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The stone floor was cold. The chill had no problem seeping through the thin linen shift she wore. Dacy shivered slightly and turned her head to get a better view of the large stone room. She felt small and vulnerable, sitting in the middle of such a space. Maybe it was supposed to be intimidating. If so, it was working. Dacy swallowed nervously, looking around at the mystical items surrounding her and at the mages who were talking quietly with each other. Some were consulting books. Her skin was crawling because of the magic that was in the air. She could actually feel it. She wondered if that was normal. Now that she was here, a chorus of second thoughts battered at her mind, wailing to be heard now!, but she'd blocked them out pretty well. Dacy tucked a stray strand of long brown hair behind an ear, and settled her hands in her lap, concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly to calm herself. She sure hoped those mages weren't still trying to figure out how to do this....

            "Miss Davis?" Karielle had come up next to her unnoticed while she was looking around. "We're almost ready to begin. I will ask you one last time. Are you still certain you want to do this?"

            Dacy took one last deep, calming breath and looked at her steadily. At least, she hoped it was steadily. "I am," she replied, mentally slamming another wall in place to quiet the howling objections clamoring to be heard. She'd thought this through. She'd made her decision. She wasn't looking back. Nerves were natural, she reassured herself.

            "Then, we are ready to begin.  Remember what I said. Hold onto your mental images, no matter what."

            "How long will this take?" Dacy asked.

            "In real time, not long at all. Your experience may be...a little different. Prepare yourself, please."

 

Dacy collected her thoughts and built an image in her mind of who she was now. Tall, long thick brown hair, big brown eyes, stubborn, persistant, independent, eager, friendly... she went down the list, adding details as she went, as many as she could. What she liked to do, her feelings for Trick, the way she stood, what she didn't like... When she was done, she mentally held that image, and then changed some things. Stronger. Able to fight. Able to stand up to anything. A protector. Fast. Tough. Still stubborn. When she felt she had both images held clearly in her mind, she nodded to the mages. And in an instant, the world went mad.

 

She was no longer in the room she had been in. She could see nothing but herself...her perception twisted, so she was both inside herself, and outside herself. A curious double image of herself. The images shimmered like a mirage on a hot summer day, suddenly, as she was slammed by waves of intense agony. Shocked and disoriented, her mind grappled for equilibrium as she reeled under the pain. Freed from the restraints she'd placed on them, her doubts assailed her, clawing at her mind as an immense psychic pressure began pushing at her. It invaded her, seeking to know her, poking and prodding through her being, asking questions she felt rather than heard. Who? What? Why? Panicked, feeling herself slipping back as the...thing pushed, relentless, she struggled, fighting back against this violation with everything she had, but still felt like she was being pushed towards an abyss somewhere behind her, and there was nothing to fight. She was in a timeless moment of eternity, unable to affect anything around her. She had no idea how long she'd been locked in a futile struggle against the force, desperately trying to stop the hemmorhage of her very essence. All other matters ceased to exist, as her world collapsed into a singularity of pain and combat.

 

Remember...hold on...

 

Something stirred in her memory. A faint directive, barely there at all. What? Somewhere, lost in a sea of pain and the fog of distraction, something was struggling to surface in her mind. Something important. If she could only remember what it was...or why it was important.

 

Concentrate...no matter what... The words were important. She knew the words were important. She wished she knew what they meant. She battled on, but she was losing ground. She was losing herself.

 

An image...hold on... Teetering on the edge of the abyss, comprehension bloomed. With a click, it all fell into place. The images! Where were they? Were they gone? Was she lost? Desperately, she looked past the thing that was, yet wasn't there, searching with her eyes, and now her mind. Where? She'd seen them. Who she was. Who she would be. The thing poked at her again. She teetered, off balance....there! A glimmer, a ghost, but still there! The pain tore at her mind. She ignored it. I'm DACY! she screamed soundlessly at the nearly nonexistant phantom, willing it to Become. The image took on more substance. The thing prodded her, pushing...and suddenly, she realized what it was. With a triumphant cry, she embraced it. Who? What? Why? it insisted. Me, she showed it. This, she explained, pouring her image of Will Be into her reply. The second, slightly different image took on more substance.  And Because...she began, but as she watched, willing the images to become more substantial yet, she felt a torrent of her dreams and desires and frustrations being pulled from her in an almost visual stream. Before her eyes, a glowing connection appeared between the two images of herself.

 

The spell was not yet done with her. Wordlessly, it pressured her to step forward. This time, she did not fight. She stepped up to the stream, which glowed with a golden light.  Join! Complete! was the inarticulate command she felt. She was confused. How? she responded. Now! Complete! it insisted, and pushed her forward, into the stream. The pain increased, battering her, demanding she abandon herself again, but this time, she focused through the torment on who she was. There was a strange shift in her perception.  She realized she was now looking through the eyes of her image of Dacy who Is, at the Dacy who Will Be, who was at the end of the golden stream. Determined, she focused in on what she wished to be, shutting out the agony coursing through her mind and body, pushing past invisible forces which pressured and blocked her from her goal. She bent her whole being towards her task, inching closer to what Will Be, with room for nothing else in her head. I....WILL....BE!!!

 

A sudden snap, followed by the sensation of falling endlessly, and her world went black.

 

 

 

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Trick Dacy's brow furrowed with annoyance. He put aside the report he'd been working on for Solomon, and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose in an effort to dull the pain of a headache that was threatening to get much worse. He hated loose ends. It bothered him, more than he'd admitted to anyone, that he'd never been able to locate Manitoba again. For one thing, he'd never gotten to give the creep a piece of his mind for double selling and getting Mac killed. But a chance to chew him out was minor, compared to his other concerns. He'd really like to get more information and insight into whether or not Manitoba had been trying to get Trick offed, and who he had gotten the lowdown from. That night, it had been too hectic to be able to leverage that information out of the slimy weasel, but Trick generally did not like to being in the dark about snitch sources. He itched to get Manny alone so he could work it out of him. But Manitoba either had deliberately set him up, and then pulled a Houdini, or someone had figured out where Trick's information had come from, and rubbed him out. It would be nice to know which. Snitches sometimes met with unfortunate accidents; part and parcel of being a scumbag. Detectives and cops sometimes did, too. Trick liked to watch his back. He felt like he was making progress in closing in on the Circle, so, it was a good time to be cautious. He still hadn't run into any evidence that they had it out for him, but he didn't know. Solomon had continued to insist he had no idea of the vase's magical value or use, so Trick still had no idea just how important it might have been to the Circle, and exactly how ticked off they were likely to be, or for how long.

 

However, it was interesting what one found when one looked. In the course of searching for who was responsible for the theft and his injuries, the detective's searches for related information had turned up a string of low profile thefts. Some of the items weren't apparently valuable, and it had taken some digging to find some of the reports, because they didn't really stand out in an obvious way. Trick wouldn't have found them at all if a recent theft hadn't caught his attention. An exhibit of Oranbegan artifacts touring the country had made a stop at the Paragon City Museum, and was now short one item. A decorative staff, reputed to have been used in magical ceremonies, had been stolen right out from under the guard's noses. Nothing else was taken, and no one remembered anything. That sounded familiar. Searching back through police records for any similarities turned up several cases where items were missing, and no one could remember a thing, and they swore to the police that they were positive it had been there. Another thing that stood out about these cases was how very odd the thieves' choices had been. An heirloom necklace made of amethyst was taken, but none of the more valuable diamond pieces were touched. A cauldron a family had been using to keep wood in for their fireplace was stolen, the wood left where the cauldron had been. An antique store reported the theft of a very old ladies' jewelry box; they admitted it had limited value, because no one had succeeded in opening the thing, but they were annoyed to find it gone just the same. There were others that might fit the same pattern; Trick had noted each of them in turn, and decided it was time to call in some expert magical assistance. He turned the whole list over to M.A.G.I. to see if they could find any sort of reason why any of these things might have been stolen by the Circle, for Trick was sure that was what had happened. He hoped they were able to figure it out; maybe it would lead him to the ones responsible for the theft of Solomon's vase. Any lead would help. Someone was trying to keep a very low profile, and so far, so good. Meanwhile, he needed to let Solomon know what was up, and report on the progress he'd made.

 

The big detective stretched and rubbed the back of his neck. He was getting tired. He'd gotten used to having Dacy write up the reports.  He looked around the office. It did seem very empty without her here. He guessed he'd gotten used to her being around. She'd never taken a personal day before. He hoped she was enjoying herself.  She'd certainly been much more pleasant to have around in the last week. He smiled to himself. He felt better about letting her handle all the redecorating for the office; he must have been right. It did cheer her up. Dames. They weren't so tough to figure out. He let the smile become a full grin, as he pushed the report to the side, for Dacy to finish up. She liked to help him. How better to make her feel appreciated, than to let her do the report? Solomon could wait another day, it wasn't urgent; it wasn't like he'd made a huge breakthrough on the case.  He checked the time. There was still time to meet up with Fire and Star and make some more arrests before dinner. Whistling happily, he put on his yellow hat and headed out.

 

 

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The softness was confusing. Pain made more sense. Also, she had the feeling that there should be cold stone nearby...

 

Dacy opened her eyes, and tried to orient herself. Nothing looked familiar. She was in a bed, in a small white room. It took her a moment to remember where she was, and what she had been through. When she did, she sat up with a rush, and looked around wildly. Had it worked? Was she different? Was she who she wanted to be? She swung her legs over the side of the bed, and searched around her for her clothes. She was sure that the ridiculously thin shift had some sort of purpose in the ritual (at least, she hoped it had! It had been quite uncomfortable to wear while sitting on cold stone), but now that that was over with, she didn't intend to wear it one second longer than she had to!

 

            "Ah! Miss Davis. Awake already, I see. You certainly came out of that quickly! We expected things to take much longer. This went very smoothly, indeed! You were right, you do have a very strong will," Karielle said, smiling broadly. She walked over to Dacy, Dacy's clothes in her hand.

            Dacy was speechless for a moment, then spluttered, "That went smoothly? I was sure I was lost! I struggled forever...and why didn't you tell me more of what would happen!! It would have helped me be a lot more prepared!"

            "Ah. Well. Yes. I did tell you that your experience might be somewhat different, didn't I? From our end, things were over in an instant. I told you it would be an ordeal, and obviously, it was! But you are here, and whole, and we didn't have to convene a search and restore team to find you. I couldn't say that about everyone who's tried this. I'm sorry I could not be more specific, but the trial is different for each person." She handed Dacy her clothes. "Besides. Preparing you would make it easier, and part of what had to be tested was your strength, and your limits. You'll be happy to know, you did very well in both those areas. You should make one fantastic scrapper."

            "So...I did it? I'm a master swordfighter?"

            "You have the knowledge of a master, remember? You have the ability to heal quickly. How you develop those abilities is now up to you, and how determined you are. Get dressed, we need to get you started," the mage told her, and left the room.

 

Dacy dressed hurriedly, feeling a rising buzz of exhilaration. She'd done it! Only, she didn't feel that different. Hmm. She did a mental assessment, to see if she could detect any changes. Other than feeling extremely well, she couldn't find anything specific. She tried to think about katana swords. She could now picture one in her head very easily, and they felt familiar and comfortable, but that was about it. Shaking her head, she headed to the door to join Karielle outside her room.

            "For what I went through, I'd expect to feel a lot different!" the newly-minted hero complained to the blonde mage.

            Karielle laughed. "It is there. You will see once you get a sword in your hand and get out there. Knowledge isn't tangible!" She laid her hand on Dacy's shoulder reassuringly. "Now, follow me, please. Let's get you outfitted!"

            Dacy brightened. "That sounds like fun! And here I thought I'd have to do all that on my own."

            "Well, M.A.G.I. works closely with the heroic community. Makes sense to help one of our own get outfitted, registered, and oriented." Trick's young assistant nodded, and followed Karielle with a broad grin on her face. She was fairly dancing with excitement. At last, at last, she was on her way!

 

 

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TO PART 6 >






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