Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 5

CHAPTER: 6

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 41: Unholy Operation


Session One

That night, the intention was to spend another quiet evening in the dorms. Troy sat in a daze in front of the television, still trying to make sense of Giles and whoever the hell his roommate was supposed to be. He couldn't even adequately explain everything to Kathryn. She still passed on having anything delivered that night.

For all the oddities regarding their delivery guy, lack of appetite was still a possible culprit. She remained out of sorts all day. After spending all afternoon reassuring Troy that the agreement would work, now he was the one trying to discern why she was struggling.

“You said it yourself- we'll get them back and it'll all be over.”

“Over?” Kathryn said, dismissive. “It's never going to be over. We're going to be involved with all this for years. Are we just supposed to get used to it?”

Troy patted her hand. “At least we'll be able to defend ourselves better. We won't be caught off guard like that.”

Kathryn looked up and shook her head. “That wasn't the problem. I defended myself fine.” She became quiet suddenly. “I killed somebody.”

Sighing, Troy said, “You can't say she didn't deserve it.”

“I know but...” Kathryn stopped. How could she describe the act of ending someone's life? The fact that she was capable of doing it at all outweighed her victim. “I just can't believe I actually did that. And she was my friend.”

“Was,” Troy reiterated. “You weren't there when she helped kill Kurt. You didn't see-”

“What's your point?” she said, suddenly angry. “Yeah, so she ended up being a demon. And yeah she was kind of obnoxious, but she was still our friend. After it happened, it felt like I lost both her and Kurt.” She backpedaled, but only briefly. “I mean, obviously losing Kurt's worse, and Kamila's responsible either way... but what did I really know about her? She's a demon. Between her and Marie, I don't even know what a demon is anymore. I just don't know why I should feel good about killing her. What, am I supposed to be congratulated because I tied the score somehow?”

Troy sighed. He found it uncomfortable to discuss, because he didn't completely understand her grief. Had the MST somehow apprehended Kamila, her fate probably would have been just as messy. “I'm sure Kurt would have done the same thing. I'm sure it's what we'd be expected to do.”

“That's the problem.”

They heard a knock on the door. “Donovan?” Troy called. Donovan was in the kitchen area, supervising Blaine boiling a pot of instant noodles. As it turned out, Donovan was starving but Troy and Kathryn had voted him down.

After thinking about, and deciding against, summoning Bryce, Donovan took a step back and opened the door. He slammed it when he saw Reggie, but the visitor magically propelled the door back open with seemingly no effort or gesture.

“Nice to see you too, buddy,” said Reggie, waltzing past Donovan and approaching Troy and Kathryn. “None of you poor kids knocking on my door tonight?”

“Sorry, it's been a strange day,” said Troy, apologetic for some reason. “I wouldn't mind blowing off some steam but...” He looked up at Kathryn.

Troy didn't say anything else, but the look on his face tried to encourage her. Kathryn cracked a smile. “Suppose it wouldn't hurt to get this off my mind for a while. I'm just too tired to go down there. It's exhausting, all that.”

Reggie's wide grin understood. “That's okay. Tonight I'm bringing Reggie's room to you!”

He snapped his fingers and his four roommates burst through the door. And boy did they burst- four girls, each one hotter than the other three. The last girl to enter, Candace, held a cardboard box. Whatever was inside was glowing.

Kathryn's heart instantly warmed. “Aw... girls, you shouldn't have.”

The smile on Troy's face said it all: he had met Candace, Cammy, Carmen and Crystal before, but only inside Reggie's room. The essence of such a place diminished their beauty, as if they were only a fantasy. Here, they were all very real... and two of them were rubbing up alongside a mortified Donovan. Carmen was busy winking at Blaine.

“I can't wait to start college,” Troy mumbled.

“I can't stand for these mortal temptations,” Donovan said.

“Temptations?” asked Crystal, offended at the suggestion. Leaning in and driving her breasts deeper into Donovan's back, she said, “It's nothing dirty. We just want to hang out for a bit. You know, have a good time.”

Blaine's pot was boiling over, but he no longer cared. He approached Carmen, utterly dazzled. “I don't know, sir, a break from the stress wouldn't be a bad idea.”

Reggie threw his arms around both Crystal and Donovan's shoulders. “Yeah, just going to chit-chat. Nothing too crazy. It's like Reggie's room: the home game.”

Donovan narrowed his eyes. “Very well, but one instance of impropriety and I shall have you all destroyed.”

“Yay!” Blaine cheered as he and Carmen ran into the common area. Reggie, Donovan and his new girlfriends followed. They sat next to Candace, who carefully positioned the box in front of the TV, then left it there unattended.

“So you're just gonna take it easy tonight?” asked Troy, a little disappointed.

Reggie nodded. Kathryn smiled; fun as it was, Reggie's room was an exhausting experience. This was a good compromise, one she could get behind easily.

“So what's first on the-” Before Kathryn could ask it, Blaine's pot protested its neglect by sizzling loudly against the stovetop. Blaine rushed to turn it off, then checked the noodles for good measure. They were beyond repair.

“So much for dinner,” he lamented.

“No sweat,” said Reggie. “Giles should be here with a few buckets of chicken.”

Kathryn groaned. All that and they were back to dealing with the damn delivery kid.

 

Session Two

Reggie seemed perplexed at Troy and Kathryn's leeriness towards Giles. Kathryn instantly retracted any comments about the guy. Troy was less apologetic, explaining his ordeal with the tip and delivering it. He said, “When I got there, he was out and-”

With a snicker, Reggie filled in the rest: “And you met his roommates.”

“I met one,” Troy replied. “That was more than enough.”

Reggie raised his eyebrows. “Really? Only one? If you're acting like this, I'm guessing it wasn't Maple.”

“No it was Meg... I think.”

“Oh, Meg's cool,” said Cammy. “Isn't she their guardian?”

Troy looked up and sighed. “Or maybe it was Mindy... or Morgan...”

“Ah, so you did meet all of them,” Reggie said, nodding in understanding.

“Huh?” Troy was absolutely not understanding.

Reggie raised his eyebrows. “You couldn't tell you were talking to four different people?”

Troy stared back blankly. Reggie smiled. “Well, now you tell me,” Troy mumbled. In hindsight, it was always the most logical explanation.

“Wait... four different people?” he blurted, realizing that 'four people inhabiting one body' never should constitute the most logical explanation.

“Yeah, that's why they can't leave campus,” said Cammy. “It's not something you can explain to the general public.”

“And I'm sure they don't appreciate you getting on their case because of their condition,” added Crystal. “It can't be easy to go through.”

Kathryn scoffed. “Sorry, it's just not something we come across every day. I think we're dealing pretty well considering we're hanging out with two elves.”

All four of Reggie's roommates leaned back nervously. Yes, Crystal and Carmen had the trademark ears of classic wood elves. Like all of Reggie's girls, they were leggy, which defied the stereotypical short stature and prevented them from standing out in a crowd. Carmen even grew her hair to conceal her ears. There were no specific taboos about elves that they had to be ashamed of, but with so many kids on campus previously unaware of their existence, it was just a bit awkward. In fact, given how prolific Reggie's room was at Central, Crystal and Carmen were usually the first elves anyone on campus met. They sure left a rousing first impression.

“How do a couple elves get enrolled here anyway?” Kathryn asked.

Reggie chuckled. Under his breath, he said, “Affirmative Action.” Kathryn wasn't sure if he was serious.

Troy cleared his throat. “I'd rather ask how four people can be in one body.”

“Magic,” Reggie replied instantly. “They botched a field assignment last year and a Hokoni warlock cursed three of them. Meg offered to host their spirits and... well...”

“Ended up getting their personalities too?” Troy concluded.

“She wasn't expecting the other three to get control over her body as well.”

“It's gotta suck,” Crystal said. “And it's not like Meg can bitch about it because the other three can always hear her.”

Then came the knock. Everyone was too busy suppressing the urge to say 'speak of the devil' to actually answer it. “Blaine?” Donovan muttered.

Blaine was busy staring at what little he could see of Carmen's pointy ears. Startled, he turned to Donovan. “Yes, sir?”

“Our meal is waiting.”

Sheepish, Blaine jumped to his feet and answered the door. Indeed, Giles had a week's supply of fried chicken. “I guess Reggie's in here?” he asked.

“Come on in!” Reggie cried.

The moment Giles set the first bucket on the table, Donovan and Reggie's girls were devouring its contents. Giles stepped away to avoid grease spatter.

He saw Troy and smiled. Troy threw his hands up. “I didn't order it! Talk to Reggie about a tip!”

Giles widened his grin. “Oh, no, just wanted to chat for a sec. Meg says I owe you an explanation about her.”

Troy lowered his hands and forced a smile. “Oh. Uh, actually, Reggie filled me in.” After a moment of thought, he added, “That all sounds pretty rough, actually.”

“Well, it's been almost a year now. Guess I just kinda got used to it.” Giles sat down, wedging himself between Troy and Kathryn. “I forgot what it was like to be new to all this.”

“You don't leave campus?” Kathryn asked.

Giles shrugged. “I go home for holidays and stuff. And sometimes they'll even shut up long enough to let Meg see her family.” He looked down. “Because they're out of their bodies, Morgan, Maple and Mindy were written out.”

“I mean...” Kathryn wasn't ready for something that depressing. “You're...” Again, she paused. “Normal.” After today, she found it hard to apply the word to Giles. “Makes sense that they stay here, but why don't you?”

“It's my responsibility,” Giles replied, spirits lifted. “We're a team. And the way those four argue, someone has to help mediate. Besides, the only reason I wasn't with them was because I got lucky. I was only turned into a dog.”

His eyes darted back and forth, meeting blank stares from both sides. In the ensuing silence, Giles hoped one of them would spare him the need to tritely add, 'I got better.'

Thankfully, Kathryn came through. “The hell are you doing dealing with stuff like that? Reggie said something about a warlock!”

“Field assignment,” Giles said plainly. “It's a requirement for graduation. Everybody has to complete a mission as part of a three-unit troop. Your guardian didn't explain that to you?”

“No, she didn't explain that to us!” Kathryn tried to sound livid, but the sudden news was both startling and not unexpected. She had always been afraid of something like this, and Giles sounded awfully complacent about it given what he had been through. She struggled to tolerate risking her life for what amounted to a thesis project, no matter how everybody else shrugged it off. “Dammit, Molly.”

Her last cursing was all Giles noticed. “Molly?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “You don't mean Molly Pearson, do you?”

“The one and only,” Troy muttered. “Take it you've heard of her?”

Giles nodded. “Yeah, through Meg. Someone that age, leading her team through all that... Meg's kind of a fan. Where is she?”

Rather than comment on the pro-Molly fanboy moment, Troy replied, “The Urayoni have her. And two of our friends.”

That effectively sobered Giles up. “Wow. Sounds rough.”

Troy and Kathryn nodded. “Sounds like it's being taken care of though,” Kathryn said. “We're giving them what they wanted.”

“What's that?”

“The Tome of Vincent Wagner!” shouted Donovan from behind. Giles jumped forward and fell to the floor. Troy and Kathryn didn't respond. As an exclamation point, Donovan took a giant bite out of his chicken leg.

Kathryn shrugged. “Yeah, Donovan signed away some book to get them back. Pretty good deal if you ask me.”

Giles sat up and looked back at Donovan. “Must be a heck of a book if the Urayoni will give up all three for it. That's very noble of you, Donovan.”

Donovan furrowed his eyebrows. So did Troy and Kathryn, actually. The words 'Donovan' and 'noble' didn't sound like they belonged anywhere near each other. Giles made it sound effortless. Come to think of it, it wasn't exactly false.

Standing and dusting himself off, Giles nodded at what were apparently his new friends. “Neat stuff. I'll have to take a look at the details sometime. Anyway, I probably should be going. I'm still technically on the clock. When your friends get back, I'll have to bring Meg and them and we can hang out with you guys and Molly.”

Troy and Kathryn turned to each other. They had both lost count of how many things were wrong with that statement. Neither wanted to think about it too much, and quietly let Giles leave. The ambiance of Reggie and his girls gorging on chicken absorbed them, and they were able to enjoy the rest of the night regardless.

 

Session Three

Molly's cell was furnished with a nice bed, a bookshelf and some effort to provide modesty. Renee received a cot, a sink and a toilet. The only amenity afforded to her was the glowing bracelet negating her magic. It was heavy, uncomfortable and made for an awkward night of sleep. Not that she was going to anyway with that cot and the whole predicament weighing in her mind.

After one restless night, it got worse. Two demons barged into her cell, magically subdued her and led her away. Renee complied, only because she feared the consequence of disobedience. They took her to a room that, despite the dungeon motif, resembled a medical examination room. Not necessarily a nice or sterile one, but it had an exam table and plenty of shiny metal implements. And straps to pin her to the table.

Once she was tied down, someone in a white coat entered and faced Renee. He looked at her briefly, then nodded. In an instant, Renee's shirt flew up to her shoulders, an impressive feat as she was flush against the table. As she trembled, he placed his cold hands against her bare stomach, narrowing his eyes as if listening for something.

A few moments in, he nodded, apparently sensing it and extended a hand to one of the demons. The hand received a small optical device, possibly an enescope like the one used to find her trigger way back when. The demonic doctor looked through the eyepiece, either getting an extreme closeup of Renee's belly button or seeing something useful. Probably the latter as he nodded and did the same to her forehead. It left her feeling, to put it mildly, a little uncomfortable. He smiled wickedly and left without a word, after which Renee was escorted back to her cell, barely getting time to pull her shirt back down.

When she returned, a tray of bread and water waited for her. Something about that made the whole episode seem even more harsh. Forced out of the room, strapped to the table, two steps away from being violated... and to top it off, this was dinner? It was the exclamation point to an excruciating day and finally broke her. She ate her meal with her back to the door so no one would see her sobbing.

This whole thing came so suddenly and caught her so completely off guard that Renee was a silent, helpless shadow. She was separated from her sister, had no idea where she was, and heard nothing about her future from anyone she encountered. Even if she had the muster to ask, she doubted she'd receive a response. Renee had no course of action, especially since she didn't know what was in store for her. She was a prisoner with no knowledge of her surroundings. All because she felt obligated to rescue Molly.

About an hour after the examination, the door opened again. Renee didn't move, remaining crouched with her back against her cot, hands around her knees. She stole a glance at the demon entering, not even giving the courtesy of a raised eyebrow at Marie.

Marie had a tray of food. It didn't look appetizing, but it smelled like meat and the included beverage resembled juice. She set it down near the foot of Renee's cot and leaned against the far wall. “Food's pretty lousy here, but it's probably more than you're getting. Don't know why they're not feeding you.”

Renee stared back, not sure what to say. Marie's eyes were to the ground. If it was an act of generosity, it was an obliging one. Either way, it was hard to be friendly around someone who had betrayed her friends.

“Claude also told me to apologize for what I said about your sister yesterday,” Marie added, with a shrug. “Honestly, I'd rather apologize to you than her. Especially if she didn't know you like Troy so much.” She wanted to say more, but she stopped herself.

Eying the food, tempted to reach out to it, Renee stopped herself and looked at Marie. “You expect me to believe you're sorry for that? After what you did to us?”

“You're right. I meant everything I said to Molly. Maybe I shouldn't have said it to her face, but I don't see why I should feel sorry about saying it.” She shook her head. “Claude always has been kind of a tool.”

Marie paced around, continuing her rant. “But I just hate her so much for what she did to Troy. And then she thought I wasn't upset about Kurt...”

When she paused, Renee asked, “Why are you here? We're enemies.”

Her tone was dour and defeated. It caught Marie off guard. She didn't think Renee was capable of being this down. Marie replied, “I've just been a little high-strung lately. Kinda need someone to talk to and nobody else gives a damn.” She sighed. “I know you never liked me but-”

“Who says I never liked you?” Renee looked up. “I know I was a little out of line, but I never held it against you just because we like the same guy. Some of my friends told me to just barge in and steal Troy away from you. I couldn't do that. At least not directly. And even then Kamila and Kathryn were more hostile about it than you. I never blamed you for any of that.”

Marie sighed. There was something comforting and humbling about all that. She couldn't say she felt the same way about Renee, but she was happy they weren't completely uncivil. “That's actually good to hear. It's nice to be able to talk to you without worrying about-”

“I hate you now though,” Renee blurted, freezing Marie. “Sure I had enough respect for you then, but you can't expect me to like you now. Not after all this.”

Head lowered, Marie said, “I feel awful about it. All this time I was trying to pretend that I wasn't an Urayoni and Troy wasn't in the force. I just hoped that somehow I could get through it, leave on good terms with everybody and go home happy.” Her head shook, voice cracking. “When Kurt died it ruined everything. Everything was bound to escalate. And all of us would get caught up in the middle of it. On different sides. And on top of all that I lose Kamila too. She was my best friend.”

Renee hesitated. Clearly Marie was being sincere, but she had to reiterate: “She killed Kurt.”

“I'm not going to defend what she did. Just don't pretend that Kathryn was right to get even.”

“That's the life Kamila chose,” Renee said, hardly in a sympathetic mood. “It's what you chose too.”

“We didn't choose it,” Marie replied quickly. “My parents were both Urayoni. My dad wasn't even born on Earth. He only moved to take a lobbying job in Washington. When the force enlisted you all, the faction moved us to Ohio so I could help Claude keep tabs on everybody. Claude and I were only supposed to be observing. I was fine with that: I really do love Troy and Kathryn. It's a shame they got mixed up with the MST.”

Marie looked away briefly, but turned back to Renee and added, “And don't lecture me about the life I chose. You're the one locked up here.”

Renee shook her head. “If you're really a good friend, you could help me get out of here.”

Chuckling softly, Marie replied, “Don't you see? That doesn't help anything. We're just pawns in all this. I hope your superiors do the right thing and work to get you out of here quickly. But I don't gain anything betraying my faction. It's not like I have any way to get you home.”

As Renee's head fell in disappointment, Marie's did as well. All that talk and she didn't feel much better. She turned to the door. “I guess I should go. Thanks for listening at least.” As she opened the door, she added, “Suppose you didn't choose this either.”

“Yes I did,” Renee fired back. Marie stopped and looked over her shoulder. Renee was glaring at her. “I chose this because I wanted to protect my sister and my friends.”

Marie faced the open door again. “And that's what you don't understand. You think the MST actually cares about you or Molly or our friends. And you couldn't be more wrong.”

 

Session Four

The next day, room 202 didn't need Giles's service. Reggie had donated half of his leftover chicken from the night before. From the looks of it, neither room would need delivery that night either.

“Nice to get through lunch with no interruptions,” said Kathryn, wiping her greasy hand on the couch cushion and getting a stern look from Donovan for doing so.

As Troy handed her a napkin, his phone rang. Kathryn groaned as he checked the number. He didn't recognize it. Eying her nervously, he answered it.

“Troy? This is Giles.”

Troy rolled his eyes. “How did you get my number?”

“Online database.” With some urgency, he added, “I want you and your friends to meet me at the library at 2:00.”

“Why?”

“Because that's when I get off work.”

“No, I mean what's it-”

“Gotta go. Jimmy John's is here. See you then.” Just like that, Giles was gone.

Kathryn leaned in. “What was that about?”

Troy set his phone down. “Apparently we're meeting with Giles this afternoon.”

“Why?”

“Because that's when he gets off work,” Troy said, shaking his head.

Despite the lack of agenda, the three of them went to the library anyway. Two o'clock came and Giles wasn't there.

“He is late,” Donovan muttered.

“That surprises me,” Troy said. “He seems like the annoyingly punctual type.”

“He is,” said Reggie, startling all three of them as he sat down.

“Reggie? What are you doing out of the building?” Kathryn asked. “After last night, I thought you'd still be asleep.”

Reggie chuckled. “The girls sure as hell are. Giles asked for all of us, but it takes more than this to get my girls up.”

“There he is,” Troy declared as he saw Giles walking in... with his roommate(s).

“Sorry we're late,” Giles said. Troy checked his watch; it was 2:03. Giles narrowed his eyes at his companion. “Someone was still in the shower when I got back.”

“Jeez, sue me for sleeping in for once,” said either Morgan or a very indignant Meg. The same personality turned to Kathryn and cracked a sly smile. “Hey, don't think we've met. I'm Morgan.”

Kathryn leaned back. She wasn't expecting to meet Giles's teammate(s) and was doubly disturbed by Morgan's introduction. “I'm Kathryn... hi. Reggie told me about you.”

“Don't worry about us, Kathryn,” said Maple. Kathryn almost fell over at the clear change in the tone of voice. “Just think of us as normal, healthy people.”

“And Mindy,” quipped Morgan.

“Hey!” shouted Mindy. This exchange effectively ruined any chance of Kathryn thinking of them as normal, healthy people.

Giles sat down, soon followed by Mindy. He set a folder on the table. Had Troy and Kathryn not been distracted by his companion, they may have noticed that Giles did not carry anything in with him and wondered where the folder had come from.

“Remember when I said I'd take a look at the details regarding the rest of your unit?” Giles asked.

“No,” replied Troy and Kathryn.

“Well, I found the contract between the MST and the Urayoni. The one transferring Donovan's grimoire for your friends.”

Kathryn hovered over the document, eyebrows raised. “Wow. How'd you find that?”

“He's a l33t hacker!” said Mindy.

“We were slow today at work. I got bored,” Giles said, defensive. “It's not like they encrypt it all that well... at least for people on campus with certain passwords.”

“Still not like it's up there for any schmo on Moogle to find,” Meg said.

Louder, Giles said, “Anyway...” He flipped to a highlighted part of the text. “Remember how I thought it was odd that the Urayoni would give all three of your friends back for the grimoire?”

“No,” replied Troy and Kathryn.

“Turns out they're not. The deal's only for Molly and Yuki.”

Troy and Kathryn nodded... then grasped what that meant and dove for the papers. “What about Renee?” Troy asked hurriedly.

“I figured you should know about that. It says that Renee will not only be left behind, but apparently the Urayoni can do whatever is necessary to retrieve the grimoire from inside her.”

Troy looked up at him, mortified. “What does Renee have to do with that book?!”

“Apparently it's embedded into her.”

“Impossible!” Donovan shouted, now hovering over the contract as well.

As he read the sordid details, Troy sat back, aghast. “I can't believe they'd do this without telling us.”

“I can,” Kathryn muttered, folding her arms.

“I knew signing the book over was a bad idea.”

“As did I,” Donovan mumbled, slamming the papers down. “So when do we strike?”

Kathryn scoffed. “Yeah right. Who are you planning on fighting? The demons or the MST?”

Giles coughed, getting everyone's attention. “Actually, that's the next thing I wanted to bring up. We're completely on board if you'd like to try attempting a rescue.”

“We are?” Mindy asked.

Meg nodded. “Damn right we are.”

Troy leaned forward and stared at Giles and Meg, confused. “Wait, wait... you're talking about going after them ourselves? Can we do that?”

“Of course!” Morgan said, smiling brashly. “We'll probably get killed eighty times over but I say bring it on!”

“That's jumping awfully deep considering we just met yesterday,” Kathryn said.

Giles smiled. “So? Fact is, the MST tried to hide what it was doing and you're not okay with the agreement they made. That's not fair and I think we need to do something about it.”

“I take it that's why I'm here?” Reggie said. Everybody stopped and faced him. He cracked a smile. “Gotta have a full troop to even get this considered and that means three units.”

“Exactly,” Meg replied. “With all of us, and your unit, we just need to get a commander to sign off on this as a field assignment and we're good to go.”

“But isn't this putting all of us in danger?” Kathryn asked. “Not to mention Yuki and Molly.”

“I'm not willing to sacrifice Renee just to make it easy for Yuki and Molly to come back,” Troy said, louder. “Renee didn't agree to that, Donovan didn't agree to that, and you know damn well that Molly wouldn't agree to that.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Kathryn mumbled, looking away.

Reggie shrugged. “Well, I suppose I can't say no to something like this. Of course, if it gets accepted as a field assignment and we pass, I'm stuck graduating. That would suck.”

“You mean you'd be willing to graduate and leave the academy just to help Renee?” Kathryn asked.

“Sure,” Reggie replied. “I'm bored.”

“Excuse me,” said Maple, as evidenced by her soft voice. “How are we supposed to get approved when one unit is incomplete?”

“Oh yeah,” Reggie looked around at the six bodies surrounding the table. “There's only nine of us here. Thirteen with my girls. We're short two.”

Donovan grinned. “Blaine. Bryce.”

“Sir!” came the dual reply.

“With that, Operation 'Recover The Tome' is in order.”

 

Session Five

Having a solid plan of action to deliver to Uriel was great. Having the support of two other units was even better. The only problem with trying to get the message across was that Uriel didn't actually have an office at the academy. Never mind forcing him to consent to it; first they had to find the damn guy.

They had to march across campus three times, only getting a clue from a chance run-in with Chancellor Whalen himself. He pointed out a small command center in main administration building that visiting commanders could use to handle important business. In hindsight, Troy, Kathryn and Donovan probably should have just secured Whalen's approval for all this, but they got their answer regardless.

Only Donovan had been in this particular building before, and that was for his tribunal and he never bothered to get a feel for the place. They stumbled around aimlessly for half an hour, asking anyone they came across and getting no answers.

Finally, and neither of them were sure if this was a good thing, they ran into Mr. Marlowe.

“Uriel, huh?” Marlowe scratched his chin. “What do you want with him?”

“I don't suppose you heard about how he resolved all this?” Kathryn asked, narrowing her eyes.

Marlowe nodded happily. “Yes, I did. Did he secure transfer of the grimoire?”

Donovan grumbled, “He did... failing to mention one major caveat.”

Playing dumb, Marlowe cocked his head. “And what would that be?”

Troy folded his arms. “They're leaving Renee behind.”

“Ah. Follow me.”

They followed Marlowe down the hall and up a staircase, not entirely confident that he was leading them to the promised land. He did seem awfully undisturbed by the news. Still, Marlowe led them to an office door, knocked, and opened when Uriel allowed him to.

Leading the three into the darkened room, Marlowe called out, “Uriel, these three want to know why you agreed to sacrifice their friend to the demons for your own occupational convenience. Have fun!” Then he slammed the door shut.

Uriel spun around and shouted, “But wait it was your...!”

Too late. He only saw the three. And boy were they pissed. Uriel leaned back. “It was not my idea. Marlowe put me up to it.”

“You didn't say anything when Donovan signed the book away,” Troy said.

“It was in the contract. And I was obligated not to sway your opinions.”

“But you lied to us!”

“I did no such thing,” Uriel asserted. “I merely stated that the transfer would fill our end of the bargain and prompt the Urayoni to fill theirs. That much is true. You drew the conclusions yourself. Donovan was the one who didn't read the thing.”

Donovan furrowed his eyebrows and prepared for an outburst, but it was Kathryn who stepped forward. “You show up and tell us that signing over that thing will take care of everything. After everything we've been through, can you blame us for wanting to get this over with quickly? Even after what you did to Kurt I never thought that you guys could stoop so low as to leave Renee behind just to save yourself a little work.”

“What happened to Kurt was tragic and unpredictable. How were we to know the Hageshoni would be this overt? This sort of thing does not happen every day and the fact that they've struck twice in the last month is cause for alarm indeed. Please, have a seat.”

They found chairs lining the wall behind Uriel's desk. In all, the room was fairly large for an office, resembling a modern war room with three computer terminals and a large monitor on the wall. Naturally, this being Uriel, none of them were on.

“First, you must understand that the decision came from higher up. I wouldn't have even considered leaving any of them behind had Marlowe not shown me a direct order from the chancellor. I wasn't even informed that Renee had the grimiore until after the tribunal.”

“How did that happen without my knowledge?” Donovan asked.

Uriel sighed. “As you may recall, there was some worry about what would happen to it if you were dismissed from the academy. Molly gave it to Marlowe for safe keeping and conspired with Kurt to keep it from coming up at the tribunal. She was so eager to be rid of it that she didn't ask for it back, even after the ruling in your favor. Marlowe gave it to our doctors to embed into Renee, absorbing the vrockrompir curse.”

“But if it's still inside her, doesn't that mean that she's still cursed too?” Kathryn asked.

“When extracted properly, as our contract instructs them to do, just the book,” Uriel replied, confidently. “The book and Renee simply exist in the same body, much like Donovan and his demon... which still scares me half to death.” He eyed Donovan, who cracked an evil smirk in response. “The only effect is that the book might give her a little additional power, much like the demon has given Donovan a boost... which is equally frightening.”

“But if that book's so powerful, why give it up just for Molly and Yuki?” asked Troy. After all, Uriel had already passed on giving it to the Chioni in exchange for Ellen and Kendrick.

Uriel chuckled. “I know this doesn't mean much to you, but that curse also plays into that decision. Even if the demons do successfully extract the book, the curse will have left it charred and illegible. They won't get a thing out of it.”

Kathryn gritted her teeth. “But they'd still have Renee. And I don't like the way 'extract' sounds.”

Taking a deep breath, Uriel got to the hard part. “Listen, I can't expect you to agree with the decision, but please understand that escalating this further will endanger many of our troops, as well as all three of the prisoners. In the end, we get two of the three back and the Urayoni end up with nothing. It's the only solution that is even remotely ideal.”

“You realize Molly would never stand for this. She wouldn't forgive you killing her sister.”

“Yes, and frankly I'm terrified. But we're in charge of this operation, not her. We can force her to understand. Heck, even if we had no alternative but to fight, we can't just shift an army to their world on a whim.”

“Oh, we've got an army for you,” Troy replied, angrily handing him a very professional-looking document, save for “Operation: Recover The Tome” written at the type. It bore the signatures of fifteen magi.

Uriel skimmed it with revulsion. “What's this, a field assignment request?”

“They're our friends. They're from our unit,” Troy declared. “If we can't get them back, we'll all go down together. The demons still get nothing so what's the problem?”

Practically sneering, Uriel replied, “The fact that we'd rather keep most of your unit intact. Along with the other ten names on your list. I've spent the last three years trying to keep Molly Pearson alive and I'll be damned if I'm going to have you three waste that.”

“So that's what it boils down to, huh?” Kathryn said, steaming. “Molly's worth protecting, but Renee doesn't have the same knack for magic so she's expendable. Isn't that right?”

Uriel glared back, seething. He didn't dare answer.

“If us three get caught too, are we out of luck then?”

“I won't discuss hypotheticals with you. This is what the taskforce determined to be the best solution for everyone involved.” Although he did his best not to raise his voice, Uriel tore the application in two. “And no rushed field assignment proposal will change what the best minds of this organization have determined. The negotiating team will be sent down tomorrow morning and by tomorrow night I hope to have washed my hands of this incident. Now unless you have any pertinent questions, I would like to get back to my work.”

Troy, Kathryn and Donovan stared back, stunned. Just like that, Renee had been lost. Although he held his glare on Uriel for as long as possible, Donovan stood and left first. Then Troy, rushing off as he felt his eyes well up. Kathryn held on the longest, but once she was alone, she faded fast against Uriel's stone wall.

“You guys won't stop until all of our friends are dead,” she muttered, picking herself up and following Troy out. “So much for Security.”

 

Session Six

When they returned to the dorm, Troy and Donovan returned to their rooms quickly and quietly. Kathryn sat on the couch, turned on the television and pretended she was watching it. Their last-ditch proposal to save Renee had failed and they were doomed to count the days until Molly would come home and shatter everything. The difference between the reactions of Kathryn and the boys boiled down to one thing: Kathryn expected this.

The whole day, she had played along with the rebellious talk, not believing any of it would actually come to pass. The logistics were awful anyway. The demons had overwhelmed them in L. B. Gould; how were they supposed to mount an offense on Urayoni turf? Kathryn doubted compassion for Renee was reason enough to convince the MST to change their plans, which certainly had to have sprouted from some foreign wisdom. The notion of sacrificing Renee was absolute bull to her, but she at least believed those in charge had thought it over first.

Of all the things for Kathryn to ponder, she was stuck on how resigned she felt about it. Depressed, absolutely, but it didn't seem as agonizing as it should have been. Part of it was how unreal it seemed that they might never see Renee again. But more of her lack of despair was the finality of it. For all her fretting about this cycle of battling demons, she'd be lying if she said she didn't want this episode finished. After losing Kurt, Kamila and now Renee, Kathryn wanted it all to be done with so she could pretend things were going to get better, even if she knew that wasn't true.

She reached up to scratch her nose, feeling the skin below her eye along the way. It was dry. All this time, she had not shed a tear. That scared Kathryn. She had cried for Kurt; hell, she had even cried for Kamila. Why wasn't it happening for Renee? Was she in denial? Was she hopeful that Renee would still survive? Or worse- was she subconsciously accepting this decision?

Frightened by her own thoughts, Kathryn knew she had to do something. Getting her mind off it completely would have been preferable, but also shallow and cowardly. Instead, she realized that her help was desperately needed. Regardless of her own feelings about this, her best friend was bound to be a wreck. She peeled herself off the couch and slowly entered Troy's room.

He was curled up on one side of his bed, staring at a blank wall. If he wasn't crying now, he had just finished. She sat on the same side and rubbed his back.

“Is this really happening?” he whimpered, rubbing his eyes.

“Yeah, it is,” she replied, adding a sullen nod. “Should have known these assholes were to up to something like this.”

“Don't start,” mumbled Troy. “I know you don't like this. I don't care. I just don't want to lose her.”

Kathryn sighed. “You really do care for her, don't you?” Despite her own feelings, that much was clear.

“I don't know. I'm still too hung up over Marie to worry about all that. I just can't believe this is happening to her.” He stole a look at Kathryn. “I'd feel the same way if you were in her position.”

“If you were in her shoes... jeez, I'd completely lose it.”

It cemented exactly why Kathryn was feeling so guilty. After Kurt and Kamila, losing Troy would have destroyed her. She would not have recovered. It made her passive response to Renee's situation seem so wrong.

She started to crack. “I'm an awful person,” she sniffed.

“No you're not,” Troy replied instantly. “What do you mean?”

“Usually I'm the first one to jump out and play the hero. But I... to be honest, I really didn't want to do it.” Kathryn's eyes welled as she continued, “You and Donovan just jumped out to save her without thinking about how impossible it probably is. I-”

“You were scared,” said Troy, sitting up. He set a hand on her back as she nodded. “I don't blame you. I don't want to think about how dangerous it would be.” Frozen for a moment, he was quiet when he added, “Probably impossible too. I mean we'd just be getting ourselves killed, right? We couldn't really save her anyway, could we?”

Kathryn pulled him closer. His forehead found her shoulder. As he barely fought off his tears, she said, “Normally I don't think about stuff like that. Normally I'd say if there's a chance, we should go for it. I guess I don't know anymore.”

A deep sigh later, Troy said, “The only reason Renee's in this mess is because she wanted to go back for Molly. I just wanted to get out of there.”

With a stifled chuckle, Kathryn added, “And Molly stayed back for all of us.”

Troy lifted his head, facing forward again. The significance struck both of them.

“They were braver than we were. And look what happened.”

Kathryn nodded. “Sad how that works, isn't it?”

“No...” Troy stood up. “It means we owe them one.”

“What do you mean?”

“We can't let them get away with this. Renee doesn't deserve it. And you're right: Molly doesn't deserve it either. We've got to get them back.”

She nodded again. “Kinda wish we could. You put it that way and-”

“We're going,” he blurted. “To hell with them.”

“What?!” Kathryn stood up. “But we don't know-”

“We'll figure it out.” Troy stormed out of the room, pulling out his phone. “Or rather Giles will.”

A moment later, he was on the phone: “Giles? We're going anyway. I know it's... oh...” Troy raised his eyebrows. “Okay... what time?” Another pause. He smiled. “See you there.”

“What was that?” Kathryn asked.

“Giles already talked to Meg and Reggie.” Troy pocketed the phone. “They were just waiting for us to give them the word. We're meeting at Reggie's room at 10:00.”

“Damn...” Kathryn sighed. “This is really happening, isn't it?”

“Damn right.” For the final stop, Troy knocked on Donovan's door.

Donovan opened it instantly. He, Blaine and Bryce all seemed to be wearing some sort of imitation chainmail.

“What took so long?” Donovan said.


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CHAPTER: 6

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