had promised, he found a contractor capable of removing fixed
demonic markings from inanimate objects. It was not a popular
nor easy field, and there was a whole bidding process to deal
with, but eventually a name emerged that was willing to do the
job within the district's budget constraints. Problem was, the
guy was already booked for two months. His bid was low enough
for Uriel to stick with him anyway.
Thankfully, the hesitation didn't blow up in his face as the two
months went by without a demon sighting. The Golden Sun office
quietly folded up and left town, citing an economy-necessitated
restructuring. Ellen's old job went to India after all. As a
result, Kurt had little to do other than routine monitoring
work. He looked for more traces of a Hageshoni presence, but
found nothing. The job gradually became more routine and less
exciting. For now, he was all for that.
took up residence at Troy's lunchroom table, but a leery Kathryn
and Kamila made acceptance and assimilation difficult. She was
the new outsider, managing to survive with her conversation
skills and willingness to help Marie fend off the onslaught of
raunch Kathryn and Kamila were capable of when on their game.
Tiptoeing around any discussions of her past or hypothetical
love life, Renee was tolerated.
event, this day in November would have started like any other if
they weren't giving their usual bits about all being absent
during the same three-week span. As the period coinciding with
Molly's 'vacation' had become something of a school holiday,
nobody really questioned why they were leaving. In fact, if not
for her devotion to the basketball team, Kamila would have
skipped too. The real question was where they were going.
sighed. His official excuse was hardly enviable: “Apparently
Molly rigged it so that I'm testing out a new exchange student
program. Some sort of three-week hyper immersion treatment.”
his dejection, Marie patted his hand. “Where are you going?”
haven't told me yet. Apparently if I knew what I was getting
into ahead of time, it would ruin the surprise.”
that's...” Marie turned to Renee angrily. “Can't you talk to
Molly about that? It's one thing to-”
from what I've heard about the hyper-immersion process, that's
how it's supposed to work. It's more fun that way.”
seems...” Marie trailed off when she saw a pair of hands cup
Kathryn's eyes. Marie smiled when she looked up and saw Kurt.
“Anything suspicious going on here?” Kurt said, grinning at
everybody who could see him.
What're you doing here?” Kamila shouted.
for work,” he said, motioning toward his as-of-yet unmentioned
companion- a slightly taller, slightly thinner and slightly
darker man with a thick brown mustache and the stoic concern of
a thirty-something gentlemen in a high school he wasn't employed
eyed him carefully. “Appreciate the help, Kurt, but I think I'll
find my own guys. So what are you working on?”
to ignore the first comment, Kurt replied. “Eh, boring tech
stuff. I get out of high school and I'm still working for
Pearson.” He heard a giggle from the corner of the table and
noticed the other Pearson. “Oh... um, hi Renee,” he added, a bit
took your spot at the table,” Yuki gleefully announced.
Kurt could ponder that, or Troy's ambivalence to it, the primary
Pearson marched in, drawing the usual reverent stares from the
rest of the cafeteria.
you are,” she muttered. “Are we ready?”
let's go,” Kurt said, rushing a bit.
excuse me, Ma'am?” Marie asked, bowing her head. Once she had
Molly's attention, she asked, “Isn't it a little unfair to send
Troy overseas without first telling him what country he's going
Impatient, Molly scoffed. “Bahrain. Happy now?”
rolling her eyes, Molly also saw Renee, trying not to look at
Molly either. Molly simply glared at her sister for a moment,
then said, “We'll talk later,” before continuing along with Kurt
and his companion.
know, given everything, you probably should be nicer to Marie,”
nicer to Marie,” Molly muttered. “Is this the guy?”
nodded and handed Molly a business card. “Miguel Silvestro. So
where's the marking?”
and Kurt led him to the dark room, which was thankfully
unoccupied. Once they cast light spells to reveal the
manifestation of Donovan's happy place, Miguel fell to his knees
and mumbled something that sounded like a Spanish prayer.
yeah... the marking's right here,” Kurt said, pointing to the
wall Miguel wasn't looking at.
Miguel stood, looked at the Hageshoni symbol and nodded.
Suddenly showing his professional side, he commented, “Yes,
definitely Hageshoni. Hard to say exactly what it does, but
let's get rid of it.”
as you keep the door closed and the noise to a minimum, no one
will notice,” Molly said. “The student body is quite
desensitized to what goes on in here, so go to work.”
there's a problem,” Miguel said, drawing out the 'well' to build
suspense. “Probably won't work unless this room's sanctified.”
and Kurt looked at each other. “But none of this crap is
actually demonic, is it?” Kurt asked.
not, but it's dark enough to taint the removal. Probably why
they put it here to begin with.” Miguel eyed Donovan's
bookshelf. “And some of this may actually be demonic. Like these
narrowed her eyebrows. She had always figured that most of the
magic and occult books sold in normal stores were either
complete bunk or written by magi who weren't skilled enough to
do anything productive with the craft.
explained. “A couple of these are Bushioni prints. Good for
enticing kids over to evil.” He picked one book up.
“'Manipulating Changelings For Power and Profit.' Are you
do we sanctify all this?” Kurt asked, looking around and sensing
just how dark the dark room was.
by clearing everything out. Then we keep it off limits except to
apply some purifying potion... couple weeks of that and the
place should be damn near sacred.”
from the notion that the place could be deemed sacred, Kurt
said, “D... did you say a couple weeks?”
yeah. These things take time, and this place is clearly worse
than your usual dumping ground for graffiti. I only had three
projects since your commander signed the work form. Did you
think I spent all that time loafing around?”
assumed you were union,” both Kurt and Molly replied.
paused, then shrugged. “Well, that too.”
Moving all of Donovan's
belongings out of the dark room was a tricky procedure,
especially since Miguel was not contractually obligated to help.
The simple process would have been to move everything into a
closet, but that required menial labor and Molly wasn't about to
force any of her underlings to touch that stuff. Instead, Kurt
applied to have everything transferred as is to a magical
holding place. This involved a lot of paperwork and red tape,
particularly getting everything signed away without Donovan's
Once they had clearance,
though, a circle spell and a wave of the hand took care of the
mess. Miguel requested that the room be scrubbed down and
near-spotless, but this was a job Molly was more than willing to
assign Claude to do. With that completed to Miguel's
satisfaction, he did use a few preliminary sanctification
spells. To support them, he gave Kurt a special solution to
apply twice daily. Using it every twelve hours would have
wreaked havoc on his social schedule, so that quickly became a
By a stroke of good
fortune, Donovan missed the first couples days of this after
falling victim to a vicious curse planted by his enemies (or, as
his mother reported to the school, bronchitis). Upon returning,
he swore revenge on all who had conspired to belittle him in
such fashion. Then he found out about his dark room.
“Bryce,” Donovan said,
standing in front of the locked door.
“Sir?” Bryce replied, a
“I am pleased that you
saw fit to protect our sanctuary in my absence by locking the
door, but your failure to prepare it for my triumphant return is
“I didn't lock it.
You've got the key”
Donovan tried unlocking
it, to no avail. “Hmm... and mine no longer functions.”
“Well, the only other
people with a key are Molly and the custodians.”
“That's it!” Donovan
shouted. “Now we know who is responsible! Bring me the head of
the head custodian!”
Bryce frowned and
glanced away. “Um... yes sir,” he muttered as he teleported
Realizing that nobody
was in the halls this early in the morning, Donovan gave
teleportation a try. He ended up with his back on the floor. To
make matters worse, he heard a happy whistling coming from the
hallway. He stood quickly and scurried up against the wall to
see who it was. Donovan held his breath to make himself thin and
transparent enough to go unnoticed.
“Hi, Donovan!” Yuki
said, smiling as she passed him. “Feeling better?”
He glowered at her, but
she didn't freak out the way she normally did. Instead, she
continued along to the dark room, unlocked it with her key,
paused for a moment in front of the open door and stepped
inside. Maintaining the illusion that he was still in stealth
mode, he inched along the wall and peeked inside.
His hands trembled when
he saw the room empty. His table, bookcase, candle holders, and
racks of assorted ingredients and humors were all gone. Someone
had mopped the floor and swept, and the walls were spotless save
for the Hageshoni symbol. Worse yet, Donovan saw this clearly as
some fool had installed a light bulb into the fixture- a compact
florescent! What had he done to deserve that?
Inside, Yuki had a
crystal bottle full of a clear blue liquid, definitely something
concocted by a fellow Crafter. She hooked it up to an aerosol
can and started spraying the room. In seconds, the room smelled
nauseatingly sterilized, like concentrated bug spray. Even Yuki
covered her nose with her shirt and tried not to inhale the
Now Donovan was furious.
Yes, he had burned some much fouler-smelling things before, but
never something so disgustingly clean. He charged in to stop the
madness, but an invisible barrier repelled him back on his ass
again. While he was still on the ground, Yuki exited the room,
locked the door, and lurched over.
Between deep breaths,
she smiled at Donovan. “Sorry, heh heh... that stuff smells
Donovan jumped to his
feet, lunged forward and clutched her shoulders. “What foul
trickery are you perpetrating?” he spat.
Her heavy breathing
continued, but somehow she was still chipper. “Oh, apparently
that thing on the wall is some Hageshoni symbol and we're
removing it so nobody gets hurt. We need to purify the room
first though; it was pretty evil in there.”
He glowered. “I liked it
pretty evil in there.”
Yuki just chuckled.
“Could you let go of my shoulders? I'm already pretty buzzed
from that spray and wired from the anti-sleep potion I drank
this morning. Threatening me like this can't be good for my
tighter. “Where are my belongings?”
She didn't waver. “No
idea! You'll have to ask Kurt. Um... that's starting to hurt.”
As Donovan turned
around, Yuki wiggled free and backed away slowly. “Um, see you
later! I think I'm going to speedwalk around the building a few
times before school. Bye!” She dashed off before Donovan could
resume his interrogation.
Bryce wasn't letting him
anyway. “Okay, so I talked to Mr. Burmander. He didn't know the
locks were switched either. He was also told that if he ever
asked about the locks again, he would soon be longing for the
day when he was fortunate enough to push a janitor's cart around
for a living. Just a guess, but I think Molly's involved.”
Donovan scratched his
chin. “Of course... my arch-nemesis Molly Pearson. Everything is
falling into place.”
“It is?” Bryce raised an
“Don't you see... first
she kidnaps the tome and uses procedural trickery to avoid
returning it. Then she uses the tome's magic against me. And
now, for an encore offense, she blots my entire sanctuary from
the face of the Earth!”
“Wait... you mean the
dark room's gone?!”
thanks to Pearson's minion.”
“No, the other one. The
“Oh.” Bryce sighed. “Why
would she just get rid of it?”
Donovan folded his arms
and stared down the empty hallway. “Clearly, she is intimidated
by my might and has launched a vendetta to ensure that I do not
grow stronger than her. But she has not counted on my secret
Bryce gave Donovan a
moment to announce the secret trump card, but nothing came out.
The minion sighed again and asked, “What trump card?”
“Sir?” Blaine replied.
“We launch our siege of
the student council office immediately! Come!” Donovan marched
towards Molly's office. Blaine looked at Bryce, who rolled his
eyes as they followed obediently behind him.
against Molly Pearson lasted all of fifteen minutes. In fact, he
didn't even get past Claude. The battle did include a rare
minion fight, which is always amusing, but as Blaine and Bryce
were unwilling to wield magic against Claude, the student
council won easily, even without their special ops.
Later, the minions took
to some investigative work and Yuki brought them up to speed on
everything, explaining to them exactly what she had told Donovan
that morning. They relayed their findings to Donovan, who
treated it as new information and took offense to the MST's
insistence on removing the mark.
In protest, Donovan sat
outside his dark room for most of the school day. The few
students who did not ignore him laughed behind his back. He took
their names and swore revenge, but by now his enemies list was
so long that he knew he'd never get around to them. The
establishment had taken his tome, his sanctuary and his pride.
Donovan swore not to let that go unpunished.
The final indignity came
days later, when he felt the need to ask one of his unholy
deities for guidance. Without a dark room to perform the
necessary ceremony, Donovan settled for the local library. As it
was a public place, and he didn't want the general public to
realize how damned they were, he had to scale back. The usual
markings on the floor, burning candles and assorted animal parts
were dialed down, and what remained more closely resembled an
arts and crafts project. Even then, Bryce's pentagram, drawn on
construction paper with a yellow highlighter, was lousy and
“This is the closest
book I could find,” Blaine said, handing Donovan a copy of
'Mysticism For Dummies.'
“This is not it!”
Donovan shot back. “I told you, I need-”
“Sir, I asked the
library where their copy was. You checked it out a month ago and
haven't returned it.”
At this point, the other
library patrons shushed them into silence. Donovan took the
substitute book and made due with it anyway, knowing full well a
shoddy pentagram and oversimplified instructions would not
impress his unholy deity. Not that it mattered, as his unholy
deity was at the opera that night anyway.
Although Donovan was
completely failing at his effort to contact an unholy spirit,
his prayers were destined to be answered anyway. Unholy? Yes.
Spirit? Not quite.
“Hello, Donovan,” said
Kendrick, flashing a quick and pleasant wave as he strolled over
to the table. Sitting down across from Donovan, he looked at the
spread and added, “I hope you realize that any unholy deity
worth your time tends to communicate through e-mail these days.”
Sitting on either side
of Donovan, Blaine and Bryce stared back blankly. Either
Kendrick was really good at avoiding detection or Kurt was
really bad at hunting for him. A private dark room meeting was
one thing but here was a known demon sitting across from them in
a public library.
“Leave,” Donovan. “I
refuse to let my enemies see me in a moment of weakness.”
feigning sympathy. “I understand the sentiment. But what is the
trouble? Your band recovered the grimoire from those Chioni
monsters and now I see that your room is finally to be cleared
of that filthy Hageshoni vandalism.”
“How'd you know about
that?” Bryce asked.
“It's an open bid,
Bryce. Frankly, it's about time they removed it.” Kendrick
raised his eyebrows at Donovan. “And I accept your apology for
thinking I was responsible for that trash.”
Bryce rolled his eyes.
“Don't suppose you know what that mark is?”
“Power enhancement most likely. They're Hageshoni; I don't think
they know anything else.”
“Do you know who put it
“Of course not. Why
“I thought demons could
identify one another. Even if they're a different faction.”
“Yes, that is true. It's a bit discourteous, though, for us to
out each other constantly. The Hageshoni might warrant an
exception, but I haven't come across any in town.”
Tired of Bryce's selfish
efforts to get potentially useful information out of Kendrick,
Donovan silenced his minion. “Enough. What brings you to this
“I enjoy a good book as
much as the next soul. And I see you here conducting some sort
of make-believe ceremony, looking positively pathetic despite
your recent victories.”
“Victories? Ha! First I lose the grimoire to my supposed
guardian, then she takes away my dark room! Where else am I to
turn to but the forces of darkness to counter this injustice?”
Raising his eyebrows,
Kendrick resisted the urge to giggle. Opportunities to draw
someone over to evil were rarely this transparent. Bryce and
Blaine saw it as well; their heads fell forward and slammed onto
Kendrick framed his
pitch carefully. “Well, Donovan, if you are looking for
assistance from the forces of darkness, why trust some two-bit
library book when I am more than willing to assist you in your
“What could you possibly
do?” Donovan asked, skeptical.
Resisting the urge to
strangle him, Kendrick replied, “Well, as you may recall I've
been trying to convince you to join me for the last nineteen
months. I can give you the raw power, and take away the bonds
restricting you. If your goal is to take back what Molly Pearson
has stolen from you, my faction is ready to assist you.”
Blaine sighed. “Sir, I
Then Bryce said, “But he
“Away! Perhaps this
demon may prove useful after all.”
uneasiness, Bryce and Blaine disappeared. Kendrick finally
released a smile. “Now then, perhaps you'd like to see our
literature regarding our introductory programs.”
Kendrick motioned to go
into his gesture to magically summon all the pamphlets,
brochures and contracts, but he hesitated. “I just realized that
if I did this now, Kurt would show up, try to kill me and spoil
everything. Let's take a walk.”
“Indeed. A march to
triumph.” Donovan stood, leaving his entire tribute forgotten on
the table as he walked out of the building. Kendrick followed.
They were just going to his hideout, but triumph was close
enough for him.
It was a
long walk back to the extended stay motel Kendrick had been
holing up in. The demon did not have transportation as the
Hokoni had long since 'gone green' and significantly reduced
their fleet of vehicles. Advocating environmentally-conscious
policies weren't evil, of course, but the faction figured that
when they eventually did conquer the world, they wanted it to
building itself was a dump, as such residencies usually are, but
Kendrick had made an effort to spruce it up with some plants, a
tank of goldfish and some fancy area rugs and afghans. It was
also impeccably and almost inappropriately neat. The room
smelled as if Kendrick was smuggling hordes of lilac bushes on
the side. Donovan recoiled at the offensively-pleasant scent.
the air fresheners must work especially hard to counter the funk
of this establishment,” Kendrick muttered. It was still an
improvement over the pad above Kaz's bar.
Kendrick looked for the Hokoni enlistment information, Donovan
strayed naturally to the bookshelf. To his surprise, the demon
did not have text after text on immersing the world in darkness
and leading swarms of the undead. Instead, Kendrick had books of
philosophy, Victor Hugo novels and even the Bible. Donovan was
pulled the Bible from the rack and frowned at Kendrick. “How can
you call yourself a demon? You can't enslave the world with such
a righteous text.”
sighed, then forced a smile. “You are quite new at this, aren't
you? No matter, you'll be indoctrinated soon enough.” He held up
assorted shiny pamphlets, packets and forms. “Now, if you'd like
to look through some of these commitment plans and see if
something strikes your fancy.”
signing your contract rids me of Molly Pearson, I will sign
away,” Donovan huffed.
when you hear talk of signing a contract with a demon, it evokes
images of selling one's soul to the forces of darkness in
exchange for personal gain. That much was true, but contracts
with demons also resembled contracts with cell phone companies.
There were various plans to pore over, fine print, and shady
salesmen trying to get the customer to ignore said fine print.
moment, Kendrick felt uneasy at Donovan's sudden willingness to
commit himself to the Hokoni. Did he really know what he was
doing? Was he really so bent on revenge that he would actually
kill Molly? Kendrick doubted it, but no way was he passing this
up. He took a moment to look through the various plans, chose
one that combined high potential with low risk and handed the
relevant contract, all ten pages of it, to Donovan.
well... sign here,” Kendrick said, smiling.
sign in blood?”
fought hard not to laugh. “You don't have to, but I'm never one
to shy away from tradition.” He watched in amazement as Donovan
pricked himself with a pin and actually signed the goddamn form
in his own goddamn blood. He'd never seen such a thing before.
he realized why. As soon as Kendrick took the form, Donovan's
blood signature bled across the page, smudging the area and
almost spilling onto the floor. If this was how demons did it
'back in the day' (something Kendrick was not sure of), this was
a clear motive for switching to ballpoint pens.
blood or ink, it was a signed contract. With a wave of
Kendrick's hand, the paper disappeared. Pleasant and polite, he
said, “Now, from here on out, we're going to pretend that you
actually read all the details. For your convenience, I'll
explain the essentials along the way. Be assured, however, that
it is now too late to back out of this.”
scowled. “I am growing impatient. Where are my demon powers?”
down the hall. Follow me.”
opened the front door. The hallway was no longer the squalid
motel's, but instead had a spacious wood decor, smart lighting
and classical music echoing throughout the chamber. Donovan was
mortified. Kendrick was at home.
order to simultaneously give you the power you crave while
testing your loyalty, we're going with the Black Tag plan for
you. You will be infused with the spirit and powers of a
relentless demon known as a vrockrompir.”
course, the vrockrompir,” Donovan replied, grinning as if he had
heard of it. “A perfect way to begin the second coming of the
Donovan, I said Black Tag.” Kendrick led Donovan into a room,
completely empty except for a black ring on the ground. A dark
oval marked the center of the circle and Kendrick instructed
Donovan to stand on that. The demon went to the exit and smiled
back once he was safely outside.
circle activated as soon as Kendrick slammed the door. The room
flashed with bursts of black and violet light, not that Donovan
noticed as his entire body shook violently. He could feel the
dark presence enter through his feet, ripple up to his heart and
spread to every point in his body. Donovan gritted his teeth,
but its power overwhelmed even his senses as he bellowed to
release the primal bloodlust building within.
circle died down, for a moment Donovan stood at the ready, eyes
darting from side to side, ready to lunge into the next soul he
came across. His hair stood on end, his arms extended and
waiting to strike. Without warning, he toppled over unconscious.
to on the motel bed. Donovan was no longer berserk, but his hair
was still on end and he had a tremendous headache. On top of
that, the sensation of heightened magic power remained. There
was also a little voice in the back of his head shouting 'kill,
kill, kill!' It sounded different than the usual voices in his
head. Other than them, he was alone in the room.
Donovan could entertain the notion of doing much of anything,
Kendrick opened the door, drinking a bottle of iced tea. The
hallway outside was still the fancy Hokoni aesthetic. “Oh,
you're awake. That didn't take long,” he said.
stared at his palms. They weren't any different. There was a
large, ink black oval on his forehead, but he didn't notice
that. “Yes... my body is impatient, eager to test my new
abilities. I can feel it coursing through, itching to release
itself and destroy some fool.”
took a sip of his tea and replied, “That's good, because you
time, Donovan wasn't saying anything in response. Kendrick
insisted on taking a few leisurely drinks before setting the tea
down and explaining: “The vrockrompir demon carries with it a
curse- one fatal to humans.”
perhaps that should have been outlined better,” Donovan replied,
irritated but surprisingly content. Kendrick looked at the info
pamphlet, where the 'vrockrompir curse' was described in bold
print on page two.
it wouldn't kill you for another three days. In that time, the
way to lift the curse is simple- pass it to someone else.”
Rather than go by memory, Kendrick just read the pamphlet to
catch all the details. “That person must also be attune in magic
for the curse to fully leave you and infect them. Once that
happens, you retain the vrockrompir's powers and your victim
then has three days to pass it on themselves.”
stood and handed the pamphlet to Donovan. Since he now had the
curse and had technically read the information already, it made
sense for him to have full disclosure. Walking out, Kendrick
said, “Frankly, passing the curse along is analogous to
attempting to killing them. Do that and we'll welcome you with
glowered back. “So... I must kill a mage to save myself...”
Kendrick walked out. “Yes, the poetic beauty of the Black Tag
plan.” Chuckling as he shut the door, Kendrick added, “Tag.
“Indeed. A march to
triumph.” Donovan stood, leaving his entire tribute forgotten on
the table as he walked out of the building. Kendrick followed.
They were just going to his hideout, but triumph was close
enough for him.
family conversation tended to be at a premium in the Pearson
household. Between Renee's constant activity, her mother's work
running a high-powered consulting firm and her father's
occasional reclusive moments, having all four members together
was rare enough. Getting them to actually talk to one another in
any meaningful way was next to impossible.
particular November night, that still wasn't happening. Mom was
at the office late and Dad's idea of preparing dinner involved
carefully rationing Thanksgiving leftovers from grandmother's
house. All three of them sat around the television- a typical
Pearson ritual that usually ended with one of the three getting
bored and taking their plates elsewhere.
was nearing that point already. Per Mr. Pearson's request, Renee
had been detailing how school had been going. It was going
swimmingly of course (Molly saw to that), so the tale wasn't all
Renee's father replied, “Ah, so no boys for me to worry about
merely raised an eyebrow. But Renee stammered, “Oh, uh... heh
heh... no, not yet.” Somewhere in that mess, Molly found cause
Pearson didn't. “That's good,” he said. Moments later, his cell
phone rang and he took it and his dinner into the basement.
yet?” Molly inquired as soon as he left.
darted her head at Molly. “Huh?”
suggesting that there will be boys for Dad to worry about?”
Renee fished around, not expecting such a grilling. “Well, you
know, I mean...” Then she stopped as it dawned on her: “Well,
yeah, I hope so. I mean, we're in high school. Why not?”
Narrowing her eyes, Molly wasn't budging. “I certainly hope you
don't have someone specific in mind.”
Well... so what if I did?”
just concerned, given who you've been associating with lately.”
sighed. She was expecting that, but remained frustrated. “What,
it's a problem to hang out with Troy and Kathryn?”
necessarily. Especially now that Monroe is apparently seeing
Renee shook her head and fired back, “Okay, what exactly is the
problem with Troy?”
than answer, Molly found it an opportune time to take another
bite of turkey. Renee fought off the block by casting a wind
gust to blow her sister's fork out of her hand.
turned to Renee, dumbfounded. “Did you just cast a spell on my
the point where I need to know what you have against Troy.”
huff, Molly replied, “If you are so inclined to socialize with
him and Kathryn, then so be it. Probably best for the unit
not what I asked. He gets decent grades, stays out of trouble,
and isn't a total perv. I hope you're not concerned about his
looked down. “Not really.” Perhaps in her freshman or sophomore
year, she would have endorsed a caste system at school, but now
it seemed like a useless construct. High schoolers did plenty of
ostracizing without government influence.
honest: if I wanted to go out with Ben Wharton, would you say
shy, harmless kid in the computer club. Would you say no?”
sneering, looking away, and gritting her teeth, Molly finally
looked at Renee and said, “No.”
what's the problem with Troy? Something to do with his father?”
nodded begrudgingly, trying to distance herself by magically
cleaning the fork that had blown away.
sighed. “What was so bad about him that you can't even stand his
wouldn't know where to begin,” Molly muttered. “But I'm not
letting you get mixed up with someone like that.”
what?” Renee set her plate aside and walked over to Molly,
giving her older sister no room to hide. Molly was uncomfortable
talking about anything personal, but clearly the Frank situation
was either a repressed memory or the reason she was so distant
in the first place.
with no escape, Molly mumbled, “You really want to know?”
Renee whispered. Seeing Molly squirm like this made her forget
about Troy. Now this was out of sisterly concern.
that frame of mind, Molly finally relented.
as the Frank/Molly mystery went, Renee's plan to relay the
critical details was simple: covertly pass the information to
Troy, unless it was in fact something Molly couldn't afford to
have Troy know about. Renee had always assumed it was either a
trivial matter that Molly didn't want released out of perceived
embarrassment, or a very grave secret that would shatter
everything Troy knew about her or his father.
was, when she found out the truth, Renee wasn't sure which one
Naturally, Molly implored Renee not to let anyone find out, but
at the same time telling a gab like Renee was never the best way
to keep a secret. If it truly was personal, Molly wasn't telling
a soul. The actual details made it even murkier- one of those
gray areas where it was clearly bad, but not one of those 'hide
it away and either seek therapy or pretend it never happened'
things. The way Molly told it, at worst it was mild resentment
over the way Frank handled everything.
end, Renee didn't view Troy any differently. That's what
convinced her that it was okay to at least tell him. Had it been
something totally devastating, she may have been inclined to shy
away from him the way Molly expected her to. Instead, she found
it natural to tell him the next day at lunch. Best of all, the
three sophomores of their table were still waiting in the theme
park-rivaling line to get lunch, so Renee had Troy all to
herself once Kathryn ducked out to use the bathroom.
me forever, but I finally worked it out of Molly. She definitely
doesn't want you knowing, but...” She flashed a devious smile.
that's great!” Troy said, relieved. He slid over to the next
seat, the one normally reserved for Marie. “I thought you
forgot. So what happened?”
Renee looked around. The crowded cafeteria and that ominous
loudspeaker made this a bad place for divulging critical
information about the student council president. “I'd better
tell you after school. I've got some stuff for forensics, but
I'll be done around four. I'll talk to you then.”
smiled, nodding uncontrollably. “That's great, that's...”
Honestly, the chance to finally piece some of this together was
so exciting that he was ready to hug her. He held back, of
course. “Yeah, I'll see you after-”
back to your seat, Troy,” Kamila interrupted, slamming her
bookbag on her chair and her lunch on the table. Troy froze for
a moment, before squirming back to his seat. “This what you do
when 'rie and I aren't around?”
stared back, unsure if Kamila was joking. He wasn't getting any
support from Renee. She dug into her food as if nothing had
happened. It was only when Kamila narrowed her eyes at Troy that
Renee finally stepped in and asked how Kamila's day had been.
Kamila gave some flippant response, Marie and Yuki arrived in
tow and lunch continued without incident.
afternoon, however, when Troy and Renee met in the hallway after
school, there was a lot more to worry about than Kamila.
a lot for going through all the trouble. Must have been tough,”
Molly doesn't let out a whole lot,” Renee said. With a snicker,
she added, “It can be real frustrating sometimes. Frankly, I'm
amazed she told me all this.”
that's the thing... only kinda.” Renee stared blankly as they
walked. She was expecting something simple, good or bad- a
one-line revelation she could either guard for her sister or
share openly the way Ellen had in the tower. It was more
complicated than that. In fact, even now, hours after she'd
heard it, she still wasn't sure how best to explain it to Troy.
as her blank stare went, good thing it pointed forward as she
saw Claude idling ahead, in front of the boys' bathroom. Neither
she nor Troy reacted verbally, but she shoved him into the
restroom before Claude could notice the two walking together.
notice her, though. “Oh. Hi, Renee,” he said, only casually
noting that the bathroom door had just swung open. “What are you
getting out of this time?”
grimaced. As sister of his superior officer, she was possibly
the one person in the entire student body Claude could speak to
on casual terms. She resented that immensely. Still, she played
along and answered, “Forensics. And you?”
sighed unhappily. “Showing a new kid around. He's transferring
in here next semester. While his parents check out housing, I
get to give him the grand tour.” Tilting his head at the
bathroom, he added, bitterly, “Getting a tour of the facilities
along, Renee flashed a bright smile. “Mysterious transfer
student, huh? Maybe he can join my club!”
moment, said mysterious transfer student exited the bathroom. He
was a big kid- a little taller and much heavier than Claude. His
hair was spiked, parted, and as black as Molly's. None of that
would have been at all interesting if he wasn't sneering with
revulsion at Renee.
maybe he can join Donovan's,” Renee corrected. Yes, her
impression of him was that bad.
another sigh, Claude said, “Speaking of which, have you seen
Donovan today? He wasn't in school and his mother doesn't know
where he is either.”
shook her head. “No, why?”
someone the student council generally likes to keep tabs on.
Especially now. He's been locked out of his club room for the
past few days while we clean it up and give it a new paint job.
He's been fuming quite loudly about it, but it's no grounds for
truancy. If you see him, let him know the council would like a
word with him.”
“Righty-o,” Renee said, almost as if she had any intention of
nodded and turned to the new kid, still glaring at Renee. “Fine
then. Ready, Sho?”
they were out of earshot, Troy emerged from the lavatory and
said, “Jeez, that kid gives Donovan a run for his money.”
she nodded, Renee said, “Have you seen Donovan? Claude said he
wasn't in school today.”
rolled his eyes. “What, like that's a bad thing? Come on.”
walked down the hallway, naturally in the opposite direction as
Claude. It took a while for Renee to get going again. She was
still thinking of the right wording. She started by saying,
“Well, we all kinda figured that Molly's pretty unique to the
MST. I just didn't realize how much.”
walked, they happened to pass by the dark room, still locked and
still awaiting Yuki's semi-daily spraying. The moment they were
in front of the door, they felt an irregularity. They gasped,
looked at each other, and quickly darted their eyes around to
find the source of the displacement. Naturally, they settled on
the dark room.
attack, however, came from above. A large ball of dark matter
crashed between them and the ensuing explosion knocked them both
to the ground and blew away the floor tile.
the ground, Troy and Renee crab-walked back together, clutched
each other's shoulders and watched as Donovan descended from the
ceiling panel. His eyes appeared to burn, his hair was raised,
and the black symbol on his forehead glowed. When the
contemptuous sneer on his mouth cracked open, Troy and Renee
realized in horror that, for some reason, they were Donovan's