Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 42: The Welcoming Party

Session One

That night, the three units gathered in Reggie's room. The aim was to collect their heads, plan an attack, gather resources and not think twice about any of it. They entered the room determined to maximize their chances of success.

Unfortunately, it was still Reggie's room and they found it awfully hard to concentrate on their objective. After a fifteen minute fit of giggles, Meg convinced them to adjourn elsewhere. Up at room 202, things cooled down in a hurry.

“Well, let's get the obvious question out of the way first... how do we get in?” Kathryn asked.

Giles cleared his throat. “From what I found out online, your district commander has been in frequent contact with someone from an Urayoni realm. That's where we'll start looking.”

Kathryn scratched her head. “Well that answers the where... sort of... but how do we get there?”

“Oh, there's a dimensional transporter on campus. It's on the second floor of the admin building. It's um... guarded though.”

Reggie grinned. “I'm sure the girls and I can take care of any guards.” His girls giggled. Kathryn was satisfied with this answer.

Troy narrowed an eye at them, but didn't question them. “And once we're in?”

Meg fielded this one: “Well, it's a small world with a central fortress about two miles away from the access point. To put it bluntly, we storm the castle.”

“And how do we do that?”

“Magic,” answered Meg, Giles and Reggie.

Kathryn rolled her eyes. “And you really think we can do this alone?”

“Since when has reality interfered with our conquest?” Donovan blurted. “The time for thinking is over. Now we fight!”

Not only did it effectively kill the discussion, everyone was so stupefied they didn't notice Meg (or another) whispering something to Bryce. He nodded, turned to Blaine, and both minions disappeared. Mindy giggled, ruining the secrecy.

A tad annoyed, Giles said, “What were you doing, Mindy?”

Defensive, yet ecstatic, Mindy blurted, “It's not me- it's Morgan!”

Now just defensive, Morgan said, “I just... uh... you'll see.”

Coughing to reclaim everyone's attention, Kathryn said, “I guess what I'm asking is do we really have a chance with just us ten?” She turned to Reggie and his girls. “I mean, can any of you actually do anything to help us?”

Reggie shrugged. “Like I said, we're mostly in it because we're bored. But we've been here long enough to have learned something by now. I'm sure we'll be fine.”

Crystal scoffed. “We've got you covered. Reggie and I are Crafters, Cammy's a Weaver and Candace and Carmen use fire and air spells.”

Before she could get much applause for the show of confidence, Blaine and Bryce reappeared. They carried a long, narrow box.

Bryce turned to Morgan. “You were right: that lock wasn't hard to crack at all.”

Giles stood up, staring at the box. “What did you tell them to get?”

Morgan cracked a grin. “You were afraid we couldn't do alone with just our spells so I had them 'borrow' some smiters.”

Blaine cracked the box open. Sure enough, inside were five smiter swords.

Kathryn picked one up, impressed. “Now this is more like it. These are the ones that only work on demons right?” For a moment, she considered poking herself with one, but thought better of it and experimented with a slight prick on Donovan arm.

Immediately, the pinpoint jab started smoking. Donovan's eyes widened and his whole body shook. Troy, Giles and Meg all jumped up, terribly concerned.

“Kathryn, he's part demon, remember?!” Troy shouted.

Her eyes bulged as the wound opened further. “Oh crap, that counts?!”

“Reggie, you're a Crafter; do something!”

Reggie sat there. After watching Donovan pretend he wasn't in excruciating pain for a few seconds, he scratched his head. “I don't have any gear for healing potions. That's kid's stuff.”


Bryce fidgeted with his crystal. “Uh, smiters use light-based magic. I can't heal that.”

Troy looked around the room. “Does anybody here have any healing power?!”

“Don't rush me!” shouted a nervous Maple. Smug as Morgan was while suggesting the swords, it was strange to see the same body huddled over a potion. Everybody fell quiet as she finished up, held a vial to her forehead and blinked. She passed it to Giles, who gave it to Donovan, who downed it quickly. In seconds, the wound disappeared and nothing seemed wrong with him.

Still, he gritted his teeth. “That... didn't... hurt.”

Kathryn sighed in relief. “Glad we're getting all the screwing up out of the way now. Nice save, uh... whichever one you are.”

“Maple,” said Maple, head lowered. “Happy I could help.”

“Good job, Maple,” said Meg.

Troy nodded. “Yeah, didn't have you pegged as a Crafter.”

“I'm not a Crafter. That was Maple.”

“Wait, wait...” Kathryn held a hand up. “So you guys all do different things?”

Meg shrugged. “Of course. It would be pretty boring having a whole unit with the same class. Morgan and I are Thrusters and Giles and Mindy are Weavers.”

“Since you guys might have your hands full when we get down there, maybe Maple should make some potions now,” Giles suggested.

Morgan grinned and nodded. “Good call. Don't want to have to stop to heal one of you while I'm up there kicking ass.”

With nothing but a change of expression, it was back to Meg, who seemed to put more thought into it. “Do you mind if we take a break and let Maple get to work?”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Reggie.

Meg nodded. “Okay, you're up, Maple.”

Lowering her head, Maple seemed to blush. “All right. I'll do my best.” She took her equipment and headed off into the corner.

Watching her leave, Candace mumbled, “I like that one the best.”

Nobody dared echo that statement when she was still in the room, but everybody silently nodded.


Session Two

It turned out to be a good thing Troy, Kathryn and Donovan had visited Uriel earlier in the day. When midnight arrived, they were able to subvert the locked entrance doors and teleport into the lobby. Troy unlocked a door for everybody else.

“Why do they bother locking it in the first place if everybody can just teleport in?” Giles mused.

“For that matter, why don't we just teleport all the way to the transport thingy?” asked Cammy.

“Never been there,” Troy said.

“We have! Let's do it!” Mindy shouted. She closed her eyes and raised her hand high in the air, standing on her tiptoes for some reason.

She went nowhere.

Meg took over and lowered her hand. “Answers both questions: they only bother to put ATBs around the rooms that are actually important. They don't care if we sneak in and use the vending machines.”

Troy looked around. All of that made sense, but they were still in a dark hallway after hours and they definitely weren't supposed to be. As Donovan and Blaine summoned light balls, Troy said, “Hey, our friend Kurt had a thing that told him whenever anybody nearby used magic.”

“He had a Bloodberry?! Awesome!” Mindy gushed. Morgan shushed her.

Nervously scratching his calf with his smiter, Troy replied, “Yeah, but uh... do you think any security guys around here have the same stuff and might be watching us?”

Reggie nodded. “You bet.”

Kathryn clutched her staff. “Think maybe we should, uh, get to this thing, like, now before they send people after us?”

Reggie nodded again. “Totally.”

They sprinted for it. In fact, once upstairs they almost ran right past it. Giles managed to steer everybody down a separate wing of the building. Cautious, but walking briskly, Troy and Kathryn were surprised to see the hallway open and a large circular platform directly in front of them.

Honestly, given the dark room and the lack of security points, Troy was underwhelmed. “Is this it?”

“What's wrong?” said Giles.

“It's right out in the open like this? Where's the armed guards stopping us?”

“Don't forget that it's also an arrival point,” said Meg. “If you're coming in from another world, this is the first thing you see on campus. They're not putting it in a closet.”

Donovan wasn't complaining. He and his minions stepped onto the platform. Hands on his hips, he laughed. “A fitting departure point to conquer our enemies. Blaine! Bryce! We set sail!”

Blaine and Bryce looked at each other and shrugged. “Um... how?” Bryce asked.

“Yeah, how do we work this thing?” Kathryn added.

“That's where the security comes in,” Giles said.

“Hey, what the?” said the security guard, entering the hallway from a door in the corridor. Granted, this was no Hageshoni-like heavy ready to throw them all out of the building. In fact, he didn't look threatening at all. Not only was he barely bigger than Giles, his attention was torn between the band of intruders and the Nintendo DS he had in his hands.

In a booming voice, Donovan shouted, “Now see here-”

“Just a sec, let me save my game,” the guard said. As he stepped out of the room, the door started to swing shut on its own. Cammy quickly stuck her foot in the doorway to keep it open.

They all waited patiently for the guard to reach a save point and turn his game off. “Wish I had your job,” Giles muttered.

With that pressing concern out of the way, the guard pocketed the DS and addressed the group. “Nobody told me anyone was leaving tonight.”

Reggie smiled. “We're kinda doing this on the sly. What's it going to take for you to let us go?” He put an arm on Carmen's shoulder as she winked at the guard.

“Oh, hey Reggie. Didn't see you there.” Still, the guard wasn't taking the bait. “Can't let you go though. You know the rules.”

Shrugging, Reggie approached the guard and pulled out his wallet. “I know... but this is kinda important. I think we can come to some kind of... agreement about this.” He flashed a large wad of bills fastened with a money clip.

The guard stared at the money, suddenly short of breath. Slowly taking the cash, he turned around. “One moment please.” He walked inside, brushing by Cammy and not noticing her foot acting as a doorstop.

It continued to serve its purpose after he went inside, allowing Kathryn to poke her head in. The guard was on the phone.

“Yeah, hey, sorry to wake you up. I got a bunch of folks here wanting to use the gate.” He paused, twirling the money in his fingers. “Yeah, one of them even offered a bribe.”

Kathryn's eyes widened and she turned to Reggie. Clearly his plan wasn't going so well.

Or was it? Reggie smiled back, held his arms out and did a pelvic thrust. The money clip exploded, knocking the guard out. Carmen calmly walked into the room, cleared the smoke away and hung up the phone.

“Beware of Crafters bearing gifts,” Reggie quipped.

“So, like, how do we set all this up to take us there?” Candace asked.

“That's you, Giles!” shouted Mindy.

“Yep,” replied Giles, handing his smiter to Cammy and entering the room. Suddenly he had a binder in his hands. He sat down in front of a computer terminal and started typing.

“How long is this going to take?” asked Kathryn.

“Yeah, 'cause he still made that phone call. We're gonna have company,” added Morgan.

Giles remained calm. “Just have to enter the access codes, override the authority settings and figure out how to turn the bugger on.”

Kathryn glanced outside at a waiting Troy and Reggie. “That sounds complicated.”

“Nah, I've already got the codes in and...” Giles frowned for a moment, then opened random desk drawers. He pulled out a notebook, flipped through it and tossed it aside. He did the same to a second book he found, although this time he returned to the keyboard and resumed typing. “Somebody here can't remember his password. Tell Donovan to get off that platform.”

As Kathryn went outside to pull him off, Maple asked, “Why?”

“Because it's going to be live in about five seconds.” Giles pushed a button. The platform glowed. Giles jumped out of his chair, took the smiter from Cammy and walked out.

“So what now?” Troy asked.

Giles didn't turn back. “Now you better hurry because it's only live for ten seconds.” He stepped on the platform and vanished.

Again, they sprinted for it. Cammy and Candace stepped on just as the platform vanished... and just before a cadre of security personnel reached the hallway.


Session Three

Once everybody arrived on the other side, the platform dulled and they found themselves in what amounted to be a glorified shed. There were several benches lining the room, as well as two service doors on each side in front of a larger security door in front of them. If anybody was guarding the transporter, they would have been out by now. To the rear, a window gave them a view of a sandstone cliff. They had made it.

“They're not going to follow us here, are they?” Candace asked.

Giles looked confused. “How? I covered up our tracks before we left so they have no way of knowing which world we entered.”

“Seriously?” asked Cammy.

“You don't think I'm that stupid, do you?” Everybody looked around, struggling to find someone on the platform who considered Giles stupid.

“So nobody's following us?” said Kathryn.

Meg shook her head. “Not now. But don't forget that someone's coming to pick up Molly in the morning. That's our deadline.”

Troy looked at the sign above the security door. It read, “Authorized Personnel Only. Violators Will Be Arrested.”

“Nice welcome,” Troy mumbled. “So how do we get the door open?”

Too late. Donovan was already approaching it, charging up his energy. He fired it at the door. It blew open, giving them a full view of the cavernous underworld terrain. It also triggered an alarm.

Reggie strolled up to the now-open doorway, glanced at it for a couple seconds and chuckled. “Hey, we coulda just fiddled with it for a while and pulled it open. It wasn't locked... much.”

“Anyone else thinking that we should be nowhere near that alarm right now?” said Kathryn.

“Agreed,” Meg replied.

They ran out of the building and quickly found their options limited: the cliffs surrounded them on both sides and from behind. For a moment, however, they had to marvel at the world. Particularly since an overhead rock canopy covered the cavern. And they could see it.

“I wonder where the light's coming from,” said Giles. “We seem to be underground and there aren't any lamps anywhere.”

Troy didn't bite. Breathing in the stagnant cave air, he said, “Admire the scenery later. Let's get moving.”

They followed the one trail they had, knowing there would be neither surprise attacks nor hiding places if the enemy arrived now. Most of them managed to keep pace nicely. There was one exception.

“Blaine, why do you lag behind?” Donovan asked.

Mr. Pack Mule was lugging a backpack close to his body weight. “Sir, I realize the need to haul equipment... but why only me?”

Bryce smiled and held out his smiter. “Because I get a sword,” he boasted.

“Your trigger's one-handed. You can actually use it. But how come I get everything? I've even got Maple's potions.”

Maple looked to the ground, ashamed. “I'd take them but... Morgan wanted a sword too.”

In a flash, she turned around and whipped out the smiter strapped behind her. Morgan grinned. “Gotta admit it feels good.”

Eyes back to the ground, Maple frowned. “Yeah, I guess.”

Reggie turned to Carmen and nodded. Carmen spun around and smiled at Blaine. “Come on, Blaine, we're going to need all those supplies up here.”

From that point forward, Blaine kept pace with the front of the group until they reached a fork in the road.

“This is...” Giles looked up at the cavern walls as they somehow branched into two directions. “...some very unusual geography here.”

“So which way do we go?” asked Kathryn.

“Left, apparently,” said Troy, pointing to a hand-painted wooden sign. Somehow its paint was a reflective orange. Along with an arrow to the left, it read, “Lumine Keep, 3 km.”

They made the turn and continued their march. By this time, all conversation died down. Everybody was too focused on the journey and wary of any surprises to say anything. As a result, the silence was unbearable. Wherever they were, there was no audible sign of either flora or fauna. Everything was either asleep or dead, save for their own footsteps and Blaine's labored breathing.

So everybody jumped when Giles said, “Hey, what's that?”

Carmen took a moment to calm herself, then asked, “What's what?”

“Something's down the road heading for us.”

Everybody squinted and those with better vision could barely make out a few brown specks moving toward them. “What are they?” asked Crystal.

Whatever it was, the sound of them caught up with the sight of them. The party heard the distinct sound of all-terrain vehicles tearing through the landscape. There were several.

Donovan grinned wildly. “Sounds like our first opponents.”

Even if they were, it would be another half a mile before the group would find out. As they came into full view, the number hardened into eight.

Troy and Kathryn gripped their weapons anxiously, but Giles scratched his head. “Why don't they just teleport?”

Reggie laughed. “Come on, Giles, you're working with professionals. Cammy's had an anti-teleportation spell up since we landed. But since we've got company anyway, we better say hi.” He clapped his hands. “Girls?”

If Cammy did have a spell up the whole time (and if she did, nobody could tell), she dropped it now to draw a large circle around Reggie. He shooed everybody outside of it, including his other three roommates. While he made random scuffs in the dirt with his shoes, Crystal reached into Blaine's bag and pulled out two small mirrors. She jammed them into the ground on each side of the circle. With an eyedropper she pulled from inside her shirt, she poured two droplets of some reddish liquid on each mirror and stood back.

“What's that do?” Meg asked her. Crystal just chuckled and stood back. After aimlessly kicking around the dirt for a couple minutes, Reggie joined Carmen and Candace behind the circle.

All the while, the engines grew louder. The enemy grew closer and closer- seven four-wheelers and a small jeep in one neat row. Troy, Kathryn, Donovan and Bryce stood behind Reggie's unit and off to the sides, ready to charge in if whatever they were doing didn't work.

“You guys can get up closer. Next to the circle if you want. Get right behind the mirrors,” said Crystal.

Donovan did so eagerly, forcing Bryce to do the same. Troy was more hesitant, but did as instructed. Kathryn wasn't budging. “You want us to get run over?” she protested.

Then the four-wheelers braked suddenly, well in front of the mirrors. They veered over, and continued going single-file behind the jeep. The jeep, incidentally, headed straight for the circle.

“Nice one, Crystal!” shouted Candace.

“Oh nice, illusion mirrors,” said a now-calmed Bryce. “Got them to think the safe road was up the middle. I want some of those.”

“Silence!” commanded Donovan. “Now that they have changed course, we'll have to maneuver to stop them.”

“Not really...”

The jeep entered the circle first. With a flick of his hip, Reggie made the circle go boom, sending the vehicle ten feet into the air. The four-wheelers, unable to stop in time, each drove into the circle in turn. In unison, Candace and Carmen set one hand on their hips and the other in the air. Their stylish poses created a gigantic whirlwind of fire that engulfed Cammy's entire circle and everything in it. A few more explosions from Reggie provided some climactic fireworks.

When everything subsided, all that remained were a few tons of scrap metal and a couple demons with just enough strength to teleport themselves to a burn ward.

Everybody else stood there in shock. Donovan recovered in time to fire a meaningless energy ball into the pile and shout, “Victory is mine!”


Session Four

The plan to attack the Urayoni fortress in the middle of the night sounded like a great plan. There was one major caveat they had failed to consider- time zones. This particular realm operated on Greenwich Mean Time. It was still morning... just not obscenely so.

All the same, Claude was still asleep. It took a knock on his door to jar him awake.

“What?” he called, annoyed but not surprised. He had long grown accustomed to odd hour intrusions from Molly.

“It's me,” said Marie. Claude fidgeted in bed until his magic convinced the door to open. The room was dark. Marie paused, stood up straight, concentrated and summoned a light ball on the floor.

Once she picked it up, Claude noticed the concerned look on her face. “What time is it?”

“Seven. They told me to wake you up.”

“What's wrong?”

“A group from the MST came through the gate already.”

Sitting up, Claude stared back. He grumbled, but wasn't that upset. “That stupid old man. He must have thought we were doing the exchange at 8 a.m. here instead of 8 a.m. there. I'm still jet lagged. Did we send a party to greet them?”

“That's why I came to wake you up,” Marie said, now more nervous. “They blew up the welcoming party.”

Claude blinked a couple times. “Blew... up?”

“I heard the explosion. I don't think the MST is playing diplomat here.”

He took a moment to get out of bed, struck by the sudden development. Today was supposed to be simple. Claude already had a signed agreement. The MST wasn't known for going back on contracts like this.

“Okay, let's call the old man and straighten this out,” Claude rushed out of the room and down the hallway.

Marie followed, short of breath. “But it's the middle of the night over there.”

“If he sent a convoy in, he's bound to be awake.”

“But you're in pajamas.”

Claude stopped, gestured with his leg and was suddenly wearing a business suit. Marie looked him over and raised her eyebrows. “Could you teach me that sometime?”

He had to smooth his hair a bit, but he was presentable enough for the conference room, where he quickly dialed the MST while turning on a laptop.

The guard that Reggie had blown up answered. He held a compress to his forehead. “Is that you, Reggie?”

“No, would you please patch me through to Uriel?”

“Who's that?”

“I don't know. Look it up. I'm sure he's awake.”

“Fine, fine.” The guard muttered. He was still in the gateway control room. Random security personnel paced by him, some looking at the screen curiously.

A sky blue screen appeared with the MST insignia and a hold message. Classical music played in the background. “Wish he would have told me his extension number,” Claude grumbled.

After several minutes, the hold message disappeared and the music stopped, but the screen remained. “Yes, what is it?” Uriel said.

“Where is your camera?”

“I don't know how to turn it on. Not exactly sure I want to be seen considering you woke me up at 1 am!”

“I doubt I woke you up. Your diplomatic convoy is about seven hours early and decidedly hostile. What's going on?”

“What are you talking about? Why would I send a party at this time of night?”

Claude narrowed his eyes at Marie. Marie jumped in front of the screen and cried, “They blew up our welcoming party!”

“Who blew up what now?”

Then Uriel paused. Marie jumped and she turned to Claude. “Can he see us?”

“Yes I can,” Uriel replied. “You look familiar. Have we met?”

“I don't think so.” Sheepish, she said, “But... but somebody's trying to attack us right now and I smell a backstabbing.”

“Wait, I remember you. You were at Kurt's funeral. Aren't you Troy's friend?” Marie gasped. “And you're lecturing me about backstabbing?”

As Marie's face flushed, Claude tried to pat her on the shoulder. She shirked it off and stood to the side, away from the camera. “This is why I hate dealing with them.”

Returning to Uriel, Claude said, “Regardless, you understand that if someone from the MST is attacking us, all deals are off and we will have to destroy them.”

“I assure you we have nothing to do with it,” Uriel asserted.

“For Molly and Yuki's sake, let's hope so,” Claude added, ending the conversation.

“So what now?” Marie asked, head down.

“Wake everybody up. Have Renee prepped for the extraction.”

“What? Already?!” she exclaimed. Marie had heard about the agreement and found it disgusting. This made things worse. “Don't they need to give us instructions on how to get that book out of her safely?”

Claude sighed. “Obviously they're not handing it over willingly. So we'll just have to rip it out of her by force.”

Eyes widened, Marie cried, “But then she might be-”

“If they're going to be difficult, so must we. Go on.”

Marie did so slowly, staggering a little on her way out. She opened the door and paused. “What are you going to do?”

To this, Claude actually smiled. “I'm fetching the Hageshoni.”


Uriel was making a follow-up call as well, via telepathy. That poor guard answered again. “What? I have a headache.”

“Were there any unauthorized departures tonight?” Uriel asked.

“Yeah, you know Reggie?” The guard caught himself and mumbled, “Of course you know Reggie. Everyone knows Reggie.” Louder, he continued, “He and about ten other kids went somewhere, but they encrypted their destination.”

Uriel glowered. “Reggie? As in Hall D Reggie?”

“Is there any other?”

“That's... wonderful,” he muttered, ending the conversation. His first order of business was to find an aspirin and a coffee maker. This was going to be a long night.


Session Five

Once again, Giles was the first to see the next landmark. He also saw the cavern walls seem to convene at that central point and fork out from there. “Whoever designed this world didn't make it look very organic. It's like a parking garage with cliffs. Fortress isn't very creative either.”

Upon hearing the word 'fortress,' everyone started listening. “You see it?” asked Troy.

“Sure. It's the ugly brown thing right straight ahead. They could have at least painted it green or something.”

After staring long enough, he eventually spotted it. Once he did, Troy was surprised he hadn't noticed it. Tall walls encircled a modest encampment. It was slightly downhill, so he saw a courtyard fully enclosed by the walls.

“That doesn't look too far away.” Kathryn said.

“Are we taking pictures storming it?” Donovan muttered.

“Ooh, storming's good!” Mindy shouted excitedly. She pulled out Morgan's smiter and charged down.

Several people shouted “Wait!” but she was gone. They chased after her, most expecting this hasty attack to result in some sort of trap. Troy and Kathryn were mostly surprised that it was someone besides Donovan acting reckless.

They caught up to Mindy a few hundred yards later. She was out of breath. Meg had taken over and sheathed the smiter. “Sorry, once Mindy gets excited...”

“I know,” Giles mumbled.

While catching her breath, Meg looked at the castle again. “Is it me or does it seem farther away now?”

Indeed, they didn't seem to be any closer to the fortress. It also seemed to have gotten a little bigger.

“Yeah, it does. Let's keep going and see what happens,” said Reggie.

What happened was their march to the castle took forever. A mile later, they realized that the castle was goddamn huge and that the sign Troy had seen earlier was accurate. When they reached the bottom of the slope, they found the fortress walls stretching nearly sixty feet high.

They also saw the only way in: two large doors sealed shut. Giles derisively said something about the lack of a moat or drawbridge.

“Doesn't make it any easier to get in,” Meg said.

“We could go over,” Troy suggested.

“Way up there, we're helpless against anyone shooting at us on the other side.”

“We can blast through the walls,” Donovan said.

Troy and Kathryn rolled their eyes. Reggie shook his head, but otherwise took the suggestion seriously. “Nah, they coated the walls with an anti-magic finish. You have to in places like this.”

Meg pondered this out loud. “That means we can't blow them up or manipulate them with earth magic... but if we leave them intact can we see through them?”

Crystal raised her eyebrows. “You know a spyhole spell?”

“No, Mindy does. Cover us while she tries it out.” Meg, or maybe it was Mindy now, approached the wall cautiously. Actually, that meant it probably wasn't Mindy. Whoever it was, she reached the edge of the wall. What was certainly Mindy raised her arm high into the air, brought it down and planted it firmly in the wall.

“It works it works!” she shouted. “I can see!”

“Well, what's on the other side?!” Morgan shouted, confusing everybody.

“A bunch of guards charging through the doors to kill us!” Mindy replied, far too happy about this.

Just then, a bunch of guards charged through the doors to kill them. Reflexively, Meg spun and hit them all with a deluge of water. It was nothing more than an annoying distraction, but it bought her time to send Morgan after them with a smiter. Troy, Kathryn, Reggie, Giles and Bryce rushed in to attack.

“Cammy, shield!” Reggie shouted. A few steps behind the fray, Cammy stood in place and didn't seem to do anything. One of the demons fired a bolt of energy at Troy, but her shield covered everybody.

It didn't block sword slashes though and each of the ten guards were packing. The MST had trained its students to use their non-dominant hands to allow spellcasting during swordplay. The guards seemed to be split fifty-fifty: half were less clumsy with their weapons while the other half were capable of using magic as well. After the first few parries, Morgan and Giles were already back to using their right hands.

By virtue of their unique triggers, Reggie and Kathryn didn't have to worry about any of that and it showed. They each engaged a demon head on, dominating their fronts. When a pair tried to double-team Kathryn, she blocked both and shoved them back several feet.

“Troy!” she shouted. Troy evaded a swipe from the guard on him, jumped out of the barrier and crushed one of Kathryn's opponents with an ice blast. Just as he did, he received a ball of dark matter directly into his left shoulder. He fell back through the shield and onto the ground.

Well behind everything, Candice and Carmen had no openings and didn't dare jump into the front line unarmed. This was a problem as the battle was a stalemate at best. There was no way six students could take on ten skilled guards evenly and Cammy's shield worked both ways. Worse yet, the fortress doors closed behind the demons.

They could, however, comment. “Someone got hit!” Carmen shouted. “Blaine, help him!”

Blaine checked with Donovan, but he was staring up at the walls for some reason. With a shrug, Blaine stepped forward and used an air spell to propel one of Maple's potions over to Troy.

“What are you doing anyway?” Crystal asked Donovan. “The battle's over there.”

“Or is it...” Donovan said mysteriously. Crystal shrugged it off, but Donovan added, “Blaine, come with me” and walked off.

“What is it, sir?” Blaine asked. Donovan cast a flight spell. Looking back at the equipment sack he had left with Reggie's girls, Blaine followed.

Donovan said nothing as they flew to the top of the ridiculously high walls. Blaine looked down again, seeing Bryce and Giles take hits and everybody else struggling just to keep it even. When he looked back up, he almost ran into Donovan, who had stopped just shy of the top of the wall.

“Ready, men?” ordered a guard directly on the other side of the parapet.

“Aim...” He and several others charged up spells, aiming at the melee below. Donovan rose above them and charged up something of his own.

“Fire!” shouted Donovan, launching a hell of an energy blast at the guards. It hit and incapacitated several of them... and put a large hole in the top of the wall, which apparently wasn't magically reinforced. Donovan descended upon the few that remained and smirked.

Behind him, Blaine landed and helped clear out the survivors. In spite of its height, the top of the wall served as an accessible guard tower. The giant hole was actually hollowed-out for storage.

“I think that's-” Blaine screamed as he felt something clutch his jacket and rise into the air. The planks below him caved in and Candace landed on the parapet. She fired in the other direction.

Above him, Carmen chuckled as she started to descend, “Careful now. They got guys on both sides, you know.” Blaine looked back as Candace and Donovan finished all the guards attempting to sneak up from behind.

Feet touching the floor again, Blaine sighed. “Thanks, girls.”

“And now, we have the high ground to rain down hell,” Donovan said.

“Not necessary,” replied Crystal, rising over the parapet. She towed Cammy, keeping her shield up to protect the entire group as they ascended.

“We weren't getting a lot done down there so we thought we'd bug you guys,” Reggie said.

“Plus we can get in that way!” Candace pointed to the door behind the giant hole Donovan created.

“They'll probably follow us,” Troy said. “I'd like to have a way out.”

“Not to worry!” Morgan said, grinning and casting a spell to replace most of the giant hole.

“How does that help?”

Meg jumped into the section of hole that remained. “We'll stay behind and Mindy will keep watch. Once Morgan patches this up, they won't know we're here. I'll keep you posted.”

“How?” asked Kathryn.

Confused, Meg replied, “Magic. How else? I can contact Giles with telepathy. Now get going before they catch up.”

“Are you going to be okay on your own?”

“One's lonely, two's company, three's a crowd... four's a goddamn party. We'll be fine,” Morgan said, replacing the floor that everybody used to finally access the fortress properly.


Session Six

The men burst into Renee's cell unannounced, waking her from her sleep by slamming the door open, shining hallway light into her eyes and attaching a leash to her anti-magic bracelets before she knew what was going on. Disoriented, Renee was dragged practically the entire way to the examination room. She didn't know what time it was, she didn't know what was going on, but she did not like being tied down to that table again. Renee fought it this time, but was helpless against the straps and shackles.

The last time she had been brought here, a doctor was in immediately to perform whatever insidious examination he cared to. This time, once the guards left, the room was silent and pitch black. Renee couldn't move, see or hear. After ten minutes of this, she couldn't feel either. Her arms, legs and back were going numb. If not for her chest heaving and staggered breathing, she would have wondered if she were still alive. Even with them, she wondered if she would be for much longer.

Then she heard footsteps outside. Renee's breathing grew heavier, moaning a little as the door opened. When the figure turned the lights back on, Renee was blinded again.

“Why the hell did they turn the lights off?” Marie said angrily.

Renee's eyes focused again, and she was surprised how relieved she was to see Marie. It may have been her fear of the alternative. “Marie... what's going on?” she mumbled.

“Exactly what I was afraid of. All hell's breaking loose.” Marie grabbed a chair from the corner and sat next to the table. “Your people have really done it this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“They made a deal with Claude to trade Grimoire 17 for Yuki and Molly. I thought that was bad enough-”

Interrupting, Renee asked, “What about me?”

Marie shrugged. “I don't know. Recalibrated and sent home probably. They wouldn't need you for anything else, unless they really felt like being dicks and wanted to bait your sister. But now...” She sighed.


“The MST just sent some troops through the gate. Took out our welcome wagon and they're trying to get in as we speak.”

Obviously, Renee didn't find this news nearly as bad. “They're trying to rescue us?”

“Trying's the key word. It makes no sense. Why would they agree to take Yuki and Molly back and leave you for dead? And then screw those two over and mount an offensive after telling us you have the grimoire?”

Renee was totally with Marie up to that last part. “What? I don't have the grimoire.”

A chuckle escaped out of Marie. “No use playing dumb; the force sent Claude documentation that it's inside you. Guess that explains your surgery last December.”

“But that was to embed a magical item that would absorb-” Renee gasped as she caught herself. No wonder she didn't get that fancy rune she had anticipated.

Marie shuddered. “They didn't even tell you what they were putting into your own body?” She gritted her teeth, trying not to become too angry. “Should have figured.”

Renee was more frantic than angry. She sat up and craned as much as the restraints allowed. It wasn't much. “So how do they get it out?”

“A bunch of Hageshoni are coming to take out the attackers. They're escorting one of our doctors that will perform the operation. But without proper instructions on how to get to it...” Marie couldn't say the rest. It wasn't pretty.

To Renee, it was even uglier. “What about the curse?”

“Curse?” Marie narrowed an eyebrow.

“Well yeah, that's why they did the operation. To put something in to absorb the curse Donovan gave me. If they take the book out, does the curse stay in the book, find someone else... or go back to me?”

Marie stood up, livid. “Nobody said anything about any curse to us! How bad is it?”

Renee looked down. “Molly said it was fatal if it stays somewhere long enough.”

“Oh my God...” Marie paced around, searching the counters. “Do you remember what it was called?”


Finding a pen and paper, Marie gave her best approximation at spelling it. “Never heard of it, but it sounds pretty nasty. I have to tell Claude.”

She practically jogged to the door, opened it a crack, then stopped, breathed and turned back to Renee. “Renee, I don't know what exactly's going to happen, but if that book has some curse that could kill you or the doctor, maybe I can stop all this. Much as I want to get that grimoire away from the MST, it's not worth anyone else getting hurt.” With a faint smile, she added, “I'm kinda okay with you having it.”

When Marie faced the exit again, Renee called for her to stop. She did. “Marie, does telling anybody about it matter right this second?”

Puzzled, Marie replied, “Well, I guess there's nothing we can do until the doctor shows up. Why?”

“I, um...” Renee glanced aside. “I know it's kind of weird to ask, but this is a pretty freaky room to be stuck alone in. And I'm really scared right now.”

“Don't blame you.” Marie stepped forward, letting the door close.

“I'd feel a lot better if I had someone here with me.”

Nodding, Marie sat back down in the table-side chair. “Me too,” she admitted. “There's a bunch of angry guys outside trying to bust in and kill us all. I'm scared to death.”





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