Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 33: What Bad Girls Want

Session One

After a month of boredom at Central Academy, the student invasion when the new term started helped Renee immensely. Stuck in a nearly-empty campus with just Molly and Donovan, forced to rely on the library's internet connection and without the usual bustle of activity she normally thrived in, her bout of melancholy was as severe as any lasting effects of the attack. Thankfully, all the activity of the new term lifted her spirits and transformed the entire campus from dull to vibrant.

Still, the down time did let her reflect on her career prospects with the MST, namely how Donovan's demon now left her as the weakest member of room 202. It bothered her terribly, yet she wasn't sure what the remedy was. Molly couldn't help much, as Renee grasped the concepts well enough, and her output was on par with the student average. That was the problem: she was average while Molly, Troy, and now even Kathryn and Donovan were superior.

Over lunch, she gained little sympathy from Kathryn. “If it makes you feel any better, I don't think I'm all that hot at this either.”

“They seem to like your chances more than mine,” Renee lamented.

“Not by choice,” Kathryn huffed. “Besides, it's not like there's any reason to be good at this. They never explain what we're supposed to do with it.”

Renee pointed a fork at her. “Well, Kurt's making a living with it.”

“Yeah, and I'm not doing that for a living. And it's not like you have to either. You're a smart girl. You'll go to college and get a real education. One with fewer bozos attacking you. Why worry about this?”

“I'm not used to lagging behind everybody,” Renee replied, sadly. “I mean, I'm happy that Troy's doing so well and Molly's got such a head start on us... but the thought of being overpowered by someone like Donovan's a little scary.”

Kathryn stared back, suddenly sympathetic. She was rarely in a position of weakness, but she understood the sentiment. It was why she was always willing to help people like Troy and Yuki and Marie find strong legs to stand on. Not to make too fine a point: being subdued and knocked down really sucked.

“Oh, I heard about that. Sounded awful.” Both girls looked up as Prof. Weatherstone had intruded on their conversation. “Mind if I sit down?”

Renee nodded. “Go right ahead. Professor Weatherstone, right?”

Weatherstone smiled and did so, setting a salad next to Kathryn. “I'm surprised you remember me. It's been so long since you've taken one of my classes.”

'Not that she actually lectured at them,' Kathryn thought, wisely not saying it aloud.

“To what do we owe the honor?” Renee asked.

“The fact that I forgot to pack my lunch today. Professors have to eat too,” Weatherstone said. “Anyway, is everything all right? Heard there was a vrockrompir involved. Those are always trouble.”

Renee cast her eyes downward. Uncomfortable, she said, “Yeah, we're okay. Little scary still having him around, but the procedure to remove the curse went well.”

“Good to hear. That ruling surprised me too. Not like Chancellor Whalen to do anything unorthodox like let Donovan stay on board.”

Head raised, Renee cocked it at Weatherstone. “Wait... we have a chancellor?” Weatherstone nodded. “And how come I've never met him?”

“He's not very hands-on.” The professor shrugged. “Still, he does a solid job and I'm sure he has his reasons for being lenient. Can't say I'd want Donovan in my classes though.”

“Professor Melrose says he almost got a TA to quit out of frustration,” Renee said. Her head slumped again. “And yet he's stronger than me...”

“Are you sure you aren't more comfortable in a Thrusting program?” Weatherstone's head was down to make it seem casual, but her eyes cheated up at Renee.

Renee's head was still lowered. “I don't know. Sometimes I feel more comfortable doing simple air spells, but Molly says it's a bad idea.”

Kathryn scoffed. “You're not missing much.”

Weatherstone raised an eyebrow at Kathryn. “Neither are you, it seems. Dismissive as you are about the field, I heard you used temporal Thrusting in your incident with the Chioni last year.”

“Er... uh... yeah...” Kathryn scratched her neck, blushing a little.

“But seriously, Renee, we should at least check out your Thrusting prowess. I've got office hours from three until four this afternoon if you're interested.”

Despite the slight grin, Renee shook her head. “Molly would kill me.”

“All the more reason to give it a shot,” Kathryn mumbled, smirking herself.

Chuckling, Weatherstone said, “A simple skills check isn't that shady. And ultimately it is your guardian's decision. Hard data would be harder for her to ignore.”

Kathryn scoffed. Weatherstone added, “Okay, and I'm curious. Besides, it won't hurt.”

It took some time for Renee to look up. It did seem to make sense: this would settle once and for all which school she was best suited for. Even Molly couldn't ignore cold data, especially when her sister's lack of ability nearly got her killed. Still, there was a sense of disobedience in having Weatherstone check Renee out. She got a strong impression that Molly didn't want her to become a Thruster, and movement in that direction, objective as it would be, came across as rebellious.

“Three to four, you said?” Renee asked, figuring she wouldn't miss anything sneaking out of her demonic studies class early. She'd had enough experience with demons as it was.


Session Two

Testing Renee's thrusting ability brought more work for her and Molly than she had intended. She may have been a little too hopeful in thinking that she could present her sister with the test results with a 'lookit what I can do!' attitude, then watch Molly agree wholeheartedly and shuffle Renee into a curriculum for gifted Thrusters.

In fact, Molly didn't even look at the results. She took the envelope, calmly set it aside and said, “Now get an equivalent Weaving check from Professor Melrose.”

Just like that, Molly was already back to work on something else. This left Renee even more determined. “Fine. If I do, will you look at everything fairly?” Renee asked.

Molly looked up again. “Of course,” she replied, trying not to sneer.

It would take a few more days to arrange a check with Professor Melrose; she was notoriously reclusive amid her research projects and grant applications. But Renee went through the trouble and finally made headway a week later.

Melrose skipped the basic proficiencies and went straight to the more esoteric stuff that would actually demonstrate creativity and ability. Any idiot Weaver could put up a shield, but it took a little skill to coax a marble through a miniature obstacle course without contact. Renee was daunted just looking the contraption, mostly wondering how Melrose stored it in her tiny office.

A minute in, the marble hadn't budged. Melrose sighed and mumbled, “Are you even trying?”

“Sorry, I'm just...” But Renee realized that she wasn't really trying. She assumed the task was impossible. And if Melrose could see through it, Molly wouldn't treat that as an objective test. So she was going to have to figure something out. She focused, swiped her arm forward and hoped the marble would move somehow.

Somehow it did. Only it backed up and went off the table. Once on the ground, Renee managed to set it straight again, but the route underneath was just as treacherous. The marble rolled over cracks, slogged through a small accumulation of slush... and met its end at the hands of a nasty anti-marble force field. As Renee mourned her lost friend, Melrose nodded silently, wrote something down and shooed her out of the room.

Either way, she got her results. A neutral reading from two experts that Molly could not ignore. This time, Molly didn't, poring through both tests carefully as Renee watched with anticipation. The waiting was especially painful as Molly refused to give away any reaction. Finally, Molly set the papers down and looked up at Renee.

“Stay in Weaving,” she declared.

“No way!” Renee shouted. “Let me see that! There's no way my Weaving test was better. I bombed it.”

Molly filed the tests away before Renee could grab them. “Renee, I can't even figure out Melrose's marble test. She says your technique's still a little rough, but you used the kind of imagination necessary in Weaving.”

“I did?”

“Your Thrusting test scored marginally better, but you wouldn't get much out of it if you switched. It would set you back a term or two and you'd be resigned to mediocrity. In Weaving, you have the basics down and there's still potential to be very successful.”

Without allowing retort, Molly stood and marched out of the room. But Renee wasn't finished. She followed, taking the fight into the commons area, even with Troy and Yuki studying at the table. “Why can't I be successful at Thrusting? What's the difference?”

It forced Molly to stop and turn around. “Do you want to accept my decision now or would you prefer brutal honesty?”

Renee paused and took a deep breath. When Molly recognized something as brutal, it certainly would be. Worse yet, they had Troy's attention. Still, whatever it was, she needed to know whatever she was cursed with. It was the only way she could move forward. She steeled herself and stared back at her guardian.

Molly tried not to waver, but she needed a moment to collect herself as well. Careful, but firm, she said, “In terms of innate magical ability, you have always been the weakest in the unit. Whichever school you choose and however well you master it, nothing can change that.”

It shouldn't have shocked Renee, but hearing in those terms was devastating. Especially considering who else was in the group. Needing to take her eyes off Molly, she found Yuki. “But what about-”

“Yuki is from a rich magic lineage. Ability fully develops during adolescence, but even now she is stronger than you.”

“And Donovan?”

“Even before he accepted his demon, his rare moments of success demonstrate his potential.”

Still unwilling to face Molly, Renee needed a new target. She led her eyes to Troy. He stared back at her, mouth agog. His head shot back and forth between her and Molly. His lips quivered for a moment, like he was about to say something to Molly, but nothing emerged. After one last sad glance at Renee, he returned to his work.

Finally, Renee faced her sister. “Molly, how am I supposed to protect myself as a Weaver? How is a lousy shield spell supposed to keep me safe if I don't have the ability to fight back?” With more force, she continued, “I just want to protect myself so this doesn't happen again! I want to protect you the way Kurt does.”

Taking loud breaths through her nose, Molly glared back for a while before answering, “Protecting us is Kurt's job. And his alone. What Donovan did to you was a failure on his part, and on mine. Not yours. Furthermore, I will not compromise your education here based on a perceived threat back home. You are being raised to be a useful member of the taskforce, and you are better off as a Weaver. Unlike Thrusters, clever Weavers can overcome your handicap.”

Handicap? So now it was a handicap? Renee didn't get to ask about it as Molly spun around. Clearly, she was finished arguing, and Renee was too broken to continue.

Bitter, Molly mumbled, “You're a Weaver that wants to be a Thruster, and Kathryn's a Thruster that wants to be a Weaver.”

Neither Renee nor Troy really heard it, but Yuki's potion exploded suddenly, almost punctuating the statement. Although the smoke was easy enough for Troy to clear away, a good deal of foamy green liquid spilled out onto the floor.

Molly stormed up to Yuki. “I thought this problem was fixed,” she spat.

“Sorry, I... I... was just surprised that Kathryn...” Yuki stammered, unable to complete her thoughts.

Teeth clenched, Molly sneered. “She hasn't said anything explicitly. And don't put the idea in her head. But if you can't concentrate under these conditions, what good are you under pressure?”

By now, Yuki was almost in tears. “I'm sorry!”

Eying the mess, Molly barked, “Clean this up.” Yuki jumped from her chair and ran to the kitchen area, trying not to sob. Wordlessly, Molly marched out of the room and shut the door.

Yuki returned with towels, barely containing herself as she obeyed the harsh instructions. Renee was still paralyzed, clutching the top of the sofa to stay balanced. Any more blows from reality could have toppled her. Somehow, Molly left Troy unscathed. At least, in a way.

Really, he was left disturbed and frightened that Molly could dismantle the two in such quick succession. Ruling the mob at the high school was one thing, but what did this accomplish? How were Renee and Yuki supposed to feel inspired and strive for success in this atmosphere? This couldn't have been good for either of them, and Troy sensed enough poison that he felt the need to remedy it. Nothing else could have compelled him to follow Molly out of the room. And nothing else could have formed the sneer on his face and the courage to actually confront her about it.

His anger lasted until the moment he stepped into the hall. Molly hadn't gone anywhere. She was leaning against the wall, her arms folded, her eyes closed and her head slumped and facing the floor. Her slow, syncopated breathing and solemn head shake silenced Troy. He couldn't criticize someone who looked that beaten up.

Eyes still closed, she muttered, “What?”

The longer he looked at her, the more pathetic she looked. This was awful for Troy because he was still angry. She still did something wrong and he still wanted to tell her. But if he didn't have the courage to confront her in a moment of power, he could never confront her when she looked this weak.

“Nothing,” he mumbled, walking past her, eager to find something on this campus with a more uplifting spirit.


Session Three

Between Donovan creeping everybody out with his insistence on compliance, Renee moping over her major and Molly building frustrations related to the two and unleashing them on everybody else, the unit was a little uptight this term. No number of visits to Reggie's room would be able to remedy the overwhelming tension hanging over everybody.

Not that insufficiency was a reason to stop visiting Reggie. Hell, Troy and Kathryn had stopped by every other day the prior summer, and that term was utopian by comparison. Even in this tumultuous three weeks, Troy was still excelling in his classes, perceived them as the correct classes for him, and hadn't attacked any of his schoolmates (except for one incident involving Yuki and a flame circle, which he sincerely apologized for when she returned from the burn ward). This made him de facto ringleader for all group Reggie excursions.

He also had friends outside the room he could call upon when he couldn't stand the people inside 202. As he headed back to the room a day after the dust-up between Molly and Renee, he was planning a Reggie party for them too.

“Well, I haven't asked her yet, but I'm sure Kathryn's in.”

“Got any other girls up there?” his friend asked. Co-ed Reggie's room was even more exhilarating, but for some reason most of Troy's friends either didn't have girls in their units or weren't on speaking terms with them.

Troy saw Renee on the couch. Having dismissed Molly and Yuki from consideration, he replied, “I can ask one more.”

Judging from her dejected look, Renee did need cheering up. While Molly had put her foot down regarding Renee's schooling, the reasoning still stung. Troy had never seen Renee this upset before. She stared at her reflection in the gray television screen, appearing ready to cry at any...

Scratch that. Her head lowered and she started bawling. This wasn't a faint stream of tears, but a full-on, heart-wrenching flash flood. Troy would have to call his friend back.

He took a few steps towards her, unsure how to handle this. They were alone, so as far as consoling or reassurance, it was all him. Fighting off the trepidation, Troy sat down next to her and gently draped his hand on her back.

“What's wrong?” he asked.

Sniffling, Renee replied, “I've never felt this worthless before.”

Troy shook his head. “Are you still worried about that? Don't worry about what Molly says. Just work hard and you'll be fine.”

“She's right though,” she muttered. “There's no way I can keep up with you and Molly. And now I'm falling behind Donovan and Kathryn too. And no matter how hard I try, there's no way I can catch up to you.”

Patting her back, Troy framed his next statement. Something along the lines of her being chosen for a reason, the MST and the unit still need whatever abilities she can provide, and that hard work always pays off over time. Fitting that into one sentence was a daunting chore, so it took a few moments.

Meanwhile, Renee continued, rendering his hard work meaningless: “I'm used to things being so easy for me. With school and with friends and with everything else I don't have to think about it. It was all just so obvious for me.” She turned to him, shaking her head. “I'm not used to being this helpless. And this limited. I feel so weak.”

“Well...” Troy paused. He did not have an instinct for every little thing he did, so he found it hard to sympathize. “Nobody can be perfect at everything.”

“This is important, Troy!” she shouted. “There's all this stuff out there and some of it might be going after Molly. I want to help her, but...” She broke down again, her head falling into his shoulder.

Troy wrapped his other arm around her. At first, he just let her cry. He really hadn't thought about that kind of thing. Yes, there were demons and yes, they were clearly pretty evil, but that's what the MST was for. He and his unit were just preparing for a future career with them, not to fight off the menace themselves. Did he want to go off and rescue his mother when the Chioni held her captive? Sure, but he only did so under Kurt's leadership, not thinking much of the fact that he couldn't have done it alone.

That's what he went with when he spoke up, still holding her close. “I know it's hard, but we can't worry about stuff like that right now. Kurt and everybody else will help keep us safe until they say we're ready to join the team.”

She nodded. “But what if I'm not good enough?”

“I don't know. They'll figure it out. Besides, it's not like you can't do anything else.” He pulled back and stared into her eyes. “There's no reason for you to get worked up over something like this, Renee. You're smart, you're kind and you won't have any trouble finding something to do with your life. It's not the end of the world if you're not as good at magic as Molly.”

Her eyebrow flared up. For a moment, the tears stopped. “You...” One sniffle escaped, but she continued, “You think so?”

“Of course. There's lots of things I'm not very good at.”

“Don't say that.” She smiled faintly, still staring into his eyes. Maybe Troy's mind was playing a trick on him, but her face seemed to glow and the stream of tears evaporated. “There's so much you're good at,” she whispered, almost cooed.

Troy's heart started to thump and suddenly he felt uncomfortable. Even the crying couldn't make Renee any less beautiful, and again it might have been in his head but him being 'good' at something seemed like a loaded statement.

Nervously, he replied, “And there's a lot of stuff I suck at.”

She didn't respond. Now doubly nervous, afraid he had offended her, he blurted, “Not that I'm saying you suck at magic. You're still all right. You helped out a few times when we...”

Her smile grew and he knew he didn't need to continue. She was at peace now. Something he had said must have worked. Or at the very least got her mind off it and onto another matter entirely.

“Troy, I...” She shook her head, breathing in and out heavily. Her chest heaved- not that Troy dared look at it. He knew she wanted to say something big. He didn't know whether it was a good idea to listen, or how to respond if he did.

During the delay, the front door slammed open. Whatever Troy's blood pressure was during all that, it doubled in one heartbeat. Troy turned around and hoped to God they weren't busted.

Thankfully, it was Kathryn. “Oh, it's just you,” he said, sighing.

She stared back, unhappy. “What do you mean 'it's just me?' What are you two up to?”

Troy looked away, sheepishly pulling his arms away from Renee. Renee faced Kathryn, forcing a chuckle. “I just broke down for a second. Troy was just trying to help out and cheer me up.”

“And what was involved in that?”

Scoffing, Renee stood up and walked past Kathryn. “Kathryn, you know I've been going through a lot. Just let it go.”

Kathryn's eyes followed Renee into the bathroom. Once the door closed, they met Troy's. They seemed aggressive. He said, “Nothing happened, okay? Don't read into it.”

“Don't worry. I believe you,” she replied, although it sounded hostile. She stepped towards the couch and leaned over Troy. “So why the hell are you acting like you're guilty?”

His eyes widened and he turned away. She smiled. At least he wasn't consciously being defensive: that would have implied that he actually was guilty.

Fumbling for a segue, he mumbled, “Say, uh, the guys want to know if you're up for Reggie's tonight?”

“Like you even need to ask,” she said, borderline chipper now.

The bathroom door flew open and Renee popped out, holding a washcloth. “Did someone say Reggie?”

“Yeah, we're heading down tonight with some of my friends,” Troy replied. “Wanna join us?”

Renee nodded hurriedly. “Reggie's sounds so good right now.”


Session Four

While everybody else was supposed to be having fun at Central, Kurt was back home in L. B. Gould doing his usual grunt work. Between the usual rounds, investigating the whereabouts of demons like Kendrick and a normal part time construction job to make ends meet, it wasn't a picnic. Still, it was a life, and a pretty decent one that let him go to bed every night satisfied with his output.

Waking up wasn't so pleasant one morning. Instead of the usual clock radio that chimed in with the latest pop single at 10:00, he felt his earlobe wiggling at nine. It was a very abrupt way to wake up, about as pleasant as a vibrating cell phone on your forehead. He looked at his clock, looked through his blinds to verify that it was in fact morning, and pinched his ear at the conclusion of a long stretch.

“Good morning, Kurt.” It was one of the relay operators from the office. That usually meant trouble.

“Morning, Bill,” Kurt mumbled, his mouth dry.

“We detected a discharge of magic in your area last night. Please investigate.”

Kurt nodded. That was what he figured. Both he and the office usually monitored that sort of thing, but both he and the office liked to get some sleep every now and then. Unless it was something urgent enough for the poor guy on the night shift to alert him immediately, it could wait until Bill compiled the discharge reports every morning.

“Any spoilers or do I have to check my Bloodberry?”

“It emanated from the local high school and may have been demonic in nature.”

“What?” Naturally, Kurt was surprised by this. “The unit's at Central. Why would a demon be hanging around the school?”

“That is for you to find out,” Bill replied.

Kurt took it slower than he should have. He still got up, showered, ate breakfast and watched SportsCenter the way he usually did. When he finally got to his Bloodberry, he didn't find much else: the incident happened at 3:04 in the morning and did not involve a displacement field nor did anyone see it take place.

He treated it like any other minor investigation, even opting to make a couple other routine stops like the old Golden Sun office and the public library first. The Chioni were still gone and Kendrick was still not loitering around. The daily grind helped reassure Kurt that whatever had happened wasn't something to be concerned about. This happy delusion helped him maintain a semblance of cover when he finally got to the school.

By going in casually with the coordinates, he was able to blend in much better than if he barged in urgently with his Bloodberry at the ready. Now he looked like just another senior texting the time away.

“I thought that kid graduated last year,” Kurt heard someone whisper. He ignored it.

The coordinates led Kurt down the hallway, eventually telling him to hang a right. Already he didn't like where this was heading. As his tone grew a little more concerned, that's when someone else spotted him. Someone he couldn't ignore.

“Kurt! What are you doing here?” Marie said.

Next to her, Kamila added, “Yeah, Kathryn and Molly aren't here. Any other girlfriends we need to know about?”

Kurt pocketed his Bloodberry and forced a smile as he faced the girls. “Oh, uh, just checking some things out. We did some work for Molly a couple weeks ago and I gotta check up on it. You know, work stuff.”

Kamila nodded derisively. “Fun.”

Before they could continue the idle chit-chat, another student walked down the hallway. He caught sight of Kurt and immediately sneered, stepping in front of Kamila to eye Kurt down. Kurt had never seen him before and felt uneasy immediately. The spiked hair, large build and silent, menacing face was enough to freak anybody out. The boy snorted and moved on, taking second and third glances at Kurt as he left. In turn, Kurt kept his eye on him as well.

Marie groaned. “Sho,” she announced with revulsion.

Kamila just chuckled. “Don't sweat it, Kurt. He does that to everybody.”

“If I knew he was going to show up, I'd rather have Donovan back.”

“Nah, Donovan's just a loser. At least this kid's got some real style. Kinda cute if you ask me.”

Sighing, Marie turned to her friend. “Kamila, don't say that. He's a creep and I don't want to have anything to do with him. I wish you wouldn't either.”

So did Kurt, but he didn't say it out loud. Sho's demeanor, abrasiveness and general aura screamed evil. Of course, he was used to demons like Kendrick that cloaked themselves brilliantly and blended into any scene. He wasn't sure if a demon would roam the school being that upfront about his nature, especially if it was that Hageshoni that was supposedly lurking about.

Marie and Kamila continued to argue whether Sho was hot or rot, giving Kurt only a cursory farewell. Not that Kurt minded; now he really had to get to the bottom of things. He pulled his Bloodberry back out and followed its coordinates into the dark room, as he had feared.

The door was locked, as he had forgotten to fear. That meant he was forced to wait until the passing period ended, the hallway emptied and he could teleport inside. Inside it was dark, of course. Not due to the room's essence or anything- just because he hadn't flipped a light switch.

He braced himself before preparing a light ball. Even if nothing had happened in here, Kurt had already replaced most of Donovan's belongings. It was still clean and tidy, but all of the old faux-occultish potpourri was back inside and he still didn't like looking at that crap. He steeled himself for all that, plus any other surprises, and cast his light ball.

As soon as he saw the illuminated room, he dropped the ball in shock. It trickled away on the floor and eventually flickered out, but it didn't matter. What Kurt saw reflected the light right back into his disbelieving eyes, and kept doing so even after the source died. His stomach churned as it seemed to stare back at him, mocking him.

The Hageshoni had installed another mark.


Session Five

“You have got to be kidding me,” Molly muttered, staring at the marking. After more than a month out of town, it was not the first thing she wanted to see upon returning.

“Not only that, it's fresh,” Kurt said, arms folded. “The guys at the office confirmed that Miguel removed the last one. Someone up and planted it again.”

“May I have my dark room back?” Donovan asked, sitting at his usual place at the head of the table, eying them down.

Kurt and Molly glared at him. They didn't know he was in the room.

“Do we need to sanctify and everything again?” Molly asked, still staring at Donovan. He glowered at her.

“Actually, no. It's still new. We put a stasis spell on the marking. It doesn't neutralize it, but at least it's prepped for Miguel to come back and remove it.”

“When will he be here?”

“Week or two.” Molly groaned. Kurt shrugged. “Hey, if they're just going to put new ones up all the time, we have to catch them first.”

Molly nodded. That sort of made sense. “Don't suppose you have any leads?”

Kurt pointed at her, proud that he was not helpless in this regard. “Actually, yes. What do you know about a boy named Sho?”

Thinking for a moment, she replied, “Name sounds familiar. Should I know him?”

“He's a student here, apparently. Sure gave me and Marie the creeps.”

Scoffing, Molly said, “Then it's unlikely that he's demonic. I doubt a demon would that obvious. What does he gain in scaring Marie?”

“We are talking about the Hageshoni.”

“True.” Molly flared her eyebrows and shrugged. “I'll dig up what I can of him and keep you posted.”

Then she turned to Donovan, pulling a curtain over the marking. “As for you, if you leave this thing concealed at all times and try to keep the hellraising to a minimum, perhaps I'll let you stay here.”

Donovan grinned wickedly and hissed, “As you wish.” Molly stared back. Indeed, he was scarier when he was obedient.


“Okay, I call the second annual 'Catch Up With Real School' convention to order,” Kathryn announced, slamming her fist down like a gavel on her bedroom desk.

“Wait, you did this last year too?” Renee asked, looking over the mess of textbooks, worksheets and post-it notes summarizing three weeks worth of backdated homework.

“I can barely pass even when I go to school. Without Troy, I'd be boned missing three weeks,” Kathryn said. Troy nodded solemnly.

“Why didn't you invite me last year?”

Kathryn snickered. “Yeah, like Molly didn't cover for you.”

“Well... maybe,” Renee looked away. “Hey, why's Yuki here? She's a year below us.”

“Moral support,” Kathryn replied.

“So that's why she's dressed like a cheerleader?”

Yuki nodded, rubbing her bare legs with her bare arms. “Yeah, uh, about that. I know it sounded cute on paper, but I forgot that it's January. Can I go change?”

“Yeah, yeah, let's get on with this,” Troy said. As Yuki ran off to put on something decent, he hovered over the pile of books. “Okay, I'll take chemistry, Kathryn gets history and Renee gets math.”

“Wait, what math class are you in?” Renee asked.

“Trig,” said Troy.

“Geometry,” said Kathryn.

“I'm in Calculus,” muttered Renee. “How's that supposed to work?”

Troy and Kathryn wordlessly set their math books in front of Renee. “You'll figure it out,” they both said.

Renee grumbled. “Fine, but how are you supposed to learn this if you don't do the homework?”

“Hey, you get a free pass on history and chemistry,” said Kathryn.

“I like history and chemistry! Besides, I get a free pass anyway.”

Troy and Kathryn motioned to move their assigned books to Renee's pile, but she grunted them off.

They each went to work silently, reading the material and completing any necessary paperwork in triplicate. The only noises for the next half hour were the constant pencil scratchings, the low drone of Kathryn's radio and the occasional cry for Yuki to fetch another soda.

At some point, Renee asked, “Wait, who's got English?”

“Yeah, uh, we tried that last year,” Troy said. “Turns out Mrs. Cohen didn't like it when Kathryn turned in a Xerox of my essay.”

Renee started giggling. “You guys really did that?”

Kathryn shrugged. “Hey, we were desperate. Figured it couldn't be any worse than what I would have normally turned in.”

“That' s awesome.”

“Yeah, well, it's nice that you're helping us out. Maybe we won't have to get that drastic this year,” Troy said.

Renee grinned. “Better be nice to me if you want your trig done then.” Chuckling, Troy smiled back at her.

Before he could say anything, Yuki sounded an airhorn. They both jumped and stared at her.

“Back to work, everybody! I didn't say it was break time!” Yuki commanded.

Eyes buried in her textbook, Kathryn smirked and mumbled, “Thank you, Yuki.”


Session Six

“Yuki Shizuka, please report to the Student Council office.”

The command rippled throughout the school like a pulled fire alarm. Which in L. B. Gould, meant it stole everybody's attention immediately, but most students dismissed it as a joke. Really now, was big bad Molly going to pick on cute little Yuki? Given the perceived (okay... actual) student council influence in getting Yuki into the school, how could she be accused of defying the president?

“Um... yes, Molly?” Yuki asked, a little nervous. If she was contacted over the loudspeaker, it must have been school business.

Molly raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”

Shook her head rapidly, Yuki quickly answered, “No, ma'am! Just, uh... hey is that more spray?” Indeed, a bottle of that purification solution was on Molly's desk.

“Yes, Miguel asked Kurt to spray the marking a couple times before it gets removed. Kurt, in turn, asked me to do it. Thus I'm ordering you.”

Yuki nodded, but sighed. “That's fine. But why'd you have to page me? It's scary.”

With a dismissive shrug, Molly replied, “Keeps the populace guessing. Go to work.”

So Yuki took the spray and tucked it into her satchel. Unlike Molly, Yuki had classes and clubs that required her attention before she could tend to such matters. It wasn't until the end of the day that she got around to doing the deed.

She waited until late in the afternoon, hoping that Donovan would leave the dark room and go home. Apparently, this had not always been a given. Plus the school would be nearly empty and she could unload Miguel's bitter concoction with few victims.

Luckily, she ran into Blaine and Bryce as they left the school. They carried stacks of textbooks with them. “Hey, guys!” she said, greeting them happily.

“Can't talk. Trying to get Donovan's back homework together,” said Blaine. He stumbled, dropping his load.

“I knew we should have kept up while he was gone,” Bryce muttered, setting his stack down. “Silly that we thought we'd get a couple days off.”

“Why are you carrying them instead of teleporting?” Yuki asked.

“We needed a couple trips to get all the books together. Then we couldn't teleport in there because there's still a few kids loafing around.”

“Can anyone see us?” Blaine asked.

Yuki looked around and shook her head. “I think you're clear. Say, has Donovan gone home?”

“Yep,” said Bryce. “And we're about to join him.” The two teleported away, and Yuki confidently continued along to the dark room, certain of her mission's success now.

Or so she thought. Just as she reached for the door to get in, a whisper froze her. Yuki put her ear to the door. The whispering continued, but she found it totally unintelligible. This was odd no matter the circumstance: nobody was supposed to be in there besides Donovan and anyone associated with fixing the marking. Other occult club members, perhaps? Yuki doubted there were any other members, and none of them would hang around longer than Donovan.

“Mumble mumble,” continued the whispering. Yuki found that very disconcerting, but it was an unfortunate side effect of Lucidrol: when someone deliberately didn't want to be understood, she was ill-equipped to eavesdrop. Eventually, she decided there was no sense prolonging this stalemate and knocked on the door.

The voice hushed immediately, and mumbled a one-syllable word that Yuki assumed was profane. She waited several seconds to see if the whispers would resume, but she heard only silence. After waiting long enough and hearing nothing, Yuki reasoned that either something suspicious was going on inside or the voice was just in her head. Lucidrol sometimes did that as well. She opened the door.

She almost slammed it back shut when she saw Sho inside, glaring back at her with his trademark contemptuous sneer. Instead, she was frozen with fear. Yuki knew how suspicious Kurt was of him, and how Sho was the top suspect for secretly being a Hageshoni. This confirmed it, and now he had no choice but to finish off the poor thing who caught him in the act.

“Oh, uh... Yuki...” Actually, he wasn't alone in there. Kamila was in there too. And for once in her life she actually looked shy, staring back at Yuki. She wore her basketball practice gear and seemed genuinely frightened.

At least it gave Yuki somebody to talk to, not that she was any less guarded. “What are you doing in here?”

Kamila tried to avoid eye contact. “Well... uh... you see, uh... Sho and I are kinda...” She looked at him once. He was still glaring at Yuki. So Kamila turned to Yuki and said, “We're kinda dating.”

“Him?!” Yuki shouted, a little too loudly. Sho snarled and stepped menacingly towards her.

“Hey!” Kamila's cry stopped Sho. Yuki wasn't taking her eyes off him now. But at least it snapped Kamila out of her bout of bashfulness. “See this is what I was afraid of. You guys just don't want to get to know him.”

Yuki continued to stare at him; he returned the gesture with twice the intensity. Sho looked like he was ready to destroy her, and Kamila's afraid of how well he'd get along with the gang?

“You better not tell any of them about this, okay?” Kamila asserted, staring down Yuki with almost as much force as Sho. “Marie's already creeped out by him and I can't imagine Kat or Troy liking him either. So I just want to keep this between us, okay?”

Four nasty eyes on her and Yuki would have bowed to almost any demand. “Uh... okay.” Looking up to Kamila, she added, “Look, I'm sorry. Just caught me by surprise.”

Kamila turned aside and muttered, “What are you doing in here anyway?”

“Oh, uh... nothing.”

“Whatever. I gotta get back to practice before they notice I'm gone.” Kamila started to walk out, passing Yuki on the way to the door, barely acknowledging her.

“Kamila?” Yuki shouted, getting her to look back. “Let me know if you want to talk, okay? I know it's hard to keep secrets from your friends, so I'm sure you'd like someone to talk to about this. Guess I stumbled into the job.”

She paused, looked up, and then turned back to Yuki. She smiled a little. “I'll keep that in mind. Thanks.”

Then she walked out. And Yuki followed immediately to avoid being alone in the dark room with that creep.





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