Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 27: Playa Hater

Session One

August passed more slowly than usual. For high school kids enjoying summer break, that was inherently good and exceedingly rare. Too often, a teenager will wake up around noon on the first, relish in the weeks of summer yet to come, blink and find themselves back at school.

Not so much for Troy and company. The last few weeks had been, to put it lightly, eventful. In the days following the Chioni debacle, when Troy woke up he could only wonder what was going to happen next. Once they had gotten back to L. B. Gould after the big infiltration, the return to normalcy was jarring and uncomfortable. Every day, Troy prepared for some sort of retaliation or consequence of their bold rescue. It never happened.

To be fair, that perception was mostly due to Troy's ignorance. In many instances, the aftermath was messy and tedious. Kurt and Molly and even Richard had questions to answer, forms to fill out and demons to take into custody. Ellen did indeed lose her job, settling for different office work in Huffington. The venue change dropped her a few rungs, didn't pay as well and increased her fuel costs, but at least there were no demons at the new office. The financial hit wasn't readily apparent to Troy; his mother still received child support checks from zip code 46195, so the family was never in dire straits.

Instead, the fear of a demon attack was renewed. Golden Sun was still in town. One of their non-evil managers took over for Darren Silars and Kurt kept a very close eye on them as part of his field agent duties. Still, the company didn't magically go away quite the way Troy had expected. Between them and Kendrick, who skipped away from the scene unnoticed, Troy went through another August expecting something to happen. In some ways, he actually looked forward to returning to school. At least that was a controlled environment under Molly's watchful eye, in spite of the human rights she denied the student body.

Determined not to let Troy waste another August wallowing in paranoia, Kathryn and Marie intervened. Slow as it may have seemed, the month was half over and damned if they weren't going to enjoy some of their fleeting freedom. They, Kamila and Yuki were going to the beach.

Keep in mind that they were in Ohio. 'The beach' in this case refers to a small strip of sand alongside a lake within a state park. With the sun bearing down and the water so inviting, they wasted no time in changing into their swimsuits. For Troy, this meant taking off his shirt. The girls had a slightly more complex regimen.

“Watch our stuff, okay?” Kamila ordered, slinging a grocery bag around Troy's arm. She pulled a bikini out of it and headed into the changing facility. The other girls, in turn, dropped each of their bags at his feet and followed her in. Troy dragged the lot to the back of the building where he could at least look at the water.

As he applied sunscreen stolen from Marie's bag, Troy watched a few of girls tanning by the water. Just another favorable addition to the scenery. Until he heard someone down there shout his name. She was returning to shore from a dip in the lake, grabbing a towel from the tanners' row and continuing toward him. She was Renee.

Trusting that the bags would not sprout legs and run off, he left them and walked up to meet her. This was a total surprise to Troy, and an amazing coincidence considering how far out of town this beach was. But one look at the water droplets clinging to Renee's body assured him that it was a pleasant one.

He smiled brightly and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, my friends and I come here all the time,” Renee replied, turning to said friends. A couple of them looked over from their beach chairs to see the boy Renee was running to meet. One stood up and approached them. She looked just as stunning.

With the subject of Renee's companions raised, Troy quickly ran a security check: “Your sister's not here, is she?”

Renee laughed. “Of course not. Have you ever caught Molly doing anything fun?”

Troy nodded, more relieved than amused.

“Who's this?” Renee's friend barged in, wearing a devious yet playful smile and little else.

“Oh, this is Troy,” Renee replied, a little sheepish around this other girl. “He's a, uh... friend.”

“A uh... friend, huh?” the girl mocked, bitingly. Renee turned away. The girl leaned forward, putting a hand on her hip and angling herself in a pose that screamed both 'yes, I'm hot' and 'no, you can't have- not yours.'

“I'm Madison,” she said to Troy.

Troy nodded his head, unsure of what he was witnessing and whether he was amused or intimidated by it. “Monroe,” he replied.

“Quincy Adams!” Renee blurted. Since the whole display couldn't be any more befuddling, Troy chuckled. Bad a joke as it was, at least he knew it was one.

Madison scoffed and slapped Renee's shoulder. “You're such a nerd, Renee,” she said, playfully enough to not intend harm. She ditched the pair anyway.

Renee smiled at Troy. “Isn't she a riot?”

Troy shrugged and looked over his shoulder. No sign of his backup yet.

“Who's all with you?” Renee asked.

He checked again. “Kathryn, Marie and Yuki. And Kamila. They're sure taking a while.”

She tugged a strap of her suit. “Well, our gear's a little more complicated.” With a second thought and his attention turned, she shimmied her hip and added, “What do you think of my new swimsuit?”

“Trying not to,” Troy mumbled, not realizing he had said it aloud. It was a lavender two-piece, modest but revealing more than he'd ever seen before. Rather than revealing his actual thoughts about it, he instinctively looked over his shoulder again.

Yuki and Kamila ducked behind the wall in time.


Session Two

“Yep, she's flirting,” Kamila declared, hiding behind the changing facility.

Yuki took another peak at Troy and Renee. “I wish we could hear them.” What she meant was, she wished she knew a good eavesdropping spell.

“No need, Yuk', did you see that little shake? She knows what she's doing.”

Marie had so far looked at the subjects only once. That was enough. “Jeez, why does she have to be here?”

“Talk about bad luck,” Kamila said. Arm over Yuki's shoulder, she snuck a look at Renee's friends in the beach chairs. “And she's with Madison... Jordan... bunch of stuck-up seniors. You got your hands full, girl.”

“It's not like she knew we'd be here,” Marie mumbled, trying to reassure herself.

“Well...” Yuki said, looked away from the other girls. “It's not inconceivable. I did kinda mention the trip on Myspace.”

“Oh!” Kamila cracked her knuckles. “Well, if that's how they're going to play, we'll just have to ambush 'em.”

“Kamila,” Kathryn said, stern. She had been quiet until now, hanging back in the doorway with a look of dread on her face. The one word reprimand was all she was letting out.

Marie took over. “Kathryn's right. I don't want to start any trouble. It's probably just our imagination anyway. I'll just cuddle up beside him, pull him away and that'll be the end of it.”

Two steps on her way to executing this plan, Kathryn lunged forward, grabbed Marie's shoulder strap and pulled her back.

Marie turned around, agog. “Please don't do that,” she muttered, sliding it back on her shoulder.

Shifting her eyes, still pretty dour, Kathryn said, “Yeah, uh, that might not be such a good idea either.” She pointed away from the beach. “Can we talk?”

That made Marie nervous, but she nodded and they walked away.

“What about Kamila and me?” Yuki asked.

“Duh, keep spying on 'em,” Kathryn replied.

Kathryn and Marie found a bench by the parking lot. They sat on opposite sides and despite their location and their attire they were both apprehensive. Pulling Marie away was a natural reaction for Kathryn given the situation and Marie's lack of knowledge about the whole Troy/Renee thing. But now that she had, she wasn't sure what to do herself.

She started with what she did know: “Look, I've had a rough summer. I want to relax and goof off and forget about things for a day. The last thing I want to worry about is dealing with Renee and her princess posse.”

Don't discount the last part: Madison and her friends were among the elite drama queens in town- masters of various disdainful 'mean girl' tropes. Jordan, one of the other girls tanning, was an all-region gossip and gunning for all-state as a senior. Kathryn wanted no part in that.

“What's up with Renee?” Didn't change the situation though. Marie remained uneasy.

Kathryn shifted her eyes. What was up with Renee? Yes, it was entirely possible that her being here was just a coincidence, that she was talking to Troy because he was a friend and that her airy, cheerful way could be seen as flirtatious. After the incident during the Chioni battle, which Troy implored her to not talk about, Kathryn couldn't be that optimistic. Yet, if she really was trying to avoid petty conflict, she couldn't jump to conclusions.

She settled for what she knew: “They went out a few times freshman year.” Marie steeled herself for more. “Hung out over spring break. Didn't really hook up though. Molly found out and uh... well, Molly doesn't like Troy.”

Marie sighed. “That's it?” Clearly, she was expecting worse. “That's more than a year ago. That's ancient history.”

“Well-” Kathryn didn't want to elaborate. Marie didn't let her.

“I suppose that's why Molly has it in for him?”

“Sort of,” replied Kathryn, pained. After trying to make sense of the Molly/Frank connection, Kathryn gave up trying to figure out Molly's motives.

“Well, all I want to know is whether or not I should be worried about her,” Marie said, calmly, looking Kathryn in the eyes. “Kamila can say whatever she wants, but you know Troy better than anyone. So should I be worried about Renee?”

It took a moment for Kathryn's eyes to settle on Marie's. By the time they did, she realized that even if she wasn't going to detail what had happened that night, the ramifications were fair game. Kathryn was determined to be fair.

“Yes,” she said, solemnly.

Marie, calm and brave and ready as she was to hear Kathryn's verdict, reacted like a pet had died. She slumped down, a hand covering her eyes. If Kathryn thought she should be worried about Renee, than by golly she was going to worry.

“Hey, don't wor-” Kathryn caught herself and her little paradox. “You'll be fine. He's not going to ditch you just because another girl bats an eye at him.”

“But Renee Pearson?” Marie pulled her hand away. She was fighting back tears- successfully thus far. “She's...” Pretty? Smart? Genuinely popular girl that didn't come across as a total bitch? “She's awfully tough competition. You really think I can hold her off?”

“Who said you had to?” Kathryn shook her head. “Troy ain't like that, and if he ever thinks about it, I'll slug him. Look, I'll talk to him if I have to. I didn't bring that boy up to treat you like that. All I'm saying is Renee might be eying him again, for whatever reason.”

Marie was still tense. “I don't know about her. There's something that just seems...” She couldn't find the right word.

Kathryn nodded. She didn't need one. “Yeah. I know what you mean. Just play it cool, be yourself and I'll sort everything out with Troy.” She stood up and walked around to Marie's side, setting a hand on her shoulder. “If things do get a little heated, remember that I got your back. You've been really good for him, and I'm not going to let someone like Renee get between that. Okay?”

Reassuring, sure, but the fact that the situation was demanding such sentiment bothered Marie. Still, it was appreciated, and answered with a hug.

“Thanks, Kat. Now can we please go get him?”



Session Three

Renee was successfully distracting Troy: not with a cute swimsuit or a flirty pose, but with idle conversation. She treated chit-chat as a craft to be mastered and was showing off her mad skills here. Troy hadn't done anything of note since they had last spoken, but after asking him what he'd been up to, she hung on his every word. He mentioned a couple TV shows, movies or stock car races he'd been watching to pass the time and she was right there with comments, quotes and recommendations. Then he would turn it around and ask how she spent the last two weeks and she flipped the switch and regaled him with all the silly outings and activities she'd had with her friends. The only thing relevant about their talk was the fact that they were talking.

It just about worked on Troy. When he described his two weeks of time-killing, Renee reacted with interest and amusement. He hadn't found his life that exciting, but he had always admired her ability to get into anything. In fact, the only thing he remembered about last week's NASCAR race was that he watched it. Renee knew who won, who crashed, and who took fuel and two tires on his last pit stop. Troy found himself short of breath at hearing Renee Pearson talk about fuel and two tires.

That warned him to stop. Molly or no Molly, he had already been conditioned to treat conversation with Renee Pearson as dangerous. Doubly so with his girlfriend certain to pop out from the dressing room at any moment. Which, now that he thought about it again, really should have happened already.

“What the hell's keeping them?” he asked, turning around and taking two steps back.

“They probably got to talking or something and lost track of time,” Renee said. It was, after all, exactly what happened to Troy. “What are you going to do? Walk in on them?”

“At least I should knock,” he replied, starting to walk back. “I'll talk to you later.”

“Wait, Troy!” she shouted, a little louder than she meant to. Definitely got him to turn around though. “Um... I was wondering if, uh...”

“Yeah?” Troy narrowed his eyebrows. Her sudden stammering made him uneasy.

“Did you, uh, want me to try to talk to Molly and see if I can find out something about her and your dad?”

Troy got choked up again. He was wondering if everyone else had forgotten. Kathryn didn't know what to think, Kurt wasn't spilling any more information, and Ellen had basically given away everything she knew in Columbus. But this had potential.

“I mean, because I doubt she's going to answer to you,” she explained, not that it was necessary. “But maybe I can get her to talk to me about it. Frankly, I want to know too. I've been wondering how she got involved with all this. I wouldn't mind trying to figure this out for you.” She smiled a little.

“You'd do that?” he said, again unnecessarily. Of course she would. She nodded, still smiling. “Oh, that would be great. I mean, just anything that would help me make sense of this.” He hugged her quickly.

Again- red light. He released and backpedaled to the change room. “Let me know what you find out. I'll talk to you later!”

Renee smiled, waved back, and watched as he turned around. As soon as he did, Kamila and Yuki 'just happened' to walk out.

“What the hell, Troy?!” Kamila shouted, gesturing at their bags. “We told you to watch our bags! Jeez, while you're off oogling the babes, some pervert could just up and walk off with all our gear!”

Kamila's mock scolding was loud and convincing enough for Troy to make a weak effort at defending himself. This freed up Yuki.

“Is that Renee?!” she said, waving and running up to her fellow mage.

“Hi, Yuki!” Renee chirped back.

“Funny seeing you here!”

“Yeah, what a coincidence, right?”

Yuki turned her head. “Well, you coulda known we'd be here. You check my Myspace, right?”

“Oh, uh...” Renee fidgeted, barely keeping her smile on. “Once in a while. So, did anyone bring a watermelon?”

Now Yuki just looked confused. “You guys don't do that here, do you?”

With Renee out of the picture and Troy sufficiently berated, Kamila took her bag and headed down to the shore. Troy didn't have to wait long for Kathryn and Marie to arrive. “Where were you guys?” he asked them.

Marie smiled back. “Oh, we just had to talk about some things. You know, girl stuff.” She took her bag, kissed him on the cheek, and ran after Kamila.

Troy was left puzzled, but thankfully Kathryn was still around. “Really, what were you talking about?” he asked.

Kathryn shrugged. “Don't worry about it. Like she said, girl stuff.” Her tone wasn't nearly as light as Marie's. That made Troy nervous.

Not nearly as nervous as when Kathryn spotted Renee. “Hey, is that Renee? Looks pretty good in that suit, don't you think?”

“Oh... yeah,” he said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. Finally, he caved and asked her, “Look, you didn't tell Marie about... uh... what happened in Columbus, did you?”

“C'mon, Troy!” Kathryn replied, loudly. With a big smile, she put a hand on his shoulder. “We've been best friends for how long? You think I'm going to tell your girlfriend stuff like that behind your back?”

Troy exhaled, nodded, and smiled. When he looked back up at her, she was holding her finger and thumb half an inch apart, right in front of his face. Deadly serious, she spat, “I was this close.”

As he squirmed, she continued, with a sinister tone he didn't realize she was capable of: “You fool around with Renee one more time and so help me God, you better hope Molly and Claude catch you first because they ain't got nothing on what I'd do to you.”

Kathryn released her hand as that soaked in. The hand found its way into the air as she shouted down to Kamila, Marie and Yuki down at the beach. “All right, who's up for volleyball?!” she yelled cheerfully.


Session Four

For Molly, it was a bothersome two weeks of depositions and testimony as investigators sorted out the Chioni mess. She had never actually learned the names of Mr. Winston, Mr. Cedric or Bo, but now she was supposed to detail each of their actions, attack methods, and who took them down. Worse yet, apparently those anonymous goons that served as cannon fodder for Molly, Kurt, Kathryn and Ellen also had names and needed prosecuting. Molly ended up paying more attention to them in the aftermath than she had when they were trying to kill her.

The actual job of bringing the bad guys to justice fell on Richard Herman, so after explaining everything she could remember (and in some cases more), she was free to go. Interestingly, no official said anything to demand that Grimoire 17 be returned to its proper owner or someplace that was actually safe. Protocol would have dictated giving it to Donovan; common sense would have suggested a safe deposit box. As it were, she still had it.

Luckily, she also had the original briefcase that suppressed the book's magic aura. Kendrick had dropped it during the attack, and Molly wisely held onto it. Now that the grimoire was back in its case and securely in her possession, she also told anyone who asked that it she never opened it. She lied.

She made it a week longer than Donovan, but even Molly Pearson could only resist such a powerful grimoire for so long. Sitting at the edge of her bedroom desk, it drew her eyes over more than she'd want to admit. Finally, in the middle of a particularly boring round of manipulating class schedules, she decided she needed a distraction and popped it open for a quick round of browsing.

A week later, she had read more than half of it. She did so in random, intermittent spurts within a dampering circle of her own design. Even when giving in to indomitable curiosity, Molly didn't like to take chances.

As far as casual bedtime reading went, it was hard to beat. She understood more of it than Donovan, but ended up glancing over the parlor tricks that he had sampled and went straight for the more heady stuff. Although a few spells were bound to work their way into her arsenal, Molly wasn't interested in picking up anything new. She just wanted a better feel for just what a Class A grimoire had to offer.

Effective Weaving magic relied on the caster's ability to conceive and visualize the spell's effects as much as the force needed to make it happen. Thus, broad, intellectual minds were at an advantage. Now Molly was a damn good weaver for her age, but even she reached a point where she could only shake her head in awe at some of the philosophies necessary to comprehend the latter part of this book. Some of the passages alluded to a thought process beyond that of a venerable mage. Something downright divine.

In the middle of reading one of the more twisted pages, Molly was startled by a knock on the door. Before she could return the book to its case, Renee let herself in. “Hey, what's up?” She caught Molly's frozen expression, and the grimoire in her hand. “Ooh, reading the tome?” Renee asked, interested.

Molly sighed and set the book on her lap. “It's not a tome. But I must admit that Silars was right. There's some inconceivable magic in here.” She stuffed it in the case and snapped it shut. “The sooner it's out of our hands, the better.”

By the time Molly had properly stored it away, Renee had joined her on the bed. “Why not study it and get stronger?”

Scoffing, Molly replied, “The last thing I need is more attention. There's a few things I can pick up, but I have neither the time nor greed to devote myself to fully realizing its power. I've had it out too much already.”

“Still afraid somebody's going to go after it?”

“Of course. Just because we stop one faction doesn't mean the others aren't interested. The Chioni merely had the resources to go after it first. There are plenty of other demons who would love to try for it as well.”

“Like who?” Renee inched closer, a concerned eye on her sister.

Molly stared straight ahead. “If they find out I have it, the Urayoni perhaps. They've been eerily quiet since Kendrick showed up.”

Renee nodded, pretending she understood. Other than a 'name the eight demon factions' quiz at the academy, she didn't know much about the groups she hadn't personally encountered. They were just ominous names that bore little actual meaning.

But she did catch something else in Molly's answer that begged elaboration: “You mean there were others going after you before I got involved?”

Molly nodded slowly, trying to mask her discomfort. “Yes, but nothing this intense. The Urayoni I've encountered operate the same way Kendrick does. One demon, cordial attempts to lure me over, maybe a few empty threats exchanged. I call their bluff, they back off. It happened a few times in junior high.”

Renee leaned in. “Is that when Frank showed up?”

With a dismissive chuckle, Molly replied, “After he left, actually. Nothing like having a demon visit you after being downright abandoned.”

“He abandoned you?”

“He's not here now, is he?” She shook her head, still staring straight ahead. “Typical of him.”

Renee took a breath to prevent blurting something she'd regret. She was close to getting somewhere and didn't want to get too eager. Molly was clearly bothered by Frank's departure. More than Troy, curiously. But Renee knew she'd get nowhere probing that, else Molly would get angry and slam the gate shut like she always did.

“What do you mean?” Renee asked, settling for simple elaboration.

It didn't work. Her sister shook her head and muttered, “Never mind.”

“Do you know where he is?”

Molly grunted. “Sort of. Something job-related. Whatever the reason, it doesn't excuse him from what he did.” She turned her head away from her sister.

Leaning forward, Renee continued on. “What did he do?”

A second of pause gave Renee hope that maybe Molly would answer. Then Molly's eyes snapped open and she jumped to her feet. Normally Renee would have been preoccupied with the lack of an answer, but she felt something odd, like some magical white noise butting its way into the room. Before she could ask, Molly ran out the door.

Renee followed Molly down the first flight of stairs, and was surprised that she was heading down a second to the basement. Molly opened the door to their father's study and stopped, barely giving Renee enough time to avoid a collision. The room was dark until Molly turned on the light switch.

“For the last time, you're not getting it back,” Molly said to Donovan, even before Renee saw him and the circle he was trapped in.

“How dare you turn the tome against its master?” Donovan muttered, falling to his knees. The shaking he was trying to suppress looked familiar.

“Wait a sec, is that the same shock circle Mr. Silars used on us?” Renee asked her sister.

Molly nodded. “I found it very efficient. A good deterrent, especially since this is the only place in the house Donovan can teleport into.”

“Do not underestimate me. Blaine! Bryce!” Donovan cried.

He summoned... they arrived... they too fell over in pain as the circle nabbed them.

Sighing and shaking her head, Molly sat down on the couch. “Only problem is now I have to wait for them to pass out before getting rid of them.”

“Oh, that sucks,” Renee replied.

Before either of the girls could react, their dad ran downstairs and poked his head in. “What's going on down here?”

“Situation's under control, father,” Molly deadpanned. She turned his way. He was eying Donovan and his minions nervously. “Static buildup in the carpet,” she explained.

Mr. Pearson nodded slowly. “Ah... well, make sure no one touches the computers then.” He headed back upstairs. “Goodnight, girls.”


Session Five

For all her efforts to keep Grimoire 17 away from Donovan through August, come September, Molly handled the book in the same fashion as he had. Naturally, she put a little more thought into her hiding place at school. In fact, Molly's office did have a hidden safe indented in the wall. Not even Claude could access it. The book would be safe there until somebody remembered that she wasn't supposed to have it.

It was about a week into the new school year. Labor Day had passed, which was good because it gave kids an extra day in the weekend. Then again, it made Tuesday feel like Monday and proved to be extra-depressing since the shortened weeks were now over until random inservice days in late October.

The dour mood even infected Molly. She was a senior now. Between the added strain Grimoire 17 put on her MST responsibilities and trying to figure out a way to continue her reign of terror in college, she just wanted this school year to pass quietly without any major insurrections. In her freshman year, she sort of enjoyed extinguishing the fires of rebellion.

This year, however, it was just tiresome. She returned to her office triumphantly, having instilled fear in two sophomores happy that this was her last year. After a long reprimanding, she handed their student files to Claude to add to his watch list.

“Oh yes, there's a mysterious old man here to see you,” he said.

Molly narrowed an eye. “You let a mysterious old man into my office?”

“He insisted.” Claude opened the door. Uriel was inside, enjoying the view out the window. Like everybody else, he didn't realize the room wasn't next to an exterior wall.

Sighing, Molly greeted him. “Hello, mysterious old man.”

Uriel turned around and frowned. “I'm not that old.”

After shutting the door in Claude's face, Molly sat down at her desk and got right down to business: “So... you're alive.”

“Of course I am,” Uriel replied, suppressing the urge to add, 'no thanks to you.' Instead, he sat down and said, “Did you fear otherwise?”

“Well, you hadn't reported in after the battle so Kurt and I figuring you were either dead or faking it to avoid debriefing.”

Uriel scoffed. “As a matter of fact, I had a scheduled vacation last month. I decided to start it early, seeing as how I had been left for dead on the top floor of a Chioni stronghold.”

“We made sure you were alive first,” Molly retorted.

“If I had been dead, would you have done anything differently?”

After a moment of thought, Molly answered, “Fair point. But I see you've recovered.”

“Thanks to magic. Suffered a mild concussion, cuts along my back and bruised ribs.”

Molly nodded along- sensible injuries, light in fact given the situation. Except for one, she realized: “Wait, bruised ribs? How do you get bruised ribs backing into a glass window?”

Uriel grimaced. Looking down, he said, “Your student's energy ball inflicted that on me.”

She glowered. “Please say you're joking.” Uriel shook his head, equally aware of the implications.

While it wasn't explicitly forbidden, the MST frowned upon Weavers casting spells that did direct bodily harm. It wasn't taught and it was always a taboo topic- something about humanity's defenders not stooping to the same dirty tactics as the demons. Of course, inflicting bodily harm indirectly was perfectly kosher and Thrusters never seemed to come under scrutiny, so there was a very transparent hypocrisy at work. Nevertheless, the principle held.

“Not sure what to make of it. Didn't think Professor Melrose even taught force balls in the first year,” Uriel said.

“His minions taught him,” Molly replied. “But one's a Thruster and I doubt the other could do that.”

Uriel shrugged. “Well... something to keep your eye on.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “Or not. I assume he's going to be punished for attacking you.”

“Or not,” Uriel mumbled. Molly leaned back, folded her arms and waited. She knew this would be good.

“One of the perks of keeping a Class A artifact is that you're entitled to do pretty much anything that can be justified as necessary to protect it.” Keeping his poise despite the ruling, he added, “Since I did pop in out of nowhere and he didn't know who I was, they're giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

Eyes to the ceiling and shaking her head, Molly huffed, “You were laughing pretty maniacally.”

“You and Kurt really did not have mention that in your reports,” Uriel mumbled.

Slamming her hands on her desks, Molly stood. After a quick glance at the door, she walked over to the illogical window and opened it. Rather than a stiff summer breeze, there was a compartment on the other side with a door-less black safe. One trigger later, the front end popped open and Molly pulled out the briefcase.

Uriel chuckled. “Don't tell me Donovan's attacked you too?”

“Unlike you, I don't let my guard down.” Molly handed him the case. “It's all yours.”

He didn't take it. “We've been over this, Molly,” he replied, suddenly tiring of the subject. “There's nothing I can do. The grimoire belongs to Donovan for the next seven years. Twenty-one if he somehow procreates.”

“Well, I'm still not giving it back to him,” Molly said, returning the case to the safe. Before she closed it, she pulled a sheet of paper out and handed it to Uriel.

It was a printout of assorted regulations involving Grimoire 17. Molly had circled a paragraph that read, “Should the bearer a) demonstrate an inability to secure the artifact in a manner consistent with the standards outlined above, whether by lack of magic presence, negligence or suspected demonic influence and b) remain a student at a training academy, his Guardian reserves the right to hold the artifact on a temporary basis until such time that either of the two conditions are no longer fulfilled.”

“I think that qualifies,” said Molly, sitting back down.

Uriel snickered. “Absolutely. I can get that facilitated. Your way with magic is rivaled only by your bureaucratic willpower. Though you'll still have to take care of it until he graduates.”

Molly nodded slowly. Donovan not having the book was a necessary first step, but having it in her hands didn't make her feel much better. It still invited the same threat of attack. Even if a demon advance would be less likely to succeed, the danger to Molly and her unit remained high.

Sensing her apprehension, Uriel said, “Honestly, that's a good hiding place. There are also more ephemeral options out there if you really want to keep it secure. Inter-dimensional storage, burying the information in your mind, maybe even something involving computers... have Marlowe ask some of the professors if you're interested.”

“It doesn't matter where I hide it if the demons know who has it,” she muttered.

With a slow nod, Uriel almost looked compassionate. “I must say, your unit has put up with a lot. Honestly, I think it's a testament to all of you. Not too many can say they've held off four demon factions in a year and a half.”

Molly wasn't encouraged. She was, however, discordant. “Three, you mean.”

Uriel checked his notes. “No... I've got four.”

Not really wanting to argue, but unable to tolerate misinformation, she clarified, “My incidents with the Urayoni occurred well before the unit was initiated last April.”

He pressed his nose to his papers. “I wasn't even aware of those.”

“Then it's only three,” she huffed. “Hokoni, Zukoni, Chioni.”

“Ah... you forgot one.” Uriel looked up and pointed at her. “Hageshoni.”


Session Six

Perhaps if it had been one of the more benign factions like the Bushioni, who stuck to the entertainment industry and influencing the media rather than direct violence, it wouldn't have been quite a shock. But just hearing the word Hageshoni made Molly ill. They were by far the most aggressive of the factions on Earth. While the Hokoni and Urayoni would use false promises and intellectual arguments to win supporters, the Hageshoni would use more of a hard-sell approach- namely clubbing you over the head and dragging you back to their lair.

So after the initial shock of hearing they had apparently been in L. B. Gould, Molly had an obvious question: “How could the Hageshoni attack us without us noticing?” Again, they weren't known for subtlety.

Uriel rifled through his briefcase. “Well, says here it was last July.”

“The only incident was the garage vandalism. That was Kendrick.”

“Ah...” Uriel found the right sheet. “Yes, Kendrick was responsible for the destruction in the garage.”

Molly exhaled, cursing Uriel for frightening her with a typo.

Then he added, “But at about the same time, there was an incident in a second room in the school. Club room for one of your students, I believe.” Molly narrowed her eyes. “If you recall, that was a Hageshoni.”

And Molly was ailing again. “As I... recall?”

“Well, yes, it was in the final report.”

Now she was just baffled. She reached into her desk drawer and dug through a year's worth of bound documents to find the report. With no discernible social life and few academic obligations, Molly had plenty of time to pore through every detail related to her duties. How else could she have turned the relatively mundane position of student council president into one of tyrannical power? Molly found it hard to believe she had missed such a crucial revelation. Normally, she devoured official reports like they were gripping novels, even when she had no part in the incidents.

Her answer was on top of the vandalism report: Kendrick's attack a month later. In the time it took for the MST to turn around and release their findings on the garage destruction, Kendrick had attacked Donovan (or rather, according to the report, Donovan had attacked Kendrick). The threat to her life was a little more concerning than some roasted car, and made for a more thrilling report. The vandalism incident had become a mere prologue.

Sure enough, the report exonerated Kendrick from the damage to the dark room. In fact, that mischief likely had happened a day after Kendrick ruined the garage, but still before Richard Herman had finally dragged his ass into town to investigate.

“Unlike the garage, where all markings and magic discharge were consistent with Hokoni activity, the largest mark on the north wall of the club room is of unknown significance but similar in design to Hageshoni symbols found in prior cases,” Molly read, skipping the numbers referring to footnotes listing the prior cases. “Other than typical Hageshoni motives such as intimidation, territory claim or magic amplification, we note the connection between the room and Central student Donovan Dunmar, D-202.3, along with recent Hokoni efforts to draw the student over. This particular location may suggest an attempt to undermine the Hokoni's effort.”

“They nailed that one,” Uriel added. “Those two don't like each other much.”

“Doesn't it seem far-fetched that a Hageshoni would show up, desecrate the dark room just to interfere with Kendrick, then leave?”

“Of course.” Uriel raised his eyebrows. “Logistically, they were either already here or they haven't left yet. Or both.”

“That's a scary proposition. But if it were true, why would they uncloak themselves to do this rather than catch us off guard with something significant?”

He shrugged. “Probably goes back to the intimidation and territory claim. Those were valid motives as well.”

Molly slammed the report down and leaned forward, annoyed at how casually he was relaying such foreboding info. “Don't you think that's a problem?”

“Richard was aware of it when he was assigned here. I just assumed you'd read the report. Besides, it was last year. It's not like those markings are still there.”

Leaning back, Molly grimaced. “Assuming Donovan bothered to clear them.” She pushed a button on the intercom. “Claude?”

“Yes, madam?” Claude replied.

“When was the last time you were in Donovan's club room?”

“Last week, when his candles set off the fire alarm. Why?”

“Is there a large, mysterious mark on the north wall?”

“The white one? Well yes, it's been there for a while now.”

Molly released the button and stared at Uriel. They both rushed out the door.

Outside, it must have been a passing period as kids overwhelmed the hallways, blocking key chokepoints to have idle conversations.

“Out of the way!” Molly shouted. The sea parted. As she and Uriel walked down the open hallway, the students lining the walls stood at attention. Some saluted. Uriel was impressed.

Molly left the door open as they entered the dark room, but Uriel closed it right away and reached for the light switch. Nothing turned on. Casting a light ball, Molly said, “His minions rewired the room.”

No matter, the Hageshoni marking reflected the light and glimmered white. Uriel approached it cautiously, gently feeling it with the back of his hand. By now, a year after it had been placed, it was one with the cement wall. At first it felt appropriately cold, but after a few seconds gave off a burning sensation as a dark energy seeped through. Uriel pulled his hand away quickly.

“What is it?” Molly asked.

Rubbing his hand on his suit, Uriel stared at the marking, deeply concerned. “There's definitely some demonic force at work. You mean this has been here the whole time?”

“This is the first I had heard about it. I don't like going in here.”

With his other hand, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Well clearly, this needs to go.” Bringing his fingers around and flicking his thumb, Uriel lit the entire room.

Molly nodded. “Fine by me. Go to work.”

Uriel snickered. “Me? You think I know the first thing about removing demonic markings? I don't know even know who does that sort of thing around here.”

“What?!” Molly snapped. “There has to be somebody who can remove it!”

He grinned, but hid his face from her. “Of course there is. I just don't know who's available off-hand. It's not a common skill. But rest assured I'm sure somebody exists that can take care of this and I'm sure they make a very good living doing so. I'll get someone at the office to make some phone calls.”

That seemed to placate Molly. After all, the marking had been there for more than a year without incident, so an extra week or so didn't seem like a problem.

“I will say this...” Uriel looked around the room at all of Donovan's 'occult-ish' goodies. “This room may need to be purified to get it removed.”

Molly scoffed. “It's not like there's anything significant in that junk.”

“No, but if we're going to have the place sanctified, we should do it right.” He scanned the books on his shelf. “Look at all this hooey. You'd think an MST student would know better.”

Molly folded her arms. “Especially one that kicked your ass.”

Uriel stood up and glared at Molly, who smirked back. He coughed and headed for the door. “Yes, well, I'd better head back and get going on this. I'll let you know the details. In the meantime, I'll make sure Kurt's keeping his eye open for any Hageshoni activity in the area.”

“Wait... you think they still might be in town?” she asked, urgently.

Throwing the door open, they saw the river of students flowing once more, all blissfully unaware of what was inside the dark room. At least Molly hoped they were.

Grim, Uriel sighed and answered, “Honestly? Between that mark, the grimoire and you... why wouldn't they be?”





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