Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 43: To The Rescue

Session One

Inside the fortress was a bottomless shaft and not much else. Only half of the party could fit on the platform atop it, and they clutched the railing for dear life.

“No stairs?” Troy shouted. His voice echoed from below.

“Can we get in yet?” asked Cammy, somewhat annoyed at the delay.

“Any more on here and we all fall to our death,” replied Kathryn.

“Nah, I'll give them some room,” said Reggie, floating in midair. Troy and Bryce did the same, letting everybody squeeze onto the platform.

“How's anyone supposed to get down...” Kathryn began to say. Then she looked up at the three floating gentlemen. “You've gotta be kidding me,” she muttered.

Giles shrugged and joined the floaters. “Why hire someone to build stairs when everybody on staff can fly?”

As everyone else took flight, Kathryn sighed. “I suppose an elevator is too much to ask?”

“What, like the one the Chioni had?” Bryce replied.

“Good point.” Kathryn joined them and they started a steady descent.

A little further down, Giles postulated, “Hey, what are the odds that there's an army of demons waiting to kill us when we land?”

Reggie scratched his chin and pondered it- an odd sight in midair. “Well, considering we're basically heading right back to the front doors... and those were really well-guarded... and we only took out a few of them last time... and not a whole lot of them followed us up... I'd say pretty damn good. Why?”

“Because we just passed a platform or something that might take us somewhere else. I think we should use it.”

“We don't know where we're going anyway, so why not?” said Kathryn.

They reversed course, headed up a few feet and found a platform leading to a corridor back through the wall. It was dark, narrow and creepy, but nobody stood in their way.

It did stretch forever, though, and light balls only illuminated so much. Eventually, a speck of light at the end of the passage grew until they reached their destination- another giant pit. This time, they descended all the way. At the bottom, the found two doors, some chairs, mahogany tables and a series of green and silver pennants bearing an Urayoni coat of arms. Had it not been for the way they'd arrived, it would have seemed like a typical receiving room in the castle.

“Well, pick a door,” said Reggie. Instead, Candace and Carmen opened each of them simultaneously. One led to a hallway back through the wall with a slight incline. One led down in a different direction.

Cammy shrugged. “It's up or down, I guess.”

“Down,” said Giles. “They're probably either in a dungeon or a tower, and we know what passes for a tower here.”

Troy nodded. “Good enough for me.”

Cammy threw up another shield and they charged through the short ramp to a narrow, dim hallway. They pressed forward and around random corners, ignoring the many doors lining the path. Prisoners wouldn't be held this close to the entrance, but barracks, offices and more troublesome spots certainly could. Along the way, they didn't see a soul.

Then came the fork in the hall. “Well, straight or left?” asked Kathryn. Since nobody knew where they were, determining where they were going was impossible. They guessed left and rounded the corner, only to find the hall open up into a larger room. A couple volunteers poked their heads in.

Three demons were seated at tables in what appeared to be a lounge area next to a small canteen selling packaged breakfast foods. Giles pulled his head back, but the shopkeeper noticed Crystal.

“Sorry, we're out of muffins!” he shouted.

The demons at the table turned to face her, but waited for her reaction. Crystal signed and shouted, “Damn!”

Right before the demons lost interest and went back to their card game, the shopkeeper said, “Hey, I haven't seen your face around here.” Crystal ducked her head back, but now the demons took a closer look. When they saw that the girl had retreated, they got up to investigate. Where Crystal had once been was now a brick wall.

At least that's what they saw. Crystal pocketed her eyedropper and caught up with the others, leaving her mirror behind. “Damn,” she muttered, this time for real.

When she caught up, Troy had made an incredible discovery. “What is it?” she asked.

“Are they following us?” Giles asked.

“I hope not. Why?”

Troy marveled at the diagram hung on the wall, particularly the tiny 'You Are Here' light. “It's a map of the fortress,” he said.

It must have been a recent addition to the facility, since it was created electronically and encased in glass. Despite its anachronistic appearance, it told the team where they were and where they were going in the rectangular complex. The prison lined the back of the fortress. They were moving in the right direction, and were about halfway to their destination.

Once Giles and Troy finished trying to memorize the map, they sprinted. The map also revealed that they had just passed the Urayoni sleeping quarters. Anybody stationed there would certainly have been alerted by now. Along the way, they did encounter several demons, but mostly in single file. Some were still strolling along in their morning routine. One was shaving. Even the ones that were prepared for a fight didn't pose a problem for the likes of Reggie and Kathryn.

It took a fair amount of hacking and slashing, but they reached the prison ward... eventually.

“The ones here are armored... takes longer to kill them,” Bryce griped, poking air with his smiter.

“Yeah, the guys attacking us outside the bathroom were easier targets,” Candace added.

Then they heard a very familiar scream. Kathryn recognized it immediately and shouted. “Yuki!”

She led the charge to one of the cells, which seemed empty. Then again, it was very dark. When the rest of the group caught up, Kathryn mumbled, “Coulda sworn that-”

Yuki's back collided with the bars. “What's wrong?!” Troy shouted.

“S... spider!” Yuki cried.

“Stand back,” Reggie said, trying a shoelace around two of the bars. One pelvic thrust later, he blew up half the wall.

Donovan and his minions entered, Bryce holding out his sword. “Now what spider demon is here to terrorize the weak?”

It wasn't a monster or anything. Just a normal household spider that Blaine stepped on. Donovan laughed in triumph anyway.

Yuki tried to catch her breath from all the excitement as Troy and Kathryn ran in. “W... what are you guys doing here?”

Once inside, Kathryn hugged Yuki. “Uriel was being an ass about it, so we're rescuing you guys ourselves.”

Returning the embrace, Yuki almost broke into tears.

Troy was busy watching Reggie and Giles keep watch. “Nice to see you too, but we're kind of in a hurry. Any idea where Renee and Molly are?”

Yuki's eyes widened. “Oh no! They caught Renee and Molly too?!”

Despite their rush, Troy and Kathryn did a double take. This is what happens when someone doesn't appear for four chapters.


Session Two

As they slashed through the prison ward in a frantic search for either of the two Pearson sisters, Troy and Kathryn did their best to catch Yuki up on the situation and learn what little information she had been given.

“I didn't hear anything about Molly or Renee. I woke up in that cell and haven't seen anybody except the guy who slides supper through the bars.”

“Have they been treating you all right?” Kathryn asked while clubbing a demon with her staff.

Yuki shrugged. “They haven't been treating me at all. Food's bad, it's kinda chilly and it's boring as hell... but other than that it wasn't so bad.”

With Giles and Donovan in front and Reggie and the girls in back, they fought off all comers as they scoured the wing in search for Molly or Renee. The number of Urayoni arriving to defend the fort grew. Although the troop's Pearson hunt continued undeterred, the exhausting pace and the frequent nicks and scrapes started to take its toll.

“Where the hell are they? I can't do this much longer,” Carmen moaned, blasting away the umpteenth demon in the last ten minutes. Blaine fetched a potion for her, but it didn't help much.

In the midst of the battle, Giles heard a faint clanging on the other end of a doorway. “In here!” he shouted. Troy, Kathryn and Donovan followed without question. The others battled their way in, shut the door and used every trick they had to reinforce it.

“Playing a hunch?” Troy asked. Turns out they were in a small hallway.

Giles nodded. “I heard something clang against what sounded like a bar, so there must be more cells down here. At first I thought it was just a closet.”

“Nice to know one of you has a brain,” said Molly. Troy and Kathryn ran to her cell. Molly was leaning against the bars, holding a tin cup. She stared at them. “I'm guessing it wasn't you two if you're down here.”

While Yuki fetched Reggie to handle the bars, Kathryn replied, “Give us a break, we're rescuing you guys. Did you hear about what they want to do to Renee?”

“Yes, Claude told me about-”

“Claude?!” Troy shouted. “He's a demon too?!”

“Yes. Don't change the subject.” Molly paused to let Reggie open the bars. She stepped out calmly, raising an eyebrow at him. “What are you doing here?”

Reggie shrugged. “Eh, you know how it gets over the winter on campus. Needed something to do and a rescue mission sounded fun.”

“And you could show a little more gratitude,” Kathryn said, bitter. “We're saving your sister, you know.”

Molly looked around. “Is that so? Where is Renee? You barge into the dungeon in a demon world to rescue her, despite the fact that Renee is probably somewhere else entirely being prepped for whatever they plan to do to get that book out of her.”

“Please... you know you or Kurt would have done the same thing.”

Turning away to hide a smile, Molly replied, “Of course we would. But as your guardian, I feel the need to impart just how stupid you all are.”

“Hey, we got in all right,” Troy said.

“I imagine getting Renee and getting out will be the hard part. Right now you're breaking even. Any idea where she is?”

Giles entered the the conversation as if he had been part of it the whole time. “There was a medical ward on the other end of the grounds. If she's not in here, that would be my guess.”

“Makes sense.” After nodding, Molly stared back at him. “Who the hell are you?”

“Giles Templeton. We should probably leave now. The rest of my unit is waiting at the entrance.” He pinched his earlobe, nodded, then calmly turned back to Molly. “And they just said tons of Hageshoni soldiers are approaching the fortress right now.”

“That didn't answer my question,” muttered Molly. “But since you appear to have a feel for things, you can lead us out of here.”

Nodding confidently, Giles approached the door. Reggie's girls and Donovan's minions were barely able to keep it both shut and intact. Demons were still trying to either open or destroy it. “Reggie, we're going,” Giles said plainly.

“About time,” Reggie replied. The girls stopped pushing back and stood aside. Carmen pulled Blaine away just before the door exploded. When the smoke cleared, five Urayoni soldiers were standing on the other end.

Apparently, so was one of Reggie's little toys, because one hip thrust later they were all on the ground. The troop rushed out of the prison and toward the spot on the map Giles remembered as the medical ward.

They didn't make it. Giles turned a corner and found a hall full of enemies blocking the way. He turned back, not sure if it was in time.

“Tons of them there. No way to get through,” he huffed. Don't think they saw me though.”

A well-angled energy ball created to bounce off walls ricocheted three times and hit him in the shoulder. He fell down, clutching it.

As Blaine fetched him a potion and Bryce threw up a shield, everybody else backed away.

“Why are we stopping now? Let's just barrel through like we've been doing,” Kathryn said.

“Because they weren't all gathered in one place. We'd need to be really good with swords, really good with breaking shields and have plenty of potions to survive that.” A couple more shots bounced off Bryce's shield to accentuate the point. Around the corner, footsteps grew increasingly louder.

“How many potions do you have left?” Molly asked.

“This is the last one,” Blaine replied as Giles drank it.

Giles downed it and stood up, smashing the vial against the ground. “Yep. New course! Retreat!”

He pushed them all back down the hallway just as the demons arrived to welcome Bryce. Bryce swiped once with his smiter, which clanged against a demon's armor. So he ran for it, keeping his shield up behind him.

Normally, a retreat call meant backtracking, but when they reached an intersection Giles shouted, “Turn!” They did, though none of them were aware or oriented enough to realize they were blazing new territory. The row of stairs leading up clued them in, however. Donovan barreled through it anyway and didn't stop until the whole unit was in the courtyard.

Reggie turned around. “Hey, now we've got some room to fight these guys.”

His girls caught the message and prepared to do so. Troy, Molly, Donovan and Yuki did not. They continued to stare straight forward.

In the middle of the courtyard, Sho was waiting for them.


Session Three

The courtyard was a large field of dirt enclosed within the monstrous walls. The height of the enclosure made it seem smaller than it was. With Sho on the grounds, it felt claustrophobic to all who had encountered him before. He approached them slowly; as he was in the center of the complex, he was still thirty yards away.

Their initial urge was to retreat, but the army chasing them had caught up. Cammy had a shield up to block the first wave of attacks, but they were suddenly caught on both sides. Giles and Reggie took flank positions to avoid being completely surrounded, but everybody could see how bad things had gotten.

“So we've got Sho ahead of us and the Urayoni behind us and we're out of potions,” Molly grumbled. “What am I forgetting?”

“The Hageshoni will be here any minute,” Giles reminded her.

“The Hageshoni are already here!” Troy exclaimed, preemptively reinforcing the ground with his marginal earth spells. He wasn't sure if it would help against Sho's nasty spike spell, but he had to try something.

“Can't Yuki make potions?” Kathryn asked.

Yuki shook her head. “They took my bag. I'm powerless without it.” After a pause, she added, “Can we try to get it back?”

“One thing at a time,” Molly barked, scanning the situation. Giles and Reggie did an effective job keeping all the Urayoni to one side, but that may not have been a good thing. Cammy kept a good, broad shield up to block any attacks, but it didn't prevent a rush. It took a constant threat from Candace, Carmen and Blaine to keep them in check. The more demons that arrived, the less scary the perimeter seemed to them.

On the other side, Sho was biding his time, which was as frightening a sight as him actually attacking. He glared at Troy and Donovan, practically begging them to try to get past him. Anyone with half a brain, and in this instance that included Donovan, could tell that Sho was there as a blockade. Unless he was provoked or someone tried anything, his sole job was to stand there and shout 'you shall not pass' with his eyes.

Of course, according to Meg, an army of Hageshoni was behind Sho on the other side of the wall, preventing an escape. To top it all off, they still hadn't found Renee, which was the entire point of the trip to begin with. As far as creating a winning strategy, Molly was drawing a blank.

“Any suggestions?” Molly asked.

Reggie nodded. “Yep. Split up.”

Molly looked around. The two exits were both guarded by either Sho or dozens of Urayoni. The only directions that were remotely open were on the sides, leading to bare walls.

“Works for me!” Giles shouted. “Half with me; half with Reggie!”

It was an odd moment of synchronization, considering nobody else understood the logic of it, but Giles and Reggie both charged, took out the nearest Urayoni with a mighty stab and formed rank near opposite walls. Reggie's girls followed suit, all falling back to meet their guardian. Blaine and Bryce went the opposite direction, the latter throwing a shield up to make it possible.

To most of the Urayoni, they saw the blockade part, revealing the two prisoners, Troy, Kathryn and Donovan. Most of them were still staring at Sho. In other words- easier targets. The Urayoni charged down the middle at them.

Yuki noticed and shouted, “Scatter!”

They all turned in time and dove/flew out of the way towards the Giles side. All but Kathryn, who fell the other way and found herself blocking several incoming demons. Her staff was up and managed to deflect both swords and energy blasts. All the while, she knew Sho was standing behind her. Despite the attacks in front of her, Kathryn cheated and turned around.

He was firing at her. She couldn't dodge that as well.

Just as she felt the ground rumble from below, Kathryn felt herself being propelled into the air. She saw the giant spike rise below her, as well as all the Urayoni trying to re-aim their attacks. Kathryn beat them to it, knocking a pair over with her staff. Another two succumbed to fireballs from the side. Although Kathryn wanted to nod to acknowledge Carmen and Candace for saving her, she wasn't taking her eye off the enemy any longer.

As much as Molly hated seeing Kathryn narrowly avoid serious damage, she had to admit Reggie's strategy worked. The Urayoni were charging, but had to split up into two groups. Cammy and Bryce still had full shields up on each end, and both sides were able to defend the swordplay thanks to Reggie and Kathryn on one side and Giles and Troy on the other. A number of demons and Sho still blocked the exits, but it didn't look nearly as drastic. Still, Kathryn's close call made Molly question the group's earlier tactics.

“You mean you came all this way and none of you know how to make a simple potion?” she moaned.

“No, Maple does, but she's watching the front gate,” replied Giles.

This made Molly angrier. “Why did you leave a Crafter at the front gate?”

Giles was too busy fending off an aggressive demon to notice her raised ire. “So nobody would follow us.”

“It was a good idea at the time,” Blaine added.

Molly was actually asking why someone specializing in support would stay behind to play defense. But she let it go when two demons double-teamed Giles. In the midst of their swordplay, one cast a spell and scratched him in the shoulder. Giles dropped his smiter and clutched it, falling to his knees. Both demons let him go and made a beeline for Molly.

Blaine, watching for this sort of thing, took out one easily. Molly sneered, charged and fired at the second one, but only emitted a useless fizzle of energy. She let out a small shriek and cowered as the demon lunged after her with his sword. Eyes closed, she heard a spell go off, but felt no pain.

When she opened her eyes, the demon was down at her feet. Footsteps later, he was also at Donovan's feet. Donovan smirked at Molly and said, “The student has become the master.”

As Troy swooped in and eliminated both demons, Yuki crouched over Molly. “Are you okay, Molly? What happened?”

Molly glared at her trigger finger. “Two days stuck under a negator, that's what. Looks like I'm as useless as you right now.”

Troy, meanwhile, was more concerned about Giles. That shoulder scratch was turning purple in a hurry. “Giles, what happened?”

Giles winced, but calmly replied, “He hit me with a poisoning curse.” More demons forced Troy to take action, but Giles simply picked up his smiter and handed it to Molly. “Perhaps it's time to see how Maple's doing after all.”

Staring uneasily at the oozing shoulder wound, Molly asked, “How do we get around Sho?”

“We?” Yuki asked. “You're going with?”

“Yes and so are you. I can't do much down here and you can help this Maple girl make more potions.”

“Good idea.” Giles smiled. “Hop on. We're going up.”

“Up?” Molly looked at the nearby wall uneasily.

“They're hiding below the top of the wall. I'll give you a lift.”

Without asking any sort of permission, Giles carefully wrapped his bad arm around Molly's waist, holding out his free arm until they started to levitate. Molly practically had a panic attack and almost attacked him with the smiter she still held, but a few inches off the ground she feared falling more. She made sure her feet were on top of his and clutched him tighter.

Needless to say, she was a bit uneasy. “I'm... not entirely comfortable with this.”

“Molly, are you blushing?” Yuki asked, triggering her own ascent with a deep exhale.

“We're easy targets for them!”

“Donovan and Blaine will cover us.” Giles turned to Blaine, who nodded while keeping his eyes on the Urayoni. “And if they miss, swat them down with the smiter.”

“We'll hold the fort here,” Troy said, trying not to snicker as Giles, Molly and Yuki started ascending.

As the demons continued to test Bryce's shield and Troy's swordsmanship, Troy muttered, “Now how the hell are we supposed to hold the fort here?”


Session Four

Scaling the wall under threat of demon projectiles was bad. Having to hold Giles for dear life was equally uncomfortable. But the part of all this that bothered Molly the most was relying on Donovan and his minion to offer them cover. About a third of the way up, she saw a fireball whirling at her head. She clutched Giles tightly, practically suffocating him, while raising the smiter.

A wind gust from Blaine knocked it off line. She sighed in relief, but didn't loosen her grip until Giles said, “Thanks for being a good sport, but I still need air flow.” Molly almost let go completely.

From above, Molly could see that the situation had gotten marginally better. Although Troy was fending for himself inside Bryce's shield, a number of the demons that would normally be targeting him were targeting Giles. Donovan and Blaine were somehow taking care of things on that end. Reggie's side was absolutely destroying anyone who bothered to look at them, so although the number of demons remained high, they now appeared to be finite.

“Look out!” Yuki cried. Molly turned in time to reflexively swat down a large rock. It hurt her arm.

“Where'd that come from?” Molly shouted, wincing at her now-sore shoulder.

“Sho's been taking pot shots at us for a while now. We're getting too high for Donovan to hit them all.” Yuki bobbed up and down as she got the words out, dodging three Urayoni energy blasts in the process.

The closer they got to the top, the more Sho amplified his attacks. They grew in both number and power, as if he had been indifferent to shooting the three down until they were high enough to make a good splat against the dirt. Now that they were, he let them have it. Blaine took out some, Molly swatted away a couple and Yuki's inconsistent flight pattern proved helpful, but it was only a matter of time before disaster struck.

Molly didn't even see it: she had become so occupied with Sho that an Urayoni got her in the arm. She lost her grip on Giles and fell, almost yanking him down with her. He still had the back of her shirt clutched, pulled hard when she fell and somehow managed to resume his flight spell. Only now he was decidedly upside-down.

Giles winced as she grabbed his wrist, which was attached to the shoulder that was still poisoned. “You okay?” he shouted

She wasn't; any energy blast that traveled that far was bound to have some force behind it. It felt like her right arm had fallen off completely. The smiter certainly had, crashing to the ground below. Since Giles needed his second hand to keep his flight spell up, all Molly could do was dangle and look below.

Sho stared back up at her, preparing a spell. Molly turned to Blaine, but he was nervously staring back up at her rather than Sho. Her eyes went back to Sho as the Hageshoni went into his windup, eyes fixated on the easy and defenseless targets.

Donovan's blast got Sho square in the chest and flattened him. While Sho attempted to get back to his feet, Donovan approached him, hands on his hips.

“Tonight... I am your opponent,” Donovan declared.

Tactless as it was, Sho was sufficiently distracted. Yuki swept in, took the arms of Giles and Molly and led them up, righting their ship. All three of them stumbled over the parapet, exhausted.

“Is everybody okay?” Yuki asked.

“Eh, nothing to worry about,” Giles replied, breathing heavily and clutching his poisoned arm. Now that they were on the ground, Yuki and Molly could notice how much he was sweating. Even Molly, fighting off the pain in her own arm, was alarmed.

Yuki said it first: “That looks really, really bad. Where's your Crafter?”

Giles motioned down the wall. “This way.”

They tried to move quickly, but the injury to Molly and the curse on Giles slowed them to a walk before long. Thankfully, the attacks had stopped. Yuki peered through the embattlements often to check. Though it took forever, they reached the corner tower safely.

There was a familiar sight inside, at least to Giles. At least this time he knew the shaft wasn't bottomless.

“Seriously?” Molly mumbled. To her, there was nothing below. They were too high up to see the receiving room furniture that would have been on the ground floor.

Instead, Giles pointed to a similar platform across from them. “We just have to fly across there.”

Molly grumbled again, this time wrapping her good arm around Yuki. “Um, Molly?” the Crafter asked.

“We don't want to aggravate his injury,” replied Molly, only thinly disguising the real reason for avoiding another Giles hug. Yuki didn't ask questions and cast her spell to fly over the bars. They reached the other side safely, opening the door to give Giles plenty of landing room. He got his spell off and labored through it, falling to his knees once he reached the other side. The girls weren't sure if he planned to get up any time soon.

“Okay, let's go...” he said, either to them or to himself. Whomever it was wasn't listening. Molly and Yuki helped him to his feet and slowly walked out.

With Giles unable to walk on his own, they struggled even more down this walkway. They muscled through every laboring step, kept their eyes on the path in front of them and did not waver. As Yuki and Molly were helping him stay upright, Giles pinched his earlobe to contact Meg.

“We're just about there. Open sesame,” Giles said weakly.

“Is she in the tower on the other side?” Molly asked. She could barely see the door on the far side.

“Not quite.”

A few steps later, Morgan opened up the wall again. Meg stepped out and ran to Giles, potion in hand. “Maple got a head start,” she said, practically feeding it to him herself. “Everybody all right?”

Giles was too busy catching his breath. Molly answered, “I took a shot in the arm. Maple or Yuki can worry about that when we reach your outpost.”

Maple nodded nervously and replied, “All right, but while I'm doing that, Mindy can't watch the Hageshoni, so someone will have to stay up here to keep an eye on them.”

Molly and Yuki stared back, startled at the change of voice and personality. Giles tapped Molly on the shoulder. “Um, yeah that would be a good idea.”

He pointed to the cavern outside the fortress. From their vantage point, they could see for miles. All they focused on was the wave of black figures on horseback riding towards the castle. They stretched from cliff to cliff, several lines deep and formed what looked like an unbreakable chain. Escape went through that.


Session Five

For Marie, a bunch of enemy agents were invading her castle, taking out any demon they saw. For Renee, she was strapped to a table in a medieval operating room, waiting for an operation that could potentially kill her. The solution to their anxiety was to find the one topic that would keep them both engaged and positive.

“Troy set off the sprinkers? Oh, that's clever,” Marie remarked.

Renee nodded. “Yeah, we worked together and got a nice waterspout or whatever you call it. Almost got that guy too.”

Marie shook her head. “It's hard to imagine Troy being really good at magic.”

“He is though. Way ahead of the rest of us. He can just fire off a spell and...” Making sure to ramp up the exaggeration, Renee mock swooned. “ dreamy.” Both girls erupted into laughter.

Although they kept it to themselves, both found it odd that the two so-called love rivals were sharing this moment. They enjoyed it, however, as there were no longer any hidden feelings about him. In the event that they were still competing for Troy, something that now seemed virtually impossible, there would be far greater factors involved than whom he liked more. They were not going to sweat over that any longer.

When they calmed down, Marie said, “Seriously though, I assumed he was like me and just along for the ride.”

“More lover than fighter?” Renee asked.

Marie snorted. “I guess you could put it like that.”

Renee took a deep breath, one that hushed Marie and made her listen to whatever was going to come out next. “Speaking of which, since I don't know what's going to happen to us and it's been bugging me forever, um... what exactly did happen with you two at Kurt's party?”

Face turning red, Marie looked away. Renee wished she could have extended her neck far enough to see it. After some thought, Marie played with her thumbs and replied, “Well... I'm not exactly sure what you would call it.” She turned back and grinned. “Whatever it was, he needs to work on it.”

Over a giggling Renee, Marie added, “You'd think Kathryn would have given him some tips.”

Now Renee was blushing. “Marie! And here I thought you were the modest one!” she howled.

Marie raised a finger. “I'm only saying that because Kat was always trying to give me pointers. Whether I wanted them or not.”

Renee continued laughing. “Wow, now this is how to take our minds off all this.”

Still blushing, Marie nodded. “Feels like the most awkward slumber party ever.”

“Don't suppose you know where they stash the ice cream around here?” Renee joked.

“Even if they had any here, it would be clear across the building. And it might be too dangerous for me to...” Marie trailed off. One errant thought and she crashed back to reality. No matter how much they distracted themselves with thoughts of Troy and their friends, they were still stuck here, realms away from L. B. Gould.

When Marie sobered, so did Renee. “You're really that scared, aren't you?” Renee asked.

“If the MST catches me, I'm dead,” Marie replied. “That's it. It's a done deal. At least with you, we don't know.”

“Well... you did something wrong.” Renee stared straight up. They had no reasons not to be honest with each other, and this was still a sticking point. “If you hadn't been up there, we all would have gotten out fine.” She glanced at Marie, looking blankly at the door. “Kamila would still be alive.”

Weakly, Marie replied, “Don't blame me for Kamila-”

“It's kinda true though. I mean-”

“No... you're probably right, I just...” She shook her head. “I don't want to think about it like that.” But she did, and had been for a while. Perhaps if all this was some pre-ordained destiny, Marie wouldn't have questioned her role in the mission. She certainly did her best to keep a strong front around Renee and Claude. The one thing that truly bothered her was something she had dismissed as an allusion of her grief over Kurt. Something that could have changed everybody's fate.

“I should have gotten out,” she mumbled.

Renee turned her head sharply, which wasn't such a good idea with her restraints. “You could have left them?”

“Well... probably not. But after Kurt died, I thought about it. I didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore. I wanted to just be the neutral civilian that you all thought I was.”

“Why didn't you? ”

Marie scoffed. “I was afraid of what they'd do to me. They'd recalibrate me for sure, maybe even send me somewhere else. That's if they don't just kill me.”

“So what if you're recalibrated? Wouldn't you want to forget about magic?”

“Do you know what goes on with that? They hack away bits of your memory. It sounds awful. And you have no say in what parts. They might decide to take away all the memories I had with Troy and Kathryn. And if I left the faction my parents would disown me. I wouldn't have anything.”

Renee paused, trying to think of some possible solution. “If you knew about the attack, you could have told Troy or Molly. We could have been prepared. They might have even found a way to protect you.”

Marie shook her head violently. “Claude would have found out and had my head. Besides, the MST wouldn't protect me. They'd take whatever information they could get out of me and leave me to die.”

Though Renee opened her mouth to protest, Marie continued, quieter. “You know, strange as it sounds, what ultimately made me stay was that I didn't want to bail on my faction while Troy and Kathryn were stuck in theirs. After what the force did to you and Kurt, they've got to be leery of it. I knew it would be hard to help them staying with the Urayoni... but there wasn't any chance of it if I was recalibrated.”

Renee had no idea what to make of that. She couldn't consider that selfless, not after what Marie ended up doing. Yet she believed that Marie was sincere in her fear for everyone's well-being. She respected her courage to stick it out in a bad situation for the sake of her loved ones. If only it weren't so short-sighted.

“You really hate the MST, do you?”

Marie furrowed her eyebrows. “Of course. You're smart; you haven't seen it yet? Your sister has.”


“She doesn't trust them. Why she tries to sell you guys on it is beyond me. Magic is frightening. You've seen what it can do to people. And here's the MST, doing their best to monopolize this incredible power.”

Renee's eyes widened. “Monopolize it?”

“They have this mindset about how magic is to be used. And if you have a slightly different idea of it, you're branded a demon and eliminated.”

Turning away, Renee said, “Maybe, but I haven't seen anything from dem... the factions that make me think they're out for good.”

“Everything you've seen has been an effort to fight the MST. It's just a constant battle over the right to use magic.”

“You can't say the Urayoni deserve it more than the MST.”

Marie sighed. “You're right. And it's silly to think we can stop the fighting. Best we can hope for is to get everybody we care about away from it all.”

Stunned, Renee asked, “If it were up to you, you'd just leave all this be and not deal with it?”

With a sad chuckle, Marie replied, “If I actually had any power, I'd take away what they're fighting for.” She turned to Renee and shook her head. “I'd just get rid of magic entirely.”


Session Six

While Molly, Yuki and Giles were running around upstairs, Donovan was left to deal with Sho. The demon took a vicious shot to the chest, but that couldn't keep him down. As Donovan gloated, Sho forced the ground itself to propel him to his feet. Once it did, he lobbed chunks of it at Donovan. Donovan dodged a few, shielded more, then cast flight to evade the rest, just because he could. Good thing he did, as one of Sho's trademark spikes followed immediately. Had Donovan been on the ground, it would have been bad.

Donovan killed his flight when he fired an energy blast at Sho, but the demon raised a stone shield to block it, then dismantled it into an array of projectiles. With no time to get off a protective spell, Donovan covered his face and took the attack head on.

From her safe corner of the courtyard, Kathryn watched it and winced. After her brush with danger earlier, she was standing by with Crystal, ready to act on any Urayoni advances, but not needing to. Cammy's shield, Reggie's sword and Candace's fire attacks thinned out the demon numbers considerably. Troy and the minions were having more trouble with their workload, but Bryce's shield was holding sufficiently. All of this meant that Donovan's usual rescuers were occupied, leaving him alone to face Sho.

As the stone bullets struck Donovan, Sho approached him, rearing his hand back for another strike. Kathryn wasn't sure what was propelling her to help him, but by the time she realized that it might not be the smartest thing in the world, she was already halfway there. She drove her staff into the dirt and vaulted forward, tackling Sho and wrestling him to the ground.

The moment she realized she was still on top of him, she tried pinning his arms with her staff. When she started pushing down, he didn't seem to resist. Sho glared at her, angry but not fighting back. Kathryn didn't stop pressing down on him, hoping somebody would be able to assist her or, impossibly, that she could somehow suffocate him. She heard nothing from her allies, nor any distress from Sho. No matter how much pressure she put on his neck, his face didn't change.

A minute later, she let up just slightly, not even realizing it herself. But Sho did, and forced his arms forward and pushed the staff up, taking Kathryn with it. He shoved it away, sat up, and fired a spell point blank at Kathryn. A spike-shaped chunk of rock emerged from the ground and aimed itself at her.

It would have struck her had it not been for the deluge of water that swept in and knocked it off course. Right into a shield that Donovan had set up. Troy, responsible for the former, rushed in and checked on the backpedaling Kathryn.

“Are you okay?” he asked. As they retreated behind Donovan's shield, Troy tried reinforcing the ground to prevent any more spike attacks.

Kathryn shook her head. “That was too close. You sure that'll work?”

“No, but I don't know any other way to do it.”

“Ice,” said Crystal, popping in out of nowhere. “He can't do anything if it's not terra firma.”

“Where'd you come from?” Kathryn asked.

“Followed you. The rest of the team has it covered back there. Play decoy for a second while I set this up.”


Crystal pointed to Sho, testing Donovan's shield with several attacks. “Keep him busy for a couple seconds. Just keep moving. Circle around him.”

With a deep breath, Kathryn clutched her staff, ran in and swatted down a large rock. Rather than engage Sho directly, she danced around him, dodging and even knocking down his attacks. Whenever he tried a spike, she had already bounced clear of it.

Nodding in satisfaction, Crystal pulled out a mirror and dropped it on the ground. “Got a spell to make an ice patch?”

Troy was hesitant. “Yeah, but-”

With an eyedropper, Crystal applied a small stream of liquid onto the mirror. “Go for it.”

Shrugging, Troy looked at Kathryn. Sho seemed to be catching up to her moves, nicking her with an attack. Troy turned to the mirror, charged and fired an ice attack at it.

The ice bounced into the air and seemed to split in every direction. When the ice landed, it coated the ground around it until a large swath of the courtyard had become an ice rink.

Kathryn slipped and fell immediately, sliding to Sho's feet. He charged another attack and fired one that was impossible to avoid. She cowered, brought her staff up to block, and suffered the full might of a hundred tiny, harmless pebbles raining down on her. Once she realized she was alive, she swept her staff under Sho's legs, knocking him down and enabling her to skate to safety.

“Next time, Donovan runs interference,” she grumbled to Crystal.

“First step in disabling Thrusters, kids: take away their strongest element,” said Reggie, who also had popped in out of nowhere.

“Aren't you dealing with the Urayoni?” Crystal replied.

“Took a break. The girls are on it.” Crystal and Troy looked. Indeed, Cammy, Candace, Carmen, Blaine and Bryce were on top of the diminishing Urayoni threat. In fact, for the first time, they could see the entrance that led them to this courtyard to begin with.

“Could you switch off with Carmen?” Troy asked Reggie. When Reggie raised a blank eyebrow, Troy clarified, “She can help Kathryn and Donovan deal with Sho while you fight off the rest of them.”

“I guess that's not a...” Reggie saw the entrance too and grinned. “Oh. I see.”

“What's going on?” Kathryn approached them, keeping her eyes on Sho even as he struggled to create a meaningful attack through the ice.

“Carmen can keep the ice up,” Troy said, gripping his smiter. “So can Blaine even. Between you and Donovan, you don't need my help keeping Sho in check.”

“Well, what else is there to do?”

When Kathryn didn't get an answer, she turned around. Troy charged back into the compound. While everybody else took care of Sho and the remaining defenses, Troy was going to complete the mission.





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