside the house, with my whole procession of faeries following behind us. She went to work preparing breakfast, which consisted of eggs, bacon, and homemade pancakes, while I stood back and watched. It seemed that she didn’t think that a bowl of cereal counted as a real breakfast, much to my relief.

We ate breakfast in silence, though I didn’t mind in the least. I was still in a great mood after finally dealing with my glamour issue. And after performing that bit of magic, I actually felt like a real wizard…like Harry Potter or Gandalf. Admittedly, I had a lot more in common with Galadriel now than I did Gandalf.

I also watched Mrs. Lauriant as we ate, still having a hard time believing that she was Witchling’s little sister. Then again, they both had certain oddities that were similar to each other. Witchling looked like a teenage girl, but she didn’t really act like it. In fact, she seemed like a grown woman who was trapped in the body of a teenager. Mrs. Lauriant on the other hand, had a body that appeared to be about thirty, and was in good shape, but her clothes, way of talking, and mannerisms all seemed like those of an old woman. Like Witchling, it was like she had a body that was too young for her personality.

Just as we were finishing with breakfast, Finder suddenly jumped up on the table and looked around. To my surprise, Mrs. Lauriant didn’t seem bothered by that, which struck me as just a little odd because she seemed to like things being ‘proper’, and I was pretty sure that a squirrel on the table didn’t fit in that category. Before I could say anything, Finder abruptly began running around the table, bumping into things, including the carafe of real maple syrup. The thing fell over, pouring syrup down the front of my shirt and into my lap.

“Yuck,” I exclaimed, jumping up and being disgusted. Then I realized that I had another problem besides just having dirty clothes. I hadn’t been expecting to stay here overnight, much less for three days, so I didn’t have a change of clothes.

“Finder,” Mrs. Lauriant said almost pleasantly. “You know you don’t belong on the table.” Then she looked at me and said, “It looks like you need to change your clothes.”

“But I didn’t bring any more,” I muttered awkwardly.

Mrs. Lauriant’s eyes gleamed faintly and she responded, “That is perfectly fine, Gwendolynn. I do have some things that should fit you…”

As Mrs. Lauriant walked off, I had a sudden feeling that this ‘accident’ hadn’t been an accident at all. In fact, I was pretty sure that my tutor had arranged the whole thing, using her familiar as an accomplice. After all, yesterday she’d said something about how young ladies should dress appropriately. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when she came back a minute later, holding up a dark green dress.

“My choices of spare clothing are rather limited,” Mrs. Lauriant told me almost pleasantly. “But this should fit you fine.”

I stared at Mrs. Lauriant for a moment but didn’t say anything. After all, I might have learned how to control my glamour, but I still had a lot to learn, which meant that I had to stay on her good side. Considering what was at stake, wearing a dress was probably a small price to pay.

“Thank you,” I said with forced politeness, which probably didn’t fool her. However, we were both playing along with one another so she didn’t say anything either. “I guess I’ll go get changed.”

I went to the bathroom and stripped off my gross syrup covered clothes, used a washcloth to clean up where it had soaked through, and then stared at the dress. I shook my head, hardly able to believe I was doing to do this. Fortunately, my parents weren’t there to see this. And with that, I put the dress on and looked myself over again. It was annoying to realize that with my new body, it not only fit fine but also looked good on me.

“I am never going to live this down,” I muttered to myself self-consciously. I’d sort of accepted that I was now a girl, at least on some level, but I’d thought I could just get away with being a tomboy. It seemed like Mrs. Lauriant had other ideas though. I let out a sigh, then reminded myself, “It’s only for a couple days.”

When I came back out in the dress, Mrs. Lauriant gave me a faint nod of approval before saying, “Now you look like a proper young lady.” I just bit my tongue at that.

After that, Mrs. Lauriant sent me back to the barn while she finished putting things away in the kitchen. I grimaced and did as she asked, making a conscious effort to act as though wearing a dress was no big deal. That would mean that I couldn’t make any complaints about it at all, especially since I had the feeling that she’d actually find it amusing if I did. I realized the irony in the fact that wearing a dress without complaint was actually a matter of pride.

When I returned to the barn, I decided to kill some time until Mrs. Lauriant returned by looking around. I stopped in front of a table that had a thick leather bound book sitting in the middle of it, but I was careful not to touch the grimoire. Yesterday, Mrs. Lauriant had told me not to touch it and had then left the barn. Of course, I went to flip through it, only to find myself getting a nasty shock instead. I was pretty sure that she’d done that just to teach me some kind of lesson.

I turned away from the grimoire and continued snooping around the rest of the barn, though I paused when I saw a footstool that was sitting against one wall. Or at least, it looked like a footstool at first glance, though something seemed a bit wrong with it. When I took a second look, I suddenly saw that it wasn’t a footstool at all, it was a metal box with a heavy lock on it. I blinked in surprise, wondering how I could have mistaken a metal chest for a footstool.

I was crouched down, looking at the metal chest when Mrs. Lauriant returned. She stopped and stared at me with a scowl before demanding, “What are you doing?”

“I was just looking at this chest,” I told her. “What’s in it?”

“That is not your concern,” she answered, then paused to stare at me for another moment before shaking her head. “It contains several books with some very dangerous spells.”

I nodded at that and then backed away. If that chest contained spells that were dangerous enough to be locked away like this, it would probably be a very bad idea to mess with them. And since my mage sight showed some magic spells all over the box, even though I couldn’t tell what they were, it was obvious that this thing was pretty well protected.

“Now then,” Mrs. Lauriant started, piercing me with an intense gaze. “How did you see what was hidden beneath that illusion?”

“Illusion?” I asked. I looked back at the metal chest, realizing what she had to mean. “So, when I saw a footstool at first, I wasn’t just imagining that…”

“No, you were not,” she responded with a faint smile. “It was not real, but it was not your imagination either. Yesterday, our tests suggested that you might have a talent for perception and illusion spells, and the ease with which you saw through this illusion seems to confirm it. It seems we shall have to explore this a little more.”

--------------------

I crouched down on the rocky overlook and stared out over the vast forest before me. It was beautiful and wild, but also filled with unseen dangers that had recently been creeping across the border. This was a remote territory, the furthest one from the capital and the center of our civilization. As such, it was often overlooked and forgotten, usually devoid of either visitors or guards, except for me and my subordinates.

My duty was to patrol the border and watch for any dangers that might sneak across, though there was little I could do against our enemies by myself. Still, those who had assigned me this guard duty had done so as a favor and a kindness. After all, since my exile, this was the closest I was allowed to my old home, and my choices were either this or live among the humans.

Just then, the first of my scouts returned, flying through the air and hovering before me. The pixie, like most of her kind, was small and fragile seeming. Because of this, most beings tended to underestimate them, though I had come to appreciate their talents. They were mischievious and playful, which often caused others to think them feeble minded, but I had found them to be quite clever as well as greatly adept at avoiding attention when they chose. They made for natural scouts, as well as ideal spies and saboteurs.

One by one, my pixie scouts returned to report their findings. Several had found indications of a dark beast, but none had actually seen the creature. We had been tracking this intruder for days, yet it remained elusive. I clutched my spear tightly, wary of having such a threat this close at hand yet remaining unseen. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony as well since I myself had so often played the role of elusive prey.

When the last pixie scout returned, unlike any of the others, she landed on my shoulder to deliver her report. X’rxi was my second in command and the one who the pixies themselves looked to as their leader. She was also my closest friend, and truthfully, probably the only friend I had left since my disgrace and exile.

X’rxi looked a great deal like any other pixie, though she was marked with green skin and dark green hair. In fact, it was the fact that our hair was the same color which had first drawn her to me. At first, I’d thought the little thing a nuisance, but then I’d realized she was clever, insightful, had a sharp tongue, and an almost complete lack of tact. She reminded me a great deal of a smaller version of myself.

Suddenly, the air was filled with cries of pixie terror and I snapped around to see what could only be the creature we’d been tracking. It looked like a large bear, but a black slime oozed over its fur while a dark malevolence filled its eyes. As I’d already known, it was one of the unnatural abominations that our enemies had been unleashing upon the world, though until now, I did not know what shape it wore.

Somehow, this abomination had snuck up on us, hunting us while we had been trying to hunt it. And now it had killed one of my scouts with but a single snap of its monstrous jaws. Then as the pixies began to scatter, it roared and spat out a spray of foul blackness from its mouth, hitting half of my remaining pixies, who then fell to the ground dead. A moment later, the abomination turned its attention on me and leapt.

I bolted upright in bed with a scream and a racing heart. It took me a moment to realize that I’d just had a nightmare, and though some of the fear remained, the details were already starting to blur and faded. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that I was safe and sound in Mrs. Lauriant’s guest bedroom.

“Way too much Lord of the Rings,” I muttered to myself, deciding that my new body and all this magic was really doing things to my imagination that I definitely didn’t like.

There was an old fashioned clock sitting on the stand beside the bed, the kind with hands instead of a digital display as well as a wind up key instead of a power cable. It was some kind of antique, but that was what Mrs. Lauriant had provided to help me get up. In fact, it looked like I only had twenty more minutes before it was set to go off anyway, and after that dream, I wasn’t in any hurry to go back to sleep.

Since I wasn’t going back to sleep, I turned off the alarm and climbed out of bed. My faeries all came to life from where they’d been scattered about the room and rushed to me, half a dozen of them landing in my hair and carefully pulling out the tangles. The rest hovered around me, seemingly waiting for directions. I noticed that there were several fewer than when I’d gone to bed, so it looked like a couple had faded away during the night. My faerie hobgoblins had a lifespan of only about a day, though I had noticed that giving them some of my essence or glamour energy allowed them to stick around for a bit longer.

With a smile, I reached for a ley line and pulled just a little magic and then released it in front of me. Mrs. Lauriant said that magic users didn’t like to waste magic like that, but this was how I created my faeries and I didn’t really consider them a waste. Two new faeries appeared and joined the rest.

I went to the bathroom to relieve myself and wash my face, but I didn’t bother taking a shower. This was my last day with Mrs. Lauriant and I was going to go home this afternoon. I figured that I’d take my shower then, when I had clean panties to put on. I’d been wearing the same pair since I came here and was getting a little grossed out by it. At least Mrs. Lauriant had given me a clean dress to wear, though I would have preferred it if she’d just washed my own clothes and let me wear those.

Once I was dressed and had my hair brushed, I went and found Mrs. Lauriant, who was out with her magic tree. I stood back and watched as she took a small amount of magical energy from the tree and absorbed it into her own aura. I suspected that she was making a withdrawal from her savings so that she’d be ready for today’s lessons.

“Gwendolynn,” she greeted me once she noticed I was there. “Good, you’re up. I feared you would waste time getting ready. It is good to see that you’re so eager to begin.”

“Of course,” I responded, deciding not to mention the fact that the nightmare was my real motivation for getting up earlier than I absolutely had to. I did have to admit, however, that I really was eager to begin.

Mrs. Lauriant and I went back to her barn and I began going through the various exercises she’d been showing me to help me learn to control my magic. A lot of these exercises were pretty monotonous, but every time I started to get bored, I just reminded myself that I was learning how to do real magic and that took care of it.

It was clear that Mrs. Lauriant wanted to get as much out of our limited remaining time as possible, so she cut the exercises short and began to go into some new lessons, teaching me how to work a couple simple spells. I was excited by that and paid close attention, more than I ever had to any class I’d ever been in, except perhaps for the ones Doug taught. Not paying attention in his classes could end up being pretty painful.

The lessons continued until after lunch when Mom finally arrived to pick me up. Mrs. Lauriant and I were in her barn working when she abruptly stopped and simply stated, “Your mother is here.” I didn’t bother asking how she knew that, having seen the magic wards around the property. I had a feeling that very little occurred here that she didn’t know about. “Why don’t you go out and meet her.”

I nodded at that, then got up, adjusting my dress in the process. Not only had Mrs. Lauriant been rather insistent that I dress like a young lady, but that I sit like one as well. For some reason, she seemed to think that she was responsible for teaching me that stuff along with the magic. And I was pretty sure she didn’t even know that I used to be a guy. Still, I’d played along, making a point of acting as though it was no big deal.

When I got to the driveway, Mom was just getting out of her car. She stopped and stared at me with a look of surprise, then blurted out, “You’re wearing a dress…”

“Not by choice,” I muttered, blushing self-consciously.

Mom came over and gave me a careful examination, then she smiled and announced, “You look beautiful.”

I let out a sigh at that, wishing I could argue with her and say that I was manly and handsome, but I’d seen myself in the mirror and new exactly how I looked. I was gorgeous, hotter than any of the girls in my school. And the truth was, I’d never been particularly manly, as Dad would surely agree.

“You should start wearing dresses more often,” Mom told me with an amused smile. “They definitely suit you.” Then she quickly asked, “Have you been learning a lot?”

“Yeah,” I responded with a grin. “Like how to turn off my glamour.” That wasn’t completely accurate since I was diverting it rather than turning it off, but the details weren’t important as long as I had it under control.

Mom grabbed me in a hug and exclaimed, “Congratulations…” Then when she let me go, she hesitantly asked, “Did you learn magic?”

I just grinned at that, knowing what she was really looking for. She wanted a demonstration. So with that, I held out my hands and mentally performed one of the easy spells that Mrs. Lauriant had taught me. Suddenly, a ball of green flame appeared in my hands, making Mom jump back with a gasp of surprise. I just tried to act like this was no big deal, when the truth was I thought it was about the coolest thing ever.

“Your hands,” Mom blurted out, looking worried.

“It’s okay,” I assured her, throwing the ball of fire into the air and watching it vanish. “This is just an illusion…”

Mrs. Lauriant had actually told me that this was something like an illusion and had said that it was alternately called ghost fire, fox fire, and of course, faerie fire. However, she’d also said that besides being useful as a night light and for looking impressive, it didn’t have a lot of practical uses. Still, I thought it was pretty impressive, and from the look on Mom’s face, so did she.

Mom and I stood there and talking for another couple minutes before Mrs. Lauriant came up. She was holding some clothing in her hands, which I recognized as the clothes I’d worn when I arrived, now looking cleaned and perfectly pressed. She also had a familiar looking green dress.

“Here are your clothes back,” Mrs. Lauriant told me almost pleasantly. “You may also keep the dresses. Heaven knows, neither of them are in my size.”

“That’s very generous of you,” Mom said with a happy smile, before I could respond.

“Now Gwendolynn,” Mrs. Lauriant told me. “When next you come for lessons, I do expect you to be dressed appropriately.”

“Yes ma’am,” I responded with a sigh. I had no intention of wearing dresses any more than I had to, but I had to admit, they hadn’t really been all that bad. In fact, they’d been a little drafty…but kind of comfortable. After a moment of consideration, I decided that I could handle wearing one again if it meant I learned more magic. “Thank you.”

“Before you leave,” Mrs. Lauriant told me with a faint smile. “I do have a gift for you.”

Mrs. Lauriant handed me a cardboard box, and when I looked inside, I saw that it contained three books. The first book had the title ‘Magical Theory’, which was one of the main books that we’d been working out of during my time here. It contained all sorts of information on how magic worked, how to use it, and various exercises that would help build control. This was the equivalent of ‘Magic for Beginners’. The second book was another one much like the first, but it focused more on practical applications and some basic spells. It was the third book that really caught my eye. It was an old leatherbound volume that said ‘The Art of Illusion’ on the cover. I’d seen it on Mrs. Lauriant’s bookshelf, right along with some of the old and valuable books.

“This is,” I started, not sure what I could say to this. I had no idea what that book was worth, but I was pretty sure it was a lot.

“This does me little good,” Mrs. Lauriant stated with a faint sniff. “My particular talents lay elsewhere. I believe this book will be far more useful to you than it ever was me.”

“Thank you,” I told her with complete sincerity. “For this,” I said, nodding to the books. “And for everything else…”

Mrs. Lauriant smiled faintly and gave me a nod. “You are quite welcome, Gwendolynn. It was a pleasure instructing you, in spite of what your father does for a living.” Her eyes narrowed at that, reminding me of how Witchling had warned she didn’t like the MCO. However, while I was here, this was the very first time Mrs. Lauriant had made any reference at all to either my Dad or the MCO. “And I do hope we can arrange further instructions. It would be a shame for you to end your studies here.”

I grinned at that, then told her, “I’d like that. This whole magic thing is pretty interesting.”

“I’m pleased to see your interest,” Mrs. Lauriant told me with an amused chuckle. “Now remember, continue practicing the exercises I’ve shown you and make sure to study the first two books thoroughly. Those will help you build a solid foundation of knowledge while this third one will give you a somewhat more specialized direction to work towards.”

We continued saying goodbye for another couple minutes before Mom and I finally left. As we pulled out of the driveway, I let out a sigh of relief. The last couple days had been extremely educational, but Mrs. Lauriant was old fashioned and a bit strict, so it would be nice to get away from her and cut loose again. And as soon as I got home, I was going to change clothes and then go for a run.

--------------------

Sweat dripped down my face as I raced towards the fence then leapt towards the top, grabbing hold and flinging myself over it with a smooth and easy grace. This was the first opportunity that I’d had to go free running since my body had changed and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was handling it. With my more flexible body, I was able to pull some moves off even more easily than before.

Once I was over the fence, I raced across the fenced in loading yard, not even bothering to guess what kind of business this was. I hit a packed crate and vaulted over it, ran to a parked car and slid over its front hood, then I scrambled up the fence on the other side, easily flinging myself over that and continuing on my way.

When I finally returned home, I was breathing hard, sweating badly, and feeling absolutely fantastic. I’d definitely needed that run to burn off my frustrations and fine tune my control over my new body.

“And I’d better thank Mom for making me get the athletic bra,” I mused, having been a bit distracted at first by how my new assets jiggled as I ran. Fortunately, the athletic bra seemed to hold them in place pretty well.

I went to the fridge and grabbed a can of pop, deciding that I’d kick back and relax in my room for a bit before taking my shower. I definitely needed to wash off, but I was going to enjoy the runners high for a bit first. Maybe I’d flip through one of my new books while I was at it.

But then, I heard my Dad say, “Gwen, we need to talk.”

I saw Dad standing in the living room, giving me a serious look that didn’t tell me much. I glanced to Mom who was sitting down on the couch, and she nodded before getting up and joining Dad.

“Have a seat,” Dad said, gesturing towards the dinner table.

“What’s this about?” I asked suspiciously, though I was sitting down. The fact that Dad set several manila folders on the table suddenly made me nervous. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Mom quickly assured me as she sat down at the table. “But your father and I were talking about your future…”

“We’ll get to that in a minute,” Dad said, giving Mom a faint smile. Then he turned his attention back to me and said, “First, there is something I think you need to know.”

I eyed the manila folders, then gave him a suspicious look. “Like what?”

Then I shifted my vision over to mage sight so I could see Dad’s aura. Mrs. Lauriant had told me that a person’s aura could tell me a lot about them, and if I paid attention, it could even tell me what they were feeling. I didn’t really have a lot of experience with that though, so couldn’t really tell what Dad was feeling. However, I looked over at Mom’s and had a better idea of what I was seeing. After all, Mom clearly looked concerned.

“Not what,” Dad answered carefully. “Who. Your magic teacher.”

“Mrs. Lauriant?” I asked in surprise, and just a little confusion.

Dad was silent for a moment before saying, “I have…suspicions about her identity. If she is who I believe her to be, it might be a potential problem in the future. Whether it is or not, you need to be aware of it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing that Dad wasn’t the kind to be needlessly paranoid. Nor was he the kind to give this kind of talk unless he thought it might be important.

Dad opened one of the folders in front of him and took out a large photograph which he slid over to me. It was a picture of a woman who was wearing some kind of armor that appeared to be made out of wood, and which seemed to have grown smoothly around her body so as to show her feminine curves. The armor included a sort of long skirt, which appeared to be made of leaves and bark. Her face and long white hair were quite visible and looked the same as they had that morning.

I let out a gasp of surprise and recognition. “Mrs. La…” However, Dad held up a hand to stop me.

“The woman in the picture is called the Woodwife,” Dad explained with a serious expression. “Twenty years ago, she was considered a low level villain. She fell into the category of eco-terrorist, attacking loggers and destroying their equipment, though she was careful to never harm anyone. At the time, she had a partner, a man called the Woodsman. He was believed to be her husband.”

“Holy shit,” I blurted out, getting a disapproving glare from Mom at my swearing. I couldn’t believe that the proper and no nonsense Mrs. Lauriant was a super villain.

“Twenty years ago, an incident occurred,” Dad continued, “though the reports are…contradictory. What we know is that a group of MCO agents surrounded them. At that point, the details are unclear. The official report, submitted by the team leader, indicates that when the criminals were surrounded, the Woodwife murdered one of the agents and then the Woodsman was killed while they attempted to escape.”

“Oh my God,” I gasped, hardly able to imagine Mrs. Lauriant as a murderer. She was old fashioned and a bit strict, but that didn’t mean she’d kill someone. And besides, her sister was a super hero.

“However,” Dad said, giving me a steady look, “Several other witnesses
claim that the Woodsman and the Woodwife surrendered peacefully, but then an agent killed the Woodsman execution style and attempted to kill the Woodwife as well. She retaliated and killed that agent while escaping.”

I stared at Dad for a moment, realizing what he was trying to do. He was trying to tell me that I wouldn’t be allowed to take any more lessons from Mrs. Lauriant. And he was probably about to tell me that she was being arrested by the MCO as we spoke.

“I am inclined to believe the second set of circumstances,” Dad said, surprising me a little. I would have expected him to believe the official report since it was the official one. “The Woodsman and Woodwife had no previous record of violence against individuals, only machines. After this incident, the Woodwife vanished and hasn’t been seen since.”

“The poor woman,” Mom said sadly.

“What are you going to do?” I asked Dad.

“If I knew where the Woodwife was, I would be required to report her location,” Dad explained with a faint smile. “However, all I have are vague suspicions with no evidence to support them. It would be irresponsible and unprofessional to make such accusations unless I had some evidence to back them up.”

I couldn’t resist laughing at that, once again surprised by Dad. I never would have expected him to be one to turn a blind eye to a wanted criminal, even if she hadn’t been active in over twenty years.

“But what about my lessons?” I asked Dad with a sigh.

“Mrs. Lauriant seems to be a respectable woman and a qualified instructor,” Dad said carefully. “And Witchling speaks highly of her, which I consider to be a strong recommendation in itself. But if you are to continue your lessons with her, you should do so with full understanding of the situation.”

I nodded at that, thinking about Mrs. Lauriant and feeling sorry for her. Sure, she’d been a villain, but it didn’t sound like she’d really been a bad one. Or at least, she hadn’t been one of the ones like Dr. Diablik who killed people. And from what Dad said, in her own way, she’d actually been trying to do what she thought was right.

“At least now I know why she doesn’t like the MCO,” I said with a sigh while Mom nodded agreement.

I picked up my can of pop and took a long drink as I considered what Dad had told me. As of this morning, I never would have imagined that Mrs. Lauriant could possibly have had a past like that.

“What else?” I asked quietly, looking at the folders in front of Dad. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t done yet.

“Your education,” Mom said with a sigh. “You haven’t been back in school since you manifested.”

“But I can’t go back like this,” I blurted out in horror.

I shuddered at the thought of what everyone would say if they found out I’d turned into an elf girl. I’d always been teased about being small and wimpy, so what would they say about this?

“I know,” Mom told me with an almost pained look. “If you went back like this, it would create too many problems. And to be honest, I’d be afraid that someone would try to hurt you.”

“Your mother and I have been discussing this over the last couple days,” Dad told me with an odd look. He actually looked a little hesitant, which was enough to make me nervous. “I believe the best option for your future is Whateley Academy.”

“Whateley Academy?” I asked blankly.

“It’s a private school for mutants,” Dad admitted, sounding almost embarrassed. “You can go to school there and not have to worry about hiding what you are.”

“It’s on the other side of the country,” Mom said with a frown, obviously not happy about that. “But your father says it has a lot of classes just for mutants.”

“And Witchling assures me they have an extensive magic curriculum,” Dad pointed out. “I doubt that you would get the same kind of personal attention that you do with Mrs. Lauriant, but you would have daily lessons with greater resources.”

Dad told me a little more about this school, saying that they actually had classes to teach people how to be super heroes or mad scientists. It was hard to believe that a school like that could really exist, and just as unbelievable that Dad would recommend something like that for me.

When Dad was finished with his spiel, with Mom adding her own opinions, I just sat there and felt dazed. Dad just opened one of the folders and brought out some pamphlets for the school and slid them over to me. He didn’t close the folder, letting me see that he actually had an application form there.

“Wouldn’t something like this be expensive?” I finally asked. “I mean, I thought a normal private school would cost too much… What would something like this cost?”

Dad’s expression slipped into the calm and professional one that he usually wore, though his aura actually shifted a little. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it meant he was a bit worried and nervous. Mom’s definitely looked nervous.

“What?” I asked, knowing that something was definitely up.

“We have given that some consideration,” Dad said carefully. “There are scholarships for the school, but I suspect my profession may disqualify you for a number of them.”

Mom scowled and I could see from her aura that she wasn’t exactly thrilled with this. Fortunately, Mom always wore her emotions quite visibly, which was making it much easier to match and translate the colors in her aura.

“Do you know why the MCO was originally formed?” Dad abruptly asked me.

“To arrest mutants who commit crimes?” I responded.

“No,” Dad said with a very faint smile. “Not originally. In the nineteen sixties, a number of mutant supremacist groups began appearing, resulting in a backlash against mutants that is still being felt today. The Mutant Commission Office was formed in response, originally for the purpose to help regulate mutant issues on an international level and act as a liaison between law enforcement agencies, the scientific community, and the mutant community.”

“That doesn’t exactly sound like the MCO,” I pointed out. “No offence.”

“Over the years, the MCO was given increased police powers,” Dad explained with a frown. “And unfortunately, much of the liaison aspects of our charter have been overlooked.”

“Okay,” I said, giving Dad a curious look and wondering why he’d switched topics like this.

Two of my faeries landed on the table and sat down between us. Dad watched them for a moment, then smiled faintly. It was barely noticeable, but I caught it.

“Unfortunately,” Dad said carefully, “our original purpose often seems to have been forgotten. People often think the MCO exists simply to deal with dangerous mutants, forgetting that we are also supposed to work with mutants as well. This is partly due to people with anti-mutant views getting into various positions of authority and overlooking lapses in the rules that are in place to protect mutants. Part of this is also due to outside influences, such as the Goodkinds, who donate a quarter of our budget every year. They’ve long been using this to influence how the MCO deals with mutants.”

Dad shook his head, actually looking sad for a moment before he covered it up again. I just stared at him, suddenly wondering if my Dad had been replaced by some kind of pod person. He had definitely been a little more expressive than usual lately, but then again, maybe I was just paying attention more too.

“There are quite a few of us in the MCO who dislike the direction we’re going,” Dad continued grimly. “The MCO was created to act as a bridge, but instead, we’ve become a divisive element. I’ve spent years working to correct this, as have others.”

“I…I never knew,” I said in amazement. I’d heard all the same stories as everyone else, that the MCO protected baselines from dangerous mutants, or that they go too far and persecute innocent mutants. I’d always tried not to think of what my Dad might be doing as part of all that.

“What most people seem to forget,” Dad told me with a faint smile, “is that the MCO does employ mutants. We have since we were first founded. Having mutants within our organization is one of the best ways to keep us honest, though there are some in positions of authority who actively discourage this practice, mostly the same people who have been causing the problems in the first place.”

“What does this have to do with my going to some mutant school?” I asked Dad, trying to tie to the topics together.

“He wants you to work for the MCO,” Mom blurted out.

“What?” I gasped in surprise, as well as a little confusion.

Dad gave Mom a flat look, then turned his attention back on me. “Yes, I would like you to become an intern for the MCO. As an intern, you would be eligible for a little used program that would pay for your full tuition to Whateley Academy and provide you a small stipend as well.”

“You want ME to work for the MCO?” I asked, half sure that I must have heard that wrong. “But I’m a mutant…”

“And as I said,” Dad reminded me, “there are already mutants within the MCO, though admittedly, not many. The local field office is more…tolerant than many others and should accept this more readily.”

“I knew you’ve been telling me I should get a job,” I responded wryly, still trying to wrap my head around the idea. “But I thought you meant something like bagging groceries…”

Then I stared at Dad, remembering that he’d put me down as having an affiliation with the MCO on my MMID card. At the time, I’d thought it was just because I was a dependent of an MCO employee, but now I suspected that Dad may already have had this in mind.

Mom let out a sigh and shook her head. “I’m still not completely convinced that having you go to work for the MCO is a good idea, but they would pay for your education.”

“What would I have to do?” I asked Dad.

“Not much,” he told me thoughtfully. “For the most part, you’d just be attending the school as a normal student. But on summer vacation, you’d be expected to return home and work part time in the office, doing things like fetching coffee, helping with paperwork, and learning how we operate. There are some other requirements, such as you might be required to spend one weekend a month working in the field office closest to Whateley.”

With that, Dad opened one of the other folders and brought out some more paperwork, probably everything I’d need to go to work for the MCO and have them pay for Whateley. I shook my head, then burst out laughing at the very idea of having the MCO paying for me to go to a school for mutants. The irony of the situation was almost enough to make me agree right there.

Dad looked at me again, then said, “The rules are structured so that if you don’t want to work for the MCO after you graduate, you won’t have to. However, if you do decide on a career with the MCO, you’d become eligible for an ROTC type program that could also help put you through college.”

I just stared at Dad for a minute, not saying anything. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to go to this Whateley Academy place, much less go to work for the MCO. However, that school certainly did sound interesting and Dad seemed to think that this was my best option. Dad and I might disagree on a lot of things, but I never doubted that he was trying to look out for me the best way he knew.

Without saying a word, I began flipping through the pamphlets and forms that Dad had provided for Whateley Academy, then I started looking through all the other papers as well. I shook my head at the fact that I was even considering this, then I began asking some questions.

After we’d discussed all this for another hour, I finally took a deep breath and asked, “Where do I sign?”

--------------------

I felt extremely apprehensive as I stepped into the MCO’s Seattle field office. At the moment, I’d come dressed in a pair of slacks and a nice blouse so I could make a nice first impression, but the fact was that I also had green hair, pointed ears, and a small green faerie flying just over my shoulder. I was clearly a mutant, and most mutants would be worried about walking into an MCO building like this.

There were people sitting at desks, and some of them began looking up and starting at me. Most of their expressions seemed vague and professional, so I shifted over to my mage sight and was able to see a little more. I still didn’t have a lot of experience reading auras, but I saw what I thought was curiosity and amusement in a couple of them, but there were also some that seemed…hostile.

Yesterday, Dad had assured me that the local field office was considered one of the more tolerant ones, but I knew he still didn’t trust everyone here. After all, he’d gone through a lot of trouble to make sure that no one here had access to my power testing results, and that I had an MMID card so that he’d be able keep everything else as vague as possible.

The only things my MMID card really gave away was my codename of Absinthe and the fact that I had a class 4 wizard trait. And since magic users could be some of the most varied and versatile when it came to what they could do, that wasn’t saying much either. Technically, I could have been listed as a faux manifestor because of my ability to create the faeries, but since that was due to a common side effect of magic use, it got lumped in with that. In a way, it was kind of reassuring to know that they didn’t really know what I was capable of.

“Everyone,” Dad called out from beside me. “This is Gwen, who will be starting as an intern.”

“Isn’t she kind of young to be an intern?” one woman in a suit asked curiously.

“She does meet the minimum age requirements,” Dad answered, which seemed to satisfy the woman.

One man came towards us, greeting Dad with, “Miles, I have something I need you to look over when you get a chance.”

“I’ll stop by your desk before I leave,” Dad told him.

The man stared at me for a moment before smiling faintly and saying, “Hi, I’m Greg Rogers. Welcome to our little office.”

“Um…thank you,” I said, shaking his hand nervously. His aura didn’t show any hostility, just curiosity. That let me relax a little.

“Greg works in accounting,” Dad explained. “He’s the one who reviews our expense reports, including the ones for your education.”

I gave Greg another look, making a mental note to not piss him off. One thing Dad had always been pretty clear on was that you didn’t want the guys who wrote your paychecks to get mad at you, or there might be ‘accidental’ delays.

“For future reference,” Greg told me cheerfully. “I like my coffee with cream in it. Preferably some of the hazelnut cream we keep in the break room.”

I nodded at that, knowing that I wouldn’t actually be working here much, at least not until the summer, but when I was, I’d be expected to fetch coffee and generally play gopher. The work itself sounded kind of boring, especially since I’d also be learning MCO rules and procedures. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’d be paying for me to go to Whateley, I probably would have avoided this kind of work like the plague.

Once Greg was gone, Dad reminded me, “What I do for a living has become very relevant to you, and would be even if you weren’t interning here. You need to pay close attention because the better you understand the rules we abide by…or at least the rules we are SUPPOSED to abide by, the better armed you will be to deal with them.”

“Yeah,” I muttered with a roll of my eyes. “But if you follow stupid rules, that only encourages people to make more of them.”

Dad let out a faint sigh of exasperation at our familiar disagreement. “Rules that appear pointless or silly on the surface may have a good reason, even though you are not aware of what it is. And remember, whether you agree with a rule or not, there are still consequences for violating it.”

After this, Dad gave me a tour through the office, introducing me to several people. I paid close attention to their auras each time, trying to remember which ones seemed hostile. These were probably the people who Dad had been trying to protect me against. But to my surprise, the ones who were hostile were well outnumbered by those who were friendly or merely apathetic.

At one point, I saw Crucibelle coming out of an office, muttering, “I can’t believe you people. We save the city, but instead of thanks, you give us paperwork…”

“The world runs on paperwork,” a slender black woman told her. “And remember, if you had let Saint Helen destroy the Space Needle, you would have had even more paperwork.”

“Who knew super heroes had to fill out paperwork,” I mused.

“It’s regulation,” Dad told me in his usual even tone.

I rolled my eyes at that and muttered, “Of course.”

Then we passed one man who gave me a friendly nod, though his aura didn’t quite match his demeanor. Once we were past him, Dad warned me, “Watch out for Fredericks. He’s heavily involved with the local Humanity First group.”

“I noticed his aura,” I admitted. “It was kind of hostile.”

Dad nodded at that, not seeming to be bothered by the admission that I’d been using my powers to sort of spy on what people really felt. “I suspect he’s feeding them information he shouldn’t, though I don’t have enough evidence to do anything about it.” I noticed that there was an unspoken ‘yet’ at the end of that.

We were just about finished with the tour when two people approached Dad. “Agent Wylann,” a strict looking woman greeted him. She gave me a questioning look, scowling as she did so. However, her aura didn’t seem particularly hostile. “We have some information to discuss on the Slippery situation.”

“I’m afraid our new intern isn’t cleared for this,” the man who was with her stated.

“Gwen is a witness to one of Slippery’s crimes,” Dad said, getting looks of surprise from the other two. “She’s also the source of the last lead we had on him, so is already involved in this case.” He paused to give me a thoughtful look before adding, “Her perspective may be useful.”

“Yes sir,” the man said.

A minute later, we went into an office that had ‘Miles Wylann’ on the door. I looked around the inside of it, feeling curious since this was the first time I’d ever seen Dad’s office. It was kind of nice…but sparse. The only personal effects were a family picture we’d taken last year, which was framed and sitting off to the side, and a coffee cup that said, ‘World’s Best Dad’. I’d bought that for him for his birthday a couple years ago.

Once we were all inside, Dad introduced the man as, Agent Wilkins and the woman as Agent Cornish. Then he indicated that they should begin.

Agent Cornish gave me a steady look, then turned her attention to Dad, making an obvious effort to ignore my presence. “The information that Slippery was seen in the presence of two other mutants gave us a good start. Slippery might be hard to find, but Vindigo leaves more of a trail.”

“Sources indicate that Vindigo has recently been forming a new gang,” Agent Wilkins continued. “Apparently, they’re composed of disgruntled mutants, mostly ones with low power levels and little experience. Individually, most of them wouldn’t be considered much of a threat.”

Wilkins gave me a cautious look, as though afraid he might have offended me by that. Just because I was a mutant, that didn’t mean I was on their side, especially not after they’d tried to kill me.

“They’ve been making noises about attacking the MCO,” Wilkins continued, “and they seem intent on upgrading their status from disgruntled gang to terrorist threat.”

“Slippery has ingratiated himself with them,” Cornish told Dad, still not looking at me. “From what we could determine, he was supposed to take part in some sort of activity, but things didn’t go as planned. We haven’t found any details yet.”

Dad looked at me and scowled, showing little emotion though his aura flashed with anger. “The activity was an indirect attack on me. They ambushed my son and attempted to kill him in order to send a message to me.”

Wilkins and Cornish both gasped in shock at that. “Oh my God,” Wilkins exclaimed. “What happened? Is your son all right?”

For a moment, Dad just stared at me, then he looked at Wilkins and Cornish, his expression grim and serious. “What I am about to tell you does not leave this room.”

“Very well,” Cornish responded, giving me a quick glance that seemed to indicate that she wasn’t sure if she could trust me to keep quiet.

“Adam was able to evade and escape three powered individuals,” Dad said carefully. “Slippery, Vindigo, and an individual known as Spot.”

“How the hell did a kid do that?” Wilkins asked in surprise.

“He was a surprisingly elusive boy,” Dad said, a note of pride coming into his voice. “He actually gave Slippery a taste of his own medicine.”

Cornish scowled and pointed out, “You said he ‘was’ a surprisingly elusive boy.”

Dad was silent for several seconds, then he said, “Adam manifested during the attack, and his new abilities caught his pursuers by surprise, giving him the opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, he entered burnout a short time later.”

“Did he survive?” Wilkins asked, actually sounding concerned.

I squirmed self-consciously in my chair, knowing what was coming. “That depends on how you define survived,” I muttered, earning curious looks from Wilkins and Cornish.

“Adam’s body went through drastic physical alterations,” Dad said carefully. Then he gestured to me and said, “As you can see for yourself. Gwen here, used to be Adam.”

Wilkins and Cornish both stared at me with looks of surprise, making me even more self-conscious. I squirmed uncomfortably, wishing that Dad hadn’t told them. It was bad enough coming into the MCO office as a mutant, but to have people know that I’d gone through a sex change as well...

“I expect you both to keep her previous identity to yourselves,” Dad told Wilkins and Cornish with a serious look. “I’m telling you this because I trust you both to be able to do that, and also because Gwen is our best witness to the event.”

“I won’t say a word,” Wilkins promised, still watching me with a curious expression. Cornish nodded, now giving me a speculative look as well.

“Gwen,” Dad said, almost gently, “Please tell them everything you can about the mutants who attacked you.”

I nodded at that, then began to describe what had happened. They both gave me skeptical looks when I told them how I’d run away from my pursuers and had led them on quite the chase, especially when I mentioned how they’d caught up to me several times.

“And once they had me cornered and surrounded,” I finished off. “I sort of manifested and created a bunch of hobgoblins that distracted them so I could get away again.”

“I find it hard to believe that after chasing you that far,” Cornish said, “that they’d be distracted enough to let you get away.”

I shrugged at that, then admitted, “I kind of took advantage of their distraction to kick Spot in the balls and punch Vindigo in the throat. Slippery just teleported away about then.”

“That would do it,” Wilkins responded with a shake of his head while Cornish seemed vaguely amused.

“So Slippery is a teleporter,” Cornish mused thoughtfully.

“Damn,” Wilkins said with a shake of his head. “And I had twenty bucks down that he could walk through walls.”

“I think he has something else too,” I added, remembering the incident. “When I grabbed hold of him, I couldn’t… It was like he was super slippery. I was able to hurt him, so I don’t think it was a force field, but maybe some kind of low friction field…”

“Definitely a possibility,” Cornish responded thoughtfully. “This is the most information we’ve had on his abilities.”

Wilkins stared at me for a moment before saying, “So you’re the one who provided the lead that he was teaming with Vindigo. That might be just the thing we need to finally track him down.”

“I think you’re missing the most important part of this,” Cornish told him with a deep scowl. Her aura definitely showed that she was troubled, more than she was showing. “They were trying to hurt Wylann through his family. Our families could be next.”

“Oh shit,” Wilkins blurted out in realization.

After this, Dad discussed the next steps of their investigation with Wilkins and Cornish while I just sat there in near silence. I’d already told them everything I knew so didn’t really have much more to offer. However, it was pretty interesting to just listen in since it was like being in the middle of some kind of cop show on TV.

Once the briefing was over, Wilkins and Cornish took off, leaving me alone with Dad. He turned to me and said, “I hope you understand that everything you heard in here is confidential and you have to keep it to yourself.” He fixed me with a steady look and added, “Security is not some rule you can just ignore. Lives may very well depend on your being able to follow proper security procedures.”

My first impulse was to make a joke about that, but I knew Dad had a point. I nodded and said, “I understand.”

“Good,” Dad said, seeming satisfied. “Now, we have a few more things to take care of while we’re here.”

Dad and I finished up in the office, then left to go home. I let out a sigh of relief as we stepped out the doors to go, though I had to admit that it hadn’t been as bad as I’d feared.

Suddenly, a man appeared in front of me, one who was so plain and ordinary looking that it actually took a second to recognize him. “Don’t worry,” Slippery exclaimed as he grabbed hold of me. “I’m here to rescue you from the MCO.”

The world twisted and warped around me, leaving me filled with a gut twisting nausea. When it all passed, I collapsed to my knees and emptied my stomach all over the ground in front of me.

“Sorry about that,” a voice said from beside me. To my surprise, it was Slippery. “I can’t normally teleport other people with me, so I don’t have the hang of making it a smooth ride for them yet.”

“What the hell?” I gasped, feeling completely confused.

I stood up again and looked around, realizing that I was no longer standing outside the MCO field office. Instead, I was inside a large room with a half dozen people present, including Slippery. It was pretty clear that these were members of that mutant gang, because not only was Vindigo among them, but a couple definitely didn’t look normal.

“Thanks for amping my powers, Boost,” Slippery told a blue skinned woman. “I couldn’t get this distance without you, much less bring other people with me.”

“Where are we?” I asked, getting more worried by the moment.

“Don’t worry,” a slender black guy with glowing eyes told me. “You’re safe now…”

“Good thing I saw you when I was scouting their office,” Slippery said with a grin. “Otherwise, they would have made you disappear...”

I stared at Slippery and then glanced to Vindigo, realizing that they didn’t know who I was. Of course, I didn’t look anything like I had the last time they’d seen me, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. What was surprising was that Slippery had seen me leaving the office with Dad, and had apparently thought Dad was taking me in instead.

“Um…yeah,” I said carefully, relaxing just a little but not much. “Um…thanks.”

“Those MCO bastards,” Vindigo exclaimed vehemently. “I killed one of them last week and it felt so good…”

The blue skinned woman whom Slippery had called Boost nodded at that. “We’re going to take them down so they can’t ever hurt another mutant again.”

I scowled, clearly remembering the briefing on these people that I’d been a part of just a short time ago. Dad, Wilkins, and Cornish had all said that they were a gang of disgruntled mutants at the moment, but that they had the potential to step over the line into terrorist territory. Boost’s comment definitely seemed to support that worry, though whether this was just big talk or there was actually something going on behind it, I had no idea.

“We tried sending them a warning not to fuck with us,” Vindigo said with an angry snarl. “But that didn’t work out, so…”

“Hey,” Slippery exclaimed, looking at Vindigo and Boost. “You’re scaring the poor girl. She just got away from the MCO, so give her a chance to breathe and get her balance before you try recruiting her.”

“Sorry,” Boost apologized, giving me a slightly chagrinned look. “I’m just glad we got you away from them before they could hurt you…”

“I took her right out from under Wylann’s nose,” Slippery stated proudly, making me realize that Dad would have to be really worried about me.

I took a deep breath, trying to stay calm and collect my thoughts. Vindigo and Slippery had both tried killing me not that long ago, so my every instinct screamed for me to run out of here as fast as I could. However, they had no idea who I was at the moment and just seemed to think I was one of them. These people seemed friendly enough right now, but I had no doubt that could change without notice. If they found out who I was, or at least who my Dad was, then I’d be in real trouble again. And if they found out that I was interning at the MCO, then I suspected that would be even worse. My best chance was to just play it cool until I found an opportunity to get away from them.

“I’m Slippery,” my so called ‘rescuer’ introduced himself.

“They make soaps to help with oily skin,” I responded with a weak joke, which he seemed to find amusing enough to at least smile at. Then I forced a smile of my own and said, “I’m Absinthe.”

I really didn’t think it was a good idea to give these guys any more personal information than necessary, so using my codename seemed like a good idea. None of them even blinked at that, which shouldn’t have surprised me since they seemed to be using codenames too.

“As you can tell, we have a small issue with the MCO,” Slippery told me almost cheerfully. “The way they persecute mutants… They’ve been following me around for a couple months and nearly nabbed me a few times. And just because I’m a mutant…”

I bit my tongue at that, knowing full well that there was far more to why the MCO wanted him than just because he was a mutant. According to what I’d previously heard from Dad and the briefing from earlier today, I knew that he’d recently robbed the museum, a high end art gallery, and a few private individuals.

“You must be pretty lucky to have avoided them,” I told him wryly, thinking about how the MCO had actually thought he might be a probability warper.

“No,” Slippery told me with a smirk. “I’m just that good.”

“And so modest,” I responded wryly. That just made Slippery grin further.

“This is Vindigo,” Slippery introduced me to the woman who’d seemed so eager to murder me before. “She does levitation and energy bursts. This here is Boost…who can briefly boost a mutant’s powers.”

Boost gave me a friendly smile and said, “Pleased to meet you.”

Slippery quickly introduced the other people present, then gave me a curious look. “So, what can you do?”

“Not much,” I responded, deciding that it wasn’t a good idea to tell them very much about my abilities. I was about to summon a couple of my faeries because I thought that would seem flashy but harmless, but then I remembered that Slippery and Vindigo had already seen my faeries. Instead, I held out my hands and willed the magic to form the way Mrs. Lauriant had taught me. A moment later, a ball of faerie fire appeared in my palm. “Just this.”

“I can do that too,” Vindigo stated, holding out her hand and forming a ball of purple energy in it. I gulped, knowing that her energy was definitely more dangerous than my faerie fire.

Just then, two more people came into the room, both of whom looked more than a little familiar. The first was Spot, the dalmatian man who’d been part of the group that had tried to kill me. I wasn’t at all surprised to see him here, though I was stunned by the second person. It was Collin Reynolds, the classmate who’d also done his time chasing me around Seattle.

“This is Spot,” Slippery introduced the dalmatian. “And our newest member, Flytrap.”

“Flytrap?” I asked in surprise.

Collin stared at me for a moment with a look of clear and obvious attraction in his eyes, making me a bit uncomfortable. Then he gave me a faint smile and said, “I can make things sort of sticky.”

I stared back at Collin for a moment, absorbing this new information. The rumor around school had been that he was a low level exemplar, about a level 2, but I hadn’t heard anything about him having other powers. Of course, a few of my classmates had made their guesses, but no one had anything beyond that.

“Sticky?” I repeated, not exactly impressed.

“Actually,” Collin said with a faint smile. “I create this area around me where everyone else gets stuck to the ground.”

At first, I wondered what he was talking about, then I realized that I couldn’t move my feet. I tried lifting them, but it was no good at all. It was as though both of my feet had been superglued to the floor. I stared at my feet, seeing a strange sparkling effect on the ground which seemed to radiate out from Collin. After several seconds, the effect vanished and I was able to move again.

“Not bad,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and polite.

Collin may not have tried to kill me like Slippery and the others, but we didn’t exactly have a friendly relationship. In fact, the last time I’d seen him, he’d tried jumping me and I’d left him rolling on the ground with a bloody nose.

“I’m Absinthe,” I said politely.

“Like the booze?” Collin asked, giving me a curious look, probably trying to figure out why I’d chosen that codename. Then he nodded, “Because of the pointed ears and green hair…”

Just then, Spot started to growl and when I looked at him, he was staring at me. It was hard to read his expression when his face was more canine than human. However, he didn’t appear the least bit friendly.

“Bad dog,” I said nervously, taking a step back. “Sit. Stay.”

Spot sniffed the air and growled more loudly until Slippery demanded, “What’s wrong?”

“She smells like Wylann’s pup,” Spot responded with a snarl and another growl.

“It’s okay,” Slippery assured him. “She was with Wylann when I rescued her. You probably just smell him on her…”

“No,” Spot barked out, growing again. “She doesn’t smell like Wylann. She smells like his pup...”

“What’s this about Wylann?” Collin asked with a look of confusion. “I know a kid named Wylann at school…”

No one paid attention to Collin, though everyone in the room was staring at me. I was slowly backing away as Spot advanced, realizing that I was in serious trouble.

“Maybe she’s run into Wylann’s kid,” Vindigo said, giving me a suspicious look. “But how…?”

“No,” Spot growled. “She doesn’t have the pup’s scent on her… Her scent is the pup’s…”

Spot was pushing me back towards the wall, getting more cornered. I HATED being cornered. With that, I formed a ball of faerie fire in my hand and thrust it right into Spot’s face. When Spot tried to jump back, I took advantage of his distraction to leap forward, kicking him between the legs as hard as I could, then running.

I was out the door and down the hall at record pace while several of the mutants in the room chased after me. I came to an open stairway going down and grinned, immediately taking full advantage of the opportunity to clear some more space. I leapt over the railing, then bounced down over half a floor worth of steps. One of the things you learned as a free runner was how to go down stairs as quickly and efficiently as possible, so this gave me a nice lead.

Just as I reached the bottom floor, there was a flash and suddenly Slippery was standing there, though he wasn’t alone. Collin was with him, along with the black guy with the glowing eyes. Since Slippery had told me that he couldn’t normally teleport other people with him, his passengers were courtesy of Boost.

“Stop her,” Slippery ordered, and suddenly my feet were glued to the stairs, courtesy of Collin. I was really starting to dislike that guy.

“Did you see the way she moved?” the black guy exclaimed.

“Oh, I definitely noticed that,” Slippery responded, giving me a cold look. “I thought Spot was imagining things, but after that show...” Then he nodded to the black guy and said, “Do your thing.”

Suddenly, I felt a wave of complete and utter exhaustion wash over me, making it almost impossible to keep my eyes open. As I collapsed to the ground and began drifting off to sleep, I vaguely remembered that the black guy was named Snooze.

--------------------

When I woke up, I was in a sparsely decorated room that had the same faded paint and worn appearance as the room I’d first been teleported into. I was on the floor with my hands duct taped together in front of me. My ankles were similarly duct taped, so I wasn’t going to be going anywhere until I could get myself free. And since I had two guards sitting in the room with me, that wasn’t going to be easy.

Snooze sat next to the door, not watching me at the moment but being awake enough that I didn’t dare do anything. After all, it would only take him a moment to send me back to sleepy land, and the last thing I wanted to do was give him an excuse. Because of that, I remained where I was, not bothering to really pretend I was asleep but not doing anything to draw attention to myself either.

The other guard was a chubby blonde girl who kept glaring at me as though I’d kicked her dog. I shifted over to mage sight and took a look at her aura, trying to get a better understanding of what I was dealing with. Where Snooze seemed mostly bored, the blonde was angry with flashes of green, which I thought meant jealousy. I was still pretty new to this whole reading auras thing so wasn’t completely sure on the jealousy bit.

The walls on this building were thin, and since I was on the floor next to one of them, I could actually hear some people talking on the other side. It was difficult to make out at first, but when I focused on it, I was able to make out some of the conversation.

“I can’t believe you brought a spy here,” Vindigo snarled at someone. “She could have given away everything…”

“I didn’t know she was a spy,” Slippery responded. “I thought I was rescuing her from Wylann…”

“She had a fucking MCO employee badge on her,” Vindigo spat out angrily, making me groan. They must have gone through my pockets while I was unconscious. “And her MID even says she’s connected to those bastards…”

“What I’m more concerned about,” Boost said, sounding a little nervous, “is the fact that it also says she’s a wiz four. She’s a magic user…”

“Which is why I bound her hands and mouth,” Slippery stated. “She won’t be able to cast any kind of spells that way.”

“Do you think she’s really Wylann’s kid?” Vindigo asked, not sounding certain. “I mean, she doesn’t look anything like that boy, but the way she moved…”

“Yeah,” Slippery agreed. “It was just like him…”

“Smells the same,” Spot added eagerly, though his voice became just a little hesitant as he added, “But different too…”

Then Slippery suddenly exclaimed, “His sister… Of course… We only thought Wylann had one kid, but it makes sense… If someone in the MCO has a mutant kid, they’re going to keep it pretty damn quiet.”

“I think you’re right,” Vindigo agreed. “But we still need to deal with her. I don’t like killing a mutant, but she’s a damn traitor to her people… She’s a fucking Uncle Tom… Or maybe that’s Aunt Tom…”

Another voice, whom I didn’t recognize added, “Do you know how insulting that term is?”

“Like I give a fuck,” Vindigo responded. “I say we cut her to pieces and mail her to the MCO…”

“I’m not sure that’s the best course of action,” Slippery said carefully…

I remained where I was, silently listening to them argue about what to do with me while feeling a knot of dread in my stomach. I forced myself to be patient, remembering that I did have an ace or two tucked up my sleeve and that I wasn’t completely done for yet. I just had to be very careful of when and where I played my cards. I silently gave a thanks to Doug, for teaching me how to be patient and look for the right opening.

“You’d better not try anything,” the chubby girl who was guarding me suddenly exclaimed.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Snooze told her. “Relax Sid, she’s tied up and helpless. And if she did try anything, I can put her right back to sleep.”

The girl…Sid snorted at that. She stood up and held out her hand, where something appeared in it. It was a knife, which appeared to be made out of some kind of black stone. Obsidian. She’d just manifested an obsidian knife. Then she bent down in front of me, showing me the knife and giving me a nasty smile.

“If you even think of trying anything,” Sid warned me. “Well, you don’t want to make me mad…”

In spite of her threats, I wasn’t really all that afraid of her. For one thing, she just didn’t look all that intimidating, and for another, I just didn’t think she had it in her. I had a feeling that she was more bark than bite, though I certainly didn’t want to risk finding out that I was wrong.

Once Sid was sitting back down and had relaxed a little, I turned my attention back to the conversation on the other side of the wall. It was obvious that I’d missed a few things while I’d been distracted.

“I’m not sure Slippery has what it takes to kill that filthy traitor,” Vindigo spat out angrily. “I’m worried that he’s not fully committed to our cause…”

For once, I actually agreed with Vindigo, not that I’d ever tell her that. Unlike Vindigo and Boost, Slippery didn’t seem like a true believer. Instead, I got the impression that he was with this group because he found them useful for something, though I wasn’t sure what. However, I was starting to think that he was just planning on using them as a distraction, as some kind of buffer to keep between himself and the MCO.

“We need Slippery,” Boost pointed out. “Without him, how would we get that bomb into the MCO office?”

I froze at that, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that my mouth was taped shut, I probably would have let out a loud gasp. They were definitely starting to sound less like a gang of disgruntled mutants and more like a terrorist group.

“And without you, he wouldn’t be strong enough to do this,” Vindigo pointed out.

After this, things in the other room went quiet for awhile. If anyone was still in there, they were either being silent or talking low enough that I couldn’t hear anything at all. That left me to focus on my own situation a little more closely. I turned my attention back to my guards, both of whom were starting to sway in their chairs, obviously under the influence of my glamour. By now, they were both getting pretty dizzy, which meant that it wouldn’t be long at all before the hallucinations started.

Then I started to hear something from the other side of the wall again. Collin’s voice asked, “What are you going to do with that girl? You aren’t going to hurt her, are you?”

“She’s an MCO spy,” Vindigo responded. “We can’t let them get away with trying to infiltrate us. We have to send them a message…”

“But you can’t just murder her,” Collin exclaimed, sounding horrified. I found my dislike of him fading just a little bit as he protested my murder. Then he pointed out, “She is a mutant, and you wouldn’t want to kill another mutant…”

“I don’t like it either,” Boost said. “But we have to send them a strong message.”

Collin continued to protest until Vindigo spat out, “This is why we haven’t brought you in on the plan. I thought you might have the guts to help, but now you go and wimp out…”

Just then, Snooze jumped to his feet and looked around with an expression of wide eyed panic. “Spiders,” he blurted out in horror. “Everywhere…”

“Oh my God, that’s so cute,” Sid exclaimed, staring at a wall with a goofy grin. I had no idea what she was seeing, but she was obviously enjoying it.

Snooze began stomping on the floor and swatting at his arms and legs, muttering about the spiders. He was starting to really freak out at the imagined spiders while I just chuckled silently. Then Snooze held out his hand and suddenly Sid collapsed to the floor, caught with his power. I was worried for a moment, until she began to softly snore.

Since Sid was out of action and Snooze was completely distracted by the imaginary spiders, I decided that it was time to act. I tapped into a ley line drew in some essence, then released it as a burst of faeries. About two dozen faeries began flying around the room, freaking Snooze out even more. He dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball.

“This isn’t real,” Snooze began repeating over and over. “It isn’t real.”

I gave a mental order to my faeries and several of them swooped down and grabbed the obsidian knife that Sid had dropped, then they hauled it over to me and began cutting at the duct tape around my hands. After a minute, my hands were free and I was able to go to work freeing my legs and mouth as well. I couldn’t help but grinning smugly.

“Careful,” I teased Snooze. “The spiders may get you if you make any noise…” Snooze just curled up even tighter and began to whimper. I actually felt kind of bad for him, at least until I remembered his part in catching me.

My next step was to haul my butt out of this building so I could call Dad and warn him about what these people had planned. I grimaced at that and turned my attention to the window, which actually had metal bars covering it. From the way the bars were positioned, I suspected that they were there to keep anyone from breaking in, but they also meant I’d have a hard time getting out that way. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to check them.

When I grabbed the bars, I felt a sudden burning on my hand and yelped out in pain. I immediately yanked my hand back, only to see my palm was red, almost like I’d been burned. I stared at the bars in confusion since they weren’t hot. Then it dawned on me. The bars were made of iron.

“Oh shit,” I gasped, wincing in pain and understanding. I’d been warned that Sidhe had a bad reaction to iron, but until now I hadn’t taken it too seriously. Until now, I hadn’t realized how bad that reaction could be. “Damn…”

Since I couldn’t slip out the window and down the fire escape, that meant I would have to go out the other way. I was a bit nervous about facing those guys unarmed, until I remembered that I was a mutant with magic powers. Sure, I might not know much magic yet, but I did know one or two spells that might be useful. With that, I began preparing one of them so it would be ready.

When I stepped out the door, I found myself in the same hallway I’d seen before, with the stairwell being visible on the other end. However, it was then that Boost stepped out of the room next door and immediately saw me.

“She’s escaping,” Boost yelled out, raising the alarm before I’d stepped two feet away from my jail cell.

There was loud growling and barking as Spot came racing down the hallway towards me, and when he was close enough, I released my spell. There was a brilliant flash of light, which blinded the dalmatian man, giving me the opportunity to kick him between the legs again.

“Bad dog,” I told him grimly, wondering how many times I’d done that to him already. I was actually starting to lose count. “No biscuit.”

All the noise had gained me too much attention since other people were starting to run into the hall to see what was going on. I certainly didn’t want to find this many people, nor did I really have to. I just needed to slip past them somehow.

Slippery suddenly appeared behind me and grabbed my shoulder. I grabbed his wrist in order to use a move Doug had shown me to flip him over my shoulder, but I couldn’t get a grip. Instead, I squirmed out of his grip and kicked him in the leg, then I started running for the stairs again, sending my faeries to attack everyone present. My faeries couldn’t do any damage, but they could sure as hell provide a great distraction. The only one who wasn’t paying attention to the faeries was Boost, so I threw a ball of faerie fire right at her face. She let out a scream, though the faerie fire vanished as soon as it touched her. But by then, I was already racing down the stairs the same way I had earlier.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I wasn’t surprised to see Slippery waiting for me with two other people. One of them was Collin, who didn’t look happy at all, though I couldn’t blame him since I wasn’t happy to see him again either, especially not while I was trying to escape. The other person with Slippery was a tall and heavily muscled Asian guy whom I hadn’t seen before. He just snarled.

“Stop her,” Slippery order Collin.

“No,” Collin responded, backing away from Slippery, giving the professional thief a pissed off glare. “I thought you guys were some kind of mutant support group, not THIS. I NEVER signed up to hurt anyone…”

The big guy came at me, but when I tried dodging around him, Slippery was suddenly there, grabbing hold of my arm. He gave me a furious look and spat out, “You’re ruining everything…”

“I’m good at that,” I responded, sending half a dozen faeries to attack his face, causing him to let me go. Unfortunately, the big guy was faster than I’d suspected and he was already blocking my path. I swung a fist at him, then at the last second, I kneed him in the groin instead. But unlike Spot, he didn’t go down. Instead, he just grunted in annoyance. “Not good.”

I flung some faeries into the big guy’s face, then dodged around him and ran out the front door of the building. However, Slippery teleported behind me and grabbed me in a tight bear hug, snarling in my ear, “I was going to let you go. I was going to rescue you and offer to tell the MCO everything I knew about these guys for immunity… But you had to go and break out on your own, leaving me without any leverage. Now I don’t have any choice but to make sure you can’t point the finger at me too. I guess I’ll just have to tell Wylann how I tried to save you from them but failed…and how I’ll happily testify if the MCO leaves me alone…”

“I was wondering what you were up to,” I responded, struggling to get loose but it wasn’t easy. His powers kept me from getting any kind of grip on him, which prevented me from using a lot of tricks that I’d been taught. Unfortunately, his slippery power only seemed to work one way because he didn’t have any problems grabbing me.

“Let her go,” Collin yelled, charging Slippery and punching him. “I won’t let you just murder her, even if she is with the MCO.”

“You don’t have much say in what I do or don’t do,” Slippery told him grimly.

Just then, the sound of sirens filled the air while a half dozen cars and vans with MCO markings on the side pulled up in front of the building. Agents began pouring out, half of which were dressed in SWAT team style armor while two people in powder blue power armor climbed out of the vans. Then I saw my Dad, standing right in front with a very grim look on his face.

“This is my cue to leave,” Slippery said, then froze. “What the…”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Collin told him with a grim look. “You’re staying here to face the music, same as me.”

“You can’t hold me,” Slippery protested struggling to lift his feet, neither of which would budge at all. “Nothing can hold me if I don’t want it to. Oh well, there’s more than one way to leave…” But when nothing happened, a look of stunned disbelief came over his face. “I can’t teleport… How…?”

“It’s a warper effect,” Collin told him. “But to be honest, I had no idea I could hold teleporters in place too.”

“Impressive,” I said, nervously stepping back. “And thanks.”

Collin stared at me for a moment, then abruptly asked, “You’re Adam’s sister…aren’t you?” When I didn’t answer, he continued, “He never said he had a mutant in the family…”

“You never asked,” I pointed out suspiciously.

Collin nodded at that, then sighed. “No, I didn’t. And tell him…I’m sorry.” With that, he held up his hands in surrender as MCO agents rushed to surround us.

“You’re all right,” Dad exclaimed, the look of relief on his face surprising me since I don’t remember him ever being so expressive before. He even grabbed me and gave me a hug. “I was so worried…”

“Me too,” I admitted. “But how did you find me?”

Dad gestured to the little green faerie that was sitting on his shoulder, the one that had been left behind when Slippery had teleported me away. “This thing led me straight to you.”

“Glad to have you back,” I told my little pet, who flew off to join her more recently created sisters as they hovered in a cloud nearby.

“Now then,” Dad said, giving Collin and Slippery a cold look. “Slippery…” He actually smiled a little at finally having Slippery in front of him.

“I’m holding him in place with my power,” Collin said. “I can’t hold him forever though and as soon as I let go…”

“He helped me get away,” I told Dad, gesturing to Collin, deciding not to mention that he’d also helped them catch me in the first place.

One of the MCO agents went in to grab Slippery, then found his own feet were stuck as well. “Sorry,” Collin apologized. “I can’t make the field go away without releasing him…”

“No problem,” a new voice said.

When I turned and saw the speaker, my mouth dropped open. He was big, muscular, and intimidating as hell, even though he was just wearing jeans and a Harley Davidson T-shirt. He had a nasty looking scar across his face and more visible scars along his arms, though I knew he had a lot more than that.

“My power is that I’m immune to other mutant’s powers,” the newcomer said, walking right through Collin’s flytrap field and grabbing Slippery in a firm grip.

“This is one of our freelance contractors who sometimes helps us out with dangerous mutants,” Dad said, introducing the big man. “His codename is Frankenstein.” Then he turned to me and smirked faintly as he added, “But I think you’ve already met him.”

All I could do was stare dumbly as Doug, my self-defense teacher, manhandled Slippery into some kind of high tech handcuffs and collar. At this point, Collin stopped using his powers and just stood there, waiting to be arrested.

“Got him all trussed up for ya Miles,” Doug told my Dad.

“Once we knew what Slippery’s powers were,” Dad said calmly, “we had a devisor make something specifically to hold him. He won’t be slipping out of these.”

“Slippery wasn’t alone,” I exclaimed, remembering that there may have been up to a dozen mutants in that gang. “That gang you were looking for. They’re upstairs.”

“After Slippery took you, I suspected we’d run into them,” Dad told me grimly.

Suddenly, the big Asian guy came bursting out of the building and charged straight at me, looking pissed. His fists began glowing orange as he charged, letting me know that it wouldn’t be a good idea to get in his way. I jumped to the side and sent all of my faeries at him, grinning faintly as I did so. The faerie Dad had brought back to me was with them, and she was charged full of the energy from my glamour.

Over the last couple days, Gozer had been chasing my faeries around the house and trying to catch them, mostly without much success. However, I’d gotten a good look at what happened when he managed to catch and destroy one of the ones that had been full of my glamour energy. All that glamour energy had been released in one burst, leaving me with a badly stoned cat and a lot of laughs.

While most of my faeries distracted the big man, the one full of my glamour energy self-destructed against him, hitting him with about six hours of glamour energy, all at once. He stopped and staggered as he was instantly hit with the hallucinations.

The big man snarled and began swinging his fists, punching at something that wasn’t there. He looked around him with an expression that was filled with fear and confusion, then let out another roar and ran off after something only he could see, only to slam face first into the wall of the building.

“I don’t know what the hell you did to him kid,” Doug said, watching the big man stagger around and once again punching at something that wasn’t there. He grinned, his voice filled with approval as he said, “But you sure as hell don’t play fair.”

“If you aren’t cheating, then you aren’t trying hard enough,” I responded with one of Doug’s favorite sayings in class.

Doug just gave me a look of surprise and said, “You’ve got that right.”

I just stared at Doug for a moment, then looked at Dad, realizing that I’d been set up. When Dad had sent me to that ‘women’s self-defense course’, I’d always thought that he’d done it to hurt my pride and make me want to learn a real martial arts. But now, it seemed that he knew exactly what he was doing the entire time.

“Sneaky bastard,” I muttered, feeling a new sense of pride for my Dad. I’d always thought he was rigid and inflexible, but lately, I’d learned he was a lot more devious than I’d ever imagined.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sight of two men in power armor rushing the big guy and grabbing hold of him. As I watched, they pinned him to the ground and then some guy in SWAT gear run up and slapped some kind of device onto him. A moment later, metal coils wrapped the big guy up and left him tied up like a mummy.

“Good job,” Dad told the MCO agents. “The rest of the group is inside, but be careful. We don’t know the full range of their abilities. Take them alive and unharmed if at all possible.”

“Got it,” Cornish told Dad as she and a group of agents went through the front entrance.

Doug was starting to go into the building with the agents, but Dad called out, “Frankenstein, I’d like you to hold back for a moment. We might need you if one of them tries to escape.”

“Got it,” Doug responded, not looking happy about it.

Then Dad turned to Wilkins and told him, “Read these two prisoners their rights. They’re going to want their lawyers, so we need to make sure we’ve followed procedures to the letter.”

“I’ve seen what some of them can do,” I told Dad, hoping that I could be helpful.

Dad nodded at that, then said, “Stay back behind the armored van. I don’t want you in any more danger than you’re already in.” Then he gestured to one of the men and said, “Tell Blokowski whatever you know, he’ll relay it to the insertion team.”

Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice scream, “Fucking MCO…”

I looked up and saw Vindigo flying out of one of the upper windows of the building with Boost clutched firmly in her hands, barely holding the other woman aloft. They were trying to fly away, but Vindigo was obviously having difficulties with the extra weight.

“I’m slipping,” Boost cried out in horror, just before she slipped out of Vindigo’s grip and fell to the ground with a scream and a thud. She was still moving, but was obviously in bad shape.

“You bastards,” Vindigo screamed, as though it was somehow the MCO’s fault that she’d lost her grip.

With that, a ball of purple energy formed in front of Vindigo and she flung it at one of the cars. The ball exploded on impact, leaving a burning mess where the car had been a moment earlier.

“Oh shit,” I blurted out. Boost had augmented Vindigo’s powers so we were in trouble. I just hoped that power boost wore off soon. I looked at Collin and demanded, “Can’t you freeze her?”

“Only if she lands,” he responded with a look of clear fear.

Vindigo threw another blast of energy and everyone dove for cover. Everyone except Doug, who was caught right in the middle of the blast but didn’t seem the least bit harmed.

Then before I realized it, there was a growling noise and Spot came charging at me, looking almost rabid. “Bad pup,” Spot snarled, glaring at me with an expression of hatred. “I’ll kill you…”

To my surprise, several of the MCO agents threw themselves between me and Spot, trying to protect me. One of them leapt at the dalmatian man, though Spot hit him and knocked him aside, then leapt over the other and right at me.

“Bad girl,” Spot exclaimed as he reached me, slashing out with his hands which were almost clawlike. “Bad bitch…”

I jumped back and started to run, but then there was another explosion in front of me, cutting off my path. Spot was on me again, grabbing my arm and then coming in to bite me.

“Gwen,” Dad cried out in obvious fear.

I turned and slammed my elbow into Spot’s stomach, then grabbed his hand from where he was holding me and kicked him in the back of the knee. In a moment, I drove Spot face first into the ground. Still holding his hand, I pulled back, earning a scream of pain right before I once again kicked him between the legs.

“Maybe this time I should get you fixed and be done with it,” I sneered at the dalmatian man as I backed away.

“Damn,” Collin exclaimed, staring at me with a look that seemed both impressed and afraid at the same time. “That hurt just to watch.”

Dad gave me a look of pride while Doug gave me one that was bursting with curiosity. I just looked back up at Vindigo, who was preparing to throw another ball of energy down at us. However, there was a gunshot, and suddenly she fell from the air instead.

Two MCO agents rushed over to Vindigo’s body, then called out, “She’s alive but in bad shape.”

Dad turned to his agents and began barking out orders while I backed off and watched. This was the first time I’d ever really seen my Dad at work, other than at the office today, and that didn’t really count because he was mostly just showing me around. But now, he was in the field and clearly in charge.

Once everything was under control and the gang had been rounded up and taken into custody, I found myself watching Collin. He was standing with some agents, looking extremely worried, and probably uncertain as to whether he was under arrest or not.

Doug was coming towards me, so I watched the man nervously. I’d sparred with him on countless occasions and he never ceased to be at least a little intimidating. And now, I knew that he was a mutant on top of that.

“Those were some good moves,” Doug said, giving me an approving nod. He stared down at me for a moment more, looking just a little confused. “Who taught you to fight like that?”

I hesitated only a moment before answering, “You did.”

Doug gave me a look of surprise, though his eyes narrowed a little as well. “I thought that style looked familiar…”

I stared down at the ground, suddenly feeling extremely self-conscious at having him see me like this. “So,” I said awkwardly. “You know my Dad…” At his questioning look, I gestured to my Dad.

Doug’s eyes widened at that. “Adam?”

I nodded at that, then quietly told him, “I’m Gwen now… Or Absinthe…”

He had a thoughtful look before musing, “Then I’m guessing Javier’s little bout of seeing thing…”

I nodded again, “Yeah. I guess that was me.”

We were both silent for a moment before Doug said, “You did good with that mutt. I’m glad you listened in class.”

“I didn’t know that you knew my Dad,” I said awkwardly.

Doug laughed at that. “Yeah, I’ve worked for Miles a few times. He told me not to let on that I knew him though. In fact, when he asked me to teach you, he warned me that the best way to get you to listen to me was to let you think you were doing it to spite him.”

Doug chuckled at that while I just blushed, wondering if I was really that predictable. Apparently I was because it had worked pretty well. However, I couldn’t exactly blame them because I definitely appreciated everything Doug had taught me, and I was still eager to learn more.

“That’s an interesting new look for you, kid,” Doug told me with a gentle smile. “I think we’re gonna have to talk…and maybe figure out how you can integrate your new powers…”

With that, Doug wandered off to go help with the mutants they’d just arrested. I let out a sigh, deciding that I was going to have a little talk with Dad about how he’d manipulated me, and maybe even thank him. I had to admit that, at least this one time, he’d definitely been right.

While I was considering what I was going to say to Dad, I noticed Collin was coming towards me. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he told me awkwardly. “I’m really sorry that I listened to Slippery and helped them grab you.”

“You also helped me get away,” I pointed out with a faint smile. “And you caught Slippery, which no one else was able to do.”

Collin shrugged at that, still looking worried. “These guys are probably gonna lock me up too,” he said after a few seconds. “So before they do, I want you to tell your brother I’m sorry for busting his balls like that.”

“I will,” I responded, a little surprised by the apology. He’d already said something to that effect earlier, but he definitely seemed sincere. “To be honest, I don’t think he ever took it personally.”

Collin continued standing there for a moment, staring at me with an odd expression. Then he suddenly blurted out, “I also wanted to tell you that I think you’re absolutely gorgeous…”

“What?” I gasped in surprise as Collin blushed bright red and hurried off.

I just stared after Collin, blushing bright red as well and feeling a warm flush through my body. That had been unbelievably embarrassing, but at the same time, I was startled to realize that I actually felt strangely happy about the compliment.

“No way,” I exclaimed, shaking my head and trying to clear it of those confusing emotions

There was no way I was going to get all girlie and happy because some guy had called me pretty...even if he was kind of cute himself. Then I groaned, deciding that it was just all the excitement and adrenaline getting to me, messing with my head. This, along with everything else about today, had been weird and messed up. I was just glad it was all over.

--------------------

I held my infant son in my arm, feeling a mixture of joy, pride, and great sadness. I’d given birth to the boy a mere two days ago so he was still fresh to the world, completely innocent of the dangers that thrived here. With a sad smile, I bent over and kissed his ear, which was far too rounded for my preferences. Then again, it might be for the best that he took after his father that way. It would let him fit in with the humans a little more easily.

I was dreaming, and though a large part of me was aware of this, the me that was actually a part of the dream was not. At the moment, I was a new mother, holding my baby and worrying about his future and my own.

My thoughts turned to the corrupted bear creature that had so nearly taken my life. The battle had been short but brutal as its poisoned breath had quickly slain all of my pixie scouts. Even my closest friend X’rxi had fallen before the beast, sacrificing her own life to save mine. I myself had survived, but only at great cost. I’d managed to drive my spear through the foul beast’s eye, but had lost my left arm in the process. Then while the beast was writhing in pain, I ran…and have not truly stopped since.

Once, I had been a creature of joy and delight, but now I lived a life of shame and loneliness. First, I’d been exiled from my home over the smallest of crimes, then I’d failed in my duty and had fled the lands of the Court of the West, seeking refuge among a tribe of humans. The only joy I had left was this newborn infant. I’d been so lonely that I’d allowed the human chieftain to fill me with child, a decision that had not been easy, and one that I did not regret. This boy in my arm was my last shred of happiness.

The baby had been fed and was now sleeping, so I gently set him down so he could continue doing so. Then I held out my hand and a small green pixie flew across the room and landed on my palm. In spite of appearances, this wasn’t my old friend X’rxi, but was instead a magical construct that I’d fashioned in her semblance. After losing my arm, I’d created this construct to help me, doing so in the semblance of my old friend out of my loneliness. Sometimes, I could almost pretend that X’rxi was still by my side.

I gave my construct instructions to watch over my son, then it flew off to stand guard and watch for any signs of danger. Then I used my magic to craft an illusion around myself, altering my appearance so that I would seem to be just another human. It was easiest to deal with the humans when they thought me one of them. Only once my illusion was fully crafted was I ready to meet with my neighbor about purchasing food.

After I had barely stepped foot past my threshold, I suddenly felt a warning from the wards that I’d placed around the village. Something very dark and dangerous was approaching. Without hesitation, I reached for the dagger at my waist.

It didn’t take long before I saw the source of the warning, the foul bear creature who’d taken my arm. He was coming straight towards me, having only one eye which now radiated a pure malevolent hate. Somehow, he’d followed me ever since I’d escaped him, probably to take revenge for the injury I’d given him in the process. I felt a surge of terror at the sight, not for me, but for my child. There was no way I could allow this beast to take the last shred of happiness I had left.

I threw my dagger at the beast, then began casting what spells I could to fight it. I created illusions of myself and scattered them about, hoping to deceive the creature into attacking them instead of me. My ploy worked long enough for armed human villagers to arrive and begin to attack, though they had little effect. The humans fell before the beasts corrupted claws and poisoned breath.

For a brief moment, I thought of taking my baby and fleeing the creature, just as I’d fled from it before. However, I knew that I would not be able to escape with a baby in my arm, and there was no way I would leave the child behind. And even if I could somehow escape with my son, I had no doubt that that the beast would only follow me again. If I was to stop this beast and protect my child, this was my only chance.

I cast a spell to attack the beast, but my direct magics had little effect. I quickly grabbed my spear from within the threshold of my home, then charged the creature. As before, the battle was quick and vicious, but I drove the tip of my spear up beneath its throat and into the head. I watched with some pleasure as the dark malevolent life faded from its remaining eye. However, the foul beast had also taken its own final revenge, tearing open my stomach with a single swipe of its claws and leaving my insides to spill out. As I lay there dying, I could no longer feel sad. Instead, with my last breath, I merely smiled at the fact that my joy would live on.

I bolted upright in bed, dripping with sweat and gasping for breath. My heart still raced from that nightmare, which had felt far too real. I could almost feel a pain in my stomach where that bear monster and gutted me and I definitely didn’t like that feeling.

“This is the worst one yet,” I muttered, closing my eyes to keep from shaking.

Ever since I’d manifested and had turned into an elf girl, I’d been having weird dream that were almost right out of Lord of the Rings. Most of them, I could barely remember any details from, though there had been one where I vaguely remembered dancing with pixies. But unfortunately, there had now been a couple that were like this one.

I climbed out of bed, deciding that I should probably do something about this. At first, I’d just thought these dreams were due to my subconscious making a big fuss about my suddenly turning into an elf, but now I wasn’t quite so sure. In fact, I was beginning to get a little worried that it might be some kind of side effect of being Sidhe.

“I’m going to have to ask Mrs. Lauriant about this,” I muttered to myself. “Or Witchling.”

I smiled faintly as I considered the fact that I now had the phone numbers of both a super hero and a former super villain. It seemed ridiculous, but not really any more so than my turning into some kind of elf girl and going to work for the MCO. My whole life had gotten pretty weird lately. Even Doug had gotten in on the weirdness.

“If my old babysitter turns out to be a super villain, I am not going to be happy,” I announced with a sigh. Then I paused to add, “But that might explain her sour attitude.”

It had only been two days since I’d been kidnapped by Slippery, and everything had been in kind of a rush since then. Yesterday, I spent over half the day at the MCO offices, doing debriefings and filling out paperwork, as if I hadn’t already done enough of that right after everything was over. Of course, Mom hadn’t been happy about that and had chewed Dad out for letting me get kidnapped in the first place, then again for making me do paperwork when she thought I should be back home recovering. Crucibelle and Witchling had come by for some of their own paperwork and they’d both been amused to find me there, being stuck with the same task they were.

Once I was done with the MCO, Doug insisted that I come to his studio for a couple hours so we could work on how to integrate my new abilities in with my various techniques. To my relief, there were no other students there, only the two of us. And to my surprise, Doug didn’t say anything about my sex change, treating me the same as before and acting as though I still looked the same way I always had. I definitely appreciated that as it made the whole situation a bit less awkward. However, he’d definitely been impressed by my glamour, and especially how I’d been able to use it against my opponents the day before.

“Anything you can do to keep your opponents off balance is good,” Doug had told me with an approving nod. “And if you can make them punch at invisible enemies instead of you, all the better.”

“And now I have to get ready for today,” I said with a sigh, knowing that it was going to be even more difficult than filling out paperwork or sparring with Doug. Today, Mom had claimed me for some ‘mother/daughter’ time before I had to leave for Whateley Academy tomorrow. “Shopping and a spa,” I added in exasperation, thinking that it had been too much to hope that Mom would have been satisfied with the shopping trip we’d already done.

Even though I didn’t really want to think about what Mom had planned for the day, it was still preferable to thinking about that horrible nightmare I’d had. Then again, a couple of those spells I’d cast in the dream had been pretty cool and I might have to try them out and see if they worked for real. Still, I let the dream fade into the back of my mind as I went to take a shower and then get ready for the day.

Once I was showered and dressed, I sat down for breakfast, delighted to find that Mom had make pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were great as always, but the bacon tasted just a little off. Then again, most meat had tasted just a little off since my change, just a little less appealing. Still, I didn’t let that stop me from eating it since bacon was still bacon.

“I wish we had more time until you had to go,” Mom told me while we ate. “You just changed and haven’t had a chance to really get used to it yet.” She gave me a sympathetic look.

“You and Dad are the ones who wanted me to rush off as soon as possible,” I pointed out before stuffing a big bite of pancake into my mouth.

“True,” Mom agreed with a wry smile. “As much as I want to help you learn to be a woman, the rest of your education is too important to delay. Especially with your new powers.”

“I’ll figure it out,” I told her, putting on a brave face.

Mom just gave me an odd look and shook her head. “I think you’ve been trying to ignore your new body as much as possible. In a way, that might be a good thing since it’s been giving you a chance to adjust slowly, but you can’t ignore it forever. Whether you like it or not, you are a young woman now.”

“Mrs. Lauriant was pretty good at reminding me,” I reminded her, thinking of the dresses she’d made me wear.

“That dress did look good on you,” Mom responded with an amused smile. “In fact, I think we might want to get you some dresses and skirts while we’re out today.”

I gulped at that, then quickly reminded her, “I’ll be wearing school uniforms, so I won’t need a lot of regular clothes…”

Mom nodded at that, then smirked faintly. “You know, the uniforms for girls have skirts.”

I groaned, definitely not happy with that idea. However, I’d already made my decision about going to Whateley so all that was left was to grin and bear it. Wearing dresses for Mrs. Lauriant hadn’t been too bad, so I’d get used to it.

After we were done eating, I sat back and read from one of the books Mrs. Lauriant gave me until Mom was ready to go. The book was a little dry reading, but it was also pretty interesting, so when the time came, I was actually a little reluctant to put it down.

Mom drove us to the spa, where we were brought into a room with two women who would be performing our massages. One of them gave me a jealous look while the other one seemed a little more appreciative. Both reactions made me just a little uncomfortable.

“You know,” Jessica, the woman who was going to perform my massage said, “you’re so beautiful. Have you ever thought about modeling?”

“Um…not really,” I responded self-consciously, while Mom sat back and chuckled. She was definitely enjoying this.

“Now, you need to get undressed so we can give you a proper massage,” Jessica told me cheerfully.

The idea of getting undressed in front of Mom and these strangers made me very uncomfortable, but Mom was doing it and wrapping herself up in a towel until she got on the massage bed. I followed Mom’s example, though a little hesitantly.

“Oh my God,” Jessica blurted out. “Your ears…” Then before I could think of what to say, she got excited and asked, “Are you an elf or something?”

“Or something,” I responded wryly.

Jessica apparently realized that I didn’t really want to talk about it because she dropped the subject. What she did do was have me lay down on my stomach, then she went to work massaging my back and shoulders. At first, I was pretty nervous about having such a pretty girl touching me, but I quickly just relaxed and enjoyed how good this felt on my muscles.

The entire time I was getting massaged, a tiny green faerie sat in the corner of the room, staying out of view and silently watching everything that went on. I hadn’t brought my faerie as either a pet or to just play voyeur. I’d brought her to collect the energy from my glamour, just as I always made sure to have at least one faerie nearby me for that purpose.

I glanced at Jessica, thinking about her excited reaction to my pointed ears and wondering how she’d react to my little green faerie. It might actually be pretty amusing to watch, but I didn’t want to risk her or the other masseuse getting freaked out over it. It was better to just keep a low profile and avoid the unnecessary attention.

When we were done with the massage, Mom and I put on bathrobes and were ushered into another room where we sat back while a woman and a very obviously gay man, gave us manicures and pedicures. I was thankful that I was the one with the girl, a nice busty blonde who kept leaning over and giving me a good look at her cleavage. But for some reason, I just couldn’t appreciate it properly.

“So, Gwen,” Mom asked me with a contented smile. “What do you think of this so far?”

“It’s not bad,” I said, being careful not to move my hands since the manicurist was still working on them.

Before we’d come here, I’d made a very conscious decision to play along and not complain at all. This was a lot more girlie than I’d wanted to do, but Mom wanted to spend some time with me before I left and the least I could do was humor her. But to my surprise, I was actually finding it rather relaxing.

When they were done, I stared down at my nails, which were now painted green and looking rather feminine. I couldn’t help but having mixed feelings about them, finding that I kind of liked them this way, but feeling guilty for doing so. It felt like a complete betrayal of my male identity.

“I wonder if Collin would like them,” I mused to myself, then paused to wonder why I even cared what he thought about them or anything else.

“You look beautiful,” Mom told me proudly once we finally left. Then she gave me a hug and said, “Thank you for humoring me like this. I’ve always wanted to have a daughter to do these kinds of things with, and I know you’re not comfortable with this yet.”

“It was no big deal,” I told mom with a faint smile.

After this, Mom and I went and did a little more shopping, and once again I humored her by not complaining. Truthfully, my wardrobe options were still pretty limited so I didn’t mind getting more clothes. We even stopped at Hot Topic, where I couldn’t resist buying a black T-shirt with a cool picture of a green faerie on the front. It seemed appropriate.

Mom and I returned home later that afternoon, and I was in an oddly good mood after spending the day with her like that. Shopping hadn’t suddenly become my new favorite pastime, much to my relief, but I could handle doing that spa thing again sometime, especially the massage.

“I doubt these will last long once I go running again,” I commented as I dropped my bags onto my bed and looked at nicely manicured nails. “But I have to admit, the green polish really goes well with my hair.”

A short time later, I’d settled down in the living room to continue reading my book. Mom gave me an amused look, then went to the kitchen to see what we had in the house for dinner.

“I think we’re going to go out for dinner tonight,” Mom finally called out. “After, all this is your last night home for awhile so we’re going to want to celebrate.”

I looked up from my book and gave a look of mock hurt. “You want to celebrate me leaving?”

For a brief moment, Mom looked as though she was afraid that she’d inadvertently insulted me. Then she realized I was just messing with her and she chuckled.

“Well, now that you mention it,” she teased back.

Just then, the doorbell began to ring. I carefully set my book down and then went to answer it. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see Mrs. Lauriant standing there.

“Gwendolynn,” Mrs. Lauriant greeted me. “Since it has come to my attention that you are leaving tomorrow for a new school, I thought we should have one more lesson before you depart.”

I stared at her for a moment, not only surprised to see her here, but also by the fact that she knew I was leaving. I glanced to Mom, who seemed just as surprised as I was.

“Come on in,” I told her with a grin. Mrs. Lauriant might have the personality of a grumpy old woman, but she certainly had some interesting stuff to teach. And now that I knew about her past, it suddenly became even more interesting. “I wasn’t expecting you…”

“Of course not,” she responded with a faint smile. “I didn’t announce myself ahead of time.”

“Would you like something to drink?” Mom asked her. “I have coffee, tea, some pop…”

“I’ll take the coffee please,” Mrs. Lauriant responded. “Black.”

“I’ll be back in just a minute,” Mom told her pleasantly.

Once Mom was out of the room, Mrs. Lauriant looked me over with a thoughtful expression before nodding faintly. “Now, Gwendolynn,” she told me in a calm and almost pleasant tone, “Before you depart to this private school, I wanted to take the opportunity to meet with you in person one more time.”

“Okay,” I said, curious about what she had in mind. Mrs. Lauriant hadn’t struck me as the kind to be overly sentimental about going to this much trouble just to say goodbye.

“I have decided to continue aiding you on your path as a practitioner of the mystic arts,” Mrs. Lauriant announced, acting almost as though my opinion in the matter was irrelevant. But since I actually wanted to learn more magic, I didn’t really mind. “As such, I have made arrangements to continue your lessons. We will begin as soon as you are appropriately dressed.”

I looked down at myself, seeing absolutely nothing wrong with my clothes. Of course, Mrs. Lauriant had previously made it very clear that if she was going to teach me magic, she expected me to be dressed the way she thought a young woman should.

“I’ll go get changed,” I said, hurrying to my bedroom and grabbing a dress from my closet. It was the green dress Mrs. Lauriant had given me, which matched my hair color and nails quite well. I held the dress up and sighed. “I guess if I’m going to be learning magic, I’m gonna have to get used to wearing this thing.”

--------------------

I sat cross-legged in the middle of the living room floor, taking this opportunity to practice a little magic in order to keep myself distracted. I’d been so nervous and excited about the idea of leaving home today that I hadn’t been able to sleep well last night. And since I’d gotten up early because of that, I thought that I might as well use the extra time productively.

Yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Lauriant had only spent two hours teaching me magic, until it was time for dinner. However, those two hours had been pretty productive since she’d shown me a couple useful tricks for controlling my magic and directing it towards the spells I wanted to cast.

At the moment, I’d just finished casting my most ambitious spell yet, though it had taken me several attempts to get it right. Each failure had resulted in a burst of new faeries being created so that now there were a few dozen of them floating around the room. But this time, this time I’d gotten it right.

I stared at the results of my spell, feeling as though I was looking into a mirror. Sitting right across from me, in the same position I was, there was another Gwen. Or at least, there was an illusion that looked exactly like me.

“I did it,” I whispered, filled with pride and excitement after having succeeded with my most powerful spell yet. However, I couldn’t help but being a little afraid as well when I considered where I’d gotten this spell.

Ever since I’d manifested and turned into an elf girl, I’d been having strange dreams about being a real elf and dealing with magic. Last night, I’d had yet another one of these dreams, though I could remember very little about it. What I did remember was that it had something to do with a red-headed elf queen who hadn’t been very happy with me. I just wished I could remember more about it.

“I wish I’d remembered to ask Mrs. Lauriant about these dreams when she was here,” I muttered with a sigh.

During a couple of these dreams, my dream-self had cast some magic spells, including the one I’d just performed. I couldn’t help but feeling a chill run down my spine at the fact that a magic spell that I’d learned from a dream had really worked. If that magic spell was real, what else about the dream might be?

“Gwen?” Mom’s voice exclaimed in surprise.

I looked up to see her standing there, having come into the living room without my notice. She was staring at both me and the illusion with a look of confusion on her face, though I burst out giggling at the sight and ruined the moment. The illusion remained frozen and unmoving, at least until it faded away and vanished a few seconds later.

“Incredible,” Mom said, staring at the spot where the illusion had occupied a moment earlier.

“I was just trying out an illusion spell,” I told her proudly. “It worked.” I just didn’t mention how many times I’d failed first.

Mom nodded at that, then paused to look around the room, frowning slightly. “What are all these faeries doing here?”

“Um…I wanted an audience while I practiced,” I lied.

Mrs. Lauriant would have been disappointed by the number of hobgoblins that I’d created by accident, but they didn’t really bother me. Of course, I had a different perspective on them than she did. She thought of hobgoblins as mistakes and a waste of magic while I found them to be entertaining and kind of useful.

“I guess I do have a few too many of them out,” I said, willing most of the faeries to self-destruct and pop. In a few seconds, I only had three of them left.

Mom shook her head at that and said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this…”

“Tell me about it,” I said, gesturing down at myself and reminding her that I had quite a bit more to get used to than she did. She blushed at that, clearly embarrassed for bringing it up again. “But at least all the magic stuff is pretty cool.”

“And at least you learned how to control your glamour,” Mom pointed out, while I nodded in agreement.

With that, I opened the book Mrs. Lauriant had given me on illusion spells and read some of the notes on the beginning on illusion magic in general. Then I flipped through it until I found a spell that was similar to the one I’d just cast. I read through the notes on that one, then decided to try my spell again.

The second time I successfully cast the spell, it was just a little easier, and the third time, I decided to try something else added with it. The third time, the illusion that looked like me actually blinked its eyes and tilted its head. However, it took a lot of concentration to make it move like that and it vanished after only about ten seconds.

“Very impressive,” Mom told me with a smile. “But I think you should get cleaned up and finish packing.”

I nodded at that, then reluctantly got up from the floor and went to take my shower. Since I was going to spend the whole day on an airplane, I made sure to get dressed in some comfortable clothes when I was done.

Once I was fully dressed, I packed the last of my things. I double checked to make sure I had all of the books that Mrs. Lauriant had given me, including the new one she’d brought yesterday. Since I wouldn’t be coming home for awhile, I double and then triple checked everything until I was confident that I wasn’t leaving anything I’d need behind.

“Too bad I won’t be seeing Mrs. Lauriant in person for awhile,” I mused as I thought about our lessons from last night.

I’d been a little afraid that Mrs. Lauriant would be upset that I was now working for the MCO, but she had been surprisingly understanding. In fact, she’d even been amused at the idea that I was getting the MCO to pay for my education, though she had been concerned as well.

“It won’t be easy,” she’d warned me with a grim look “being a flower in a garden of weeds.”

After that, Mrs. Lauriant had told me to keep practicing my exercises and spells, then she’d given me some instructions for when I got to Whateley Academy. This would keep me occupied until the next time we were able to meet up for lessons.

Breakfast was oddly quiet, especially considering the fact that Dad had stayed home from work and was there to eat with us. We were all quite aware of the fact that this was the last time I’d be eating with them for some time, but none of us could really think of what to say.

As soon as we’d finished eating, Mom and Dad shared a look with each other, then Mom announced, “I bought a present for you…”

With that, Mom got up from the table and went back to her bedroom, then came back a minute later with a small wrapped present. I quickly tore the paper off and found myself staring at a jewelry box. When I opened it up, I saw that it contained an emerald pendant and a matching set of emerald earrings.

“I know you don’t have your ears pierced yet,” Mom told me, looking just a little embarrassed. “And that you might not be comfortable with wearing jewelry at all yet. But, a young lady should at least have some jewelry in case she wants to dress up.”

“Thank you,” I told Mom, appreciating the sentiment a little more than the actual gift. Still, the pieces were pretty nice looking and I imagined that they’d look great on me. I gave Mom a hug and told her, “They look beautiful.”

“I have something for you to,” Dad said once Mom and I were finished. He left the room as well, coming back a minute later with a nice looking laptop which he held out to me.

“Cool,” I exclaimed excitedly. I could definitely use this more than the jewelry.

“You’ll be issued a laptop at Whateley for your school work,” Dad me, “but I wanted you to have this and the programs that are loaded onto it.”

“Oh?” I asked curiously.

Dad nodded at that. “This is MCO issued, so I’ll need you to sign for it.”

“Of course,” I responded wryly, wondering why I was surprised at that.

“It has all MCO rules and regulations,” Dad explained in his usual calm and measured tone. “I’ve bookmarked most of the ones that will be most relevant to you and have added some personal notes. I know that you usually have little interest in rules, but sometimes your best weapon will be understanding the rules and how you can use them for your own benefit.”

Not that long ago, I would have argued with Dad or at least made a smart-ass joke about his obsession with the rules. However, I’d recently seen just how good he was at using the rules and regulations he liked to get around the ones he didn’t. I considered this for a moment and then nodded my understanding.

“This laptop also has a few other programs that might be useful to you,” he told me with a faint smile. “And it’s encrypted with the best security and firewalls available to the MCO.”

“So,” I joked, “can I load some video games on it. I hear that GEO is pretty popular…”

“Officially, that isn’t allowed,” Dad responded, smiling very faintly. Not that long ago, I might have missed it entirely. “But agents have been known to use their laptops for personal business and no one really questions it, as long as those kinds of programs are removed before the laptop is turned back in.”

“Thanks,” I told Dad, giving him a hug the same way I had Mom a minute earlier. Dad wasn’t really the touchy feely kind, and I’d never really been the hugging kind either, but that felt like the right thing to do. He hugged me back, something he’d never really done when I was still a guy.

After this, Dad showed me how to use the programs he’d loaded onto the laptop, then we packed everything into the car and drove to SeaTac airport so I could catch my flight. The first half of the drive was fairly quiet, much like breakfast had been, but then Mom began to give me advice and remind me of the obvious.

“Remember to brush your teeth,” she told me. “I don’t want you to get out of the habit and start getting cavities. And when your time of the month comes, remember what I told you about what to do…”

“I remember,” I responded with a bright blush, definitely remembering the very embarrassing lesson on feminine hygiene that she’d given me, along with the one about how I’d have to be careful so I didn’t end up pregnant. I shuddered at both memories.

When we arrived at the airport, I checked in all of my luggage except the carryon, which contained my new laptop, my MP3 player, and one of the books that Mrs. Lauriant had given me. I needed something to keep me occupied during the long flight.

I also held onto a small pet carrier which contained two of my faeries. I didn’t dare go onto the plane without at least one of my faeries to transfer my glamour to, and I couldn’t just let them fly free. Fortunately, Dad had done his usual thing and found some rules which allowed magic users to bring their familiars on flights with them, as long as they were kept contained.

As we got to the security checkpoint, I had to stop and say goodbye to Mom and Dad. I was going to be going through security to continue, which meant that no one without a ticket was allowed beyond that point.

“I’m really going to miss you guys,” I told them. Then I admitted to Mom, “I’m a little nervous about this.”

“Don’t be,” Dad told me. “You’ll do just fine.”

We continued with our goodbyes for another minute, then I turned to go to the security checkpoint. However, I immediately spotted a beautiful and athletic blonde woman with an almost impossible perfect figure, walking the other direction. Even without her costume, there was no mistaking who that was.

“Crucibelle,” I mused, wondering what she was doing here. I was tempted to call out to her, but she was already out of range and on her way out of the airport.

I took one more look back at my parents, then let out a sigh and continued to the security checkpoint. Mutants had their own security checkpoint that was overseen by the MCO along with the TSA. I got my MMID out and braced myself to take off my shoes.

The MCO agent was a stocky man with dark hair and tanned skin, looking like he might have Mediterranean heritage. He gave me a suspicious look, and when he saw my MMID, his expression became even more suspicious.

“What does this mean by classified?” he demanded sharply.

“It means that only authorized people are allowed to know it,” I responded with a sigh.

The agent scowled at me, his aura flashing with indications of suspicion and hostility. It was pretty clear that this was one of the MCO employees who didn’t particularly like mutants. That just made me groan, realizing that this security screening was going to be even worse than I’d feared.

Then the man smirked faintly as he said, “I need full disclosure of this information before you can be allowed on the plane.”

He was obviously just using this as an excuse to delay me, to try making me miss my flight just because he could. I was starting to get annoyed at this but wasn’t sure what to do.

“What are you trying to bring on?” the agent demanded, gesturing to my pet carrier. I set it on the counter in front of him, then watched with some amusement as he peaked inside and saw the two faerie. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to confiscate these things…”

Just then, Dad came over and held up his MCO badge to the agent, calmly asking, “Is there a problem here?”

“No sir,” the agent responded. “I just caught this mutant trying to sneak through with exotic animals and an incomplete MID.”

“Really?” Dad asked in a deceptively calm manner. Then he turned to me and asked, “Do you have the familiar authorization forms?”

I nodded at that, especially since Dad was the one who’d gotten them authorized for me and he’d made sure I had them on me before we’d even come to the airport. I pulled the papers out of my pocket and set them down on the counter in front of the agent.

“And her MID?” Dad asked the agent.

“Half of it is listed as classified,” the agent told Dad.

“Which means that you aren’t cleared to know that information,” Dad pointed out. “And did you happen to notice the organization she’s affiliated with?”

The agent snorted at that. “That’s what tipped me off this is a fake…”

I didn’t wait for Dad to ask before I pulled out my MCO employee ID card and set it down on the counter in front of the agent. He stared at it in surprise, then gave me another suspicious look.

“Counterfeit,” he stated firmly, reaching for his weapon and telling me, “You’re under arrest…”

“If you even think of drawing that weapon,” Dad told the agent in a cold tone, “I will personally see to it that you are permanently assigned to bumfuck Alaska.”

“What?” the agent gasped in surprise, staring at my Dad as though unable to believe what he’d heard.

“Her familiar authorization form is properly filled out,” Dad told the agent, once again using his calm and professional tone. “Her MMID is properly filled out. This is indeed a legitimate MCO employee identification card, which you would know if you’d followed the proper procedures and checked the ID number in your computer. All of her paperwork is completely in order, which I can assure you because I’m the one who signed the authorizations.”

At this point, the agent’s eyes widened in surprise and confusion. “But she’s a mutant…”

“Absinthe is also an intern in my office,” Dad stated in a cold tone. “I have to ask, why you are needlessly harassing an MCO employee who is flying out on MCO related business? In fact, it appears that you were trying to keep her from making her flight, which is clear justification for an investigation.”

“But but but,” the agent was stammering, looking completely confused.

“You go on,” Dad told me with a faint smile. “It seems that I need to give a review on following the correct procedures…”

It was all I could do not to just burst out laughing. Instead, I just grinned at Dad and said, “Thanks,” before I picked up my stuff and hurried on my way.

When I reached the gate where my plane would be departing from, I sat down and waited for them to begin boarding. I pulled out my MP3 player and was about to listen to some music when I realized that there was someone standing in front of me. I looked up and was surprised to see that it was Collin.

“Collin,” I blurted out in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I was just going to ask you the same thing,” he responded wryly. He held up the duffel bag that was slung over his shoulder and said, “I’m heading off to a new school back east.”

I stared at Collin for a moment, then cautiously asked, “In New Hampshire?”

He gave me a look of surprise. “How did you…?” Then his eyes widened in realization. “You too?”

I nodded at that. “It seemed like a good idea.”

“I know what you mean,” Collin said as he sat down next to me. “After that whole thing, I’m lucky the MCO didn’t want to charge me with anything.” He gave me a curious look and added, “I was told that you had something to do with that.”

I just shrugged at that. “You were the one who caught Slippery for them.”

“Anyway,” Collin continued, “I figured some of that gang might still be out there and holding a grudge. And my aunt pointed out that even though the MCO didn’t charge me with anything, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea sticking around now that I was on their radar.”

After meeting a lot of the people in the local field office and seeing the ones who disliked mutants, I couldn’t disagree with him. I was pretty sure those same people were the main reason Dad had gone through some much trouble to get me tested with the Seattle Supers rather than at the MCO testing facility, and why he’d gone through the trouble of getting me a classified MMID instead of a normal MID. He wanted to keep them in the dark as much as possible about me and what I was capable of. I suspected that this was also one of Dad’s biggest motivations in sending me to Whateley as well.

“I have an aunt who’s a mutant too,” Collin admitted to me, keeping his voice low. “She told me about this school and has been trying to get me to go for a couple months now. I guess, now seemed as good a time as any.”

I stared at Collin for a moment, then abruptly asked, “Your aunt wouldn’t happen to be tall and blonde, would she?”

Collin gave me a look of surprise, then asked, “How did you know?”

“I saw her before I went through security,” I told him with a smirk, remembering the glimpse I’d had of Crucibelle. “I’ve met her a couple times and was wondering why she was at the airport.”

For a moment, Collin just stared at me, perhaps wondering if I was going to blurt out Crucibelle’s secret identity or something similar. After a few seconds, he relaxed a little, then cautiously asked me, “What did Adam say when he found out I helped kidnap you?”

I was silent for a moment, not sure how to respond to that. After all, Collin was the school bully who’d tried messing with me, though admittedly, he hadn’t really been all that good at it. Then again, I think that I was the only one he’d messed with that way, and that was only because he thought my Dad was some kind of mutant hating fascist. With that in mind, it was hard to really blame him too much.

“He said that he wasn’t surprised you helped me get away,” I finally answered. “In spite of the fact that you were a total jerk to him, he thought you were basically a good person.”

Collin nodded faintly at that and his aura flashed with some colors which I thought were regret. “I just wish I could have told him I was sorry in person.”

“He knows,” I responded quietly. Then since this was getting to be just a little too emotional, I decided to change the topic. “So, where are you sitting? I have seat twenty-one A.”

“No way,” Collin blurted out. “I have twenty-one B… This is one hell of a coincidence…”

“We happen to be flying out on the same flight,” I pointed out wryly. “And we happen to be sitting next to each other. This sounds less like coincidence and more like my Dad making sure that I’m sitting next to someone I know.” Not that long ago, I never would have suspected my Dad of being sneaky enough to do something like that, but I’d definitely learned otherwise.

“My aunt was the one who bought me my ticket,” Collin said, sounding a little doubtful.

“And she works with my Dad,” I said thoughtfully. “Let me guess, she’s the one who urged you to leave so quickly too…” Collin didn’t need to say anything for me to see I was right. “Congratulations, it looks like your aunt and my Dad were probably in on this together.”

“That sneaky bitch,” Collin stated, sounding rather proud of that. “I didn’t know she had something like that in her.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I responded with a chuckle.

A few minutes later, the plane began boarding so a short time after that, Collin and I picked up our carryon bags and made our way inside. Collin went ahead of me, so I found myself following behind him, and for some reason, staring at his lower backside.

I couldn’t help but smiling at the multiple ironies of the situation. Here I was, a mutant who was working for the MCO, traveling to a school for mutants on the MCO’s dime, and now I was going to be sitting next to the very guy who used to try catching me so he could beat me up. And oddly enough, he was also the one person from my old school that I’d most want to be traveling with.

It suddenly struck me just how strange my life had become, and I hadn’t even made it to Whateley Academy yet. I couldn’t even imagine what things would be like once I got to a school full of other mutants, but I’d find out soon enough.

Thus endeth book one. The tale of Absinthe shall be continued shortly in book two, the Absinthe of Malice.

Author’s Note: Absinthe is a character that has been floating around in my head for quite some time, in one form or another. At one time, I’d considered using her in a follow up to Enter the Darkness or as a Legacy story, but neither setting seemed quite right for what I had in mind. When I wrote my story The CHASM, I drew a lot of inspiration from Absinthe, but it still wasn’t quite what I had in mind. The Whateley Universe provides me the perfect setting to finally introduce Absinthe, and even gives me certain opportunities to expand on her background



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