Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 26: Top of the Tower

Session One

While Bo was off in his own little world charging, Troy and Renee were helpless to watch him forge yet another batch of pain. He, with his injury, was paralyzed and she, trying to keep him off the wet floor, was immobilized. The manufactured rainstorm had been loud, flashy, and seemed to at least give Bo a headache. But it ultimately did no damage. Now everybody was soaked and Troy and Renee were stuck huddled together in a quarter-inch pool of water. Not good.

Wet as she was, and with her back in a puddle, Renee had no time to be uncomfortable. She clutched Troy tightly, making sure he stayed warm and as dry as possible. While he was still alert, his arm was in bad shape, and she had no way of telling if he was at risk of going into shock or something. She did know that he was done using magic until the injury could be treated. Once Bo was ready to go again, somehow she was going to have to hold him off alone.

While still bracing Troy to her left side, she readied her right arm. Bo was just about done, and she held her focus on him, ignoring Troy's wincing, some hell of a commotion going on downstairs and other random things like the clock and ceiling tiles that often stole her attention.

Her diligence not only paid off, it saved her life. Bo didn't stand up after completing his stock; he just launched a grenade at Renee without warning. She saw it and got a shield up to intercept it. The surprise attack failing, Bo stood and went more conventional, walking slowly toward Renee and Troy with his remaining two stones.

Renee held her shield up to absorb the second throw, whenever it would be. Bo stood over the two, belabored for a moment, and faked a throw. Although Renee flinched, the shield remained intact. So Bo just stood and waited.

The continued spell tolled Renee. Endurance wasn't one of her strong suits. Renee had already used a good deal of energy helping Troy with his makeshift tempest, so sustaining a useful shield for so long was beginning to wear on her. Her breathing was heavy, her arm was getting numb and she couldn't tell if the moisture on her forehead was water or sweat.

“Hang in there, Renee,” Troy mumbled under his breath. “Just get through this round.”

She wanted to ask 'then what?' but her lungs wouldn't let her.

As if he heard her anyway, he whispered, “Once he goes to recharge again, we'll make a break for the stairs.”

Renee nodded. With no feasible way to bring the brute down, retreat was fine by her. And she knew she could resolve to survive two more throws. She stared Bo in the eyes, making it clear to him that she was not backing down.

In response, Bo whipped his second stone at her. The shield absorbed it, but Renee yelped at the sudden throw. Startling as it was, she handled it. One more and she and Troy were out of there. Fighting off the signs of fatigue, she steeled herself, now more determined than ever to save their asses.

Rather than stare down Renee and wait for a moment of mental weakness, Bo stepped around them, pacing to their right. Renee had trouble shifting her arm, but if her training was right only a little adjustment was necessary for the shield to cover the new location. She was on this, she was okay, she was good...

Bo no longer cared. He hooked his left foot around her outstretched arm. Despite her efforts to resist, he easily out-muscled her and pinned her wrist to the floor.

“No!” she shouted, cringing. Bo put more pressure on her wrist.

He could have snapped it if he wanted to. Instead, he watched her wince and writhe in pain. The real damage would be in the stone he rolled around his fingers. Bo held it out for Renee, waved it in front of her eyes, pretended to drop it on her. Despite his stone face, he seemed to enjoy his work.

Troy couldn't stand it. He was barely capable of watching Bo torture Renee, much less do anything about it. His arm was unusable and unbearable, his mind struggling to withstand the pain and maintain focus. Neither of the two had any input into his next move.

Pushing off his left hand, he rolled on top of Renee, his back now facing Bo. Renee was now effectively shielded, but she could only gasp and look into Troy's fearful yet resolute eyes.

“Troy, no...” she whispered.

Short of breath, wincing in pain and bracing himself for more, he replied, “Once he recharges, go for the stairs.”

“But you'll-”

“It's okay,” he said, his tone clearly suggesting otherwise. Staggered, he added, “No sense you getting hurt too.”

Renee tried to look past Troy at Bo. The demon was looking at them, clearly not okay with this either as he tried to find an opening to hit Renee. A drop of water fell off Troy's chin onto her neck. It was all so sudden, so powerful, so hastily heroic that she couldn't stop him. She wasn't sure she even wanted to, a thought that hushed her given how quick and decisive and selfless the act was.

“Just try to find some help and get back up here, 'kay?” he said. She almost cried.

Grunting unhappily, Bo gave up on his pursuit to hit Renee instead. He'd have to settle for punishing hero Troy. He hoisted the grenade up and aimed for Troy's spine.

Then the door to the stairwell opened. Bo looked over and saw a woman with a gun. Before he could throw the grenade at her instead, she fired it. That was the end of Bo's night. He fell backward, the stone exploding harmlessly against the floor.

To Ellen, it happened so fast that she only now could see what was going on. No thought was necessary in stopping a man threatening her son. Now, she realized the situation Troy and Renee were in, how desperate they looked huddled together wet on the floor and how she arrived just in time. Thinking froze her, choking her up and preventing her from speaking.

It wasn't necessary. Troy had seen enough of it. He was too surprised to say anything, too elated to ponder it, and too close to her to need anything more than a faint smile.

Renee, on the other hand, broke out in exasperated giggles. Troy had risked his back to try to save her, and Ellen actually did. Troy turned that smile her way, and she responded by smiling back, throwing her liberated arms around him and kissing him on the cheek. Then on the other cheek. And then on the lips.

She pulled back, took a breath, and paused. It wasn't enough. Renee went back up again, this time holding her lips upon his and, after a few moments, opening her mouth slightly. Troy did the same. After a prolong, sustained kiss of a several seconds, Troy stopped. But only to breathe. He leaned forward, forcing Renee's head back against the floor and resuming the victory celebration.

Ellen had probably thought of something to say by now, but she turned away. At the moment, she doubted Troy was aware that she was standing so close. She definitely didn't want to remind him. Gun lowered, she turned her attention to the door and the hallway, determined not to let anyone disturb her son's living.


Session Two

The moment was emotional. A strong, selfless move on his part to shield her from danger, followed by a stroke of good fortune to spare both of them. Their battle had been won and Renee was excited by it. No matter how it came about, she was there with Troy in the heat of everything and she was loving it. Also keep in mind that the two were laying on top of each other and dripping wet. So they prolonged the makeout session a good deal longer than was socially appropriate. Just be happy all clothing remained intact, granted the soakings left little of the top half to the imagination.

Ellen remained patient, but after a minute or so was ready to break up the party. Then she heard feet scaling stairs and readied her gun.

Out popped Kathryn, arming her staff to prepare for whatever was on this floor. The ladies saw each other, blinked, and set down their weapons.

“Ellen? Oh, thank God,” Kathryn said, stepping aside to let Donovan and Bryce in. “Why are you pointing a gun at me?”

Ellen sighed. “Why were you pointing a... stick at me?”

“Just glad you're...” Kathryn stopped when she saw Troy and Renee.

“Yeah, looks like they had a rough time.” Ellen shrugged. “I didn't want to interrupt, but-”

“I do.” Kathryn approached them, ready to poke Troy with the staff, but he heard her approaching and stood up. “What's going on here?” she asked him.

“Oh, uh...” Troy looked at Renee, bashfully getting to her feet. Suddenly his arm bothered him again. He had completely forgotten about it. Defensively, he added, “Hey, you don't know what we went through.”

“I can guess.” She took hold of his arm and eyed his wound. “One of those exploding stone things?”


“Stings like hell, don't it?”

Troy nodded. Renee did one better and answered, “Don't think he can use magic until it's treated. I hope Yuki gets here soon.”

Kathryn raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I was thinking you wanted a couple more minutes alone.”

Renee stepped back. She knew that tone of voice. Joking, yet hostile. Her friends used it on their adversaries all the time. “Look, it was just the heat of the moment, okay?” she said uncertainly. “That was an ordeal.”

“Mmm hmm...” In that same tone, Kathryn pointed at Renee's chest. “I like your bra.”

While Renee's arms jumped to cover up her semi-transparent shirt, Troy took Kathryn aside. “Hey, hey, we uh, just got caught up in things. I mean, you're not going to tell M-”

“Troy, we'll talk about it later,” she replied. “But for the record, Donovan and I went through the same thing and we're not making out.”

Now that he was up, Ellen finally noticed her son's wound. “Oh, honey, you're hurt.”

Clutching his arm, Troy nodded. “Yeah. I'll be fine once Yuki gets here.” He turned to Kathryn. “Any idea where they are?”

Kathryn shook her head. “Didn't see them. Can't imagine them getting off any easier.”

He then noticed Kathryn's face- still heavily scratched with specks of crusted blood coming out of her nose. “You're banged up too.”

“Eh, this is nothing.” She shrugged. “Plus Yuki can't heal anything done by a wall. Good ol' Band Aids for me.”

Ellen scoffed, disgusted. “I can't believe you guys are getting hurt like this. And treating it so lightly. Did that Uriel person send you all to find me?”

“Nope. Kurt did,” Kathryn replied.

“He was afraid Uriel was going to drag things down waiting for the MST to act. We wanted to get you out of here tonight,” Troy elaborated.

“Oh...” Ellen sighed. What a good boy. “Thank you. I'd hug you, but you're soaking wet.”

“Donovan, where are you going?” Renee said, breaking up the Hallmark moment. Donovan had been inching his way toward the hall and away from the group.

Busted, he turned back and glowered. “Quit this dallying. We must find the tome now.”

“Forget it,” Kathryn barked back. “We need to regroup after all that.”

“At the very least, we need to wait for Yuki and Kurt,” Troy added.

“And like I already said, the only reason we came here was to find Ellen.” Kathryn put a hand on Ellen's shoulder. “Mission accomplished.”

Then she turned to Ellen. “How the hell did you get up here anyway?”

“Oh, the nice young man I was locked up with helped me out. The one they stole the book from,” Ellen said.

Everyone turned to Donovan. Donovan folded his arms. “Lies! I help no one!”

Giving it some thought, Kathryn said, “Well, technically they didn't steal it from you... they stole it from...” She nervously looked at Troy. His eyes widened as he turned to Ellen.

“A nice, young man, you said?” Troy asked.

Ellen nodded, smiling. “Yes. He said you might know him. I wish I'd gotten his name.”

The awkward silence was broken by sets of feet rushing up the stairs. Ellen and Kathryn readied their weapons once more, just in case the arrivals were hostile.

The door flew open and Kurt poured out, spinning around and ready to fire, followed by Molly, positioned likewise.

Renee smiled and waved. “Hi, Molly!”

At ease, Molly and Kurt looked at Ellen, who also put down her gun. Yuki followed in behind them, but Renee quickly got her attention and directed her to Troy.

“Ellen... how the hell did you get here?” Molly asked.

“Molly?” Ellen replied, astounded. “Is that really you?”

Molly cleared her throat. “Yes, so-”

“Oh my God!” Ellen bounded forward and gave Molly a big hug. Kurt stepped away from them. “Have you gotten taller?”

“What, I-” As if Molly had any defense for this smothering display.

“And you're a guardian now? That's amazing.” Ellen released Molly, but still kept her hands on the guardian's shoulders.

“You and Molly know each other?” Kathryn asked, immediately suspicious.

“Oh yes, I've known Molly since she was little,” Ellen replied, prompting Molly to shake herself loose.

Renee was puzzled, which was a step up from Troy, who was totally dumbfounded. “But Molly and I didn't move here until a couple years ago.”

“Yeah, what's going on?” Troy blurted.

Ellen grew a big smile. “Oh, she didn't tell you? Your father taught Molly magic.”


Session Three

The tense silence was to be expected after such a revelation. The only noise came from the swishing liquid in Yuki's test tube. It was deafening. Kathryn and Renee didn't know how to respond. Kurt covered his open mouth and stepped away. Molly's lowered her trigger finger: she didn't get the silencing spell off in time. Instead, she turned away from the group before anyone looked in her direction.

As for Troy, he was beyond reaction. Startling as it was, he had no way of comprehending the ramifications. His father taught his nemesis magic. But that had presumably happened before Molly became his nemesis. Was she still his nemesis? He wasn't sure if this was good news or bad news.

Finally realizing that more information would be useful, he loudly said, “Hold on a second.”

Everybody but Molly looked at him, though most of them were pretty much on hold already. Troy turned to the one exception, Yuki, who had stopped with her potion to see what he had to say. He turned to her. “Not you.” She went back to work.

Once again, the lack of a coherent and useful question stymied Troy. Turning back to his mother, he settled for a good old fashioned, “What?”

“Yeah, Frank got Molly into the MST. Taught her everything he knew. What's the problem?”

Again, Troy was speechless. What wasn't a problem with this?

Kathryn picked up the slack, though she chose a different target. “Kurt, did you know about this?”

She chose wisely, as Kurt had been distancing himself from Molly and Ellen. When all eyes were on him, he remained hesitant. “Um... I'd heard a few things,” he admitted.

Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. He relented, “Okay, all I know is that Molly stumbled onto her trigger at a young age and Frank kinda took her under his wing to make sure she turned out all right.”

Ellen clasped her hands and sighed. “Right. And clearly he did a good job.” She glanced at Molly, sulking in the corner, her back to the group. “This kind of thing happens all the time, right?”

“Are you kidding?” Yuki said, shaking her head as she continued her mixing. She was mostly astounded, partially amused at Ellen's ignorance. “A child? With no magic lineage? And training her outside the academy? That's unheard of!”

“It wasn't totally outside the academy,” Ellen clarified. “Once Frank left, he pulled some strings and got Molly enrolled at Central. She couldn't have been any younger than you at the time.”

Boom! Smoke billowed out of the potion, but Yuki was taken aback to notice. Unfortunately, Troy leaned too far in and the thing exploded in his face. Yuki blew the smoke away, handed the concoction to a reeling Troy, and approached Ellen and Molly. Now she was completely shocked.

“But... the only reason I'm here... the only reason I'm in this country is because Central's the only public academy that's let someone my age in before. You mean...” She turned to Molly. Molly looked back and met Yuki's eyes for a second. Before anyone could see how upset she was over the conversation, she turned away again.

“That would explain why you ended up in her group too,” Kurt said.

Ellen laughed nervously. “Wow, I didn't realize this was such big news.”

“Well, yeah, it's a bit hard to picture Molly being a friend of your family,” said Kathryn.

A bit more sober, Ellen replied, “Well, Frank never introduced her to Troy.” She seemed to want to say more, but hesitated after a glance at her son. She changed her mind and went with something else. “But yeah, I guess you're right. You might even say Molly's like Troy's big sister.”

“What?!” Like hell was Troy letting that stand. Arm now healed and eyes now wide, he took two steps to his mother, stopped and let loose. “Mom, remember pretty much all of last year, when you'd ask me how my day at school was.” Sneaking a nervous look at Molly, Troy stammered, “And any time I had a bad day... do you remember why?”

Ellen smiled it off. “Oh, yes, I remember you bitching about Molly all the time. Like I said- big sister.”

Renee and Kathryn took offense: Kathryn because she thought she had adopted the 'Troy's big sister' role and Renee because Molly actually was her big sister and it was a pretty sweet deal. Very unlike Troy's experience.

Surprised at all the outbursts, Ellen faced Molly. “You know, you've been awfully quiet, dear.” Molly let out a low growl, but kept her back turned. “I'm surprised you haven't told them. I know you're a little shy, but this is something your unit should know about.”

Troy and Kathryn looked at each other quizzically. A little shy?

“It's like you're ashamed of it or something. But you have to admit that you've come a long way because of Frank.”

Finally, Molly spun around to face Ellen. Sneering at her, eyes releasing a whole evening's worth of pent-up frustration, she shouted, “Frank Monroe was the most despicable human being I have ever met!”

As she seethed, only awkward silence responded. Some were surprised at the announcement itself, some by the passion of it, some that Molly finally spoke at all, and Troy, who really wanted an explanation but sure as hell wasn't about to ask any follow-up questions after that explosion.

Ellen, meanwhile, only frowned and looked away. “Well... perhaps, but...” Only she had no 'but.' She trailed off, unable to provide any sort of argument. Troy was as angry about that as he was about the actual statement. He wasn't vocalizing it, only tilting his head, mouthing 'mom,' and sighing as his mother conceded.


Session Four

Tense as it was, nobody was willing to continue the conversation. The only interruption came from Donovan, who cleared his throat. All eyes, now eager to turn from the subject, lent themselves to him. He folded his arms. “The tome?”

“Yes!” Molly marched up to Donovan, pointed at him and turned to the group. “The tome!” She quickly corrected herself: “Er, the grimoire. We've been told it's on this floor, so we may as well. Everybody all rested? Good. Let's go.”

Onward she rallied, only to be stopped again by Ellen. “Um, do you want this?” She held up the gun.

“That's an xC,” Kurt marveled, taking it from her hands. “Where did you get this?”

“Oh, uh, Uriel sent it to me through a ringtone. Said I should use it in case of emergency.”

“Uriel used a ringtone charm?”

Suddenly defensive, Ellen replied, “Yeah, I didn't know what else to do. I was stuck and-”

Molly returned to the group and mumbled, “Uriel knows how to use ringtones?”

Holding back a chuckle, Kurt said, “Hey, speaking of Uriel, you got that thing-”

“Yes.” Molly patted her front pocket. Eager to get moving, she added, “We are set.”

Still thrown by the recent news, and not entirely happy about continuing the fight after the mission, Troy, Renee, Kathryn and Yuki slowly approached the hallway, standing behind Molly, Kurt, Donovan and Bryce.

“While you were all chit-chatting, I checked the hallway for any more circles. It's clean,” Bryce said. Now that everybody's attention was on it, the hall Bo had been guarding led to large, oak double-doors. It may or may not have been where Silars was hiding with the grimoire, but it sure wasn't the janitor's closet.

Kurt nodded. Given the possibility for traps and the fact that he hadn't even thought about it, he had to acknowledge the foresight. Molly wouldn't. “Good. You and Blaine stay back and take care of Ellen.”

“Blaine's still unconscious.”

“Good thing he won't have to go far,” Molly replied.

Behind them, Ellen said, “Be careful now,” almost as if they could.

Molly and Kurt took the lead, Kurt ready with the xC if necessary. Donovan insisted on being in the front as well. The other four, hardly enthusiastic, had no problem bringing up the rear. Donovan and Molly each took a door, with Kurt standing in front of them, in firing positioning. He nodded; they threw the doors open.

The office was empty.

It was certainly an executive chamber, with nice carpeting, large windows revealing the distant Columbus skyline, and one of those large, elaborately old-school desks with a naked surface suggesting that its sole use was playing paper football with thousand-dollar bills. Other than a fern in the corner, there was nothing else. Except the overwhelming aura of Grimoire 17.

“It's here!” Donovan exclaimed, lunging into the room. Kurt and Molly tried to grab him, but ended up stumbling inside as well. They both cringed, waiting for a surprise that never came.

Donovan turned around and stared at them. “What? Can't handle the tome's awesome power?”

“Actually, we're wondering where the trap is,” Kurt replied. He looked around; it was still an empty office. No army of goons, no massive explosion, no optical illusion. They still felt the book's presence.

“If there was a circle trap here, with the room empty it would have to activate on contact,” Molly said, puzzled that it didn't. Seriously, Silars wouldn't just leave it in the room unguarded.

“Under the book itself?” Kurt suggested. The other four entered into the room, awed by both the grimoire and the quiet surrounding it.

Once Kathryn's shoes touched the carpet, then the circle activated. A sharp electric jolt coursed through each of them and they fell to their knees. When their knees made contact with the floor, the pain intensified. Kathryn tried leaning on her bronze staff, but if this electricity could travel through her rubber shoes, it was even deadlier through a metal rod. She dropped it and moaned.

Silars popped up in front of the window, setting the grimoire on the desk. For all the magic techniques Kurt and Molly had anticipated, they weren't ready for him hiding under a desk.

“Actually, young lady, when I am present I can activate it whenever I please,” he mocked. Kurt found the strength to aim the xC, but Silars clasped his hands, pointed his palms at the gun and drew it his way.

“None of that now,” Silars said, setting it on the desk next to the book. Kurt gave in to the pain and bent over. It was a persistent, searing shock that made it difficult to concentrate on any particular motor skill, much less casting a spell. It wasn't as bad as, say, climbing an electric fence. More on par with a collar used to keep a dog in the yard. Although its continued pulsing was plenty: Yuki and Renee gave in and passed out.

“Now, don't worry. I have no intention of harming you,” Silars said.

“What do you call this?!” Kathryn shouted, unable to modulate her voice.

“This is humane compared to what you did to my poor assistants. Whichever ones are alive will be loading you and the grimoire onto the morning truck back to our Manhattan office. There, you will wait until the MST meets our demands.”

“Same ones as before?” Kurt hissed.

Silars grinned. “Precisely. Only multiplied. Now the force has to comply. A valued agent and prized students imprisoned over at corporate? They have a medieval dungeon there, you know.”

“And the book?” Molly said, struggling to reach into her pocket.

“Oh, we have plans for the- hey!” Other than the shout, which did very little, Silars had no way to stop Molly from retrieving the plastic ball Uriel had given her.

Each movement stung and her nerves barely handled the added chore of commanding muscles while accepting the massive pain intake. The electricity disoriented her, but she persisted in holding the ball out, and tossing it out of the circle. Dizzy as she was, though, she did not throw at Silars as intended. It bounced into the corner, settled in and snapped open. Nothing happened.

Panicked for a brief moment, Silars chuckled and turned to Molly. The added strain on her had taken its toll, and she was now barely conscious.

“What was that supposed to be?” he asked her.


Session Five

Kurt stared at the ball thing, forlorn. While Uriel never went into depth about what it did, clearly it was supposed to do something. The directions had been pretty simple too- activate and throw. Molly had done that. As they had no specifics like throwing it at the book or throwing it at an enemy or throwing it on the ground, it should have been some all-encompassing intervention that 'assured success,' as Uriel had promised. In that regard, it was proving to be about as useful as a fortune cookie.

The prolonged shock tested the wills of even the strongest among Molly's unit. Yuki and Renee had already succumbed. Troy began to slip away. Even Molly had put everything into activating the faulty ball; her eyes rolled back and her legs started to give. Kathryn was holding on, but barely. Donovan didn't seem to notice, even as his hair stood on end.

Therefore, Kurt had to make this fast. He knew none of this was fatal; most spells could only inflict pain rather than actual bodily harm. But this was his final chance to do what he should have done long ago: ask Silars a question.

“So what happens to the book?”

Silars smirked, happy to engage in conversation while his foes faded- a formality to him. “Whether you realize it or not, you can't understate the power of Grimoire 17.”

“The Tome of Vincent Wagner!” Donovan corrected, furious.

With a dismissive nod, Silars replied, “Right.” Then he flipped through the book. “But the things in here really are remarkable. This shock circle for example.” He stopped on a page. “Page 62. The hardest part was waiting for you to finish yapping and get in here. But some of the things in here...” He looked up just as Molly checked out. “I'm sure you're all fine magi. Good students and good company boys and girls that survived everything downstairs.” Kurt waited for the point, incapable of folding his arms.

“And yet, here you all are- at my feet.” Silars returned to the book and turned to the back. “Despite my clear superiority to the best the MST can put forth to defend this grimoire... I can't begin to contemplate some of the text in here. I imagine the powers that can be attained are nothing short of godlike. The Manhattan office will love it.”

“But if it's that strong...” Kurt paused to wince as the pain intensified. His extremities felt numb. “Do you really expect-” Another delay to grapple with the shock. “...the MST to let you have it?”

Silars shrugged. “I'll admit I had my doubts about them trading it for Ellen and the Hokoni. But now that our haul is bigger... well, you should hope they'll comply. Otherwise, we'll kill you.”

“Kill us?!” Kurt repeated, not entirely sure if his ears were still working right.

“No...” Silars replied, loudly. Then he calmed down and motioned towards Molly's unit. “Not them. These are children. There are certain business ethics in play. A bit of a taboo to kill academy students. We'll have to find other ways to entertain them while in captivity.”

Silars' pacing took him back to the desk. He picked up the xC and, in an instant, pointed it at Kurt. “You, on the other hand...”

Kurt winced. Even as his nerves were being microwaved, his reflexes still forced his arms up to shield his face. After trying hard to feel nothing, the sensation of sheer terror rattled him. His body shook even more.

“Silly boy.” Silars smiled brightly and lowered the gun. “This thing only works on demons. No need to be so jumpy.” He set the gun back down, careful to keep the barrel away from his body. Looking down, he snickered. “Wow, you thought I was actually going to shoot you too. Even after all that talk about holding you for a ransom.”

Turning back to Kurt, Silars threw in one last barb: “Listening skills are very important for our customer service reps.”

Kurt, more unqualified for the position then ever, wasn't listening. Whether or not it would have done anything, the shock of having a gun pointed at his head made him lose all concentration. He fell onto his back, ready to punch out for the night.

Paging through the book once more, Silars cooed a nice, reassuring message to help Kurt along. “Yes, this is huge. Anyone who thought Golden Sun was big now can't even imagine where this will lead us. This is just the beginning for the Chioni. No other faction will be able to compare. We will be multi-national, multi-dimen-”

He wasn't able to finish. The blast was so strong, so sudden and so surprising that Silars went from obnoxious to unconscious in an instant. His fall killed the shock circle, allowing everyone who had succumbed to rise again, although it took a couple minutes.

Kurt, who never did completely go down, was among the few who turned to the corner where the shot had come from. Uriel stood over the plastic ball, arm still extended toward Silars. He wore unbelted slacks, a badly-wrinkled shirt, and a pair of brown loafers. His hair was neat enough, despite the day's worth of stubble on his chin and the red in his eyes. Clearly, this was a man who did not expect the transfer ball to activate in the middle of the night.

Lowering his arm, Uriel stepped across the room, ignoring the pile of bodies on the other side, until he stood over Silars. The demon didn't even get time to turn his head completely to see who had shot him, yet the horrified look remained fixed on his face. He wasn't dead. But he may as well have been now that Uriel was on the scene.

Now that Uriel was there in control, Kurt let his superior worry about Silars and the book. The agent was worried about his friends. Priority one was waking up Molly. As he did, Uriel picked up Grimoire 17, flipped through it, and verified that it was in one piece.

And then he laughed. Hard. A great, stupefied laugh to revel in how everything turned out. Despite everything everybody went through, the bad guys had been defeated and Uriel was left standing with the treasure. His laugh was naturally overbearing, but who was there to criticize him? The battle was over and the day was won.

Until another magic blast, as strong as the one that felled Silars, struck Uriel in the chest. Unprepared, he dropped the book and the force knocked him into the window, cracking it slightly. Sharing the same stupefied look as Silars, Uriel joined the demon in unconsciousness.


Session Six

Molly had just come to, still facing the disorientation and haze of waking up in an unfamiliar place, and trying to get her nervous system to talk to her again after the extended jolt. Other than that and a bad headache, she was fine until she saw the district commander crash helplessly into the wall.

At that moment, all discomfort left her. She couldn't afford it anymore. Now, there was a new problem that she had to address immediately. Molly jumped to her feet, turned to the source of the energy ball and shouted, “Donovan, what the hell are you doing?!”

Unflinching, Donovan set his hands to his side and glared at Uriel. “I will not allow the tome to be stolen again. This strange man must not prevail.”

Kurt stepped toward Uriel, got a closer look at the damage, then turned to the grimoire's keeper. “Donovan, that strange man is my boss.”

“Your master is hasty with his evil laugh, and it lacks refinement.”

Rather than respond, Kurt saw Kathryn shake herself into an alert state. “Kat, make sure everybody's up.” She nodded, grabbed her staff and prodded Troy. Kurt leaned in to check on Uriel.

Best that could be said was that Uriel still had a pulse. Kurt turned to Molly, standing behind him. “What do you think?” he asked.

“I must say that was a damn good shot,” Molly deadpanned.

“No, I mean, what should we-” He stopped when he realized Molly was ignoring him. Instead, she picked up the book and watched Troy get to his feet.

“Troy!” she barked, almost knocking him to the ground again. “Get Ellen. We're leaving.”

“Wait, bring her in here?” Troy replied, confused.

“Did you see any doors downstairs? Besides, we don't want to go back through there. The sleeping potion might not last much longer.”

“The tome is mine!” Donovan shouted, launching another attack. Molly sidestepped it without a second glance. It bounced off the window and back towards the room, almost taking Troy's head off. He left to fetch his mother without further protest.

Donovan got the glare. “I'll take the book,” Molly spat. He folded his arms, angry but unable to argue.

“Um... Molly?” Kurt attempted to butt in. “What about Uriel?”

“What about Uriel? We need to get out of here.”

“Look, I'm not worried about the guy waking up from the sleeping potion. If us three could take care of him, all seven of us-”

Molly shook her head, cutting him off. “I'm not worried about him either. I'm worried about Uriel waking up while we're still here. Last thing I need tonight is a lecture about trying to kill commanding officers.”

“We can't just leave him here!”

“Sure we can. We'll go through the window.” Molly started looking for a good way to bust through. “After everything he put us through, I have no sympathy for this man.”

Kurt sighed. Hard point to argue, but he tried. “He helped out eventually.”

Molly paused, and argued back. “You do realize why he was so vague about that transfer ball, right?” He shook his head. “Because if we knew what it did, we would have activated it downstairs. Asshole didn't want to do the leg work.”

“But...” But Kurt wasn't getting anywhere. Molly had turned around and was back to disseminating the windows. Finally Kurt confessed the real motive to saving Uriel:

“But he signs my paychecks!” Molly stopped, turned, and raised an eyebrow at Kurt. He slumped down in submission.

Both were jolted by glass shattering behind them. Once again, when it came to property damage, Kathryn was on the scene.

“No sense being cute here, Pearson,” she said.

Molly nodded, too eager to leave to debate the tactic this time. “It'll do. You ride with...” She turned to Kurt, still standing over Uriel, mourning his lost wages. Feeling her stare, he looked back. Then he saw Kathryn. He pointed at the shattered window and cracked a smile.

Kathryn sighed. “Don't sweat. I got it.” Holding her staff up, she started to levitate. Inching her way out the window, she added, “God, I hate this.”

Everybody else got the idea. Now-revived, Renee and Yuki went next. Donovan glared at the grimoire until Molly shoved him out.

With Troy and Ellen safely on their way in, Kurt jumped out next. As he floated to the ground, Ellen pointed at him and turned to Molly. “I can't do that,” she said.

“Troy can,” Molly replied. Troy groaned.

Giving his mother a piggyback ride, however, was the only option. Ellen hopped on, trying not to make Troy feel any more awkward than he already was. Still, Troy needed a minute to convince himself that this wasn't completely humiliating.

Molly scoffed “What are you waiting for? Someone to take your picture?” Then she reached into her pocket. Now that she thought of it, a snapshot of Troy in this spot would be excellent material for her file. In fact, Troy perceived her words as a threat and took flight before she had the chance. Molly shrugged, clutched the book and descended behind them.

The building they were evacuating was in a commercial district, but well away from downtown. As it was the middle of the night, the streets were thankfully empty. Everybody safely arrived on the loading zone below, looking up as Molly and Troy joined them.

Now that both the Ellen and Grimoire 17 had been successfully extracted from the Chioni's clutches, Renee cheered in victory. She was the only one. This had been a long, trying night. The bruises from battling Golden Sun's enforcers, the tingling remnants of the shock circle and the news of Molly's prior education still lingered. Yes, the mission was a success, but the consensus was more eager to get some sleep than celebrate.

Problem was that they were still in the wrong city. “So what now?” Kathryn asked, shivering a bit in the cool breeze.

Kurt was working on that. Now that they were out of the building, where the Chioni had blocked reception, he was on his Bloodberry, patiently letting Richard Herman's phone ring until the Columbus agent woke up and answered the damn thing. Richard eventually answered and Kurt started negotiating a debriefing, a ride back to L. B. Gould and, if Richard was up for it, going back in and getting Uriel. Richard dismissed the latter outright, but was open to discuss the first two.

“I suppose you can pick us up here,” Kurt said.

Molly coughed. “Actually, I suggest a different location. Get this book away from here, now.”

Ellen raised her hand, nudging up next to Molly. Molly turned her head and stepped away. “I don't know about the rest of you, but I would love to find a Denny's or something. I haven't really eaten for about twelve hours.”

“Saw a White Castle on the way down,” Kathryn said, pointing. “Looked pretty close.”

“Perfect!” Ellen clasped her hands together and smiled. “I'll buy.”

Kurt nodded and relayed the info to Richard, hanging up before Richard could object. Thus began the procession to the heralded White Castle. He and Kathryn led the way, with Yuki alongside them.

Molly followed behind them, a little annoyed as Kathryn and Kurt rubbed shoulders and a lot annoyed at Ellen. Troy's mother remained intent on treating Molly as an old acquaintance and insisted on catching up on things. Molly was too tired to do anything but play along.

If Molly was bothered by Ellen, Troy was losing his hair over it. Regardless of what had gone on behind his back years ago between Frank and Molly, it was still a shock. The more he thought about it, the more troubling it seemed. Why would his father dote over training Molly and leave him in the dark?

A hand slipped into his. To his right, he found Renee, smiling. With Molly occupied ahead, she leaned in closer as they walked. Any disturbance over Ellen and Molly would have to wait as Troy suddenly felt at ease. This was no longer the heat of the moment. They were conscious of each other, conscious of the implications and conscious of any potential onlookers.

Yet, he didn't let go.





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