Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chapter 7: Amy's Revenge

Below the fold. I haven't figured out how to make Google Blogs do first line paragraph indents. Hence the annoying line breaks between paragraphs instead of denoting indentation.

Chapter  7: Amy’s Revenge

With his weird old pyjama feet stuck into his slippers, John was actually almost warm out at the edge of the porch next morning, watching the sun rise over the triangular mountain on the east side of the hollow, standing high over lower hills. The pink dawn light cast the shadows of the cupola of the bunk house through the shadows of the trees right to the other end of the field, where the horses were eating the hay that May and Mrs. Wong were spreading over the grass. Mr. Wong, still wearing his new jogging suit (May had a matching suit on), was hammering something at the entrance of the barn beyond.

It was a lot of noise, although at least the horses had stopped neighing. It was amazing that anyone was still asleep.  It was amazing that he cared. He was half way through Ghost Story, finally out in paperback, and he could be back on his bed, reading. Instead, he was out here, waiting for everyone.

 The whining sound of someone running taps came from the frosted windows a half-floor up on the north side of the building. Someone was up. Jason came out of the bedroom door. John looked at him. And looked. Should he say anything? When he made a crack about Amy’s new haircut, she hadn’t talked to him for a week. Jason wasn’t a girl, but he was Amy’s sister. Should he pretend to like it? How had Jason even managed it? He’d had five minutes in the bathroom, tops. How did you do that in five minutes? With glue? Shouldn’t you be able to smell it?

Jason stared back at him. Well, you had to expect people to stare when you did something like that to your hair, dude, John thought at him. Oh. John desperately smoothed the smile breaking out on his face and broke his stare. This was going to be good.

Amy and Rafaella came out on the porch through the far door leading from the common room. Amy had a poker face, but couldn’t help putting her hand to her cap as though she wanted to feel her hair. Rafaella was trying not to smirk.

“Morning, Rugrats.” May was suddenly right out in front of the porch. Behind her, The Captain followed right after. Somehow, the handkerchief in the pattern of Mr. Wong and May’s jogging suits came off the dog’s knee as he wiggled under the bottom rail of the fence. May had a bright grin. John risked a sidelong look at Jason. His face was clenched. “I see you’ve pissed your sister off, again, Jason.”

“What? What’s wrong?” Jason put his hand to his face as he craned around, trying to check the backside of his pyjamas.
“Your hair, Jason,” John said.

Jason put his hand in his hair. His eyes widened, and he went as pale as John. He rushed inside.

“He had it coming,” said May.

“You don’t know half of it,” Amy replied.

May made a gun with her fingers and shot the door that Jason had just run through. “I’m sure I don’t. How’d you pull it off?”

There was a long silence. Had Amy snuck into the boys’ bedroom last night? That might be trouble. On the other  hand, if he stepped up.... Well, Jason had it coming. John grinned and shrugged.

Rafaella was smart. “Maybe she had help.”

“Could be,” said Amy.

“Someone is going to have to explain to me how I managed to raise such a crop of morning people. Henry.” Mrs. Wong was leaning on the fence. Mr. Wong standing just behind her, eyes crinkled as he stared into the dawn. She didn’t look back as she addressed her husband, but her smile was as wide as bursting, and he grinned at her back as if he expected her to feel it around her shoulders.

“Don’t look at me. If it weren’t for work, school, and this hike, I’d be in bed ‘till noon,” said May.

Oh oh. No-one had told John about any hike. Death march, here we come!

“I’ve done up some day packs for you. They’re on the front porch, along with breakfast. Eat! Move! We’ll be round to Muskrat Lodge at 6 to pick you up.” John checked his watch. It was almost 8. This was going to take the entire day. No way! He opened his mouth to protest, but looked at Amy first. Her eyes were wide. This wasn’t fair!   On the other hand, breakfast.

A very few minutes later, John was working on a plastic camp plate of French toast, fried tomato, and bacon. The slightly bitter, sweet purple-red syrup cut the rich greasiness of toast and bacon, but made his fresh apple juice taste less sweet and more tart. “So. Where are we going?”

“Up to the Old Camp, over Monk’s Mountain, and down to the McNeery place in Monk’s Bottom,” said Amy.
“If everyone survives the trip,” said Jason.

“I’d worry about surviving school Tuesday,” May replied.

“Why are we going to the McNeery place?” John asked.

“Lots of reasons,” May answered. “But mainly because I’m getting a ride back to town with my boss. We’re both working at 6 tonight, and she’s over at the McNeerys’.”

“Safe from crazy sisters and their backstabbing buddies,” Jason muttered.

“And from being embarrassed by their stupid, dumb brothers.” Amy was much more clear, considering that she was talking around a mouthful. Hidden advantage of being a telepath, that was.

“When did I embarrass you?” Jason asked.

“If you have to ask....” Amy replied.

“You’re not making any sense!”

John paid very careful attention. He did not want to end up going to school with his hair done up in tall yellow spikes. People would talk, and it probably would clash with his complexion or something that girls would notice. But no more explanation was forthcoming.

There turned out to be a pack for everyone, and they were huge. Jason’s was specially reinforced, and clanked like it had glass jars in it, and John’s was pretty heavy, too. It was a perfect start for a death march, and he’d never seen less dawdling out of the Wong kids. They were out of the grove behind the bunk house, across the bridge over the creek at the swimming hole, and onto the slopes of Monk’s Mountain before 9. John didn’t understand. The day was already ruined. What was the rush?

Amy pointed at a wildflower growing beside the trail that switchbacked up the slope, swaying from The Captain’s rapid passage through the low brush. Behind them, a horse nickered. The Lion Stallion was very disappointed about being left behind. “See this pink flower, Jason? I thought about doing your hair up that colour, too.”
For a moment it seemed like Jason wasn’t going to be drawn out. “Are you blind? That flower is purple, Amy.”
“Pink!” Amy shot back.
“Purple!” Jason replied.
They were still squabbling merrily when the group crested a rise a good three hundred feet above the floor of the hollow and looked down into a groove in the mountain side. At the bottom, fifty feet below, were two tents, with two Asian men wearing tan-yellow shirts the same colour as the Lion Stallion, sitting at a camp fire. For a second, John mistook the first for Mr. Wong, before realising how much younger he was. The men waved.

May and Amy screamed and began to bound down the slope. Jason followed, equally light footed, in spite of his huge pack. It looked insanely dangerous to John, but this seemed like a time when he could fly without breaking the Death March Rules, so he followed behind quickly enough.

“Henly! Daffy!” May shouted as she ran into the camp.

The shorter man stood up, gathering May into his arms. “May-May!” The bigger boy, Henry, remained sitting, but reached up, catching a handful of air just above his head. Amy’s bright blue “Team Ninja” T-shirt materialised, followed by the rest of her.

“You hate it when Mom fiddles with your hair. Why should I like it when you do it to me?” Henry asked.

Amy ignored her brother’s complaint. “It’s so curly. Are you sure that you’re Chinese?”

“It’s wavy. As wavy as yours, Amy. Or Dad’s.”

“You should get an Afro.”

No, he shouldn’t.” A tall slightly dark-skinned girl with dark hair in a pixie bob cut, wearing khaki shorts and a bright orange tank top crawled out of one of the tents to join the conversation. “You know, not being Asian, I shouldn’t really comment, but you five are horrible.”

“Nita!” Amy and May squealed.

Jason put his hands in his pockets and turned his face towards the ground. An errant yellow spike showed up under his drawn-up hoodie. Hi, Nita.”

Henry replied, “Nope, no standing at all, Miss Half-Kraut.”

“You know, being Half-Hispanic isn’t like being, say, half-Chinese. Half-Chinese means being a sickeningly cute kid who could make a fortune modelling in Hong Kong. Half-Hispanic is Hispanic or nothing. Hey! What’s with the hugging, girls?”

“We haven’t seen you in, like, forever, Nita!” Said May.

“Uhm, it’s been, like, two months since I was babysitting you guys.”

Amy said, “but we didn’t know you were dating Henry then!”

David reached out for Jason’s hoodie, asking, “Jason, have you been pissing your sister off again?” Jason jerked away.

 “What have you done to your brother, Amy?”

Amy reached over to Jason’s neck and plucked at something invisible. A tiny little silver watch on a chain appeared in her hand, and his hoodie collapsed as the spikes went away. “I tagged him with a charm while he was coming out of the bathroom. It sort of projects the hair of one of Jamie’s buddies on Jason through a lens made of reality, or something.”

“Emily!” Jason spat.

“Hos before bros, dude.”

“Amy!” Henry said.

“What? All the cool kids talk like that,” Amy said defensively.

“And what would Mom and Dad say if they heard that trash coming out of your mouth? What would Mr. Piccolo say?”

“How did you end up with such a square, Nita?” Amy asked.

“Just what I was asking myself,” David said.

“Where’s Andrew?” May asked.

“We broke up. I don’t think I’m cut out to be the monogamous type,” David replied, not without a note of regret.
“That’s what they all say, until it’s too late,” Nita observed. “Even my cuddly-wuddly widdle four-vertice geometric figure here.” Henry pulled Nita to him in a side hug. They were an amazingly tall couple, John noted.  Nita was only an inch shorter than the second-oldest Wong boy, and he looked to be 6 3”, his dad.

“Right. Because before we got together, I was totally enjoying my swinging nonagamous lifestyle, hon.”

“You should have asked me out sooner!”

“You were in high school!”

Nita folded up her free arm into a wing and flapped it while making chicken noises.

Henry let his shoulders slump dramatically. “Burned.”

“Where’s Jenny?” Jason asked.

Henry answered. “She’s visiting with Mom and Dad at ...” He looked at John for a moment,”....her boyfriend’s folk’s place.”

Well, fine. John had already got that the identity of Jenny’s boyfriend was one of those little mysteries that the Wong kids couldn’t share with him in case the Universe exploded. And, naturally, he’d investigated. After all, he knew the guy by sight. He was the guy who drove Jenny’s car to California back in September. The big, blond man that he’d seen the day that he arrived at the Wongs. At first, John had thought that the man was Emily and Jamie’s brother, Brad. They were the same height and colouring, even had the same, generic good looks that you associated with an FBI or UNTIL agent. But it stood to reason that girls liked a certain kind of guys, right? (The thought made John uncomfortable, as it always reminded him of the Super Junior M posters in Amy’s room. He didn’t look like those guys, and he certainly couldn’t dance like those guys. Why did it matter, though?) And when John looked at Brad’s picture in the Tatamy High year book, it was clear enough that they couldn’t be the same guy. The guy in the car was thinner, but bigger in the chest and shoulders, and at least a year older than Brad.

Aloud, John said, “It’s okay. I know you can’t tell me.”

David Wong took a long, curious look at him. “John. Good to see you again.”

“Uhm, have we met, sir? Because I don’t think that I remember you.” This was, after all, the man who had “reamed him out.” What did he know about John that John didn’t know? Did he know John’s family? The thought made John sad again, just like thinking about Super Junior.

“You might, son. Now, or eventually. I gather that you started laying down new long-term memories while you were still erasing the old ones. But it is going to be hard for you to make sense of them. And then messed them up a great deal when I checked you out. Not that you’ll remember much of that, either. Which brings us to our business today.”

John didn’t like the sound of that. “You’re going to probe me again, sir?”

“John, I know that it must feel like this is going to go on forever; but I’m not going to probe you today. We have something else on the agenda.”

That made John a bit angry. “If it isn’t going to go on forever, why isn’t there any progress? Why won’t anyone tell me anything? I want to know about my family!”

<David>: There has been progress, John. Your being here today is huge progress.
<John>: I only came here because ---This isn’t fair! I can’t lie telepathically!
<David>: Don’t worry, John. My lips, and mind, are sealed. You sort out your own feelings, and if you want to talk about them –fat chance, I know— I’ll be there. I hope that I don’t sound too square when I say that I’m hoping for the best for you and for my sister.  As for my changing your mind after considering your motives, don’t be silly. It’s not hard to guess a teenager’s motivations, and I’d already taken them into consideration.

Aloud, though, David only said, “There has been progress. In fact, I’m taking you off double secret probation right now.”

To the side, Jason chanted, “Toga! Toga!”

And Henry said, “I’m amazed that you have the attention span to watch those old movies, Jas.”

“Here’s my phone, bro. I’m going to show you this thing we kids have now. It’s called Youtube.”

“And?” John asked.

David replied, “Unfortunately, there won’t be a big info dump. You’ve made great emotional progress, but you need to get a great deal more powerful, too. “

A hiss and a puff of steam blew through the family reunion as Nita threw a bucket of water over the campfire, saying, “Today on a very special episode of The Partridge Family, the gang gets their butts in gear and climbs Monk’s Mountain at some point before May has to leave for work.”

Unfortunately, while Nita was just as awesome a gadgeteer as Henry was a master of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu, she wasn’t much of a drill sergeant. Noon found the gang well short of the peak, still more interested in talking and horseplay than actual climbing. May began checking her phone for the time every five minutes at 11:30, and half an hour later, had had enough. “Okay, guys. I’m going to have to take the east trail down now, or Ms. Benton will leave without me.”

There were the usual hugs and kisses, and then May headed off on the downslope trail at a far faster pace than John would have tried, The Captain loping along at her side. It wasn’t more than ten fifteen minutes after that that the Moon came out.
“That’s strange,” Henry said, a moment before wolves began howling very close by.

“Am I the only one who paid attention in class when Ms. Telmassar said that wolves were extinct in Pennsylvania?” Jason asked.

“Werewolves again?” John asked.

“Oh crap.” David said. Everyone, drop your packs.” It had turned out that the weight that Jason was carrying was canned relishes and syrups and vegetables for Henry and David, and it had been shared around. Now, in moments, all the packs were laid down on the side of the trail except Nita’s, which produced a series of gadgets.

“We could do with some reinforcements, here, David,” Henry said.

“That’d be a trick. Our phones aren’t working,” said Nita.

“Our phones aren’t working here? On the flank of Goblin Deep?” Henry replied. “What about conventional coverage?”

Nita punched at her phone’s sliding keyboard. “That’s down, too. Not everywhere in the valley. Just here.”

David sniffed. His nose looked a great deal like his mother’s John realised. “There’s magic at work here. I don’t recognise the style. But, and this day keeps getting better, I am reminded of the Demonologist.”

Suddenly, Henry was beside John, punching the air as hard as he could with the Eight Spirit Dragon Fist. Isn’t that a waste of chi energy, John thought to himself in the fraction of a moment before the terminus of Henry’s roundhouse swing caught a grey bolt in the air that turned into a wolf, its entire side bloody, flying through the air to strike a tree with a distinct crunching sound. John had to sympathise. A full-on Dragon Fist punch hit harder than Grond! Or, at least, Grond when he wasn’t angry about something, which was most of the time.

And yet the creature was twitching at  the foot of the tree until a gout of flame from a device Nita was holding up washed over it. The foul smell of burning fur filled the little opening of the forest trail, and the fire lit the unnatural darkness. Animal eyes glowed in the shrubbery.

“Kids! Back into the middle here. Henry, Nita! Form a perimeter. We can’t let these things bite one of the kids.” David’s voice was soft, but commanding.

“Can you get through to anyone psionically, David?” Henry asked.

“No. Nor magically. The werewolves are generating static.” David held up his hands, and a flash of eldritch energy lit up one of the werewolves in the darkness. It caught, and burnt silvery. Some instinct made John scan the scene looking for Amy. She was standing upside down on the branch of a tree right overhead, the makings of one of her mind lances in her hands. The blue, gray and white tartan jacket that she had tied around her waist that morning when it started to get warm on the trail hung around her shoulder, almost close enough for John to reach up and touch. Beside him, Jason grunted, and it was his turn to swat a darting werewolf out of the air. He didn’t do as much damage as his brother, but it was a good hit. Then another werewolf darted in and grabbed his ankle. Jason’s skin was too hard for the were’s fangs to break, but it got a good grip on Jason’s sock.

John lashed out with  his foot. He connected hard, too. He was getting stronger, whatever David said. But the move was a mistake, as yet another were lunged from the darkness, and Jason threw the telekinetic block that he’d been holding. A third were flew backwards into a tree. Good aim, John thought to himself, but his blows were even less powerful than Jason’s. That would not be enough to keep the were down. Reflecting behind him he saw silvery fire and real; some of their team had firepower that worked. It....

“Flame me, Nita!” John yelled.

“What? No!” Amy said.

“Amy! Don’t break cover!” David said. “Nita. Do it!”

Nita aimed a short blast of her little flamethrower at John. It was still enough to almost overwhelm his shields, but just as in his last fight, he could feel the energy accumulating inside him, ready to be used. He lashed out with flame of his own, and another were’s eyes were suddenly surrounded by fire as its pelt caught.

But there were too many of them, and, now, a shadowy figure slid over the trail between the tips of the trees. All the flame that the heroes had so far lit was sucked into it, where it glowed in reverse, and a searchlight beam shone down, illuminating Amy. “Crap.” David said quietly. “Someone has to get up to the cell tower on the summit and use the landline there, while some of us are still alive. Any fliers here?”

“Me,” John said.

Henry caught two weres in mid-air as they lept, and threw them away fast enough to block one coming low with his knee. “That’s a great plan,” he said. “How are any of us going to get clear in time?” The were he blocked wiggled on the ground and tried for his ankles, but was illuminated by an electric arc that sent more charred fur smell into the air. Nita was watching over her boyfriend.

And then a gigantic yellow horse came running up the trail, dancing amongst more werewolves that tried to bring it down. A hoof met the skull of a werewolf that melted very messily. The overhanging shadow gathered itself and rushed the Lion Stallion, which met it rearing. The weres hesitated in the face of the new entrants into the fight,  and John launched himself straight into the air, straining as he threw everything into the air to push himself faster and higher. Somehow in his mind, he could see the dark thing turn from the Lion Stallion to chase him, only to catch Amy’s mind lance full on. Not only did the bolt stop it, it turned it solid enough for Amy to tackle it in mid air, swinging her fist into its cloudy, wispy texture. John winced at the impact of Amy falling on top of the dark thing as it hit the root-tangled ground, gravity assisted and accelerated by Amy’s own brand of telekinesis.

I hope that she’s alright. I hope that the werewolves don’t get her, John thought as he broke through the mysterious darkness and into the light of noon, with the four-sided summit of Monk’s Mountain, and the high antenna of the cell tower rushing at him. Another dark thing rose from the base of the tower as he rushed at it. John threw the last bit of Nita’s fire at it, and followed up by colliding with it as hard as he could. It worked as well for him as it had for Amy. The thing tore under the fist that he pushed out ahead of his face like Superman in the movies, or Vanguard in real life, knocking Doctor Destroyer off his palace on the National Mall.

And then John was rushing the rocky summit far faster than seemed safe. He threw up his force shield and tried to slow down, but his fist and his arm still slewed and cracked and bent when he hit. The pain was blinding. John threw up in his mouth and into the ground abrading his face as he ploughed to a stop. He could barely move to clear the vomit for the pain.
An eternity later, John was holding his phone in his unbroken left hand, trying to dial with fingers that trembled too much to even tap his Contacts list. If the phone worked, had he succeeded? Or would he know before the call was dropped? Were the werewolves coming for him? He  heard a noise. He was dead. They were all dead. Amy was dead.

From far overhead on the back of the Lion Stallion, Henry said, “That’s one mess you’ve made of your arm, son. Let me get that for you.” And the pain got a lot worse.

And then it was, well, not okay, but at least bearable. Henry couldn’t heal the arm all the way, but he put the bones back inside where they belonged, while the horse stood overhead, looking concerned in a horsey way.

By the time that Henry was done with his kung fu healing, David had flown up, something that he could apparently do when he wasn’t casting battle magic instead. David set splints on his fingers and put John’s arm in a sling before infusing him with gentle energy to balance the blood that he had lost, during which time Jason ran up, followed at last by Nita, carrying Amy on an improvised flight platform. Amy sat on the platform, with her own arm in a matching sling. John thought, was very cool, or something, that they both had slings.

Moments later, the kids were gathered around a hastily-set fire under the lee of a rocky outcrop just below the summit on the eastern side while the older heroes consulted worriedly over something about the rock itself, and the Lion Stallion headed off down the western trail by itself. Well, if  none of the Wongs were worried that their prized breeding stallion was taking walks on its own, neither was John.“What happened to all the werewolves and the daylight sucking monster?” John asked.

“They cleared out as soon as our cells started working again,” Amy said. “Knew they were licked. You saved the day, John!”

“No, you saved the day by getting me clear of the thingie, Amy.”

“That was more the Lion Stallion than me.”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Actually, David got his mindlink with Jenny working before either of you decided to ignore the manufacturer’s specifications on your arms. The werewolves would have had half the Liberty Legion on their magical little tails in another minute or so.”

Henry came strolling down the slope. “Perhaps this little ambush wasn’t even about us. Someone’s tampered with the entrance to the Goblin Deep recently. The security system has been triggered.”

“Er,” Amy said, “Can someone help me with my phone?”

David came up behind Henry. “Oh dear. What have you done now, sis?”

“He was just leaving his phone lying around where any of the building contractors could get it. There’s not even a password on it. So I changed his security codes.”

“Him being Mr. McNeery. He could have set off the alarm just calling the mainframe to check in on us,” David said. Amy nodded. “And how did you get the password for Goblin Deep?” David continued.

“I might have downloaded a key logger onto Mr. McNeery’s phone,” Amy said.

“There’s a key logger on the Apps Store?” David asked.

“No. He jailbroke the phone. I got one at a hacker site.” Amy answered. “An ethical hacker site.”

“Splendid. Shall we turn off the alarm before the Liberty League, Justice Squadron, and who all knows besides shows up here?” Amy nodded, and tapped her phone a few times. Nothing obvious changed, except that a circle in the middle of the rock outcrop turned into a door that looked just like the ones that blocked the tunnels that the kids couldn’t access down below Tatammy High. It opened, showing a metal-walled tunnel beyond. “After you, children,” David said. “John has an appointment with a Malvan Integrated Consciousness Detangler that Tara, Tony and I brought back from space in 2003. I’d also like to run some tests on Emily’s little charm with it. I’ve a feeling that it’ll project a consciousness just as easily as it does hairstyles.”

Jason whispered, loud enough for the Lion Stallion to hear halfway down the mountain, “We’re going to see Goblin Deep!”
“One Goblin Deep,” David said. “And then I’m going to call Tony to see if he can get his uncle to be a little more careful while he still has secrets to keep.”

Technically, the Eight Spirit Dragon punch that I ripped off the Spirit Fist writeup is a naked Armour-Piercing (+1/2) advantage on a punch, which, with Martial Arts bonus and chi augmentation can go up to 14d6. That's actually substantially more active points than Grond's STR 90 18d6 punch. But then, Grond can add up to +20 (4d6) to his punch, or Haymaker, or something. Henry's full-on punch expects 14x3.5 Stun/14 Body, subtracting half the Physical Defence/resistant Physical Defence of a werewolf. Using the Hero System Bestiary, that isn't a lot of PD, and the power of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu is wasted. Worse, with 16 Body, the werewolf actually lives, albeit Stunned out of the fight. Knockback would finish it off, but, with its 50% Damage Reduction, the werewolf survives even this to regenerate quite quickly! If dungeons & Dragons hasn't lied to me, a magic punch gets through werewolf damage reduction on any reasonable conversion between systems. But I didn't want to deal with all of that, so I set it on fire instead. 

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