Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 4

CHAPTER: 3

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 29: Sanctification


Session One

As Uriel 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.

Renee 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.

In any 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.

Troy 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.”

Sensing his dejection, Marie patted his hand. “Where are you going?”

“They haven't told me yet. Apparently if I knew what I was getting into ahead of time, it would ruin the surprise.”

“Well, that's...” Marie turned to Renee angrily. “Can't you talk to Molly about that? It's one thing to-”

“Sorry, from what I've heard about the hyper-immersion process, that's how it's supposed to work. It's more fun that way.”

“It just 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.

“Hey! What're you doing here?” Kamila shouted.

“Stuff 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 at.

Kamila eyed him carefully. “Appreciate the help, Kurt, but I think I'll find my own guys. So what are you working on?”

Trying 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 confused.

“Renee took your spot at the table,” Yuki gleefully announced.

Before 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.

“Here you are,” she muttered. “Are we ready?”

“Yep, let's go,” Kurt said, rushing a bit.

“Um, 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 to?”

Impatient, Molly scoffed. “Bahrain. Happy now?”

“Yes, Ma'am!”

While 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.

“You know, given everything, you probably should be nicer to Marie,” Kurt joked.

“I am nicer to Marie,” Molly muttered. “Is this the guy?”

The man nodded and handed Molly a business card. “Miguel Silvestro. So where's the marking?”

Molly 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.

“Er, uh, yeah... the marking's right here,” Kurt said, pointing to the wall Miguel wasn't looking at.

“Sorry.” 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 long 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.”

“Well... there's a problem,” Miguel said, drawing out the 'well' to build suspense. “Probably won't work unless this room's sanctified.”

Molly and Kurt looked at each other. “But none of this crap is actually demonic, is it?” Kurt asked.

“Perhaps 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 books.”

Molly 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.

Miguel 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 serious?”

“So how do we sanctify all this?” Kurt asked, looking around and sensing just how dark the dark room was.

“Start 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.”

Reeling from the notion that the place could be deemed sacred, Kurt said, “D... did you say a couple weeks?”

“Oh 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?”

“We assumed you were union,” both Kurt and Molly replied.

Miguel paused, then shrugged. “Well, that too.”

 

Session Two

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 knowledge.

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 Yuki job.

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 little nervous.

“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 unfortunate.”

“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 away.

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 fumes.

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 awful.”

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 heart.”

Donovan clutched tighter. “Where are my belongings?”

She didn't waver. “No idea! You'll have to ask Kurt. Um... that's starting to hurt.”

“Sir!” Bryce interrupted.

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 eyebrow.

“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?!”

“Completely eradicated, thanks to Pearson's minion.”

“Claude?”

“No, the other one. The small girl.”

“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 trump card!”

Bryce gave Donovan a moment to announce the secret trump card, but nothing came out. The minion sighed again and asked, “What trump card?”

“Blaine!”

“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.

 

Session Three

Donovan's insurrection 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 asymmetrical.

“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.”

Kendrick nodded, 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?”

Kendrick shrugged. “Power enhancement most likely. They're Hageshoni; I don't think they know anything else.”

“Do you know who put it there?”

“Of course not. Why would I?”

“I thought demons could identify one another. Even if they're a different faction.”

Kendrick snickered. “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 place?”

“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.”

Donovan sneered. “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 the table.

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 crusade?”

“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 don't think-”

“Silence, minion,” Donovan spat.

Then Bryce said, “But he stole your-”

“Away! Perhaps this demon may prove useful after all.”

Despite their 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.

 

Session Four

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 look nice.

The 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.

“Yes, 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.

As 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 disappointed.

He 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.”

Kendrick 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.”

“If signing your contract rids me of Molly Pearson, I will sign away,” Donovan huffed.

Now, 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.

For a 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.

“Very well... sign here,” Kendrick said, smiling.

“Do I sign in blood?”

Kendrick 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.

Quickly, 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.

Still, 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.”

Donovan scowled. “I am growing impatient. Where are my demon powers?”

“Right down the hall. Follow me.”

Kendrick 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.

“In 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.”

“Yes, of course, the vrockrompir,” Donovan replied, grinning as if he had heard of it. “A perfect way to begin the second coming of the Black Plague.”

“No, no, 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.

The 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.

As the 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.

He came 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.

Before 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.

Donovan 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.”

Kendrick took a sip of his tea and replied, “That's good, because you have to.”

This 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.”

“Hmm... 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.

“Anyway, 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.”

Kendrick 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 open arms.”

Donovan glowered back. “So... I must kill a mage to save myself...”

Smiling, Kendrick walked out. “Yes, the poetic beauty of the Black Tag plan.” Chuckling as he shut the door, Kendrick added, “Tag. You're It.”

“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.

 

Session Five

Hearty 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.

On this 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.

Molly 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 that interesting.

Until Renee's father replied, “Ah, so no boys for me to worry about yet?”

Molly merely raised an eyebrow. But Renee stammered, “Oh, uh... heh heh... no, not yet.” Somewhere in that mess, Molly found cause for concern.

Mr. Pearson didn't. “That's good,” he said. Moments later, his cell phone rang and he took it and his dinner into the basement.

“Not... yet?” Molly inquired as soon as he left.

Renee darted her head at Molly. “Huh?”

“Are you suggesting that there will be boys for Dad to worry about?”

“Um...” 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.”

“No! Well... so what if I did?”

“I'm just concerned, given who you've been associating with lately.”

Renee sighed. She was expecting that, but remained frustrated. “What, it's a problem to hang out with Troy and Kathryn?”

“Not necessarily. Especially now that Monroe is apparently seeing someone, but-”

Finally, Renee shook her head and fired back, “Okay, what exactly is the problem with Troy?”

Rather 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.

Molly turned to Renee, dumbfounded. “Did you just cast a spell on my silverware?”

“I'm at the point where I need to know what you have against Troy.”

With a huff, Molly replied, “If you are so inclined to socialize with him and Kathryn, then so be it. Probably best for the unit anyway.”

“That's 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 social status.”

Molly 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.

“Be honest: if I wanted to go out with Ben Wharton, would you say no?”

“Who?”

“Ben's a shy, harmless kid in the computer club. Would you say no?”

After sneering, looking away, and gritting her teeth, Molly finally looked at Renee and said, “No.”

“Then what's the problem with Troy? Something to do with his father?”

Molly nodded begrudgingly, trying to distance herself by magically cleaning the fork that had blown away.

Renee sighed. “What was so bad about him that you can't even stand his son?”

“I wouldn't know where to begin,” Molly muttered. “But I'm not letting you get mixed up with someone like that.”

“Like 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.

Left with no escape, Molly mumbled, “You really want to know?”

“Yeah,” Renee whispered. Seeing Molly squirm like this made her forget about Troy. Now this was out of sisterly concern.

With that frame of mind, Molly finally relented.

 

Session Six

As far 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.

Problem was, when she found out the truth, Renee wasn't sure which one applied.

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.

In the 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.

“It took me forever, but I finally worked it out of Molly. She definitely doesn't want you knowing, but...” She flashed a devious smile.

“Oh, 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?”

“Um...” 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.”

Troy 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-”

“Okay, 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?”

Troy 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.

That afternoon, however, when Troy and Renee met in the hallway after school, there was a lot more to worry about than Kamila.

“Thanks a lot for going through all the trouble. Must have been tough,” Troy said.

“Yeah, 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.”

“Why, is it bad?”

“See, 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 far 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.

He did 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?”

Renee 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?”

Claude 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 right now.”

Playing along, Renee flashed a bright smile. “Mysterious transfer student, huh? Maybe he can join my club!”

At that 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.

“Or... maybe he can join Donovan's,” Renee corrected. Yes, her impression of him was that bad.

With 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.”

Renee shook her head. “No, why?”

“He's 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 doing so.

Claude nodded and turned to the new kid, still glaring at Renee. “Fine then. Ready, Sho?”

Once they were out of earshot, Troy emerged from the lavatory and said, “Jeez, that kid gives Donovan a run for his money.”

Although she nodded, Renee said, “Have you seen Donovan? Claude said he wasn't in school today.”

Troy rolled his eyes. “What, like that's a bad thing? Come on.”

They 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.”

As they 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.

The 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.

Still on 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 target.


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VOLUME: 4

CHAPTER: 3

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