Beyond the Curtain: Getting It All Out

The weekend is almost here and so are all the summer shows I’m gonna have to start working on next week.  Netflix reminded me this morning that next Friday I can come home from work and spend the next ten hours binging Sense8, which is something I might just do.  Because why not?

Now, back at the school the kids are making their way to Memory’s End, where revelations await:

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

On the walk to Memory’s End Kerry said little, and when he did speak it was not about the day’s instruction. It was only once they were inside the building and heading for the stairs to the first floor that he finally brought up what awaited. “Are you worried about me?”

Annie didn’t see a point in avoiding a direct conversation on the matter. “You’ve seemed somewhat anxious since learning what we’re doing today.”

“I was, but…” Kerry stopped them both before heading up the stairs. “I’m not scared. If anything, I’m excited about this. It’s just that I recognize this could be one of the most dangerous things we’re going to do this year, and I can’t help but think of all the possible things that could go wrong.”

“That I can understand.” She was keenly aware that Kerry was the sort of person who often anticipated the worst of a new situation. “How are you feeling now?”

“Eager to go. Really, when I mean I think of the worst that could happen, I don’t believe anything’s going to happen to us today. But, I’m certain Deanna’s going to tell us everything that can go wrong once we start visiting the Astral Realm on our own.”

From everything that Annie had read in the past she understood that the Astral Realm possessed dangers unique to that world. There were spirits and wraiths that sought out anything that wasn’t part of their world, and witches had noticed and documented weather-like phenomenon in the Realm that were terrifying and dangerous.

She knew Kerry was correct: Deanna was preparing them for when they were ready to enter the Realm on their own. At the same time, however, she was certain that the Astral Realm within the walls of Salem was a benign region, and she couldn’t imagine it being a dangerous place.

Then again, there were other things within the walls of Salem that one needed to watch for—

They bounded up the stairs and headed directly for the study room. Deanna was waiting for them, standing in the middle of the room smiling as if she had anticipated they were going to walk through the door that very moment. And he smiled back. “Good afternoon, Deanna.”

Kerry waved. “How’s it going?”

The seer approach them. “Good afternoon. And to answer your question, I am doing well.” She waved the door shut and rubbed her hands together. “I imagine your eager to begin.”

 

Given that they just met with Deanna it’s not gonna be long before they take that first step…

Beyond the Curtain: Pre-Passage Jitters

So…  how was your evening?

First off, I did my video.  It was fun, but as I usually do when it’s over I feel as if I could have done more.  It’s that whole thing that goes hand-in-hand with being creative–you know, everything you do sucks and you want to do better?  I should get out of that habit and will.  One day.

Then I head off with a friend to the Harrisburg chapter of the National Organization for Women and after opening my mouth a couple of times, I end up one-half of their fundraising committee.  This is why I shouldn’t say anything, but I can’t keep my mouth shut.

Came home, watched one episode of Breaking Bad, and the–wrote?  Yep!  Wrote!  Put down about seven hundred words as I began describing what it’s like over by der in the Astral Realm.  And since I’ll be home all night tonight I’ll not only write more about this, but… well, you never know who just might show up.

The thing is, if you got your witchy kids in the Astral Realm, that means they had to of started on this side of The Curtain.  And they did.  I know this because it all starts below–

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Being a legacy witch meant there was little that could surprise or shock her, but Annie imagined today would be one of the days where everything she saw and heard was completely new. For today Kerry and she were about to embark on an adventure:

Today they would pass beyond The Curtain and walk in the Astral Realm.

The realization that they were taking this step came at breakfast this morning. They were just sitting down at a little before seven when Deanna came to their table, through upper privacy barrier around them, and said today was the day they would visit the Astral Realm. She refused to answer any questions: she simply said anything that needed to be asked could wait until the afternoon, as she wished to discuss anything concerning today’s exercise in private.

And just as quickly as she approached and gave them the news, she turned and left the Dining Hall.

Annie grew excited right away. Since he had begun her special training with Deanna she had begun preparing herself for anything involving passage beyond The Curtain. She’d read stories and had even seen a few pictures, but they did nothing to dampen her expectation of what would come about in the next few hours. She was on the verge of living a dream that was nearly as important as wanting to become a sorceress and a Guardian.

For his part Kerry seems slightly distracted. When she asked if there was something troubling him, he said he was a bit nervous about entering what was essentially an alien world. He knew there was little to fear for Deanna was skilled in these matters and everything would happen within the confines of the school’s walls, but he still found the prospect of walking into another world just a bit worrisome.

When she reminded him that entry new worlds was something he should be comfortable with given his science fiction fandom background, he agreed, but only with the caveat that he also knew, based upon those same stories, all the things that could go wrong even though they were told everything would be fine.

Though she spent the morning concerned that Kerry’s mind wouldn’t be on flying while Emma, he, and two other fliers from class made a high-speed run to Philadelphia and back, she was pleasantly surprised to find him in a good mood at lunch time. He explained his change of mood as being nothing more than the realization that since everything he had done since arriving at school a little more than two years earlier was new and somewhat alien when compared to Normal studies, why should he get upset about dealing with the situation that was completely alien?

 

There you go:  Annie is a secret Astral junkie and Kerry is just a little worried about stepping into his first alien landscape.  But you know these kids are going there.  How do we know?

I told you up at the start of the excerpt.  Duh.

All Over the Place

I said I would have a video on Sunday, and I am a woman of her word.  And here it is. Enjoy.

And if you want to see the route I walked yesterday, here that is.

A View From Afar: The Watching

As you’re reading this it is highly likely that I am either somewhere on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., or I’m in the city and on my way to the Washington Monument.  Yes, I’m back in the capital getting ready to do my part for the March For Science, and if you have any sort of connection to my Facebook page, you’ll notice that my profile picture is changed to that of Science, Princess Bubblegum’s favorite rat.

Because I’m all about Science.

What you’re reading is the last few hundred words of Part Three of Act One.  And this is the last excerpt you’ll get for a couple of days.  Sunday I’ll be sending you another video, and the odds are pretty good that Monday you get a video as well.  Because I’m all about the videos right now.  Also, and allow me to catch up on some writing and perhaps put fifteen hundred or two thousand words between me and these excerpts.  It’s hard to say.  All I know is, I’m going to keep writing.  Because I have to.

But here, at the end of this last part, we have Deanna doing a little sneaking around.  And why is she doing that?  Because her something she wants to see.  And she wants to see because it’s a special day…

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Deanna positioned herself behind the tree and look to the north, where the largest open space on the shore of Lake Lovecraft was situated. The sun was setting but Magic Hour was nearing and everything was taking on a shadowless demeanor. It wasn’t for this reason that she was able to see the two figures standing almost sixty meters away. Since she didn’t want to move closer, she used a bid transformation magic to give herself telescopic vision, which made it seem as if she was standing maybe twenty meters away.

Even without the telescopic vision she immediately knew who was standing in this open space: it was Annie and Kerry. And there was a simple reason for them being here, for today was Annie’s fourteenth birthday, and as Deanna knew they had done last two years, Kerry brought her here so he could give her a birthday present.

As Kerry faced Annie Deanna thought back to their moments this afternoon in class. She didn’t notice Annie wearing anything new, but she was able to tell from scanning Kerry’s aura that he was anxious, which she took to mean he hadn’t given the present. Though she didn’t have much to go over she managed to drag out class out as much as possible, if for no other reason than to make the setting of the gift giving to be far more perfect. She knew she was being a bit mean, but she was also certain that when the moment came for Annie, it would mean far, far more.

She watched Kerry remove his backpack and reach inside one of the pockets to retrieve something. From here the package didn’t look large, but then she was aware that Kerry had never really given Annie anything large except the leather jacket he presented after her last solo flight the previous school year. Given that the package fit easily in one of Kerry’s hands Deanna assumed it was a small present—

And small presents were often the most intimate.

Annie slowly unwrapped the gift revealing a box, then open that to unveil gift inside. Whatever it was, there was enough of a surprise that Deanna detected her momentary recoil. Kerry partially blocked what happened next, but it appeared he helped remove whatever was inside the box and and presented her the actual gift. Though difficult to see, to Deanna it seemed almost as if Annie raised her left hand for a few seconds, then looked down for a moment before wrapping her arms around Kerry’s shoulders and giving him an appreciative and emotional kiss.

Deanna dropped her telescopic vision and stepped away from the tree before turning to her left and making her way back to the path. Though she couldn’t say, she was certain she knew what Kerry had given her, and not because of any guesses made based upon her observation—

She stopped and closed her eyes she took a slow, calming breath. You’re not supposed to think of these things: you’re supposed to make assumptions based upon what you’ve already seen. You’re not even supposed to be here

“And yet, here I am.” Deanna didn’t worry that she was heard, as the only people close to her were sixty meters away and likely busy kissing. She made her way to the path and turned to the south, then spent a few seconds crafting a Far Sight spell and jaunted to the edge of the path just outside the entrance to the Instructor’s Residence.

She went inside and headed directly up the stairs toward her room so that she could prepare first for dinner and then for the Midnight Madness. Once inside her room she leaned against the closed door and spent nearly ten seconds staring at a spot at the joint the ceiling in the wall.

It’s times like this I hate my Sight. Deanna headed to her bed and flopped down on her belly. I know so much about so many and I hate that I can’t warn them of what lay ahead

She rolled onto her side and lay there with her thoughts, much as she had done and she was a student. I hope you enjoy your gift, Annie, and all the happiness it brings you today. And I hope Kerry is also happy that you are so extraordinarily pleased with what he has given you.

For it maybe the last bit of happiness you both share for a while

 

I debated for a long time whether or not to show Annie’s birthday gifting up close and personal as I had before. In the end, I thought I would view it from a different perspective, one outside them.  And Deanna is a good one for that, because it could be several reasons why she’s there.  I mean, it’s not like any of the instructors don’t know that on Friday, 27 September, 2013, Annie turns 14.  And when that happens, Kerry takes her out to the north shore of Lake Lovecraft and gives her a gift.

As strange as it may seem there is a reason I didn’t want the interaction to focus on Kerry giving Annie a gift and having Annie’s reaction to that gift. Rather, I wanted someone to see it from afar.  That’s not to say you won’t get a chance to discover her reaction, it just means you’re not going to see it now.

Yeah, I’m being sneaky that way.

And speaking of sneaky, just wait until you get your next excerpt–

The Kali Test: The End

Yesterday was a good writing day.  I wrote almost twelve hundred words in the morning, came home and wrote eleven hundred word TV recap, then ended up writing another two hundred and sixty words later in the evening to include something I meant to include in the morning, but didn’t.  Add all that up, and I wrote close to twenty-four hundred words, something I haven’t done in quite some time.

That doesn’t mean I’m back in the groove: it simply means yesterday was a good rating day.  The trick to all this is doing something like that nearly every day, and not just on a Sunday in April.  Most times I’ll be lucky to get five hundred words a day.  But I have to say, yesterday felt good.

Since I’m on the way to ending Chapter Eleven, here’s the end of the test scene.  And you knew this was coming; why wouldn’t you?  But based upon what you’ve seen so far, this ending is a little unusual–

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Covered in blood and winded, they were both catching their breath when fifteen seconds later music stopped and silence fell upon the test surface.

Ramona waited until she was absolutely certain that Annie and Kerry were the only creatures moving on the other side of the safety enchantment before casting it away.

She waited a few seconds for her students to gather their bearings before speaking. “The test is concluded. Based upon the final results—”

Kerry turned toward Ramona and Helena and screamed at them, raising his arms and hands in the air. “What was that bullshit?”

Annie stepped around the bodies on the floor as she wiped blood from her face and eyes. She, too, was not happy, and the moment she was alongside Kerry she also yelled out her frustration. “Koĭ postavi tozi shiban test zaedno?”

Ramona quickly raised the safety enchantment, putting a barrier of silence between her angry students and the rest of the people in the hall. She turned to Helena and shrugged. “Apparently they have some questions.”

“They’re not the only ones.” Helena turned to her left as she sensed Isis walking away. “Where are you going?”

 

The kids usually stick by their mantra of “A good sorceress keeps their head about them while everything is going to hell around them.”  But nothing is going to hell around them anymore: that’s already happened, things to them.  And these kids get just as frustrated and confused as adults, who often vent her frustration once a momentous task has completed.  Plus, when you add in the fact that both these kids are raging hormone factories, it’s easy to understand why they lost their cool and started screaming.  At their instructor.  In front of a room full of people, including the Head Sorceress.

Fortunately, Ramona is fairly even-tempered and she understands that emotions run high at times, particularly when you’ve been in a difficult match.  Also, it’s likely fair to say that the kids aren’t known to start screaming and swearing at the same time while in the Advanced Self Defense class–and you know Annie swore, because Kerry is already mentioned that usually when she’s upset and says something in Bulgarian, it’s likely she’s cursing.  You’ll find out in the following scene what she said.

So it’s probably a good idea to let the kids simmer down, or at least get rid of witnesses–

 

She held her tablet at her side as she addressed the Head Sorceress. “I’m finished with my side of this test, so there’s no need for me to stick around.” She tapped something on her tablet screen then looked up at Ramona. “My people will be by in the afternoon to collect the Spy Eyes. Shouldn’t take too long to get them out of here.”

Ramona nodded in acknowledgment. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Cool. See you ladies later.” Isis juanted off.

With the Chief of Security gone Ramona now turned to the students who’d observed the test, with a few appearing to have not handled the bloody spectacle well. “This test is concluded. For those while visitors, you are free to leave. For those of you remaining for class, I will need about twenty minutes to clear the testing surface so that we may start. Feel free to mill about outside: I will call you when ready.”

Students filed out of the Manor and it was empty save for the two instructors and the two testes standing on the other side of the safety enchantment. Ramona took a deep breath. “I think we can continue our dialogue.”

Helena nodded toward the two students. “By all means, let’s.”

 

Testing is done, so Isis isn’t needed anymore.  Or at least she seems to think so.  This will get brought up in the next scene as well.  Hell, a lot of things get brought up in the next scene…

Since Ramona and Helena are pretty easy-going in most situations, they’ve given Annie and Kerry time to cool off.  That time is over: now it’s time to talk.

 

The Self Defense instructor removed the safety enchantment and addressed her students. “Have you had time to calm yourselves?”

They answered simultaneously. “Yes, Professor.”

Ramona approached and stopped two meters from them. “According to the rules of this engagement, you have successfully completed this test. Will see to it that the results are passed along to the appropriate authorities.” She gave them both a quick smile. “Go clean up and change, and once you have you’re both free to leave.”

Annie looked the most surprised of the two. “We don’t need to return for class?”

A soft chuckle escaped Ramona’s lips. “I think you’ve both proven that there isn’t any need for you to work on forms or spar today.”

“That’s for sure.” Helena moved up closer to Ramona, though she knew better than to stand next to her at this point. “Erywin, I, and a few others are heading into Boston about eleven to have lunch and do a little shopping. Why don’t you come out to the Instructors Residence when you done cleaning up? You can relax a bit before we leave.”

Both seemed happy to hear this news. Kerry reached out and gave Annie’s hand a squeeze before responding. “Thank you, Professor.”

Annie smiled as she returned to squeeze. “Yes, thank you, Helena.”

“All right, then.” Ramona straightened slightly. “Face me.” Annie and Kerry turned to face their instructor and bowed as she did. When they straighten Ramona wave them away. “Go on: go clean up.”

The instructors watched Annie and Kerry make their way through the carnage they left behind only to stop just past the last of the bodies so that they could share a short kiss. When they finished they both cast a glance back before heading off to the locker rooms and vanishing.

Helena rubbed her eyes as she chuckled. “Love among the zombies.”

Ramona only partially turned to head to look at the sorceress. “Didn’t you ever do that after test?”

“We didn’t have homunculus as nice as the ones you make.” She turned towards Ramona. “When I get back from Boston this afternoon, you and I are going to have a little discussion about what just happened here.”

Ramona crossed arms and gave her friend an unconcerned look. “Believe me, Helena; I want to talk about this.”

 

There you have it: the kids get to kill a bunch of zombies in front of the third of the student body, they then got this work their instructor, and then they were released from class for the rest of the day so they can go hang out in Boston with other instructors.  All in all, not a bad day–or, I should say, a bad four minutes, as that’s all it really took for them to establish themselves as the Bad Ass Zombie Killers of Salem.  And given what was seen, and the rumors that will come out of what was seen, one has to assume that anyone who calls these two out now is simply looking for a beating.

That doesn’t mean that neither of them won’t get called out–

And now that the fighting is done, it’s time for the instructors to ask a few questions…

The Kali Test: Required Rules

Good morning, everyone, and Happy Cosmonauts Day!  Yes, today’s the day that humans–particularly Yuri Gagarin–and space shuttle Columbia first went into space.  But in a certain history that I’ve created, this is also the day–a chilly, wet day–in 2013 that Annie Kiralova took her final solo flight.  And right about now she was waking up and getting ready to head down to the Flight School for breakfast of steak and eggs.

What a lucky girl.

Yesterday you may have noticed that I re-blog post.  That post was to commemorate that two years earlier I had started Book Three of my series, B For Bewitching.  Which means it seems like it was a good time to finish the current seen I’m excerpting now and move on to the next.

And right here it is.

It turned out to be almost five thousand words long, which makes it one of the longest scenes of written a bit.  But that’s because there’s all sorts of stuff going on inside and that takes time to get out.  And it also puts me five hundred words closer to the end of Part Three.  Which is good because the next part of the novel gets really interesting…

So, we’ve seen some of the pretest shenanigans, but they’re done–so let’s move on to the next part: the rules. You know there have to be rules.

And there are:

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Walking past the half-dozen cabinets at the far end of the Manor’s floor, Annie and Kerry made their way towards Ramona. Both were dressed in the loose top and pants worn by all students in the Self Defense classes, Annie’s hair was tied back in a pony tail, and as usual both were barefoot. The biggest difference in the outfits these two wore was the color: most of the time the uniforms were white, but Annie’s and Kerry’s were black. Helena was aware that Ramona only ordered this change if she was certain and upcoming test was going to get bloody.

Both students came to a halt facing Ramona and bowed. Ramona returned the bow, then turned and faced the rest of the students, addressing all in English. “If I may have your attention, please?” The talking subsided and vanished as every student did as instructed. “I thank you all for coming out to the Manor on this early Sunday morning. As such, I would like to remind you all that you are invited guest, and as such I expect you to show a modicum of decorum for the event we are about to witness.

“What will happen in the next few minutes is an officially sanction Foundation test. It has not been requested by the school, but rather by an outside agency associated with The Foundation—”

Helena instantly noticed the glances exchanged between a few of the students and took this to mean that the rumor she had heard through the last school year about Annie and Kerry being somehow affiliated with the Guardians was considered by some students to be a bit more than a rumor. Now was not the time to give the matter any concern, so she returned her attention to Ramona’s introduction—

“—and as such they have stipulated guidelines under which they wish this test conducted.” Ramona pointed to the six cabinets at the opposite end of the Manor’s large training area. “Each of those cabinets contains a homunculus. Annie and Kerry are required to combat six homunculi in each phase of the test.”

 

Helena shouldn’t seem that surprised that kids are passing knowing looks when they hear of a “Foundation outside agency”, because most of the kids have put two and two together and figured out that Annie and Kerry are likely doing some sneaking and peeking–and who the hell knows what else?–with Helena and her merry gang of Guardians.  Maybe she isn’t surprised.  Maybe she knows that these kids know more than they’re letting on, but she doesn’t care.  As she’s said before, a bad ass rep is a good thing to have, and having a bunch of people come out to watch you kill fake zombies improves that rep even more.

Now for the actual rules:

 

She turned to her two students who were now eyeing her hard. “There are eighteen homunculi which you are required to defend against in three separate phases. In the first phase you may only take Mano Mano actions along with any spells you are capable of crafting. In the second phase—” She pointed to the small weapons racks against the walls on her left and right. “You are permitted to use these weapons along with the live hand and magic. In the third and last phase you maybe continue to use Mano Mano and magic, though the only weapons you may use are those which you craft out of mystical or dark energy.

“The first phase begins when the homunculi at the far end step across the white line.” She clapped her hands twice and the cabinets opened, revealing the homunculi inside. As everyone had seen before they shambled out slowly before stopping at the edge of the far white line. “As soon as they cross the line six more will appear and wait their turn to engage. Each phase will only begin when all of the homunculi of the prior phase have been dispatched.

“This is also a timed test. It will last for minutes, though the test itself should take up approximately three and a half minutes of that time. All three phases of the test must be completed before the music ends—”

For the first time since greeting their professor Kerry spoke. “Music? We’re getting music?”

Ramona nodded. “Yes. Our instructions were to play a particular song during the test that lasts just short of four minutes.” She gave him a stern look as a way of warning him not to speak out of turn again. “Do you require further elaboration?”

Kerry shook his head. “No, Professor.”

 

First off, some clarification.  The term Mano Mano is an expression used in Kali that means “hand-to-hand”.  And that is exactly what they do in the first phase: they fight only with their hands and with magic.  The second expression, used in phase two, is “live hand”.  This indicates that in some instances you have a weapon in one hand and your other hand is empty. It is the empty hand which is your live hand, and that means you can use that against her opponent along with your weapon.  Kali was actually developed as a weapon-based martial arts and the hand movements used reflect the same movements used for weapons.  This means it is heavily based upon muscle memory in terms of how one faces their opponent and disables them.

Now we see some additional shenanigans as well. Helena put in a cook order for twelve homunculi: instead, there are eighteen, which means Ramona received a different order when she sent off her acknowledgment to the Guardians.  And while Annie and Kerry are out fighting, they get to listen to music!  Some of you may remember that a few months back I said I was focusing on a scene where a particular song was played as the scene played out.  Guess what?  Here’s that scene.

And now for the last of the rules:

 

Ramona nodded once to show she understood, then continued. “As defined in the instructions, this is considered a ‘Do or Die’ test.” Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Helena’s head whip about at the mention of the test condition, but Ramona paid no attention. “A safety enchantment will go up at the red line, making it impossible to step out of the testing area as a way of ending the test.

“Therefore, the conditions for the completion of the test are simple. If one of both of you are subdued by the homunculi before time has expired, you fail. If you have not dispatched all homunculi before time has expired, you fail. If, however, you destroy all eighteen homunculi before time has expired, you pass. There are no other situations that will allow a pass.” Ramona scrutinized both her students. “You understand the conditions as explained?”

Annie responded with a curt nod. “Yes, Professor.”

Kerry looked down for a moment before meeting Ramona’s gaze. “Yes, Professor.”

“Excellent.” Ramona pointed to the rectangular outlines on the floor a few meters from where they stood. “Please take your positions.” She turned to face the now over fifty students who were waiting for the next few minutes unfold. “The test will begin momentarily.”

 

Do or Die.  No, doesn’t sound a bit overly dramatic at all.  Nor does it sound all that grave–

Yeah, who are we kidding?  Someone in the Guardians decided they were going to make this test fairly difficult, and the only way my kids are going to beat this test is if they beat–or as Ramona says, destroy–their eighteen undead opponents.  Yes, it sounds like the guardians are piling a ton of crap onto my kids, but believe me, there is a method to their madness.

And tomorrow you’re going to get see that madness played out.  For tomorrow begins Phase One…

The Kali Test: Surprise Setup

Last night was another thousand word session,  my first back-to-back writings in about a month, and I nearly brought this scene to an end.  Almost, but not quite.  I’ll probably finish it up tonight.

But we start The Kali Test, as I call it, right here and now.  Although I warn you, it’s probably going to be Wednesday before you see the kids kicking ass.  Which means tomorrow are the rules and today–today is the setup…

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

The moment Helena entered Gwydion Manor she noticed something was different—specifically, instead of there being the half dozen or so students who normally took Advanced Self Defense class on Sunday morning, about forty students were standing around looking as if waiting for something to happen. Though she didn’t often come out to watch a self-defense class, she knew the only time these sort of crowds appeared in the Manor was when a judgment trial was about to take place.

And she knew for a fact that nothing that was about to happen in the next fifteen to twenty minutes had anything to do with the judgment trial.

Helena spotted Ramona off to one side of the testing area speaking with a student. She spotted someone else: Isis was here, standing about six meters away an examining something on her tablet display. It wasn’t normal for her to be here as it wasn’t necessary for her to be present during this or any test. Unless, of course, she was here to check out something that was needed for the test, like equipment she may have installed—

The moment she saw Ramona heading in her direction Helena raised her head to gain her attention. The martial arts instructor headed for her directly and greeted her with a slight smile. “Glad to see you made it.”

“Wouldn’t have missed this for the world.” Helena stepped closer to to her fellow instructor and turned so her back was towards the majority of the milling students. “What the hell is going on? Why are all these students here?”

“Oh, this.” Ramona looked around and switched to Esperanto to answer the question. “You can thank Isis for this. Apparently she sent out an email before breakfast inviting students to the Manor to watch a training exercise.” Her left eyebrow raised slowly as she turned her gaze in the direction of the Chief of Security. “It certainly wasn’t my idea.”

Helena was surprised to hear this, as it was unusual, if not out of the ordinary, for Isis to interject herself in daily classwork. The Chief of Security never became involved with the instructor’s classes unless there is a security concern that needed addressing—and even then she herself rarely became involved. Unless…

She pointed in the tall woman’s direction. “What’s she checking on her tablet?”

 

So what better way to kick this test off than to make it a public spectacle, yeah?  It seems like a hit as well, since about a third of the student body has shown to watch Annie and Kerry beat up on the newly created undead, which means no pressure at all.

There’s also something else going on here–

 

Ramona nodded toward the test area. “Look out there; what you see?”

Helena tried to follow Isis’ gaze and immediately notice what was drawing her attention. “Damn, there’s a lot of Spy Eyes in the room.”

“Two dozen.” Ramona crossed her arms as she glanced over at Helena. “I was told last night after the Midnight Madness that one of Isis’ people going to be out here installing them for the test.”

Helena turned back toward Ramona, not caring if any students saw her speaking. “Why the hell would she be out here installing all these Spy Eyes?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Additional instructions.” Even though she was speaking in Esperanto Ramona kept her voice low so that the conversation didn’t travel beyond the two women. “When I sent off that acknowledgment the other day, I received additional instructions in return.”

“On?”

“I’m not permitted to tell you until after this test.”

Helena felt her jaw tighten. “What is this shite?”

Ramona held up a hand. “Not only did I get instructions, but Isis received them as well; I only found out about them last night after the Midnight Madness when she and I were walking back to the Instructors Residence.” She held up her tablet. “This morning she gives me additional instructions on how this test is to be conducted: I’ve had about fifteen minutes to review them.” She lowered the tablet to her side and returned to speaking English. “It’s all that damn compartmentalization: they don’t want one group aware of what the others doing, all the way down the line.”

It was impossible for Helena to argue, for she was certain Ramona was correct. She knew the Guardians were far more secretive than any of their other contemporaries in The Foundation, but this sometimes led to the same sort of secrecy taking hold in each of the individual headquarters. And when it came to the Special Operations and Procedures Division, better known as SOP, they were known for sometimes taking secrecy to a new level.

But what bothered Helena the most wasn’t that Ramona and Isis were given separate duties after they were told of the test, it was that someone in San Francisco had decided that it wasn’t necessary for Helena to know about these changes.

She was about to ask Ramona another question when self-defense instructor nodded at something behind Helena. “Here they come.”

 

Spy Eyes are magical little floating cameras that can be thrown up to monitor just about anything–like, say, a flight by A Levels to nearly two miles above sea level.  Here, two dozen are being used to keep track of the test, and that’s…  well, it’s a lot.  Someone doesn’t want to miss a beat.

And now we get an idea of why Ramona probably said, “That’s interesting.”  Someone high up out in San Fran didn’t want Helena to know about changes in the test.  And Isis did the same to Ramona.  That damn compartmentalization the spooks love so much is being used like mad here, and pretty much all the players are feeling the effect.

Now Annie and Kerry are here, so listen up:  the rules are gonna get laid down…