Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 7: Yuki Shizuka

Session One

As one would imagine, the first week was quite eventful. A trove of little anecdotes kept every day interesting for all five students in room 202. They learned the fundamentals of magic, of course, but beyond the occasional light ball there was little the new recruits could use. They did learn teleportation as promised, but their inexperience and several of Molly's seals prevented the spell from actually being useful. So on the magic end, it was too early for results. This meant the fun had to happen outside the classroom.

With the exception of Donovan, they all made friends outside the unit. Renee, ever-active, was persuaded to start her own club. As it was, clubs were pretty sparse at Central and those that did exist were indisposed to high schoolers joining (several, in fact, were there solely as a catalyst for dating). So, after being turned down for this reason, Renee rounded up a few of the other high school units and started a group for them. While it was a success, most of the kids used it primarily as a catalyst for dating.

Molly did succeed in giving Troy a truly hellish schedule, one which prevented him from sharing classes with not just Renee, but Kathryn as well. Troy suffered through the morning physical training, the introductory Thrusting class right after it, and the boring protocol lecture scheduled right after lunch when he was in dire need of an afternoon nap. His schedule wrung his brain until it was drained of all but the most primitive of classroom survival instincts. Much to Molly's dismay, these instincts kept Troy alive.

What else but those instincts could have caused Troy to engage in selective socialization in the lecture hall? Before each class, he pinpointed one or two key classmates, deemed them potential allies, and befriended them in any way possible. It wasn't that difficult: the story of him learning his trigger to ward off a demon attack made for one heck of a conversation piece. It had danger, heroics, and while it was far too early to tell who was destined for greatness, certainly Troy's experience suggested good things. Enough for him to secure a few individuals to share notes with, serve as lab partners, and make fun of the TA under their breath.

By Friday, Troy felt like he had beaten the system. In class, Kathryn and Kurt had been swapped with new friends from across the midwest. With their help, Troy was able to not only survive his schedule, but enjoy the courses on it. By the end of the first week he had realized that he was comprehending the introductory magic courses with ease, which led him to believe that he might just have a shot at being good at this, Molly be damned.

So yes, plenty of things happened to everybody in the first week. We absolutely could delve into Renee's club, introduce Troy's new friends properly, or go into Kathryn or Donovan's adventures. But we won't. They are all completely irrelevant to the story and expounding on the details would be a waste of time.

Late Monday afternoon, however, the cogs began to turn. With Molly at one of her classes and Troy, Renee and Kathryn doing things befitting people with social lives, Donovan had the place to himself. Whoever was responsible for this lapse in judgment wasn't around to interrupt his attempt at a fire spell. Thankfully, before he could burn the place down, he heard a knock on the door.

Answering it, Donovan found himself standing toe-to-toe with a young man who looked more faculty member than student. Donovan couldn't tell if the man's thin eyebrows were raised or at their resting position. The stranger was smiling either way and Donovan didn't like it.

“Hi, I'm Alistair Marlowe, Dean of Student Affairs. Are you the guardian for this unit?”

“Perhaps,” Donovan grumbled, adding “Why?” in his most intimidating voice.

Apparently, that was the stationary position of the eyebrows, because Marlowe raised them even higher. “Well, Mr. Pearson, I have something for you to sign. It's a rare chance for you to strengthen your entire unit!”

Marlowe extended his right arm and rotated his wrist- four times clockwise, three times counter-clockwise. A form, in triplicate, appeared in his hand and he handed it to Donovan.

Donovan looked at it, but the lack of a magnifying glass prevented him from actually reading it. “You will give me power if I sign this contract?”

“Your entire unit, yes.”

Darting his eyes up at Marlowe, Donovan sneered. “I don't want the entire unit to have power. I want it to be mine.”

Marlowe averted his eyes. At least until he came up with a retort: “Well, you're the guardian, so you command it.”

Donovan grinned. “Excellent... I shall sign immediately.”

“Wonderful!” Marlowe replied, handing Donovan a pen. Donovan attempted to prick his finger with it.

“It does not seem to be sharp enough.”

“That's all right. Ink's fine,” Marlowe said, smiling. “Right on the dotted line... Mr. Pearson.” He made sure to emphasize the name.

As Donovan signed the document, Marlowe turned away, aghast at the boy's stupidity. The look on his face vanished as he collected the form, now bearing Donovan's sloppy, oversized signature reading 'Molly Pearson.'

Marlowe smiled once more, tore off the pink copy of the form to give to Donovan, and bowed his head. “Thank you. I guarantee you'll notice the difference immediately.”

He walked away without another word and Donovan slammed the door shut. Donovan stepped into the middle of the commons, hands on his hips. He stood there in that position for some time, waiting for the advertised difference. Nothing happened, and Donovan felt gypped.

“I sense no power,” he boomed angrily.

Another knock came from the door. Donovan was far too occupied to answer, so he ordered Blaine to take care of it.

Still facing away from the door, Donovan took a moment to pause dramatically, then asked, “Where is my power?” He turned around to face and intimidate whoever stood in the doorway, which happened to be nobody. There, was, however, a slight whimper below him. Donovan looked down and saw that while he may have misfired, he had still struck fear into someone. The problem lied with who this someone was. Donovan's eyes widened as he saw her.

She was a young girl, seemingly only ten or eleven, and positively terrified of him. Her eyes were huge and trembling at the sight of Donovan staring back at her. After breathing heavily for a few seconds, she gulped and bowed- a full bow that likely required stretching to execute and showed Donovan the braids in the back of her otherwise short blond hair.

Eyes to the carpet, the girl squeaked, “Thanks for letting me join you, Guardian Pearson!”


Session Two

Donovan chose to ignore her. He ordered the girl into a chair and forbade her from moving or talking. She nervously obeyed as Donovan and Blaine sat at the table and read a textbook. Twenty minutes later, Troy returned and saw the girl, but observed that Donovan was in full control of the situation and went into his room without comment. When Renee arrived, however, she wanted a full explanation. Even without Molly, Renee knew her sister well enough to determine the best way to proceed- a heated interrogation.

The girl sat on one side of the table, still trembling. Renee, Troy, Donovan and Blaine sat on the other. All four glared at her.

“State your name,” Renee said.

The youngster cleared her throat and answered, “Yuki Shizuka.”

“How old are you?” Troy asked.


“Why are you here?” Donovan's sinister tone worked quite well for the situation.

“To learn magic.”

Renee shook her head. “That doesn't answer the question. Why would an eleven-year-old Japanese girl come to Indiana to learn magic with college students?”

Troy turned to Renee, puzzled. “How do you know she's Japanese?”

“The name's a dead giveaway. Plus she's got those humongous anime eyes.”

“That doesn't mean anything. For all we know she's from Chicago.”

Yuki squirmed. “No, she's right. I'm from Kyoto,” she said with her perfectly neutral Midwestern accent, “But the academy there has a very strict age limit. They don't advance students ahead of their class like they do here.”

“That's not what I've heard,” Renee said, wisely not revealing that she 'had heard it' from anime.

“It's true. I've known about magic my whole life and my grandfather says I'm ready to start taking classes. But there's no way someone my age could be a student in Japan.”

As an afterthought, Yuki added, “They'd let me teach there, though.”

“Why would they let you in here?” Troy asked, “You'd have to be some kind of crazy prodigy.”

“My grandpa says I am. Besides, you're all underage too.”

“We're in a different situation. There's no way anyone would mistake Donovan for a prodigy.”

Donovan narrowed his eyes at Troy, who made the mistake of looking into them. “And how would you know I'm not a prodigy?”

Troy shook him off and looked away. “Because you signed that stupid form!”

“He promised me power!” Donovan shouted, defensive. He angrily turned to Yuki. “What is your power, child?”

“Oh, I'm a Crafter!” Yuki answered. “I already know a few tricks. Watch!”

She reached for her satchel and pulled out a rack of corked test tubes and a packet of brown powder. Though handicapped by her shaking hands, she uncorked one tube and poured some of the powder into the tube, panicking a little when she spilled some on the floor. After the contents of a second tube ended up in the first, Yuki paused to remember what the next step was.

“I think next I....” she mumbled, swirling the tube around to mix whatever was inside. She leaned in and examined the solution carefully before nodding. She positioned the opening of the tube in front of her mouth, pursed her lips, and blew into it.

Yuki leaned away and pulled the tube back in time to prevent too much of the resulting smoke from flying into her face. The smoke billowed overhead and spread out across the table. Renee and Troy started coughing. Donovan merely frowned.

Instead of waiting for Donovan's order, Blaine summoned a wind gust to clear the smoke away.

With visibility restored, Yuki held the test tube out to her new companions. Inside were two flower stems each culminating with uninviting green buds.

Yuki tried to force a smile. “They're supposed to be flowers. I couldn't get them to bloom.”

Minutes later, Renee, Troy, Donovan and Blaine were still at the table. The interrogation had ended and they were all studying, all the while trying to ignore Yuki pounding the door from outside.


“Don't worry,” Troy shouted back. “Molly will take care of that.”


“MR. MARLOWE!!” Molly shouted. She had a knack for hunting down the people she wished to kill. She caught him outside his office.

He smiled brightly at her. “Molly! My favorite student! How are you?”

She shoved the pink copy of the contract in his face. “You know full well that Donovan forged my signature, and therefore you know full well that this contract cannot be enforced!”

Marlowe remained calm. “Not to worry,” he replied, magically summoning his copy of the contract and handing it to her. “It's all taken care of.”

Indeed, the original version of the form now bore her own genuine signature.

Molly seethed. “How did you get my signature on there?”

Marlowe chuckled and gave his favorite reply: “Magic.” Quickly dodging his eyes from the incoming glare, he added, “And if you take a look at your copy...”

Her eyes darted to the pink copy, now altered to match the original.

“I don't want another recruit,” she said, “I can't stand the four I've got now.”

“Unfortunately, we need to put her somewhere. Her grandfather's on the High Council.”

Molly froze. This was a major caveat. The High Council was the ruling body of the MST- the nine wisest and strongest magi in the world, as appointed by the next step down in the hierarchy. Essentially- nine old, white men with long, white beards. Molly wasn't going to get very far standing against this onslaught of omnipresent nepotism.

“Why us?” she asked, hoping to at least find a hole in Marlowe's logic so she could deflect Yuki into a different group.

“Teaming her up with high schoolers will be easier than putting her in a standard unit.” Broadening his smile, Marlowe added, “Not only for interpersonal reasons; your group is physically smaller, therefore you can fit more in your dorm!”

“Then pick a different high school group.”

Marlowe set a hand on her shoulder and softened his smile. Doing his best impersonation of an inspirational faculty member, he said, “Molly, you know that your group is different from them. When this came down on me, there's a reason I selected you personally for this. You know how much you're capable of. But you won't get anywhere unless you're pushed a little harder than everyone else.

Removing his hand, he added, “You know the old saying- no one becomes legendary without first undertaking a legendary task.”

He smiled at her, nodded at her, and calmly turned around and walked away from her. A few steps in, Molly frowned and yelled, “I never heard that before!”

Marlowe held up a hand and yelled back, “I made it up just now!”


Session Three

Renee, Troy, Donovan and Blaine were still ignoring Yuki when Molly burst in. Without looking up, Donovan said, “Blaine, stand up.”

Blaine did so, asking, “Why, sir?”

The massive energy blast Molly had directed at Donovan instead sent Blaine flying into the far wall.

“I take it Yuki's staying?” Renee said unhappily.

While the three students turned to Molly, Yuki rushed over to Blaine and whipped out her chemistry set. “I can help him!”

Although she didn't hit the intended target, injuring somebody seemed to calm Molly's temper. She sat at the table and shook her head. “I don't understand it. If he was so adamant at getting you started this early, why didn't he admit you into a preparatory academy? There's a few in Europe that would take somebody your age.”

“Do you know how long the waiting list is for those?” Yuki said while assembling the ingredients necessary to heal Blaine. “They've been really popular lately. Plus they're all tied to private schools so Grandpa doesn't have as much pull with them.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “So why Central? Why not something closer to home?”

“This is the only public academy that's ever admitted someone my age.”

“Which proved to be a mistake.” Molly shook her head and glanced at the other three at the table. “So not only am I stuck with you four, I have to baby-sit an eleven-year-old exchange student. I can't think of anything more aggravating.”

She sat back in her chair, folded her arms, and quickly thought of something more aggravating. Molly sharply turned towards Troy and Renee. “Why are you two sitting together?”

An explosion prevented Molly from getting an answer. More smoke billowed from Yuki and Blaine's vicinity. More irritated than startled, Molly provided the spell to clear the smoke away. Yuki looked up at the glares from the rest of the room and giggled.

“Sorry... but hey, it worked!”

Sure enough, Blaine sat up, with no sign of injury from Molly's attack anywhere. His face still stung something fierce from his collision with the wall, but Yuki's elementary healing potion only cured damage from magic attacks.

“Uh... thanks,” Blaine said, checking to make sure everything on his face was still in the same position.

Yuki smiled. “See, I can be useful!”

“Hmm...” Molly pondered the notion that Yuki was probably right: they did not have a Crafter and this unit was in need of somebody with healing capabilities. With a Crafter, Molly wouldn't need to hold back on attacking her students if they stepped out of line.

“Yuki, find some way to keep yourself occupied while we talk behind your back,” Molly said.

“Blaine. Enter my chamber and injure yourself again,” Donovan ordered.

Blaine looked up at Donovan and let out a faint whimper, but did as instructed.

“Uh... my potions only work on something caused by a spell,” Yuki said.

Donovan grinned. “Very well... Illumitorium!”

He summoned a light ball and hurled it at the back of Blaine's head. It connected, Blaine stumbled forward into the dark recesses of Donovan's room and crashed into something. Once the ensuing commotion subsided, the onlookers could only hear Blaine moaning in pain from somewhere on the floor.

“Have at thee, child,” Donovan said to Yuki, gesturing towards his room. Yuki nodded, entered, and closed the door behind her.

“If she is staying, we need to decide where to put her,” Molly declared.

“Donovan signed the form, I say she gets his room,” Troy offered.

Renee objected. “Troy! We can't stick her with Donovan!”

“He can sleep in the Caravan.”

Donovan sneered at Troy. “Troy... rallying the forces against me once again. I say the child gets your room.”

Molly looked at both Troy and Donovan, then nodded. “Yes, either suggestion is acceptable.”

Before the debate could continue, they heard Kathryn's failed attempt to open the front door. She had been using her staff to turn the handle for the first few days, a troublesome habit that she had yet to fully break even after the security handle had been fixed. She grumbled it off and opened it properly with her hand.

“Just my luck to end up in the only school in Indiana without a basketball court,” Kathryn ranted as she walked in and threw her staff into her room, “They got nothing for sports here. Someone got a game of rugby going today but just as I was gonna join in, they start flying and casting spells and stuff.”

Scoffing, she added, “Freakin' cheaters. Anything going on here?”

Another explosion. Donovan's door flew open and Yuki spilled out along with the smoke. She took a moment to catch her breath, then moaned, “I couldn't do it, Donovan. Your room is dark and evil. We should probably take him to the clinic.”

Kathryn smiled and walked up to Yuki. “Good luck with that; they're busy with the rugby players. So who are you?”

Finally meeting somebody being polite, Yuki's face lit up and she bowed at Kathryn. “My name's Yuki! I'm going to be staying with all of you.”

“Cool! I'm sure you'll do better than most of us.”

Yuki beamed at the comment. Looking up at the first person in room 202 not completely repulsed by her presence, Yuki already admired Kathryn. Kathryn, always eager to play big sister to the likes of oppressed losers (ref: Troy Monroe), was already accepting the newcomer.

This immediate rapport was not lost on the rest of the unit.

“Maybe she can stay with Kathryn,” Troy suggested.

“Yeah, Kathryn,” Renee concurred.

“Kick Troy out,” Donovan held firm.

Molly smirked. “Well, Kathryn, seems clear to me.” She glanced at Renee and Troy, who both smiled back, then turned to Kathryn. “It's two-to-two between Yuki rooming with you or kicking Troy out.” She didn't bother noting Troy's reaction; she had seen his look of crippling fear several times. She also knew it wouldn't matter here: “Your call.”

“Sure, she can stay with me,” Kathryn replied, “Come on, Yuki, you can help me clean up in there.”

“Thank you!” Yuki shouted. They went into the room together and started the bonding experience of attempting to clear enough floor space to spot a futon.

Molly sat back, relieved that the rooming arrangement was settled, but still decidedly uncertain about taking a new girl on. The extra work would be significant, but that was hardly concerning. What bothered Molly was that she now had five students, and among them the only one who seemed to be anything resembling normal was Renee. Molly knew her sister well enough to recognize that Renee being considered closest to normal was frightening indeed. Still, she let the thought pass and focused on the one thing that still remained out of place-

“Seriously, why are you two sitting together?” Molly asked Troy and Renee.


Session Four

The unit adapted to Yuki about as well as anybody would expect them to- not at all. Except for Kathryn, everyone ignored the newcomer whenever they could, and either left the dorm or practiced their smoke-removal spells when they couldn't. Yuki was too happy to be at the academy to care, and she was able to forge that friendship with Kathryn. The others just dismissed Yuki as an annoying burden, tolerating her because they tolerated Donovan and certainly she was more harmless than him.

Troy made up for the slightly-less enjoyable dorm life by trying to get more out of his classes. He had already declared victory against his schedule, so he spent the next week playing model student and earnestly enjoying the education he was receiving. If only his dedication could have been quantified with some sort of graded test. Alas, it turned out that all skills were demonstrated on the field instead of in the classroom, as classrooms had furniture and valuable equipment that were more prone to structural damage.

Therefore, at various points in the first two weeks, each student would get a chance to do something outside to show their proficiency in each of the three magic classes. This always caused a great deal of anxiety since the essence of magic meant a student was certain to humiliate themselves in at least one of the classes (and more commonly two... and the occasional flop earned the trifecta). Troy had gotten that out of the way with his Crafting exam earlier in the week. Although there was no explosion tied to his potion, it inflamed the test subject's injury rather than healed it.

Now he was at his Thrusting test, which he was much more excited about. This was his area of expertise and the set-up just outside the FUP was quite fun with three plastic targets resting in strategic locations- a badger digging in the ground, a wolverine resting on a tree stump, and a hawkeye suspended in mid-air. This, naturally, was the MST's attempt to be a little more localized. In fact, they used to use the mascots of Indiana colleges instead of their Big Ten rivals until some students got a bit uppity about attacking effigies of a hoosier, a boilermaker and Touchdown Jesus suspended in mid-air.

“Troy, you're next. Pick a target and do what you can with it,” said Professor Weatherstone. She was the listed professor for Troy's Thrusting class. This was the first time he had met her.

No matter, he already had a plan. The instructions were to pick a target and attack it in a matter best suited to his trigger. For Troy, that was straight ahead. As the first spell that had popped out, water was his specialty, so he held his index finger out, wound his arm back, and shot it forward to cast his spell.

His force and his aim had improved substantially. Instead of a squirt gun, he had upgraded to garden hose. Troy's attack was on target and connected with the wolverine's head. Not that it did anything- it was still just water. The wolverine, soggy but otherwise unaffected, looked back at Troy unhappily.

“Very nice...” Weatherstone said.

Troy's arm fell to his side. “But it didn't do anything.”

“It's water, dear, it won't make anything explode.” She smiled. “But it was accurate, focused, and had some force and volume to it. Pretty good for a first try.”

“Yeah... first try,” he muttered, looking away.

“If you want something extra to work on, I can give you the litmus test. It's a way to gauge and improve the effectiveness of water spells. We usually don't break it out until the second term, but there's no harm in giving you a chance to practice it now.”

Troy nodded. Who would decline a chance to get better at this? Weatherstone turned away and shouted to one of her assistants, “Jerome, Troy needs the litmus test!”

The assistant returned with a small beaker wrapped in clear plastic. Troy couldn't quite make out what was inside, but it looked like something fancy and magical and he couldn't wait to get back to his dorm to try it.


Session Five

The term 'litmus test' has come to describe any conclusive method of determination. Troy had assumed that this was the case, and whatever Weatherstone handed him was a special method of magically establishing the power of a water spell. But Weatherstone meant it quite literally, giving Troy a set of litmus paper and a guide to the significance of pH in water-based magic.

Step one was getting a test sample, and for that Troy finally found some use in Yuki. He gave the girl a beaker and told her to stand on one end of the room. She trembled a little as he fired up a water spell on the other end and aimed it at the beaker.

Just then, Kathryn burst through the front door and gave a rowdy greeting to Troy and Yuki. Troy lost his concentration and sent the blast of water straight into Yuki's face.

As Yuki screamed, Kathryn stood there with her mouth open. “The hell are you doing?”

“Extra credit,” Troy said, a little miffed at his misfire. He took two strips of litmus paper and used them to catch droplets of water as they fell from Yuki's hair. Yuki remained paralyzed as Troy collected his samples. Only afterwards did she shimmy it off and run into the bathroom.

“You know, you really should apologize to her,” Kathryn admonished.

Troy, however, was too busy watching his paper. She leaned in over his shoulder. “So... you pregnant?”

Troy sighed. “Guess not,” he said, setting the unaffected strips down and picking up the guide. After looking over one page, he nodded in understand. What he saw was that the lack of any reading on the papers meant that his water spell was in fact pure water. The secret to being more productive with such magic was modifying the pH of the water to make it more of an irritant. Achieving that, of course, was far more complicated than the small booklet could get into.

“Hello? Troy?” Kathryn said.

“This is really neat,” he said, picking up the papers and the guide. “I'm going to see if there's anything in the library about this.”

“Neat?” Kathryn replied, disgusted. To her taste, Troy seemed far too enthusiastic about a routine experiment from high school chemistry. In fact, Troy seemed far too enthusiastic about all of this. Kathryn still failed to see what was so darn interesting about this magic business. They had schedules, they had classes, they had homework. She did, however, understand why the MST needed its students to take an interest in the lessons themselves: nobody knew how exactly they would be applied. Kathryn wasn't sure if she was more afraid of discovering what it would be used for or realizing that it was all mere recreation to all but the honor students.

Renee entered just as Troy was leaving. He smiled at her and, with no sign of intimidation or infatuation, said, “If anyone but Molly or Donovan needs me, I'll be at the library.”

She chuckled and watched him approach the stairs. He stopped for a moment, composed himself, and decided to try out his teleporting skill. Troy vanished and Renee entered the unit, falling into a lounge chair.

“So much for him having a thing for you,” Kathryn said, prompting Renee to turn around.

Knees on the cushion and leaning against the back, she looked back at Kathryn, confused and a little defensive. “What do you mean?” she said.

Kathryn shrugged. “It's just strange. I mean, at school he's tortured by not getting to talk to you. Now here you two are living together, Molly can't stop him, and he doesn't even notice. I can't figure that out.”

Renee rested her chin on the top of the chair. “Well... he's really gotten into magic. We may be pretty weak right now, but can't you imagine getting stronger and doing all sorts of wild stuff? Maybe Troy's enthusiasm is helping him get past me.”

Scoffing, Kathryn said, “If that's the case, then he really needs a girlfriend.”

Renee sat up and frowned at Kathryn. She didn't know what Kathryn was trying to insinuate, but it couldn't have been anything good. “You're a girl,” she said, directing a frank, unwavering stare into Kathryn's eyes.

Kathryn looked down, feigned shock and grabbed her breasts. “Well, what do you know? Never noticed these before!!”


Session Six

The library had the interesting distinction of being both one of the oldest and most modern facilities on campus. The decades-old walls were covered by weeds both outside and in (administrators called it ivy, but no one was fooled). Nobody lobbied to remove them, fearing the weeds were now supporting the building. Inside, however, was a bright, clean temple of literature with an excellent online catalog- one that magically sought and retrieved the book for the user. Best of all, library patrons were forbidden to use magic inside, so Troy could study in peace.

Thanks to the online catalog, Troy found a book addressing pH levels. He discovered that deliberately changing the pH of a water spell was just as difficult as it sounded- which was disappointing, as Troy had never considered the chemistry behind what he wanted to do. Troy found a few productive pointers, however. One he wrote down in his notebook and swore to try immediately- “Drink more Coke.” As the most corrosive potable known to man, enough cola consumption had been known to make a water spell significantly more acidic. Troy also liked any excuse to drink soda over healthy beverages.

He took a few other suggestions, but most were unfeasible like “handle radioactive waste.” Troy knew that there was always a chance of radioactive waste spouting randomly in L. B. Gould, Ohio, but the odds of him being in the right place at the right time weren't good.

As he dropped the book off to be refiled by the thankless librarians (the magic catalog did not work in reverse), a wing of the library labeled “Memory Repository” caught Troy's eye. He wandered inside and discovered row after row of shelves stretching the length of the building. They did not hold books, but rather hundreds of small glassy orbs. Troy realized that he couldn't get a closer look, as a banister blocked access to the stacks.

Along this banister was a set of terminals, each with a chin rest in front of a small monitor, with a keypad underneath. Peering into the screen, Troy saw an interface with all the charm and beauty of DOS that read “MST Central U.S. Memory Repository. Input Name/Date Range/Keyword.” Rather than try to guess an appropriate keyword or the proper date format, Troy entered an obvious name query- “MONROE.”

Four names were found. The listing for “MONROE, FRANK” had nine entries. Troy selected one at random and the machine declared that it was loading the orb and that Troy was to place his chin on the chin rest and close his eyes. Just before Troy did, he saw one orb levitating toward the machine. Eyes closed, Troy felt a cold, metal bar press against his forehead and heard the orb load itself into the terminal. Suddenly, the orb's contents were played directly into Troy's mind- one of Frank Monroe's memories.


At the end of a cul de sac in some unknown housing development in some unknown suburb of some unknown city in what was probably Ohio, two figures were clearly visible in the moonlit night sky. One was a young girl, only eight or nine, looking up at the second- a tall young man with one knee on the ground and extending a hand towards the girl. Even the naivety of youth could only go so far, as she looked hesitant about trusting the man. He persisted with a smile and a nod.

“Trent, set a displacement. You take care of her; I'll take care of him,” Frank whispered. Troy knew it was his father speaking, but it was lower and louder- undoubtedly the way Frank himself heard it.

Frank turned to Trent, who nodded back. Despite having never met him before, Troy found the resemblance unmistakable: Trent was Kurt's father.

Troy felt an eerie sensation, like a sudden change in the wind. Apparently, so did the young man, who turned towards Frank in surprise. But Frank was ready- flames emerged from two fingers on his left hand and spiraled at the man. The flame connected and the guy backpedaled. He began rubbing his right hand back and forth from the side of his leg to his torso. This magically extinguished the fire on his shirt.

Frank held up his fingers and drew out a small sword. “Frank Monroe, MST. We have identified you as a demon of the Urayoni faction. So how you want to do this?”

The demon rubbed his side again. This time, a clone of himself materialized next to him and charged after Frank. As it did, the demon created a second one.

“Have it your way,” Frank said, shooting a second fire spell at the clone. It connected, but only knocked the clone back a bit. The clone didn't seem too concerned about his shirt being on fire. That certainly bothered Frank, though, so much that he didn't catch the original demon charging after him, now brandishing a sword.

“Jeez!” Frank said, parrying. As he fought, the clone approached, ignoring its fiery attire. “Trent!”

He stole a glance at Trent, who had one arm around the girl and a second in the air, summoning a stone shield to defend the attacks of the second clone. The two enemies Frank was dealing with weren't letting up, so he backed away- or up, rather. Troy felt the sensation of Frank shunning gravity with a flight spell, elevating above both foes. Not wanting to be outdone, the original demon followed suit. Frank smiled and slowed his ascent.

By the time the demon reached the same height as Frank, Frank was ready with a wind gust that knocked the airborne assailant backwards and falling to the ground. This canceled Frank's flight spell, but Frank knew well enough to cast something weaker to control the fall... right at the first clone. It had no defense for Frank falling in with his sword extended. The blade pierced the clone, which was all it took to make the clone go away.

Frank took a moment to catch his breath- a mistake, he soon realized, as he saw the shadow of the original charging at him, an attack spell at the ready. Frank was out of position and could only face the demon, hold up his sword, and hope to block the attack somehow. His muscles tightened as he braced himself.

Before the demon could reach Frank, however, a strong blast connected with the demon's side, sending him sprawling away. Frank raced after him, shouting “Thanks, Trent!” The demon had no time to get up; Frank stabbed him in the chest with the sword. As the genuine article, his death was more climactic than his clone's. Steam erupted from his wound and he uttered something close to a death rattle before his body fell limp to the ground.

Now Frank could catch his breath for real; whether or not Trent had destroyed the second clone, it would vanish now that the original was destroyed. He sheathed his sword into its compact hilt and sighed.

“That was close,” he said, only mildly concerned, “Nice shot, Troy.”

Troy? Did he say Troy?

“Troy!” No, Troy was hearing Kathryn and felt her slap him on the shoulder. As Frank turned to Trent and the girl, the image faded to black and Troy opened his eyes. The sudden burst of light and his re-acquaintance with reality created a sharp twinge of pain in Troy's temples.

“Whoa...” Troy said, rubbing his forehead to shake it off.

“What are you doing here?” Kathryn asked.

“Getting a headache... what's up?”

“You wanna grab some dinner?”

Troy groaned. “Kathryn, I was just immersed in one of my Dad's memories. You yanked me out of that for dinner?”

Kathryn shrugged. “Yeah. I'm hungry.”

Thankfully, the headache was fading and the irritation subsided. Troy smiled and said, “Sure. Let's go.”

As they walked away, Troy turned back to the machine. The orb unloaded and floated back to its proper place in the stacks.

“So what was he like?” Kathryn asked.

“Looked pretty cool.”

That was all Troy could make of the memory- with little fanfare or flourish, Frank and Trent had done their job. At least now Troy could visualize his father being in the MST, and he now knew which direction Frank's footsteps were going. All things for Troy to think about down the road, but for now, all he wanted was to go to dinner with Kathryn and order a large Coke.





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