Part 4

by BKWillis


'I'm a monstrosity.
I'm a human oddity.
Everybody's staring at me.
I'm an outcast from society.
Freak of nature
Freak of nature.'
--The Ramones


Never before in Nyssaias's life had the mere act of opening a door
caused such a panic.

She was about to politely ask if this was the correct room for the
school newspaper, but was instead stunned momentarily
speechless by the sight before her.

There were three students in the room. One, a pixy-faced girl with a
great shock of scarlet curls, was lunged halfway across her
computer desk, blocking the monitor screen with her body as she
made frenzied but ill-aimed jabs at the off switch. Another girl, a
brunette with a very grown-up beauty about her, was stuffing a
notebook under her skirt while trying to put on an expression of
beatific innocence and failing at it. The third student, who she
recognized from her Geometry class as a boy named Harry Sullivan,
had ripped a handful of papers from the computer printer and was
cramming them into his mouth.

"Er, is this a bad time?" Nyssaias asked.

The two girls instantly relaxed and settled back with obvious relief,
but Harry kept chewing at the paper until the notebook-girl
punched him on the arm. "Spit it out, Harry!" she snapped. "It's
not Mr. Maxil."

"Mrrphmrph?" he replied, then swallowed. "Ah. Sorry, old girl,
but I missed lunch today."

The redhead quirked an uneasy smile in Nyssaias's direction. "Can
we help you? There's nothing going on here, you know. Nothing
at all. In fact, I can't even remember why I came in here. Pay no
attention to that man behind the curtain."

"I was told to come here and ask for Sarah--" Nyssaias began, but
the dark-haired girl cut her off, eyes ablaze.

"Who sent you? Was it a man with a lisp? Did he say anything
about the bananas? What do you know of the Five Eyes? Does
the word 'fnord' mean anything to you? I protect my sources, so
don't worry. I'll refer to you as 'Deep Trachea' and no one will ever

Nyssaias could only blink at her as she tried to sort some kind of
coherence out of that. "Mr. Borusa sent me," she finally said.
"And he doesn't have a lisp. I don't know about the rest of it."

"Oh, you must be the help he told me he'd send!" The wild
journalistic fervor faded from the girl's eyes, which were
nonetheless keen and sharp as tacks. "Thanks for dropping in. I'm
Sarah Jane Smith, editor-at-large for the _Wells Register_. The big
dope with paper-breath is Harry Sullivan, our sports reporter, and
that's our resident tech-head Melanie Bush there at the Production

"Hi," said Melanie. "Nice wings."

"Welcome, welcome." That was Harry. "You're that new transfer
student, right? Always glad to have another pretty face around."

Sarah swatted him with her notebook again. "Don't mind Harry.
He's incorrigible, but we love him anyway. So, you're Nyssaias,
then? I suppose this school must be a big change from the City of
Dreams, eh?"

The winged girl frowned a little at that. She hadn't exactly
broadcast her hometown to all and sundry. Indeed, no one had
even asked, since strange origins seemed to be the rule rather than
the exception here and was thus a matter of little note. Her eyes
flicked to the computer screen, taking in the file headers. Ah.
School administrative records. No wonder they were so jumpy
earlier, and no wonder they knew who she was. Well, that wasn't
really any of her business, so...

"It's different," she replied, "but I like it. There's always so much
going on, and so many fascinating people."

Sarah Jane stuck up a finger in an 'Aha!' pose. "And that's exactly
why we need another reporter." She clapped a hand to Nyssaias's
shoulder and gently steered her away from the computer monitor,
toward a small desk with a stack of memos on it. "What I really
need is someone to cover all the after-school club activities. Once
we get a handle on that, I can give you some juicier assignments.
Are you up for it?"

"Sure. Whatever I can do to help."

"Then welcome aboard." The editor solemnly hefted her notebook
and tapped her lightly on each shoulder with it. "By the powers
vested in me, I dub you an official _Wells Register_ reporter, with
all the rights and privileges of that office, which is to say, none.
Slap, jack, no tag-back. Now have a seat, and I'll explain how we
do things here."

The two started going through the pile of memos on the desk,
which turned out to be bulletins from the various clubs announcing
upcoming events or giving the results of various contests. All
these would have to be compiled and fleshed-out into the
Activities Column, while some of the more interesting ones would
have to be followed-up on for details. For instance, the French
Club was no longer meeting, its duties and membership having
been taken over by the German Club. The Science, Anime, and
Military Clubs had all agreed to co-sponsor this year's Fashion
Club show, which would be themed 'Cyborg Battle-Bikinis of the
Future' and was expected to have a much higher draw than the
previous year's event, which had been co-sponsored by the
school's Amish Club. And the Procrastinators' Club organizational
meeting was being postponed yet again.

Sarah Jane went through them all, explaining their policy and
procedures regarding Activity reporting, while Melanie went back
to industriously scrolling through computer files and printing them
out and Harry wandered off to check with the football coaches. All
the while, Sarah seemed to grow more distracted, casting odd
glances Nyssaias's way or stopping to stare blankly into space at
odd times. Finally, she just shoved the memos aside and looked
straight into Nyssaias's eyes with a shade of that same burning
inquisitiveness she'd shown earlier.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, "but if I don't ask you this, I'm going
to go mad, and if you feel it's none of my business, just tell me. Are
you friends with Embericles?"

Taken somewhat aback by the apparent non-sequitur, Nyssaias
could only shake her head. "No," she said a moment later. "I'm
afraid I'm not. I've tried talking to her before, but she's not easy to
draw out."

"Ah. Understatement's your bag, is it?"

Nyssaias, who hadn't meant that sarcastically at all, merely blinked.

Sarah Jane blew out a long sigh, looking a bit subdued now. "Well,
never mind, then. I was just hoping you could clear something up
for me. Not that it matters, since Mr. Maxil spiked the story..."

"What story is this?"

"Why, the infamous Third-Floor Bathroom Incident, of course."
Nyssaias could almost hear the capitals in her voice. "Biggest
story of the year, and all Maxil lets me run is a few 'Get Well'
messages for the victims... If you want to call them 'victims'. But
even if I can't run it, I'd still like to _know_... Just because."

"You're talking about the incident they arrested Embericles over?
All I know about it is what I've heard, that she threw two students
out the window and beat up some others." A little interrogative
tone at the end invited the editor to take the bait and tell what she

"Ha! That's just--" She stopped abruptly and looked around, then
went on in a lower voice. "That's what Mr. Maxil says happened,
but that doesn't explain everything." There was an intensity about
her now, as the story she hadn't been allowed to print began
spilling out.

"The story starts toward the end of the last school year, with an
Upperclassman named Kari. Kari was dating a guy named Olvir,
but things were pretty rocky between them. Sometimes they'd be
all hugged-up on each other, other times they'd be at each other's
throats. Then one day, when things were _really_ bad between
them, they got in a huge argument in front of the school. Kari was
the jealous type and was screaming all kinds of accusations at
Olvir, when Embericles happened to walk by.

"Things were a little different with Embericles back then. She was
quiet and cold like she is now and had a bit of a reputation for
meanness, but she at least participated in class and people could
stand to be around her. She was just a little unnerving back then,
not like now."

Nyssaias, not wanting to interrupt, filed that remark away in her
memory as something to ask about later. Everyone kept talking
about some sort of 'evil aura' around the redhead, but Nyssaias just
didn't feel anything of the sort. Sure, the girl wasn't very friendly,
and maybe a little intimidating, but nothing that would make her
want to avoid her.

Sarah Jane went on: "I'm pretty sure it was just a case of being in
the wrong place at the wrong time, because I can't imagine that
what Olvir said next was anything like true. Kari's standing there
yelling that she knows he's cheating in her, and Olvir pops back
with, 'Yeah, that's right. In fact, I'm going out with _her_ this
Saturday!' And he points at Embericles.

"Apparently, he didn't think any more about what he'd said, but
Kari did. If she'd had a cooler head, she'd have realized that Olvir
was just being sarcastic. But she was angry and in love and all
she could see was that this other girl was pretty and exotic and she
let her jealousy get the best of her. After a couple of days'
brooding about it, she gets her best friend Sara Kingdom to help
her and they plot to do something about it.

"I know this much from talking to some of her friends, but what
happened next is the real mystery. Apparently, Kari and Sara
cornered Embericles in the girls' restroom on the third floor. I
don't know what they planned on doing to her, but the paramedics
found a razor blade in Kari's pocket afterwards. Anyway, they
followed Embericles into the restroom, then the screaming started.
A few seconds later, we all heard the window breaking as Kari and
Sara went through it. They landed on the sidewalk and it's a
miracle they weren't killed outright.

"Meanwhile, Olvir comes running out of class yelling, 'That's Kari!'
He goes charging into the bathroom with some of his mates from
the rugby team, and a moment later _they_ start yelling their heads
off. One of them comes flying back out the door, unconscious, and
the rest all go quiet.

"It just happened that there was a policeman, Constable Mist,
visiting the school that day. He went in a minute or so after the
boys did. When he came out, he had Embericles at the end of his
truncheon, but he was pale as a ghost and shaking, although he
couldn't or wouldn't say why.

"Kari and Sara both had multiple broken bones from the fall and
some pretty serious cuts from the breaking glass. They were both
in shallow comas for several days, too. Olvir and the boys had
some bumps and bruises, and were also out of it for a day or so.
They arrested Embericles and charged her with eight counts of
assault and battery. Juvenile Court sent her to the Reformatory,
and that was that, the violent end to a sordid tale of bullies and bad
girls." Sarah paused, smiling coldly to show that that was not
really that, after all.

"Now, for the parts of the story that don't quite fit the official
version. First of all, Embericles isn't even five feet tall and weighs
less than 90 pounds. How capable does she seem of manhandling
two larger, older girls, much less six strong boys?"

"She doesn't, on the face of it," Nyssaias said carefully. "But she's
also non-human, so..."

"Exactly. But my research didn't turn up any evidence that she's
ever displayed superhuman strength before, not in all the years
she's been in this school system. But, maybe it only crops up
when she's under stress, like the Hulk?"

"That seems plausible..."

"It seems that way, but here's the thing. If you pick somebody
up and throw them around, especially if they're figting you at the
time, you're going to leave a mark on them. Bruises and the like.
Yet, the only injuries Kari and Sara had were from the window and
the fall. Their doctors told me that there was no sign they'd been
in a fight beforehand. And the boys, they were all unconscious,
even though most of them only had bruises on their arms and
hands. I was told that most of their injuries looked self-inflicted,
as though they'd been running into walls."

Nyssaias felt her blood beginning to run cold. "Psychokinesis?"

"Uh-uh. There's enough of that about here, I was able to ask
people who've had experience with it, and they all say the same
thing. Basically, it doesn't matter if you hit someone with your
mind or your fist, it's still a physical force that leaves a mark on
human flesh. Plus, none of the school's resident psychic types
registered anything like that going on. It wasn't P-K.

"Now, here's the even weirder part. None of the eight injured
parties can remember what happened. In every case, the last
clear recollection they have is of seeing Embericles and reaching
for her, then a big blank. Or maybe not _entirely_ blank. Olvir's
parents tried hypnotherapy on him to recover the memory, but
every time they got to that point he would get so hysterical, even
while in the trance, that nothing could be done with him.
Eventually, everybody just gave up and accepted that Embericles
had somehow beaten them all up so badly that it gave them mental

"The only person who knows for sure what happened in there is
Embericles. And she isn't talking. Even at her trial, she didn't offer
any sort of defense."

"Have you asked her?"

Sarah Jane spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I would
if I could, but I can't even get near her. Every time she's around, it's
like I'm about to face a firing squad."

That didn't seem at all right coming from this tough-minded, nervy
reporter. Unless Nyssaias was reading her entirely wrong, Sarah
Jane Smith did not seem like the type who'd let anyone push her
around or keep her from the truth. And though it was a bit tactless,
she decided to say as much.

"You're _that_ afraid of her? That doesn't seem like you."

Sarah wasn't offended. She just snorted and shook her head. "If
it were just me, I'd be embarrassed to admit it. But it's everybody.
When Embericles is around, people's spines turn to jelly. I had to
sit next to her in the library the other day, and I couldn't even read,
I was so scared. Every little noise panicked me and I spent the
whole hour wishing I could run away and hide. And like I said, she
wasn't that way before. I had a class with her three years ago, and
while she was no ray of sunshine, she didn't _scare_ me. But now
she does. Nobody can even get close to her." She looked
Nyssaias in the eye again. "Except you, it seems. You don't feel it?
You aren't afraid of her at all?"

Nyssaias thought for a bit before she answered that. "No," she
muttered at last. "Not like you mean. She does unsettle me. And...
she might be dangerous. But I'm more afraid _for_ her than _of_
her, if that makes any sense. Being so alone can't be good for
anyone. It _can't_."

"I've been in school with her for six years," Sarah said gently. "As
far as I know, she's always been alone. I assume she likes it that

"It's not right." Nyssaias's voice was firm. "Everybody needs a
friend." And besides, she didn't add, something was drawing
her to the girl, some strange attraction that she had to get to the
bottom of.

"Well, I'll tell you what, Nyssaias. If you can get close enough to
her to solve the mysteries about her, we'll have the story of the
year. And even if the Administration won't let us run it, _we'll_
know, and that's the important thing."


The next morning...

Cain grinned unpleasantly to himself as he snapped his cell phone
shut and slipped it into his pocket. Timing was everything here if
this was to look natural, as it had to for certain people's benefit.
Babydoll had given the girl's ETA at three minutes, give or take,
so the moment to start strolling across the schoolyard would be
just about...

Movement caught his eye in a window across the way as someone
pulled the blinds apart to peer out of a classroom. Even at a
distance, he could make out the blood-red polish on the long,
elegant nails that he knew so well. Kali's Klaws, he called them in

He ambled across the yard with the sly purposelessness of a
burglary lookout, trying not to grin at the feel of the hateful eyes
on his back.

There she came, through the gate, in all her devil-winged glory.
Embericles, despite her small size, had a purposeful, ground-eating
stride and he picked up his own pace just a bit to make sure that
they met in just the right spot, so they'd be in plain view.

She regarded him with a disinterest that he was not used to,
especially from a girl. He eyed her right back with frank approval,
letting his eye roam her budding curves and striking crimson

"I always was a sucker for redheads," he sighed mentally, "and
they've always turned out to be psychos."

As she drew closer, a disturbing feeling began to creep over him,
as though the shadow of something huge and incalculably deadly
had fallen across him. His hearts began to beat faster and harder as
his muscles tried to tense for a spring, his fight-or-flight reflex
becoming more insistent with each passing second. But he'd been
expecting something like this, after Babydoll's report, and as a
Gallifreyan he had superior control over his body's physical
responses. With an effort of will, he suppressed his instincts and
walled himself off from the vague, gibbering fears that began
oozing up in the back of his mind as the girl drew closer.
Outwardly, he kept his demeanor as calm, cool, and nonchalant as
always -- there were people watching, after all -- but inside he was
fighting hard against his own body's hardwired responses.

She stopped directly in front of him. "You're in my way."

"I know," he said around a grin that looked only a little sick. "I
needed to meet you. I need to give you something."

"All I need is for you to get out of my way," she answered quietly.

"Not so. One of my people inconvenienced you the other day. I
need to make that up to you." He slipped a largish bundle of cash
out of his pocket and peeled off several notes, then held them out
to her. "That's fifty pounds. Consider that payment for taking up
your time."

She stared hard at the money without touching it, then up at Cain's
face. "I won't work for you," she muttered.

He fought the urge to squirm and fidget under her blank-eyed gaze.
"I know. This is just goodwill money, no strings attached. If you
won't work for me, I'd like to at least make sure that we're not
enemies." Take it take it take it hurry up take it, he thought. This
scene didn't need to play out too long if it was to look right. "Take
it as a token of my desire to not displease such a pretty and
powerful girl." He winced at his own inability to come up with a
better line under pressure.

The redhead's lips quirked in the tiniest suggestion of a sneer as
she reached out and plucked the money from his hand, taking care
not to touch him. "All right. And now you'll get out of my way
and leave me alone." It was not a question.

Sudden glee warred with the animal fear building in Cain's mind. He
carefully maintained his outward appearance of coolness, giving no
sign of the satisfaction he felt at the moment. "I certainly will,
babe," he said, turning his head slightly and pointing vaguely at
the building Kali was watching from. "Sorry to have disturbed
you." He flashed two fingers at her, then drew one across his

Her face registered no curiosity abut his antics as he bowed
grandly and stepped aside to let her pass into the school. "It's a
pleasure doing business with you!" he called to her back, the fear
that had been trying to grip his mind loosening as she strode off.

He glanced at Kali's window and saw the blinds closed and the
Klaws gone. Perfect. Now he did let that big, nasty, evil grin come
back. Psychological warfare was sometimes the most satisfying
kind of fun.


"Blast his crukking hearts! He _has_ hired that winged skank!"

"Keep it down, Kali," Rhanda urged. "The teacher's right outside
in the hallway."

Kali sat with her back against the windowsill, fuming, drumming
those long red nails on the wall with a noise like dancing scorpions.
"You saw it!" she raged, oblivious to her companion's warnings.
"That dillwad is going to send her after us. It doesn't take a genius
to figure that out. Shut us down before we can even get things
properly under way here."

"So, what do we do?"

Kali smacked a fist into her hand. "Pre-emptive strike. We take
care of her before she can do anything to us. I'd been thinking of
doing that anyway, whether she hooked up with Cain or not.
You've seen how much collections have been down the past week.
Our squeezing money from these rich brats is based on us being
the baddest thing going. If we're going to make this work, _we_
have to be what they're most afraid of. There can't be any doubt
that we've got the monopoly on force in this rathole. The winged
freak, Cain, and anybody else who stands too tall has to be
pounded down. And I think starting with that psycho-skank
would set a fine example for the rest of these snotty twits..."


As it happened. other eyes than Kali's had watched the exchange
in the schoolyard.

"I _knew_ it!" snarled Assistant Headmaster Maxil as he glared
out his office window. So, the old troublemaker had joined with the
new. He should have been expecting that, but the last few days
without incidents had lulled him into a false sense of ease about
Embericles's presence.

He briefly considered calling one or both of them in for a
confrontation right then and there, but had to reluctantly decide
against it. Giving someone money was not a violation of any
school rule, no matter how suspect the reasons for it. Without
proof of wrongdoing, he'd just be wasting his breath.

And tipping his hand, he concluded. No, the last thing he wanted
was to give them too much warning that he was onto them.
Delinquents were like cockroaches infesting the school; if you
flushed them from cover before you were ready to stomp them,
they'd just take up residence somewhere else and you'd have to
keep hunting. Better to wait until all the roaches were in one spot,
and the boot was ready to fall.

"I'll clean out all you delinquents in one blow," he hissed. "We'll
have order at this school again. And you, Embericles, I'll see you
in jail where you belong. Never doubt it."


" had three holes, and I really wanted one," Xeffy was saying as
the lunchtime Usual Suspects took their trays and made for their
usual table. Friday was Pizza Day in the cafeteria, often the only
day of the week when the students actually got something that
could be positively identified as food on the first guess.

"I'll have to go check that out," Ayna relpied. "I've never seen
one like that." She set her tray down across from Xeffy's, then
looked up in puzzlement as Nyssaias just stood there, staring at
the back of the room and chewing lightly at her lip. "Something
wrong, Nyss?"

The angel-winged girl shook her head and smiled at her. "Sorry,
Ayna. I don't mean to be rude, but I think I'm going to eat at a
different table today. You two can join me, if you like."

The sisters glanced back to where Nyssaias was looking and
instantly chorussed, "No thanks."

Xeffy's face was uncharacteristically serious. "Nyss, I'm not
trying to sound petty, but I don't think that's such a good idea.
People avoid her for a _reason_."

"Dad always says no good comes from bad company," Ayna
added darkly.

"Thanks, but I feel like I need to do this. I can't explain it beyond
that." So saying, Nyssaias took her tray and marched off to the
last table, which, as always, was empty save for one person. She
stopped right across from her.

"Hi!" she said brightly, trying to will all of her considerable store of
cheery niceness into the word. "Do you mind if I sit here?"

Embericles glanced up at her, but said nothing, simply continuing
to mechanically tear and chew her pizza.

Nyssaias steeled herself inwardly. She knew this wasn't going to
be easy, but it needed doing. She took the seat opposite from the
redhead, offering the girl a big, sunny, friend-to-the-world smile
when she glanced up ather again.

"You look like you could use some company..."

The girl just went on eating.

Okay, so subtle conversational cues weren't going to work. Well,
no problem. She'd just do the talking herself, and maybe she'd
eventually hit a subject that would elicit a response. Try the
obvious first...

"I read your story yesterday, 'Ironclad'. I have to say, you're an
excellent writer. I almost cried when I read it. Very effective. I
_did_ get the sniffles later, when I got to thinking about it again.
It was a powerful vision, if dark. A bit too dark for my tastes,
maybe, but tastes do differ."


"You don't like to talk much, do you? That's okay, I guess.
Sometimes, people let other things do their talking for them. Like,
I'll bet you don't talk because you'd rather let your writing express
your thoughts. Still, a little face-to-face talk is good for the soul, I
think. It keeps us from falling too far into ourselves."

More silence.

"Anyway, I just thought that you might like someone to talk to
for a change. You're always so alone and so distant from everyone,
and that has to be hard on a person, even a person as strong and
self-possessed as you. Everyone here seems so afraid of you, they
try to pretend you don't even exist, and that just isn't right. When I
first saw you, I felt that there had to be something special about
you, and then when I read your story, I realized just how deep and
beautiful your soul must be."

Now Embericles did look up at her, a steady, focused look unlike
the bored, disinterested glances with which she usually viewed the
world. Nyssaias felt her heart jump a little at the unexpected
attentiveness. Maybe she was beginning to get through to her
after all.

"If you want to get your Good Deeds badge," Embericles drawled,
"go feed a wino. I'm not your Community Service project."

Or maybe not. Still, Nyssaias wasn't about to be put off now, when
she at least had the girl noticing her. "I'm not over here because I
pity you," she answered right back. "I'm here because I admire

The bat-winged girl had gone back to methodically chewing her
pizza in silence.

"This is a free country, you know," Nyssaias went on. "I can sit
where I like, and I'm choosing to come over here and sit with you.
But if you'd rather I just leave you here, all you have to do is tell me
to shove off."

She waited, but Embericles said nothing.

"Silence implies assent. So, I'm assuming that you want me to stay
here, or at least that you _don't_ want me to _not_ stay here. And,
that being the case, you can either listen to me chatter or do some
chattering yourself. I-- Oops!" In the course of reaching for her
fork, she managed to knock it off the tray and onto the none-too-
clean floor. "Oh, bother. Now I'll have to go get another one."

Before she could get up, Embericles, without raising her eyes from
her food, reached out and slid her own unused fork across the

It was a small act, insignificant on any reasonable scale of
reference, merely a small hand pushing a cheap steel utensil
across a table. It was just about the closest thing to 'nothing', on
a cosmic scale, that could be imagined. But that simple act left
Nyssaias momentarily speechless. "Why... why, thank you," she
managed at last. "That's very nice of you." She couldn't help
wondering if anyone had ever said those words to Embericles

If the redhead felt the same sense of shifting paradigms that
Nyssaias did from that tiny action, she gave no sign of it.

That was okay, though, as Nyssaias was exactly the sort of
person who could happily seize the moment for the both of them.
"See," she burbled, "I knew you were a good person inside. You
couldn't write so wonderfully if there wasn't a big heart inside you.
And here my parents were worried about me finding friends when I
left the City of Dreams!"

She knew as soon as she uttered those words that she'd somehow
done something very wrong. Embericles's black wings flapped
once, a short, savage buffeting of air, and her spine stiffened.
She jerked her head up, fixing Nyssaias with an awful, nerve-
freezing glare as she pushed herself to her feet. Around them, the
lunchroom went deathly quiet.

Embericles's lips curled in a doglike snarl. "You talk too damn
much," she growl-spat, then turned on her heel and stormed off,
leaving Nyssaias to stare after her with open mouth and drooping
wings trailing their immaculate snowy feathers on the floor.

(to be continued)


Copyright Notes cut due to posting limit, but same as Part 3, except that the
opening quote is from the song 'Freak of Nature', by the Ramones.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8

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