Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 3

CHAPTER: 6

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 23: Liability


Session One

With this trio suddenly in the picture with the grimoire, Kendrick and Kurt paid no attention to each other, despite being separated by just a yard. Before a single word came out of the newcomers, they both knew the situation had gone from bad to disastrous.

So the gleeful snicker that came from the one actually holding the book- a short, weaselly fellow with thin-rimmed glasses and a nervous twitch in his eye, wasn't as potent. If anything, it was obligatory.

“Drop something?” said the one with the stones. This guy was big, especially standing next to Mr. Cedric, the bespectacled man. Had Bo not been in line with Golden Sun, he may have had a career as a lineman for the Bengals.

The third, Mr. Winston, remained silent. He was as tall as Bo, but as skinny as Mr. Cedric. Unlike his two associates, he was not paying attention to Kurt or Kendrick. He had his eye on Molly.

At this point, Kurt realized that Molly was surprisingly inactive in the sudden Chioni ambush.

Not voluntarily, of course. She was pounding angrily against the transparent, and apparently impenetrable dome Mr. Winston had summoned around her, Yuki and Donovan.

“Can't you blast out of here?” Yuki asked.

“Looks solid. If it doesn't work, it'll ricochet and kill us,” Molly grumbled. Unlike Donovan's circle barriers, this dome was something tangible, and likely difficult to crack open.

“But it's not like a circle spell. We can just teleport out, right?”

Molly tried, but went nowhere. Two more frustration-fueled attempts later, she gave up and glared outside. This one was all up to Kurt and Kathryn.

And Kendrick, who didn't take kindly to the intrusion. Few factions were fans of the Chioni, given their sickening success in promoting consumer greed to fuel their own. They, along with the Urayoni/Hageshoni alliance, were undoubtedly top dogs at the moment, which Kendrick couldn't stand. That and his faction owed them money.

Barging in on his territory to steal what he had rightfully stolen was unforgivable. Kendrick forced himself to his feet, charged up an attack, and fired at Mr. Cedric. He didn't expect it to connect, but he needed to see what he was dealing with.

Instead, the energy ball seemed to phase through Mr. Cedric, passing through him and colliding harmfully through a window across the street. Mr. Cedric chuckled.

“Really?” he asked, amused at his own boredom. “That was your response? Bo, please dispatch the Hokoni so we can get on with this.” Bo threw another stone at Kendrick.

Kendrick threw a shield up, but Kurt did one better: he used a wind gust to direct it back at the Chioni. But Mr. Winston saw that, and used a gust of his own to knock the stone straight down... on top of Kathryn.

No, this was a good thing. Tennis wasn't her favorite sport, but her overhead serve was serviceable and her staff connected and sent it flying at Bo. It hit him square in the chest, exploded... and barely phased him.

“Quit it,” he warned, pitching a stone straight at her.

“No,” she replied, defiant and ready to volley back. But Mr. Cedric was on top of preventing that. Or rather, on the bottom. Kathryn felt her legs give out and she fell over, in time to see Mr. Cedric fly back into his original position with inhuman speed. Not in time, though, to avoid direct contact with the exploding stone. It struck her in the shoulder and just about burned it off.

When she wailed in pain, Kurt broke off his staring contest with Mr. Winston, threw up a stone barrier to protect himself and Kathryn, and tended to her. As far as he was concerned, Kendrick was on his own.

Meanwhile, Molly saw all of that and heard none of it. When not even a peep got through the dome, much less a spell, she was left to assume that they were in an air-tight bubble.

“There has to be a way out of here!” Yuki pleaded. “It's a thrusting spell; it can't be that effective!”

“Save your breath. I'm thinking.” Molly's thought process wasn't helped seeing Kathryn go down and Kurt quitting the offensive to help her. Still, she knew something to try.

With her magic marker, she dug a circle into the ground and activated the same spell that had saved Renee from Red early in the Zukoni battle. The circle ignored the dome and sailed unimpeded to Kurt and Kathryn. Molly called it back, with them in tow.

The circle returned to Molly. Its passengers, however, slammed into the dome wall. After peeling himself off, Kurt yelled at Molly. Unable to hear him, Molly shrugged and pointed over his shoulder in time for him to block a sneak attack from Mr. Winston.

“Now we know it's not completely magic proof,” Yuki said.

“But if that got through, why can't we teleport?” Molly asked herself. She tried again, to no avail. All three Chioni were occupied with Kurt or Kendrick, so they weren't preventing anything. Desperate for some hint, she looked around the dome. All she saw was Yuki and Donovan, who maintained the same spellcasting pose as he did when the battle with Kendrick had begun. When Molly ordered him to cast an anti-teleportation spell.

She slapped him across the head and yelled, “You can stop now!”

He set his arms at his side. Yuki approached them and said, “How about one more try?”

Molly nodded, took Yuki's hand and stepped on Donovan's foot, and successfully teleported the three away.

Yuki sighed. “No offense, Donovan, but you are kind of an idiot.”

“Kind of?” Molly mumbled. She had taken them to the top of a nearby bluff, where they could see everything without being spotted. Problem was, Kurt and Kathryn couldn't find them either. She frowned as Kurt darted his head around upon noticing her disappearing act.

Thankfully, he reached for his Bloodberry, which gave away their location. He clutched Kathryn and teleported up to join them.

“Damn. That didn't go well at all,” he muttered.

Immediately, Yuki checked Kathryn's shoulder. “That looked like a magic explosive. I should be able to heal that.”

Watching as Kendrick continued to shield himself from the onslaught of Chioni attacks, Kurt sighed. “Hold on, we don't want to give away our position. I know you're not the quietest Crafter around.”

But Yuki was already at work. “Don't worry, I've been working on that. Reggie's drilled it into me enough times, so we should be okay.”

Kurt had to look around to make sure he wasn't the only one. Thankfully, Molly stared at Yuki, just as disturbed.

“What?!” Yuki stared at both of them frantically. “Don't pressure me, okay?”

 

Session Two

“So when do we strike back?” Donovan asked.

“That's not such a good idea,” Kurt said. “These guys know what they're doing.”

Molly nodded. “Hired help, most likely. Chioni specialize in Crafting. Not sure about the one with the grenades, but the other two fight more like Hageshoni or Urayoni. You'll get any demon to switch allegiance if you pay them enough.”

Yet Donovan insisted. “What matters is how we reclaim the tome.”

Unfortunately, he was right. Kendrick was providing a stubborn distraction, but he wouldn't last much longer against those three. Once he went down, the grimoire would be gone.

“We need to keep stalling them. Preferably without fighting. Wish we had an agent here,” Molly said.

“Oh, dammit,” Kurt sighed. “Suppose this is my job, isn't it?”

Molly turned to Kurt and frowned. “Right... you are the agent here.” She shrugged. “Well, go to work.”

“Molly! We can't just throw Kurt in there alone!” Kathryn shouted.

Kurt held up a hand. “No, Molly's right. Someone has to step in and I'm technically the grown-up here.”

“They'll kill you!”

That was exactly what Kurt was afraid of, until he surveyed the situation once more. Behind the battling demons, cars drove by and he could see oblivious people at work through the windows across the street. Thanks to the displacement Molly had set up beforehand, they saw nothing out of the ordinary. Molly could take it down whenever she wanted to. Now seemed like a pretty good time.

Kurt got one more teleportation in before Molly ended it. He landed across the street and waited to make sure the demons would actually stop. Two of them did: Mr. Cedric and Bo looked around, trying to identify the party pooper. A momentary rush of cars ended any chance of continuing the battle, although Mr. Cedric had to pull Mr. Winston's arm away.

“Stop it! They lifted the displacement,” Mr. Cedric said angrily.

Kendrick followed suit by dropping his shield spell and catching his breath. His plan was to wait until they stopped attacking, then run in and grab the book, but he had been drained of all energy- physical and magical.

This was Kurt's cue. He looked both ways, crossed the street, and played authority figure. “Okay, what's going on here, guys?”

“Why did you take down the displacement?” Mr. Winston argued.

“Because we're not fighting anymore. If you guys want to go at it, don't do it downtown. Now tell me why I shouldn't have all four of you booked for stealing a Class A artifact?”

Mr. Cedric smiled. “Because you're physically incapable of it. Who are you, anyway?”

Kurt stiffened up, but pulled out his wallet. “Kurt Sempman. MST field agent for this area.” He quickly flashed his driver's license... Uriel hadn't given him his ID yet.

Dragging himself into the conversation, Kendrick said, “You got promoted? Congratulations.”

“It's too late for sucking up, Kendrick. Once I get the book back from these guys, you're next.”

Still, Kendrick eased up next to Kurt and smiled. “Now now, Kurt, I'm on your side here. Last thing I want to see is Grimoire 17 falling into the hands of some mercenary Chioni.”

Mr. Winston took offense. “Mercenary?! We were sent here by-” His legs gave way before he could finish. Mr. Cedric rubbed his hands and glared at him.

“Quit it,” Kurt said, scolding Mr. Cedric for using magic, brief and unnoticeable as it was. He wasn't planning on bringing it up, but since the subject had been broached, he flew with it. “Look, I know you guys are in line with Golden Sun.” He pointed at their suits. “You're not exactly hiding it. You answering to Darren Silars or someone else in town? Or does it go higher than that?”

“The buck stops with Mr. Silars,” Mr. Cedric answered, helpfully enough to make Kurt question its accuracy. Not that it was too crucial either way.

“Well, I for one would like to speak with this Mr. Silars,” Kendrick said. “I would like to lodge a complaint about your methods of thievery from a fellow demon. Do you not have enough assets of your own?”

Mr. Winston grew an evil smile. “Certainly. You two are welcome to come with us to see Mr. Silars and discuss this matter.”

“I should hope so.”

“That way, we'll be out of sight and can handle this the proper way.”

Just in case Kendrick felt like declining, Bo clutched his shirt collar. Kendrick tensed up, but maintained his composure. “Of course. But I warn you not to underestimate Kurt and his friends.”

That's when Kurt realized why Kendrick had more confidence: Kendrick was expecting Kurt to lead another nine-mage assault on the Chioni, complete with Troy, the minions, and every other trick they had used before. Problem was, that was against every protocol in the book. Kurt couldn't just conscript Molly's unit into this fight, especially without knowing the full capabilities of a grimoire-wielding Chioni. Furthermore, he had grown too attached to make the call leading them all into battle. Kathryn had already been injured once today.

“That's um... all right.” Quickly trying to put on some sort of face-saving assertion, he added, “But you can definitely expect a knock on your door. We're not letting this go.”

As Kendrick's face drifted into sheer panic, Mr. Cedric snickered. “Of course, of course,” he said, dismissive. “We'll be waiting.”

Clutching the book tighter, he strolled past Kurt, followed by his two associates and a mortified Kendrick. “What happened to that bravado from before?” Kendrick wailed.

Kurt folded his arms and refused to look back at them. Ignoring Kendrick wasn't difficult. The demon was only concerned about himself and Kurt didn't care what the Chioni did to him. But the point stuck: was Kurt's refusal to battle a sign of discretion, protecting Molly's unit, or just plain cowardly? Either way, another failed mission. Now he was zero for two.

“Excuse me, they're leaving.” Molly had teleported in from somewhere. He didn't see her, nor did anyone else apparently.

“They offered to settle this at their office. I'm not dragging you all into that.”

Molly stepped in front of him. “Why not?” she hissed.

“I don't have the authority to get students involved,” he answered coldly.

“Well, I do.”

“We don't know what they can do in there or what kind of numbers they have.” He looked up at the top of the hill where Yuki and Kathryn were watching. Even from a distance, he could see Donovan glaring back. “You really want get everybody to follow them in?”

“We don't have a choice,” Molly huffed. “You better not be doing this just to protect Kathryn.”

Kurt stared back, angry. He had to take offense to that. To do such a thing would be irresponsible and unprofessional. Wasn't too far from the truth, but still!

“I'm trying to protect all of you! That's why I'm here.” He shook his head. “If you really want to lead your unit into a demon stronghold, then you call your sister yourself.”

He was expecting some sort of retort, perhaps about how mentioning Renee was a cheap shot, and completely different from him putting Kathryn at risk. But he got nothing. Molly just stood there, staring at the departing demons with sad resignation. For a moment, Kurt wanted to say something else, perhaps to confirm that yes, he had actually won an argument against Molly Pearson. He let the thought go, however, and reached for his Bloodberry. This was Uriel's problem now.

 

Session Three

At times, neither telepathic communication nor speakerphone conference gets the message across. Uriel's official response to the Chioni acquiring the grimoire was to call Kurt into his office the next day. Knowing that this surely wasn't a good thing, Kurt was upset and disappointed, but not that surprised. What he found curious, though, was that Uriel summoned Molly as well.

The two didn't say much at first, but it was a boring two-hour drive to Uriel's office in Cincinnati. Half the trip was through generic farmland and at one point the radio picked up nothing but country stations and lengthy diatribes on the state of Reds baseball. So one of the two was bound to speak up eventually.

“If it makes you feel better, you made the right decision,” Molly said begrudgingly, staring out the side window.

To Kurt's surprise, it did. “Thanks.”

“I was just so angry that we were letting them go. Part of me wanted to go after them... finish the job no matter the risk.”

Kurt smiled faintly. “That's, uh... him talking, isn't it?
She exhaled deeply. Molly didn't like acknowledging it, but couldn't shy away from the plain truth. “He always did drill that point home. Wrong as it may be.”

“Hard to remember that technically, you're still a student. I have no right to put you guys in danger like that.”

Molly nodded. “I wasn't going to get anyone else involved if Kathryn hadn't been...” She trailed off, for obvious reasons.

“Don't suppose anyone told you we started, uh...?” He trailed off too, but for less obvious reasons: 'dating' may have been the proper word, but it seemed far too genteel and inadequate to explain what he and Kathryn were actually doing.

“No,” Molly replied, letting it die there.

“You know, she's kinda pissed that you're coming along with me.”

She frowned. “Not surprising. She does not seem to trust me.”

“Nope. Although that has nothing to do with magic.”

 

Located halfway up the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati, the MST's district headquarters impressed visitors with its stature all the way up to the moment they actually entered the office. At the front desk, the art deco designs and intimidating elevation disappeared and gave way to just another dull office with gray cubicles, tan carpeting and sandy brick walls.

“Kurt Sempman is here,” a receptionist told Uriel via intercom.

“Come in,” Uriel told Kurt via telepathy.

The main office was crowded, with four desks separated by partition. None of the desks had computers. The lone PC was against the wall, where somebody was navigating various Windows 98 screens. The user looked over his shoulder, saw Kurt and said, “Oh. Hey.” Then he pulled his Minesweeper window back up and resumed playing.

Two of the other three workers were working at least: one filed incident reports while the other was having a telepathic conversation about some goings-on in Paducah, Kentucky. The third was doing absolutely nothing and appeared to be having the most fun.

Leaving the workplace misery behind them, Kurt and Molly entered Uriel's office, where he motioned for them to sit. Behind him was a gorgeous view of the Ohio River and points beyond. Uriel obstructed it with his chair.

“Kurt, I read your report and I am very disappointed that you didn't pursue the grimoire,” he began, firm but not angry. “Especially with Kendrick going with them. You let all of them get away.”

Lowering his head, Kurt attempted to defend himself. “I was barely able to hold off one or two of them. Trying to take on all three, plus Silars, would be impossible. And it's against policy for me to get Molly or her unit to help.”

You can't request student assistance. I can. In fact, I'm going to. You could have asked me for clearance.”

Kurt raised his head, then shook it. “I didn't have any time to decide. There's no way I could have gotten a message and a response in time. Besides, when I called in yesterday, they said you were out.”

Uriel raised an eyebrow. “I've received telepathic messages on the golf course before. I'm always on call... unless I'm putting.”

“Excuse me,” Molly interjected. “Did you say you were going to make my unit help recover the book?”

“Of course.” Uriel shrugged. “It was entrusted to your student, your student lost it. As long as it's still in L. B. Gould, you have to get it back. We can't let the Chioni extract too much out of it.”

“We don't know if it's still in L. B. Gould,” said Kurt.

“Golden Sun has a large processing center in Columbus. It's part of Richard's regular beat. He'll let us know if he senses the grimoire. Until then, we assume it's still at their local office. I'm working on a way to give you some more concrete reconnaissance, but until then, you're on your own.”

Molly scoffed. “Kurt told you how strong their powers were. You think Renee and Donovan can compete with that?”

“No, but you're clearly capable. And Santos and Monroe have proven to be resilient in combat.”

Through clenched teeth she muttered, “You're putting us in danger. Suddenly, you don't seem to value us much.” Molly hated having to spell it out for people.

Uriel was unmoved. “No offense, but I value Grimoire 17 more. Best I can tell, that book may be the only reason Donovan was chosen for the academy in the first place. If your odds were zero, that would be one thing, but I'd like to believe you have a good fighting chance.”

“You made us drive 150 miles to tell us that?”

Suddenly, Uriel's eyes widened and he dug through a desk drawer. “Oh! I almost forgot. Here...” He gave Molly a red ball, seemingly made of cheap plastic. There was a large slit cut through it, held together with a white release button.

“When you find yourself in the grimoire's presence, activate that and throw it. Your victory will be assured.”

Molly looked it over. It resembled a cheap Taiwanese toy. Rather than ask what it did, she assumed that Uriel wasn't going to answer. Otherwise, he would have been less vague than 'your victory will be assured.' She threw it in her purse and forgot about it before she and Kurt left the city.

 

Session Four

Ellen didn't like receiving phone calls from numbers she didn't recognize. Not because of paranoia or anything; half the time it was a wrong number and another minute wasted. Yet she couldn't resist answering, just in case Troy was stranded in another area code and had left his cell phone at home. To date, that had not happened.

“Ellen Monroe?” She did not recognize the man's voice. Now came the paranoia...

“Um... yes? Who is this?” she asked nervously.

“My name's Uriel, Magical Security Taskforce District Commander.”

She grumbled. It may as well have been a wrong number. “Do you need Troy's cell? Don't you guys have telepathy or something?”

“No, no... I need to speak with you.”

“How did you get this number?”

“Magic,” Uriel replied. Actually, it was listed as an emergency contact number on Troy's enrollment form. He liked messing with non-magi.

Ellen rolled her eyes. Her lunch break was supposed to be her hour to get away from the zoo. “Whatever's going on with Troy, let his Guardian take care of it. I don't like to pry into that kind of thing.”

“Unfortunately, Troy and Molly need your help. How much did Kurt tell you about Golden Sun?”

She closed her eyes. Ellen had been leery ever since Uriel introduced himself. Now she was getting scared. “He said they had ties to demons and might be after something, but-”

“They got it. And we need to get it back.”

Livid, she shouted, “I'm not stealing a-” She stopped for two reasons. One- because everybody in the cafe heard her shout that. Two- she either forgot or had never been told what the something was.

“You won't have to steal it,” Uriel said, with a chuckle Ellen found very annoying. “We just need to make sure it's still there. If we're going to launch a sortie, we would prefer to do it in the right place.”

Ellen remained silent. She at least had to hear him out. Disinterested as she was, for her to be contacted she must have been capable of helping and/or Uriel must have been desperate. Also, there was a certain urgency in his voice. Whatever the artifact was, the Golden Sun seemed capable of doing something evil with it. And she didn't want that.

“You just need to snoop around a little and see if they have the grimoire. Er...” He paused and dumbed it down. “The magic book. Probably in Silars' office or something. Don't ask him about it. Definitely don't try taking it. If you see it, just let us know.”

“Okay,” she said, grim. That was something she could handle, but corporate espionage wasn't her idea of a good career move.

“I'm sending two things to your phone. One's a beacon calibrated to go off if it detects a level of magic comparable to the book. It will sound like the most annoying text message alert you've ever heard. Treat it as such if someone's around.”

“Okay.” She frowned. She had heard some nasty noises from cell phones in the past, yet Uriel had said it with such confidence. “And second?”

“A ringtone.”

This bore repeating. “A ringtone?”

“Yes. If for some reason, you find yourself in some sort of danger, put the phone in an enclosed container- a bag or something, and play the ringtone. Your prayers will be answered.”

If Molly didn't like how vague he was about the little ball, Ellen was twice as nervous about the ringtone. But she had no intention of putting herself in danger, so she shook it off. What she couldn't shake off, she added: “Just a thought- if it is still with Mr. Silars, you're not sending Troy and his friends after it, are you?”

Uriel's lengthy pause made her even more tense. His reply didn't help: “Just as you said before- his Guardian will take care of it, and you don't like to pry into this kind of thing.”

 

Back at work, Ellen was fully prepared to investigate if the opportunity presented itself. She hoped it wouldn't. Unfortunately it did, foregoing the traditional knock and just barging through the front door. She had seen Mr. Cedric, Mr. Winston and Bo the day before, escorting a fourth man into Silars' office. In fact, given their cold demeanors and general sliminess, she remembered imagining all sorts of foul play they could have been involved in. Today, no fourth man, but as they entered the office, Silars cautiously scanned the room and told the staff not to bother them.

Once she heard the door locking behind them, she knew this was her chance. Ellen tiptoed (unnecessarily as nobody else was paying attention) to the office, crouched and put her ear against the wall. She heard very little of the conversation inside, but luckily for you this is written in third-person omniscient:

“So... they have an ATB and you failed to retrieve the dampering case. Suddenly escape becomes more of a challenge,” Silars said, pacing around the office with the grimoire under his arm.

“I'm told the agent in Columbus is watching things over there too,” Mr. Cedric added.

Silars turned his back to the three, instead facing the whiteboard on the wall. “Frankly, from what you've said, I'd rather take my chances against the agent here.”

They were interrupted by a horribly irritating noise from the other side of the wall. Imagine, if you will, a sped-up harpsichord cover of Caramelldansen, condensed to three seconds and repeated endlessly. Indeed, the most annoying text message alert any of them had ever heard.

With a dry-erase marker, Silars drew a circle on the whiteboard. He flipped through Grimoire 17 until he found the right spell, then held both his palms against the circle to activate it. The wall became transparent and revealed Ellen frantically shutting the damn thing off and sheepishly looking at her fellow employees.

Once the other phone jockeys returned to their posts, Ellen put her ear back to the wall. It appeared deformed and flattened to Silars. He glared at it, asking his cohorts, “What was the name of that agent again?”

Mr. Cedric and Mr. Winston looked at each other, hoping the other would remember. Instead, Bo answered, “Kurt Sempman.”

When he had heard it the day before, Silars couldn't place it. Suddenly, it dawned on him. “He applied for a job here last week. Grossly under-qualified.” Silars didn't show it, but he was relieved he had dismissed Kurt from consideration. He sure hadn't suspected that he had interviewed an MST agent. “But I also recall that he seemed to know...”

Silars opened the door and turned to Ellen. She jumped as he called her name.

“Sorry, my cell phone went nuts. I'll get back to work!” she said, rushed.

He shook his head, smiling slyly. “Can I have a word with you?”

“Oh, um... sure. Aren't you in a meeting?”

Leading her in, he shut the door behind them. “I assure you my employees come first.”

 

Session Five

Rather than reveal the reason for calling her in right away, Silars paced around the room a few times to make Ellen nervous. Boy, did it work. She couldn't assume any particular reason for getting called in. The spying, yes, but perhaps it was just for the hideous alert or even being away from her post. He wasn't letting on, deliberately circling before his assault, with the three other men standing at attention behind him.

“Ellen?” he barked, looking away.

After a deep breath, she replied, “Yes?” She reached into her purse to fetch her phone, but stopped midway. Ellen had shut it off to silence Uriel's beacon and feared turning it back on would start the shrieking again. Even with it on, there was no way she could turn to the 'emergency ringtone' without being noticed.

Finally, he stood in front of her and stared her down. “How do you know Kurt Sempman?”

She was expecting any number of possible questions, but this wasn't one of them. Not that it was out of bounds, in an 'enemy's friend equals enemy' way. Unsure of the best way to respond, and too rattled to consider her alternatives, Ellen went with honesty: “Oh, he's friends with my son.”

“Really?” Silars raised an eyebrow. “And why didn't you tell me? I could have gotten your thoughts on him. Perhaps I might have found reason to hire him.”

“I don't know him that well,” she replied quickly. That answer came easier. “You were chatting with him after the interview.”

“Um... just surprised he was applying here.”

Silars stepped forward, lifting his chin. “And why's that?”

Ellen tensed up more. For one brief moment she felt secure, and answered without putting enough thought into it. Not making the same mistake, she was more deliberate. “This didn't seem like a job that he'd enjoy. I thought he'd be going to school or find something closer to his interests.”

“Such as?”

“Mechanics,” she blurted. “He likes tinkering with cars and stuff.” After a pause, she decided to get Troy in the clear as well and added, “That's how my son knows him.”

“Why were you eavesdropping on us?” Silars asked, suddenly firm.

“I... how did you-?” she said it before she could think not to. Silars smiled wickedly.

“What goes on in here is very private, and you've been told that.”

“Look, my phone-”

“The phone went off when you were right on the other side of this wall. You left your desk beforehand.”

Losing control of her shields, she said, “Look, Kurt has nothing-”

“Thank you, Ellen,” he interrupted. She had made the connection for him, and that was all the proof he needed. With a kind, nauseating smile, he set a hand on her shoulder. “I think you need a moment to calm down before resuming your duties. Mr. Winston?”

Mr. Winston stepped forward obediently. “Yes?”

“Please escort Ellen to the break room.”

Ellen was no less afraid, but all the more confused. Torture chamber, secret basement prison, pits of hell she could have understood. But the break room? Besides, the staff had been told it was closed today for remodeling.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Winston replied, chuckling. Without another word, he led her to the break room. She was so perplexed by the development that she didn't attempt escaping or activating Uriel's ringtone. Ellen just went into the break room, which was not only intact, but occupied.

“What the-” she asked, not noticing Mr. Winston slamming the door behind her.

She spun around and turned the knob. It was locked. “Hey!” Forgiving as the break room seemed compared to other options available to demons, being locked inside was troubling. Ellen didn't even know the door had a lock. If it did, she assumed it would have been on the inside. Her repeating knocking went unanswered.

“You can forget about it,” said a man on the other side of the room. “Even if they could hear you, they won't let you out.”

Ellen turned around, startled. First because she had a roommate. Second because Kendrick had a lacerated arm, a black eye, and a limp in his right leg. Third because in spite of his injuries, he was making a pot of coffee as if nothing was wrong.

“Coffee or water?” Kendrick said. “We have a fine selection of either.”

“Um... coffee. Two creams.” Ellen nervously approached him. “Are you hurt?”

Kendrick casually eyed his arm, then shrugged. “It won't get any worse.”

“Here...” Ellen took a roll of paper towel and wrapped around his arm, held together with two pieces of scotch tape.

“That will do nothing,” Kendrick said.

“Now I don't have to look at it.”

Relenting, he poured and handed her a mug of coffee. “So what are you in for?”

As she took a generous gulp, she debated how to answer. She assumed he was somehow involved with all this, and recognized him as the fourth man from the day before. But Uriel hadn't mentioned anyone else involved, so she kept it generic.

“I was listening in on one of their conversations. You?”

Kendrick shrugged. “I had something they wanted. They took it from me.”

Suddenly, it made sense to Ellen: Kendrick must have had the artifact before Silars' three strongmen took it. But that meant... “Wait, how long have you been in here?”

“About a day. I don't know what time I came to.”

Her eyes widened. It had nothing to do with the coffee. “They've had you locked up since yesterday?”

“Yes, and I've already tried everything to get out. Nothing works,” he said, resigned.

Defiant, Ellen pulled out her cell phone. “Good luck,” Kendrick said, mockingly.

She got none. Although the phone turned on without that damn alert, she had no reception. “No bars...” she mumbled. A water tower, and all the cellular receptors atop it, was just a block away.

“Well...” Kendrick kneeled and opened cabinets below the counter. Inside were more coffee grounds, more water bottles and half a box of saltines. “...we do have provisions in here. We won't be starving.”

“Oh.” Ellen sat down. When she woke up in the morning, she didn't plan on worrying about whether or not she'd starve to death. “I guess that's good.”

“No, it's not,” Kendrick said, shutting the doors.

“It isn't?”

“No.” Kendrick sat on the other end of the table and folded his arms. “It means barring any more unwanted visitors, they won't have to check on us any time soon.”

 

Session Six

Molly had never been concerned with keeping her subordinates up to speed. For Troy, she didn't bother. He pieced most of it together, though, from her uneasy silence on the drive home (or at least uneasier than normal) to the displacement he had sensed while the others were battling to Kurt pretty much getting him caught up the next day. Kurt did just fine keeping people up to speed.

He was worried about the situation, as he should have been. Ever since he returned from the academy, his mother had been bitching about the new management at her job. Associating Golden Sun with evil wasn't a stretch; in fact, it felt right.

There was a small part of him that was angry at being left out of the battle. Now that several people that weren't Molly had told Troy that he could have a good career in the MST, he took it to heart. Getting involved by helping the local field agent would have been good practice. Then Kathryn complained about her injury, treatable as it was, and he was reminded that it was an actual fight and, from all accounts, an unwinnable one.

Still, he was at peace. He trusted that Uriel and Kurt would take care of the grimoire situation; if they needed him to jump in and help, he'd get involved then. Troy even saw a silver lining nobody else had: the Chioni had the book, therefore Donovan didn't. Troy could sleep well knowing that.

That night, he wasn't asleep yet. Instead, he maintained his tranquility cuddling with Marie on the couch as a movie played. The movie wasn't that interesting: not enough explosions for Troy's tastes. In fact, Marie only rented it because she thought the male lead was 'hot.' If anything, his lack of interest in the movie let him invest his thoughts elsewhere, making him cognizant of how at peace he was. Nestled next to a girl, career path in sight, no magic book on Donovan: Troy needed moments like these to realize how good he had it.

When the movie ended, neither he nor Marie were in any hurry to move. It was too perfect, and she seemed inclined to prolong it for a few extra moments. For Troy, it was indeed too perfect. Something was out of place, and once the credits started rolling he figured it out.

“My mom's not home yet,” he said, a little perplexed.

Marie groaned. “Oh God, you don't want to try again, do you?”

“No!” He blushed at the thought. Surprisingly, that was one of the few things that did not cross his mind. In hindsight, that too seemed abnormal.

He sat up and shook the numbness out of his left arm. The more he thought about it, the more he worried. Ellen wasn't a late night person, at least without a note telling Troy he's on his own for dinner.

Chastising himself for being paranoid, but unable to withstand it, Troy reached for the phone. “I hate doing this...”

“She's probably just out somewhere,” Marie said, standing up. “What time is it?”

“Ten to eleven. She's usually asleep by now.”

Marie checked her watch. “Already?! I have to get going. My mom is home and I'll never hear the end of it if I'm not back by midnight.”

After getting a 'number not available' message, Troy hung up. Maybe giving Marie a ride home would get his mind off of it. But on the drive, he couldn't think about anything else. His mother liked to know where he was at all times. The reverse held true as well. That, combined with a sinking intuition, made Troy worry.

As soon as he had dropped off Marie, he made another call. He was sure to catch flak for it, but he couldn't think of any reasonable alternative.

“What's up?” Kurt answered.

Troy shook his head, embarrassed that he was doing this, and afraid of Kurt's response. “You know that gizmo you got from the MST? Can you track people with it?”

A pause. “Who are you looking for?”

“My mom.”

Another pause. Troy cringed and waited for the inevitable laughter. None came.

“I haven't seen her since she left for work and her phone's turned off or something,” he explained.

An extra-long pause. He wondered if he had lost Kurt as well. Finally, rather than the ridicule Troy expected, Kurt was dead serious. “Get over here as soon as you can.”

Thankfully, Kathryn wasn't over this time. Kurt shooed Troy through the door, checking his Bloodberry the whole time. “I was afraid he'd try something.”

“Who?”

“Uriel. This morning he said he was working on a way to get some info on the Chioni. If he stooped low enough, Ellen's an easy pick.”

“But she doesn't know magic!”

“But she does know about the MST. It's not the first time they've tapped non-wielders to do dirty work.”

Troy fell into a chair, all sorts of bad possibilities running through his head. “So... you think she got caught?”

“Maybe. What's her number?”

Kurt tried calling her again, but not even the magically-infused Bloodberry could get a message through. He set the device on the counter and took a seat nearby.

“Man, I'm half-tempted to go down there myself and-”

The Bloodberry rang, interrupting him and his foolhardy plan. Kurt didn't recognize the number, but answered it anyway.

“Kurt?”

He couldn't quite place the voice. It sounded familiar. “Yeah?”

“Darren Silars from Golden Sun. Sorry to call so late, but it's about the job.”

Kurt's face turned white and he squeezed the phone hard enough to shatter it. He did not, however, respond.

Silars continued, casually smug. “Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to be a good fit with the company. Not quite enough experience. Oh, and the whole thing with enticing my employees into espionage? That's a no-no.”

“Where's Ellen? She's a non-wielder and has no business being involved.”

“I agree. But it wasn't my decision to get her involved, now was it?”

“It wasn't mine either,” Kurt snapped back. “So where is she?”

“She's safe for now. We won't harm her. We did stick her with that Hokoni, but I don't think he'd do anything to her. Still, I wouldn't leave them for too much longer.”

Kurt gritted his teeth, damning Uriel for putting both him and Ellen in this position. At this point, he probably should have contacted Uriel to make him clean up the mess, but that wasn't feasible this late. “Okay, so what do we need to do?”

He could sense the smile on Silars' face. “Sacrifice all rights to Grimoire 17. The Chioni owns the book in perpetuity.”

“That's all?” Kurt said, despite knowing the MST would never agree.

“You know what? Since we're doing the whole ransom thing, throw in a million dollars in unmarked bills. Just for the hell of it. We'll even hand over the Hokoni.”

Kurt was about to protest, but there was no point. Uriel wasn't going to acquiesce to the first demand anyway, so there was no sense arguing about the frivolity of the second.

Still, playing along might draw some info. Keeping his rage in check, Kurt said, “So where do we pick them up if we say yes?”

Silars laughed. “Right, like the book's already signed over and you can swing by the ATM to get the money. Knowing the MST, it's a process, I'm sure. First get the papers signed, then we can hammer out the details. We'll keep in touch.”

Kurt couldn't get another word in before Silars disconnected. Setting the Bloodberry on the counter, Kurt stoically walked across the room and sat down in front of Troy.

“They've got her?” Troy asked, in a hushed voice.

All Kurt could do was nod sadly.

“So what happens now?”

“Official policy is to report to the district commander, tell him the situation and what the Chioni's demands are. Uriel will say 'no chance in hell' and we go from there.”

Troy blinked. He didn't like that policy. “And leave Mom there all night?”

“At least. Uriel hasn't exactly been on the ball with this situation.”

“There's nothing else we can do?”

Kurt stood up and sighed. “I said that was the official policy.” He returned to the counter and took his Bloodberry. “What we're actually going to do is go after her ourselves.”

Troy nodded. He liked that plan a lot more. Still... the sight of Kurt calling Molly at eleven at night was a little unnerving. “Wait... right now?”


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VOLUME: 3

CHAPTER: 6

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