Chapter 11: War on the Doorstep

Out in the fields, the fighting has begun
Out on the streets, they're falling one by one
Out from the skies, a thousand more will die each day
Death is just a heartbeat away

- Out In The Fields, Thin Lizzie

Doyle Medical Complex
31 October 2006

Tansy's eyes took a moment to focus after she opened them. _Ugh. I ought to just put my name on the door of this room._ She was in Doyle again.

Taking stock, she supposed her condition could be worse. Judging by the IV drip attached to her arm she must have been here at least overnight. At least as an Exemplar she didn't have to worry about stiffening up after too long in bed: as long as she had nutrients she'd stay in her ideal form and condition, or recover to it reasonably well. There were no painful bruises which was more evidence she'd been here - she looked out at the darkened sky - all of Saturday at least.

_I hope it's just Saturday - the Weapons Fair is on Sunday and I don't want to miss seeing what's available._ Not that anybody would be willing to be seen selling to her 'across the counter' as it were, but anonymous purchasers were almost always welcome in the Workshop, so it was just a matter of seeing who had what ready to go so that she knew who to make offers to.

Then she saw her hands. "Oh god, they go to all this trouble to keep me fed and they can't be bothered to get me a manicurist!? God help them if they'd made a mess of my hair!"

Sitting up in the bed, Tansy gave the needles a careful look and then pulled them smoothly out of her arms. Survival class might be a colossal fuss at times, but it did teach useful skills like how to escape unwelcome medical attention. She probably should have paid more attention to the part about how to punch people though.

_Fenryk?_ she asked cautiously, recalling what had happened earlier.

The response was a muted mental rumble, which Tansy decided was probably a snore. Okay, he was there. Asleep -just like a man - but present. Well, under the circumstances she couldn't blame him for being a little tired. Raising her hand she watched electricity dance between her fingers. _Nice to know that that works._

On impulse she tapped into the small scraps of essence she'd managed to accumulate so far from her magical studies and murmured a healing spell. The punctures on her arm healed over before her eyes. "Well how about that?"

The Principles of Magic class hadn't covered healing spells yet, but somehow Tansy had known that spell. Perhaps devouring Hellfire Sheba had paid off. She certainly felt more aware of the flows of essence around her than she had been, enough to be able to tell that they were stronger than usual. Almost as if it were one of the more significant times of the year...

"What the hell?" Tansy jabbed at the controls of the digital clock beside her bed. 10-31-06 the screen displayed for a moment, as if to mock her. "A week and a half? I've missed a week and half of classes? I'm missing the Halloween party!"

She shoved aside the blankets covering her and started looking for a mirror and a nail-file. A hairbrush and a costume for the party would also be necessary, but the essentials had to come first.

Tansy was about to open the room's closet when the door opened and a rather large man in tiger-striped armour walked in, pointing a nasty looking assault rifle at the empty bed. He was obviously fairly bright because he didn't dwell on her absence, he started backing up, checking the rest of the room for an ambush. If Tansy had needed to draw a weapon, she might not have had the chance.

As it was, she pumped reached out and sent a modest bolt of electricity through his wrist. Excessive, perhaps, but she doubted he was here to give her the rifle as a gift and it might not even kill him. She had the gun in her hands before he hit the floor.

"Blue-Two!" came an alarmed call from the corridor.

Tansy brain-zapped whoever it was, prayed there was no one in the room opposite hers and emptied the rifle's magazine in a long, burst through the wall in the general direction of the voice. One of those little lessons mentioned in Survival classes: most interior walls will slow but not stop rifle rounds, particularly when they were close enough that Tansy was getting little scratches from material flicked out of the wall by the impacts.

Somewhere at the back of her mind, Tansy made a note that she was entirely too calm about this and she should have a nervous breakdown when she had the time.

Looking out of the door demonstrated that there wasn't any obvious back up for the pair of... Syndicate Tiger Guards? What the hell? The Syndicate funded Whateley! It was one of the admittedly numerous reason the school was so safe (at least by the standards of teenage mutants): one of the groups most likely to try abducting young mutants was actually sending their recruits to the school. If only the MCO was so considerate!

Tansy had to wonder if the two were here on legitimate business, in which case she was in a lot of trouble. Then again, funding a neutral institution was one thing: sending armed combat troops into a hospital room was another. Carson would have shit a brick at the very thought. More to the point she'd have probably thrown them bodily off the campus and very possibly across the state line.

She dropped to one knee by the man, removed his helmet and probed his thoughts. "Oooh." Official mission to provide cover for an assassination mission on campus, with rules of engagement not to kill teachers or any students other than their target... Sara.

If Tansy had been wearing shoes she would have kicked the man.

Role in the mission, securing the medical complex. And an unofficial side mission from - the Chessmaster - to kill her. What the hell? How had she ever come to hisattention? Or was this aimed at her father? He'd be annoyed if she died at a supposedly safe school, but it was hard to see that it was worth all this effort. _Maybe someone's getting greedy. Or settling grudges. But who'd be able to pay for a hit against me?_ She chewed that thought over. _The Necromancer? It's awfully thin, he'd want Sara dead too but I can't see him calling for those rules of engagement. But if it is then the others are targets too._

"You're too big," she noted, looking at the fallen man, who'd be remaining unconscious for quite some time. "And you've also ruined your trousers." Then she examined the woman. "You're about the right size but you're bleeding on your jacket. I can work with this." She walked across the hall and checked the opposite room. Okay, just an office. A bit of a mess but no one had been hurt by the bullets. That was the important thing, and after going through two walls, none had managed to get out the opposite wall.

Then she went back to scavenging clothes from the two dead Tiger Guards. She didn't bother with the armour though. Firstly the only intact set wouldn't fit and secondly it clearly wasn't good enough.

.o0o.

Whateley Academy
31 October 2006

Kane Hall was looking pretty badly battered, Tansy noted as she snuck out of the Doyle. Wearing the Tiger Guards clothes probably wasn't the best way to avoid fire from security or from other students, but it was better than wearing nothing at all. Hopefully the lack of heavy body armour and a helmet would reduce accidents.

She could hear gunfire from what seemed like all directions. "Didn't I just deal with fighting an epic battle on campus?" she muttered, adjusting the sling on the assault rifle she was carrying. McFarlane Stadium was on the north side of the campus, part of the complex of buildings that had eventually given rise to Holbrook Arena. That was quite a long way to go, particularly when she'd have to cross the Quad to get there.

Tansy heard a shot ring out and traced the sound back to the roof of Kane. Sniper. Good job I'm not the one being shot at, she noted. No knowing if he's friendly though. She headed for Schuster Hall instead. Underground would risk running into a Tiger Guard willing to ignore orders to spare students since she'd evidently taken clothes off his or her comrades, but right now the surface approach risked being collateral damage.

Ignoring what appeared to be Lady Astare battling some sort of robot in the sky above the school (Lady Astarte was undeniably gorgeous but there's a time and a place, neither of which involved a teacher-student situation, much less a fire fight), Tansy had just reached the door when she saw three more girls who had obviously had the same destination in mind, albeit coming from the other direction.

_Oh dear god not those three. What the hell are they doing?_

Tansy opened the door to Schuster's lobby and ducked inside, holding the door open.

A moment later, apparently having not noticed her due to their fixation on the fighting above them, her three Basic Mystic Arts classmates piled into the lobby. "Why do I get the impression that the three of you are in trouble again?" Tansy asked them from where she was standing behind the door.

There were three startled eeps and then Clover squealed: "Solange!" and threw her arms around Tansy's waist, barely avoiding braining herself on the rifle.

"You're alive! And not a grotty old witch!" Irene added in surprise.

"Thank you, Irene."

It was Bethany who showed what Tansy considered to be a sensible degree of suspicion under the circumstances. "Why are you wearing a uniform like those men outside?" She fanned spell slips that were clearly already charged with essence. Tansy wasn't sure what the spells were but she was reasonably sure that she'd rather not find out as their victim: if any of the three little witches could make a small claim to competence it was Abracadabra. Mostly because she was the only one with any sort of work ethic.

"Because it was this or a hospital gown so some nice Syndicate soldiers donated these. Not very fashionable but sometimes one has to make necessary sacrifices."

Irene blinked. "Syndicate soldiers gave you clothes?"

"When I asked them nicely, yes." Tansy held the assault rifle up a bit, carefully not pointing it anywhere near the three of them, to illustrate how she had conveyed her request. "So would you three mind explaining to your much put upon classmate what's going on and why the three of you are sneaking around instead of safely in whatever party the junior high kids are having for Halloween?"

"Uh..."

"We were going to the party at McFarlane," Clover admitted without a qualm. "Then scary men with guns turned up and there are flying machines and we hid in here and that's all I know."

"I don't doubt it for a second Estelle." Tansy rubbed her face. "Okay, hiding sounds like a good idea. I know some pretty good hiding places around here." She gestured for them to precede her towards the elevator outside Crystal Hall. Unless Hayley had changed some of the codes there was a lounge down there with some luxuriously sized couches that could double as beds. The girls would be as safe there as they would be anywhere.

The elevator, fortunately, had power. If it hadn't, Tansy would have been reluctant to go down the stairs. Even if it hadn't been real, the illusion of having her leg burned off had hurt. She ushered the girls in and then pressed the sequence of buttons that would take them down into the workshops.

"It's spooky down here." Clover protested, looking out of the elevator.

_More than you realise,_ Tansy thought, fighting back the urge to put a couple of rounds into the girl just in case she turned out to be Sheba. _This is the real world and the real Clover. Probably._ "This way. It's a nice comfortable room."

The three younger girls obediently followed her directions - a sure sign that something was seriously wrong. "What happened to you?" Irene asked. "With Sheba? They even had that girl from Poe that eats animals try to wake you up but nothing worked."

"Hmm. What do you know so far?"

"Grimesy said Sheba tried to possess you and you were fighting her off." The girl blinked and then looked at Tansy suspiciously. "You are Solange, aren't you? Not Hellfire Sheba possessing Solange."

"I'm Solange," Tansy confirmed: and then added thoughtfully: "Of course, that's what I would say if I was Sheba possessing me..."

Palantir gulped noisily and conjured up one of her magic balls, looking back to examine Tansy through it. "Okay, no possession, although... hey, you sparked your essence!"

"Really?" Tansy smiled a little smugly at the other girls' signs of envy. "I thought something was different. It must have been eating Sheba that did it."

"You ate Sheba," asked Bethany, somewhat disgusted.

Tansy nodded. "Very bitter tasting."

"That's not fair," Irene grumbled. "We did all the hard work and then you're the one that sparks your essence?"

"Given that I was very nearly the price you paid for summoning up Sheba in the first place, I don't feel particularly guilty about that."

Palantir blushed. "Sorry."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you are. I ought to have Carson stop your allowances until you've paid for my jetpack and grenade launcher."

"But I only get twenty dollars a week," protested Estelle.

"Oh, and I suppose you get about the same?" Tansy asked the other two. "So that's fifty-two times twenty times three... call it three thousand dollars a year. Hmm. So you'd have it paid off by the time you were Mrs. Carson's age."

"But Mrs. Carson's got to be thirty!" Irene exclaimed in horror.

Tansy shook her head. "Oh come on. Surely you know she was Miss Champion, back in the 1940s. I hope I look that good when I'm in my seventies."

Bethany did a quick mental calculation. "They cost over one hundred and eighty thousand dollars?"

"About two hundred thousand I think." Tansy shrugged. "Jet packs aren't all that expensive these days. It's mostly the license to own and I didn't lose that so I wouldn't charge you for it." She saw the door up ahead. "Okay, here we are. Now watch the lock code," added Tansy, punching buttons on the lock's keypad. "I don't expect you to leave - and yes Clover, there is a toilet - but I'm not going to lock you in."

The room was much as Tansy remembered it, a comfortable lounge with a pair of three-seat couches with backs that could fold down to turn them into beds - _Best not to blow the little brat's minds by telling them about anything that's happened on those couches_ - and two armchairs, all around a low coffee table. A side door led to a small washroom and there was a flatscreen TV on the opposite wall. "The remote's probably somewhere around here," she told the three. "I'm not going to leave you here without entertainment." _And since I can't tell you not to watch the adult channels and expect to be obeyed, I'll just not mention they exist at all._

"Aren't you staying with us?" asked Clover.

"No. I have something important to do."

"We can help."

"Yes, you can. You can stay here and not get shot. That would help me a great deal."

Tansy closed the door and turned away from it. Then her eyes crossed as she found herself staring down the muzzle of Mega-Death's Particle Cannon. "Yeee!"

The devisor's eyes widened. "Tansy?"

"Harvey! Mr. Mahren would kick your ass if he saw you pointing that at me!"

Mega-Death flushed slightly and lowered his gun. "I thought you were in a coma," he excused himself hastily. "I mean, I thought you were one of the Tiger Guards."

"yes, well a hospital gown looks very fetching on me -" As would any garment that went no further down than the upper third of her thighs, in Tansy's expert opinion, "- but it lacks pockets and for some reason my purse wasn't in my hospital room."

"I suppose that that makes sense," he agreed. "Uh, and if you don't mention the particle cannon pointed at your nose, I won't tell him you've got your rifle pointed at my mid-section."

"Oh. Sorry." Tansy moved the muzzle of the assault rifle away from the Devisor.

"Don't mention it." Mega-Death coughed uncomfortably. "I couldn't help but hear you say that you had something important to do?"

"Oh yes." The girl adjusted her hair slightly, moving just a little closer to him. "The thing is, the Tiger Guard I took this off was at Doyle just to kill me. And apparently the entire mission here is primarily to kill Sara Waite - although it seems possible that they might be after the rest of my friends as well."

"What? Why?"

"Well I doubt the Alphas would actually take out a Syndicate hit on me, and the only other person I know of that I've torque off enough to do that would be the Necromancer. And if he paid for this then he'd want everyone else who went on that trip to Boston dead as well."

Mega-Death whistled. "You don't go halves on making enemies, Tansy. The Necromancer's in the top 100 supervillians and if he's hired Deathlist -"

"Deathlist!?"

"Uh, yeah. The guy Mrs. Carson's fighting upstairs?"

"That was Deathlist!?" Tansy buried her face against Mega-Death's shoulder for support and tried very hard not to vomit in fear. "The one that killed Champion?"

"...um..." The boy gave her an uncertain look and then used the hand not holding his particle cannon to pat her awkwardly on the back. "Tansy?"

"...gimme a minute," she choked.

"ooookay..." He tried to think of chairs. Elderly aunts. Books of mathematical charts. Things that were unrelated to the fact that with Tansy leaning on him like this he could tell that whatever clothes she'd taken off the Tiger Guards hadn't included a bra.

Tansy took some deep breaths - something that didn't do anything for Mega-Death's composure - before backing off again. "Sorry, it's just been one of those nights. Or a week and half, I suppose. It feels like I haven't managed to catch a break since I went out to rescue Hellfire Sheba from those three girls."

"I thought you rescued them from her."

"Yes, but that wasn't the plan." Tansy patted his arm reassuringly. "Okay, no more hysterics. I'd better dash though. Thank you for putting up with me there."

Mega-Death cleared his throat as the girl turned to head up one of the tunnels. "Er... Tansy."

"Yes."

He pointed at another tunnel, leading in another direction. "That's the way to McFarlane."

"Really?" Tansy gave him a beseeching look.

The inventor cursed himself for a fool. "How about I show you the way?"

.o0o.

Workshop
31 October 2006

Mega-Death rounded the corner into the tunnel leading up towards Whitman just as Thunderfox rounded the corner out of it. Even normally the athletic girl would have had a formidable impact, but since she had her teammates Stormwolf and Stonebear over her shoulder, she bowled the inventor over completely before tripping and landing of top of him.

Tansy took in the two athletic, if unconscious young men who had been spilled at her feet, and then the girl in the Princess Leia slavegirl costume sprawled on top of Mega-Death. "It would figure that this would happen when we don't have time to enjoy it."

"Solange?" Thunderfox exclaimed, looking up at her. Then she recognised the uniform. "I should have known you'd been involved in this!"

"Have I had this conversation before? I think I've had this conversation before." Tansy held up one finger. "Diana, imagine if you will The Tiger Guards, the Syndicate's crack corps of elite shock troops. Now imagine them recruiting me. If that isn't a laughable idea, I don't know what is."

The other girl chewed on her lip. "Well..."

Mindbird and Firecat also emerged from the tunnel, dressed respectively as Padme Amidala and Han Solo. "Would you ladies mind sorting this out so we can get on with running away?" the boy asked, manifesting a wall of flames across the tunnel.

Tansy tossed her rifle to Mindbird. "We don't have time for this. I'm dropping my mind shields. Take a look."

The other telepath frowned at her for a moment and then Tansy felt a tickling sensation and had to brace herself not to snap her shields back into place.

_My goodness, you have had quite a night on it,_ the other blonde admitted. She offered Tansy the rifle back. "She's on our side, Diana. And I think that Mega-Death would like you to stand up."

"The great Mega-Death is content with his situation," the Devisor announced imperiously, eyes fixed meditatively on the ceiling.

Thunderfox winced as she realised she was sat on a boy's hips and which boy in particular it was. "No, I really need to get up."

Mega-Death appeared to be on the verge of ordering her to stay put when Tansy reached into his mind, fanning the boy's gallantry. "O great and wise Mega-Death," she intoned, pushing Thunderfox quickly off him. "May we defenceless women and our hapless companions ask your aid in holding back the Tiger Guards, who are approaching with clear intent of stealing your work." Then she offered him his particle cannon.

"Hapless companions?" protested Firecat under his breath.

"Of course you can count upon the genius of Mega-Death to deal with this matter." The boy bounded to his feet and accepted the weapon as a king might his sceptre. "Be about your business." Octopus-like tentacles began to reach out from his black labcoat, yanking a metal door out of its frame to improvise some cover.

"You're a scholar and gentleman," Tansy cooed and kissed him on the cheek while gesturing for the Wild Pack to pick up their friends and make for the nearest exit. "Please survive so that I can repay you this favour."

"You have the word of the great Mega-Death."

"What more could a girl ask for?"

"That was disgusting, the way you manipulated him," grumbled Thunderfox a few moments later.

"I don't see you staying back to help him," pointed out Tansy, helping her drag Stormwolf. Ahead of them Mindbird and Firecat had stopped at a ladder leading up to one of the less obvious exits from the labyrinth beneath the school. "And I meant what I said: I do want him to survive to call me on that favour."

"Leave it, Diana," ordered Mindbird.

"I thought we were heading for entrance twelve," the girl protested, looking at the ladder.

"We were." Mindbird concentrated and then used her limited telekinetic gifts to lighten the burden of Stonebear as she prepared to carry him up the ladder. "But Tansy read the mind of one of the Tiger Guards and while their general orders are not to use lethal force against staff or students..."

"And what were they doing back there?" asked Firecat as he contemplated how to help get Stormwolf up the ladder without the aid of his comrade's telekinesis. "Throwing party favours."

"If they'd been trying to kill you, then why are these two still breathing?" asked Tansy and indicated her rifle. "The ones that came after me were armed with these. And there are others after my friends."

"Which means we have to get to McFarlane as fast as we can," finished Mindbird. "I know I'd rather have our equipment, but every moment we delay is a moment that this could turn into a bloodbath."

She was about to begin climbing when Tansy cleared her throat. "If I may suggest, there's a laboratory just along here that one of last year's Alphas used. Unless they've changed the codes, Adam and Theo would be safer in there than they would be if you take them into a firefight. If nothing else, they're less likely to be stood on."

"It's sure got to be easier than getting them up the ladder," agreed Firecat. "Point me at it."

"Alright," conceded the acting leader of the Wild Pack. The four of them carried their unconscious friends over to the room and laid them out on the floor. Thunderbird found two emergency blankets and rolled them up as improvised cushions. "I seem to be getting into the habit of leaving people in siderooms," Tansy noted. "I left three of the junior high class bunkered up underneath Schuster."

"Well they should be safe enough there," noted Firecat. "We'll go let them out when it's all over, if you... can't. For any reason, y'know."

"Smooth going, Bob," Thunderfox muttered. She tugged on her skimpy costume. "'Let's go in costumes that actually have armor value, maybe a few weapons, just in case someone decides to do something stupid, and we have to break it up' I say. But no, we get these instead. I'm supposed to be the smart one on this team, but does anyone ever listen?"

"At least you have a bra," Tansy told her, "Even if it's all you have there right now. I promise, next Tiger Guard we encounter, you have first dibs on the shirt." Then she unstrapped the second rifle she'd found from under the back of her too-baggy tiger-striped fatigue jacket and offered it, to the gadgeteer. "You may as well have this."

Thunderfox accepted the rifle although lacking pockets for now, she declined to take additional magazines. "Are you sure?"

Tansy shrugged. "What am I going to do, fire from the hip with one in each hand? I doubt I'd hit anything if I tried that sort of stupid action movie stunt. I'm not one of you bricks that can handle the recoil."

.o0o.

Whateley Academy
31 October 2006

The four had just reached the surface when a fiery form rose into the air somewhere south of the Quad and began raining down fire on the ground below.

"Who or what is that?"

Firecat shaded his eyes. "I think it's Miss. McQuistion. She's a fire manifestor - gave me a few pointers."

"Well she's not putting on the show for our sake..." Tansy said, turning away to the north.

The thunderous crash of a large-calibre rifle coincided with the final fiery flare as the fire-wielding mutant fell towards the ground.

"No..."

"Dear god."

Tansy licked her lips nervously. "Final lesson..." she whispered. "Don't make yourself an easy target."

"That's cold, Solange," snapped Thunderfox. "Even coming from you."

"Nothing I do will hurt her now," Tansy replied solemnly. "But dwelling on it could kill us all."

A savage scream rose up from beyond Kane, one that spoke of both unspeakable rage and incomparable loss.

Tansy shivered. "We need to go."

Somewhere beyond the campus something titanic, with a green scaled body and long claws, slapped one of the dropships out of the air. It exploded when it hit the ground.

"The school's beginning to rally," Mindbird announced, unnecessarily. "On the one hand that means we can expect allies at McFarlane. On the other, the Syndicate troops will be getting desperate."

"I think I can see another reason that that might happen," Tansy said and started running north.

"What?" asked Mindbird. "Solange? What?"

Thunderfox and Firecat grabbed her by the elbows and ran after the other Dickinson girl. Since she was being dragged backwards, Mindbird got the chance to see what the other four had noticed: the blue-glowing Lady Astarte and the forcefielded Deathlist in the air and moving north in their general direction

"I like this plan!" she shouted, kicking at the ground in an attempt to add more speed to their retreat.

An explosion of light and sound erupted from the stadium that was their destination, lighting up the woods around the northern end of the school.

The four students barely noticed as they were overtaken by Lady Astarte and Deathlist. The headmistress came to an abrupt halt among the trees, blasting Deathlist's missiles apart rather than risk them hitting the four teenagers, who dived for cover behind the trees.

"Oh Betsy," the cyborg killing machine laughed cheerfully. "Students of yours? You shouldn't have. Really you shouldn't."

"Keep your hands off them," Carson ordered.

"Don't be silly." He popped up a grenade launcher and sent a scattering of grenades in the direction of the three members of the Wild Pack. Carson brought the Rod of Astartes up, surrounding them with cocoons that would absorb the blasts, just as he had predicted. The eight-foot tall cyborg took the opportunity to lunge at her with the blades that popped out of his fingers. He had to back off though as a short burst from Tansy's rifle narrowly missed his face.

"Now that wasn't nice," he purred, assessing Tansy as a threat. "Oh I like the fatigues, are you an admirer?"

"Needs must," Tansy replied shortly. Her face was pale as she watched for another opening. Deathlist was fast, and totally in control of himself. If she just blasted away then she'd never stand a chance of hitting him.

He laughed at her. "Oh don't try to hide it. I can smell your fear. And you should be frightened."

_He gets off on fear,_ Tansy recalled. The mutant cyborg was a twisted monster - she'd never heard anyone say anything kind about him.

"Get out of here, Solange," ordered the headmistress.

Tansy shrugged slightly. "I don't see anywhere to run to," she pointed out. _Fenryk, I could do with some advice._ None was forthcoming so she edged over to the Wild Pack, never taking her eyes off Deathlist. Their best chance, she guessed, lay in staying close enough together that the headmistress could cover them.

"Such pretty children. Exemplars? They must be." Deathlist ran the blades down his chest, tearing away more of the tattered suit that had covered his metal body. "Exemplars are always fun. They don't scar, they always heal cleanly... you can torture them for months..."

Firecat threw up a fireshield around the four of them.

"Very brave, boy. Perhaps when I give your friends to my troops I'll keep you for personal attention."

"You're a monster," Thunderfox growled. She brought up the rifle and fired - quickly, efficiently... and pointlessly. The rounds simply bounced off Deathlist, although he raised one hand to shield his face from the bullets.

Carson gestured sharply for the girl to stop. "His chassis is covered in Wexlertie," she told them absently. Then she exploded into action, driving Deathlist back with a flurry of kicks and punches that the cyborg clearly wished to avoid, since he bounded out of their path, boosting his agility with the jumpjets built into his frame and returning fire with his plasma projector.

He was also, Tansy realised with a sudden clarity, drawing her out of line with the four of them.

The Wild Pack saw the same thing but they mistook it for an opening. A fountain of fire roared from Firecat's hands towards the killing machine and Thunderfox started firing steadily, aiming for his vulnerable face. "Solange!"

_He's going to come at us, he's going to kill us all. He's going to cut my face off!_ Tansy thought, raising her own rifle to join in, knowing that it was wasted effort. _He'll..._ She froze as mad inspiration struck her. _I can't..._

But a quiet part of her, part that sounded very much like Fenryk, insisted that she could.

"I don't want to die!" Tansy shrieked and threw away her rifle, fleeing unashamedly for McFarlane and not making any attempt at all to mask her terror.

Deathlist was a lot of things, most of which Mrs. Carson would never allow onto the campus if she had a choice. But above anything, even above being a lover or a surrogate father (which he was, however unconventional his execution), the cyborg was a sadist.

The decision as to which of the four he was going to take down first wasn't a decision at all. He wasn't going to let the source of that delicious terror get away from him.

Distracted by her shock at Tansy suddenly losing her nerve, Mrs. Carson was a hair too slow to avoid the cyborg's sudden reversal of course or the kick that pushed her directly into Firecat's flames.

Less than a second later Deathlist's longest, most jagged blade, was buried eight inches deep in Tansy's back, just below the ribs. The girl's scream wasn't just afraid now. It was also one of pain and Deathlist relished the look he imagined on her face as he brought his other hand around to make the second hamstringing cut that he calculated he had time for before dear Lady Astarte could reach him.

The blade was metal, as was Deathstroke's cyborg body. While his essential organs were insulated against all harm, the same could not be said for the rest of the chassis.

Fenryk's lightning lashed along the blade and through the chassis like a fire through petroleum soaked tissue paper.

Deathlist enjoyed a brief moment of agony before the shell's senses died along with every servo in his mechanical body. The batteries that powered him simply melted.

"S-sucker," Tansy gloated weakly, trying to crawl off the blade impaling her. Every movement she made caused more pain. Blood and tears mixed on the ground below her face and the contents of her trousers were something that she didn't want to contemplate.

There was a snap and she felt the weight on the blade vanish. Mrs. Carson's voice grated: "Hold still, Solange." And then the blade was gone, so fast she was never sure if it had torn anything. "Mindbird, hold her together."

Tansy screamed again as something took hold of the wound.

"I'm sorry it hurts," Mindbird offered apologetically.

"C-carson," Tansy rasped, uncaring of the tears running endlessly down her face. "I-is... D-death-"

The headmistress understood. A moment later there was a tearing sound and Deathlist's head bounced into Tansy's field of vision. A moment later a canister containing some kind of bodily organs crashed down next to it. Carson's foot smashed them jar and ground the flesh inside into the soil. "He's dead, Tansy. Forever."

Elizabeth Carson wasn't an especially large woman, but she was able - somehow - to lift Tansy and Mindbird together without breaking the connection between them. "I assume that your teammates are nearby?" she asked the other two of the Wild Pack.

"Yes ma'am," Firecat replied automatically. "They're unconcious, but stable."

"Good enough. Wait with them - I'll let you know when you can bring him to Doyle."

Lady Astarte took off, heading towards the core of the school. "Chief. Is Doyle secure?"

The muted voice of Delarose was barely audible over the wind. Tansy realised she could only hear it because her head was resting on the superheroine's shoulder, next to her ear. "Yes. Ma'am, we have a problem."

"Oh? Y' think?"

Tansy could count on the fingers of one foot how many times she'd heard the headmistress speak with less than perfect diction.

"Beyond the obvious. Ma'am, Cat's dead."

Tansy sobbed. She'd barely ever spoken to Mr. Mahren's fiancée and now she never would. It didn't make sense to her rational faculties to cry at the death of a stranger, but her body didn't seem to be paying much attention to rationality right now. If it was, she'd not have deliberately drawn Deathlist down on herself, would she?"

"Erik's..." Delarose sounded very tired. "Well, Cat's dead, what do you think Erik's doing?"

Carson went stiff. "Oh shit." She landed, paused at the door and then simply kicked it down rather than let go of either girl. "I need a trauma surgeon here right now," she snapped. "Solange took a gut wound from Deathlist before we put him down."

Tansy thought she heard a cheer in the distance.

She felt Carson try to let go of her and she clung on with whatever scraps of strength she had.

"You need to let go, Solange."

She shook her head childishly.

"Tansy, let go." This time Carson's voice was firmer. Begrudgingly she uncurled her fingers and allowed the superheroine to place her on one of the emergency beds. The headmistress squeezed her hand lightly and then looked over at Mindbird. "Keep an eye on her."

.o0o.

Tansy woke in her bed in Dickinson.

The room felt warm and cozy, sheltered from the cold autumn outside the window.

_No, this isn't right,_ she thought. _I was hurt. I should be in Doyle again._

"You're dreaming," Sara's voice told her from the top bunk. A moment later the girl hung over the edge of the bunk, hair trailing towards the floor. "I tried to see you before, when you were sleeping but something kept you from seeing me."

Tansy thought back, recalled the moments in that dream she'd seen something lurking in the shadows. "I think I did see you," she confessed. "I just... didn't understand."

The smaller girl crawled like a spider down the side of the bed and onto the top of Tansy's covers. "Well, you could have at least come to see me before you got yourself put back into hospital again," she pouted.

"I tried..."

"I know." Sara snuggled down against her. "You just have the worst luck in the world."

Tansy laughed awkwardly. "I really do." She lay there, just luxuriating in not having to run around, or fight anyone.

"Sara," she asked guiltily, sure she was going to stir up unwelcome memories. "You've... killed people... haven't you?"

The raven-haired girl nodded slowly. "Yes."

"So have I."

"I know." Sara raised her head from Tansy's side. "And yes, it did get easier for me. That's the worst part in some ways."

"I-I..." Tansy struggled to say it. "I ate Sheba."

The half-demon's eyes widened. "Did you really? Like I do?"

"Not really. I... bit pieces off until she died."

That merited a soft whistle. "That must have been quite a struggle. Normally in a possession, the victim never has a chance to fight back."

"I had an advantage. I wasn't alone." Slowly, compulsively, Tansy told Sara her story. "He was supposed to be making me a better person," she said bitterly. "But the moment he was gone I wasn't just cutting people dead socially - I killed a woman. I could have killed a man. I did help to kill Deathlist."

"I wouldn't waste any guilt on that one," advised Sara. "And from what you say, I doubt that your Fenryk will be anything but pleased with you. Spirits tend to either be very idealistic or very pragmatic and he sounds like the latter. They came to kill you, and if that meant killing them to stop them..." She rubbed Tansy's shoulders. "Well that's unfortunate but hardly your fault."

"That doesn't make me feel particularly better."

"You're never satisfied are you?" the other girl laughed gently. "You can't turn back time, Tansy. If you didn't enjoy it then try not to do it again. Isn't that your philosophy?"

"Not exactly."

She nodded sagely. "I thought that Zenith might have gotten a bit muddled about that. She doesn't take her wardrobe quite as seriously as you take yours."

"I suppose it's close enough. So will I be sleeping away two weeks this time? Three?"

"What?" Sara blinked and then shook her head. "Oh. No, you're just asleep. I expect you'll wake up in time for dinner. Banned Aid healed you once word got around that you'd been injured."

"Hah," Tansy snorted. "How much did Sahar promise I'd pay him for that? Not that it matters, he knows I'm good for it."

"I don't think money's involved. Perhaps curiousity. There are a lot of rumours about what happened with Deathlist. Some of the Betas say that you ran away from Deathwish and Carson barely stopped him killing you."

Tansy shrugged. "I'm not surprised."

"Is it true?"

"I imagine it's what they saw," she said tiredly.

"Mindbird, on the other hand, says that you drew his attention and you both knocked each other out of the fight. Carson just cleaned up after you."

"She doesn't give the headmistress enough credit."

"I don't think I'd blame you for running away from Deathlist," Sara told her.

"He's - he was - a sadist. He'd pulled Carson out of position so she couldn't cover us when he attacked. But given the choice of attacking three students who were standing up to him or one who had given in to her fear..."

"So you showed him what he wanted to see? Faked being afraid?"

"Faked nothing. The Wild Pack are the fearless hero types, I was..." She shuddered at the memory. "I had brown trousers."

Sara hugged her. "Only an imbecile wouldn't have been afraid, Tansy, and none of them are that stupid. But however afraid they were, you're the one who used that fear to beat him."

"So you believe me?"

"I believe in you, Tansy." Sara kissed her. "I believe in the girl who didn't want to fight bank robbers and zombies and The Necromancer... but did so anyway to protect her friends. I believe in the girl that went out into the night to rescue three little girls she didn't even like very much. And I think Fenryk believes in her too, enough to trust her with his power even when he couldn't provide you with any guidance in what to do with it."

"Thank you." Tansy wrapped her arms around Sara.

"And I believe that the Don is so scared of you that he wouldn't try anything against her friends himself until she was in a coma."

Tansy sat bolt-upright and banged her head on the bottom of the bunk above her. "He - ow - did what?"

"He tried to recruit Nikki, Toni and Hank into the Alphas." Sara grinned wickedly. "Right in front of the Crystal Hall. Except Toni caught him using mental coercion on her and managed some ki trick to prove it to the Psychic Arts faculty."

"She did?" Tansy's eyes were wide. "She caught The Don!? Sweet!"

"Oh yes. He looked very disgruntled when he was being frogmarched by Stonebear and Stormwolf over to Hawthorne for his first detention there. Three weeks of it."

Tansy was speechless for a moment. "P-please tell me you have photos!"

"Alas no." Then Sara grinned wickedly. "But this is a dream, isn't it? So why don't I just show you the memory...?"