Disclaimer: Again, most of the characters mentioned in this are not mine, they’re Klasky-Csupo’s property and I hope they don’t mind me using them because I can’t pay any fees at the moment (ah, the life of a starving college student…). Between concept is Anne McCaffrey’s. (no, I’m not very original, really. ;) Kiersten is mine, everybody else is their own. ;) TTFN! Tigger for Prez!
Chapter 6: New School Blues
Over the weekend, Kiersten continued learning about her powers. She could grow to double her size, flame anything on sight, and perfected her flying and "going between." The next day she was excited about, though. She would finally be introduced to the Academy as an exchange student. It meant giving up the private room she was staying in to go live in the dorm, but that was just peachy with her. Staying alone was just that… lonely. There wasn’t much to do, but she was too exhausted from the day’s activities to do much more than sleep anyhow once she got in for the night. Plus, she was still dying to see Ickis again. He was pretty much the only friend she had at the moment, and she missed him terribly.
Ickis ran out of the classroom, heading for Kiersten’s temporary quarters. What would she look like after the transformation? Where would she be staying? Would the Gromble be keeping her under lock and key? Too many questions to be answered flooded his mind as he raced through the halls.
Kiersten recognized Ickis’s footfalls as soon as she heard him. She sprang up and glided out into the hall, nearly colliding with him, but deftly looped around him twice, then backwinged and landed softly next to him. "Ickis! Is it good to see you!"
"Kiersten! You look great!"
"Yer not too bad yerself there, bunny-boy," she drawled back.
"Where are you staying?"
"Er, uhh, well… haven’t found out yet. Oh, here’s the Gromble. Let’s ask him."
The Gromble stared at her with a rather bland expression on his face for minutes after she asked the question, then pulled her aside and turned his back to Ickis, blocking his view. He saw Kiersten stick her neck up to look at him, but the Gromble quickly pushed it back down, keeping her full attention. He was going to have problems with her, Ickis thought. She had too much spirit to be completely controlled by him like the other students. She’d get herself Snorched for sure, and he knew she’d fight back with all her might. In fact, Ickis wondered who would get more torture out of it: Kiersten, or the Snorch and Zimbo?
"Kiersten, I have been considering this and…" Kiersten braced herself as if bad news was in store. This was always the way people brought bad news up, and she was pretty sure monsters were no exception. "…if Ickis checks with his dorm-mates and they say it is all right, you may stay with them. If not…" The dragon peeked over his shoulder to see if Ickis had heard the news or not. Her head was quickly lowered by an angry gloved hand. "AHEM… If not, I shall place you with some of the other students. You WILL behave. I will have no nonsense in this school from you OR anyone else. Is that clear? If anyone is giving you trouble, report them to me immediately and they will be dealt with in an… appropriate manner. However, if you decide to make trouble, you will be immediately returned to your human form. Understand?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you." She hugged the less-than-willing instructor. He sighed and pushed her back, smiling, but firm, and handed her a small pouch of human toenails.
"Here is you month’s allowance. This should cover your meals, activities, et cetera, et cetera. Go collect your things while I talk to Ickis about your more-permanent accommodations."
Kiersten did as she was told, giving Ickis a big, toothy grin as she passed him. He looked around at her confusedly, but quickly turned back to face the Gromble, who stood a threatening presence above him. Kiers hoped his roommates would be okay with this idea. She liked Ickis, and the way he talked about Krumm and Oblina, she thought that they’d probably be agreeable. She slung her pack over her wings, so that it settled comfortably against her back, and bounced off toward Ickis on all fours, happy as a lark in spring.
"Ickis, you brought in the first human?"
"Uh-huh," he answered Oblina’s unbelieving question smugly.
"So that’s where you were the other night!" Krumm realized.
"Uh-huh," he repeated.
Krumm thought aloud, tossing and catching the eye in one hand. "We do have plenty of room in here…"
"And she does only know Ickis… it would be rather uncomfortable for her with monsters she’s never met OR heard of," Oblina added.
"Oh please, oh please, oh please…" the little red monster whispered under his breath.
"It’s fine with me," Krumm decided. "The more, the smellier."
"Well, I don’t know…" Oblina started.
"PLEASE???" the other two begged in unison.
"I’m not sure if…"
"Rrghh! All right!" she snapped to stop their whining. "BUT if she bothers us or interferes with our studying…"
"You mean your studying…"
"…or other things like that, she’s out. Deal?"
"You betcha!" Ickis shouted triumphantly and zoomed out of the dorm room to tell Kiersten the news.
"Oh yeah!" Kiersten celebrated. "Ickis, you da man! …er, monster!"
"Come on in. We’ll get you set up."
"Kewlies," she replied, stepping through the heavy-looking iron door that looked more like it belonged on a submarine than a dorm.
"Kiersten, this is Oblina and Krumm."
"Howdy! Ickis has told me a lot about you two. Good to finally meet you."
"He hasn’t been saying anything good about us, I hope?" Oblina winked.
"Naw… just all the bad stuff," the dragon winked back. "Umm… I guess the corner is mine, then?"
"Yeah. Come on. We’ll help you find a bed somewhere above ground."
After much debate over using an old sprung mattress or a doorless refrigerator, Kiersten finally decided that half of a big tractor tire filled with cotton batting (and propped up with a two by four so it wouldn’t rock) was preferable. Wrestling the tire through the tunnels wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be… for one thing, she was a lot narrower now herself, and the tire bent in the middle and was dragged along easily between herself and Krumm, who held his eyes in his mouth to help out. This done, she had just enough time to spread out her things quickly before dinner. She was starved. What were they having, anyway? Well, no duh, it would be garbage… after all, they did live in a dump. What specifically, she couldn’t even guess.
The four monsters walked to the cafeteria together, Ickis explaining this and that to Kiersten along the way. She hadn’t expected to see so many monsters all at once; there were probably three hundred in the cafeteria when they arrived, and even more on their way in! She gulped uncomfortably, but followed Ickis and Krumm to the food line. She wound up selecting a healthy portion of aluminum cans in a sauce that smelled like oil and battery acid (and for some reason this piqued her appetite), styrofoam chips, some kind of soup, and a scoopful of wiggly purple stuff that was being served for dessert. Why did it do that anyway? *Oh well,* she thought. Just so long as it wasn’t’ like that sludge she’d had at camp a few years back. They called it salisbury steak… she swore it had tried to crawl off her plate to visit its neighbor on the next tray. *Moooooo!*
She set her tray down next to Ickis’s and sat down. Krumm and Oblina sat across from them. Ickis snapped his claws. "Darn… forgot to get anything to drink. Anybody want anything?"
"A medium slimeade, if you would, Icky?" Oblina asked.
"Nothing for me," Krumm said.
She got a confused look on her face. "Uhhh… just bring me whatever’s good."
Ickis nodded and headed off for the line. "Be right back!"
Kiersten began munching on her supper slowly, feeling rather awkward wihtout Ickis around. Conversation had never been one of her strong points. She stirred the soup around with the bent spoon she’d been given and jumped back as a huge roach floated to the surface. Krumm and Oblina stared at her as if she was completely insane.
"Sorry," she explained. "Reflex. You guys actually eat these uglies?"
"Of course," said Oblina. "Why? Don’t you?"
"Well, no, not regularly… or intentionally. I hear there’s some guy who’s perfecting the use of bugs in human cooking, but that hasn’t really caught on with most folks. Too disgusting." She poked the roach again experimentally with her spoon, to see if the darned thing was still alive. To her relief, it wasn’t. "I mean, I’m all about cultural foods and everything, but jeez… they couldn’t start me out slow?"
Krumm snickered. "Better get used to it. Better yet, I’ll take it if you don’t want it…"
"Krumm, you leave her and her food alone! Go ahead, Kiersten," Oblina half-laughed. "Try it, before it crawls away!" Kiersten gave her an agahst grimace.
"Oh well," she sighed. "Slimy, yet satisfying… Hakuna matata… slimy, yet satisfying…" She squared her shoulders, scooped the bug up and closed her eyes as she dumped it into her mouth, crunching down on the hard shell. A pleasant saltiness filed her mouth. "Hmmm! Quite good, actually." She looked down at her tray and scraped the escaping purple stuff (which she determined to be maggots) back into the bowl. "Guess dessert wants to take it on the lam…" Both of the other monsters snickered, and a few around them stared at the new student. "What??" she asked, loud enough for all the eavesdropping monsters to hear. Most of them turned back around to their own tables, whispering or trying to listen in.
"Well, uh…" Krumm started, "…it’s just that I’ve never seen any monster react to bugs like that…"
"Oh, well, is that all…" She rolled her eyes. "Just because bugs traumatized me as a kid. Gnat bites, having a grasshopper get its leg stuck in my eyelid while I was riding my bike… crashed and nearly broke my leg with that one… Oh, and then there was the time when I was playing Sardines with my friends…"
"Sardines?" the plump monster asked hopefully.
"A game," Kiersten explained. "One person hides, and the others try to find them and scrunch down next to them until you’re all packed in like sardines…"
"Oh," Krumm said disappointedly. "Go on."
"Anyways, I sat down on a log right behind a bush, and pretty soon, I feel all these little tickles on my legs and back. I thought it was just that I’d sat in a weird position. Well, Erica found me first, and by that time I started feeling those little tickles all over… and Erica looks over at me and shrieks to wake the dead and jumps up swatting at her legs, and naturally that scared me, so I jump up too and start swatting… and by now I’d figured out that that LOG was an enormous ANT colony, and Erica and I were completely covered in these little black ants… the kind that bite, too!"
By this time, Krumm had completely broken up, and Oblina, who had been trying to keep her composure while eating yelled for Kiersten to stop before she laughed skenkum out of her nose. When Ickis finally got back with the drinks, he found all three of them nearly rolling on the table with laughter which was so contagious many of the monsters around them were busting up as well. "Did I miss something?" he said. All of them looked up at him, trying to let him in on the joke, but couldn’t seem to recapture their powers of speech, so he just sat down with the drinks and began eating his dinner, maggots first.
Her first day of class was fairly simple. She was introduced to the class as the human exchange student, and the Gromble asked her to present a few of her scares which she’d done as a human, all of which received high amounts of applause. She answered some various questions about humans and human nature, as well as gave some scaring recommendations to the class. Lunch was a delightful worm-ridden salad, followed by a lecture by the Gromble on certain scare techniques. Her one assignment for the next day (and it would be a breeze, she was sure) was to scare the pants off an eight-year old. Of course, she knew where to get an eight-year old: either Lauren or Erica. Erica wasn’t the easiest to scare, of course, used to Kiersten’s antics by this time. Lauren however, would probably be an easy target. She also figured she’d wait until later, just around the time it was getting dark. Lauren tended to leave the lights off until the last possible moment, and sometimes freaked herself out this way! In the meantime, she sat down against a wall and pulled her notebook out to draw. Up until now, it had been a good day.
Kiersten almost didn’t notice when two large feet stopped in front of her, except that they stayed there for an exceptionally long time. She looked up and gave the monster in front of her a friendly smile. "Hi."
"So you’re the human, huh?"
"Yeah," she answered rather uncomfortably.
"I don’t like humans," he snarled. The dragon could tell he wasn’t there to make friends, and, not being in the best position to defend herself, squooshed up to the wall as tightly as she could, clutching her notebook and pencil in her claws. He stared down at her intimidatingly for a few moments, relishing the fact that he had her trapped, apparently. Then he saw her book and snatched it away from her faster than she could react. "What’s this? Some weird hyooman book?"
"Hey! Gimme that back!" she yelled, jumping to her feet and struggling to get her diary back from him. He grinned evilly and held the book over her head, daring her to jump for it. She didn’t, knowing full well that she’d tear it apart in the process. Several other monsters in the hall had gathered around and were watching helplessly as the bully tortured Kiersten by flipping through the pages, making deriding comments about humans and all their pretty drawings.
"Oooo… look at this! A pretty little castle!" He tore the page out, crumpled it, and smashed it under one elephantine foot. "And a little birdie… how cute!"
"Stop it!" Kiersten shouted at him, again trying to grab her book back.
"Yeah, Glurge, cut it out!" one of the other monsters added.
"Leave the poor kid alone!"
Glurge glared at the surrounding group as if they were flies buzzing at him. "And which one of you is gonna make me?" He continued flipping through the notepad and tearing pages out as he saw fit. The sketch of Lisa joined the crushed pile under Glurge’s foot. Kiersten couldn’t be glad enough to see that one smashed to pieces, but was still angered by the principle of the matter: her diary being destroyed.
"Glurge, give her her book," Ickis said from behind him. Kiersten shot him a thankful look, but Ickis didn’t see it, busy confronting the bullying monster. "Go get your kicks somewhere else."
"Strong words, hippity-hop, but what can you do to help your little human girlfriend here?"
"I never said she was my girlfriend," Ickis said harshly, narrowing his eyes at Glurge.
"Well, I think THIS would say otherwise, wouldn’t you?" Glurge flipped the notebook back to one of Kiersten’s sketches of Ickis by the old tree. Ickis looked shocked and altogether taken aback by the whole situation. Kiersten blushed and put a hand over her face to hide the embarrassment of having her diary not only read and torn apart, but shown to her friend as being something it wasn’t.
"It’s not true!" she said sharply. "Ickis, I swear it’s not. I draw all my close friends in there. See for yourself." She trusted Ickis enough to look through her diary, especially since she knew he would see the truth for himself. Ickis met her eyes with a bewildered yet trustful look, and he made a grab for the little pink book.
Glurge whipped the hand with the book back before Ickis ever touched it. "I don’t think so. Oohh, and here’s one of the Gromble too! Aren’t we just the perfect little teacher’s pet?" Kiersten stared at him angrily, having no response to his taunt. Glurge flipped back a few pages, seeing he was at the end of the drawings, opening it wide to the page where she’d drawn her parents. "And who are these? Two more ‘fraidy humans! Aren’t they just sickeningly sweet?" He showed the picture around the circle of monsters, not letting any of them get close enough to take the diary. "Who are they, human, yer stupid, ditzy parents?"
"Leave my parents out of this," she growled from low in her throat.
"Oooh, I’m really scared of the puny little human!" he pretended and threatened to tear the page from the wire spiral that held everything together.
Kiersten’s rage built even further as she refused to play the bully’s little game any longer. Insulting her was one thing… tearing her book apart was another… insulting her parents was going way too far. Her eyes began glowing with a deep, blood red as she lowered her head and spread her wings over her back threateningly at the monster. Calling what he thought was a bluff, Glurge tore through the first four perforations, and a few more as this only made her angrier. The large reptile hissed furiously as her scales set themselves on edge. Glurge, not about to give, ripped more segments of the page from their anchor, leaving it hanging at an unnatural angle from the open book.
In a fluid movement, the cowed and defenseless girl became an angry tower of scale and wing. Rearing up on her hindlegs, her yellow stomach plating glinting in the half-blocked light from the hall as her wings filled the rest of the expanse. Staring amazedly up at the blood-red eyes and jaws lined with teeth, Glurge realized he’d made the mistake of challenging a living arsenal. Kiersten roared with all the force of a hurricane, enough to shake every wall in the academy. Glurge paled and dropped the book, bolting away as fast as his thick legs would carry him. The mad dragon blew a stream of fire at the spot where he’d just been standing, dropped to all fours and chased after him.
Ickis picked up her diary by its cover and followed, right behind her. "Kiersten! Wait!" A few of the other monsters looked at one another and followed slowly behind him.
Glurge hurriedly pounded the door of the Gromble’s lair, hoping to find some refuge behind the thick wooden doors, or more probably, behind the Gromble as the dragon was rapidly catching up to him. "Help!" he squeaked and barged his way in as the old monster opened his mouth to yell.
"Mr Glurge! What is going on here?!"
"She’s tryin’ to kill me!"
"Who is?" His question was answered as Kiersten came crashing through the hallway with a string of his students right behind her.
"Kiersten, wait!" Ickis pleaded, pulling her back by her tail. "You don’t wanna do this!"
"Oh, yes I do!" she snarled back, trying to whip her tail out of his claws. "I’m gonna TEAR HIS THROAT OUT!!!" she thundered, loud enough to make dust fall from the ceiling in several places.
"But he dropped the book!" a girl monster, Dizzle, told her, and waved the diary so Kiersten could see it.
"It’s not about the book!"
"What is it about then? You can always draw more pictures of your parents when you go back home…"
Kiersten snorted and rumbled at the monster behind her. "I have no home, Dizzle, and my parents are dead. This," she said grabbing the book and facing the mangled picture toward Dizzle, "is all I have left of them, and HE," she yelled, jabbing a claw at Glurge, who was hiding behind the Gromble and ducked down even further as she did so, "insulted me AND them, and nearly destroyed my diary!"
"MISS KIERSTEN!" the Gromble yelled, loud enough to snap her out of growling and panting. The red light behind her eyes died out as she looked up to him. The Gromble paused for a long while in the silence, thinking to himself. "Everyone back to whatever you were doing. And say goodbye to Mr. Glurge," he said, picking the younger monster up by the scruff of his neck. "He won’t be joining us in class anymore." Glurge looked aghast… he hadn’t expected that little stunt to get him expelled! The Gromble looked to Kiersten. "That’s quite a loud roar you have. Why not go above ground and try it out on some humans now, hmmm?"
"Yeah, but…" she started.
"Ickis, take her above ground and let her get all of this out of her system."
"Yes sir, your Grombleness," Ickis replied promptly and began dragging Kiersten off by her tail.
"I can go on my own," she said huffily, lifting up both her tail and Ickis with it.
"No," replied the Gromble. "Take Ickis with you. He could learn a few things about scaring from you."
Both of them exchanged grimaces and headed off toward the passage that would take them up to the dump. Dizzle and a couple of the other monsters followed along beside them. "Hey, Kiersten," Dizzle asked, handing the diary back to its rightful owner, "could you teach me how to do that eye thing?"
"Yeah! That was great! And how’d you get all your scales to stick out like that?"
"Well, I dunno… they just kinda did that on their own…"
"Geez… my feet hurt!"
"Sorry. If I’d known it was so far away, I’d’ve just teleported here instead." Kiersten flopped out on the grass behind "her" house. "Phew! I must’ve run further than I thought!"
The two of them sat and rested for a few minutes in silence before Ickis brought up what Kiersten knew he was going to. "Kiers, about what Glurge said… about you having a squish on me…"
"Squish? Oh, like a crush, I guess."
"Yeah… sorta like that… erm…"
"Well, no… yes.. Oh, hell, I don’t know! Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, and what does it matter anyway? You were never supposed to see my diary in any case!"
Ickis backed down. "Geez… sorry! Forget I ever asked!" Changing the subject, he began looking around. "Not a bad place," he finally said. "I mean, no place for a monster to live, but still…"
Kiersten chuckled. "You should’ve seen it before we cleaned it up! C’mon, I’ll show you around." She gave her new friend a grand tour of her house and explained some things about the colony. Cautiously, she looked out one window for some sign of the colonists on the street. "That’s odd… nobody’s outside. They’re usually all out at this time of day. Hmm…"
"Maybe they’re all taking a nap?"
"Somehow I doubt it. I wonder…" Giving her house a once-over, she did notice a few things out of place… meaning that someone had been in looking for something. And Kiersten figured that it was probably her inheritance that they were after. Checking the crawl space in her bedroom closet, she was relieved that they hadn’t found it. "Maybe they ran out of food and everybody left?" she postulated. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"Lauren’s. The Geemur Loyale would stick around through anything save starvation." The dragon jumped into the air and snagged Ickis up in her claws, taking them between up to Lauren’s backyard. The two of them carefully peeked in through the back windows, but saw no sign of the kid. Kiersten motioned for Ickis to follow her through the screen door, which was never locked, and up the sun-room stairs to the main house. Ickis occupied himself by going through some of the knick-knacks in the living room while Kiersten checked the kitchen (and stole a cookie from the cookie jar) for her friend. *Where the heck could she be?* thought the dragon.
A sudden knock at the door sent both of the monsters into panic mode. Kiersten ducked down in the kitchen, while Ickis, having no better place to hide, attempted to make himself fit in with the various painted miniature totems on Lauren’s shelves. Seconds later, the door swung open and Libbi stepped in. "Lauren? Lauren, I know you’re in here."
"Back here…" the little girl called from the master bedroom. Kiersten followed close behind Libbi, stalking on completely silent dragon feet. Libbi sensed something, but it was gone when she turned around. Kiersten, meanwhile, popped out of between in one of the spare bedrooms.
"Lauren, I don’t think she’s coming back. She hasn’t been home for almost two weeks now, and nobody on watch has seen her." Kiersten perked her ears toward the room they were in. She knew she shouldn’t spy on them, but hey, what was the harm?
"Maybe she’s hurt."
"Or maybe she just doesn’t want to come back. That was brutal. Lisa and Jenn don’t know what they’re doing… and worse, they brought some of the others into that fascist uprising of theirs! The nerve of getting Devon to… Rrrrgghhh!"
"She knew it was happening. She told me about it. Something’s wrong. She’d never just abandon us like this, would she?" Kiersten hung her head. She’d never thought about them when she’d run off… only about getting away from Lisa and Jenn and those horrid smiles. She shuddered thinking about it.
"I don’t know, Geems…" Libbi said absently. "It sure seems that way. I’d better go, before the dictators find out I’m not raiding the other houses."
Libbi shrugged. "We gotta eat, and those geniuses can’t find where Kiersten stashed the moolah," she laughed. "Kiers sure must’ve hid it good. Anyway, we gotta raid the houses for cash.
"Not a chance. As long as I’m not forced into working like you guys, I’m stayin’ right here to read my book!"
"Suit yourself. See ya at dinner in an hour."
The dark-haired girl escorted herself out, taking one odd look at Lauren’s shelf o’ stuff and making a comment about how her taste was declining. Ickis unfroze as soon as the door closed behind her, and caught up with Kiersten in the hall. Seeing no opportunity to sneak up on her target 8-year old, the dragon sprang through the door, splaying out her wings and foreclaws and roaring to rival a t-rex while she whipped her tail about. Lauren jumped off the bed screaming at the top of her lungs, then fainted. Kiersten did not fail to notice that the kid’s jeans, probably too loose for her anyway, had dropped down around her ankles in the process.
"Oh, she is gonna kill me when she finds out about this!"
"It’s all going wrong here, Ickis. They need me. And soon!"
Ickis blinked at her.
"But how to tell her about it… I need Lauren; she’s my best friend and probably the only source of hope the others have right now! How… no phone, so no answering machine. Ah! Duh. A note!" She headed back to the kitchen and dug a notepad out of a drawer Lauren obviously hadn’t cleaned out yet and scrawled a message:
How’ve you been? Hope all is going well. Don’t let Lise and Jenn get you down. I promise I’ll be back soon. I can’t come back right now; I have some things I need to take care of. Will try to be back in a few more weeks, if not sooner. Keep it secret! They can’t know I’m coming back. Can’t explain why right now. Never lose Hope… that’s why we’re here in the first place!
Love ya, Kid!
She looked over her note and sighed. Ickis noticed. "You two were close?"
"Thick as thieves. They betrayed me, but I betrayed them at the same time. I told her I’d be back in a few weeks. That’ll keep her eating, at least."
"That’s good. Let’s get going… I don’t wanna miss dinner."
"You’re getting as bad as Krumm!" she teased.
"And we are NOT taking your route back!"
Ickis put his claws on his hips and imitated her. "’No, we’re not lost, Ickis. I know exactly where we are!’"
"And I did, too! I just… took the wrong shortcut!"
"Well, we’re taking MY way back this time! Come on." He led her down the hall to the bathroom, where he gestured at the toilet. "After you."
She stared at him for a minute, wondering if it was all a joke. "You’re kidding, right?"
"Get in. It’ll take us back to the dump a lot quicker than you and your route."
"Oh, yeah right!" she said, but nonetheless complied and stepped into the toilet with a disgusted look on her face. "Now what? AAA!!" Ickis flushed the toilet and hopped in after she had been sucked down, skidding out of the pipe into the sewer.
"There, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?"
"You wouldn’t be so eager if you knew what really comes out of those things… or what we’ll be walking in, it looks like…yucchh…"