Chapter 121: Liam's Decisions
Liam sat next to Principal Davis on a stool he'd found near her vanity and tried to put all thoughts of Betty Chan out of his head in order to focus on the task at paw. He'd arrived at the principal's home only to find the Cougar collapsed in her bedroom, an event she could have most easily avoided. He had received quite the fright when he had first seen her, and his worry was still strong. The unconscious Cougar was fully dressed, as if just about to start her day at school, but she lay sprawled just shy of her bedroom door. After ensuring she was in no immediate danger, Liam had carefully moved her to her bed while he pondered his course of action. Yesterday, Principal Davis most likely had an early supper, little in the way of a lunch, and no breakfast. Today, she'd only had that coffee she'd said comprised her normal breakfast, despite his admonitions that she must eat, that it was crucial she eat solid and substantive meals. She was now seeing the results of skipping and scrimping on her meals while so ill.
His internal debate came up with three likely options: He could send her to a hospital and feed her intravenously. He could get Nathanial to bring her to the nurse at the school, and once there, she could be monitored by both Mrs. Neuranski and -- between classes -- himself. Or, he could call her husband and have him return home to care for her. The last option had some merit, but he knew not how long it would take for Mr. Davis to return from whence he had gone. The second could couple with the third by having Mr. Davis retrieve his wife from the school. The downside was that she had neglected her diet and had very little strength in her; the most certain way of supplying nutrients was intravenously. She may not like hospitals nor being hooked up to machines, but if she would not eat, she would merely have to deal with it, as she needed those nutrients. Should Mrs. Davis stay at the school for the day, Mrs. Neuranski could get proper food from the school kitchens and would make their patient eat -- of that he had no doubt -- and the care she would provide would be exemplary; hospitals were just far too crowded and overworked to compare. The questions that would arise would be most difficult to answer, however. Liam shook his head; he would deal with those as they came. The safety and treatment of his patient trumped all personal concerns. If the hospital would cause too much stress and Nurse Neuranski would ensure their patient received the nutrition required, then it was most obvious the school was the best place for Mrs. Davis, and all other considerations were secondary, at best.
That decided, Liam took out his phone and dialled her husband's number. It rang through to voicemail. How unfortunate. "This is Liam Smith. I am calling with troubling news; your wife did not arrive at school, nor did she call in, so I went in search of her. I found her on the floor unconscious, and I am in the process of bringing her to the nurse's office at school. She has been grossly neglecting her diet, and it compounded the fatigue caused by her medication. I believe that with rest and food she will regain some of her strength, but I will not deny that this is a setback. If you wish, we can arrange her transport to a hospital so that she may receive treatment through an IV, but I believe Nurse Neuranski will provide better and more personal service. I may be in class, so please call the nurse if you have questions, and she can page me. Thank you." He most pointedly avoided saying where he had found her. There were many places he desired to see the vile Chan, however. Impaled upon a sword was a prime example. Liam shook his head and sought to centre himself. The Pekinese was a distraction.
To give credence to any deception he may need to cultivate, he decided to gather her effects, and should she eventually arrive at a hospital, they would come in handy. It took some time to find her purse, her coat, and her keys, and once he had them, he telephoned Faelen.
The Wolf's voice echoed metallically; perhaps he was at his locker. "Hi, Liam. What's the word?"
"That is between her and those in charge of her care." Liam's brow twitched downward into a frown. It served no purpose to be short with his love -- it was Betty Chan that he was cross with. The Rottweiler took a calming breath. "My sincere apologies, Faelen. Mrs. Davis is not faring well, and I require assistance in bringing her to the nurse. I believe she will receive better attention there than at a hospital. Is Nathanial free?" The noise on the other end of the phone indicated Faelen and Geoff closing their lockers. On this end of the line, the young Cougar before him stirred, so he stroked her brow to soothe her. "Hush now, yes? Poor care you have given yourself, hmm? Not good. No, no, not at all." So young to be so ill, but illness was not picky. Novices were not in sight, again. No, not when needed. Most gifted at vanishing when work was to be done.
A strange gust blew at his ear, making noise but stirring no fur. A vexed voice growled, "Liam. It's the twenty-first century and this is Nova Scotia."
Liam shook his head. "Yes, Faelen. It is." Mrs. Davis stirred again, and so did Song Li, but this time Liam kept the restless shadow at bay. "Now, about my earlier question."
Faelen chuckled. "Which one? Where you asked me to hush or when you were wondering about the poor care I've been giving myself?" Liam glared at the wall, since Faelen was unavailable. His love still seemed to sense it and answered the real question without more prompting. "Yes, we're going to a room close to the nurse's office to open the portal. It's a good thing it's so early and so many students aren't coming in. I'm guessing the headmaster hasn't said whether school is going to be cancelled."
Liam gently rubbed her tawny brow, sending small trickles of chi into her system to ease the pain. "No, she has not said, nor have I asked."
A door clicked on Faelen's side. "Okay, I'm hanging up. We're ready."
"Very good." Liam terminated the call and pocketed his wireless device. A portal opened nearby, revealing Liam's friends and an otherwise empty classroom; it was dim, and obviously the teacher to whom it belonged was absent. Faelen preceded Geoff into the principal's bedroom. Nathanial stood on the other side of the portal, fidgeting worriedly. Liam monitored him unobtrusively, noting each time the Akita's paw twitched toward his phone.
Geoff looked around, ill at ease. "This is just wrong. I can't believe I'm in my headmaster's bedroom."
Faelen, however, was unconcerned on that point. He was looking greatly troubled by the obvious poor health she displayed. He appeared to wish to pick her up and carry her out, but did not want to be overburdened when his master may need protecting. As Liam did not have the size needed to carry her, despite having the strength, it would be simplest if Faelen took her. Liam stood up. "Faelen, you stand relieved."
Faelen nodded. "I take my leave." Now free, the off-duty bodyguard quickly scooped up the Cougar into his arms. "We told the nurse and Ms. Paul that you came here from the school."
The Rottweiler nodded in acknowledgment. "Then I guess I had your father drive me here with his vehicle and then transport us back. It is highly unlikely anyone will check the cameras to find the contradiction; there is just no reason to. Thank you." He was going to say he had gone directly to her home, bypassing school entirely. Faelen must have anticipated the need for a cover story and sought to ensure their tales were at least complimentary, if not identical. Liam spoke to Nathanial, who remained on the other side of the portal. "If you could take her coat and purse." He'd placed the keys inside her purse once he found them earlier, just to be safe. The objects in question floated through, followed by Faelen, Geoff, and lastly, Liam.
Nathanial draped the long coat over his left arm and tucked the purse in the crook of his elbow. "Sh-She'll be all right?" The claw of his right thumb drifted over his left wrist when he lowered his free arm to his side.
Liam suspected the Akita was blaming himself for her predicament, though Agent Arrie was ultimately to blame, and the current situation was a result of the principal's neglect. "I aim to ensure she recovers. Mrs. Davis would have died had you not intervened, Nathanial. If you wish to assign a cause to our principal's poor health, lay the blame squarely at the hindpaws of the agent responsible."
They quickly strode down the hall to the nurse's office, where the nurse was almost certainly in the closed exam room with a patient.
The office was comprised of an open central space with four steel-framed hospital beds in it: three along the right side and one in the far left corner. Each bed had a curtain that could be drawn around it for privacy. Also on the left side of the room were three doors leading to small examination rooms, one of which was closed. In the back were two heavy wooden doors, one to the nurse's true office and the other to a store room; both of those doors were kept locked and secure.
Once inside, Liam called out, "Nurse Neuranski, come quickly!"
As the examination door opened, she told whichever student she was seeing, "You're fine, dearie, just wet. Change into this and I'll get your clothes dried." The Bighorn Sheep turned to them. Liam watched her stifle a gasp, but she put on a calm face and closed the door behind her. She pointed to a bed in the far corner. "There, Faelen, dear. And Nathanial, could you put her coat and purse on my desk?" Liam could see a number of questions in her eyes, but she waited to say anything, most likely due to his friends' presence. Faelen and the nurse quickly moved toward the bed and Nathanial to the nurse's desk, but Geoff just fidgeted by the door.
Liam gently tugged on the Elemental's sleeve to get him to move aside. Standing directly in front of a door was too risky. Any weapons fire would come through there, first. "Do not block the doorway, Geoff. The nurse will likely be receiving a higher number of visits than normal today."
The door to the hall opened before Faelen set the Cougar on the bed. It was Ms. Paul. She looked about, obviously noting a great many details. She clearly recognized who Faelen was carrying, that Liam was present, the current time, and her gaze even traversed the floor in an apparent -- if futile -- search for puddles. The Lynx looked over Liam's perfectly dry clothing. "Smith, I thought you had gone to Jordan's." She quickly moved toward the bed. "If she's unconscious, how -- never mind that -- why did you bring her here and not a hospital?"
Nurse Neuranski held her paw up to stop Ms. Paul and pulled the curtain around the bed behind her, blocking the Wolf and Cougar from view. "Keep quiet, Margaret. Smith brought Jordan here either because he knows she hates hospitals, she doesn't need one right now, or she'd get better care here. Probably all three. Now, Jordan hates a fuss, so get your other three students and vamoose." She was quite serious about them leaving, but she smiled kindly as she shooed the young teacher out the door.
Liam nodded to Nurse Neuranski. "You are quite right on all counts." He turned to his teacher. "Ms. Paul, I may not be in homeroom, as I have much to discuss with Nurse Neuranski." Faelen walked out from behind the curtain and met Liam's eyes. He bowed slightly, signalling he was resuming his duties as Geoff's bodyguard. Liam bowed in return. "Faelen, inform the kitchen that we require some beef broth with rice, if possible. And not the low sodium variety, either. If they do not have any on paw, some chicken broth with rice will suffice. White rice, mind, as well as some fruit juice." Liam's first concern was getting carbohydrates, and thus energy, into her system quickly. The actual nutrients could come later. Nurse Neuranski would have training on how to care for malnourished people, such as those with anorexia nervosa, so she would be well-equipped to assist someone 'too busy' to eat properly.
Faelen nodded. "I'll head there right away."
"You have my thanks." Liam mimicked the Sheep's kind smile, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Now vamoose, if you please."
Nathanial looked over at the bed, worried, but he followed his two friends and his teacher out of the room. Liam watched him closely as he left. The healer was uncertain as to which patient was the more troublesome, but one was most assuredly closer to his heart. Seeing the sweet Akita in pain was intolerable.
Nathanial followed Faelen and Geoff toward the kitchen and was, in turn, followed by Ms. Paul. He wasn't really sure why she was there; it could be that she wanted to ensure that they told the kitchen staff to prepare the broth as ordered. 'Mrs. Davis.' Nathanial thought as he shook his head. 'Why did she get those tumours? Am I to blame? Did this happen just because I was around? If I wasn't there, Agent Arrie wouldn't have had a reason to fuck up her brain. Mr. Harper freaked out because of me. It was that fight I got into protecting Jeff that made Agent Jay's memory modification unravel. It was because I couldn't control myself and used magic--'
"Did Smith actually go to Mrs. Davis's house?" Ms. Paul's sudden question made Nathanial and Geoff jump.
Faelen looked back at their teacher. "I figured he called my da to get a lift, but I didn't see him call or leave the school."
The Lynx nodded slowly, her brow wrinkled in thought. "I saw your father and Mr. McDougal in the car when they dropped you off, so it would've been easy for them to turn around and get here quickly. I just..."
Nathanial smiled timorously over his shoulder at her as she trailed off. He chanted, 'Please don't get involved. Please don't get involved,' over and over in his head while he said, "W-Well, um, we-we weren't th-there, s-so--" He stopped talking when Ms. Paul stepped up and put her paw on his shoulder. Geoff slowed down and looked back with worry, but the Wolf just hunched his shoulders and pinned his tail between his legs. What was wrong with Geoff, today?
Ms. Paul was about to say something to Nathanial, but Geoff's reaction made the words die on her tongue. She stopped in the hall for a moment, obviously nonplussed, before she trotted to catch back up. "Are you guys all right? Nathanial, you're shaking like a leaf, and Geoff, you're... Did something happen between you two?" She shook her head. "It's not my business, but if you need to talk, I'm more than happy to listen."
Nathanial felt his own tail curl down and his ears flatten. "I-I... Um, n-no. It's M-Mrs. Davis. It's my fault she's--"
Ms. Paul cut him off. She clapped a paw onto his shoulder, spun him around, stared in his eyes, and said, "No. It. Isn't," shaking him gently to reinforce her point. "The guys who put the chemical weapons there are to blame, not you. It doesn't matter why they put it there or who the target was. The only thing that matters is that they chose to do it. And you chose to risk your life to save her."
Nathanial stared at the floor silently. He could only stand there and think about what she would say if she knew there were no chemicals.
Geoff walked over to Nathanial and timidly put his paw on Nathanial's other shoulder. "She's right. Choices were made, Nathanial, and all of yours were to help."
Ms. Paul nodded and rubbed her thumb on Nathanial's shoulder once before taking her paw away. "So let's get that broth ordered and go to homeroom. If you want, we can talk more there, or we can see if Mr. Ryhorski has an opening in his schedule. For you too, Geoff."
Geoff just shook his head. "I don't, um... I don't really need to talk. I think I'm just under the weather or something." He smiled weakly at his attempted joke. "There's plenty of that today." His face and shoulders fell when no one even smiled.
Ms. Paul's eyes narrowed a fraction. "So, if Smith is some sort of doctor, I guess he's already given you a prognosis."
Faelen slapped Geoff on the back before he could respond and grinned at him in a way he knew would normally get his goat. "Geoff, just so you know, 'sunny and calm' is also 'weather,' and it's impossible to have more or less of it. You just have different types and severity." He pivoted Geoff around and began propelling him toward the nearby kitchen. "Now, let's get that soup for Mrs. Davis."
Nathanial hurried after them, saying over his shoulder, "He is accredited, Ms. Paul, and he fixed my arm right up when I got hurt." The Lynx still looked suspicious as she followed him. "Um, you know he's kind of a genius, eh?" She hesitated before nodding.
Faelen opened the door to the kitchen and walked in. The staff were cleaning up the mess from breakfast and looked surprised to see them. One of the ladies who served the food came bustling over; she was a portly Rabbit, and she had a penchant for flirting with all the handsome guys. She flirted with Geoff and Faelen regularly when they got food from the cafeteria. She'd even flirted with him after he'd started working out.
The Rabbit put her paw on Geoff's arm, catching him by surprise. He looked almost panicked, but he remained frozen in place, and she seemed quite oblivious to that fact. "Now, now, boys. I enjoy having a group of very strong and handsome guys dropping in--"
Ms. Paul's hackles rose, and her stub of a tail fluffed out and twitched irately. She interrupted the Rabbit with a dark glare, stepping between her and the white Wolf. "Judith." There was no mistaking the warning there; their teacher seemed almost protective of Geoff. "Amy needs a large bowl of full-sodium beef broth and white rice sent to her as quickly as possible, or chicken broth if you don't have beef."
Judith removed her paw from Geoff's arm and blinked in confusion. "That's an odd thing for breakfast. We'll send it over once we've cleaned up."
Faelen quietly shifted over next to Ms. Paul so he, too, blocked her from Geoff. "It's for a patient, not her. Someone collapsed, and we were very emphatically asked to get it as soon as possible. It's high priority, ma'am."
One of the male cooks called over from around a corner, "Will do. I'm starting on it right now."
The door opened behind Ms. Paul, and Mr. Ryhorski poked his head in. The short Black Bear smiled when he saw Nathanial. "Ah! There you are, Nathanial. I was told you'd come in here. May I talk to you?"
The question surprised him. Why would the counsellor be looking for him? "U-Um, s-sure." Nathanial looked around at his friends, as well as his teacher. "I-I'll see you in homeroom?"
Geoff nodded. "Yeah. See you there."
Faelen scratched his temple as he nodded, before surreptitiously tapping it. The look he gave Nathanial made his intent obvious. Nathanial cast the Minor Telepathy spell and heard Faelen ask, *Nathanial?*
*Yeah?* Nathanial followed the lumbering Bear down the hall toward the counsellor's office.
Faelen and Geoff were following Ms. Paul out of the kitchen and up toward homeroom. *This is a good opportunity to talk to him. Don't rush to join us. You need to talk to someone who can help. Your mother really hurt you when she was alive, and she's still hurting you. Don't let that continue. Please.*
Mr. Ryhorski motioned over his shoulder for Nathanial to keep up. "Let's go to my office so we can chat; that way we won't be interrupted. It sounds like we have a lot to talk about."
A figurative light bulb went off in Nathanial's head. It coincided with a small power surge that made all of the lights in the hall flare more brightly for a moment. The freaky coincidence made Nathanial smile. He knew what decision Liam had made earlier this morning and why Liam told Faelen that he needed to talk to Nurse Amy and Mr. Ryhorski. The nurse was for the principal, and the counsellor was for him. Liam told the Bear that Nathanial had hurt himself last night. The eureka moment faded into guilt and dread. Mr. Ryhorski must think he was weak. Broken. How could Nathanial look at the counsellor -- talk to him -- knowing that the Bear felt he was so flawed?
Faelen's voice broke through the growing dread. *Shut up, Nathanial. I caught bits of that, and you're wrong. Sure, Liam might have told Mr. Ryhorski something, but do you trust him? Liam saved your life how many times? If he thinks you need to talk to Mr. Ryhorski, you do. Liam's a healer, Nathanial, and your friend; your wellbeing is his biggest concern."
Nathanial felt himself flush in embarrassment. *But if Liam told him, then he knows I...I'm broken.*
*Mr. Ryhorski won't think you're broken, not in the way you mean it; he'll think of you in the same way a doctor does when meeting a patient. He'll think of you as someone in a lot of pain, as someone he can help. That's why he does this job. Do you really think people become counsellors to give those asinine aptitude tests? He wants to help people, and you need it. How will you protect Nick and Micah if you're hurting yourself? Who will stop Gordon and Beriatana from catching them if you're gone?*
Faelen was right. As usual. Nathanial sniffled and tried to choke back his tears. The noise caught Mr. Ryhorski's attention, and the Bear turned his upper body to look back at him -- like Si Fu Jim, he was a bit too bulky to have the same range of motion as a, say, a Dog. The counsellor stopped and put his broad paw on Nathanial's back and fished a tissue out of his pocket with his other one. He passed it to Nathanial with a small smile. "Here, Nathanial. We're almost at my office. I have lots of boxes of tissues there, so you use as many as you need." He gently rubbed Nathanial's back and ushered him along the hall to his office. Nathanial let his spell fade, severing the contact with Faelen. "Some people think crying is something to be ashamed of, but it's actually as therapeutic as laughter is."
Nathanial shivered violently and felt Snow pass through the planar barrier into Mr. Ryhorski's office. Nathanial's eyes widened in terror, and he froze on the spot. What if the Bear saw Snow? Would the Society's agents do to the counsellor what Arrie did to Mrs. Davis? Would Nathanial get in trouble for exposing the Hidden World?
Snow huffed inside Nathanial's head. *We believe the appropriate response is, 'Shut up, Nathanial.' We've heard it said many times to the Dark One and to you, our alpha, though we don't know why. We like talking to you and don't want you to remain silent. We came over because you were afraid and alone, but our arrival seems to have scared you more.*
Mr. Ryhorski put a bit more pressure on Nathanial's back. "Nathanial? It's all right; that's just my office. There's nothing that will hurt you, and no one is in there. No one will go in there once we're inside; you'll be safe. You don't even have to talk if you don't want to."
Snow kept talking, too. *Do we scare you again?* The mere thought sounded like it hurt the Mastiff terribly. *We thought you liked us...* Snow trailed off for a moment, lost in thought. *Oh! You don't want us to be seen! We are not at your home or around those who know us. It is pleasantly dark in here, but we will do as you want. We will go, but we are always near, Alpha. We wanted to comfort you, not to make it worse. We are sorry.*
Snow slipped back to the Elemental Plane of Darkness, so Nathanial allowed Mr. Ryhorski's paw to propel him toward the office, but he had trouble quelling the shivers running through him. He felt he needed to explain himself to the Bear. "I-I-I... Th-The d-door..." Burning shame filled him. He couldn't get a single word out properly.
Mr. Ryhorski opened the door, flicked the lights on, and ushered Nathanial in. "It's okay, Nathanial; don't push yourself. Sit."
He closed the door behind him; the click echoed ominously in the utterly silent room. All of the minor noises Nathanial hadn't even registered before now, from the rain drumming on the roof to the gentle hum of the building's heating system, instantly cut off, and he shivered at how sinister it felt.
There were a few couches and some plush armchairs scattered around the large room. Potted plants, both the small table-top variety and the tall floor ones, battled the lamps for decorative supremacy. Tasteful picture frames hung on the walls containing formless swirls of colour and texture. There, on the far side of the room, were two doors: one led to the Bear's actual office -- the one with a desk and computer -- while the other one seemed to be a small, private interviewing room. It had two plush chairs, side tables, and a few boxes of tissues. On one table was a discrete recording device. In all three rooms were the ubiquitous security cameras, but they were hidden very well. None were linked to any audio recorders that Nathanial could sense. Considering the risk of Mr. Ryhorski facing possible accusations of sexual assault, the cameras were probably a very wise precaution.
Mr. Ryhorski gestured at the variety of seats. "Sit anywhere you like; there's even a smaller room if the openness of this one makes you uncomfortable." Nathanial sat on a couch and settled his books on his lap, holding them close. The Bear sat nearby in an overstuffed leather armchair. "Good. Now, let's get you calmed down a bit, hmm?" His smile looked very genuine and kind. "Close your eyes and slowly inhale though your nose." He began talking Nathanial through a breathing exercise, drawing his words out. "In...and out through the mouth... Very good. Just focus on breathing. In... Hold it for a few seconds...and out..." This went on for several minutes until Mr. Ryhorski seemed to be satisfied that Nathanial had calmed down.
The Bear leaned forward on his chair. "Open your eyes, Nathanial." The Akita did so, not that he was blind even with them closed. How did that work? What magic was he using or had unknowingly cast that--
Mr. Ryhorski cut his internal inquiry off. "Do you feel better?" Nathanial nodded silently. "Now, you're probably wondering why I wanted to talk to you." Nathanial shook his head. "No?" That kind smile faded away into grave concern. "I would like to hear what happened last night, if you're willing to tell me."
Nathanial hung his head in shame. "I-I don't kn-know." How could he talk about something like that to this stranger? Faelen and Liam both seemed to think it'd help, but...magic was so integral to everything that was happening that he'd have to carefully separate what he could and could not talk about. Even last night, the very simplest parts of it, wouldn't make much sense without going back to the trip to collect the bodies of the Hunters, which would mean he'd need to go even farther back, as far back as their attack on his house. Magic figured so prominently in the entire ordeal. If he said the wrong thing, the Society could sweep in with cancer-causing mind-zapping spells, and he couldn't let anyone else go through what Mrs. Davis was. He sighed in his mind as the thought of the Society reminded him about those tests his brothers and he had to take this month in the secret bunker-offices under the Parliament buildings. The offices were so...super-villain- or top-secret government organization compound-esque that it wasn't funny.
Mr. Ryhorski smiled again. "You don't have to talk if you don't want to. You can even skip the parts you aren't allowed to tell anyone. I'd like to remind you about the standard confidentiality rules that apply here; what you tell me is between you and me. I'm here to help, however I can. The Bear's eyes twinkled in amusement. "And I won't talk to any shadowy government organizations, if I could even find them." Nathanial raised his head to look at the counsellor in surprise. Was the Bear reading his mind? "I've heard a lot of stories about you, Nathanial, and there are a few students in the dorms who are huge conspiracy nuts. They love telling me all about the latest far-out theories and conspiracies."
Conspiracy nut theories would be far worse than those tabloid stories Nanny and Aunt Naomi laughed over. Morbid curiosity got the better of him. "R-Really? My grandmother showed me some of the stuff they're writing about me, but, um, it was just from the newsstand rags. What are the conspiracy people saying?"
The counsellor seemed pleased to get Nathanial talking about anything, really. Establishing a rapport, he figured. "They haven't talked about anything but you since...the second day of school." That'd be the carjacking. They wouldn't have really known it was him, though, would they? "Illuminati and Knights Templar, secret societies, JTF2 -- the secret Canadian elite military team -- aliens, and all of that figures prominently in them. The conspiracy theories say you're a secret government experiment which the Knights Templar are opposed to, that your first contact with them triggered your latent genetic modifications. You've become an...'elite super-soldier,' like Marvel's Captain America, but you aren't in full control of your new skills and powers. Honestly, I don't know where they came up with these ideas, but if there was any truth to these conspiracies, I would've expected you to talk to someone before now."
Some people really would believe anything, if half of what Mr. Ryhorski about the conspiracy theorists was true. 'But even all of that isn't as weird as what's really going on.'
Nathanial figured this 'secret government experiment' thing might give him an out. Really, he couldn't deny some stuff; the photos of him in the Halifax Control Tower were apparently plastered on the covers of every tabloid from Canada to Japan, according to Nanny. Better Mr. Ryhorski buy into lies than find out some dangerous truths. He sighed, lowering his head, like he was admitting to something dangerous. "Well, even if it was true, it's not like I can talk to anyone about it. It's not s-safe for me or my fam..." He paused and swallowed nervously, though mostly the nerves were fear for the Bear if he found out the truth. "I m-mean, someone in the m-middle of all of that couldn't exactly talk about it. They'd be afraid to say a-anything, or the balance might tip towards 'neutralize on sight.' Right?"
Mr. Ryhorski's eyes widened momentarily. Nathanial was sure the Bear was holding himself back from exclaiming in incredulous excitement. "You don't have to hide who you are from me, Nathanial, whether or not the rumours are true. If they are, you don't need to worry; no one will know we talked."
Nathanial kept staring at his knuckles where they curled over the edge of his textbooks. "Nothing and everything is true, sir. I can't very well deny only the wrong stuff, because that'd confirm the parts that are correct. I certainly can't tell you the truth. As for knowing if we talked or not, a kitchen full of people saw you come get me, the security cameras saw us walk here..." Nathanial covertly pointed at the different cameras in the room, though he didn't raise his head. "...and those cameras are recording this. Reading muzzles isn't that hard if you're trained."
The Bear steepled his fingers over his chest and rested his elbows on the arm of his chair. "How did you know those cameras were there? I saw you glance around just once, and those cameras are very well-hidden." Nathanial said nothing. "Then how about we just skip to why I asked to talk to you. They, whoever they are, wouldn't want to see their investment wasted. Tell me about last night, as much as you can, and we can go from there."
Would the Society get upset? If he never mentioned magic and kept things sounding more sci-fi or comic book-like, they'd have no reason to hurt Mr. Ryhorski. Could he even get the Bear to join the Monks? No, not yet. He didn't even really know anything about him. Nathanial's paw twitched toward his phone. He owed it to Nick and Micah to take the chance and get some help. Hells, the server might even sanction it. 'Speaking to a trained professional: Approved.' Nathanial smiled wanly for a moment and lifted his head. "As much as I can."
The Black Bear's brown muzzle was momentarily split by a tiny smile. "That's all I ask."
Nathanial's smile faded. "Last night is...difficult to properly explain. Um, I-I had a...waking nightmare. I s-saw my brothers getting beaten up and k-killed by an old bully of mine and by m-my m-mother. I wasn't there to help them because I was out having fun. They died, and it was my fault. I'm supposed to be there for them, so it's--" His eyes flooded with tears, but when he sniffled it reminded him of Micah smacking his muzzle. He needed to listen to his family and friends, not his mother. They loved him, and she hated him, so who should he trust? "Mom, uh, Lily w-was... Sh-She abused me for over a decade; she thought the three of us were monsters. Abominations. She told me not to tell anyone, or she'd hurt my brothers. I-I protected them by taking the abuse she was going to give them, but...now that I'm free, that I'm happy, I'm feeling guilty. Like I should be home for them, not out with my friends. I-I felt that if I wasn't hurting, they would, if I d-didn't...die..."
Mr. Ryhorski passed Nathanial a box of tissues. The Akita took one and blew his nose. "That wasn't too hard to explain, right? But I'm sure there's a bit more to it than that, stuff I'm not allowed to hear." Nathanial nodded. "You know, in your head, that there is no reason to feel guilty. You had a horrible life, and you deserve some happiness. You gave yourself a purpose during those terrible years by saying that all of the pointless abuse she heaped on you was protecting your brothers, and now that it's over, you're left without that one thing that was keeping you going. It's a very difficult thing to face, but it can be very liberating."
For a moment, Liam's bright brown eyes stared into his again. 'I am most pleased to still be alive. I have only to look in Faelen's eyes to remind myself of why. Look at Micah, at Nicholas, at Geoff, and do the same.' Nathanial remembered the emotion in Liam's eyes when he'd said those words...and the way his muzzle felt against his own when the Ancient One kissed him. Was he left without a reason to keep going?
No. No, he wasn't.
Free of potential interference, Liam stalked the halls in search of his quarry -- Betty Chan. She would be in school, even if Hao had to hire someone to carry her here. As the music rooms were close to Nurse Neuranski's office, Liam went there first but detected no trace of her. He was then faced with a choice: to go to the gymnasium to see if she had gone there to dry and change her clothes, to pass by her locker, or to check the front door. He chose to detour via her locker en route to the front door and hoped to pick up her scent somewhere along the way; had this been a regular day, he would have had no chance of doing so unless it was a fresh trail, but this was not an ordinary day. He sent more chi to his nose to increase its sensitivity, though it would still be far from Faelen's most excellent senses.
The questing Rottweiler smelt her perfume when he approached the intersection of the hall containing her locker. His hackles rose and a fierce growl escaped him before he squelched his emotions. It would not do to have Faelen arrive and end his vengeance prematurely. Nathanial deserved to have his pain repaid in full. Even that little of a reminder threatened his control and almost evoked the memory of the sweet Akita curled up on the floor being cradled by Garret -- the memory and the blood-lust that accompanied it. Faelen would not remain idle if he sensed such a thing once more.
Liam rounded the corner and spotted her. The Pekinese's golden fur was a little damp, and she was currently occupied by primping in front of the mirror in her locker. He took a deep breath to centre himself before ensuring the hall they were in was empty. It was. He silently strode down the hall to stand behind her and proclaimed at great volume, "Chan! I must speak with you."
The bitch leapt nigh unto the ceiling and landed facing him, panting. "Shit! You fucking runt of a f--" She caught herself. Her fear and anger changed to wariness. "What do you want...Smith?"
Liam kept his posture carefully neutral, as well as his tone. "I am informing you that you will be attending Donald Markham's funeral with me."
She closed her locker before leaning against its door with her arms crossed. "Why in hell would I do that? That's not part of our agreement."
Liam shifted subtly into a more dominant and aggressive posture. "I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further." He allowed some of his anger manifest around his eyes. "You have sown great anguish in this city, Chan, and you will witness the effects of it personally. You destroyed not one life by your actions, but many. The disturbance you caused was felt far and wide, Chan, and you will be there to see their pain, even if it be a small fraction of those harmed."
Her muzzle curled up in disdain. "I never knew this fag, Smith, and never talked to him."
"You wrote to him. You posted terrible words in these social media sites to attack him. You hounded him without mercy and counselled others to do likewise. You were the last to speak to him, and you guided him to the site where he took his life. You, Betty Jia-Li Chan, killed him. He was a fourteen year-old Weasel, and if you recognized the name, you most likely saw his picture. The one shown on the television was the same that adorned his profile page."
Her muzzle curled up into scornful amusement. "Oh, him. He was weak and deserved to die. If a few words can do that, the delicate little princess should've offed himself and saved his family money long ago."
Liam deeply desired to physically remove that smile from her face, along with most of the teeth contained in that venomous muzzle. However, words would suffice. He bared his teeth in a snarling grin. "Oh, really? Then allow me to return those words -- with minor modifications. Murderer."
He locked eyes with her and his chi roared within him, filling the hallway with an oppressive aura. Any fool who dared interfere would flee from the crushing dread even before they came anywhere near. He could see the shock in Chan's eyes, the natural defences her soul threw up crumbling, and this was merely a small inkling of the true power he could set against her should he wish to. He need not attack her with his chi to utterly crush her; he merely needed to remain nearby and stare into her eyes. His chi barrelled over her, flattening her psyche as an avalanche crushes an anthill.
He leaned forward, his aggressive posture amplifying her fear, and slowly adopted Hao Chan's voice. "You are worthless, murderer. Scum like you don't deserve to live, you murderer. How dare you pretend to be as good as anyone else, murderer."
Betty pressed herself back against the bank of lockers, pinned there by his eyes, and her claws scrabbled against the smooth metal in an attempt to burrow away.
"You're a huge disappointment to your family, murderer. We'd be a lot better off if we just killed everyone like you, murderer. You're a blight, a plague to our society, murderer."
His accent was now a near-duplicate of her father's; just a bit more to go. She did not notice. Not yet. Her wide eyes were still fixed upon his own; he'd subsumed her will enough that she could not avert her gaze even if she still possessed the presence of mind to do so. Her mindless clawing at the lockers stopped; her paws hung limply at her sides.
"You fucking parasite; you worthless piece of shit; murderer. How could your mother stand to look at you, murderer? You walk around like you are worth something, murderer, but you cannot let anyone know the truth, can you? Your deep, dark secret eats at you. Any decent person would be justifiably horrified by the truth, murderer."
Her large eyes stared blankly into his own. The only things that reached her mind were his voice, his disgust and hatred, and the knowledge that he could snuff her out with barely a thought. She was less than a bug under his hindpaw. Drool spilt from her muzzle and her breath came in shallow gasps. Her mind could not withstand this much longer; she was shutting down in a last ditch attempt to escape -- to flee in terror in the only way left to her.
Not only was his accent now the same as Hao Chan's, but so was the tone and cadence. He copied Hao perfectly. Time to go for the kill. "You've shamed our family, murderer. Your very existence offends me, and I can't bear to look at you. You were my princess, my joy, but you've taken all I gave you and offered me nothing but dishonour and shame in return. I have no way to reclaim my honour -- honour you destroyed -- except by sacrificing myself; the Markhams will have their vengeance, and I'll salvage some small shred of the honour I once had. Don't speak to my wife again; she has lost a daughter and a husband today because of you, murderer."
Tears streamed from her eyes. Her breath stuttered in choking sobs. He had broken her, but he was not done. Oh, no, far, far from it, but that would be enough for now. She may never face justice through the legal system, but the agony she inflicted upon Nathanial and others would be revisited upon her. He looked aside, freeing her from his influence, and reined in his chi. He had expended a great amount in this exercise -- nothing critical or even debilitating -- but certainly enough for him to notice and to remind him to ease his expenditures in the near future. The wreck before him said it was chi most delightfully well-spent.
A long string of drool hung from her jowls, sweat stained her uniform and matted the fur to her forehead, and her eyes and nose streamed even more fluids. She stammered, "D-Daddy?"
He continued imitating Hao Chan's voice for the moment, but she would soon recover enough to see him through her delusion. "Do not speak to me, murderer, for you are no longer my daughter."
Chan slid down the bank of lockers and slumped on the floor. "No. No. This can't be happening. It can't be."
Liam resumed speaking with his own voice. "Stop caterwauling, Chan. If one minute of harsh words did this to you, perhaps it was not Donald Markham that was the delicate little princess, hmm?" He smelt Ahjeet Jhansi slithering closer and pretended to look concerned as he reached down to help her up. "You are a most vile piece of work, murderer. Be grateful that I do not reveal all you have done, for I know what your father would do should this blight upon his house and honour be exposed."
The Serpent slithered around the corner just as Chan hesitatingly accepted his paw and rose to her hindpaws. Jhansi looked most surprised to see him with Chan and reflexively snapped a photo of them while Chan was halfway up. The Cobra approached with his tongue flicking out with great rapidity. "Betty, are you all right? Was Ssmith troubling you?"
Liam cut in. "No, I was not. If you wish, I could repeat the entire conversation to you so you may determine how much trouble was caused." Chan's grotesquely large eyes grew yet larger in horror. "You could even print it within your paper, should you deem it so interesting."
The Pekinese shrieked, "No! There's absolutely no trouble." She glared fiercely at Liam. "Keep your fucking mouth shut, Smith, and get the hell out of here." She whirled to face Jhansi. "Why are you bothering me, Agie? I don't have any news for you to report, so go hiss at someone else."
Ahjeet Jhansi's hood flared out fully, and he rose high on his tail to loom menacingly over the diminutive Dog. ...Dogs. Liam had no illusions about his own height. Drops of venom fell from the Serpent's fangs onto the floor when he hissed her name. "Betssy Chin," So he had heard about Liam's first conflict with the Pekinese in the cafeteria. "Don't you dare sspeak to me like that! My name iss Ahjeet Jhanssi, and you will ssay it correctly, resspectfully, or your desstruction will be sswift and abssolute!"
Liam's chest warmed with the glow of satisfaction. Not only did he revisit a fraction of pain back to the vile murderess, but it appeared he had ruined the potential alliance between the two vexing mortals before him. What a most wonderful day.
Chan quailed before Jhansi. "I-I'm sorry, Ahjeet. I'm really not in the mood to talk, and I don't have anything for the newspaper, not yet. I'm really close, though." Jhansi hissed wordlessly at her, sending a few more droplets of spittle spewing forth, before he dropped down and slithered off with frightening speed. Chan would not have a hope of escaping him should he chase her.
Liam leaned over to whisper in her ear. "I know about your deal, Chan." Perhaps she was the one that accessed the computer looking for information on him. "I know your father's computer was hacked." The explosion of fear within her chi was answer enough. "I know Jhansi's suspicions, and I know what will result if you give him what he wants. Your father is having his computer checked, and if you did hack it, you will be marked for death. Your father will not be able to protect you and may even offer you up to save his honour, especially if he finds out the truth about you, murderer. Give me what you have, and I swear you will not be harmed by those your father works with, though I speak not for what your father may do."
She turned slowly to look at him and quailed once more before the rightful wrath of another. "How... How do you know?"
Liam did not even attempt to keep the scorn from his voice. "Do you honestly believe I would trust you with anything? You have caused your father to lose much face amongst his peers, and he has already offered to accept any punishment deemed appropriate. Imagine his shame should it be revealed his daughter was the cause of the breach."
The intercom crackled to life. Mr. Drake's voice echoed through the nearly empty halls. "Attention faculty and students of Dalhousie Collegiate. We regretfully need to inform you that the school will be closed today. E-mails are being sent out to all parents and guardians informing them of this, and all students are to remain in the building until they are retrieved. For those of you who can't be picked up, we will, of course keep the building open, and the teachers in residence will be on paw to keep watch or provide extra tutoring. Students who live within walking distance, be advised you are to remain here as well until we get word from your guardians that it's all right for you to go home. As a gesture of apology, lunches will be free today. We wish we could have informed you earlier, but events beyond our control -- Jordan! You should be resting! You're in no condition to be--"
The intercom fell silent for a few seconds before the weak voice of Principal Davis drifted forth. "This is my fault, everyone. I personally apologise for any inconvenience and trouble. I'll be here to answer to any parent who--"
This time it was the principal who was cut off, but this time by Nurse Neuranski. "You will do no such thing! You're going back to bed, even if I have to carry you myself! If you won't listen to me, I know who you will listen to!"
That was Liam's cue. "Think on it, Chan, for you hold your fate, as well as your father's, in your paws." He swiftly strode down the hall leaving a very distraught, frightened, and confused girl behind.
The intercom remained silent, as did she.