Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 11: Keeping the Peace

Session One

Uriel's office pieced together the full MST report of the incident after gathering the testimony of everybody involved. Everyone except Kendrick, of course, but he came off looking surprisingly good. This was due to Donovan's take on the attack. In his world, he was so repulsed by Kendrick's offer to turn that he attacked the demon at full power to strike the first blow.

The problem with this scenario, of course, was that Kendrick's attack on Donovan was technically self-defense. Further supporting this was the fact that Blaine, Molly, Kurt, Kathryn, Troy and even Renee had all attacked him first. Therefore, while Kendrick was still wanted for being there to begin with, there would be no manhunt to scour the county and find him dead or alive.

Molly gave Donovan an earful for that one. Had she not been in recovery and unwilling to flagrantly use magic, she also would have kicked his ass.

The MST's response was just what Uriel had promised- a temporarily-reassigned field agent. He was qualified for the job, but Molly found it hard to feel safe when her main defense from Kendrick wouldn't quit complaining about having to leave his wife in Columbus for a three-month exile in L. B. Gould. The lesson in this is never to end a routine, uneventful report with “not that Uriel has time to get off the golf course and read these damn things anyway.”

So while his three-month penance began Monday, his enthusiasm for the mission was noticeably lacking. He figured introducing himself to Molly would be important, but he found it more crucial to find and neutralize the funny smell in the efficiency apartment he was cooped up in. Molly would have to wait.

With neither him nor Kendrick interfering, real life resumed for the rest of the group. Monday was no different for Troy- same classes, same paranoia, same Claude. Kathryn, however, was coping with two new wrinkles that she found very disagreeable. The first was her leg injury, now bandaged up by someone more professional than Yuki. The prognosis was that she would be out for a few more weeks. So she wasn't in a good mood come Monday.

The second development turned out to be just as disturbing. Kathryn thought she could at least sulk to herself while limping across the hallway. By the time lunch hour hit, she discovered Molly had deprived her of that too.

“You're amazing, Kathryn! A true hero!” said some anonymous boy, patting her on the shoulder. Kathryn was forced to fake a smile and thank him. And the girl that said basically the same thing. And the teacher who was so proud of Kathryn's bravery. Who else would be willing to throw herself into danger to protect those poor orphans from the knife-wielding maniac?

“Hey, I just did what I had to, right?” Kathryn replied as she damned her limited mobility for keeping her trapped in a throng of admirers. Molly did not tell Kathryn how the injury would be explained. Not that it mattered: the wonderful thing about rumors is the truth ends up so distorted that everyone has a different take on what happened. Despite being the hero, Kathryn's explanation was no more valid than anyone else's.

She finally got her lunch and reached her usual seat across from Troy. “God damn, I hate Molly. She's even evil when she's on our side.”

“This morning, Claude asked me if you got shot stopping a bank robbery,” Troy replied. “This is crazy. At least all the stories have you as the good guy. I'm surprised Molly didn't say it was a gang fight or something.”

“She knows what she's doing. She wants to make it okay that I'm missing football so I don't quit on her.”

Troy widened his eyes, looked around and leaned in. “Why, were you thinking about it?”

Kathryn shook her head. “That guy tried to kill Molly and we were the only reason he didn't. That's hard to wrap your head around, you know?”

Staring off into the distance, Troy said, “It's scary. Hopefully he won't come back now that we've got somebody watching us.”

Rather than respond, Kathryn started to stab at her lunch, penetrating a chicken leg with her fork. She heaved a sigh.

“You'd think someone would be able to use magic to heal it,” Troy said, lowering his voice as he used the m-word.

“Nope, Yuki can only handle magic damage and even if Molly could cast anything right now, she's not much of a healer,” replied Kathryn, resigned. This had been explained to her many times over the weekend. It was still hard to swallow. “So unless Molly feels like killing a weekend to take me all the way to Central, and she doesn't, I'm SOL.”

Troy frowned and pondered the dilemma. Were there no other magi available that had healing capabilities? It dawned on him that the answer was yes. Or rather, no, there were other magi available. He looked up at her and said, helpfully, “What about Bryce?”

Kathryn scoffed. “Yeah, like Donovan would let Bryce do something good.”

Cracking a smile, Troy cleared his throat and lowered his voice. Doing a terrible impression of Donovan he called, “Bryce,” and waited.

Nothing happened. Kathryn raised an eyebrow. Troy shrugged. “Worth a shot,” he said.

She chuckled, although she made a note to at least attempt to acquire Bryce's services. At least Troy's lame effort to help out cheered her up. Determined to get her mind off the subject, she said, “So what's up with you?” She hid a smile by drinking from a can of juice. As if Troy would have any interesting news she did not already know about.

“Well, I've got a girlfriend,” he replied, way too casually.

This scenario had all the ingredients for a good spit take. Actual drinking mechanics, however, did not have such a sense of humor. The news forced Kathryn to mess up said mechanics all right, but the juice did not spew safely out of her mouth but rather down her windpipe, triggering a fit of coughing. Then she spit out the juice, which was now more gross than funny. Her coughing fit lasted for seconds, and drew the attention of everyone in the room. She turned down a boy's offer to perform the Heimlich and reached for one of Troy's napkins to wipe the water from her eyes.

“You okay?” Troy was both horrified and amused by the scene, but as it was caused by the shock of him having some luck with a girl, he didn't find it all that funny.

Finally, she calmed down, took some deep breaths and another drink of juice. Once it had safely flowed down the right pipe, she said, “When did this happen? It's not Renee, is it?”

“No, remember that freshmen girl you told me to ask out last week?”

“Yeah, I wanted you to learn how to deal with rejection.”

Troy narrowed an eye disapprovingly. “She said yes. We went out Saturday. Didn't I tell you all this?”

“No!” She was surprised he hadn't, but between Yuki's transfer to L. B. Gould, the upcoming football game, and everything with Kendrick, she had been a tad distracted and the subject never came up. “So I take it things went well?”

Troy shrugged. “I guess. She seems nice, kinda funny, cute... I just showed her around town and took her to lunch. No big deal, but there's a movie we both want to see next week so... yeah.”


“Yeah.” Troy nodded.


Fact is, there were few necessary details. Troy had a pretty generic date with Marie, it went well, and they planned another generic date for the following week. Kathryn was shocked not just by Troy's success, but that this slow and plodding method of courtship still existed in the modern age. On her efforts to score, she tended to swing for the fences. Troy may have been bunting for a single instead, but at least he wasn't striking out. Odd as it seemed, all Kathryn could do was congratulate him and wish him luck. And quietly be upset by the fact that he was having a much better week than her.


Session Two

Having an agent around, even an uncooperative one, helped to deter future attacks, but Molly didn't want to rely on him completely. She encouraged (or rather, demanded) that the new recruits work on improving their skills immediately. To emphasize this, she ordered them textbooks for the next term's classes, forwarding the bill to Mr. Marlowe back at the academy. It was crucial that in the event of another incident, anyone coming to the rescue would at least be semi-capable of doing something useful.

Donovan was more than willing to comply with this edict. In fact, he had been training on his own more than any of the others. Not that he had any results to show for it. Even that one destructive ball he had fired under duress to save Molly proved to be a fluke.

A few days post-Kendrick, he found a Weaving textbook in the dark room. He sat down, cast a light spell, and began reading. And he kept reading, constantly re-generating the light ball. Not that he needed to- amid the vandalism in his dark room (which he had declared aesthetically appropriate enough to keep), a large arcane symbol had been embedded into the wall. It was such a reflective white that a single light ball would help it illuminate the room for an hour. Donovan often kept a curtain draped over it so the room would remain pitch black.

An hour later, he had finished the first chapter. Unfortunately, by the time term two comes around, classes don't shy away from true nature of Weaving- one that is long, wordy, and difficult to comprehend on paper. Donovan had gained nothing out of it, and had skipped parts of two regular classes in the time being.

“Bryce,” he summoned.

“Sir,” Bryce responded.

Donovan handed Bryce the text. “Translate this into something I can use to immediately further my abilities.”

“Uh, sir-”

His master raised his arm, silencing the minion. “Make sure the pictures are copied into your manuscript,” Donovan added. He had always been a visual learner.

Bryce hefted the book. “Well, I might be able to explain the basics to you. When do you need this by?”

“I must have it by sunset.”

Flipping through the pages, and there were a lot of pages, Bryce frowned. “I don't think a teacher could digest all this by sunset. There's at least three terms worth of material here.”

“If you cannot comprehend the tome, then what can you teach me?”

“Well...” Bryce scanned the pages again, this time with aim. He stopped and smiled. “There's an introductory chapter on circles. I can do that.”

Donovan turned to Bryce, narrowing one eyebrow. “By sunset?”

Bryce really wanted to know why Donovan needed this by sunset, but he knew asking would be out of line, and doubted that there was a legitimate answer. “Yeah, I can whip up a lesson by tonight.”

“Then tonight, sunset, at the haunted clearing.”

“Haunted clearing?”

“Yes, where the ghosts of our defeat still remain.”


Donovan clasped his hands. “Shall I gather helpless victims for sacrifice?”

“Uh...” Bryce hesitated for a moment, then smiled. “We can always use Blaine.”

Now Donovan steepled his fingers and grinned wickedly. “Excellent.”

“Heh heh... well, I'll see you then,” Bryce said. Before he left, he checked the rack of assorted phony potions and occult-ish ingredients, along with the goat blood he and Blaine had manually drawn way back in April. He found a canister of purification salt (with the little umbrella girl on the label) and took it before he vanished.

Soon after Bryce left, there was a knock at the door. Donovan summoned a foreboding voice and said, “Enter.”

Kathryn hobbled in, shuddered at the white symbol on the wall, and faced Donovan.

“Shut the door,” Donovan said. She did so with her crutch (something she had gotten very good at). He called forth a fresh light ball and stared her down.

“I need to talk to Bryce. Any idea where he is?” Kathryn said.

“He is gone to do my bidding. He shall not return until sundown.”

She blinked, not sure if he was serious and, if not, what he really meant.

“What do you mean? Can't you just call his name and have him show up?”

This was exactly the case, yet Donovan said, “You cannot possibly fathom how complicated such a summoning is. Circumstances must be perfect for his arrival.”

Kathryn clutched her head. “Look, he's the only one in town who can fix my leg. Can you hook us up or not?”

Donovan gave it some thought. Or at least pretended to. Really, he was thinking that while Blaine would be a fine helpless victim, a girl with a bad leg would work even better.

“Yes, I can arrange this. You will find us at the haunted clearing tonight at sundown,” he said. Then he explained again what he meant by haunted clearing. Then Kathryn left and Donovan was free to imagine some sort of hostage situation to draw Troy to his doom. Then, seeing as how he had already skipped two classes, he decided not to bother appearing at his upcoming study hall and took a nap instead.


Session Three

As she was still in recovery mode, Molly deprived herself of using magic. Like most magi at her level, she was used to using it to assist her with as many mundane chores as possible, from changing cat litter to hunting down the remote. Stuff that required little astral energy yet saved a lot of time and hassle. So, being a tad dependent on magic, Molly was in a foul mood all week.

The scheduled meeting with the transplanted field agent did little to alleviate this. Among many reasons for this was that she was visible outside the school. Molly relied on being seen as above the commoners and therefore did not venture out on social outings befitting a normal high school student. Yet, on this late afternoon, here she was walking down Main Street toward Rosa's. To make matters worse, she was doing so with a peer. A male peer.

Kurt saw Molly's uneasiness, but misinterpreted it completely. “Don't be so nervous. It's not like we have to impress the guy. Remember, he's here for us.”

“That's not the problem,” Molly said.

“Well, try to relax anyway. We're getting a free meal out of it.” Molly huffed in response. When they reached the entrance. Kurt held the door open and smiled. “After you, dear.”

Molly sneered at him, but led the way inside. A waitress greeted the pair. “Welcome to Rosa's. Table for two?”

“Actually, we're meeting someone. I don't know if he's here yet,” Molly replied tersely.

“Very well. Smoking or non?”

Before Molly could answer 'non,' Kurt saw the agent in the far corner of the seating area. All the agent needed was a headdress and a blanket and he would have been sending Kurt and Molly perfect smoke signals.

“There he is.” Kurt added a sigh and said, “Smoking.”

Worse yet, the cigarette he was puffing didn't appear to be his first. Two used butts already lined the ashtray.

Molly frowned as she and Kurt approached him. “You know him?”

“Shadowed him a bit last year in training. Not one of the highlights of my life,” Kurt replied. Forcing a smile, he called out, “So you got the job, huh?”

The agent stood. The cigarette still hung from his mouth. “Why the hell did you agree to come out here? Or is Milwaukee even worse?”

Kurt laughed uneasily. “Nothing better to do. The rest of the family's abroad right now.” He gestured to Molly. “But this is Molly Pearson.”

The agent nodded at her. “Richard Herman. Sit down.”

Molly did so. “First thing- lose the cigarette.”

Richard puffed on it once just to annoy her. “Listen, girl, Uriel just dragged me away from-”

Yep, that's a glare. Never call Molly 'girl.' Acting on impulse, Richard's hand took the cigarette from his mouth and snuffed it in the ashtray.

While they got down to business, three men entered the diner. Two were husky, one not so much, but all three had shed their gaudy suits for inconspicuous casual attire. This did wreak havoc on our little color scheme, however.

“If they're going to be in here for a while, we might as well grab dinner while we tail 'em,” explained Red, now the only one still wearing his associated color.

“I dunno... can we trust the food in this town?” replied Yellow, who wore a flannel shirt.

The waitress asked them which section. Green smiled at her and lifted his already-lit cigar. Green complicated things further by wearing a yellow polo shirt. The waitress frowned, but led them to a seat next to Richard, Molly and Kurt. The Zukoni trio wasted no time ordering a round of beers.

Green lowered his voice. “Perfect. They're right next to us.” He turned around, not that it mattered as a curtain separated the groups. “Maybe they'll say something useful.”

“I know a eavesdropping spell,” Yellow said, smirking.

“Yeah- like they won't notice the guy a booth over using magic. We gotta lay low until we find an opening.”

“And I'm not drunk enough to fight yet,” Red added, already well on his way to rectifying that.

The good guys, meanwhile, hadn't noticed the Zukoni. Molly was too busy being annoyed with Richard. “You are here to help us,” she insisted. “It does you no good being across town. I can arrange a job for you at school. There will be a new custodial position open soon if Mr. Burmander keeps rearranging the papers on my desk.”

Richard scoffed. “A janitor? To hell with that. Bad enough that Uriel calls me away from my day job, but there's no way I'm spending three months cleaning up after kids.”

“Knowing Uriel, I doubt your expense account is enough to actually live on. You need work,” Molly said.

“He set me up with a part-time overnight shift at Walgreens. I plan on spending the rest of my time paring down my Netflix queue. Because there ain't much else to do here.”

“And if somebody does attack?” Kurt asked.

“Better hope it doesn't come during my shift or while I'm watching a movie.” Noting the angry look on the kids' faces, Richard retracted his words. “Look, my teleport spell's spot on. If you can hold him off for a couple minutes, I'll take care of it.”

Molly heard someone in the booth next door swear faintly, but ignored it just as she did the cigar smoke overhead.

“Besides, what are the odds of that punk attacking again?” Richard said.

“Probably as low as the odds of him attacking in the first place,” Kurt replied, “That's why we can't take chances.”

“I gotcha. Doesn't mean I have to like it though.”

The Zukoni didn't like it at all. Yellow stared at Red. Red stared at Green. Green chugged his beer, slammed it down and announced, “Let's go.”

Yellow was confused. “Let's go? Why?”

“Because we're not here to tangle with an agent. At least not without telling Kaz first,” Green explained.

“Would be fun though,” Red lamented, standing up as the waitress passed by with a tray of meal. “Hey, cancel our orders, will ya?”

“What? You're leaving?!”

Red stood, forcing her aside. “Something came up.”

Yellow and Green joined him. Green smiled at her and stuck a ten-dollar bill down her shirt. “That should cover the beers.” He laughed at his own crudeness and exited with his two portly companions.

The waitress shrugged it off and began serving Molly, Kurt and Richard.

Kurt noticed the bill in her cleavage and smiled. “Is that where we're leaving the tips now?”

Molly stomped on his foot. She may not have had the energy to use magic, but she could still inflict pain all the same.


Session Four

As the sun lowered its landing gear and signaled its descent with a more reddish light, Donovan and Bryce returned to the 'haunted clearing.' By now, MST operatives had swept through and erased all evidence of the battle. Even the tree Kendrick had destroyed to begin the whole mess had been reassembled and reattached to its stump. Tempted as Donovan was to give it another whack with an energy ball, he held back, certain that whatever Bryce had in store was far more destructive.

Or not. Holding open a page of the massive text, Bryce said, “The easiest place to start is with a simple binding circle. Nothing gets in, nothing gets out.” He uncapped the salt and peered at the page. “Now... I just need to remember how to do this the normal way.”

“If you have an easier method, then go straight to that,” Donovan said.

“No, I'm just not used to doing this without my crystal.” Bryce poured the salt steadily, careful to be as precise as possible as he formed a circle of about five yards in diameter.

“What is that crystal... and what powers does it contain?”

“Oh, it just helps me focus my magic. Sort of like Kathryn with her staff.” Bryce finished and capped the salt. As a defensive afterthought, he added, “Not that I really need it.”

Bryce held his right index finger in the air and concentrated his energy. He eyed the book again to make sure of what he was doing. Then Donovan coughed and Bryce remembered that he was supposed to be explaining the procedure. Which he did- the circle established the boundaries of the spell which Bryce generated through his trigger. Bryce spun his finger and tapped the salt. The circle glowed, then vanished.

“It's set. So now as soon as something enters, the spell takes effect and whatever's in there is stuck until I cancel the spell.”

Donovan grinned. “Then let's try it out. Blaine!”

“Sir!” Blaine replied.

“Go to Bryce.”

“What for, sir?”

“Do not question my wisdom. You are but a pawn in this game I play.”

As Blaine didn't know whom Donovan was playing against nor what the rules were, he figured Donovan must have been right. He walked up to Bryce, who tried to contain his laughter a few yards away. Blaine entered the enchanted area, the circle glowed once more, and Blaine was knocked to the ground within its boundaries.

“Hey!” he shouted in protest. Of course, as the barrier also blocked sound, Donovan and Bryce heard nothing.

As Blaine flailed his arms, Donovan walked up to Bryce, impressed. “How high does the barrier extend?” he inquired.

“Well, I constructed this circle pretty well,” Bryce answered. “The more perfect the circle and the more energy put into it, the higher it goes.”

To prove his point, a crow flying overhead smashed into the barrier and fell between the minion and the master. Donovan gave a satisfied nod. Bryce smiled and said, “And there's your sacrifice.”

As Bryce took down the barrier and liberated Blaine, Donovan took both the salt and the dead bird and went off to try it out. Having practiced many times in the privacy of his home and the dark room, Donovan was an expert at creating circles of salt. It was the actual effectiveness of his spells that had always tripped him up. But by repeating Bryce's instruction, he successfully replicated the barrier circle and entombed the bird.

He turned to Bryce. “Now, we must lay our trap for larger prey.”

“Uh... larger prey?” Bryce replied. He hadn't heard this part.

“Yes, I have instructed the one named Kathryn to come here. When she arrives, she will be consumed in an impenetrable minefield of barriers. We shall use her as bait to draw Troy to his doom.” Donovan basked in the brilliant simplicity of his plan.

Bryce shrugged. “Oh. Okay. But how would Troy find out about this? It's not like she can call him. These things kill your cell phone reception.”

But Donovan merely grinned and proceeded with the plan. After ordering Blaine to keep watch for Kathryn, Donovan and Bryce salted across the field, weaving a complex web of ten to fifteen circles. He would have carried on, enveloping every blade of grass had Blaine not announced that the target was approaching.

With an evil laugh, Donovan bent down and hastily cast his spell. Upon completing the trigger, he slammed both hands on the ground, right on the outer perimeter of salt. The entire field glowed briefly and vanished, the trap set.

“Bryce!” he shouted, “Stay here and lure her in. Blaine and I shall summon Troy.”

“Um, sure, but...” Bryce stopped when he saw that Blaine and Donovan had teleported away. He was standing in the middle of the array. Donovan had cast his spell before Bryce had been able to escape. As the barriers had not gone off, he must have been in one of the few safe zones. Of course, getting outside without triggering the spell would prove difficult, especially since the chalk markings had vanished.

After a brief moment of panic, Bryce calmed himself and realized that he was above this situation. He was, after all, a circle specialist. Calmly retrieving the crystal from his pocket, Bryce cast a vision spell. Now he could see the circles. And what luck! The small uncircled strip he was standing on continued all the way to the edge, a section Bryce would have hit had Donovan not prematurely activated. It was a tight squeeze, but certainly one he could traverse. Bryce laughed to himself and began to tiptoe.

He had to sidestep to get through the narrow gaps. Passing through one of the tighter spots, he could the magic energy tickling his back, pondering whether or not to go off. Bryce moved along before it could make up its mind. After an oasis that didn't require him to suck in what little gut he had, he held his breath again for the final crevice. He eased along slowly and carefully... he would not be denied freedom.

“Hey, there you are!” Kathryn shouted, jolting Bryce just enough for him to lose his balance and fall backward. To Kathryn's astonishment, the whole field lit up in front of her, with Bryce trapped on the other end.

“No!” he cried. But within the circle, nobody could hear Bryce scream.

“Donovan said I could find you out here.” Kathryn wisely avoided the bright glowing array of circles, especially with Bryce pounding helplessly at the other end. She hobbled around the long way and met Bryce on the other end.

“Hey, help me out of here!” Bryce said, hoping Kathryn could lip read, or at least infer the context given his situation.

Stepping back for a moment, Kathryn contemplated the glowing barriers of doom. An obvious trap, Kathryn surmised, but elaborate, one that Donovan must have spent a lot of time on. She smiled, now better able to appreciate the circumstances.

Kathryn tapped the barrier with her crutch. To her surprise, the crutch penetrated the circle. She quickly pulled it out before it got stuck, or worse- that Bryce would use it to pull himself to safety.

Bryce was amazed, but also uplifted. He realized that Donovan, either by accident or by design (and by default Bryce assumed accident), created a one-way barrier. While such circles were normally used for protection, reversing the polarities created a sort of roach motel scheme, where victims can check in but can't leave. With Kathryn present, this was a very good thing.

She popped her head in. “Stuck?” she asked.

Attempting composure, Bryce replied, “Yes, but I just need to grab on to something and you can pull me out. That crutch would be perfect!”

“Sure I'll help!” she said. He moved closer and awaited his rescue.

Instead, a bandaged leg entered the circle and gingerly set foot within. Leaning on her crutch, firmly planted on the outside, Kathryn formed an evil grin that almost rivaled Donovan's.

“But first...”


Session Five

By this time, the hospitality that Kendrick had coerced out of Kaz had been put to full use. The bar had an unused bedroom upstairs and all attempts to rent it out had failed as it was conveniently located next to nothing. So Kendrick had taken it over, complaining about its lack of comfort until any protests had diminished.

“Well, if you don't like it, you can stay someplace else,” Kaz had told him, secretly hoping that Kendrick would.

“Fine, I suppose I can try to live here,” Kendrick had replied, secretly having no issues with anything about the room save the unavoidable Zukoni smell of stale beer.

“Pansy. Of course, once my boys win, we're billing you for the rent.”

'Once your boys win, I'll pay you for services rendered,' Kendrick thought.

This conversation repeated itself daily, with Kendrick insisting that he would stick it out and Kaz enjoying the chance to give someone of a rival faction a constant headache. Then the trio returned from their surveillance mission.

“Find anything out? Or did you just finish them off while you were there,” Kaz asked.

Two of the three didn't answer. They were placing food orders with the waitress. Having passed up the meal at Rosa's, Red and Yellow were very hungry.

Green, on the other hand, did his job and told Kaz all he needed to: “They got an agent.”

Kaz swore. Kendrick nodded and said, “Naturally. The MST is prone to overreact to incidents such as these.”

“What do you mean overreact?” Yellow asked. “You tried to kill their kids.”

Kendrick shrugged. “Well, yes, but do they really expect another attack so soon?”

“Like what we're doing?” Green said.

“So what's the plan now? We can't wait three months for that guy to skip town,” Yellow said.

“Why not?” Kendrick asked, lifting his eyebrows.

The four Zukoni looked at him strangely. He smiled and explained, “If we're going to make this a fair wager, we should be operating under the same parameters. Not only does the presence of the agent muck up things, the students probably haven't recovered from their last battle.” Kendrick sure hadn't. Not that the Zukoni were as concerned about fairness, mind you. His argument was irrelevant, a minor point of order to generate the obvious rebuttal.

“To hell with it then,” Kaz huffed. “I'm not sending my men out when there's an agent prowling around.”

“So you acknowledge your defeat?”

Kaz slammed a fist on the counter. “No! We ain't afraid of those damn kids! But like hell are we going to piss off one of the pros.”

Kendrick sighed. “You do realize that the terms of our wager will still be upheld. By conceding that you are unable to eliminate the kids, I am still permitted to roam free on your dime until I have recovered.” This was why he had gotten the terms in writing and bearing the signatures of himself, Kaz and the notary public that had popped in and needed directions.

“But three months?!”

“I'm willing to wait. I'd rather like to see how this plays out.”

“Are you just saying that to mooch off us the whole time?” Kaz asked.

“Nonsense.” Kendrick gave him a patronizing smile. “Rest assured I will be out of your sty as soon as I can manage it. But I still would like to see how your faction stacks up. And don't tell me your boys aren't curious as well.”

Kaz looked over at the three. Green nodded. “I must admit I'd like to see if they're as good as the force must think.”

“The gentlemen in yellow makes a good point,” Kendrick said, referring to Green. “Even after the field agent leaves, there are two minions, the Sempman boy and the transplanted Crafter to deal with.”

“Sounds about right,” Red said. He cracked his knuckles as he finished off a burger. “Could be fun once the agent scoots out. And it sounds like he's leaving first chance he gets.”

Growing his smile wider, Kendrick said, “It's settled then. Best of all, it gives you time to formulate a plan and analyze their abilities. I wish you all the best of luck.”

He turned around and headed for the stairs, but Kaz stopped him. “Hey, you seem awfully excited about losing your bet. Especially for a Hokoni. What gives?”

Kendrick's smile faded, but he turned around and gave an enthusiastic response anyway. “The thrill of competition, Mr. Pormoglio. It's a glorious time when a battle for supremacy between two factions can be settled over who is able to kill some children.”

All three Zukoni henchmen hoisted their beer mugs and drank to that.





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