Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 37: Change of Plans

Session One

Suddenly, it had been one full week since Kurt's death. For all of the long hours spent reflecting, questioning and consoling, it still seemed to zip by. Weeks tend to be unpredictable like that- agonizingly slow one moment and over the next. Rarely had a Saturday ever been so dreadful, but even the day itself seemed haunting to everyone who was there. Thankfully, Saturday allowed them to stay far away from the scene of the crime and get together to consider resuming their lives.

That involved finding something else to build on. Unfortunately, not much else was going on. This sort of thing tended to implode one's itinerary. Troy, Kathryn, Yuki and Marie all agreed to get together for lunch at Rosa's and attempt to restart normality. Still, it required someone to provide a new topic. All Troy could come up with was Yuki's hair.

“Seriously, what's going on with that?”

Yuki looked up, as if she could actually see her own hair. “Just something different. I was growing out of the last style.”

“You're actually starting to look like a high school student,” said Kathryn.

“Thanks,” replied Yuki, smiling back. “I'm going for something a little older. Maybe I'll stop acting like a kid now.”

Kathryn and Troy didn't reply beyond an appreciative nod. They understood and didn't need to say more. Neither could honestly say they harbored absolutely no resentment toward Yuki for what happened. But they knew how much she resented it herself. They were not about to add to her misery. If anything, they admired her strong response. Troy and Kathryn knew how hard it would be to emerge from all this as a stronger person. Lord knows they were having enough trouble with it.

“It must be hard for a girl your age to go through all this,” Marie said.

Everybody looked down. Yuki replied, “Well, hard for all of us.”

“Kurt was too young. Not Yuki,” Troy said. Everyone nodded.

“You're right about that.” Marie shook her head. “It's so hard to think about. I still can't believe this really happened. I feel so bad.”

“Last thing he wants is for us to mope about it,” Kathryn said. “Just gotta figure out where to go from here.”

Marie stared at Kathryn. “And where would that be?”

She stared back and frowned. “I have no idea.”

It led to more silence. All four heads were down, with Marie still shaking her head. Clearly, they weren't making much progress.

Finally, Yuki stepped in again. “Has anybody talked to Molly?”

The three others went from sad to sad and uncomfortable. Troy kept his head down. Marie lifted hers, eyes darting from side to side. Kathryn stared back, paying attention but not answering.

“Come on!” Yuki's raised voice startled Troy and Marie. “Don't tell me you don't feel a little sorry for her too. Kurt was the only real friend she had.”

“And whose fault is that?” Troy asked. “Maybe if she tried being civil to the rest of us, she'd have a few more.”

“Well...” Kathryn said, uneasy. “Hate to say it, but Yuki's still right. She's probably taking it the hardest out of anybody. At least I've got all you guys to talk to.”

“I invited Renee here too,” Yuki confessed. “She didn't want to go without Molly.”

“Crazy as it sounds, I would have been all right with that.”

Yuki looked down. “Molly didn't want to go.”

Marie sighed. “That's all right. Not sure if I can deal with Renee right now. We've got enough on our hands.”

“I told you that's taken care of,” Troy said defiantly. Setting his head on his hand, he muttered, “And it's not like Kamila's here.”

Kathryn and Yuki shuddered at her name. They even made Marie feel uncomfortable by association. Before they could stew for too long, Kathryn asked Marie, “Don't suppose you've heard from her?”

Marie leaned back. Just the bitter way Kathryn asked it made her nervous. “What? What do you mean?”

“Has Kamila told you where she ran off to? She's been gone all week.”

“Well... yeah, she told me she had to leave for a family emergency.” Marie tried to calm down. She knew this wasn't an interrogation, but Kathryn was on edge and even the most innocent questions sounded nasty. “Didn't she contact you?” Marie added.

“No,” Kathryn replied. “So what's the emergency?”

Marie looked away. “She wouldn't say. You know how she can get sometimes.”

“Yeah, she's good at keeping things to herself. That's for sure.”

“We'll just have to grill her when she gets back.”

Kathryn seemed to nod half-heartedly, but everybody continued eating in silence. Except Marie, who looked at the other three, lost in their own thoughts. “I hope she's doing all right.” No response. “She did say she's sorry to hear about Kurt.”

“She said that?” Troy asked suddenly.

Marie was taken aback. “Well, yeah. Of course.”

Troy shook his head and went back to his food.

With a deep sigh, Marie looked down as well. “We're not getting very far, are we?”


Session Two

Donovan... wasn't the mourning type. He didn't miss school over the incident, even going so far as to teleport into the dark room after being locked out on Molly's impromptu off day. In a way, he appeared to be a rock, continuing his daily business while others dragged their feet through the mire of grief. It seemed like an apt comparison- rocks don't think, after all.

Still, even as he appeared unaffected, he wasn't in the mood for being his usual faux-frightening self. He still prowled the hallways at school, keeping his menacing appearance. It was the little extras that were lost- the glares, the posturing, the nonsensical rhetoric. Donovan didn't even do much in the way of occult club activities, electing to sulk for a few hours instead. Truthfully, his normal demeanor was so dour, the current events didn't change it much, working instead through his lack of activity.

This worked well for the other students. Despite their revulsion of school 'characters' like him and Molly, losing that flavor made life less rhythmic. Even when Molly returned to school, she was fairly inert and the collective melancholy kept things quiet. No one dared irritate Molly in her current state. But students loved having Donovan roaming around- seemingly normal but even more harmless than usual. Seemed like normal and harmless was all anyone could hope for.

After a full week of this, the mood of the school gradually improved. Benign things like the approaching Valentine's Day or a big win in basketball tend to conquer the important and depressing. Donovan picked up on the returned spirit and went back to being disgusted at the populace. After school, he returned to the dark room, ready to immerse the place in evil all over again.

He didn't get far: “Hello Donovan,” Kendrick said, less cheerful this time.

Donovan stared back, annoyed at the intruder but silent.

“I can understand if you're not particularly chatty right now. I heard about Kurt. You all have my condolences.”

Kendrick panicked when the door swung open, but it was merely Bryce. “Sir, I have another...” Whatever was in the jar he was holding, it was soon splattered against the floor once he saw Kendrick.

“Please say that wasn't more goat blood,” Kendrick muttered.

“It's imitation. Supposed to work just as well,” Bryce said. This was true- both were equally useless. “But what the hell are you doing here?”

Nodding, Kendrick replied pleasantly, “Checking up on everything. Seeing how everybody is coping. You can see why I loathe the Hageshoni so much.”

Bryce sneered. “Why do you care? You tried to kill Kurt once. And Donovan... heck, all of us.”

Kendrick held up a finger. “Not the little Asian girl. And bear in mind that my efforts to kill you have been strictly under orders, and following the necessary protocol. Only in self-defense.”

“You fused a demon to Donovan and told him to kill Molly,” Bryce deadpanned.

“He did so willingly. And the whole Black Tag matter was circumstantial. I had no say in whom Donovan tried to kill, which was the other Pearson if you recall.” Kendrick shrugged. “Besides, your doctors resolved the issue. No harm done.”

“Why are you here?” Donovan muttered.

Kendrick leaned back. Somehow, hearing a simple question from Donovan seemed more significant than Bryce's very legitimate gripes. In fact, Kendrick found it difficult to answer the question unless he could be minion-free.

“Bryce, will you step outside for a moment?”

Narrowing his eyebrows, Bryce replied, “No way. I'm not leaving him alone with you.”

To Bryce's surprise, Donovan supported him. Sort of. “The minion is inconsequential. Speak or perish.”

Grumbling, Kendrick said, “Very well.” Summoning a deep breath, Kendrick answered the question: “If it helps to understand our predicament, yes, my mission was to orchestrate the death of Molly Pearson. Preferably at your hands.”

Donovan leaned forward, folding his arms. Bryce gasped. “You... you...” He calmed down and said, “Guess that shouldn't come as a shock, but it's pretty bold to come out with it now.”

Kendrick rolled his eyes and gestured at Bryce, facing Donovan. “See why I wanted it to be just us? Can you at least switch to the other one? He's less chatty.”

“Agreed,” Donovan said. “Blaine!”

“Sir!” Blaine appeared as Bryce vanished. Then Blaine saw Kendrick. “What the?”

“Thank you,” Kendrick said. “Anyway, I'm here because the Hageshoni likely have the same goal, and they take a far less nuanced approach than I do.”

Donovan continued to glare back. “What are you suggesting?”

“They already had the gall to attack the young Crafter unprovoked. Now that they've earned the wrath of the MST, they no longer have any reason to hold back. They will return, and likely stronger.”

“And I shall defeat them!” Donovan boasted.

“Donovan...” Blaine looked down, nervously tapping his foot. “He's got a point. Hiding doesn't do them any good and they're bound to come back. We need to be ready.”

Kendrick nodded, solemn. “That's why I'm here. Although you are not officially one of my faction, we did give you that vrockrompir and I'd be remiss if I didn't offer you our protection.”

Donovan chuckled derisively. Kendrick grew louder. “I mean it. Those brutes are already capable of murder. You are all in grave peril and I fear that if the Hageshoni are so inclined, anybody construed to be protecting Molly Pearson may meet the same fate as your friend.”

“Enough!” Donovan shouted, standing up. “Your pitiful plans to enlist me have failed. Your promise of safety is likely as empty as your promise of a powerful demon to fuse with!”

As Donovan started to walk out, Kendrick stood and threw a hand up. “Donovan!” he yelled, a little more urgent. “I'll admit that enlisting you as a Hokoni may have had an ulterior motive. But I am not exaggerating the danger you are all in. If you walk out on me, you are choosing to defend Molly Pearson. I don't think you realize just how uncharacteristically noble such an act is.”

Donovan snapped back around. “Leave my dark room. I will not hide from my chance to claim revenge. Even if it means standing beside Pearson.”

“Donovan, I-” The door slammed shut and Kendrick was alone. This time, there was no light in the room.


Session Three

Kendrick had a remarkably high level of patience for Donovan's behavior. Once, he had even assured himself that there was an inherent logic to all that insanity. Donovan must have had reasons for what he was doing. A part of Kendrick figured that the offer would be rejected. The reasoning was awe-inspiring and stupid, of course, but consistent. It was a hard sell anyway- encouraging Donovan to shy away from conflict instead of pursuing it the way he usually did. Still, the task was frustrating to say the least.

His job was so quixotic that the demon resorted to honesty. It was certainly folly to let an MST mage know of the mission, but Kendrick bared the essentials truthfully. The Urayoni faction was the first to discover Molly Pearson. When efforts to enlist her failed, the Hokoni had assumed she was inconvertible. Such great power in such young a body was dangerous, and the faction immediately set out to destroy her.

Unfortunately for the Hokoni, they were operating in a position of weakness. They had a limited budget, spread thin over several broad campaigns to stir up trouble on Earth. Thus, Molly demanded more of a grass-roots effort. This was where Kendrick came in. Since the full might of the MST would be devastating for the Hokoni, he not only had to kill Molly on the cheap, but avoid taking the blame for it.

Donovan seemed like a perfect mark. Obsessed with darkness, already holding a disdain for Molly and blessed with some degree of magic skill. Plus, given Molly's status as the school tyrant, her death would be viewed as a political assassination, not the cold murder of a high school girl. It would have been a brilliant plan, if not for Donovan.

What bothered Kendrick the most about Donovan was that he clearly operated under his own agenda. He wasn't simply rebuffing the temptation of evil. Donovan hated Molly and the forces of good as much as anybody. He just didn't see anything better on the other side. When Donovan had agreed to accept the vrockrompir, Kendrick was dumbfounded because there was no salesmanship involved. A year of offers and promises and, yes, threats had nothing on Donovan's personal needs.

In the end, not even his very own demon could show Donovan the benefits of life with the Hokoni. Shame too, because this most recent offer had nothing to do with Molly. Kendrick was also honest in his assessment of the Hageshoni. Bad times were ahead, and whatever little progress Kendrick had made with Donovan, he was determined to keep it. Far too often, the Hageshoni destroyed everything the Hokoni had invested so much time into. Kendrick could tolerate a direct attack on Molly, but not at the expense of his work.

Whatever the Hageshoni were up to, Kendrick knew it would be a bad idea to be anywhere near them while they were active. The MST was determined to hunt down Sho and Kamila. Kendrick thought it best to watch the two sides fight from the sidelines. He had made his effort to shield Donovan; the rest would be watched from his headquarters far away.

“I see you've returned, Kendrick.” Kendrick didn't recognize the voice, but shuddered anyway. Such an authoritarian tone suggested a superior; something unfamiliar suggested a top superior.

He turned around and bowed reflexively upon seeing the intimidating, regal figure of Grandon Crostell. Kendrick wasn't sure exactly where Crostell fell in the complex Hokoni hierarchy, but certainly he was among the top five in the organization. “Yes, my liege,” Kendrick said.

“I also see nobody alongside you,” Crostell said disapprovingly.

Kendrick's held his head low. “Yes, Donovan refused our protection. He has proven himself to be quite foolish.”

“Not as foolish as the one pursuing him all this time.” Kendrick did not dare look up, but he couldn't help but shudder at the insult. He had met Grandon Crostell once, briefly, at a members meeting years ago. How could Crostell have any knowledge of the current situation? “The results have been less than acceptable.”

Kendrick could not bite his tongue here. “My liege, we have finally gotten him to accept a demon. We must continue working if we are to have any hope of stopping Molly Pearson.”

Crostell turned up his nose. “Since when has the Hokoni been bothered by one measly girl? In any event, it seems the Hageshoni have taken the territory and it does us no good to interfere.”

“I agree.”

“Kendrick, consider your mission a failure and prepare for assessment and reassignment next week.”

Kendrick's eyes bulged and he looked up. “But sir, Donovan-”

“Donovan is inconsequential to our goals. We do not have the resources to fish for such small prey. I do not have the patience to allow such a fruitless task to steal attention from our larger conquests. Is that understood?”

Frowning, Kendrick looked down again. “Yes, my liege.”

“Good. Consider yourself furloughed until next week. Your new mission will surely be something more productive.”

As Crostell walked away, Kendrick lacked the energy to even sneer back at him. In so few words, two years of work had been flushed away. Molly would live on and Donovan would spend the rest of his career unhappy in the MST. Kendrick hated to think about letting either happen without a fight.

What made it even more disgusting was that Crostell probably signed off on the whole thing in the first place. But a few things break differently and suddenly he pretends that he never liked the idea to begin with. It was typical Hokoni behavior: the past could be ignored when inconvenient.

Sadly, that wasn't the worst side of the Hokoni. It was the endless dancing around the MST, trying to accomplish the worst without stepping on toes. They were a terribly limited faction, slow to adapt and unwilling to take risks. Kendrick knew his next mission would require neither the stealth capability nor subtle tact he possessed. It would likely be some routine front line combat operation or a musty desk job.

He wasn't suited for either. He was meant to accomplish more. Despite the ruling from a very high officer, Kendrick also felt that his work in L. B. Gould wasn't finished. There was so much more to be done, but Kendrick knew he was running out of time.


Session Four

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!”

If it makes anyone feel better, Kamila and Sho weren't much happier.

Were it not for a tipoff, they would have been captured in Columbus. Instead, they had just enough time to sneak out the back before the agents came calling. They jumped from the second floor fire escape and landed on their feet in an alley. From above, ice bolts and flaming rocks rained down like meteors. Sho threw up a barrier to defend them while Kamila held an anti-teleportation spell up. Last thing they needed was their pursuers appearing right in front of them.

Sho and Kamila kept running until they happened upon a bus. They didn't need to know where it was going. Kamila kept her spell up. Yes, it looked strange to have her arm held out constantly, but there were sure to be stranger sights on a public bus. They made two more transfers before she set her arm down.

“Glad they told us to run, but it would be even better if they told us where to go,” Kamila muttered. “I'm sick of this!”

Sho stared at an advertisement above the bus driver, seemingly vexed by it. Then he stood up and pulled the cord to request a stop.

“Thank God,” Kamila said as they disembarked.

They walked for several blocks, Sho leading the way through not-quite-downtown streets. These were second-class high rises- not quite skyscrapers, not quite tenements. Kamila followed Sho into a plain, gray building. She was surprised that it was held offices. An apartment would have been more appropriate, especially in this part of town. On the tenth floor, she saw the reassuring logo for the Emerald Gate lobbying firm.

Inside, a secretary was wrapping up a phone call, but already leery of them. “Five thousand dollars a plate, right? Absolutely, put us down for two. Our next appointment just walked in so I need to go. Give our best to the governor.”

Hanging up, her tone grew darker immediately. “So they finally gave up and threw you two at us, huh?”

Hands on her hips, Kamila snapped back, “Look, lady, don't get on us. All we were told was to come here.”

“And all I was told was to hide you away. Follow me.”

They did. One of the offices behind her had two cots. “Lovely,” Kamila muttered.

“We're being generous sticking our necks out to give you this. Frankly, I'm surprised you've survived this long considering how tactless you are.”

“Again- orders,” Kamila huffed. “And I'm not thrilled with them either.”

“Nor are we,” the secretary replied, smiling. “That's why we're taking over the operation.”

Kamila sneered back, but didn't reply. She didn't mind the Urayoni at all, and her disdain for the current state of the operation made her welcome another faction taking charge. Just not with that kind of attitude, especially from a fellow underling.

“Sounds like you'll be in action again soon, so no need to get too comfortable.”

“I don't think that'll be a problem,” Kamila replied. The cots looked hard, the blankets were thin and there was nothing in the way of spare clothing or toiletries. “So what do your people have in mind for us?”

The secretary chuckled. “Sounds like we're doing this your way. Just with the strategy and support to back it up. Our operatives are even getting involved.”

Now Kamila was nervous. This was escalating. The secretary heard the phone ring and left the two Hageshoni alone.

Sitting on one of the cots, Kamila heaved a sigh. She was plummeting into the deep end far faster than she was ready for. She would admit that getting a little more action seemed like fun at the time. However, the intense finale of the battle, the fugitive status and this progression into a larger conflict was more than she could handle. After all, despite her aggressive nature, her original purpose was to plant her mark in the dark room and keep close tabs on Molly Pearson's brood. When her friend started dating one of them, it was a perfect opening and she had operated brilliantly until the orders changed.

She found it disturbingly easy to shrug off her friendship with Kathryn, Troy and Yuki. Betraying them, however, was never part of the original plan. After a couple years, she was simply going to move away and never talk to them again. She wasn't thrilled with the prospect of having to kill any of them, but she wasn't about to let cheap sentiment stand between her and her mission. Besides, Yuki forcing a connection between her and Sho really pissed Kamila off.

Kamila didn't hate Sho. Rather, she thought of him like an unusual, fascinating cousin. When he was around, interesting things were destined to happen. Not necessarily good, but sure to liven things up. His demeanor was pure ice and he listened to nobody that wasn't a fellow Hageshoni. Two years of bowing to Molly Pearson made Kamila admire that. The only catch, of course, was that he also never spoke to anybody that wasn't of the faction. That wasn't due to any rebellious tendencies or general disdain for humans.

“We cannot take orders from some other puny faction,” Sho growled. Not murmured in a deep voice like some hack pop rock singer- growled. His voice was all throat and glottal noise, a product of growing up in some demonic territory abroad. The language there was all throat noise, and so was Sho's approximation of English.

“Shut up. They can't get us into any more of a fix than we're already in,” Kamila replied, falling back onto the cot. It was even less comfortable than it looked.

“They expect us to team up with their operatives? Pathetic.”

Kamila sighed. Working with the faction was one thing, but dealing with their operatives bothered her. She dreaded what that entailed.

“Hey, I'm trying to rest up. Whatever they got going for us, I want to be ready for it.”

“It had better involve destroying those children,” Sho said.

Rolling her eyes, Kamila then shut them. “It had better not,” she replied. Not because she didn't want to have to attack her former friends again. If necessary, she'd swallow any semblance of pride and obey her orders. Instead, Kamila feared the looks on their faces if they ever saw her again. They were more capable than she had realized, and now they were bound to be pissed.


Session Five

For the first part of the week, the school looked like it was returning to normal. Those that had known Kurt started to accept his death, and those who didn't were getting really sick of the dour atmosphere all the time. At some point, kids realized that it was still a long, boring stretch until spring break and school itself was depressing enough without worrying about what happened beyond it. So they resolved to move forward, eagerly attacking their responsibilities. Partially because they realized that their time on Earth was too precious to waste; mostly because there was no way they were surviving this hellhole if they didn't.

Friday, however, derailed all that, at least temporarily. L. B. Gould had been seeing an incredible spurt of beautiful weather. A wonderful February in the Midwest was an improbable sight indeed. The tragic death made it hard to appreciate, but once the student body moved along, they saw the sun and the warmth and it made them feel great. So naturally, Friday brought dingy gray skies, heavy winds and low-hanging clouds threatening to dump sleet upon the slightest provocation.

For our group, it just added to the misery. Troy didn't have a window seat during homeroom, but he could see how cruddy it looked. For the first four days of the week, he was merely miserable. Friday seemed both miserable and a little off. Something about the air, the lighting and even the ambient noise around him suggested that he wasn't supposed to be here today.

Other students took heed, and apparently got the message well before Troy did. The room was unusually sparse. Ultimately, it was only three or four kids in the room out sick, but empty seats were empty seats. They were clumped together in a block in front of Troy and changed the usual view. He could see all the way to the front of the room instead of the back of some guy's head. Apparently, his classmates had taken notice. A text message alert drew the scornful eye of the homeroom teacher, but brought news that a flu outbreak left several classrooms just a little emptier than usual.

Troy also saw Marie, who did have a window seat. She was taking full advantage of it, staring out pensively and ignoring the murmurs around her. Almost two weeks and she remained distant. The need for support after Kurt's death had drawn him closer to Kathryn. Together, they realized that eventually they would get past this and figure out life. She still had misgivings about the MST and he was less eager to rush out to save the day, but they knew they would at least be able to face these challenges.

Somehow, Marie was closer to complete collapse. Troy wasn't sure how everybody else processed the false story, making it that much harder to figure out her mindset. Kathryn showed regret, Yuki showed remorse, he showed shock... Marie seemed to show fear. The one person in the group who didn't know the circumstances behind it was also the most frightened of it. There must have been a sense of control involved: did knowing Kurt had fought for his life make it easier to swallow over some freak accident? It seemed like the only explanation because now Marie was looking over her shoulder, seemingly waiting for the next climactic tragedy.

“Anything outside?” Troy asked, trying to be casual. Anything to get her to look away from the window and at him.

Marie did, but startled. “No. I'm just, uh... no.”

Troy sighed. Of course there wasn't; he was joking. “What's wrong? I mean, I know it's been hard on all of us, but it's over. It's not like it happens all the time.”

“And if it does?” she asked, with a slightly manic tone.

He leaned back, looking away. “Don't say that. You can't think about stuff like that. It was a really bad accident, and we just have to hope we'll be all right now.”

She slumped down on her desk. “I guess so. I just...” Before she could finish, her tears took over. Troy scrambled to scoot his chair next to her desk and rubbed her back, all the while looking over his shoulder at the classmates who were present, all staring back sadly.

“Please, this isn't like you. What's going on?”

Through her tears, she said, “Why does everything have to change, Troy? I just want all this to stay the way it is.”

Comforting her any way he could, but scrambling for words, he said, “They will. From now on. I promise.”

Marie shook her head. “I didn't want to move here in the first place. I start to get comfortable and everything changes again.”

Troy had nothing to say. Things were clearer now; a fear of change he could understand. It didn't mean he could help her overcome it.

Scary thing was, she knew that. “Troy... I know I've been a wreck lately. And I know you're trying. But I can't get past this right now. I don't want to get in your way anymore. Maybe we should just back off for a while.”

“Back off? What do you mean?”

She tried to face him, but couldn't. “I'm in no condition to care about our relationship right now. I just want to set it aside until I figure this out. No sense having you worry about me constantly.”

Honestly, the suggestion made him worry more. Whenever something bad happened, Troy had always gravitated closer to his friends and loved ones. He knew Marie was drifting apart. Was she really resisting the effort to reverse that? He wasn't going to stand for it. After he had rebuked Renee, he wasn't losing Marie without a fight.

Before he could protest, however, Molly's projected voice interrupted: “Would the following students please report to the Student Council Office immediately: Renee Pearson, Kathryn Santos, Yuki Shizuka, Donovan Dunmar and Troy Monroe. And I mean now.”

Troy glared at the loudspeaker. This day was bad enough already. Now everybody in the room was staring at him, one with a stopwatch measuring how loosely Troy defined 'now.'

Marie was also annoyed at the interruption. “Go on,” she mumbled, head down.

Standing up, Troy said, “We're not done, Marie. I want to talk as soon as I get back. This isn't over.”

“It is for now,” she said.

Frustrated as he was, he walked out of the room. He didn't want to leave it there. He didn't want to lose her. He really didn't want to know what Molly wanted. Once out in the hallway, he broke into a run.


Session Six

Troy knew it was bad news. Molly wouldn't have been this overt and spontaneous over something he might actually want to hear. He cursed her for interrupting him and Marie, but raced there just the same. Maybe it would get his mind off the subject, even if he wasn't bound to like what he'd hear.

Fast as he was going, he didn't see Renee until the moment before he crashed into her. They tumbled to the floor, with Troy practically somersaulting over her and landing on his back. He lied there, wincing at the fleeting pain. “Sorry... you okay?” he asked.

Renee was on her knees, rubbing her side. “Yeah. Guess I need to quit stalling and go in there, huh?”

She got up first, extending a hand to help him up. “Huh?” he asked as he took it.

“I'm not exactly in a hurry to get there. That's why I was walking so slow.”

“What's wrong?”

Renee looked down at their hands, still clutched together. Troy caught it too and pulled them apart, stepping back. “I'm scared about what's going on.”

“Well... I am too.” Troy looked at his hand. Even simple contact with her seemed strange. Especially now. After the madness with Marie, he couldn't say it didn't feel good though.

“Yeah, but I don't want Molly to think I'm scared,” she said, turning away. “She doesn't really have anybody to turn to now, so I'm doing what I can. She needs someone to lean on and if I'm not there... I'm really worried about her, Troy.”

Troy wouldn't have minded talking to Renee. Even as friends she would certainly find a way to get his spirits up. But the subject was wrong. He was struggling enough without hearing about Molly's problems.

As he turned away, ready to dismiss the topic, Renee shouted, “I'm serious, Troy!” Meeting him face-to-face, she said, “At least you and Kathryn and Yuki can be there for each other. Who does Molly have? Who's going to tell her that it's going to be okay?”

“You,” Troy replied angrily. “I get that. You're supporting your sister. That's great.” He walked by, trying to end the conversation. It probably sounded meaner than he intended. Renee helping Molly was not something to be ashamed of. It just wasn't surprising either. Seemed like the obvious move to him, and he didn't understand the problem.

“But I can't do it,” she said, freezing him. “I don't know what's going on with the MST. I don't know what the demons are planning. And I'm not as strong as Kurt was. I can be Molly's sister, but she's still my Guardian. That means she's the one protecting me, not the other way around. Kurt was the only one who was responsible for protecting her. He was the only one Molly would let protect her.”

Troy clutched his head, slowly turning around. “Kurt was protecting all of us. I'm sure she's going through hell right now, but we all are. Think about Kathryn, okay? Think about me; I can't make any sense of this either.” He sighed, his voice cracking. “And don't get me started on Marie. Bet you didn't think about her. She was friends with him too and she's freaking out over this. I can't even tell her the truth about what happened to him or why Kamila disappeared.”

Still manic, and now in her face, he continued, “I understand all of what you're saying. But it's just as bad for all of us. So I'm sorry if I'm not feeling bad because you have to console Molly. It's Molly we're talking about. There's no way in hell she's going to let this destroy her.” After a deep breath, he turned around and impatiently said, “Now let's get in there and see what in God's name this is all about.”

He started to walk towards the office without Renee. She caught up quickly. They walked in side-by-side, both steeling their faces. Kathryn, Donovan and Yuki were already waiting. Kathryn waved her staff around as the other two claimed the two chairs. Molly leaned against her desk, her arms folded.

“What part of 'now' don't you two understand? Donovan beat you here. You should be ashamed.”

“How bad is it?” Yuki asked.

Molly looked down. “They already took out one unit. They're going to get here before any help arrives.”

Renee gasped. “Who?”

With a wave of her finger, Molly changed the picture in the fake window. It now revealed a view from the roof. Zooming in revealed two dozen large, armored men advancing on the school, marching with military precision. “The Hageshoni.”

Yuki jumped out of her chair and leaped toward the picture. “This is impossible! They can't do this on Earth!”

“Apparently, they are.”

“We can't fight that!”

Seething, Molly replied, “No, we can't.”

Renee's head darted back and forth. “Is anybody coming to help?”

“The one unit patrolling the area was the first to fall. The MST is fully mobilizing, but they won't be here for an hour or so.”

“No surprise,” Yuki said, shaking her head. “When was the last time we mobilized on Earth?”

“Our Zukoni battle.”

“So we must stand our ground once again,” Donovan said, practically boastful. “Bring on this onslaught. We shall prevail.”

Molly narrowed her eyes, but didn't roll them the way everybody else did. “The enthusiasm is appreciated but I'd rather stay alive. We're getting out of here. I'm more than happy to hide for an hour.”

She walked to the middle of the room. “We should be safe at Ellen's house if we get a barrier circle up soon enough.”

“Wait... you mean my house?” Troy asked.

“Any place away from this school. Your mother has already been contacted and was willing to offer shelter. Now huddle up.” Everybody stood close to her as she executed her trigger.

Nothing happened.

“This isn't Troy's house,” Kathryn said nervously.

“Impossible,” Molly muttered, looking through the window again. “They're not close enough to interfere with teleportation.” Indeed, the Hageshoni army was still outside the grounds. But they were advancing.

Then they felt the displacement and heard the distant explosion.

“What was that?” Troy cried.

“Them saying hello,” Molly replied. “Whatever their objective is, they apparently want to achieve it through any means possible.”

“But all the other kids...” Kathryn mumbled.

“We're in displacement so they won't notice, right?” Renee asked.

Molly kept staring at the window. “In theory. But the difference between what we see and what everyone else sees has to be reconciled through magic. If the disparity is too great... we can't take any chances.”

“So what's our move?” asked Kathryn.

Looking at all of them, Molly took a deep breath. “We hide.”





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