Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 49: Dirty Love

Session One

There was a potential loophole to Room 202's capacity to receiving field assignments. Molly had never intended to pounce on it, but the MST was determined to close it while her unit was in Indiana. The wrinkle was a proficiency exam disguised as an obstacle course designed for third-year students. As successful completion was required for field assignment eligibility, the solution was to run them through it, even though they were technically sophomores.

The intimidation factor should have been higher, but a twenty-foot wall was nothing compared to the Urayoni fortress perimeter they had all just tackled. Even the floating platform of fire didn't scare them much. Most guardians reported that watching their unit run the course was the most harrowing part of the job. Molly was already engrossed in a book while Professor Melrose explained the finer points.

Droning, she said, “First, you crawl under the fiery platform of death-”

“Can we put out the fire?” Troy asked.

Melrose nodded, barely looking at him. “If you can, that would be advisable. Then you have to get past the wall of terror...”

“Terror?” asked Renee. It looked like a standard wall until Melrose pulled out a remote control and pushed a button. The top of the wall started shooting waves of black matter like a fountain, streaming all the way into the fiery platform of death. Renee nodded, satisfied with the answer.

“And on the other side is certain doom. End the threat and you pass.”

Troy gulped. Donovan tried craning his neck around the wall and see the certain doom, but couldn't.

“So, uh, how long do we get to do this?” Kathryn asked.

Melrose shrugged. “Until you give up or you're all unconscious. In fact, you can start whenever you want.”

The five students stared at the crawl space between the ground and the fiery platform of death. They hadn't realized how small it was until they saw it up close.

“Well... I could try a shrinking potion,” Yuki said, uncertain.

“How long does it last?” Renee asked.

“That's a good question. About five seconds when I did it in class.”

It was a long fiery platform of death, however, and five seconds wasn't going to cover it. “I don't want that potion wearing off while I'm crawling through that,” Troy said, trying to douse the fire with a water spell. “Besides, it's not that small. You can fit.”

“What about the fire?”

Troy kept working on the fire, but nothing was happening. He realized that the black matter coming from the fountain fed into it, keeping the blaze strong. He also saw that none of the flames were leaping down from the platform, so as long as nobody lifted their back to it, they'd survive.

“You'll be fine. Go on.”

Yuki moaned, but took a deep breath and managed to fit under the platform. She practically slithered under it, the grass staining her shirt as she stayed as low to the ground as possible. Still, she reached the other end, stood up and started making a potion.

“What are you doing?” Kathryn asked.

“Healing potion. You're gonna need it,” Yuki said, turning around. The scorch marks on the back of her shirt weren't bad, but were visible.

Troy stared at the crawl space. If Yuki barely fit in there, the rest of them didn't have a chance under the current conditions. Thus, the current conditions had to change. He fired off his trigger and the ground under the platform solidified into ice.

“Now try it,” Troy said.

“This better work,” Kathryn mumbled. With a running start, she dove in. Troy and Renee looked at each other anxiously and waited for Kathryn to appear on the other end.

“You did it, Troy!” Renee exclaimed.

Kathryn had an exclamation of her own. “Ow, sonuva!!” The back of her shirt was completely seared off.

“See what I mean,” Yuki said, handing her a completed potion.

“Hmmph,” Donovan muttered. “Any fool can handle a little heat. Stand aside.” He dove as well. His back was on fire when he reached the other end.

While Donovan rolled on the ground and Kathryn tried to help him stamp out the flame, Troy looked at Renee nervously. “Guess we don't have a choice,” he muttered. They too got a running start and dove into the inferno.

Troy and Renee only got a third of the way in before the ice had melted and they were stuck. The ground was damp, but the friction was too much for them to pull themselves along the ground. And there was definitely no way to push up and crawl.

Renee was already panting. “Troy, come on! It's a little hot down here!”

“Uh...” Troy barely had room to get his trigger off under the blazes, but he did the only thing he knew he had the strength for- coating even more of the ground with water, effectively putting them into a mud pit.

Feeling herself sinking into the ground, Renee muttered, “Ew... nice.”

It was disgusting, but Troy was able to get a better grip into the ground and had no trouble pulling himself along the slick surface. It was a long, messy and scorching trip, but he made it, standing up and turning around in time to pull a muddy, sweating Renee out from behind him. She immediately fell into his arms and started panting.

Troy turned to Kathryn, a slight blush on his face. She grinned back and said, “Any heroics for part two?”

The wall of terror loomed large over them, particularly the impenetrable fountain of black energy shooting through it. “Oh, that's no trouble,” said Renee, still clinging to Troy. “Troy can carry me and I'll put up a shield for both of us. And you can carry Donovan while he shields you.”

“Not bloody likely,” Kathryn said, turning to Donovan. He wasn't in on the plan either, but for a different reason: he walked through the wall just after Renee made the suggestion.

Instead, Yuki handed her a vial. “Plan B! Drink this!” Kathryn did so, only asking what it did after downing it completely. She got her answer when she shrunk down to only three inches tall.

Yuki smiled and pointed to the wall. “There's a small hole under there. Better hurry!” Kathryn nodded and raced towards it, reaching the other side just before growing back. Yuki made another vial, made sure to stand closer to the wall, and did the same thing.

Troy carried out Renee's plan, clutching her tightly as the two muddy messes scaled the wall, her shield countering the fountain of death. She smiled the whole way.

“This is kind of exhilirating,” she whispered. It almost made him break his flight spell.

They arrived safely in the open field on the other end, where Kathryn and Yuki were screaming.

“Where'd that come from?” said Yuki. Donovan had a shield up and something promptly hit it. Followed by several more somethings. This must have been the certain doom Melrose was talking about.

“Well, how are we supposed to 'end the threat?' We don't even know what it is,” Troy cried.

Renee stepped forward, dragging Donovan and his shield with her. “Just a second...” She concentrated for a moment and fired off her trigger spell. Instantly, five turrets appeared out of nowhere, randomly firing assorted elemental attacks. Keeping her spell up, she shouted, “There they are!”

While she kept her reveal spell up and Donovan unwittingly kept her protected, Troy and Kathryn ran around and bashed each of them out of submission. Once the fifth and final turret ate staff, Melrose appeared on the other end.

“Congratulations, mission completed,” she said, with no more energy than she did when she explained the rules.

Kathryn, Troy and Yuki slumped over, dirty, burned and exhausted. Renee was too, but she clapped her hands excitedly. “That was fun! Can we do that again this summer?!”


Session Two

After the successful run, most of the unit teleported straight back to the dorm to change their clothes and put ice on their backs. Even Donovan was awfully flammable during the exercise and needed to chill. The one exception to the rule was Renee, who chose to linger behind for a few minutes and walked back.

When she arrived, only Kathryn was in the common room. Somebody was in the shower, but everyone else must have been in their rooms.

“What kept you?” Kathryn asked, laying face-down on the couch, holding an ice pack. Given how muddy Renee had gotten, Kathryn was surprised she took the scenic route back.

To avoid messing up the dorm, Renee took off her shoes. Then her socks. Then she had to force herself not to disrobe further. “Oh, just asking Professor Melrose some things. Namely what the heck I did at the end there to make all those turrets appear.”

“What do you mean?”

As much as she wanted to sit down, Renee didn't. “Well, I never learned that spell in class. In fact, I've noticed I've been doing a few things lately that I don't remember learning. I mean, remember when Kurt died?”

“Trying to forget,” Kathryn muttered. “Wasn't there anyway.”

“Oh. Right. But after he was hit, I put a spell on him that kept him stable until Yuki could try her potion. Molly asked me where I learned it... I didn't know. And there were a couple things during the Hageshoni attack that I just knew.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes. Discussing that stuff wasn't her idea of unwinding. Mockingly, she said, “Well, aren't you special?”

“It's that book,” Renee said. “Melrose says I shouldn't worry about it, since I'll graduate before they take it out. But I don't want to be better at magic just because of that thing. Especially if demons are going to chase after it all the time.”

Shrugging, Kathryn replied, “Eh, use it in school. After what Donovan did to you, you deserve a break. And you know Troy'll chase after you if any demons try to nab you again.”

Renee blushed a little. “Where is he anyway?”

“Shower.” Kathryn perked up her ears and didn't hear rushing water. “At least he was. Should be getting out soon.” Renee faced to the bathroom door as Kathryn continued, “I was going to go in next, but it looks like you need it more. He gunked you up pretty good.”

A giggle escaped Renee and she turned to Kathryn again. “That was pretty wild.” She entered her bedroom and opened her closet door. Without touching anything inside, she used telekinesis to move a dress.

Kathryn watched it, amused. “Can't even touch your new clothes, huh?”

Renee smiled. “Stay tuned for the march of flying underwear.” She hung the dress up on a coat rack and returned to Kathryn. Checking the bathroom door again, she asked, “Anyway, do you know if Troy's said anything about me lately?”

“Not really. He's been kinda quiet lately. Can't say I blame him.”

“Still in shock over Marie?” Renee looked disappointed.

“I dunno. He doesn't really talk about it at all. You and Molly kinda let Marie off the hook, and I'm cool with that. But it's like Troy doesn't care. It's weird.”

“Yeah. You'd think knowing she wasn't that bad would help him get over it.”

Kathryn nodded. “Whatever. I'm sure he'll make his move when he feels like it.”

As the underwear parade began, Renee sighed. “Well, maybe I could give him a little push.” Once her undergarments were safely tucked under the dress, she turned to Kathryn, suddenly serious. “Would that be all right?”

Hiding a grumble and glancing away for a second, Kathryn replied, “Why are you asking me?”

“You're really close to Troy. And I can't tell if you're all that fond of the idea of him and me.”

Somewhat resentful, Kathryn said, “I'm not sure what you're getting at, but any idiot can tell you two are crazy about each other. So do what you gotta do. Just know that if you do anything to hurt him, I'll kick your ass.”

Even if Renee could say anything to that, the bathroom door opened and Troy stepped out, drying his hair. He didn't see her waving her unmentionables around, but she blushed anyway. Mud still caked her clothes and most of her face, so he found it adorable.

She liked the smile that curled on his face and smiled back, playfully brushing her dress past him as it, and she, entered the bathroom. With another wave of her hand, the door shut behind her. Renee added a wink before it closed.

Troy stood there, stunned and short of breath. He turned to Kathryn. She had watched the whole thing with little reaction.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

When he regained his capacity to think, all he could say was, “Reggie's. Now.”

Kathryn nodded slowly, stood up and joined him, still holding her ice to her back. “Yep. Let's go.”

The first couple nights, they had tried to get into Reggie's, but the door was closed. Apparently, even with so few students present this week, he was still taking reservations as they couldn't get in. Troy and Kathryn hoped a mid-afternoon romp would bear more fruit.

Nope, the door was closed again. “Damn,” Troy said, heaving a sigh.

“Hormones are a bitch,” Kathryn mumbled, patting his back. He shuddered in pain.

“That'll be $18.67,” Giles informed from down the hallway. They recognized his shrill voice immediately as he made a delivery. He received exactly $18.67, and frowned as soon as the door slammed in his face. “Thanks for the tip,” he mumbled.

“Hey, Giles, why's Reggie been so busy lately?” Kathryn asked.

Giles answered without missing a step... or a hello of some sort. “Spring Break.”

“But we're in session,” Troy said.

“But it's Spring Break. He always does Spring Break.”

Kathryn shook her head. “So wait a minute... you mean he stays here eleven months of the year, but one of the few times school's actually in session and he's down in Florida?”

“No, that's not it at all!” Giles shook his head and shot Kathryn an incredulous look. He scoffed and added, “They did Lake Havasu this year.”


Session Three

For the first time in a month, Troy had trouble sleeping that night. Much of that lost hour was spent turning over and chiding himself for letting his mind wander like this. For everything that they had been through, weaker men would have been constantly haunted. Troy was proud that he had gotten through it all without going crazy. Somehow he had emerged from it at peace. Losing Kurt, Kamila and Marie was tragic, as was the reprimand from the MST, but he was never one to stay angry at the world for long. In time, everything seemed to resolve itself and he emerged from it a stronger person.

He couldn't say the same about all of his friends. Kathryn was still broken after losing Kurt and killing Kamila. The first was understandable. Troy would give her all the time in the world to recover from that. Her grief over Kamila, however, was frustrating. Kamila had been dead to him since her betrayal, so Kathryn finishing her off was a formality. Yet Kathryn still found it hard to grasp, and brought it up often enough to make Troy uncomfortable. Her difficulty with such a defensible kill made it impossible to discuss Marie.

Not that he wanted to discuss Marie. Unlike Kathryn, Troy was not tormented by his act. In the end, Marie was a demon, she was obstructing him and he did his job. For all the things the MST had chewed him out for, Marie's death was not one of them. They didn't care, so Troy figured he didn't have to either. It wasn't important that he liked her so much, which Kathryn interpreted as a great tragedy when Marie left. It didn't matter that Marie loved him back, which Molly insisted was genuine. And never mind that Marie pleaded to find a way to save everybody that mattered, something Renee ended up echoing. Troy had done a masterful job ignoring all that.

Even if she wasn't the reason for his insomnia, perhaps it was Marie's ghost that kept him up. Between their dirty romp through the obstacle course and the flirting outside the shower, Troy couldn't get Renee out of his head. This was once a common occurrence, and shouldn't have bothered him so much. With Molly out of power, he could claim Renee whenever he wanted. Yet he hesitated, and he knew the sudden loss of Marie was part of the reason. Their relationship crashed so swiftly and so loudly that he couldn't bear to think of trying again so soon. Not after what he had gone through, and not after what he finally did to her.

Of course, all the reasons Troy had kept Marie over Renee were still valid. He still resented the way Renee refused to stand up to Molly while she was oppressing him. He still found it unsettling that she needed to see his magic heroics to find him attractive. And her tactics in trying to come between him and Marie were disgusting. He couldn't ignore all that now that he was available again, no matter how much he thought of her.

Burying his head in his pillow, Troy stopped fighting it and hoped dreaming of Renee would at least put him to sleep. Nobody needed to know about it and he could go back to rejecting these feelings in the morning. For now, he could be at peace hearing Renee gently call his name.

“Troy,” she said. He smiled as his little fantasy started to take shape. She was still all muddy, but he had a water spell that could take care of that...

“Troy,” he heard, even though that wasn't part of the scene. Although Renee's voice was still faint, it was a little more urgent. When he opened his eyes and faced forward, she was leaning over him. He muffled his own scream.

“Sorry, I just...” she trailed off. She looked helpless in her sleeveless nightgown.

Fantasies were one thing, but she was the last thing he wanted to see for real. He turned on his side. “What are doing? How did you get in here?”

“Magic.” Even without seeing her, he could picture her mischievous smile from the tone in her voice. “I saw that Donovan learned a spell to walk through walls, so I asked Professor Melrose to teach it to me.”

He turned on his side. “What are you doing here?”

“We need to talk.”

“Can't it wait until morning?” Troy muttered. “This isn't a good time.”

Renee fell forward, sliding onto the bed. Clutching Troy from behind, she put her head on his shoulder. “It's a great time. I couldn't sleep.”

Troy sighed. As exhilarating as her touch was, it made him miserable. “We talked about this. It's just not a good idea. And I'm still not-”

“Troy, I love you,” she blurted. Closing her eyes, she waited for a response. His body seemed to freeze up, which was close enough for her.

“I can't wait. I just needed to say that. Other than Molly, I've never known anybody that cares about me the way you do. You've thrown yourself into danger so many times, just to keep us safe. How can I not fall for you, Troy?”

As much as her confession made him want to drop everything and take her, her reasons were also part of the problem. It shouldn't have been about his rescues or any of that. Not when he had somebody that appeared to love him dearly despite of it. Whether or not Marie's feelings were genuine, it felt good to have someone that didn't need to be saved.

“It's just wrong, though,” he said, stern. “I told you all the reasons I chose Marie over you. That doesn't change just because Marie was a demon.” He rolled over, not escaping her arms, but now staring her in the face. “I mean, what does it say about me that I'd forget all that now?”

Her eyes lowered. “It would almost be like you're betraying her.” They flashed up. “But you're not! She's not here anymore and you had nothing to do with that. It's not your fault that she left. In fact, I think she'd be perfectly okay with us together.”

Renee shook her head and continued, as Troy trembled. “She was a good person, Troy. I'm sorry she's gone, but you have to move on. Don't blame her, and definitely don't blame yourself.”

Don't blame himself... Troy wanted to hear that. He didn't blame himself for losing Marie. Perhaps he should have, but hearing someone else absolve him, even if Renee didn't know what had happened, felt good. In his moment of calm, she leaned forward and kissed him softly. Renee leaned back, closed her eyes and exhaled, a faint smile appearing on her face.

Whatever the combination of emotions that came over him, whether it be guilt, gratitude, disinterest or relief, he lost any guidance on over what was a good idea or a good time. He lunged forward and kissed her fully, wrapping his arms around her waist and not stopping until he rolled on top of her. Renee was stunned, but elated at every step, even when he proceeded to kiss her neck and shoulder.

“Troy,” she said, already breathless. He stopped and faced her. One look into his eyes and she forgot what she wanted to say. Instead, she attacked his own neck with kisses.

At that point, he may have still recognized that this was a bad idea. But as the night continued, he cared less and less.


Session Four

Troy and Renee were officially together again, and there was nothing Molly could do about it. Even so, Renee dutifully returned to her room the next morning to avoid any perception of impropriety. Going a step further, Troy was casual in the commons, getting his breakfast and his materials together the way he always did before his early classes. It wasn't until Renee emerged from her room and kissed him on the cheek that the crowd was floored.

Naturally, Troy cheated a glance at Molly first, but was surprised to see more of an unhappy sneer than her usual murderous glare. Sitting next to Troy, Renee looked up at her sister far more often, either in an effort to tweak her or to prove that the two could function as a couple without bringing forth a great cataclysm.

Kathryn and Yuki left their rooms just before Troy was about to leave. Renee stood up as well.

“Mind if I walk with you to class?” she asked. He nodded silently to say 'no,' took her hand, and left with her.

It took a moment for that to register. Then Yuki said, “Well, it's about damn time.” Then she went into the kitchen area. “Anyone else want waffles?”

Kathryn, like Renee, was more interested in Molly's reaction. The elder sister stoically drank from her coffee mug, set it down, and leaned forward, elbows on the table. With Yuki occupied in the kitchen, Kathryn sat down in front of her guardian and smirked.

“So they finally hooked up, huh?” Facing the door, Kathryn added, “I'm surprised he didn't tell me.”

Staring into her coffee, Molly was somber. “I noticed that someone used a spell to walk through walls last night. I had assumed it was Donovan, since I thought only he and I knew how to do that. I didn't react, since if he had entered your room, you would just kick his ass. Turns out it wasn't him.”

Kathryn furrowed her eyebrows. “Are you suggesting that Troy would-”

“Thrusters can't do that spell. Only Weavers.” Molly paused. “Renee went into his room.”

After taking a second to appreciate the magnitude of that, Kathryn snickered. “Well, how about that? Bet you feel great right now. And there's not a damn thing you can do to stop it, huh?”

Despite Kathryn's bombastic charge, Molly's tone didn't change. “No,” she replied, taking another drink. “So stop harassing me over it just to hide the fact that you don't like it either.”

“What?” Stunned as Kathryn was by that comment, she let it slide. She knew Molly was far too good at reading people to deny it. “Look, the only reason I'd have a problem with it is because I'm not convinced Renee's good for him. I mean, what's she doing sneaking into his room when he's still getting over Marie? But if they're going to run off and have a quick fling, I'm all for it. Troy needs to get some.”

Harsh, Molly replied, “Then please volunteer yourself before my sister gets involved.”

Kathryn looked away, suddenly saddened. Staring down, she answered, “I've thought about it. I mean, I do love him.”

“Then it would be easier for all of us if-”

“Just not like that.” Kathryn turned back to Molly. “We're too close as friends to try to be a couple. It just doesn't work that way. Not that it hasn't stopped me from wanting to hook up with him sometimes. I guess I've just been that lonely lately. I just don't want to screw everything up.”

Molly stared back, shocked not by the nature of the conversation, but how Kathryn had opened up to her. Not that Molly had any words of encouragement for her. She felt just as alone after Kurt's death, only she had no temptation hanging in front of her. Molly was surprised at how much she sympathized, so she stood up and rinsed out her empty mug. If she stayed there any longer, she may have accidentally said something nice.

Still, Kathryn went on. “I mean, I just don't want to lose him. Not after Kurt and Kamila died and Marie... well, whatever happened to Marie.”

Now simply irritated by the whole thing, Molly headed back to her room. She didn't make it. “Hey, do you have any idea what did happen to Marie?”

Molly froze. Noting the reaction, Kathryn added, “Oh don't give me that. If they have a problem with me caring about a friend, then whatever.”

“You really don't know?” Molly asked.

“Well, no. She was with Renee, then she ran off. That's the last any of us heard of her.”

Slumping her shoulders, Molly sighed. This morning was going to get far worse. “Into my office, please.”

Confused, Kathryn walked in. Molly magically shut the door behind her. She picked up a bound document on her desk, flipped instantly to a page and handed it to Kathryn. Then she sat down and looked away. “This is the final report of your rescue. I got it last week. I haven't shown anybody else, but I think you need to know.”

Kathryn didn't have to. She stared back, hushed. “She's dead, isn't she?”

Molly closed her eyes. “Just read it.”

She looked down and quickly found the relevant section:

Monroe reached the door to the medical room without incident, but was entrapped in a barrier circle prepared by an Urayoni demon (ref: O'Donnell, Marie). The demon attempted to negotiate with Monroe, and entered the circle during the process. Monroe eliminated the demon, and therefore the barrier circle, with his equipped 'smiter' weapon. He proceeded inside and released...

The text used such cold language that Kathryn almost missed it. As she read it again, it jumped at her: 'Monroe eliminated the demon.' Her knees weakened and she had to clutch Molly's desk to sustain her balance. The report fell to the floor.

“I don't believe it,” she said, sickened.

Molly's head was down. “I wish I didn't.”

Kathryn shook her head. “No... it's gotta be a mistake. Troy never said anything about this.”

“Which leads me to believe Marie was sincere in her pleading for a truce, just as Renee said. Otherwise he'd be more open about it. Apparently the only person he told was the debriefing officer.”

“No!” Kathryn shouted. “He would never do that to her!”

Molly remained calm. “How do you know? What makes you so sure that he would never do that?”

“He loved her!”

“Then why is he with Renee already? I doubt he ever truly lost interest in her.”

Kathryn was silent. She couldn't deny that. “But he was still loyal to Marie before she turned on us. At least most of the time.”

“But once she did, she was just another demon in his way.” Molly pointed to the report on the floor. “That report doesn't mention how little ability Marie actually possessed, or how she and Renee were cowering in fear down there. It didn't matter to the MST. It didn't matter to Troy either.”

Falling onto Molly's bed, Kathryn stared forward blankly. “How could it not? I told him how sick I felt about what I did to Kamila.” She turned to Molly. “And that was self-defense! I know I didn't do anything wrong but...!”

Molly nodded. “Understandable. That sounded awful.” She sighed. “But just because he knows how you feel doesn't mean he cares.”

Shaking her head, Kathryn was ready to cry. “But he always tries to do the right thing. More often than me. How could he do something like that?”

“Because technically, he did do the right thing. He eliminated the demon.”

“You know what I mean... he's still gotta have a heart.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Molly said coldly. “His father didn't.”

“What does he have to do with this?”

“Everything.” Molly looked up at the ceiling. “Frank was despicable... blindly focused on doing the right thing. It's why I've done everything in my power over the last two years to turn Troy into a decent human being.”

She turned and gestured towards the report. “Apparently, I failed.”


Session Five

Kathryn was so shocked by the news that Troy had killed Marie that she almost missed hearing Molly's assertion. When she did, all she could do was scoff. “What the hell have you done to help Troy? You made his life miserable.”

“And I hoped that in the process, he would gain some compassion. Maybe value his friends a little. Learn to question authority.” Molly shrugged and added, “And yes, keep him the hell away from my sister. Given what he did to Marie, can you blame me?”

Sickened, Kathryn replied, “Oh, get over yourself. What do you want me to say? You were right all along and we should go back to torturing the kid?”

“I'm merely trying to explain myself. I doubt it will ease the blow, but Troy's behavior is not entirely surprising.”

Kathryn just sat there and shook her head. Much as she wanted to argue and defend Troy's nature and actions, she knew it wouldn't help. The more she thought about it, the less she really knew about him. She had always told him everything- thoughts, dreams, meaningless bitching. He'd listen, usually give some sort of feedback and maybe crack a joke. It was all she needed. But it was hard for her to get into his head in return. Troy would share his mood, and sometimes celebrate or complain with her. He was rarely as open with her as she was with him. He never let on about what exactly made him tick, unless it was broken. Even then, he usually mended things himself.

“At least he went in and saved Renee. If he's such a dick, would he have done that?”

Molly didn't bite. “I'll admit your attack on the Urayoni was encouraging. It was certainly contrary to the MST's interests. But only because they value myself and Yuki over Renee. By fighting to save Renee, all of us were put in far more danger. While I still approve, when it comes to a choice solely between his friends and the MST, I doubt Troy would make the correct decision.”

Folding her arms, Kathryn asked, “Why? Because his father was like that?”

Even the slightest reference to Frank made Molly seethe. “How well did you know Frank Monroe? Do you have any idea what he was like?”

Pausing to recall the man, Kathryn shrugged. It had been several years. “I dunno. He seemed like a normal dad to me. Maybe a little harsh at times, but so's mine.”

“Harsh only begins to describe him.”

“So describe him already!” Kathryn was a little harsh herself. “You've never told us the deal between you and Frank. I think we'd all like to know.”

Molly and Kathryn stared at each other. After a long pause, Molly gave in: “When I was eight years old, an Urayoni demon found me. He worked with my mother at her realty and tried to draw me over. Frank and Kurt's father stepped in.”

With a sigh, Molly added, “I didn't know what was going on, but during their fight, I used magic for the first time. Came out of nowhere in order to help them. Frank said he'd never heard of anybody that age using magic with any sort of control. From then on, I was his.”


Normally, private training of an eight-year-old born to civilians was out of the question. Frank had to call in several favors and use both the evidence that the Urayoni had targeted her and the strength of her magic potency. He insisted and received reluctant approval from the academy. Molly obliged him thanks to the same 'stop the bad men' pitch he used when he first met her. It was easy for a child to understand that message, but her training was brutal. Even the elementary light ball is a chore when the caster is in elementary school.

Several times, nothing came out.

“Okay, try it again,” Frank said, dissatisfied.

“My arm is tired,” Molly replied, rubbing her wrist.

“How can you do more advanced magic if you don't perfect the basics? Succeed ten times in a row and we're done for the day.”

“But that was seven!” she protested.

“Ten times, Molly. Go.”

It only got worse as they progressed up the ladder.

“Is it up?” Frank asked, hovering a rock over the ground.

Molly held her hand steady. “I... I think so.” But when Frank launched it at her, it hit her square in the chest and she fell to her knees.

He walked up to her slowly, ignoring her crying. “What kind of shield is that?”

“I thought it was up,” she sobbed.

“You lost your concentration. You have to be confident that the shield will stop it. Otherwise you-”

“I can't do it!” she cried. “It's too hard.”

And, like he always did when he beat her down too far, he softened his voice. “Molly, I know I'm hard on you, but only because I know you can do this. And because you need to do this. There is too much evil out there and we need your help to stop it.” He fell to a knee and put his hands on her shoulders. “One day, something bad will happen. And you'll be the only one who can make it better.”

“Why me?” she asked, sniffling.

“Because that's how strong you are. But you'll only be able to stop it if you are as strong as you can possibly be. It doesn't matter what we have to go through to make it happen, as long as you're at your best at the end of it.”

“You really need me that much?”

Frank nodded. “The world may depend on you some day.”

Sadly, Molly stood up. “All right. Try it again.”

In the ensuing three years of rigorous training, Molly learned everything a professional Weaver is expected to know. She became a devoted disciple, confident that no matter how agonizing the process was, she was destined to need it. And while Frank was hard on her, he also nurtured her development skillfully. Molly saw him as not only a teacher, but a parent as well. When she lamented moving to L. B. Gould, she admired Frank's dedication when he packed up his family and moved them there as well.

Then he left forever.

“Duty calls,” he said, adding that someday she'd understand.

“But what about me?” Molly asked him. “What about your family?” She had met Ellen on several occasions. She knew of his son's existence but had never met him. According to Frank, Troy wasn't allowed to know about magic, implying some cosmic law forbidding it. She didn't find out until later that it had been Ellen's personal choice.

Frank never bothered answering the question about his family, and she was stunned when he abandoned not only her, but them as well. For all the times he encouraged her with talk of protecting her loved ones, he left his own in the cold for some mission in another world to save people he had never met.

To take care of her, he threw her into Central Academy whether or not she could handle it. He practically used extortion to enroll her, as officials refused to let an underage mage roam unsupervised without proper supervision. The academy proved to be the only available supervision, and she had come far enough that nobody wanted to waste her unique education. Molly was enrolled in the guardian program, as it was generally reserved for high schoolers. Never mind that she was in middle school, and the high schoolers here came from families with at least one mage. She later found out that the other reason she became a guardian was because Central had reserved a seat in the program for Frank's kin. Her spot was originally supposed to go to Troy.

The whole experience left her lost. By the time her first session was over, her fellow students could do most of the same things she could. She was better, but as both the youngest student present and the only guardian-to-be without magic lineage, she became an outcast. A resentful one at that.


“And then the Urayoni came calling again,” Molly told Kathryn, head in her trembling hands. “And I was so angry at this school, and Frank for leaving, that I wanted to join them. I really did. I wanted to turn around and destroy all of it.” She shook her head. “But all I could think about how there was evil out there and the MST needed my help to stop it.”

Kathryn's eyes were wide, and just a little misty from hearing all that. Still, she didn't lose sight of the main point: “And Troy?”

Molly stared at her. “That man raised Troy too. And abandoned him too. When Frank left, it destroyed me. Troy pretty much shrugs it off. Even now, he's more curious than resentful.” She stared up at the ceiling. “For everything I've done since then, I can't tell if it was right or wrong to keep him away from my sister.”





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