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What of the Immortals?
by Ortin

Chapter One: Outset

School sucked.

This wasn't just a generic statement made by a student who was mad at the system. This student could bypass the system. It wasn't made out of resentment, a human wronged by rules and regulations. Rules were made to be bent, shifted, tied in knots.

No, this human was upset because he was pressed for time, and had to skip breakfast. It wasn't a burning hate, something that had to be directed. It was an error in planning, a power blackout, and a fifteen minute slow clock.

Plus he missed the bus, and had to hail a cab, paid the fare that came out of his carefully planned budget, and now had him set $19.65 overdrawn and twenty minutes late (it was a bad cab).

But he'd get over it. It was what he did. Improvise. Work the numbers.

"Hey, Ark!"

Or simply have a stroke of luck.

Ark turned to face his long-time friend, Lee Stevens, grinned and raised a hand in reply. Lee sauntered over to Ark with a big grin pasted over his face.

"Hey Lee, what's happening?"

"Oh nothing much, just going over my profits for the week."

Ark shook his head at the irrepressible Lee. Ark Lancaster, though one of the brains on campus, had somehow gotten himself paired up with Lee, a troublemaking work-dodger who runs his own smuggling ring. While this has been very useful, it isn't the most low-profile past-time.

"You didn't sell anything serious this time, did you?" Ark was, of course, referring to the infamous "Stinkbomb your favorite enemy on campus day" that got Lee a month's vacation to the detention room (almost served).

"Oh no, just Mr. Snider's toupee," Lee laughed, "Some kid is gonna toss it at Mrs. Valora and shout 'rat'!"

Lee doubled up in laugher at the thought of the pure chaos he had helped start. Even Ark couldn't hide the smile creeping up on him.

"You realize that this could get you kicked out of the university," Ark cautioned.

"Yeah, but think about it. Mrs. Valora. We have her in second!"

Lee succumbed to another fit of laugher, while Ark was left to ponder what fate his friend would be sentenced to. Then he pictured Mrs. Valora being attacked by a rabid toupee, and he too started laughing.

Of course, all such acts of happiness are doomed to die, and did indeed die, as soon as the warning bell went off.

Laughter ceased instantly, converting itself into disbelief. Then it dissolved into a mad dash for next class that probably wouldn't make it in time.

* * * * *

Actually, they did make it to their next class, their Advanced Calculus class. The room, like most other rooms in the math building, was shaped like a circular auditorium. The desks were placed in circular rows, and each row farther back was on a raised level. All in all, it looked like one of those cheap, over-exaggerated mazes that you get in vending machines, the ones you have to maneuver a ball bearing through. This was the basic design for all rooms in the university, barring courses needing specialized equipment.

Ark and Lee both weaved their way to their desks a few minutes late, but their tardiness was not noticed. The teacher, Mr. Sanders, began speaking of some kind of new equation that Ark knew by heart and ignored, while Lee half took notes and half tried to stuff quarters into an undersized coin roll.

Ark was tired. He knew the math by heart. He just wanted to get out of school, get a job, and get rich quick. Lee was on his way, for the short term anyway, but Ark wanted to be something more...if he just knew what that was.

The teacher was just getting through his long-winded speech about more math problems and assigned some homework. Ark didn't care; he was already thirty-four pages ahead of the class. Lee would pause to rapidly do a few questions, then continue to sort all of his coins.

A flurry of activity caused Ark to look over his shoulder, but the excitement died down to some gruff "harumph's" from Mr. Sanders. Ark noticed something amiss, and turned toward Lee.

"Hey, where did Jason go to?"

Lee paused, then resumed his futile coin-stuffing as he replied, "He's on toilet duty today for knocking down that punk on campus."

Ark nodded his acknowledgment. Some family brought their son to campus to try to enroll him. The guy wasn't the nicest kid around. He cracked Jason's glasses. Jason cracked his jaw.

"Will he be back soon?"

Lee snickered before answering, "I hope he's back for second," and started on more math questions, now wearing a contented smile on his face.

Ark just shook his head and began the next page of his book, the thirty-fifth page.

* * * * *

"Phew, I though I'd never get out of there," Lee said. He was looking much happier now that he was headed towards second class and impending madness. Ark was content to get some time without assignments. He could get ahead of the cirriculum that way.

"I don't think it will be that funny."

"Not that funny?!" Lee exclaimed. He threw a congenial arm around Ark and began listing the order of chaos. Teacher screaming. Kids laughing. Paper being tossed around. Walking out of class. General confusion and mayhem.

"But we didn't do it personally," Ark explained. "How much fun is it to give a student a paper airplane and watching him throw it?"

Lee withdrew with a grin, "But watching him throw it in Snider's class, now that's funny."

And when Ark though about it, it did seem pretty funny.

"Now come on, we're gonna miss the action," and Lee dashed off, leaving Ark hurrying to catch up.

"Shouldn't we wait for Jason?" Ark call after Lee's retreating form.

"He's probably already there, wondering if you've taken root in the detention room or something," Lee called back, and Ark decided to forget about it and follow.

Soon, Lee and Ark had rushed into Algebra class, a few minutes early, but still ahead of Jason.

"I told you we should wait for him," Ark muttered.

"Don't worry, he'll be here," Lee replied, "Or he had better," he mumbled, this time under his breath.

The bell went, and Mrs. Valora entered the room. She launched into some boring speech about lateral equations, and droned on for about ten minutes. All that time Lee was waving off Christopher, the guy who bought the toupee.

Suddenly the door burst open, and Jason rushed into the room, now sporting bleach spots on his shirt to match his freckled face. A giggle or two found it's way out into the open, only to be silenced by a hawk-like stare. With tacky, thick-rimmed glasses, graying hair done up in a bun, and really old dress, she was the perfect evil witch of the north. Which would only make it funnier when the toupee flew.

Jason sheepishly walked to his desk a row lower than Ark and Lee, and stammered out his apology. Mrs. Valora waved it away, because she was "aware of the circumstances".

Mrs. Valora turned to the blackboard, while Jason mimicked her with some dry-washing of hands and silent cackles.

Lee leaned forward in his chair and whispered his master plan into Jason's ear. Jason burst out laughing, but quickly suppressed it. He was still subjected to one of Mrs. Valora's evil glares, but she brought herself back up to the lesson.

There was an anticipant silence. Christopher turned ever so slightly towards Lee. Lee gave the nod. A quick sizing up of the scene, and he tossed the toupee at Mrs. Valora's legs. It hit her in the ankle. She turned with a glare towards the class, but then she looked down at the floor.

A moments horror, and then, "RAT!!!!!!!!!!!"

She panicked. She quickly found herself on her desk screaming bloody murder and praying for the merciful saints to save her from this terror. Then Lee cut loose. He tossed one little paper ball, and soon the whole class was throwing paper balls, and some not too little, either.

It was exactly as Lee predicted it. Soon, the entire class was in an uproar, throwing paper and doodling on the blackboard. Someone even pocketed Mrs. Valora's stapler, and a few other things from her desk.

Then something happened that none of the students had ever thought of, or ever wanted to think of.

Mr. Snider entered the room.

As soon as it had started, the madhouse was stopped. Mr. Snider, in his lame plaid suit and receding hairline, walked - no, that's too kind a word - stalked over to Mrs. Valora and demanded to know the meaning of the mayhem.

Mrs. Valora was in a state of shock. She was babbling about how a six foot rat had attacked her and nearly killed her, and that the students were controlling it. Mr. Snider was not amused. He walked to the fallen 'rat', and bent over to examine it. Ark, Lee, and Jason knew what was coming next. It always happened whenever some calamity struck.

Mr. Snider straightened up, and with a round, red face, turned on the class.

"THIS...IS...MY...HAIRPIECE!!!!!!!!" he shouted with the wrath of heaven in his voice. The class cringed in a unified motion. "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?!?!?!?!"

Then Lee, with an unexplainable impulse to commit suicide, muttered, "It was bored covering up for you and needed some excitement."

He wasn't soft enough. The class broke out into more noise, but this was laughter that was ringing out. It was short-lived, however. As soon as Mr. Snider could get over the initial impulse to walk over to Lee and strangle him, he, amazingly, just stood there and, predictably, ordered Lee, Ark, and Jason to the headmasters office.

"I didn't do anything!"

"Silence, Mr. Lancaster!"

Five minutes and two phone calls later (one to Mr. Gallows, their teacher for next class, informing him the Unholy Trinity would be late, and another to Mr. Snider's secret hairpiece supplier), Ark, Lee, and Jason found themselves dropped into uncomfortable chairs outside the headmasters office.

Inside was a total mess. Between Mr. Snider's ceaseless raving about how "Kid's like that should be expelled!" and Mr. Kramer's "These kids are the overseers of our future!", nothing was really being done about the toupee incident. Mr. Snider wasn't too thrilled about having to talk about his...shortcoming...anyway.

"I'm telling you, these kids are too disruptive! They should be sent away to a boot camp!"

"And how will that help with their education? We need these kids to grow with society!"

"What society teaches kids to steal other peoples hairpieces?"

"It's expanding their minds!"

"I'm telling you, these kids must be disciplined! They're just too wild. They need to be brought up to our level of maturity!"

Mr. Kramer sat back in his chair and sighed. "I'll do what I have to, Greg. But these kids have the highest grades in the entire school!"

"And why should that make them immune? Entire governments were brought down because of incompetence!"

"Look, Greg," Mr. Kramer began, "I know that they need to be taught how to behave. But if we squeeze the life out of them, what is the point of doing our jobs?"

Mr. Snider stepped back. "I can see that you won't change your opinion. I'll let you handle it." He gave Mr. Kramer a meaningful look. "You always were too soft-hearted, Avery."

Mr. Kramer got out of his chair, and walked over to Mr. Snider. "I know Greg. But let's face it: these kids are just energetic. They're not evil."

He lead Mr. Snider to the doorway, and walked through. What he got wasn't all evil:

Ark was 'See No Evil', covering his eyes. Jason was 'Hear No Evil', covering his ears. And Lee was...well, Lee was Evil, complete with plastic horns and evil sneer.

Mr. Snider walked into the room looking very smug.

"And you said they weren't evil."

Mr. Kramer shook his head and sighed, "Toilet duty."

"Now that's not fair, busting us up for just doing the presidential line," Jason complained.

"In Nixon's case, retiring was the same as scrubbing toilets," Ark argued.

"Maybe so," Jason replied, "but he had all of those all-star dry cleaners on his side. Look at these! I'll never get this bleach out."

"You're clothes are crap anyway, man," Lee taunted, which got him a smack upside the head.

"Look, we have Theoretical Economics, so you can worry about bleach spots and dirty toilets there," Theoretical Economics was a report class. You take forever thinking about hard-core equations to insane economical crisises, and then you just sit around doing nothing for the rest of the class.

"Easy for you to say, I was asleep last Theory Ec.," Lee muttered.

"So was I, but I'm already done a months worth of assignments," And that too earned a smack upside the head.

They entered the classroom fifteen minutes late, and managed to get in unnoticed. For a little while, at least. Without looking up, Mr. Gallows spoke out, "Ark, Jason, I'll need your reports. Lee, I hope you have a good excuse this time around."

At that instant a resounding groan went out from one student in class. His friends were already working their way down to Mr. Gallows desk to hand in their reports.

"Man, he never misses a beat," Lee complained.

Ark answered, "Well, if you didn't miss every single beat going your way, he wouldn't have to." Ark had already passed Lee, so he was instead hit by a crumpled up paper.

"Mr. Stevens, if that's your report you just threw, I'll forgive you for that infraction," Then he took on a playful tone, "No, wait, it can't be the report, because your dog ate it."

That brought about much laughter. Lee just took it, saying, "I'm deeply hurt by your accusations."

"It was your neighbours dog?"

More laughter. Mr. Gallows certainly lived up to his reputation. They say that this course was the remnants of his own Theoretical Economics class, and supposedly the course was identical to his old course at his university, because he remembered every single assignment he ever did. He was even more legendary than Ark, who did his homework a month before it was ever assigned.

Lee murmured something under his breath, but it seemed Mr. Gallows had stopped paying attention to Lee after it was clear he hadn't done his homework. Lee returned, embarrassed (by a teacher, no less) to his desk, to finish up his homework.

"Tough break?" Jason whispered into Lee's ear.

"Smack upside the head?"

Ark just sat there, partially absorbing his friends conversation. He had nothing to do. He was a certified genius. Sure, he had expectations, but he had already met them. He did the work. He was clean. Well, until toilet duty, at least.

Time passes quickly in dreamland. None of the teachers bothered to wake him out of his daydreaming. He was the perfect student. He had done all of his work.

Suddenly the bell went. Ark jumped, surprised at the passage of time. Lee was busy squeaking out the last few touches to his assignment that would be accepted as on time because he, too, was a genius. Jason was busy cleaning up his doodles. He was a genius too.

"Be right back," Lee said, and rushed to the teachers desk. Ark's attention wasn't on the room. One of Jason's drawings had fallen out of his binder. A picture of a black clad man in a cape, wielding three swords. Ark knew he had see that man somewhere...

"Yes, my report made it through!" Lee shouted.

"Hey Lee," Mr. Gallows called after Lee, "Get a cat!"

Jason and Ark burst out laughing, and if Lee wasn't Negro by birth, his face would be red.

Lee was about to fire off a comment, but Mr. Gallows was talking to another student.

"Fine," Lee muttered, "Let him go off on another student."

"Mr. Gallows doesn't go off on anyone but you, Lee," Ark said, grinning. He took a smack upside the head.

"Don't be too sure," Jason grinned, "That's Caraway he's called up."


"Oh come on, Ark!" Lee said, "She's the only other student who's late other than me!" He gazed wistfully back at her, idiot grin in place. "I wish they'd set me up in detention with her."

That one got a smack upside the head from Jason. "Look, Lee, fact of life. If you so much as talk to her, she'll black belt your hide till you were hamburger."

"Looking is just fine with me," Lee replied, idiot grin looking even more stupid.

In fact, there was something about Callista Caraway that Ark. Like, someone he'd seen before, and knew personally.

Of course, he'd seen a lot of things, but the most important thing he was worried about right now was something heard. His stomach.

"Hey, Lee, got any lunches for me?"

"Oh, sure. I've got some nice aged cheese on hand.

"That it?"

"Twelve cartons of limburger, man. Quality," Lee replied, getting a smack from Jason and Ark. No one was about to forget the old milk in the ventilation shaft gag. The terrible trio left the room in gales of laughter.

Chapter 2: Preparation

Darkness. It was almost all darkness. All that was unimportant, anyway.

Importance was graced by light. It was status: to be acknowledged this way was to be told that you were important.

And this figure was one of the most important people in the room.

He didn't sit on the council. He wasn't suited for such tasks. The council was for veterans who were aged and frail, men and women who had served the cause dutifully and unerringly to the end of their prime.

No, this man was sitting--lounging really. He was important, after all--in the center of the darkness, bathed in a spotlight. Around him, sitting in one joined, semicircular stand, were the council members. Three were raised above the others. All were shrouded by the darkness.

The figure in the center of the room was important. He had been summoned by the entire council in a uniform decision, saying that he was the best man for the councils wishes. It would not be easy, this mission. They never were. But he was driven to kill, not to play mind games, which he was often asked to do.

And that was why the council thought they could control him: because of his loathing of mind games, yet his unusual interest of how the games would end. That was why they could bring him to bear. He was curious to see the outcome of all his assignments.

"We are called together on this day to discuss a matter of great importance," the chairman announced. He was simply 'chairman', the representative of the High Lord. He did not warrant a name. He was only here because the High Lord did not have to attend matters he did not deem important.

He may not have thought that today had no important business to attend to, because the problem was not supposed to continue after this day. They would send out their chosen warrior, and end the problem.

"As it was written above ground, there will come a time during the dwindling of magic and the rise of technology when the line of mages shall be reduced to two, one of each guild, and these two mages shall inherit the powers of the gods," the chairman's voice echoed around the antechamber. He was a good speaker, but mostly a storyteller. Everyone knew in the room what the problem was, and everyone knew it must be dealt with.

"And when the chosen two have ascended to the floating palace of the sky, they will strike down the evils of the world with their holy light, and there shall be peace and prosperity as a new age is ushered in."

"Yes, yes, we all know the story," said the woman at the far right, "We have a threat to the organization, and we are to deal with it."

Organization, she says. The figure in the spotlight was not under any illusions. He knew what he was working for: a group of power hungry demons seeking more power. Because that was what they had been called in ancient times. They were the creatures of the night, devils and demons devouring all in the path that led to the one true power: magic.

"I think that we call just handle the situation with our own power," said the man on the chairman's right. Minister Greko, the Mana Supervisor. He had the most magic-tuned senses. "We have stockpiled enough mana to level an entire city! Why can't we just use widespread destruction to eliminate the chosen? We did it in World War II!"

"We will have order in this meeting!" the chairman shouted. "The High Lord has assembled a plan of action. If you please."

He cleared his throat and began, addressing the unknown figure, but speaking for the councils benefit. "We still don't have enough information about who the chosen are and where they are, so the council, by unanimous vote, has decided to send you to find their location by any means necessary." He was looking fairly proud of his speech at that time. The unknown figure just stared.

The chairman was getting nervous under the figures stare. He couldn't even see his face, for he wore dark glasses and a mask. He had hidden his body with his cape, and his swords poked menacingly out from behind his back.

The chairman quickly swallowed, and went on. "You are authorized to use any means necessary to find them, including using resources of the organization. You are free to use any procedures you feel necessary to your mission. You are free to do as you wish, but we expect results in three days."

Nothing. The figure betrayed nothing. Even his mind was hidden behind a thick veil of mist that nobody could penetrate without first going mad. But though his body was still, his mind was a whirlwind. He thought over what the chairman had said, how he said it. Then he spoke.

"By your terms I am free to make contact with the chosen. Is this true?"

Loud protests from both sides. The right, or magic-user side, argued that with the level of the chosens' power he would give away their mission and effectively kill them all. The left, or warrior side, encouraged the figure to get close, bandy jokes...and them kill them.

Suddenly there was silence. The large double doors behind the chairman had opened. Their resident unleashed.

The High Lord of the Underpowers.

"What am I seeing, hm? What are you all?"

He began pacing the room, the members of the council shrank back from his gaze. Even with his wrinkling face and graying hair, he invoked fear in their hearts. Yet the figure in the chair did not fear. He was collected, calm, and in control.

"You are the members of the Coalition Council, appointed to your seats for valor above ground, and hold in your hands the power of the Soul Pools."

He had gone around once and now stood in the center of the room in front of the unknown figure.


The voices started again, meek and humble this time, each losing themselves in a babble of sound while trying to vindicate themselves.

"SILENCE!" the High Lord bellowed. Even though his body was shriveling up as time passed, his mind had not withered. Or his voice.

"This meeting is adjourned. I will brief our agent in my chambers."

The High Lord walk away, the shadowed figure following him. As soon as they were behind the double-doors, whispering arose between the council members.

"Who is he to be invited into the Masters chambers for a mission?"

"He is emanating power. I could feel his presence as soon as he arrived in the keep."

"It is rumored that he has killed over a thousand people, and gave us a full quarter of our Soul Power this century."

"Really. It is also rumored that he's just a child."

The Chairman stood from his seat to take charge. "This meeting has been adjourned. All of you have been relieved of council duties for the time being. Return to your previous assignments."

The council filed out of the meeting room. Some of the magic-users simply warped out. Minister Greko preferred to walk, feeling appalled whenever someone abused their magic.

"I can say this much for sure: whenever they call that man in, he always does a number on our Soul Pools."

* * * * *

"Welcome, friend. It has been a long time."

"Too long, Master."

"Please, dispense with the formalities. In these dire times, we must work together as equals."

"As you wish...Proctor."

"See? You didn't choke to death speaking my name."

"What is my duty, sir?"

Proctor gave a heavy sigh. "We have too much to accomplish against such long odds, Zanatos." He walked over to his viewing globe, a six foot tall crystal sphere suspended above a pool of water. It looked like water, at first glance, but Zanatos knew what it really was: Soul Power, the spirits that made up a human being.

"Too much has been laid against us, friend." He waved a hand in front of the globe, and an image shimmered into view. It was a map, conformed to the shape of the globe. "Already our enemies have begun to prepare for us. Stacking the deck."

"Do we know where they have placed the Sky Palace?"

Proctor barked out a laugh. "Oh please. The Sky Palace can camouflage itself against any cloud formation. Plus, the bulk of the former gods' Mana was stored in the Palace. They can make their own camouflage at will!" He lowered his head and sighed again. "We have too much working against us. We don't even know where the Chosen are!"

"I can find them."

Proctor turned to Zanatos with a small smile on his face. "Why do you think I summoned you? It's not easy to buy out the entire councils votes. Please," and gestured to the globe.

Zanatos walked forward and raised his hands to the globe. He knew how to Divine. He also knew how to root out his enemies.

"Do we have an archive of the known Servants of the Gods'?"

"Of course. I have an entire Mana Vault just to watch over them."

"Good." He drew more soul power from the pool into the globe. Sometimes he was able to glimpse the faces of some soul that has been drawn whole into the vaults. He paid it no heed.

"Well, this is something new," Proctor mused, examining the new map. Zanatos had placed the map of the known Servants of the Gods' over the map of the world. He looked over his new work.

"There," he pointed out a section of the map, "New York City."

"It's too easy," Proctor argued, "They have had at least six months to prepare. They couldn't be so obvious." "They can't hide this. Remember when we had discovered that the standard placing of high-level magic users is four per major city?" Proctor nodded. "Well, in the last four months that number has risen and fallen in increments of two, another procedure they use. And it doesn't look so good when they've all at some time been at Avery Kramers scouting school."

Proctor let out a soft whistle. "Impressive."

"Well, there's a part in here that you're going to hate me for."

"Oh no."

"Yeah, if you dig a little deeper, then you can see that the pairs of magic users have been in different states for, from what I see, an assigned period that has reached at least ten years."

"Oh no," Proctor muttered, "They've been scouting."

"Yes, and it seems that from the groups of magic users out there, only four groups have been in New York City within the last four months." He pointed the locations out. "The magic users scouting Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, and the entire Queens district."

"They've known all along who the Chosen are," Proctor whispered in awe. "And we've been kept in the dark."

"They must have had additional information. Maybe they have been watching the bloodlines of their Heavenly Orders."

"Or maybe who gives a crap," Proctor snapped, suddenly turning bitter, "Right now we've lost ten years to the other side."

"Maybe we've still got a chance. There are a hundred different scenarios."

"We're still behind."

"We don't know that."

"What part of 'ten years' have you missed?"

"I think they haven't even approached the chosen yet." Proctor raised an eyebrow, then smiled apologetically. His mood swings were well known to his friends. A side effect of aging beyond the powers of longevity. "If this is good, I'll not only forgive you for my snappish behavior, but I'll give you you're own Soul Pool."

Zanatos smiled, but it was a smile that Proctor felt as a change in the air, not as actually seeing the smile. "I don't need the Pool, but I have a good explanation.

"You see, when a magic user is born of a line, he is generally trained from birth. But if there are special circumstances, like loss of family or spontaneous mana growth in a child not of a bloodline, their powers will not be developed."

"Of course, there can be an unusual event, like in your case emotional--"

"I'd rather not talk about it."

"Right. Sorry. Please continue."

"Maybe, the chosen were not trained from birth in their magic. Maybe the Heavenly Orders were afraid of the scope of the power the Chosen can wield, and refused to train them. In most occasions, if the basic powers of a magic user are coaxed out, they can self-train themselves to use their power more efficiently."

"But even you had to seek help from the Darkness Guild."

"Yes, but my powers were already developing. I was trainable. Perhaps the reason the Chosen have not been developing their powers was because their powers have not been awakened yet."

Proctor stroked his chin for a moment, thinking. Then he grinned and let out a gruff laugh. "Simple. Raw. Bare-boned. I like it. And if it's true then this mission simply becomes an assassination job in enemy territory."

Zanatos nodded. "I'll need some enchanted thieving tools."

Proctor snapped his fingers. "Done."

"And I'll need a Soul Pool set aside for my personal use."


"And I'll need Tina for this assignment."

"Out of the question. She's on a recruiting assignment now. We need her in the field."

"Then I'll need her recallable in at least a week."

Proctor turned around and grumbled at the door. "You drive a hard bargain."

Zanatos shrugged. "You need the Chosen dead."

Proctor grinned at the door. Zanatos had other motives other than business. "Done. Tina's yours in a week."

"And a hundred thousand dollars American for real world fees."

Proctor turned his head and raised an eyebrow. "You really need that money?"

"Hey, I was on the museum heist that got you, oh, let me think, 1.2 million dollars."

Proctor winked. "Hey, it's not cheap taking over the world."

"Then do I have the money?"


"Good. I'll need three days to prepare."

"That's kind of excessive, don't you think?"

"Quality counts."

"Fine. I'll expect results by the end of the week. You understand that I'm also violating the original proposition I gave to the council."

"I know. And Proctor?"


"It feels good to be back working for you again."

Proctor turned to face Zanatos. "Hey, it's a cutthroat business I'm in. Be glad that you're playing for my side." He walked to the globe and dispeled the images. "But it was good seeing you again, too."


And then Zanatos was gone.

Chapter 3: Fragmented

"Scrub-a-dub-dub, three geniuses in the jug," Lee sang out, thoroughly annoying Jason and Ark, cleaning up the toilets next to him, while at the same time alienating anyone who heard the call of nature. "Or tank, or slam. Call it what you want, we're still in a jam."

"You know, when they said only black men can rap, they were lying. Big time," Ark jibed.

"You're just jealous because of my skill," Lee replied, "and 'cause of my good looks, and also my will."

"We're also jealous of your casket," Jason muttered.

"It's better to die, with a casket's huge bill, than to live out your life, way over the hill."

"How about we drown you in a toilet?"

"That plan's no good, 'cause I'm gonna foil it."

"Oh no, lame rhyming after us."

"Yeah man, and my rhymes leave you in the dust."

"That's not a rhyme."

"Then in the times you're behind."

"You suck."

"Like a duck?"



Loud laughter from Ark and Jason, who finally got one up on Lee. High five's were exchanged between them.

"Dude, now we're behind. Snider's gonna be here to inspect in fifteen minutes!" Jason said, ever the practical one.

"All right, let's hurry up."

I perfect unison, they moved on to the next set of toilets in the room.

"That's so weird, synchronized toilet cleaning," Lee said.

"It's an Olympic sport that has mixed feelings," Ark said.

"Oh crap, the toilet's where I stashed the stuff I was stealing!" Jason said.

"Hey hey hey! You guys aren't allowed to rhyme!"

"We're doing just fine."

"We rhyme on a dime!"

"I might just flip," Ark said, acquiring a high sing-song voice.

"'Cause we're so hip," Jason said, same sing-song voice.

"I'm gonna be sick." Lee muttered.

"You guys rap awful," a new voice said, just entering the bathroom. It was Jameson Stokes, an aspiring data analyst who once upon a time played many a joke with Lee. Now serving a pre-internship at the university, he had given up the jokes, but still occasionally did favors for Lee regarding school data files (few and far between).

"Hey man, who's this new pre-intern suit wandering around our domain?" Lee asked in an easy banter.

"Come on Lee, it's Jameson!" Jason replied.

"Leave my father out of this!" Jameson said. Laughter all around. Old joke.

"Hey, but seriously, what brings you to the land of the eternal swirly?"

"Just some mail calls that the school picked up for you," Jameson replied. He walked around passing out letters to each person.

"Yeesh. House payments. They could have forwarded it to the new address." Jason muttered.

"Hey, Mr. Gallows accepted my assignment!" Lee shouted out. "Full marks, too."

"And for Ark..." Jameson grinned, holding out a single letter.

"Hey, wait a minute, I'm between Jason and Lee, and you skipped me because that's something big, right?"

"Something like that."

"Does it involve work?"


"Is it embarrassing?"

"Oh yeah."

"Give me that!" Ark snatched the letter away from Jameson. He quickly opened the letter and unfolded it.

"Well? Aren't you going to read it out loud?" Jameson smirked. "It's got really juicy gossip and stuff. I should know, I typed it out."

"Is it dirty?" Jason asked.

"If you give them a week."

"Oh, oh, I wanna read it!" Lee got up and started jumping up and down. "It's a girl, isn't it! You said them! It's a girl!"

"Crap...crap...hour study sessions, ouch...ohhhhhhh," Ark tossed the paper away and held his head in his hands. "I don't feel too good."

"Who is she, I wanna know!" Jason shouted out, and dove for the paper.

"Dibs! Dibs! I call dibs! That paper's mine!"

"Bite me!"

"That's it! A duel! I call mops!"

Lee got a mop from the corner of the room, while Jason snatched up a broom and started swordfighting with Lee.

Jameson stooped to pick up the paper. "Let me read it guys." He cleared his throat. Suddenly he had an attentive audience of two.

" 'Dear Ark Lancaster, you have been chosen, out of the top group of ten math students, to tutor one of our students. Your will receive tutoring fees while you are in service. The school has agreed that one hour lessons every day after classes will be sufficient. Effective immediately, you will be giving extra lessons to one Callista Caraway.' Cough cough, Callista Caraway. 'You will have to schedual lessons as you see fit. Have a nice day. Headmaster Avery.'"

"Oooo, Ark gets some quality time alone with Caraway." Lee crooned.

"Relax Lee, it's an hour of school work," Ark protested, unhappy with the arrangement.

"Some which involves dimming the lights, a bottle of champagne, romantic music, and... oomph!" Jason started, on a roll too, until he got slugged by Ark.

"Well, you three enjoy yourselves, I've gotta get back to work."

"Jameson, that kind of information makes you a god. Here, you like whistles?"

"Yeah, nice Lee. See you guys around."

"I'm doomed," Ark murmured despondently.

* * * * *

"Look, you can't weasel out of it, and that's that. Besides, I don't think that you even want to weasel out of it."

"I'm not going to hit you for that, but that's only because you're driving."

Ark, Lee, and Jason had finally got out of toilet duty for the day, and were now cruising around in Jason's R-Tracker. He wanted a macho vehicle, but the Tracker was easily flipped. So no off-roading for Jason, but a serious macho vehicle.

"But look man, you've got a girl dropped into your lap for who knows how long, so you might as well make the best of it."

"Jason, it'll take a few days to get Caraway into his lap. Ow!"

"I notice you're not driving."

"Shut up."

"Look guys, we all know Ark wants this tutoring thing to go down, but since I'm the driver, we're gonna stop bugging him and go to a McDonalds."

"I agree."

"Here here."

Silence for a brief moment. The Lee piped up, "I wonder if Caraway has a part-time job at a fast food joint? Ow!"

"Lee, think about food, not Caraway."


Silence for another short moment. Then, after Jason madly honked his horn at a guy who cut him off, said, "She'd look good in one of those uniforms."

"Yeah. She brings out lots of the form, if you know what I mean."

Ark was too preoccupied to worry about hitting Lee or telling off Jason. The arguement was off him, so he just gazed out the window, trying to count the people they passed. Then he noticed the glorious Golden Arches, distance increasing after Jason missed the turnoff. Ark informed him of his mistake.

"Aw, crap. I missed it when I thought I saw Caraway walking down the street."

"Maybe it was precognition. Did you see an averagely built blond math genious walking with her?"

Ark wasn't paying attention. His mind was attracted to another point on the side of the road. They were just passing a middle-class restaraunt when he felt...something. Maybe a chill, but maybe something...darker.

Ark shook his head. Whatever it was, it was gone. And the McDonalds was only getting smaller.

"Jason, there's something you should know about driving. You see, there are these things called intersections-"

"Alright, alright, I'm turning. You can't be that hungry."

"I'm starving."

"Save it for study time with you-know-who."

And yes, Lee did get smacked.

* * * * *

Zanatos stared out the window, gazing at the masses. It wasn't the best restaurant in the city, but it was better than the fast-food joints. It wasn't in the best part of town, but it wasn't gang riddled. It was simply...normal. And he blended in, even though he wore a gray trench coat and fedora. He looked like a private eye, but he blended in better than most agents did when travelling above-ground. That was street smarts. And some latex masking. And a little magic, just to feel less suspicious to others. To fall away from scrutiny.

Then there were the two supremely powerful, stupidly untrained mages wandering around the city.

No one in this world thought there was a difference between mages and magic users. Magic was magic to them. They just didn't understand. Magic users have no official house, no system of master and apprentice. They are rogues. Suprisingly the organization wasn't a house. It was a hub of power. They were strong. But they also were weak.

The magic users always differed to mages. And mages always differed to archmagi--the mages who had accended to the plane between gods and mankind.

But who cared? In the underworld, power differed to more power. Period.

But power is always flawed. Why, just now Zanatos felt a presence of...something. Even he couldn't tell what it was. He was trained in illusion, yet he couldn't unmask this presence.

Then it was gone. It could be something. Or it could be nothing. He decided to remember that presence. It might be worth converting to the underworld. Or not.

Zanatos had other, more pressing matters at hand. Right now, one of Proctors...couriers...entered the room. He was dressed in a clean, brown business suit, clean shaven with closely cropped hair. He was the spitting image of the perfect businessman, briefcase and all.

But that was because he hid his true face behind another. The man sat down at Zanatos booth, placing his briefcase on the floor, and his hands on the table, ready to exchange his pleasentries.

"Well, well. The living legend has been brought back. What an honor."

"You're just jealous because I killed more people than you."

"Whatever you say, you're the super psuedo-ninja/samurai."

"Do you have the papers?"

"Absolutely, but it will cost you."

"You think I carry raw meat around in my back pocket? Blood stains are murder."

"Shut up. You know what I want."

"Refresh my memory."

The courier looked at Zanatos, then took his suitcase and got up.

Zanatos tossed his package, shaped like mini wallpaper roll, on the table in front of the courier.

The man grinned and sat down. "Am I too readable?"

"There's nothing to read in your head."

"Oooo, sensitive. I'm scared. Zanatos's gonna come after me."

"Give me the briefcase."

The courier looked at Zanatos again, but didn't get up. Zanatos knew how this would end. He may not have liked the mind games, but that was because they were insanely easy.

He lifted the briefcase onto the table and opened the lock. He opened it and turned it to Zanatos. Zanatos already knew what was inside.

"Is this all of it?"

"Every student, staff member, and regular visitor of the NYCU specialized facilities. But it's a wild goose chase, if you ask me."

"Who asked you?" Zanatos said, but it was plain he didn't want an answer. The courier inwardly fumed. He only put up with Zanatos because he was a valuable source of enchanted goods. He was a tool to be manipulated.

But Zanatos was not one to be manipulated. He always knew when he was being played. Always.

"Hm..." Zanatos mused, reading over the staff list. Several names popped out at him. It was almost too easy.

"Well, I'm finished. I have other work to do."


"Why should I?"

It wasn't just a challenge. The courier worked for profit, not the organization. He didn't care where it came from, as long as he got it.

"Fresh meat?"

"I can get that anywhere."

"Soul Power?"

The courier sneered at Zanatos. "Why should I desire that power? I have the power of my own race right now."

"How about the gods' mana?"

The courier sat right back down. "What do you want?"

"I need an infiltrator. Someone who will not be conspicuous, and someone who will not be caught."

"What about the mana?"

"This position I need you in will put you near at least four major mana keepers in the service of the gods. Need I say more?"

"How about target?"

"Your choice."


"As long as I say."

"When do I get the mana?"

"When you leech it off the keepers, or you kill one and take their place."

"I'm in. When do I start?"



"And one more thing," Zanatos said, digging around in his pocket for something, then handing it to his courier turned spy, "I'll need the positive IDs, locations, and routines of these people as soon as possible. You can deliver it to the council, I'll get it."

"I'll deliver to you in person."

"If you can find me."

"I will."

"I don't care, just don't get spotted. If security it bumped up because of you, I'll kill you myself."

"Try it."

"Later, this is more important."

"Alright," the courier said, standing up and stretching. "I'll get right on it."


And the courier walked off, carrying his new package. He was very content with the deal he had struck, even though it was Zanatos's idea. He'd get over it. As long as he got power, he was happy.

Happy enough to kill Zanatos. And that was very happy.

Back in the booth, Zanatos was unconcerned. His new spy would serve well for the first few weeks, then he would become angry. He would try to take Zanatos' life, and Zanatos knew it. But Zanatos knew that his spy couldn't kill him. He was too power hungry. He would use the enchanted weapon Zanatos delivered against him.

Then the poor little spy would be lost.

Just as long as he didn't give up the game before Zanatos wanted him to. Then he would be happy.

But he was happy already. His new information hung labels on several young students at the school as being kept under the eye of Kramer. This would make it easier. And to think that his own enemies had delivered his quarry.

Sarah Whitharm had delivered the Chosen to Zanatos.

It was still multiple choice. Whitharm had written up psyche evals for several students at the school, so he was still shooting blind. But he knew which direction to aim.

Whitharm, your dedication to the Servants of the Gods has killed your charges. Not today, and not tomorrow. But soon.

Maybe after he finished this lovely pasta with marinara sauce that the waitress just delivered. Red pasta noodles. Just like bloodied innards.

Zanatos dug in hungrily.

Chapter 4: Overexposure

"Now, have you already started pairing up the subjects?"

"It's already done. I had to break up the group of three, but I don't really think that they'll mind."

"The toilet brigade?"


"Who're the favorites?"

"The new group I salvaged from the three. They have the most potential, history-wise."

"History changes on her own accord."

"Not this time. I'm almost positive about these two."

"Hmm. How about the rest?"

"They all are pretty powerful, but I don't know who the actual two are. They could be anyone."

"Or they could be no one."

"It's not like you to be cynical."

"We have a head start over the Underworld, but I've heard distressing reports about a doppleganger in the city."

"Do we have a positive ID?"

"Do we ever on dopplegangers?"

"You seem depressed. Why? We've got the edge."

"Don't analyze me. You may have a degree, but I'm still more experienced in these matters."

"Really? Then tell me. What's so dangerous that you think that this sure victory is challenged?"

"The Underworld has too many resources at their disposal. Do you remember the Tibet incident?"

"There were reports of a spy."

"There was no spy. I was there. All of the monks were cleared by our superiors, and we were still caught flat-footed. They don't need spys. They have information on all of our movements for the last fifty years. I'm worried that this will turn out like the Tibet incident. The Underworld will take action as the allotted time approaches."

"What if we're not discovered?"

"We will be. It's not as secure as it was five-hundred years ago. The gods are gone. We only answer to ourselves. The Sky Palace can't help us."

"You make it sound hopeless."

"We've lived far longer than any true human on this planet, that doesn't mean that they don't have people who've done it too."

"Some are mere shadows of themselves. It will drain their collective powers to bring them against us."

"Some are also still living. I hope you know that some of their best agents began their lifecycles in the medieval ages. That automatically puts us at a disadvantage. Remember reincarnation?"

"We can take those few demons by themselves. They're not stronger than us."

"That's where you're wrong. They aren't demons. There are people, too."


"And some of them are still children. They never physically age beyond twenty years, then are reincarnated in a century."

"That'll make them more suspicious."

"You know, it's almost like I don't know you. That doesn't matter!"

"We can handle them."

"Not alone."

"We have two other members stationed at the school."

"They won't be enough."

"Then who else?"

"I don't know!"


"Look, we have to be much more careful, but we can't make it look like we suspect they're getting closer to us."

"You're asking for too much."

"I'm trying to save the world. You should too."

"...fine. I'll warn everybody, and I'll try to prepare everyone for what you suspect will happen. I don't like what you're saying, but I trust you."

"Have I failed before? Ever?"

"Will this be the first?"

"Now who's negative?"

"Are you going to ask me questions until I leave?"

"Are you?"

"...why are you so aggravating?"

"You haven't stopped the questions."

"Yeah, and it makes me feel like Lee."

"That's bad."

"Especially if we lose him. Our toilets will never be the same."

"This isn't a laughing matter, Avery."

"You were the one who was so laid back a while ago, Sarah."

"Well, your negative attitude carried over to me."

"Let's just carry out our mission. Or else this is our last. After all, two of these kids will be our next bosses."

"Now that's scary."

* * * * *

Zanatos put down the headset and turned off the tape. The microphones were child's play. He had them in as soon as he got above ground. Just as long as they didn't catch on, but he wasn't worried. Everyone above ground seemed to have this horrible stereotype that everyone in the Underworld abused their magic, and barely even walked anywhere unless their magic was blocked. Zanatos personally didn't believe any of that. Sure, he warped to places, but that was to trick targets up, or to save on walking distance. Walking was nice. You saw the environment.

Although sometimes, when we was seriously pissed, he did the 'menacing floating' trick to intimidate a target. But it was for a good cause. He amplified his magic that way.

Observation wasn't just for the layman. The world around you amplified certain powers. For instance, Zanatos specialized in water magic. People fell down dead around a wet Zanatos. But he prided himself in his power over all elements.

And right now, observation was the best that he could work with. Menacing floating came later. Hopefully not much later. He was spoiling for a fight.

But he could wait. He would stay in his middle-class apartment (just requisitioned), eating cheap chips and drinking run-of-the-mill cola (from the old corner-store), waiting for more information.

After all, he had hit the gold mine. Now he knew that the other side had been scouting. He also knew that they were breaking up the recruits into pairs, to try and bring out their potential. But what if they had got the pairs wrong? What if the chosen were divided up?

Well, then he'll kill two pairs of recruits instead of one. Oh well. It's all a part of the business.

He also knew that there were four members of the Order stationed at the school, two of them who were Sarah Whitharm and Avery Kramer. They were fairly powerful, but they weren't ready for what was going to happen to them. Zanatos was. He always was. He checked the calendar. It was only the first day above ground. It was barely dark. He already knew where the targets were, and that they were paired together in hopes of awakening the Chosens magic power. However, he wasn't sure who the targets were, what their patterns were, or how much magic they had awakened. All he had were names. He had heard the phrase 'break up the toilet brigade', so that implied that three of the recruits were subjected to disciplinary action. He could easily use a fake ID and story to get to them, but he still had some leg work to do. Oh well.

Right now he was tired. He wanted to sleep. First he had to make some important calls to some suppliers. It wasn't easy moving around New York with only a couple of swords in your jacket. He needed guns. Uzis. Rifles. Desert Eagles. Tanks. Well, not tanks, but something...serious. Magic could be traced, but technology was available to everyone. Zanatos took the phone and started to enter the number he needed, when it went off in his hands. He was puzzled. No one knew what his number was. No one was supposed to know where he had gone to. Maybe it was a wrong number.

Or maybe...

He answered the phone. "Yes?"

"You're getting sloppy, Zanatos."

A tinge of relief. It was Proctor. No threat. Just update time.

"How'd you find me?"

"Well, I've had over a millennia to figure out that whenever you eavesdrop in any way, you lower your mental shielding."

Zanatos cursed inwardly, but also grinned. He was annoyed that Proctor had gotten to him so easily, but was also impressed.

"You said a week."

"Well, it's getting very boring over here, and I was just thinking about how some sun would do me some good."

What was he planning? "I can handle everything, Proctor. I've already gotten a boatload on information."


"All of the recruits have been paired to help awaken their powers, and all of them are located in the school. I even have some names."

"That's good."

"But I haven't met them. I don't know their habits and patterns. I'll need more time."

"That's bad."

"And they've put Whitharm in charge of the kids."

"That's very bad."

"I can handle her."

"Fine. But make her hurt."

Proctor had an old grudge against Whitharm. She got into his mind. Almost had him turned. Zanatos had just barely saved him.

"All right. They have at least four members in the building, but I have a bug in Kramers office."

"Good. Keep tabs, and get into the school as soon as you can. Kill whoever you need to."

"I already have your courier inside."

"Ooo, that's gonna cost you."

"Yeah, well, he's not to happy with me right now. He'll make a move against me. Violently."

"Too bad. He was a good agent."

"Not good enough."

Silence. Proctor wasn't really worried about his courier. He had hundreds. He was worried that Zanatos would be hurt before he attacked the chosen. He'd have to heal himself, and that kind of magic would attract attention.

"All right, that's about it. It's only my first day, both above ground and on the job in ten years. I'm a little rusty."

"I have flunkies that would beg for that kind of rust."

"Tell them to wait."

"Heh heh. Well, if that's it, I have some processing to do."

"Fine. I'm going to turn in. I'll start again right away tomorrow."

"Good. You should relax." A pause. He was debating with himself whether to disclose some information. "I can get Tina to your location in three days. Do you still need her?"

"Not now. But don't give her any more assignments for the duration of my mission."

"Done. Now, relax a little. I remember the times when you would smile. Now you barely have a pulse."

"I get by."

"You used to do it while smiling."

"Get over it."

"As long as you still deliver."

"I will."

"Good. Go to sleep."


He hung up.

Now Zanatos was even more tired. Maybe Proctor was right. Maybe a little laughter would do him some good. Maybe.

Right now, he had some phone calls to make. Then he could sleep.

Chapter Five: Unity (we hope)


"Wha...I'm up, I'm up."


That, to the untrained ear, was the sound of a mental hangover. Ark had been up all night trying to figure out how he was going to deal with Caraway's tutoring sessions in a peaceful manner. He hadn't had to deal with girls in any way ever since he got into Grade 7, so he needed to figure out how to handle the situation without offending anybody.

Of course, all of that vicious thinking had reduced Ark to a lump of useless tissue at around midnight last night. So he was shocked by his alarm clock the next morning and, in a sluggish attempt to turn off the alarm, had ended up on the floor by the couch he slept on, right by pair of yesterdays socks.

Then was he aware of his surroundings. Those kind of odors don't just get blocked out, you know. They are absolutely rank.

Bleary-eyed and weighed down with tiredness, he fumbled with his clock to bring it down to his level. And it turned off by itself. If Ark was in a sounder state of mind, he would have checked the electrical outlet, but instead he tried to remember whether the warranty was still good.

He shuffled into the kitchen of his apartment, still on his knees and wrapped in a blanket. All of his appliances were starting their morning routines according to his kitchen server, a laptop computer with most of the internal pieces strewn around the kitchen. And the computer still worked, even with the parts everywhere, as long as they stayed connected.

A mental hangover was best cured with a nice, cold shower and a big (really big. 80 oz.) cup of coffee. But since Ark couldn't think straight, he stuck his head into the kitchen sink and turned the water on.

" head..." Ark mumbled, the water slowly awakening his consciousness. He turned the water off and tried vainly to wring out his hair. Eventually, he was happy with the hair and shuffled (on his feet this time) over to the couch in the living room. He took his headset from the end table and managed to affix it around his head, and slumped onto the couch.

",, what was I...oh yeah, appointments."


"Call in sick."


"Look, I feel like crap, so call in sick...oh, my head."


"Cancel that too," Ark murmured. His computer program was getting lippy again. He'd have to fix that as soon as he could walk again without getting Carpal Tunnel.


Oh no. "Describe."


Great, now my own computer wants to get me together with Caraway. "Send e-mail."




"Send phone call."


"Yes." Ark was feeling more miserable by the minute.




"Begin," Oh, what would he say to her? Would she be angry that he got his computer to send the message? Nah. Besides, he could just give her the program as a peace-offering. "Hey, Callista, I'm not feeling too well, so I might not make the first session. Maybe I'll feel better later, but can you call me back with a definite time for the tutoring sessions? Anytime will be fine."




"Yes. Reminder: get more ice packs."


All right. Now, if he could just get up, maybe he could make it to school.

* * * * *

The bus seemed unusually crowded today. Not because there were many more people going to their respective jobs today, but because he still hadn't gotten the proper level of sugar into his system to at least keep his eyelids from closing.

But no biggie. He had gotten up, and was feeling all right. Relatively speaking. He was much worse before his coffee. And juice. And sugar twist pastries that Lee got from his secret doughnut shop (sold at 10% above market price, but Ark was an exception to the rule).

Today? Most of Arks time would be spent at the Computer Tech building, away from his friends. Unless Jason was supposed to go to Com. Tech today instead of the Science Labs, but there wasn't much chance of that happening.

And he would be around Caraway. Black belt Caraway. Possibly very angry Caraway.

Ark berated himself for jumping to those conclusions. There was no way someone was out to get him because he sent a recorded message to them. But still...nah. It wasn't worth worrying about. He had a killer laptop computer and palm pilot to fend her off with. Maybe she would be calmed by a firewall or two? She was crazy over those kind of things.

The bus ground to a halt in front of the university drive. Ark stepped off a bit shakily, still woozy from the strenuous morning he went through. But the fresh air was doing him some good. He managed to walk in a straight line to the Computer Tech building without tripping on the curb.

He stumped into the lab, on time, but with the look of the walking wounded. But no one cared. Ark was the outcast of the Computers building, but what did that matter? He was keying one hundred words per minute, and could program ten megabytes in two hours. His home computer took him three days to finish, smart programming and all!

Really, the entire course had become a joke. After the first month the material was far too easy, and the assignments were way too simple. So Ark took the time to catch up on his affairs. It wasn't much, but it gave him something to do.

He logged into his terminal at the far end of the classroom, evading notice from the entire class. His brain was slowly becoming more lubricated by the computer screen, even though he was deaf to the professor.

His starting screen came up. Ark knew all about the viruses of the world, so he worked in Linux. It was easier to protect his hardware. He hooked up into the internet, a nightmare of endless text upon text in Linux. It was good exercise for Ark's mind.

He logged into his personal e-mail, and, as usual, found nothing. His programming skill was too sophisticated to accept junk mail.

He connected to his home computer to better cruise the network. He sent a mail to Headmaster Avery attempting to weasel out of the tutoring sessions. It was better than nothing.

He unhooked himself from his home computer and began sending his assignment to the prof's computer. He decided to work on a later subject. He was already on the tenth assignment, so he was almost ready for finals. If he even had to take any. He was a genius, after all.

Well, Mr. Genius had to go through a drastic reality check. His computer suddenly cleared its screen. Without his approval.

At first he was stunned. He had many safeguards on his computer, and though they weren't as good as the ones at home, they should stop any crazy fool from messing with him.

Then a little message appeared on his screen, blinking mockingly.

Too sloppy.
-B B Queen

B B Queen? That was a mystery to Ark. He had never heard of anyone by that name.


He carefully scanned the room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Everyone was busy on todays assignment. Either number six or seven, Ark couldn't remember. He had lost track long ago.

Then something odd. One of the students was glancing in his direction. When his eyes passed over her, she quickly turned back to her computer.

B B. Black Belt.

Ark managed a little grin. So it was open war. And over one little message? This was rich. Well, he might as well get started. He had to build a strong front. Strong front? Where did he get strong front? Probably from Jason. He was into that kind of stuff.

Well, first, he needed to block her electronic pages. That should be simple. He had the IPs of every terminal in this room. Just bring it up...

Nothing. His keyboard was locked out. Okay, now it was personal. To do this to a programmer was to mentally kick him in the manhood.

Well, it was time to play dirty.

Ark brought out the palm pilot and laptop. He patched the laptop into his computer and used it as a remote access. The cable he used was his pride and joy. Signals went out, but they couldn't go in. The hackers cross and garlic cloves.

He typed commands into the laptop and wired them into his computer. She tried to shut him out of his computer, so he would do the same. He loaded up his special doomsday program from the pilot. He quickly glanced over at Caraway. She was madly typing, trying to get into his laptop. It wouldn't happen. This was hardware, not software. She was fighting a fire with a can of gasoline.

With a little sadistic grin, he sent the program to Caraway's computer. He knew the drill. In a few moments, her screen would light up with the words 'in honor of my good friend Jason, SHINING BROWSER CRASHER', and then her interface would be reduced to a clump of multicoloured mush.

About right now the program would be taking effect. He had hardwired it to her computer. Sure, whatever safeguards she had might catch it, but by then the work would be done.

He cheekily looked over at his poor, unsuspecting victim. She didn't flinch. Instead, she just sat there, staring at the screen, typing some text into her computer in some futile effort to restore her power.

But she still didn't flinch. Something was wrong.

Then Ark got a page from another computer. The page read: 'You are so pathetic it's not funny.'

Now Ark was mad. He needed to win this, and he only had a few minutes of class time left to do it. But he needed a plan.

Then he had a burst of inspiration. It came from, surprisingly, the teacher, when she called out for all assignments to be sent to her computer.

Ark had to work fast. First, he got a program up that would crash a computer. Then, he needed to redirect some data that would be sent to deal with the crash. Then...sweet revenge.

All right. Ark typed some orders, and began the chain reaction to destruction. First, he sent his crasher program to the teachers server. Then, he got a program in place that would reassign administrator power to Caraway's computer. Then...he could attack.

But would it work?

Now was as good a time as ever to find out. Very soon, the prof's computer would experience catastrophic system shutdown right about...


Yes! Ark had gotten stage one through. Now, for the allocation of power.

Ark tried the computers keyboard. It was typing again. That meant stage two was in effect. Caraway's computer had been given administrator privileges that had effectively wiped out all of her programs.

Now, for the big finale. Ark sent a special command to Caraway's computer instructing it to shut down the cooling fans, as well as lock her keyboard.

Furious typing from behind him. He knew it had worked. Now, just a little ego payback. He paged her computer.

Since I'm such a nice guy, I'll be content to constantly remind myself that I'll always be better than you.
-Lord of Light

Absolutely evil. He sent the message.

"Ark Lancaster, go to the Headmaster's office now!"

"But I didn't do anything, especially crash the teachers computer to exact revenge on an upstart programmer wannabe who thinks that she can take me down."

By now, the teacher was really mad. But that wasn't the half of it. Caraway's computer was now smoking from an internal component meltdown, though no one knew why except Ark.

Ark was subjected to one of those looks that all teachers seem to be able to do (they must take classes) and was again ordered to the Headmasters office.

Ark gladly went to the Headmasters office, but he made sure to lean over to whisper into Caraway's ear: "Go back to your 286," which was techie for put your diapers back on.

Ark didn't look back, but he was sure that Caraway was either red or raging to herself.

* * * * *

"Crashing the server?"

"She started it!"



Headmaster Avery leaned back in his chair. He was not amused. "And all this over one little tutoring session?"

"Hey, she cracked into my computer."

"The school's computer, Ark," the Headmaster wore a disappointed frown, "and it was the school's computer that you melted down and got replaced. Miss Caraway lost all of her assignments..."

"No self respecting programmer doesn't back up his files."

"...and you left the entire room server in shambles! Classes were canceled for the rest of the day."

"That would make me God in some circles."

Suprisingly, Headmaster Avery chuckled. Ark knew it wasn't that funny a remark. Was something wrong? Maybe it was an inside joke to the Headmaster.

"Still," Avery went on, "your behavior was unbecoming of your age. But I can't punish you right now, not with this tutoring business going on," he frowned a bit, and stared out the window. Ark now knew that the Headmaster had nothing on him. Ark could walk out of the room and not be punished now.

"I got your mail," Avery said. Ark was confused. Would Headmaster Avery really halt the tutoring sessions over this? It was too much to hope for. "and I got the impression that you didn't really care to associate with Miss Caraway."

"I'm sorry if I was too subtle."

"Well, maybe you just don't know her well enough yet," Avery said, taking interest in something outside of the building. Suddenly he turned to Ark with a grin and clapped his hands. "I know! You'll teach Miss Caraway every other day, including weekdays, for two hours," Ark started to protest, but Avery simply held up a hand, "this will give you time to organize a more structured routine. Also, I'm going to assign you and Miss Caraway desks together for every class you take with her. You'll do assignments together, and you'll help each other out."

"Headmaster, if I may, are you insane? We'll tear each other apart!"

"You almost did in that computer lab," Avery pointed out. "You just need to appreciate each others skills. And I think this is the best way."

"We'll just fight and argue!"

"Get pointers from Lee or something, I don't care. This isn't a suggestion. You and Callista will be paired for the remainder of the semester, and I'll expect positive results."

"What if we don't?"

"Then I hope you can run a mill, because you won't get your degree."

"This is crazy! Why are you attacking me?!"

"I'm not attacking you," Avery reached into his desk and tossed Ark some papers. "I've done this to three other groups along with you and Callista. You've got to face the truth: you need to develop certain skills before you can go out into the world. This should be the best way." Avery looked meaningfully at Ark. "You should be honoured. I've only chosen who I think are the best, put them together with complete strangers, and hope that something workable will come out of it."

"What would be the harm of putting me in Jason or Lee's group?" Ark asked, flipping through the pages, lost. Jason and Lee were included, too, but they were also split up. "I'd work better with them."

"You'd work better with them because you know them personally. That's why I made groups of complete strangers. You need to get to know the people you're assigned to. If you can do that, you pass the test, and you can forget about Callista."

Ark just stared at the papers. He head was spinning. What was the Headmaster doing this for? Yes, Ark blew up one little computer, and crashed another. That didn't mean that he had to be forced to spend time with a girl with a black belt!

But what choice did he have? Headmaster Avery was going to fail him if he didn't do this.

Was he bluffing? Should Ark call the bluff? What would happen to his degree? Would it end up lost?

What should he do?

He had to go through with it. That was the only choice. But would he leave in one piece?

"Fine," he muttered, sullen, "I'll do it."

"Excellent. You begin tomorrow. All of the information you'll need will be in those papers, as well as the new times for sessions, modifiable on demand. You're dismissed."

"Thank you sir." Thank the Lord, really. Now he needed to Caraway-proof his apartment. Or else experience a terrible heart attack.

He left the office. It was about time for third class now. Some algorithm class. Easy stuff. After lunch he had a spare, then he had to make a presentation. He'd send a tape recording. Then he was free to visualize horrible, painful karate moves that he'd learned from several different movies, except he'd visualize Caraway using them on him.

Now, he'd just get to next class and...

"Hey, Ark!"

Have a full blown seizure.

Callista Caraway, the Callista Caraway, was jogging to catch up to him.

And Ark, against all instincts in his body, was keeping his own pace.

"Hey, you look upset," she had caught up to him and was keeping his pace, even though he was walking faster than normal.

"Nah, just the fact that we get to spend two hour of quality time together."

Callista frowned. "That wasn't in the letter I got."

"That letter is useless now," Ark replied, handing her the papers. Just having her around was uneasy. Especially since he hadn't had time to decide how to deal with her now that he had set her up and knocked her down. She might go psycho-chick on him.

She just skimmed through the papers quickly, and did a little double-take at the new times. "How did this happen?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe it had something to do with you hacking my computer!"

Callista's eyes narrowed. "You were just a little out of line with those hardware tricks."

Ark wasn't really surprised. He knew that she would resent him beating her. But this was just silly. Out of line for what? Using a custom cable?

So he just put on a little grin. She had to see him as cocky. In control. He couldn't be pushed around. "It was worth it just to use the 286 line on you."

"Don't make me hurt you."

"Try it, Barbie."

That was low, even for Ark. That would be low for Lee. Callista actually wound up to slug him, but was halted by a little hemming noise. They had reached their next class, and their teacher was watching the spectacle from inside the classroom/auditorium. Callista was fuming.

She lowered her arm, but whispered fiercely to Ark, "I was trying to be nice just a moment ago, but you won't take me seriously. I want out of this as much as you, so don't pull anything like that again, got it?!"

"Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever."

Callista just walked away. Ark marveled at her self control. She was trying to be nice, even though she wasn't nice. Well, Ark was pretty mean when he wasn't mean before. Besides, she was out of line way before him. She locked his keyboard!

Ark walked into the room, a little down, but otherwise feeling all right. For a moment, anyway.

"Ark, you have a new seating location."

Ark blinked. He checked his old desk, which was empty. What was going on?

"But sir, there's nothing wrong with my old desk."

"I didn't say that."

"Then why am I moved?"

"Ever see this before?"

It was Avery's personal seal, affixed to an opened envelope. But why a letter?

What did it matter? After seeing that seal, he knew where he was moved to. The demon's lair.

He sat himself down beside Caraway, now composed and collected. Ready for him.

But was he ready for her?

Chapter Six: Advance

"I must congratulate you, that was really a brilliant stroke of genius on your part. Two hours a day, alternating?"

"They need to be in as constant exposure as possible. They disliked each other before they knew each other, now they want to tear each others throats out."

"Constant exposure may be a little too serious, with what you're implying."

"Do you have a better idea?"

"Other than directly approaching them and delving into their minds to awaken their powers, I suppose not."

"There. Problem solved."

"Maybe I should re-examine the pairs on a psychological level. This anger you describe cannot be formed on a conscious level. I could use magic--"

"You could kill them."

"I could save them, too. And us."

"We don't even know if they're the ones. We still have to wait. Their anger will pass in time."

"We've been waiting for so long, why can't we rush this?"

"It's still too early, as well as too late. As soon as they achieved cognitive thought processes, we couldn't do a thing. Now, we have to wait for them to act in their magic."

"Oh well. I can't win them all."

"You'll get used to it. At least pray that we start winning again."

"Uh oh. You're getting stressed again. You've got something on your mind. Want to share it?"

"I'm just thinking what would happen if the Underworld got to these kids when their powers awakened before us. They would be helpless."

"I thought we were willing to take that risk."

"Well, I'm just getting uneasy. Humans tend to drag things out, while demons always strike first. I don't feel comfortable, not knowing who's in charge of the other side."

"Are you talking about the doppleganger reports? If it hasn't acted now, it won't act."

"Maybe, but I think that it has a human handler."

"What human can control dopplegangers?"

"A powerful one."

"Look, Avery, I think that this doppleganger will be a no-show. He'll sniff out some enchanted rings or other items and go for those."

"You're too overconfident."

"You're not confident enough."

"I'll become confident when the right pair is safely aboard the Sky Palace. Not until then."

"All right, if you say so. Is there anything to be done about the other pairs?"

"We just have to leave them. Ark and Callista are a special case, the others are more...normal. But we've done all we can. We just have to wait."

"What if the demons attack us?"

"I'm not sure. But I do know that until then we have to act as normal as possible."

"At least we can agree on that."

* * * * *

This conversation had escaped Zanatos's notice for the time being. He was out running some errands. He'd still be able to review the tape when he got back to the apartment, but right now he had some to take care of.

Dangerous? Not really. Dangerous for a normal person, maybe. Zanatos did this for a living. Getting some weapons from a small time dealer was nothing. Even when he was on their territory.

He was at the dockyards, wandering among the warehouses. He had to be as low key as possible, so he left the van at the gate. As low key as he could be in a trench coat. And a latex mask. People saw an elderly gentleman. Ironic, considering his age. But he also needed to make a good impression.

He walked up to his destination, just another warehouse on the dockyards. This one was right on the waterfront, tucked back between a hill and some crates strewn around the ground.

Zanatos walked in. He knew there would be people around. He just needed to locate them.

Well, they sure picked a rundown spot to do business. It was an ordinary warehouse, loaded with crates stacked along the walls and through the main part of the floor in a simple maze. The crates were high enough that he couldn't see farther than where crates were piled, but he already knew where the dealers were. They had a hidden room within the network of crates, where they were playing a low stakes game of poker. His new weapon dealer had a pair of aces, plus the one hidden up his sleeve. And he hadn't even met the guy.

Zanatos maneuvered through the maze. Even if he couldn't see the room, he could smell the cigar smoke from where he was. He almost gagged. These people weren't fit to run a pawn shop. But they had the lowest profile on the streets as well as selling the gear he needed, so he had to stick with them.

He reached the room. It was a strange sight. The walls were crates, and the ceiling was a metal grate with a few lightbulbs hanging on it, somehow managing to illuminate the entire room. The only furniture in the alcove was a few plush chairs and a genuine casino poker table, of which held various sums of money and cards.

His arrival shocked the inhabitants. Chairs were knocked over in a rush to stand up, and some men foolishly drew guns on him. Zanatos didn't care. He knew that they wouldn't fire. He knew exactly how this would end.

One of the men, obviously the leader, walked up to him with a horrible swagger. He looked like an unemployed cabbie.

"Hey, whats youse doin' here in our side of town, eh?" he said in a thick Brooklyn accent, cigar hanging out of his mouth. He had obviously seen too many Sam Spayed shows.

"You've got guns, and I've got money. Do the math."

"So youse thinkin' youse can jest walk in here and get business? Lemme tell youse somethin', no one gets my business jest like that," he growled, pointing his finger at Zanatos fairly liberally.

Zanatos was not amused. He deftly reached out and withdrew the man's hidden ace, much to his suprise and the suprise of his men.

"Yo, foo, you've got some balls skimpin' us at this table, man," a black man standing across from the table said in what was probably exaggerated hood talk.

"You can just be quiet," Zanatos told him softly, "Because this man," Zanatos folded up the ace and held it in his fist, "Will get you," he used his other hand to take the ace, still hidden from view, "Into a lot of money," and withdrew from his fist not the ace, but a one hundred dollar bill.

A few of the men at the table looked a bit impressed, but a big guy near Zanatos said, "A hundred buck will barely buy me a good time down at the club," in an Italian accent. Several of the men guaffed at the joke. This Italian man probably wasn't even Italian. But that didn't matter. Zanatos had other tricks.

He crumpled up the hundred and tossed it at the Italian man. "Fine. Maybe I'll just walk out of here."

"Oh, you go and do that, idiot. And say goodbye to your hundred. You probably wasted your bank account on this piece of...of..." he trailed off. He had unfolded the hundred, but it was no longer a hundred. It had miraculously turned into a one thousand dollar bill.

"Whoa, easy buddy. You don't go throwing that kind of money around," The leader said. He clearly though Zanatos was now loaded, and was so excited his Brooklyn accent had softened into a more understandable language.

"That's just the beginning," Zanatos said. He took the thousand back, and pressed it between his palms. Then he spread his arms, and the bill floated to the ground.

Surrounded by at least twenty other bills of the same value.

Now everyone in the room was watching Zanatos attentively.

"Name the hardware, we'll get it."

"I've got a list of equipment I'll need within the week," Zanatos handed a sheet of paper to the leader. "Payment's negotiable. I'll deduct ten percent if I don't get it by Sunday."

"We'll have it here by Friday," the leader said, ready to kiss Zanatos' feet to make sure this deal went through. "Heck, we've got some of this stuff right here, don't we boys?"

"Oh yeah, boss."

"I've got some nice grenades hanging around."

"Give me a day and I'll have some nice handguns here."

"Good. I'll be back tomorrow."

"Whoa, wait a sec," the leader said, distressed, "I can't jest have some of this stuff lying around, I've gotta get it outta here in case the law comes by. Can't we have a drop off or somethin'?"

"I'll send a boat to you to send some equipment away when you get it. You'll take the boat to this address," Zanatos handed the leader another piece of paper. "And you won't hang around. That place is supposed to be abandoned, so clear out as soon as you can."

"Youse can let us handle it."

"Yeah, we're professionals!"

Professionals? Not likely. These men were pathetic souls searching for a short-lived good time, and would burn themselves out before the natural ends of their lives. But that didn't matter to Zanatos. These men wouldn't die before his order was filled, and that was all that mattered.

"Then I'll let you handle everything. Goodbye, gentlemen."

"Yeah, you just let us take care of everything, we'll handle it."

"I hope so."

And he turned around and left.

* * * * *

"Sir, the Minister of Finance would like to see you."

"I'm busy."

"He says it's important. Something about a hundred grand to "some scum-sucking SOB cheating us of our precious, hard-earned money" ".

"Fine. Send him in."

Minister of Finance Morris Craeklovich walked into the High Lord's chambers. He did not look happy at all, but he rarely did when a major operation was in progress.

He stalked up to the High Lord's table red with fury. "I want to know the meaning of this. You are requisitioning too much money for just one agent, on just one mission, however important it may be."

High Lord Proctor barely glanced up from the mountain of paperwork looming over him. He had too much to do, even though he had good men like Greko and Morris to help him with the micro-management. And even then, there were times where they actually hindered his work.

"I thought it was necessary and took the proper measures."

"You do realize that this man is rumored to use our money to build up a stockpile of weapons and vehicles for his own use?"

"I do, and I also realize that he's rumored to siphon Soul Power from our pools into his swords, but for some strange reason I don't see Greko acompanying you to my chambers where I am awfully busy."

"Minister Greko may be a scrooge, but that also means that he won't put energy into any investigations!"

"And this concerns me how?"

"I'm ord...merely cautioning you to be less extravagant with your distribution of this society's money," Morris said, ever so slowly regaining his composure. He needed to remember that he was talking to his employer.

"Look, I know you have your misgivings about several of my personal agents, but I also have misgivings about them. Did you know that the Ohio Congressman job took two whole days? That's a lifetime for some of my men!"

"Sir, your careless attitude of this matter is very uncomforting."

"With all due respect, Minister, I have to look out for no less than three hundred different summoned beings working on the infrastructure of the Underworld. Your yelling into my ear doesn't help me one bit."

"Sir, I'm asking you to be more reasonable with your expendures."

Suddenly, the globe in the center of the room began to shimmer.

"Why should I, you're doing a good enough job for both of us," Proctor said, rising to walk over to the globe. He waved his hand over the globe's surface, and Zanatos' now masked face appeared.

"I hope this is good news."

"Not quite..." he looked over Proctors shoulder at Morris, "...Master."

"Well then, what is it?"

"I'm gathering the necessary resourses to prepare for the attacks on the suspected individuals, but I'll need a...rather large...amount of money."

"How much?"

"I'm afraid to say it in front of the Minister."

"Oh fine, fire away," Morris grumbled, "It's not like I have any say in the matter."

"Three hundred thousand."

"Oh my head," Morris sat down on the edge of the table.

"I don't think that's quite necessary at this time," Proctor said, bending just a little for Minister Morris. "I can get you two hundred thousand, but you will have money available to you after that. Morris, the card."

"Oh, no, not the card."

"Yes Morris, the card."

"Fine then." He fished around into his pocket for the requested item, and withdrew a small, brown bag. He opened up the drawstring and invoked the bags magical holding capacity. He then withdrew a golden card, much like a credit card.

"Now, I think you're aware of the card's magical properties," he said, passing the card to Proctor, who used the globe's magic to pass it to Zanatos. "It can tap directly into any one of the thousands of bank accounts spread around the globe, withdrawing up to five million American dollars at any one account. As you know, I'll be able to moniter your spending at all times, so don't get greedy."

"I know."

"Then I don't have to worry. All money you take from our supply will be accounted for by me. I believe this removes you from my scrunity, Master."

"Fine. You may go about your business. As for you, Zanatos, I expect one of these test groups dead by tomorrow noon."

"Yes Master."

"All right, I guess that concludes all of our business. You are dismissed, both of you."

"Yes Master."

"Yes Master."

Zanatos disappeared from the globe, and Morris quickly removed himself from Proctor's chambers.

That concluded some of his business, but not all of it. Proctor had some unfinished business to take care of.

He sat back down at his chair and closed his eyes. He was flying his astral form over the belly of the underworld, seeking out his latest project.

There it loomed in the distance. A monolith of great magical power, one that, when charged with soul power, would be able to detect the Sky Palace.

Zanatos would be able to kill the chosen, but Proctor would kill the gods link to the mortal plane. How sweet death and destrustion was. Before his longevity wore away, he wanted to see the Sky Palace in flames. Only then would he rest in peace.

Chapter Seven: Bonding

Ark was living in bliss. He had Callista dressed up in a swimsuit, fawning over his every movement. He had the perfect life.

Until his doorbell rang.

Then his perfect life ended, and the life of migraine took over. Which was very painful. Very.

And also very irrational. He had gotten to bed--or couch, whichever you prefer--at a decent time, so he should have been well rested; part of his carefully regulated schedual to make sure he lived without stress and recessive headaches, both of which were being thrust upon him.

The bell went again. He was very angry right now, as well as in terrible pain. He slumped from the couch into the mess he called his living room, and checked his alarm. It read 6:30.

It was insane! No one walks up to a strangers apartment and just wants in! Even if it was Jason or Lee, he'd tell them screw you if they barged into his apartment without forward notice.

So he stumped over to the door in his underclothes wrapped in a blanket, feeling like the living dead, and sporting little black rings around his eyes for extra effect. He opened the door...

...and was greeted by a smiling Callista Caraway.

Ark was, at this moment, puzzled. He was really too tired to care. But he made a point of going, "Wait one second," and closing the door. Then he stumped over to the bathroom medicine cabinet and took two asprin. Then he walked out into the living room (but how any life could survive there was a miracle) and screamed as loudly as he could.

After a few moments of anger management, he quieted down, got some water from the kitchen and drank it down, and then opened the door.

Callista was still smiling as he opened the door. "You don't know how much I want to kill you for yesterday, and the few minutes I've seen you today."

"I'd rather kill myself. Maybe I'll get some sleep."

He started to close the door, but Callista snuck a paper between the door and its frame. It was fixed with Avery's personal seal.

"Oh Lord, strike me down with your lightning right now," Ark muttered. "Look, just stay right there, I'll be right back."

He shut the door on her and locked it. He then stalked--having a girl delivering the Headmasters letters wan't a good sign--over to his couch and wrapped himself in his blankets.

"Oh...too tired...lemme see...Dear Mr. Lancaster and Miss Caraway...blah blah blah...because of your apparent inactivity of this matter, we have schedualed times for your sessions to begin and end at...oh, no no no...crap."

He stretched out on the couch, determined not to take another step until he had enough sleep.

"WAKE UP!!!!!!"

"Ack! Fire alarm! Everyone evacuate...oh..." It was Callista. In his apartment, puting a hairpin back into her hair. But she had stopped smiling. Giving up a futile effort.

"Why won't ou just leave me alone," Ark mumbled, turning away from her.

"It's time to wake up. Teach me something I don't know."

"If I'm not teaching hands-on sex ed, I'm not getting up."

"Ha ha, you're so funny, remind me to pick your lock again and hog-tie you and leave you in your closet."

"Just shut up," Ark said. He was too tired to put up with any crap. Here was a girl that, in the two days he had known her, had him hating her with a passion, so she goes and barges into his apartment and orders him around. That was just wrong.

"Fine, suit yourself," she replied, and walked away.

But not out the door. Ark was too tired to care. He had to fall asleep fast, before she got back.

Indeed she came back, but not to talk to him. She threw a cold glass of water on his head. That got his attention.

"Yikes!" He yelped, jumping off of his couch. "What is wrong with you, you crazy-"

"If you use that word, I'll murder you."

"You've threatened to do that already, I'm immune to your petty taunts."

"Oh well, we have lots of time for me to maul you."

"We'll see about that. I'm calling the Headmaster."

"Do it, but he won't talk to you."

"What, you've convinced him to lock this program in?"

"No, I've tried getting out already."

Ark just shook his head. He picked up the phone and dialed the number. He was still tired, so he put on the headset and flopped back onto the couch.

"Go, occupy yourself or something. I'm just be a minute."

"No way, I want to see you when he shuts you down."

Ark ignored her. He waited for the Headmaster to pick up. He waited through eight rings. He had time to kill. He wanted Callista gone. At least before he was officially awake.

He waited through twelve rings. Hope was beginning to fade, but sheer stubborness was buring brightly.

Finally, someone picked up. A groggy voice on the other end.

"Mr. Lancaster, I hope that you have a very good reason for disturbing me this early in the morning." Didn't Avery ever turn Caller ID off?

"Sir, please, if you'll hear me out."

"...all right. What is it."

"Sir, with all due respect, this idea of yours is insane. First of all, you sent Caraway to my apartment, at 6:30 in the morning! Have you ever seen Night of the Living Dead?"

"Ark, I really hope that you have a conclusion to this litle speech, and it had be very good."

"Sir, she broke into my apartment, dumped cold water in my face, and threatened me with bodily harm."

"Surely a tough young man such as yourself has ways of countering such physical confrontations."

"Please, Headmaster, that's not the point."

"I don't care what your point is. You don't seem to be taking this very seriously, so I've decided to take it seriously for you. I've decided to up the times a little."

"You mean I can sleep now?"

"Oh, heavens no, that would be pointless. I've decided to...extend the sessions a little."

"Sir, you are absolutely insane, and I mean that offensively. You are deleberately interfering with a carefully structured cirriculum-"

"Yours or the schools? It really doesn't matter. I've decided to create a very special set of circumstances."

"Sir, I cannot agree to whatever it is you're going to say."

"You signed away all of your decision making power in the administrative system ever since you arrived at my school. You will agree, because I am enrolling you into a very special cirriculum. You from now on have no independance. You will for the rest of the semester you will do each and every single assignment with Miss Caraway. You must not be out of each others sight during the school hours, but on the plus side you don't have to attend school unless you are asked to."

"Okay, Sir, you're starting to freak me out."

"Why should I care? You are now in our special program. Oh, and by the way, all of your pre-emptively completed assignments have been erased from the school computers and removed from your locker. You are starting fresh, and you will have to work with Callista the entire way. That's the glory of E-Mail, you won't be apart. And I know that your styles of writing are different, so if the psychologist does not certify that your assignments have been arranged with equal participation on both sides, they will be failed."

"Sir, this is unconstitutional."

"Really? The school board just had an amendment made to the program. Be happy, you are in the genius program, you are now officially the best. Although if you snub Miss Caraway I'll personally fail you."

"Headmaster, we can't handle that kind of work."

"Of course you can, before the new program you were three chapters ahead of everyone elses work. Miss Caraway was at two. You'll do fine. Really, it's actually easier work, but I expect to see a spike of creativity in your assignments."

"What if I just leave?"

"Well, then you're a college drop-out. And you know what happens to college drop-outs."

"Arrrghhh! You're being unfair!"

"No I'm not. Just ask Lee and Jason. They were thrilled that they got to be out of school. You should too."

"Look who I'm paired with--ouch!" Callista was still in the room, growing noticable bored, but still paying attention. She threw the remote control at him.

"Deal with it. Einstin had to deal with the his certain problems with his great work, and he was a great contributor to the world scientific mind."

"I'd take the Nazi's any day over this--ouch!" Now she had thrown a book at him.

"That's not the issue. If you want to know the issue, talk to your friends. Good bye."

"No, no, wait!..." Click.

"I told you he'd say no."

Callista had stretched out on the couch and buried her nose in an old newspaper. She was being noticable calm about being in a complete strangers home. Maybe it was the karate.

"You don't know the half of it."

"Are you trying to intimidate me? It's not working."

Oh really. Well, she'd know.

"Look, you said it yourself that Avery's not going to put this off, so can you step outside while I get ready?" For World War III.

"Fine, I've got an old girlfriend in this building, we can chat while you get 'ready'."

Then she walked out. Ark quickly got up, locked the door, and threw the deadbolt and chain on. See her get through that.

Ark had some really depressing work to go through. Avery said that he didn't have to attend classes anymore, but would still get assignments e-mailed to him, however distressing that was. He felt violated--the internet itself was being used against him.

He connected to the internet, and sent a message to his kitchen telling it to start its morning schedual, even though no sane person should be awake at this time. Hey, if that was true, how would Callista talk to that friend of hers? Or, who really cares?

Yes, he did have mail from the school. He downloaded it to the laptop. It was sacreligious, using his computer to process homework. But Avery would fail him otherwise. Why was he being so harsh? It didn't make sense. It was like the whole world was against him.

Ark, on a sudden impulse, decided to call up Lee. He was billeted up in a restaraunt, so they'd be working him in the morning. But really, Lee wouldn't sympathise with him. He would be enjoying this new turn of events, especially in Ark's case.

He called Lee anyway. At least he should know what he was going to do about this new program.

"Hello, Big Al's Pasta House, would you like to make an order?"

"Um, no, thank you, I need to talk to one of your employees, Lee Stevens."

"Oh yeah, who's this?"

"Tell him it's Ark."

"Oh, heh heh, the lucky guy."

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind. I'm get Lee, he's taking a break."

"Thank you."

Lucky guy? What had Lee told his co-workers? Did he blab about his personal life?

"Hey man, how's it going?"

"Like hell. Did you get the new program outline?"

"What, you mean the one where we don't go to school but finish our work quickly then hang out the rest of the day? Oh yeah! It's a piece of work, don't you think?"

"The want me to spend a whole day with CALLISTA CARAWAY!!!!!!!"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down boy. It's not that bad. I got paired with some chemist, and she's been showing me some cool stuff about odors." i.e. stinkbombs.

"You...are a sadly obsessed man."

"Yeah, and I'm loving every minute of it."

"What, the chemistry, or the girl?"

"Ha ha, you're so funny."

"So what are you trying to get out of this? You said finish the work fast then slack off. How do I slack off with this black belt psycho?"

"Hey, I'm getting a lot done. She's taught me how to use household chemicals to make small explosions!"

"I was thinking more about my problem."

"That's your problem."

"I know. Any ideas?"

"Dude, what did you miss when I said it's your problem."

"Come on, man, please, you've gotta help me out."

"Okay. She's a hacker, right?"


"So you have a mutual interest. Capitalize. Just go about your computer business, then pull some fancy stuff. Don't press her into seeing anything, you're a classmate, not a salesman."

"Somehow I get the feeling that that won't work."

"Look, you melted down her computer, right?"

"How did you hear about that?"

"Dude, everyone knows about that. The point is, if she wants something you have, you capitalize. Get her to show you some fancy techie stuff. Get her to show you a lot. Then send me pictures."

"That was so not cool."

"Ha ha, you just have no sense of humor. Look, if you want her to notice you, loosen up."

"I don't want that."

"Then loosen up anyway. I remember the times when you used to smile. Now you barely have a pulse."

What? Where did that come from? And why did it sound so familiar?

"Ark, you still with me?"

"Yeah, uh-huh."

"Look, simply put, don't show off. Just plan little events then show your stuff. If she likes it, she's hooked. If she doesn't, pull a bigger stunt."

"Easy for you to say."

"You know I'm right. And you know you want her."

"No way in hell."

"Then will you introduce me? Please?"

"Thanks for the advice."

"Not even casually dropping my name, age, address, and phone number in a conversation?"

"Good bye, Lee."

"Yeah, see ya."

Ark hung up. That actually helped a lot. Lee was just trying to have fun, once you sorted out the words from the garbage, so that's what Ark should do. Just have fun. Break into a few computers. Rewire security systems. Do stuff.

So why did he feel so awful?

Ark walked out the door, now fully clothed, wired with caffiene, and loaded down with his tech stuff, as well as some old strobe lights and firecrackers. He wanted to be prepared.

But nothing would prepare him for what happened next.

Ark had decided to leave Caraway at the residences. If she spent the day gabbing to a friend, let her. Right now, he needed food. Morning food, like bacon and eggs, pancakes, and sausage. Aw, who was he kidding, he needed an Egg McMuffin right now! So he left the building. Or tried to.

He had made it to the lobby by way of elevator, but never made it onto the ground. As soon as he had taken one step off the elevator someone rushed in and expertly tripped him up. then another person slipped in and grabbed his arms, arresting his fall but still leaving him without his feet underneath him. Then the two figures took his legs and hoisted him upside down. All in a matter of seconds.

"Well, I attempt to be nice, but look what you try to pull." Ark knew that voice far too well by now.

"Should I be suprised, or shall I just start shouting?"

"What good will that do, look who's got you."

Ark didn't recognise that voice. "And why is a complete stranger carrying me away?"

"Oh, this is my friend, Mellisa. There, you're not strangers anymore."

"So why am I not relieved?"

"Very funny. Let's get him to the car."

Car? "Now wait a minute! That's kidnapping!"

"And why would anyone believe that you are being carried off by two girls against your will?"

"Ark doesn't like you anymore."

"Don't speak in the third person, it's stupid."

And so this was how Arks very unorthodox day started off. Being carried off by two crazy women who were bent on inducing schizophrenic mania on him, and he had only known then for two days. What was Caraway trying to do? And how come Ark couldn't escape from this insane world?

Chapter Eight: Bonding II

"So where are you going to take him?"

"He's the teacher, let him decide."

"Take me home."

"Except that."

Now, Ark was still confused. They had tied his hands together (thankfully in front of him) and tossed him into the back seat of the getaway vehicle, a fairly new Pontiac. Caraway and her partner in crime (who Ark had no idea what role she was playing in this insanity) were driving around seemingly aimlessly, going in no general direction and thouroghly disorienting Ark. He needed to find out where he was.


"Hey, how about you get down to the McDonalds and get some food. You know, food? The stuff you eat?"

"That's okay, I ate at Melissa's."

"I was talking about me, moron."

"Well, if that's how you want to treat me, then we won't go to McDonalds."

" hungry..."

Ark wasn't really hungry anymore. He just needed to be spotted by people who would do something about the ropes around his wrists.

"Hey, are we almost there yet?"

"Just a minute, I heard on the radio the bridge is down, so I'm taking the long way."

Did Ark care? No. It didn't matter. He travelled by public transport. He didn't need to know when a bridge was down. Who cared?

Wait. "Long way to what?"

"Oh, Calli is taking me to work."

"At seven in the morning?"

"It's a rough day."

"Where do you work?"

"That'll be enough from you."

By now Ark was coming to expect these disturbing zingers. He was building up a resistance to Callista's personality. However, that didn't mean he could block out her voice.

You know, when he really thought about it, the back seat was fairly comfortable. Notwithstanding the fact that he had gotten up an hour and a half too early. Way too early. He just wanted to slip back into his dream. Actually, having met the real Callista, he wouldn't be slipping back into his dream anytime soon. But to just relax and drift. Drift away and think. Think about things that were so distant in the real world. Drift away...

What were Jason and Lee doing? Lee had been happy with who he was partnered with; did Jason feel the same way? Or was he cursing his misfortune as Ark was? Maybe he was partnered with another do-it-all. Jason was a year older then most of the kids on campus, so who would work well with him? Was that the operative question, considering Ark's partner?

Oh well. No use thinking about it. Besides, Jason was probably paired with some artist. It was strange, really. Jason was fascinated with space travel, yet he could draw like a professional. He could draw stuff

That drawing that slipped out of Jason's binder! It seemed so familiar, even when he had never seen it before. What was familiar about it? Had he seen it before, somewhere?

But wait! That same feeling that Ark felt when he saw the drawing also occured when he passed that restaraunt downtown, when they were going to McDonalds! It had to be the same! The drawing, the restaraunt. It had to be!

But what about the oil? Ark knew he had never seen anything like that. When he thought about the drawing, he thought about the restaraunt; but when he thought about the restaraunt, he thought about...oil. No, wait! Not just oil! Like...a garage! Yes, that had to be it! A garage and...a high pitched vehicle engine? Something like that...and an office! Definately an office! But why now? What made Ark think about a garage?


He didn't have enough time to think about it. Caraway brought the car to a startling halt, knocking Ark off the seat.

"Well, see you later, Calli! Good luck with your...teacher."

"Yeah, thanks. See you soon."


"Um...maybe I'm not at a liberty to say this but...will someone get me out of here!?!?"

* * * * *

There it was again! Zanatos snapped out of his trance, breathing heavily. He was still in same building, waiting for the outrageously slow manager to come back with the necessary papers.

But why...why now, when he was Divining for his two selected targets, did his thoughts drift to a small car, with his hands tied and him being taken away? And the presence...the very same presence from the restaraunt was near him in the vision! That person was Divining for him!

It couldn't be true. He had used almost no magic at all yet, talked to few agents, made himself invisible in the city. How was he being traced?

Unless...this person was the Chosen. A Chosen, tracking him down, after all of the steps taken to keep unseen.

There might be a way. Maybe the Chosen was dreaming. That would explain the light-headedness and the mist obscuring his vision. That had to be the reason.

But...the presence wasn't going away. It was there, in the back of his head. Not watching, but in tune. It could watch if it wanted to.

But in return, Zanatos could feel the presence. It was too far away to watch, or keep track of, but it would tell him if he was close. He had a compass pointing directly to a Chosen. This was good.

Maybe this presence would be in one of the pairs that he would kill today. He was almost ready; he had touched their minds in his dreams. It was easy--he was able to use the voices from the recordings to look into their minds, read their thoughts and ambitions (of which there were few). It was unlike the presence in his head now, but it was good enough. He had a time, a place, and a cover. He was set as soon as he got out of this building.

The manager walked in, revealing the sounds of the workshop behind him.

"Sorry about that. I keep the papers on the second floor, plus it's a mess getting oil off of your hands."

Just stay in character. He was a teenager, just legalized, and shooting for his first dirt bike.

"That's fine, man. Just show me the form and I've got the cash."

"All right, just sign here, let me run your credit card, and you can have this bike before noon."

"Awesome, man."

It was good. He was asked to deliver before noon.

And he would deliver.

* * * * *

"Look, I know you have some inferiority complex that gives you...issues...but that's no reason to truss me up like a turkey! I have rights, you know!"

"Then go ahead. Exert your rights over me."

"...darn you."

"I wish you'd swear like a normal person."

"Is that so, you stupid..."

"Say that word and I'll kill you."

"Grr..." This was so aggravating. Ark was at the end of his rope. He was sick of this abuse, especially since Ark had seniority over Callista, so she had no right to be ordering him around. What did Lee say about handling her? Something about strut your stuff. Well, that wouldn't happen as long as he had his hands tied.

His bag was so close, nestled at his foot. He had lost track of the strap. Not that it would matter even if he did hook the strap and get his bag back.

Have fun, Lee said.

"It's because her parents are gone."


"Mellisa working. She has to take a job to fund her tuition, as well as pay for her dads rehab. He got drunk and got her mother killed. She's all alone now."


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