Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 31: Tribunal

Session One

While Molly fretted over her sister, Kurt was left to fret over Donovan.

Okay, fretting wasn't quite the right word. Kurt had no patience for anyone who dabbled with demons so he didn't care what happened to Donovan. But as Uriel was responsible for playing district attorney, Kurt was more or less stuck as his eyewitness, paralegal and clerk of courts. There was plenty in all that for him to fret over.

First, he had to get a detailed deposition from Troy. Then he had to attempt to secure evidence of a demon contract. A little bit of coaxing led Blaine to hunt it down and fax it over. Then he had to scour the contract for anything useful for prosecution. The small print, transferred over a fax machine, was next to impossible to read. Kurt read for fifteen minutes, developed severe eyestrain, then spent the next two hours talking the potions department into giving him a shot of Lucidrol. It was worth it as the drug also translated the complex legalese into something mortals could understand.

That helped reveal one point critical to prosecuting Donovan. Or to be precise, the absence of it: nothing at any point in the contract specified any criteria or agreement to actually join a demon faction. It was solely an arrangement to bind with the vrockrompir and not to do something cheap like pass the curse back to whomever facilitated all this.

When presented with this, Uriel frowned. “Unless he aligns himself with another faction, he can't be considered a traitor to the MST.”

Kurt's eyes widened. “Wait, you mean we can't punish him?”

“Oh, no, of course we can punish him. He tried to kill a classmate. That just rules out crucifixion.”

“That was an option?”

Uriel shrugged. “I doubt it, but I was planning to ask the panel for it and we'd go from there. What can I say? I'm old school.”

Sighing, Kurt nodded. He knew Uriel wasn't joking. The MST took its role as arbiter of magic justice seriously, and didn't mess around when it came to punishment. That was fine when it came to clearly evil masterminds like Kaz Pormoglio and Darren Silars, but Donovan was bizarre enough to be a gray area. In all likelihood, Kurt figured Donovan was just messing around with his pseudo-dark dealings, got carried away and ended up summoning a real demon that talked him into something he didn't comprehend. There were consequences to that of course, especially after what Donovan did to Renee, but Kurt found it a shame that everything about the incident was so drastic.

“Can't say I'm disappointed,” Kurt said. “But what is going to happen to Donovan?”

“Probably just a memory recalibration,” Uriel replied. Clearly, he would have liked more. “He'll go back to town as a normal...” He paused. Whether Donovan knew about magic or not, 'normal' wasn't the right word. “...okay, he'll be a messed up, deluded civilian, but he won't bother us anymore. Between you, Molly and his minions, he'll be well-supervised as well.”

“I'm sure Molly would love the extra work.”

“As she explained it, she's babysitting him enough already. I suppose we should call her in to get her up to speed.” True to form, Uriel pinched his ear and went with telepathy. Molly transported in and looked around; given the discussion, she expected a better meeting place than an empty lobby area in the main office building. Somewhere that wasn't next to a vending machine, at least.

Right away, Uriel snickered when he noticed that Molly was carrying the case with Grimoire 17. “I know the rules say you should always have the grimoire nearby, but this is a bit zealous.”

“I couldn't care less about Donovan. My concerns, in order, are Renee, unloading this thing and not leaving the unit back home vulnerable,” Molly said.

Kurt nodded. “Dibs on number three. I'm back on patrol once the tribunal's over.”

“Tribunal?” Molly sat down.

“Yes, unfortunately the MST insists on a fair hearing in cases of misconduct,” Uriel said, sounding like he preferred the old system of mob rule that fell out of favor in the 19th century. “The facts are presented in front of a three-man panel. There's prosecution, defense and all that. Shame it's so tedious. As commander of his district, I have to prosecute him.”

Molly smirked. “Who gets the honor of representing Donovan?”

Uriel smirked right back. “His guardian.”

Although she rolled her eyes and shook her head, she didn't protest. “Well, this will be quick then. Burn him at the stake for all I care.”
Smiling, Uriel replied, “This will work out nicely. Kurt here scoffed when I suggested crucifixion. Shame the evidence has already eliminated the option.”

“Why's that?” Molly thought she was being sarcastic, but let that part of the conversation slide.

Kurt handed her a copy of the contract. “He didn't actually align with one of the factions so it's not technically treason.”

“So who signed him?”

“Irrelevant to the case,” Uriel clarified. “Code says demons will be demons and we expect them to try to draw people over. We only care about magi who agree. Kurt will worry about finding an instigator when he gets back into town.”

Whether relevant to the case or not, Molly still found it important. Given the certain result of the tribunal, she considered it the most important part. She turned to Kurt, unwilling to let it stop there. “Any suspects?”

“Haven't really looked into it,” Kurt replied. “I sent a copy to the investigators, but it'll take them a week to draw any conclusions. Why? Thinking it was the Hageshoni?”

Molly nodded. “Could be something they'd pull. Although we lost track of Kendrick again too, didn't we?”

“Oh yeah, haven't heard from him since he escaped the Chioni. But Donovan's blown him off so many times and we've marked him so hard I can't see him coming back for another try.”

“Still, he has proven to be very stubborn in avoiding detection,” Uriel said. “Utterly invisible. Quite frustrating.”

At that moment, an epiphany struck Molly. It was intense, rippling through her brainwaves and shaking the foundation that started this whole mess. In a word (or three), it changed everything.

Too bad Uriel and Kurt went on to more procedural chit-chat and refused to let Molly air it out. She'd have to let it linger in the back of her mind, letting it gestate until it revealed the true significance.


Session Two

If Molly had any hope of pondering her sudden realization about Kendrick, it was gone when Mr. Smittle and Mr. Marlowe 'just happened' to walk by. Don't mistake the literary equivalent of air quotes there for something sinister or a gross manipulation of the human course of events. But after his stunts with Yuki and Kurt, we're not putting anything past Marlowe.

“This looks important,” he said, cheerily.

“Not really,” Uriel replied, “We're in agreement that Donovan should be dismissed and recalibrated. Sort of an involuntary plea bargain.”

“Excellent. So it's all settled.”

Molly coughed and held up the briefcase. “Nothing is settled. I'd still like to know what you're doing with the grimoire. You don't expect me to keep it, do you?”

“That'll be arbitrated at the tribunal,” Marlowe replied, helpfully.

Uriel glanced at him, a little annoyed. “And now that you bring it up, there's a bit of a problem with that too. Donovan still technically owns the grimoire. You're just guarding it for him. Normally, the only way for him to lose it would be treason.”

Molly stared blankly. “So because he didn't actually sign with a faction...”

He nodded unhappily. “No crucifixion, no burning at the stake, and God only knows what happens to the book.”

“Unbelievable,” she muttered.

“It's an out for anybody with the balls to trick a demon into fusion, but still plays for our team,” Smittle said, snickering. “I know some fellows who've tried it, though demons usually run off when I approach them with an offer.”

Kurt narrowed his eyebrows. “Yeah, but do they usually try to kill somebody in the process?”

Smittle shrugged. “How else are you going to fuse with a vrockrompir? If I was his guardian, that's how I'd defend him.”

“Well, his guardian isn't that sympathetic,” Molly muttered. “Now can we all agree that Donovan should not possess this book?”

Kurt and Marlowe nodded. Uriel did as well, but added, “Of course, but it's not up to us.”

Molly lifted her chin. “Of course it is.” With a slight smirk, she explained, “You're the prosecution. I'm the defense. Kurt's the field agent responsible for the discovery process. The panel can't arbitrate something it doesn't know about, right?”

Uriel and Kurt furrowed their eyebrows and turned to each other. Before they could respond, Marlowe's face lit up. “That's brilliant, Molly!”

“Figured you'd approve,” Molly mumbled.

“Only problem is Donovan would still possess the book,” Uriel said, shaking his head.

“Perhaps legally, but he doesn't actually have to have it,” Marlowe replied.

“Molly can't have it either as she would no longer be his guardian.”

“I'll sneak it into storage then! Nobody will miss it for a few years. And if someone does, it would be Kurt's responsibility to get it from Donovan.”

“Which ruins the plan,” Kurt stated plainly.

Marlowe held up a finger. “In this case, 'Donovan' would refer to me sneaking it back out of storage and FedEx-ing it to you.”

Uriel shook his head. “You realize if you are caught, you'll be in almost as much trouble as Donovan. Conspiracy to control a Class A artifact is quite serious.”

“Who would prosecute these two?” Marlowe asked, pointing at Kurt and Molly.

“I would, but-”

“Perfect!” he cheered. Uriel rolled his eyes.

Molly wasn't nearly as excited. It was a bit seedy, after all. But to keep the grimoire away from Donovan and herself for good? She'd gladly risk any number of demerits for that. She handed Marlowe the grimoire with no lack of resolve.

“Thank you! I'll take good care of it for him.” Marlowe smiled at Uriel. “And I know U's going to be a good sport about this, even if we are caught.”

Uriel stared at the ceiling. “Unfortunately, I can't argue that it isn't a utilitarian approach. A mockery of all artifact protocol, but it does simplify things.”

“Now how much are you going to pay me not to blab to the high council about it?” Smittle asked. All three stared at him.

Marlowe patted his shoulder. “We'll talk later. I'll make it worth your while.”

As the student affairs dean rubbed the dirt off his palm, Molly turned to Smittle. “As for you, what's the update on Renee?”

Smittle huffed. “Depends. Remember all that stuff about embedding the soul of a dead monster inside her to take the blow?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I was hoping they had come up with something better.”

“Yeah, it's a pansy's approach, but the doctors think they can enchant a rune or something and get that to absorb the curse.”

For a moment, Molly was silenced. She wasn't expecting an answer that actually sounded decent. Not entirely though- “But then she'd have a cursed rune embedded to her... wherever you put it.”

“Forehead.” Molly blinked. Knowing Renee, she'd actually find that fashionable. Smittle went on, “But once it's clear, they can remove it. They've never tried it before, but they sound pretty confident.”

“And if it doesn't work?”

Smittle grinned. “I'll have a shadeling ready to go. Sooner we do it, the more time they've got to try again if they eff up.”

Molly sighed. It still seemed unpleasant. “I suppose there are no other options.”

“Not unless you want to go straight to the shadeling.” Smittle paused and glanced at Molly, just in case she changed her mind about having a dead demon inside her sister. She did not. “Only thing is, since it's their first try with it, they'd like to keep her here for a while to examine her.”

“How long's a while?”

“Next academy session if possible.”

This was tricky. That meant all of December. That meant the holidays. That meant a lot of logistical problems. “Any chance of at least getting home for Christmas?”

“I guess they can try to arrange something.”

“Two conditions then.” Molly said, pointing at him. “One- I stay too. I'm not sticking her here for a whole month.”

“Don't you have school?” Smittle said. Marlowe, Kurt and Uriel all broke out laughing.

“Number two- somebody else has to explain it to our parents.”

Smittle frowned. That wasn't his forte. He wasn't sure who could possibly explain a month-long absence on top of the scheduled three-week furlough in January.

Thankfully, he did know someone who was suddenly in his debt.

After a long conversation, Marlowe came through: “I absolutely understand, Mrs. Pearson. But we have more business than usual this time around for your daughters and need to put it somewhere. Based on your suggestions we will definitely review our policy to avoid the Chinese new year when spilling over. Yes, you'd rather avoid Christmas, but our director Mr. Wang feels differently. Molly and Renee thank you for your cooperation.”


Session Three

As far as magic healing techniques went, Renee's operation was along the lines of a kidney transplant. Smittle wasn't joking about doing it quickly: once Molly agreed to it, it was arranged the very next morning. Renee was conscious during the preparations, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. It took place in the demonic studies facility, which had all the wicked-looking gadgetry of a modern operating room, without as strong a focus on sterilization. The room was gray, with the surrounding shelves littered with assorted sundry jars filled with various humors, miscellaneous body parts, and the occasional dark creature soaking in formaldehyde.

Directly above Renee was a glowing red ring, which she assumed was part of some laser technology that would help embed whatever needed embedding with no surgical incisions. Then she happened to cast her eyes downward and realized it merely projected a perfect circle on the floor. In fact, a practitioner was using it to trace one. Worse, Renee knew who the practitioner was.

“Wait... you're helping with this?”

“Yep!” Kiki chirped. “I knew if I stayed here long enough I'd get to do something awesome! Oh God, Renee, this is going to be so much fun!”

Suddenly, Renee feared for her life. “You're not in charge, I hope?”
Kiki pouted. “What do you mean? Don't you trust me?”

“I was just hoping this whole embedding process was done through magic and not... like, a hammer or something.”

“Oh, of course it's magic! And you'll be fine. But you have to hold very still. And that's where I come in!”

Renee raised an eyebrow at Kiki. If her job was to be reassuring and keep the patient calm, mission failed. Somehow Renee got the sense that wasn't Kiki's method.

“So you're going to harness me down?”

“Nope. We're going with anesthesia today.”

“I can handle that...” Renee said, sighing. With magic, that was easy to swallow. What's a sleeping potion between friends?

“Now lay down, open your mouth and say 'aah,' and you won't feel a thing!”

Silly as the command was, Renee did so. She could handle being put under if it made the process that much easier.

Until Kiki stuck a pistol in Renee's mouth, smiled manically and shouted, “Nighty night!” Kiki pulled the trigger and the patient was prepped for surgery.


Back home, all Troy, Yuki and Kathryn could do was worry. For the next couple days, Troy and Yuki had trouble thinking of anything but Renee's situation. They'd all been scraped up before in battle, so they knew how dangerous the job could be at times. But the sight of Renee after the attack was something else entirely. More troubling was the way Molly and Kurt had looked at her and were just as helpless.

Molly never called home to keep them up to speed. In fact, besides an e-mail to Claude giving him temporary command of the school, she hadn't contacted anybody. Kurt did his best to keep Troy informed, but as there was an ongoing investigation involved, even he could only give out so much. Other than saying that Renee had a deadly curse that required a major operation and that Donovan was in moderately-serious trouble, Kurt could only answer everything else with “that's classified.”

It made going to school pretty rough. Troy's worrying rubbed off on Marie and Kamila. Soon they were asking questions about where Renee was and without Molly to establish what the 'facts' were, Troy was going to have to do it.

“Surgery?” Marie repeated, squeezing Troy's hand. “On what?”

“I don't know. I heard it from Kurt. He heard it from Molly. Molly doesn't spill much,” Troy said.

“You think Renee would have mentioned that last week,” Kamila said. “She goes on about everything else. How come Kurt's the first one to know?”

“It was an emergency.”

Kamila narrowed an eye. “And of all people, Pearson only told Kurt?”

“Quiet,” Kathryn said. She was seething enough as it was. Yes, she was worried about Renee too. But like it or not, her mind kept straying to Molly and Kurt alone at the academy. She knew it was petty. She knew she was reading too much into it. At times, she even recognized it as jealousy and chided herself for it. After all, she had Kurt every moment he wasn't working, and he was off the clock far more often than he was on it. None of that changed the fact that this bothered her as much as Renee's situation.

“Are you okay, Kathryn?” Marie asked. Kathryn didn't answer. “Don't read too much into it, okay? I mean, do you really think Kurt would leave you for someone like President Pearson?”

That was the problem. Marie intoned it perfectly: of course Kurt wouldn't do that. Kathryn knew she was a better catch, better lover and better person than Molly. Yet her answer to the question would have been yes all the same. Worse yet, now Marie and Kamila were asking about it, and they didn't even know why Molly and Kurt associated with each other. With Renee as the story's headline, the rumor mill would churn, with 'Molly told Kurt' as the primary source. Kathryn knew she'd be fielding questions about that in the locker room.

Without a direct answer to the question, Marie continued, “Really, if you get worried about stuff like that, it'll eat you alive. You just have to believe he loves you enough, no matter what else is thrown his way. Right Troy?”

She turned to face him, but he was still deep in thought about the whole situation and not paying much attention. “Troy?” she repeated, louder.

“What?” Troy said, startled. “Sorry, I kinda spaced out there.”

“Never mind,” Marie huffed. Troy shook it off and shot right back into space.

“Oh, hey, do you guys want to sign Renee's card?” Yuki asked, pulling a greeting card from her satchel. “Kathryn and Troy already signed it.”

“Oh, uh... sure,” Marie replied, suddenly quieter than before. She took the card and a pen and saw that it was indeed a generic get well card and indeed already bore Kathryn and Troy's signatures. Along with two more...

Marie looked at Yuki, puzzled. “Who are Blaine and Bryce?”

Yuki chuckled nervously and answered, “Donovan's minions. Don't ask.”

Per their normal policy with anything concerning Donovan, Marie and Kamila didn't.


Session Four

Central Academy did not have a fancy courtroom in its halls. Tribunals were often subdued, one-sided affairs that required little flourish or luxury. On the surface, Donovan's case was no different. So it was heard in a small chamber of the main hall, with little more than two rows of chairs, one behind a long table, and a raised platform on the other side for the panel to show some display of superiority. Even so, the room served board meetings and small classes just as effectively.

Kurt had to admit he hoped for better. The final injustice in this messy incident was that Donovan's fate was to be deliberated in such a stuffy multipurpose room. The aesthetics weren't just for his own viewing pleasure: he knew Donovan responded to flair. A big, dramatic courtroom showdown in a big, dramatic courtroom might have clued Donovan in to the severity of his crimes. Instead, the MST treated the proceeding as a formality, with none of the litigants planning to make it into a show. There would be no echoes of Perry Mason, Atticus Finch or Phoenix Wright here.

All this was in spite of the fact that it finally dragged the academy's head honcho out of the woodwork. As Central Academy served as the primary headquarters for all magic activity between the Appalachians and the Great Plains, any acts worthy of a court marshal went through its upper administration. Not that Chancellor Thomas Whalen was thrilled to be there. He sat at the center of the platform, his elbow on the table and his chin on his elbow.

Whalen generally ran a pretty smooth ship; his calm demeanor and reputation for rationality put him somewhere between 'above average' and 'non-entity' among critics. In the rare moments when he did raise a hand, it was decisive and sure to get attention. Sort of the Dwight Eisenhower of magic school chancellors. Normally, this Laissez-faire approach would be subject to criticisms of laziness, but as Chancellor Whalen was a heavy-set African-American, such criticisms remained unvoiced for fear they would be taken the wrong way. That gave him just enough extra freedom to keep the facility moving forward.

Not that he didn't have better things to do than preside over Donovan's tribunal. Clearing his throat and sighing, Whalen began the proceedings with all the fervor of a man who just wanted to get this over with. “Okay, let's get going. This is MST vs. Donovan Dunmar. Chancellor Thomas Whalen presiding. Let's get everyone on the record.”

After giving the names of the other two panelists to the enchanted PC transcribing everything, he pointed to Uriel, who promptly stood from behind the table and declared. “I am Uriel. Fourth District Commander.”

Whalen raised an eyebrow. “Do you have a last name?”

“Uh...” Uriel looked around. All eyes were on him, looking impatient. He sighed and, a little ashamed, admitted, “Jones.”

Shaking his head, Whalen moved on to the next entry: “Kurt Sempman, Field Agent for L. B. Gould, Ohio.”

“Where's that?”

Kurt paused for a moment, his mouth hanging open. “Do you know where Chillicothe is?”


“Then I can't explain it.” Whalen nodded, letting it die there and getting Molly and Donovan on the record.

Donovan didn't cooperate at first. Two glowing bracelets around his arms prevented any magic energy from reaching his hands. Plus Molly subversively kept a silencing spell on him whenever he wasn't addressed. So he was feeling a tad repressed. At the advice of his council (more accurately, Molly stepping on his foot), he muttered his name.

With that, the fun began. Kurt presented the details of the incident, mostly using Troy's testimony. Besides the most severe attack on Renee, Kurt made sure to emphasize that Donovan attacked him as well, along with Troy and Molly.

Once Kurt was finished, Whalen nodded and turned to Molly. “Any discrepancy with the testimony?”

“No, sir,” Molly replied.

“Awesome. Makes this easier,” Whalen muttered, turning to Uriel. “Okay, Jonesy, any idea why Dunmar did this?”

Uriel glared at Whalen for a moment, deathly afraid that he had just gotten a horrible new nickname. Shaking his head, he stated, “Insubordination over a recent sanctification procedure. An unknown Hageshoni operative planted an enchanted mark in what Donovan deemed his personal space. The procedure to remove it inconvenienced him.”

Donovan tried to shout something back, but the silencing spell held. Whalen also wasn't looking at him, instead narrowing his eyebrows at Uriel. “Really? He would fuse himself with a demon over that?”

“Yes. I'm afraid Donovan has a history of irrational behavior, some of which directed at me personally.”

“Such as?”

For a moment, Uriel panicked. Mentioning Donovan's attack at the end of the Chioni battle (and his subsequent exoneration) would mean mentioning the grimoire. He turned to Kurt for a moment, calmed down and found an answer, “Oh trust me, he's been a head case since he signed on. To detail his incidents would take forever. We don't want to be here that long.”

“No we don't,” Whalen concurred, nodding. “Yet you're only asking for recalibration?”

“Yes, as he did not actually commit the treason of aligning with a faction. A demon apparently gave him this power just for the hell of it... literally. In light of that, I'd settle for expulsion, memory recalibration and washing our hands of him.”

“Miss Pearson?”

Molly didn't bother to stand up. “Fine by me.”

Whalen narrowed an eye. “I recognize that this is a special circumstance given your relation to the victim, Miss Pearson, but remember that losing a member of your unit does put it at a disadvantage when fighting for future projects and job opportunities.”

“Actually, we took in Yuki Shizuka, so we have a surplus right now.”

“Oh... oh yeah.” Whalen couldn't argue that. He was well aware of that circumstance. Still, he wasn't satisfied. “Look, I know it goes against protocol, but I'd like to hear from the accused directly.”

“He's pleading the fifth,” said Molly, firm.

“We know you're silencing him, Molly. I'd feel better hearing him at least attempt to defend himself. Judging by the testimony, it will be even more incriminating.”

After a short standoff, Molly relented and Donovan finally got to speak. Loudly, he cried out, “This trial is a mockery! Why are you not prosecuting the crime of denying me my dark room, restraining my powers, and forcibly separating me from the Tome of Vincent Wagner?!”

At that moment, everyone at the table who wasn't on trial felt their stomachs turn as the grimoire forced its way onto the record.


Session Five

Normally, Donovan's raised voice would be grounds for Whalen to bang his gavel, but the chancellor was so stupefied he forgot that he had one. Thankfully, it wasn't about Grimoire 17. He turned to Molly and shrugged. “I was wrong. That doesn't make me feel better. Good call with the silencing spell.”

Molly, Kurt and Uriel all breathed again. Donovan mentioning the book was the only reason they were shutting him up. Thankfully, Whalen didn't seem to notice.

Or not: “Vincent Wagner? Let me guess- you're related to him?”

“He is my father and the tome belongs to me,” Donovan muttered.

Whalen rolled his eyes, but the other panelists leaned in and started whispering to him. Molly and Kurt heard a few words repeated often, namely 'grimoire,' 'hearloom' and 'artifact.' Their stomachs clenched.

Finally, they broke huddle and Whalen asked Kurt, “Mr. Sempman, am I to understand that Donovan is entitled to a major artifact?”

“Uh, yessir,” Kurt peeped.

Whalen huffed. “Jonesy, were you planning on telling us this?”

Uriel exhaled and calmly replied, “As there was no treason involved, I didn't think the status of the artifact could be deliberated at this tribunal. If Donovan is found guilty and recalibrated, it would be a dusty attic case.”

Molly shuddered. She knew what 'dusty attic' meant. In fact, everybody does. Powerful artifacts often reside among those who do not know, or no longer know, about magic. 'Dusty attic' is often invoked as an effort to protect the artifact, punish the mage or get some pesky object out of sight. So any time you or one of your friends stumble across a magic book, wand or wardrobe while rooting through someone's house, now you know how it got there.

Anyway, Whalen nodded. “Perhaps, but we still need to know about it. Even if it does end up in the attic, there's filings involved to put it there and keep tabs on it.”

At that moment, it all added up for Molly. Everything- Kendrick, a grimoire in 'dusty attic' state, Donovan and his impending punishment all fused together to create a situation she couldn't allow. “Time out!” she cried.

“This isn't a basketball game, Miss Pearson,” Whalen said sternly. Then he shrugged. “Although since you called for it, in light of this new wrinkle I'd like to convene with the panel for a few moments. This isn't so routine anymore. Fifteen minute recess.”

The moment he banged his gavel, Molly bound Donovan to his chair and joined Kurt and Uriel outside.

“Well, that was just great,” Kurt muttered. “What should we do now, Jonesy?”

Uriel glared back. “Call me that again and I'm docking your pay.”

“Damn, I wasn't expecting Whalen to actually care about this,” Molly said. “You didn't tell me he was competent.”

Shrugging, Uriel complained, “Unfortunately, he does have a stubborn insistence to actually do his job. Puts you two in quite a fix.”

“Why just us? You're in this too,” Kurt said. “Besides, why is dusty attic a problem? That's what would have happened anyway.”

“Yes, but now they'll actually check on it, make sure Molly actually signs the book back over to Donovan and require you to make it one of your routine security checks.”

“We can't let that happen,” Molly reiterated.

Uriel shook his head. “Molly, your plan was meritable. I'd prefer it in storage over Donovan's attic as well. But that's against our protocol and you'd do well to stop fighting it before you end up in serious trouble. We'll just have to get the book back from Marlowe and follow orders.”

He walked away, telepathically contacting Marlowe and finding a private corner.

“Kurt, do you have any clue who signed Donovan yet?” Molly asked.

“I told you, it didn't matter,” Kurt replied.

“It does if it's Kendrick.” After trying in vain to get anything out of Kurt, Molly gave up and re-entered the chamber. “Donovan, did that idiot Kendrick sign you up for this?”

Donovan shot Molly a nasty look. “Of course. I was a fool to trust him,” he muttered.

Just as Molly recognized the moment of apparent remorse, he added, “His creature was far too weak for my goals.”

Molly shook it off and abandoned him in the room. “Now why didn't I think of that?” Kurt asked.

“Kendrick might be more dangerous than the Hageshoni,” Molly declared.

Kurt scratched his head. “Why do you say that? We've beaten him how many times now?”

“Yes, but we haven't caught him yet.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Kurt downplayed that, seeing as catching him was mainly his job. “But like Uriel said, he cloaks himself too well.”

“Then why didn't he do it the first time?” Molly asked, shooting him a look. “He made an offer to Donovan hours before he sent that hell hound that got them all roped into this. And he did it uncloaked.”

“Well, we weren't looking for him at the time.”

“Even an untargeted demon would keep himself cloaked when we're nearby.”

Kurt still wasn't catching on. Or if he was, he was derisive about it. “What, you're saying he wanted us to know he was there?”

Molly nodded. That was consistent for a Hokoni, after all. “He wanted to announce his presence. He wanted us to overreact. He wanted Donovan exposed and enlisted.”

Exhaling deeply, Kurt shook his head. One question still remained: “Why?”

And Molly couldn't answer it. “I don't know,” she replied. “But he's certainly been pesky enough. He turned the Zukoni on us. He found out Donovan had the book...”

“That's public record, Molly. Enough digging on Moogle could turn that up.”

“He knew enough to dig for it. And he knew where to look. Whatever he has in mind, he knows our protocol inside and out.” She paused and took a deep breath before delivering the punchline: “That has to be why he let Donovan bond with a demon with no allegiance to the Hokoni.”

That did it. Kurt's eyes shot open and he pointed to the chamber. “You mean... he's...”

“If Donovan aligns with the Hokoni, he'd lose the book and wouldn't touch a spell for the rest of his life. The way it's shaped up now, he'll be a clean slate with Grimoire 17 sitting in his attic.” Molly narrowed her eyebrows. “It's very possible Kendrick's anticipating this.”

Kurt fell back against the wall, letting his head collide almost intentionally. “So in other words, we need to stop that from happening.”

Molly gave a grim nod. Nice that he understood, but they still needed to think of a way to do it.


Session Six

Back in the chamber, Molly still didn't have an answer for the puzzle of how to avoid this dirty attic ruling. Good thing Chancellor Whalen misinterpreted her completely. His first words upon reconvening were, “Now, Miss Pearson, should we take that outburst to mean you weren't aware that the artifact would get dirty attic status upon Donovan's recalibration?”

“Yes, sir,” Molly replied. When in doubt, perjury was always an option.

Whalen turned to Uriel. “See, Jonesy, this is why you need to mention this stuff. According to the record, Molly is currently holding the book for security reasons. As she would no longer be Donovan's guardian, she could no longer do that. It's not really fair for the defense to not be fully informed of-”

“Objection!” Uriel barked. Whalen raised his eyebrows, either amused or offended by the outburst. Still, withholding evidence was a pretty serious allegation and now that the collusion plans were off, Uriel wasn't standing for it.

“Molly is fully aware of...” As Uriel tried to explain, he turned to Molly. Molly returned the glare. “...what she's doing, sir. Carry on.”

Whalen looked away, annoyed for a moment before asking, “Then why'd you call objection?”

“Just, uh... always wanted to say that,” Uriel replied, suddenly humbled.

Rolling his eyes back to Molly, Whalen continued, “I take it you have a problem with giving it dirty attic status?”

“Yes,” Molly answered, firmly. By now, she had come up with something to work with. “As you may or may not know, we have received an abnormally high level of demonic activity within the last two years. Factions have made plays to convert Donovan, kill Donovan, steal the grimoire... everything. Fact is, neither of the two are safe in L. B. Gould, especially with Donovan recalibrated and the book in a dusty attic.”

“Is relocation an option? Get them out of town?” Whalen asked.

“No. Donovan has proven himself very dangerous. Doubly so with the grimoire. No matter what the situation, Donovan and Grimoire 17 together are a grave threat. If they cannot be separated by this court, then I will have to suggest imprisonment or exile.”

Donovan sneered. “You will not rest until I am defeated, will you?”

“Damn right I won't,” Molly spat, not looking at him.

It took Whalen a moment to process such suggestions. Even with his crime, imprisonment or exile were very severe punishments for Donovan. Especially since his defender proposed them. “Uriel? Got anything for that?”

Uriel was at a loss too. “Look, you know I'm all for throwing the book at him. But the book's not that thick. Even if there are previsions that allow for something that extreme-”

“He attacked my sister!” Molly shouted. Whalen banged his gavel.

Now standing, Uriel continued, remaining deliberate. “He was likely under demonic influence, particularly as it was a vrockrompir and it was his only means of survival. Furthermore, my office already had to put in extra hours to explain to Donovan's family where he's been all this time. If you're suggesting that he put Donovan away until he loses the book, that's six years. Out of the question.” Uriel huffed once and sat down angrily.

Whalen clutched his forehead. “So... the defense wants something harsh and the prosecution is sticking up for him.”

“I am not sticking him for him,” Uriel asserted. “If the death penalty were an option, I'd be all for that. We can explain that to his mom.”

The statement gave Whalen pause, but not enough. “Okay, uh, do you agree with the assessment that Donovan and Grimoire 17 in the same place is a threat no matter what he knows or where he is?”

After a moment of thought, Uriel nodded. “Yeah, sounds about right.”

“Swell. We're, uh... gonna talk this over,” Whalen said, nervously glancing at both Molly and Uriel. He and his two colleagues left the room to find a nice quiet spot to deliberate.

“So much for keeping it simple,” Uriel muttered. “Any reason for the sudden histrionics, Molly?”

“I don't think Kendrick is finished with Donovan,” Molly replied. After all the yelling, she was surprisingly solemn.

Uriel chuckled. “At this point, I'd just assume let the Hokoni have him. At least then we can reclaim the grimoire.”

“I would never align myself such a weak faction,” Donovan insisted.

“Well, there we go. Donovan will be a non-entity now.” Laughing, Uriel added, “That's almost a reward. Once we get the mark out of there, Donovan can hole up in his dark room with his minions and we won't have to deal with him. And he won't have to deal with us.”

Molly shook her head, unconvinced. Was there really no escaping this?

The deliberation process was uncomfortably long. Little was said between the four; even Donovan remained hushed as he waited for the inevitable. Twenty minutes passed until the panel emerged. Whalen looked at all four of them- Uriel, Kurt, Molly and Donovan all stared back in anticipation. He took a deep breath and trudged forward.

“Clearly, the persistent demon activity as of late in your area makes it difficult to put an artifact in dusty attic status there. Odds are the grimoire may be contributing to the problem. On the other hand, any other solution would lead to a punishment too severe for the crime. Sad to say, there are too many factors in this assault and too many ways to offer justification that we simply cannot advocate imprisonment or exile.”

He noticed Molly hesitantly raising a hand, paused and looked at her. “Are you saying you're considering hypothetical defenses, even if we didn't raise them?” she asked.

“Bingo. All the things that weren't raised could all be grounds for an appeal or a mistrial. Lord knows we don't want to do all this over again. Now... Donovan, please rise.” Donovan glared back until Molly stood and pulled him up with her.

The official ruling began: “Therefore, Grimoire 17 will remain in the custody of Molly Pearson. We grant Pearson the authority to take any measure necessary to ensure its safety, including storage or embedding, so long as it is retrievable within three days for emergency purposes.”

Molly narrowed her eyes: she found that interesting for two reasons. The first was that the normal leeway for retrieving an artifact was one day, so Whalen was giving her a longer leash to secure it. Given that, she could just let Marlowe keep it in storage.

The second reason was for Donovan to air: “But how can she hold it if she is no longer my so-called guardian?”

Whalen shrugged. “Who said she wasn't?” He cleared his throat and resumed: “With everyone in agreement that Donovan and the grimoire each have a significant magic presence, the panel chooses to err on the side of keeping them both as allies. Donovan will undergo immediate training with Mr. Smittle to keep that demon under control, and the grimoire will only be returned to him upon successful completion of this academy.”

“What?! You're just letting him off?!” Molly cried.

“We can't cut him loose like Uriel wants and we can't lock him up like you want. I'm sure you and Smittle can whip him into shape.” Whalen cracked a smile. “Besides, look at it this way, Molly- you won the case.” He banged his gavel. “Now let's get the hell out of here.”





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