Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 8: Only A Test

Session One

As the initial term reached its final days, the academy subjected each unit to one collaborative progress evaluation. The five new recruits were tested, as one, in the field. Teamwork was essential, physical ability was as necessary as magical aptitude, and Molly had to talk herself out of bringing popcorn. With Donovan and Yuki involved, she expected no less than a debacle.

Like most trials, this evaluation occurred in a clearing within the Forest of Unspeakable Peril. The five participants received no safety equipment. Instead, Prof. Weatherstone handed all but the already-armed Kathryn a sword identical to the one Troy had seen in his father's orb. Upon holding one in real life, however, Troy made the natural observation: “This thing's a bit flimsy.”

“It's called a smiter. Only affects something if it has a demonic aura. And you want to hold it with the hand you don't use magic with,” Weatherstone said.

“Wait... we need to use the sword left-handed?”

One look at Troy and Yuki attempting to wield a sword with their non-dominant hands led Kathryn to back away.

Molly noticed. “Don't worry, Kathryn. Under normal circumstances, those things won't cut through butter... unless it was demonic butter.”

Then Molly noticed Renee playfully extending the sword towards Donovan. “All the same Renee, I wouldn't try it,” she said. She was pretty sure it wouldn't have done anything, but knowing Donovan she wasn't completely certain.

“We will send out a few shadelings for you to fight. They are aggressive, but they won't hurt you... much.” Weatherstone smiled. Troy, Renee and Yuki frowned. “Just use what you know and show us what you're capable of. Molly and I will watch and evaluate. Molly, any words of encouragement for your students?”

Molly blinked and said, “Hurry up. I want to get out of here.”

She and Weatherstone found a shady spot as six shadelings approached. Shadelings were often considered a sub-evolved form of a wraith. This was inaccurate, as wraiths are fictitious beings not found on Earth. Still, the cloaked figures appeared to hover in midair with only two bone arms to hint at a skeletal structure. Despite their inherent spookiness, they weren't particularly harmful. Shadelings weren't usually provoked into attack, but the academy's game specialist was always good at agitating demonic sparring opponents.

Each shadeling picked a different target. The one that chose Troy received a blast of water in the face right from the get-go. Besides knocking the shadeling backwards, the water did absolutely nothing. Weatherstone chuckled in amusement and wrote something down on her evaluation form.

Donovan did not have a nifty element attack yet. In fact, he hadn't learned much more than the light ball/teleportation combo he had come in with. So when one of the shadelings floated towards him, his options were limited. The obvious tactic would have been simply to stab the thing, but as Donovan's magic trigger used both hands, he was holding the sword between his knees while he cast a spell. He teleported behind a nearby tree and nailed it with his sword before the shadeling could find him. A puff of gray smoke burst out of the wound and the monster fell to the ground, the smiter still lodged in its body.

“It works. Make sure to tell him that teleportation is easily to counter in battle,” Weatherstone said.

“Oh... he knows,” Molly replied.

Renee, meanwhile, was making good use of her swift feet and reflexes to counter the attacks of her opponent. She found that the shadeling was quite capable of avoiding her attacks with the sword, especially as she was attacking left-handed, so she let it come to her and ducked or strafed out of the way. Every so often, she would resort to a mild warding spell that had been taught in Weaving. While it only served to repel the demon, the spell kept Renee safe until she could find an opening. Once she did, she cast a flight spell. At her level, she was merely hovering inches off the ground, but it gave her the extra mobility to deke right while attacking the shadeling's left side to destroy it.

“Now Renee's impressive,” Molly said. “Very quick and very adaptable.”

Weatherstone nodded and made some notes. “Yes, but are you sure she's patient enough for Weaving? An approach like that is more appropriate for air-based Thrusting. Focusing on that, no one would be able to touch her.”

With no sword, Kathryn had her own approach- she wrestled the shadeling to the ground. She pinned it easily, but as she reached for her staff to deliver the final blow, a second creature flew in and struck her in the arm. While only doing minor damage, it let the first throw Kathryn off and distract her while the second made a beeline for Yuki.

“Yuki!” Kathryn shouted, shoving the first aside with her staff and running after the second. But she couldn't reach it before it reached Yuki. Fortunately, seeing the shadeling strike Kathryn prompted Yuki to conjure a potion. It exploded at just the right time, sending her would-be assailant flying backwards and high into the air. Seeing this, Kathryn drove her staff into the ground and vaulted up to reach the creature. She grabbed the shadeling by its cloak and heaved it to the ground.

“Excellent!” Weatherstone shouted as Yuki poked the downed shadeling with her smiter to finish it off. “I'd like to see more of that.” Even Molly clapped in approval.

Kathryn didn't have much time to celebrate. Just as she reclaimed her staff, the first shadeling that she was working on caught up and resumed the attack. While their match continued, Kathryn didn't notice a new foe approach her, despite the water dripping from its soggy cloak.

Troy did see it, but he was too far away to reach it and his ranged attack didn't do much on it the first time. Thankfully, he too had learned flight, and he lifted himself off the ground and charged in. The rate of movement for such spells depended on the amount of energy the user invested in it, so Troy went all in to reach the shadeling before it got to Kathryn. He held his smiter in front of him, piercing the creature as he made contact.

One problem- Troy wasn't stopping. Rather than continue past the dead shadeling and try his sword's luck against the large oak tree in front of him (which was almost certainly not demonic), Troy pushed off, releasing his sword as he changed direction. He failed to control which direction, however, and he found himself flying uncontrollably into the air and backwards. Once he regained his bearings, Troy assumed this change in direction would cause him to slow down and float safely to earth. He was completely wrong, but his faith in this theory led him to be more concerned about doing some damage while he was up there. The most serious threat at the moment was the shadeling Kathryn had been dealing with. Eager to help out, Troy took a page from his father: he wound back, concentrated on a wind gust and sent one towards Kathryn's opponent.

While it was decidedly weak, it surprised the shadeling long enough to give Kathryn the upper hand- and the kill. The problem was that Troy did not float down as he had expected: he fell like a rock. As he was about fifteen feet in the air at the time, the fall would have done far more damage than any shadeling could have. Troy braced himself and prayed that the infirmary had a magical fix for compound fractures.

There was no need. As soon as Troy began falling, Renee dashed across the field, slid feet first and made a valiant effort to catch him. She was close enough; Troy fell into her arms, and then onto her, and then onto the ground. Bruises? Absolutely, but nothing serious. No broken bones and Troy was in a compromising position with Renee, with no way Molly could hold him responsible. He'd take that any day.


Session Two

One shadeling remained. While it had been tied up with Renee for most of the battle, she had abandoned it to go catch Troy. It decided to charge after Donovan. This was a problem, as Donovan had stupidly failed to retrieve his smiter from the first shadeling he had killed. Donovan wasn't even prepared to cast a spell; instead he extended a hand towards the shadeling and gave a 'come hither' wave of the fingers.

So it did. Recognizing that Donovan was not prepared to fight it, and that Donovan probably didn't realize he was not prepared to fight it, Troy jumped to his feet and fired a water spell at the shadeling.

As it turned out, Donovan was in full control of the situation: “Blaine,” he said.

“Sir!” Blaine said. The first thing he saw was the shadeling charging at them, so he quickly figured out what Donovan wanted. He launched a mighty wind blast.

Blaine's air spell and Troy's water spell connected at the same time. The forces behind them combined and swirled around the target, trapping the shadeling in a dense tempest of water and wind.

Molly and Weatherstone were dumbfounded. Not because of the tempest; that was dumb luck. Molly buried her face in her hands and muttered, “You think he'd know not to summon outside help during a skills evaluation.”

Weatherstone chuckled nervously and tapped her pen on the clipboard. “I'll say he... is able to trust in his friends.”

“No...” Molly reached over and covered Weatherstone's hand. “Do not encourage him.”

With the shadeling trapped, Donovan smirked at it and began his gesture. “Now... prepare to be destroyed,” he uttered, circling his palms around and casting a spell.

It was the same mild warding spell that Renee had used before. It merely disrupted the shadeling and knocked it out of the cyclone.

Troy's jaw dropped. “You just did him a favor!”

Indeed, dizzy as it was, the shadeling was ready to resume its attack on Donovan. It raised its arms, reared back... and promptly got clobbered in the head with a staff.

“You guys make this way too complicated,” Kathryn said, using Troy's sword to pierce its midsection.

Weatherstone clapped as she and Molly emerged from their vantage point. “Well done, well done, well done,” Weatherstone repeated, walking up to the group to presumably say something more useful. Troy and Renee, suddenly feeling the effects of their collision, slowly joined Kathryn and Yuki around the instructor. Donovan lingered in back.

“Very good work by all of you. I did notice a few things though. Stuff to think about between sessions.” Weatherstone turned to Troy. “Troy, I must say I'm impressed. Again, your water blast is coming along nicely and you had good presence to help out Kathryn and Donovan. Your flight isn't quite ready for battle yet, but that'll come along. Did I see an air spell in there, too?”

Troy nodded. Weatherstone smiled in return and added, “That surprised me. I would, however, focus on your natural element before worrying about the others. That's more sophomore material. But yes, very good. Molly obviously trained you well.”

Kathryn grinned. “Yeah, way to go, Molly.” Molly turned her head, annoyed.


“I suppose I should have used some magic in there, huh?”

“No, you were fantastic out there. From your records, you seem to have a focusing issue. Normally this is a problem, but because you have so much energy it's channeled into your movements and strength. I wish more magi could fight like that.”

Kathryn narrowed her eyes. “You know, if you're looking for bodies to beat up demons, there's an army base next door.”

Weatherstone frowned momentarily, then answered, “Trust me, we don't want to go in that direction.” She looked up at Yuki. “Yuki, I know you didn't get to do a lot.

You're a Crafter and would be in more of a support role, so that's okay. I'm sure you'll get your chance to shine in evaluations more likely to severely injure one of your teammates.”

“Yes, ma'am!” Yuki said, smiling brightly.

The instructor turned to the next student. “Renee?”

Renee saluted. “Yes?”

“Um... not that much for you actually. Good work handling the shadeling, good work breaking Troy's fall... I'm not so sure about putting you in as a Weaver though. I think you might be better suited for Thrusting, but that's more for Molly to look into down the road.”

Renee wasn't sure how to respond. She ended up dropping her arms to the side. “Oh. Okay,” she said.

“And finally... Donovan.” Weatherstone looked up, but there was no Donovan.

Blaine remained, and he grinned nervously. “Uh... Donovan stepped out. Would you like me to take a message?”

After blinking in disbelief, Weatherstone finally said, “That's... all right. I'll just leave his notes for Molly. Does anyone have any questions?”

No response. Half of them were still in awe of Donovan's gall for leaving early.

“Okay then,” Weatherstone said, “Make sure you all keep practicing. You all know the rules about using magic outside the academy?”

“Yep! Don't get caught!” Yuki replied.

“Precisely. I guess that's everything. We need to get ready for the next group, so you are free to go.”

Molly was already halfway to the path leading out. “Excellent. Let's start packing so we can beat the traffic out of here.”

She did not bother to wait for the others, all quite exhausted and not able to keep up with Molly's brisk pace. Knowing Molly, they probably wouldn't want to anyway.

As they left, Weatherstone turned and shouted into the thicket. Unknown yards away, the the game specialist was securing the next batch of shadelings. “Smittle! Can we bring the next group in?”

She heard a nearby shotgun blast, several bird-like creatures flying away from said shotgun blast, then Smittle shouting, “Just about!”


Session Three

Donovan did not need Weatherstone's evaluation. He was disgusted enough by his performance. Or rather, the fact that it didn't completely overwhelm the performances of his peers. He was a mere contributor, not the all-out power he had expected. Furthermore, Troy had felt the need to help him, as if Donovan didn't have full control of the situation. This steamed Donovan to no end, and it was all he could think about as he walked along the campus mall.

Actually, walk wasn't the correct word. Donovan was hovering, to be precise. As limited and unwieldy as an elementary flight spell was, all Donovan cared about was that it looked impressive when used in a mundane situation with no other mental diversions.

An approaching student took notice of Donovan. The student appeared to be confounded at Donovan's ability to defy gravity so easily. He walked up to Donovan, and took a moment to phrase his question.

Donovan stared back at him with a manic wide-eyed expression sure to intimidate the student further. The student didn't notice, instead asking, “Are you chewing gum?”

Eyes narrowing, Donovan replied, “Why do you ask?”

The student shrugged. “It's the only reason I can think of for why you're hovering around campus.”

He was referring to the deceptively difficult ability to fly and chew gum at the same time. It was a drill practiced by MST sophomores to better manage flight, often to hilarious and/or deleterious results.

Not knowing this, Donovan simply used his 'leave my presence' glare. The student scoffed and used his 'whatever, mister' head shake and walked away.

Donovan proceeded on. “Blaine. Bryce,” he called out.

“Sir!” they answered.

He gave no order. His minions just walked behind him and waited. Silence continued, the only nearby human utterance coming from a random passer-by laughing to him-or-herself at Donovan's flying.

“Sir, did you need us for something?” Blaine asked.

“If you're not going to give us a command, I need to get going. I have things to do today,” Bryce added.

But saying that and actually leaving were two different things. Bryce continued to walk alongside his silent master.

Eventually, he gave up and changed the subject. “Why are you flying? You know that expends more energy than walking, right?”

“Walking is just as easy, just as fast, and burns more calories,” Blaine added.

“Join me, away from the oppressions of gravity!” Donovan shouted dramatically.

Blaine and Bryce looked at each other, shrugged, and cast their own flight spells. Bryce used his crystal to do so, and spun it around continuously to maintain his elevation.

In a grim voice, Donovan summarized his frustrations: “My progress coincides with my rivals. That must end if I am to defeat them.”

Blaine moaned. “I don't have to kill Troy again, do I?”

“Perhaps later,” Donovan replied, “For now, I must advance beyond my training.”

“Sir, that would require more training,” Bryce answered.

“Nonsense...” Donovan spun around in midair to face his minions. Of course, not being adept at that flight spell, his momentum carried him back around... and around again. After two or three revolutions, Bryce and Blaine stopped him. Undeterred, Donovan continued, “I just need to learn your secrets.”

He turned sharply to Blaine. “Blaine- as a Thruster, you are no help to me.”

“Very good, sir,” Blaine said, nodding.

Donovan's head darted at Bryce. “But Bryce can teach me more advanced magic. You are, after all, a Weaver like myself.”

Bryce fidgeted. “Well... yeah, technically. I tend to specialize in circles actually.” Donovan raised an eyebrow and Bryce quickly added, “Uh, maybe when we get home. But I could teach you an energy projectile if you want.”

“Yes...” Donovan hissed.

“Okay, go through your trigger slowly and I'll tell you when to stop.”

Donovan did so, putting more effort into being slow and dramatic than usual. Once his palms faced each other, Bryce halted him.

“That's your hold point. If you stop there and just put energy into it without a specific spell... well, you'll see.”

Remember back when Kendrick attacked Blaine, Bryce and Troy? The energy ball he had created for the occasion closely resembled the one Donovan was now creating with Bryce's help. Donovan's was much smaller, but as he held the position and put more power into it, the ball began to grow. Bryce wisely took a steps back.

Blaine was already bracing himself. “Uh, sir, you don't want to make it too big until you can handle it.”

“Which, we should point out, you can't,” Bryce added.

But Donovan continued on, pouring energy into the ball, widening the distance between his hands to accommodate such a large mass of power. It reached the size of a volleyball... then a basketball... at beach ball range, Bryce winced and said, “You, uh, might want to let that go.”

Donovan himself could feel that he was losing control, so with a feral scream he finished his trigger and launched the monstrosity straight forward. Straight at the administrative office building, where all of the academy's highest-ranking officials, wisest professors and cutest secretaries gathered to facilitate the education of thousands. Donovan, severely winded from the energy he had expended, watched in anticipation to see just how much damage he could do at full power.

Instead, the ball bounced against the brick facade harmlessly and crashed to the sidewalk in front of it. It had shrunk considerably along the way, and was a mere baseball when a student passed by and picked it up. He tossed it in his hands a couple times, then fired it back at Donovan.

Donovan stood upright and placed his hands on his hips, sneering at the returning, and still-shrinking, energy ball. Rather than catch it, he let the now marble-sized sphere bounce off his chest. He barely felt it. Whatever was left of it rolled towards Bryce, who rubbed it out with his foot.

Bryce looked up at Donovan and smiled. “And one of these days I'll show you how to blow stuff up with it.”

Donovan furrowed his eyebrows and leaned in towards Bryce. The angry glare caused Bryce to stumble back in fear.

“Blaine...” Donovan muttered. And Bryce cowered.


Session Four

Molly had little sentiment as she packed her bags. In one of her handbooks, she had read about the melancholy students often acquire upon preparing for the inevitable return to reality after each term. The book advised guardians to use the time to stress the importance of practice and keeping abilities fresh until the next term, which was (and the book actually said this) 'only five short months away.' Molly was well-prepared to regurgitate this to any of the others that may feel sorry about leaving, but she herself was anxious to get out of there and head back to the leisure of running her own high school.

In all, she was just glad the first term was over with no major incidents. Molly did not hide the fact that she was angry at her unit being admitted so early, and dreaded some massive catastrophe that would befall the academy as a result. The three weeks had turned out about as well as she could have planned it, save Yuki falling into their lap and Troy's stubborn insistence on not being a total failure. They were all still there, the academy was still there, so Molly could consider round one a palatable success.

Someone opened her bedroom door and walked in; Molly correctly assumed that only Renee would have the courage to do so without asking. Renee smiled and asked, “Can I come in?”

Molly nodded and continued to pack. Renee found a chair, leaned back and said, “So do we have to trust them to send our stuff back home now?”

“Yes,” Molly replied, more concerned with a missing binder on her desk.

“I wish they'd help us pack. It's exhausting. Kinda depressing too.”

“Pack lighter next year,” Molly replied, finding the errant binder across the room. She narrowed her eyes at it and fired off a spell, raising the binder into the air. Molly guided it into box, rubbed her hands together, and wordlessly continued packing manually.

The act was not lost on Renee, who leaned forward and grew a big smile. “Would my dear older sister like to help me pack?”

“Forget it,” Molly grumbled, “You have a bag or two. I have an office.”

“They're large bags.”

Molly sighed. “Look at it this way- eventually, you'll be able to levitate things to your heart's content.” A chuckle later, she added, “Unless you switch to Thrusting.”

Suddenly interested about the subject, Renee replied, “That professor seemed to think it was a good idea. I suppose the rapid-fire approach would be better for me, don't you think?”

“I think Weatherstone's biased towards Thrusters. Professors tend to favor their own field.” Molly shook her head. “I found most of her comments pretty meaningless. That whole drill was just a means of encouragement. One of those things could have disemboweled Yuki and she'd still pass us.”

“Huh,” was all Renee could say in response.

Renee sat quietly as her sister continued to pack. There were no further tricks to the process- Molly arranged the necessary belongings in the box with maximum efficiency and minimum magic. The same cold look remained on her face throughout. In watching her, a thought struck Renee, one that had been lingering in the back of Renee's mind since their arrival.

“Molly? Do you like this?”

Molly paused and looked up at her sister. Not changing the expression on her face, she replied, “What? Packing?”

Renee looked down. “This whole magic thing. This should be kinda fun, right?”

There was still no change in Molly's face. There was no response either. Molly stared back at Renee, unable to answer the question.

One can only look into the eyes of Molly Pearson for so long. After a prolonged silence, Renee turned away and glanced out the window for an ocular breather. Something outside caught her eye and she stood, mumbling, “What on Earth?”

Molly turned around and the two sisters approached the window. A miniature cyclone, just fifteen feet high, swirled across the lawn and straight at their dorm.

“That would be a tornado,” Molly answered dryly.

Apparently, it wasn't a very strong tornado as it dissipated upon reaching the dorm, doing zero damage to the building. Its only residue was a very frazzled Bryce splattered against Molly's window. Understandably confused, Renee and Molly stared at him for a minute, before Renee hesitantly waved her hand. “Hi, Bryce!”

Bryce lacked the coherence to return the greeting. Instead, he began to slide down the window. Molly tapped the glass once, executed her trigger, then reached through the glass to pull the poor minion in. Renee helped him into a chair.

“You okay?” she asked, even though he quite clearly wasn't.

He moaned for a while, before finally assuming that one of the Renees circling in front of him was real. “Hey, you guys got a Crafter now, right?”

“I think aspirin would be more reliable than Yuki,” Molly said. She dug through one of her boxes and retrieved a bottle of pills. She always stored a bottle of magi-strength pain relievers in her desk; after three weeks it was almost empty.

Taking the pills from Molly, Bryce said, “I hate it when Donovan makes Blaine kill me.”

Molly glanced out the window, fairly impressed. “Blaine did that? He has good aim.”

“Where did Donovan run off to anyway?” Renee asked Bryce.

“He wasn't happy with how he did so he went to get stronger.”

Molly folded her arms. “And how did he figure to do that?”

“Oh, I showed him how to make an energy ball.”

“Are you insane?” Molly exclaimed, “Do you know how dangerous that is?”

With so many Mollys bearing down on him, Bryce leaned back in fear. “I didn't show him how to use it destructively! I'm not stupid!”

Still unhappy but calmer, Molly replied, “But a neutral energy ball is useless.”

Bryce nodded. “Hence having Blaine kill me.”

He chuckled and stood up. Those pills worked fast and he felt sober enough to make it to the door. He did not count on Renee stepping in front of him.

“Oh... Bryce!” She smiled sweetly, clasped her hands with his, and batted her eyes. “If you're feeling better now, would you like to help me pack?”

Bryce shirked and snapped back. “What do I look like, your butler?”

“Speaking of which, Bryce, tell Donovan that he needs to start packing as well,” Molly said, already loading another box.

Bryce opened the door, waving a dismissive hand at Molly. “Oh, I'll take care of it. He's just going to make Blaine and I do it anyway, right?”

He shut the door behind him. All Molly and Renee could do was look at each other in mutual bewilderment.


Session Five

Once all the members were accounted for and all the bags were packed, Molly used her spell to send the latter back to Ohio. The former still relied on the van, which Molly was determined to direct the group towards as soon as possible.

With one exception- Yuki.

“So when are you leaving?” Kathryn asked.

“Well, they haven't quite worked that part out yet,” Yuki said, keeping a brave smile. “So I was told to stay put until they figure out if they want me here or if I should go back home until the next turn.”

“Huh,” Molly said, totally uninterested. “Well, let me know what you find out.” She headed for the door and cried, “Let's go!”

The other four said their token farewells to Yuki, some sincere even, and followed their guardian out of room 202, out of Hall D, and out of their first term at Central Academy.

This time, at least, they were able to teleport across the parking lot.


Thankfully, Molly had used her powers of manipulation and extortion to force a highly-skilled Crafter to fix the van's stereo. A little alchemy plus a Circuit City trip had done the trick. Molly's problem on the ride, however, was the incessant chatter about the term at Central.

Troy gushed about the whole experience to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately for Molly, that included Renee, who pleasantly shared her own stories. Although it was not exactly as Renee had imagined it, Central did ultimately teach her magic and the resulting mishaps were enchanting enough. Even Kathryn joined in the conversation here and there. While she got very little out of the whole magic thing, she certainly enjoyed the social nature of Hall D and admitted to having her share of fun tales.

Except for a response to a direct question, Molly said nothing. She had nothing to contribute to stories of good times and misadventures because she had none. All that separated this term from all the others she had attended was the additional work associated with bringing recruits along. The three weeks had been a busy, deadline-fueled day at the office and she loathed talking shop after the fact.

The trip itself was uneventful. After several hours they pulled into L. B. Gould, Ohio and retrieved their bags at the Pearson residence. Anyone who didn't live there was on their own to get home.

Troy reached his house late in the evening, but not late enough to be forced into giving his mother a full report of the trip over dinner. The MST provided students with a full synopsis for their alibi of choice, complete with doctored photographs. Troy struggled, however, to explain his enthusiasm for the three-week 'cabbage harvesting hoedown' he had attended. He also cursed Molly for 'accidentally' selecting the wrong alibi on his form. Thankfully, his mother seemed to be merely pretending to show interest for his sake, so he survived. Troy really wanted to talk about the whole situation with Dad, but figured that coming back from a three-week absence with a sudden interest in the topic would probably make his mother a little suspicious.

The magic bug still hadn't left him when he resigned to his room. Before going to bed, he decided to do some trigger practice. The academy highly encouraged students to practice the exercise of repeating one's trigger gesture 10-20 times successively. It served as a means of perfecting the mechanics of the trigger through daily repetition. It also allowed students to practice magic without actually performing magic, which real-life circumstances often prevented.

Somewhere around repetition #18, Troy's mother knocked on the door, but Troy was too focused on his practice to notice. She creaked the door open and said his name. Troy, startled, accidentally sent a spurt of water from his finger to his bed. He turned around and smiled nervously, hiding his hands behind his back.

His mother narrowed her eyes just enough to make him nervous. But she wasn't there to see what he was doing. “Kurt's here to see you,” she said.

“Oh... okay.” Rather than risk any further inquiry, he ran out. His mother eyed the wet spot on his bedsheets, chuckled to herself, then followed Troy downstairs.

From the anxious look on Kurt's face, Troy knew it wasn't a friendly visit. Some worry in his voice, he asked, “What's up?”

“Get some shoes on. I'll show you,” Kurt repied, looking up to Troy's mother to silently ask for permission. Ellen nodded and less than a minute later Troy and Kurt were out the door. They ran to the sidewalk and jogged about fifteen feet before Kurt stopped.

“What?” Troy asked.

“Over here,” Kurt replied, running behind Troy's garage. Confused, Troy followed.

“I don't think anyone was watching, but I don't like to take chances,” Kurt explained, putting his left hand on Troy's shoulder and elevating his right. Troy recognized Kurt's trigger and closed his eyes.

When he opened them, he saw only a set of exit lights above what he assumed were doors. Kurt remedied that quickly with a light ball. Although the concentrated light couldn't illuminate the entire hallway, Troy realized that he was at school and in front of the door to the garage.

Kurt opened the door. The light spell still couldn't effectively show them the entire room, but Troy immediately knew something was wrong by the smell. Grease and grime and oil were normal in the garage, but the scent of all three were now overwhelming Troy's nose, where they combined into one contemptible odor. The additional smell of smoke, charred metal and burning rubber joined the cauldron of fragrance.

“What happened?” Troy mumbled, reaching for the light switch.

“Don't!” Kurt stopped him. “I don't think there's a gas leak, but I don't want to find out. Here-” Kurt threw his light ball into the air and cast another spell. The ball burst across the room, casting a dim light over the whole garage.

This revealed the damage in high definition. Kurt's old Corvette was now a pile of smoking scrap metal. Canisters holding every kind of hazardous liquid were open, spilling their contents across the floor. Entire sections of the ugly gray walls had been smoked into an even uglier black. Even the metal ceiling was hit with a large, mysterious symbol that glowed a deep violet against the dim lighting.

Troy's hands started to sweat as he surveyed the damage. His heart was already pounding by the time he reached the bulletin board to his immediate left, but it almost stopped when he saw a note pinned to the board with a dagger.

“Yeah,” Kurt whispered, “It's Kendrick.”





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