Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 53: Frayed Ends

Session One

Molly took a deep breath and stood over Donovan. Though he was barely conscious, he still knew what had happened. He saw how she had turned on Troy. Finally, somebody saw things his way and she was turning on her allies and joining his cause. He forced himself to look up at her and grin.

She followed with a swift kick to the head, knocking him out.

Once again, there was no shortage of carnage around her. Surrounded by two demonic animals, Kathryn struggled to her knees. Renee was on her stomach, clutching her back.

Yuki finished up a potion and crawled over to Renee. She saw how drained Molly was and felt the need to say something, seeing as she was the only one capable of doing so.

“It's okay, Molly,” she said as Renee drank the potion.

“How is this okay?” Molly mumbled.

“It was an accident. You missed your shot. It happens. I'll heal him in a second.”

Sufficiently healed, Renee turned around and saw Troy in a heap against what had been the garbage can. She gasped and shuffled over to him.

Molly faced Yuki, then looked down. “I... I didn't miss.”

Yuki only stared back, lost and confused. She wasn't sure what that meant, or what it meant that Molly acknowledged it. “You... shot him on purpose?”

Bending down to bind Donovan's arms to the floor, Molly was more stern. “Heal everyone up. Let's get out of here.”

Now Renee stood up. “No, wait... what are you saying? You meant to hit him?”

“Don't worry about it. We aren't done here yet, so-”

“You attacked him!” Renee stormed up to her sister, livid. “You're supposed to be our guardian and you... what, you stab him in the back? What's going on?!”

Molly looked at Troy again, but didn't flinch. “I have my reasons. Perhaps you're better off not knowing.” With Donovan secured, she walked away from the mess.

Renee followed. “Not knowing what? That you still can't stand him? That you're frustrated that you can't stop us from being together? That you can't accept that I love him?!”

“That has nothing to do with it,” Molly muttered.

“Molly, I don't care what his dad did to you. Troy's not like that!”

Molly shuddered, then quickly jabbed back, “I can't take chances.”

It shushed Renee momentarily. At least enough to want to know Molly's reasoning without speculation. “What do you mean?”

Turning around, Molly brushed past Renee. “As you said, I'm your guardian. My job is to protect this entire unit. Like it or not, that includes Donovan.”

“But Donovan was-”

“Completely helpless. I didn't even need a spell to knock him out.” Molly bent down and picked up Kathryn's staff. She held it up to Renee. “Did you see what Monroe did with this thing? Donovan may have been on the brink of death.”

Renee nodded, but still didn't understand. “Well, yeah, but-”

“Monroe was fully capable of killing Donovan and looked like he was about to. So I stopped him.”

Troy killing Donovan? It was a ridiculous concept to Renee. No way would Troy be that angry, that lost in the moment that he would do something so dire. Troy was the level-headed one of the group, and Molly's suggestion that he would kill somebody was going too far. Renee wasn't going to allow it. Furious, she stood in front of Molly, hand balling into a fist.

“How dare you say that?” The fact that Molly still thought so poorly of Troy after all this time made Renee want to slap her. She held back... barely.

“Have you ever considered that you might be wrong about him? That no matter what his dad was like, that he might still be a good person in the end.”

Molly held firm. “I would love to believe that, but-”

“Well, it's true. Open your eyes, Molly. He's more loyal and kind and-”

“Loyal? Kind?” Of all things, this set Molly off. “You don't know anything about him, do you? You don't see what he's capable of. Troy would turn on anybody if they disagreed with him strongly enough.”

“That's not true. He's been fighting with you in the MST since-”

“I'm sure he'd trade guardians in a heartbeat. And it may have been the right thing, but he did defy the MST to save you.”

Quieter, Renee replied, “But he did save me.” She looked at Troy again. “That's how I know. He went through hell for me.”

Molly turned away. She was sick of arguing already, and really hated getting to this side of it. She simply said, “I don't think you realize the cost of his saving you.”

Renee looked down. She didn't care for it either. “I'm sure it was great, but just because you don't trust Troy the way I do doesn't mean it's all right to think he could kill somebody.”

“Yes. Yes it does.” Shaking her head, Molly added, “That's all I'll say.”

“No... Renee spun back around, raising her voice again. “That doesn't make any sense! After everything we've been through with watching Kurt die and Kathryn still bothered by Kamila, how can you believe Troy would still do it?”

Planting her foot on the floor, Molly spun around and snapped back, “I was afraid he was going to kill Donovan the same way he killed Marie!”

Renee's face turned white and Molly regretted saying it immediately. While Renee was still reeling, Molly stopped herself and calmed down. Then she said, “I didn't want to have to tell you. I hated telling Kathryn, but she had to know. I was hoping you didn't.”

“But why?” Renee squeaked, hand on her mouth.

Molly fished for an answer. She still didn't have a good one. “Because she was in the way.” Molly sighed. “The report was just as you described it. Marie wanted both of you to escape, and needed Troy's help. Troy didn't care.”

Renee fell to her knees, shaking her head and trying to deny it. It didn't work. Molly bent down and put a hand on her shoulder. Renee took her sister's arm and started sobbing into it.

Still injured but now somewhat alert, Kathryn forced herself to her feet and approached them. One look at Renee told her everything.

“So you told her, huh?”

Molly nodded slowly, then sighed deeply. “Lately, I'm starting to hate being the bad guy.”

Kathryn shook her head. “You're not the bad guy.” Then she looked up at Troy, still unconscious in the corner.

“You never were,” she added.


Session Two

There was no spell around the sorry task of hauling Donovan back to Central Academy. At least nothing available at the moment. Molly called Marlowe and gave him the news, but in the end she was still responsible for getting him back. So she left to retrieve her car, leaving Renee and Yuki to watch over Donovan while the minions restored the hallway and dark room to order. Kathryn had no interest in sticking around and teleported away before Yuki had finished reviving Troy. He was sent home with few words and a number of awkward stares.

Once they were gone, Yuki tried to make conversation as she whipped up a sleeping potion for Donovan. “Are you okay?”

Renee leaned against the wall, staring down. “Just tired,” she mumbled.

“I didn't know either. I wonder why she only told Kathryn.”

“She didn't want to hurt me.” She shook her head. “But Kathryn and Marie were really close. The truth was more important to her.”

Yuki nodded, but said, “I guess so. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I've always grown up thinking demons were the worst monsters alive. I still can't picture Marie being with them. But if she was...” She shook her head. “I don't know.”

“I don't think any of us know anymore.”

“But what happened to us? I used to be so proud to be part of this unit. With everything we've been through and how we always seemed to pick each other up. Now we're trying to kill each other.”

Renee kept her head down. They didn't say anything else until Molly arrived. Even then, Molly worked on a transportation circle around Donovan before saying anything.

“Why didn't you just teleport him back to our house?” Renee asked.

“Parents,” Molly replied. “Besides, now I can give Yuki a ride home.”

“Can you take me home too?” Renee stood up. “I don't feel like any more magic today.”

Molly stared back at her for a while, long enough for Renee to see the look of disappointment. Just as she was about to ask about it, Molly said, “Fine.” She capped her marker and added, “Get on.”

They did, although they only traveled the short distance to the parking lot, in front of Molly's car. The trunk door was up.

“Was that it?” Yuki asked.

“Would you have rather dragged him here?” Molly replied. “Help me pick him up.”

They struggled to hoist Donovan into the trunk, especially as the ice spell had made his clothes wet. Nobody suggested giving him a seat, although Yuki and Renee were quick to hop in.

Molly dropped Yuki off first, then returned home for Renee. As Renee stepped out, she turned back and asked, “Any idea when you'll be home?”

“Shouldn't be too long,” Molly replied. “If Marlowe really can cover all this up, I could be back tomorrow.”

“What's wrong?” Renee noticed that same resigned look on Molly's face.

“Nothing.” Molly turned away. “Don't worry about it.”

“I'd like to go with but...” Renee looked down. “I'm just exhausted. It's been a long day.”

Molly nodded, even though it was only 9:00 am and Renee wasn't the one staring down another long drive to Indiana. Alone this time. “Don't worry about it.”

They made their farewells and Molly drove off. It was her job to worry about it. She shouldn't have been this bothered by the prospect of driving all that way on her own. Molly turned on the radio, hoping for something to distract her, but got only a weather report talking about the impending rainstorm coming in from the west... certain to find her before long.

Before she left town, her cell phone rang. After answering it, Molly made one more stop.

Kathryn threw a bag in the back seat and joined Molly up front. “Where's Donovan?” she asked.

“Trunk,” Molly replied, driving away. “You don't have to go along.”

Watching her house gradually fade from her line of sight, Kathryn said, “You shouldn't have to go alone.”

Molly drove on silently, leaving the city limits before saying, “Thank you.”

“Plus I'm still kinda banged up and I don't want my folks seeing all these scratches.” Kathryn held up her bandaged arm, but Molly was already nodding.

They didn't say much along the first stretch of road, appreciative as Molly was of the company. It did make her feel better to see Kathryn willing to go through another round trip to Indiana and another stay at an academy she didn't enjoy. All seemingly to make Molly just a little less lonely.

After a long stretch of curveless interstate, Molly asked, “Why do you do all this?”

Kathryn turned her head away from the side window. “Do what?”

“Everything. I look at you and see somebody exceptionally gifted-”

“Bah. I'm just a big girl in good shape. In the end-”

“That's not all. You have a good head. You see things for what they are. And you're well-respected at school.”

Scoffing, Kathryn said, “So's everyone else on the football team.”

“Kathryn, you could have the world at your feet and actually deserve it. You could have won that student council election easily. And probably do a hell of a job. Why waste your time helping Troy? Or me?”

“What else is there?” Kathryn shrugged. “I always figured helping out Troy would make me feel like I was doing something with my life. Because I thought he needed it. For some reason I get the feeling you need it now. I don't know. Maybe making your life less miserable would do the same for me.”

“I wish I could believe that worked.”

“The world would suck if it didn't.”

It kind of sucked anyway, but Molly saw her point.

“I had everything I wanted,” Kathryn said. “So it felt good helping Troy. Felt like I was giving something back. Watching out for the little guy and all that. Now that it feels like I lost everything, I guess this is as good a place to start as any.”

“I don't know what you can do for me.”

“I can be here. Seems like you could use a friend.”

Molly nodded, but frowned. “Yeah...”

Kathryn chuckled to herself. “Kurt knew that too, didn't he?”

Nodding again, Molly said, “More than I did.” She paused, changing lanes as an excuse to think, before answering. “Perhaps I'm more open to it this time around.”

“Cool,” Kathryn leaned back. “I'm still gonna find you a boyfriend though.”


Session Three

There was no way Marlowe and Smittle could justify letting Donovan keep his demon now. So when Molly arrived, they checked Donovan straight into the operating room. It was the last full day for everybody else, so the campus was mildly active, but nobody seemed to pay attention to an unconscious body being floated off to the clinic.

The timing did prevent Marlowe from being present, as he apparently did actual student affairs work alongside his backroom meddling. Molly was fine not seeing him, but it did stick her and Kathryn alone with Smittle. They waited outside as Kiki literally beat the hell out of Donovan.

“Is that a chainsaw?” Kathryn asked, trying not to listen in.

Smittle nodded. “Shame, really. Takes all the skill out of it. Give me a hacksaw any day.”

Molly shrugged. “The academy in New England developed magical surgery techniques that don't involve weapons or power tools.”

“Ivy League prissies,” Smittle said with a scoff.

Kathryn shook her head. “Just glad this whole thing's over.”

“He couldn't have been that hard to bring down. It was five against one. Demon was a tough mother, but wasn't that powerful.”

“Well, add in a place of power and a couple demonic wolves and it's a different story,” Molly said sharply.

“Bollocks.” Smittle clicked his tongue. “He's fused with a vrockrompir. That thing can't summon.”

Kathryn scoffed and said, “Well, it did, so obviously-” She stopped when Molly raised a hand. She was staring at Smittle, suddenly nervous.

“What do you mean it can't summon?” she asked.

“Vrockrompirs are stupid little things,” he explained. “They sit around all day and think of nothing but murder. With the curse, they gotta be hard-wired for it, you know. Summoning a creature's complicated. Only a Weaver could do that.”

“Are you saying Donovan did that himself?” Kathryn asked.

“Impossible,” Molly replied quickly. “Creature summoning is very advanced material. Weavers don't hit it until graduate school. I tried it once in January. It did not end well. He may have been powerful, but Donovan was never that bright.”

Kathryn shoved her bitten arm into Molly's face. “Well, how did this get here?”

“He had help,” Smittle said. Motioning towards Kathryn's arm, he added, “And you might want to get that checked out.”

Pulling her arm back, Kathryn said. “What do you mean he had help?”

“Wolves don't materialize out of thin air. Rule one of summoning is that they have to come from someplace. Or somebody sent them there.”

“Who? Like a faction or something?” Smittle nodded.

Molly shook her head. “I thought Donovan didn't align with a faction. That's what kept him in the MST.”

“What about the demon? Somebody owned that monster before Donovan got it.”

“The Hokoni?”

Smittle nodded again. “Sure. Why not?”

“Which one were they again?” Kathryn asked Molly.

Molly didn't answer. She was considering the possibility and didn't like it. It was easy to treat this like an isolated incident, with Donovan rebelling on his own and raising some hell before being subdued and his demon eliminated. If he had some sort of support network, however, things became tricky. It meant a faction was still trying to get to her group. Purifying Donovan would not have been the end of the story. Especially if...

“We need to get that room checked out immediately,” she said.

“Yeah, that'd be smart,” Smittle replied, still fairly indifferent to their situation.

“How long will this take? I need to get home immediately.”

Now Kathryn grabbed Molly's arm. “Hey, hold on. You really want to drive all the way back today?”

Molly narrowed her eyebrows at Kathryn. “I don't have a choice. I need to-”

“Yes, you do have a choice. You can get somebody else to do it. Call Yuki. Call Renee. Call that jerk agent from Columbus. Let someone else do the legwork on this one. Jeez.”

After frowning at Kathryn, Molly slowly relented. She didn't like being bossed around and her natural reaction to resist, but there was something about the stern look on Kathryn's face that seemed downright motherly.

“Maybe Renee and Yuki can find something together,” Molly said. It was weird saying that, given their relative inexperience. But the word was relative: Yuki was immersed in magic culture and Renee had a good intuition and a magic book imbedded in her soul. It was worth a shot. “They should be awake by now.”

As Molly made the phone call, Kiki stepped out of the operating room, carefully holding a large glass jar. It was empty, but she didn't treat it as such.

“We're all set! Donovan is demon free and hopefully the bones will set right.”

“Bones?” Kathryn asked. “We didn't break anything... I thought.”

With a sheepish smile, Kiki replied, “No, that was us. Had a couple wrong turns along the way. But this guy's all set for disposal.”

“This guy?”

“You fools will pay for this!” shouted the empty glass jar.

Kathryn peered at the jar. “Wait, the demon's in the jar? I can't see it.”

Kiki pulled it back. “The demon is the jar, silly! Its body is long gone so we had to put it somewhere. This was the only thing lying around that we could scrap.” She handed it to Smittle. “Care to drop it off at Mount Doom?”

“Aye,” Smittle replied, taking it carefully, tapping it on the bottom to shut up its occasional shriek.

Kathryn was still facing Kiki. “Mount Doom?”

“Yep,” said Smittle. “We made a little volcano down the road for disposing stuff like this. You got no idea how many third-year Crafters try forging the One Ring during lab.”


Session Four

Donovan was only going to be kept at the clinic overnight, so the stay was to be mercifully short. Molly and Kathryn would be able to pick him up and take him home the next day. Kathryn was surprised that there was no formal hearing regarding the whole 'attacking everybody' thing, but Molly gathered that Marlowe wrote the whole thing off as a spat within the unit while wanting Donovan off the premises as soon as possible.

Despite the short stay, Kathryn insisted on treating Molly like a real person. Rather than settling for the dining hall, she convinced Molly to head into town for actual food. Not only that, but something more adventurous than fast food or standard sit-down fare. They ended up at some Greek place, which Kathryn found sufficiently exotic.

Joke was on her as Kathryn hated her selection while Molly had always enjoyed a good gyro. “I haven't had one of these since we moved out of Cincinnati.”

Kathryn nodded while trying to figure out just what the hell was in it. “Didn't you know about this place?”

“I did not.” Molly sighed. The restaurant was only a ten-minute drive from the academy. “Thank you.”

“No prob. Just don't bring us here again” Molly snickered. So did Kathryn.

With everything towering over the both of them, it was nice to have an evening to unwind. Molly never intended it; in fact she was only vaguely familiar with such a concept. Kathryn relied on them, but this one seemed to work on her better than most. Strange as it was, she knew it had something to do with Molly.

It was perhaps the first time that Kathryn saw Molly as a typical girl. And she could see that Molly was quietly enjoying the opportunity to be a typical girl. This had been missing from her life for ten years, and Kathryn liked being able to draw it out. It felt like she was helping someone find themselves again, much in the same way she had always helped Troy. In a way, she was finishing Kurt's work.

“Say, I've always wondered: what are you doing after you graduate?” Kathryn asked. They were watching TV on the couch, but it was some generic sitcom neither of them were all that interested in. “Sure hope you're not moving over here.”

Molly shook her head. “I'm attending Marietta in the fall. Ended up with a pretty good scholarship.”

“Cool. What are you going for?”

She turned to Kathryn, suddenly confused. “What do you mean?”

“Well, what are you majoring in?”

“I don't know. Never thought about that. I enrolled because my parents expected me too. Like it or not, my future is here.” After a long pause, Molly said, “Now that I'm 18, I guess I'm allowed to tell them.” She shook her head. “I'm not sure if I want to yet.”

Snickering, Kathryn said, “I know what you mean. My folks just wouldn't get it. Hope I can just keep quiet about that until after I'm done with all this.”

“Do you have plans?”

“Yeah.” Kathryn suddenly became somber. “Just hope they're still alive. I was hoping to play basketball at college and use that to go into coaching.”

Molly nodded. That seemed perfect for Kathryn. “So what's the problem?”

“I've been talking off and on with some folks at Ohio State. They really want me.” Kathryn nodded quickly. “I really want them.”

“That sounds... pretty impressive.” Molly still didn't see the issue.

“Except that all the games I've been missing in January have made it tough for them to come down and see me. And the one game their coach was able to come down was the night of the Hageshoni attack. He wasn't too happy about that.”

Molly could only sit there in awe. She had no interest in sports, but this was Kathryn's future and her MST engagements were throwing a huge wrench into them. And yet Kathryn had never mentioned them.

“Why didn't you tell anybody about all this?”

“Well, Troy knew,” Kathryn replied. “He just said that all this was more important.” Molly shook her head, but Kathryn continued, “And that the coach wouldn't have been that impressed anyway since Kamila wasn't around to help out and everything with Kurt got into my head and messed up my game a bit.” She sighed. “He's probably right, but still...”

“It goes back to your involvement here.”

“Yeah,” she huffed. “Still, I was invited to one of their camps this summer so they could get a better look.”

“Please don't say it's in July.”

Kathryn let out a chuckle, almost accidentally. “June, thank God. It might all turn out fine after all.”

“That's a relief. That might be the only good thing about getting our field assignment out of the way now: we won't have to kill a summer with it.”

Still, Kathryn slumped in her chair. “They still expect us to go on a field assignment now?”

“I'm sure they do.” Molly stretched out on the couch. “It shouldn't be a problem. Most of us still get along fine and Meg and Giles can do most of the work. The job seemed more annoying than difficult.”

“What about Donovan? Can we trust him?”

Molly shrugged. “He doesn't seem to be the Yovoni's type. And he'd have his dad around to keep him in line.”

With a sigh, she said, “I'm more worried about back home. I hope Renee and Yuki find something.”

“Yeah.” After a long pause, Kathryn said, “Were you really going to head all the way back yourself?”

Molly closed her eyes. “Yes. I really was. Without thinking. Just because it seemed like they needed me too.”

Kathryn nodded and smiled a little. “Glad I stopped you, huh?”

“That depends on them. I know I won't be sleeping tonight.”

That smile turned into a frown when Kathryn heard that. There was still a ways to go.


Session Five

Despite the clear urgency to investigate the dark room, Yuki and Renee didn't get there until the following morning. They picked up on the importance of scoping the place out, but they were so plum exhausted from everything that they couldn't bear to return the same day. Even a day later, they were still unhappy about the job.

“What are we looking for anyway?” Renee asked, silently wondering why she was entrusting the youngster to take the lead on this.

“Anything,” Yuki said, finding the right key on her chain and opening the door. “Either Donovan or his demon came here for a reason and we have to make sure nothing bad is going on.”

“How can we tell?”

Yuki pulled a large reference book out of her satchel. “Demonic Symbols and What They Mean- revised fifth edition. Good thing I shadowed Miguel a bit while he was here.”

She also pulled out what appeared to be a black light and flashed it across the room, still standing in the doorway.

Renee could barely see what Yuki was doing. “Shouldn't we go inside?”

“Just making sure it's all clear.” She nodded and moved in closer. There were faint outlines of a circle in the center of the room, but nothing else jumped out at her. Yuki pulled out a penny and tossed it into the circle. Nothing happened.

“Should be safe.” Yuki stepped inside.

Now Renee was wondering why she was even needed. Yuki seemed surprisingly capable of assessing the room. She was on her knees rubbing her fingers into where the circle had been. Checking her fingers for residue, she frowned.

“What is it?” Renee asked.

“Nothing. Donovan had a circle active here and we really need to know what it was. But it's gone now.”

While Yuki checked the walls for other clues, Renee stepped into the circle. Immediately, she started trembling and fell to her knees.

Yuki let out a half-shriek. “What's wrong?”

Controlling her breathing, Renee said, “It's like a miniature dimensional gate. It would have let him send the whole room to another world if he wanted to.”

“How do you know?”

Renee crawled out of the circle. She panted, “It's the book. It's like it recognized it for me.”

Standing outside of it, but eying it carefully, Yuki, said. “That must have been why Molly made sure someone always had an anti-teleporting spell up. Where does it go?”

“I don't know. It feels like I could activate it again, but that's probably not a good idea.”

“Taking someone else's circle to an unknown demon realm? I'll pass.”

Once she calmed down, Renee smiled. “At least it's something we can report.”

“Not really. Molly already knew there was someone else involved. We're trying to find out who.”

“All done with your black light?”

“It's a spectral light. Detects magic traces.” Yuki admired it for a moment, then got around to answering the question. “Yeah, I guess so. Nothing else turned up.”

“Then let's try this.” Renee stood and turned on the light switch.

Even without feeling any ownership of it, Renee felt badly about the place being in such a rotten condition. All the assorted fires, sanctifications, ceremonies and everything Donovan had done daily turned the small room into a miniature wasteland. The walls were scorched, the floor was warped and Renee was surprised the light fixtures turned on without failure or explosion. Even after Donovan left, she couldn't see the room ever used again, not even for storage.

The tables and bookshelves that had been in the room were long gone, replaced by a single folding chair and a small scattering of books in the corner. With no other clues in sight, Yuki approached them.

“Anything useful?” Renee asked, scanning them as well.

Yuki shook her head. “No, it's the same fake magic crap he always reads.” Then a title caught her eye and she mumbled, “Uh oh...”

“Uh oh what?” Renee leaned in closer. Her eyes widened immediately. Awed, she said, “Oh my...” Then she paused. “I have no idea what this means.”

Picking up the offending book, Yuki realized that she didn't either. But it was definitely legitimate. “Yeah, that's true. I mean... why would Donovan care about the military history of the Hageshoni?”


Molly didn't have an answer for it either. “That's certainly unexpected. I'll page through it when I get back.” She pulled the phone away to glance at Donovan through her rear-view mirror. He was staring straight up, still somewhat in a daze.

“All right. We won't have to jump through that gate will we?” Renee asked.

“Absolutely not. I don't care what Marlowe says about secrecy. If he wants to get to the bottom of this, he can jump down there himself. The important thing is that it is closed. Good work.”

She disconnected with Renee, pocketed the phone and stared at Donovan through the mirror again. “Seriously, Donovan, the Hageshoni?”

Donovan's head snapped forward at Molly. “How dare you accuse me of aligning myself with those beasts?”

“Then why did you have a book about them?”

He narrowed his eyes. “I have no such thing.”

“Maybe the demon was with them instead of the...” Kathryn paused. She never kept track of names. “The other ones.”

Molly shook her head. “Why would that creature choose to defect to the Hageshoni? The Hokoni hate the Hageshoni.”

“As do I,” Donovan muttered.

“Wait, why would a demon take over Donovan so he could read up on his own group?” Kathryn asked.

Donovan added, “Why should a demon read at all? There are far more vile sins.”

“Both good points,” Molly said, frowning. She wasn't used to Kathryn and Donovan contributing to the speculation process.

Actually, she was surprised that Donovan was contributing at all. They had already had the preliminary interrogation, which was short as he remembered none of what happened after his demon's conversation with Grandon Crostell. That talk ruled out the Hokoni, so it was a perplexing development.

Furthermore, Donovan should not have been in any condition to think. Demon extraction was about as pleasant as removing a full crop of wisdom teeth, with the lingering effects lasting twice as long. Donovan may not have remembered most of his possession, but he definitely recognized the demon in his head, and that absence was noticeable and jarring. Poking a tongue at where your tooth had been is one thing: try doing it with your brain.

Still, he seemed as responsive as could be expected. More importantly, he didn't seem angry about the whole thing. Maybe Donovan would be when he noticed that his magic ability was mortal again, but for now he sat silently in the back seat and looked out the window. Perhaps, Molly hoped, the whole experience had set him right. Or at least right enough to stop being a distraction to the group. That was plenty.

As long as Donovan didn't have any solo encounters with demons, Molly figured he'd be fine. That was why they needed to get to the bottom of all this; whomever Donovan's demon had been working with, they probably weren't going away instantly.


Session Six

It never failed to amaze Troy how instantly regular life seemed to resume at school. Everybody went about their daily slog completely unaware that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Today was just the boring return to normality after an unproductive, though hopefully exciting, spring break. Nobody was returning from a magic academy, nobody was being possessed by a demon, and certainly the school hallway was not moonlighting as a battleground.

The hallway had cleaned up nicely, with few traces of the battle in plain sight. Troy leaned down and spotted some claw scrapes on the floor. Other than that and the new garbage can (and a store's sticker on the side), there was no evidence of a fight. The dark room, of course, was still an unholy mess, but nobody ever went in there.

Troy didn't ask questions about how he had gone down during the fight. He was dismayed at the timing of it, but assumed somebody had missed or failed to take out an enemy. It wasn't as if it had never happened before. By his count, it was the fourth time he had been knocked out in battle. He was mostly used to it by now.

So he had no trouble shrugging it off, recuperating over the weekend with some DVDs and college basketball. At one point, he called Renee, but she was busy checking something out for Molly. Again, he didn't ask questions.

By Monday, everything seemed to be normal again. Donovan was back in school and not terrorizing anybody and classes functioned about as well as they could with all parties on a post-break hangover. Troy fell right into it, feigning an interest in class while daydreaming about the inevitable field assignment assisting Vincent Wagner.

It was great until lunch.

He had barely seen Kathryn that day, again not unusual as she had a life and frequently had other things going on before school and during breaks. A brief sighting in the hallway had been the only reassurance that she was there. It was jarring when she never appeared at lunch.

Troy considered the possibility that Kathryn was still mad at him. Now that he thought about it, they never really did resolve their argument. But that was what lunch was for. It would have been the perfect chance to talk things out. Their ever-curious classmates were always quick to swarm around any sign of conflict, so low voices and calm attitudes would be necessary. She certainly wasn't going to be mad at him forever, so he found it hard to believe that was a factor.

He ate in silence for most of the period, bored out of his mind but trying not to turn to Renee. She was still probably sitting with her sister and despite Molly's inability to stop them, he was still conditioned to keep the relationship a secret at school. Troy wanted Renee to determine the best time to go public with it, as there were all sorts of socio-political implications to a hookup and Renee could determine the collective response better.

After cleaning his tray in record time and sitting in silence for several minutes, Troy caved. Nothing involving the term “socio-political” was worth this kind of boredom unless it involved diplomatic exile. He turned to Renee's usual spot for a glimpse of her.

She, Molly and Kathryn were having a damn good time over there. Yes, Troy felt the knife in his back from seeing Kathryn, but that was overshadowed by the feeling of revulsion from seeing the smile on Molly's face. Normally, her smile only emerged when making a snide comment or breaking somebody. At any other time, she wore a straight face or worse. Here Molly was simply listening, yet had a calm grin, free of smugness or conceit. It was the first time Troy could recognize that she was in a good mood.

There was something disgusting about that. Molly never appeared to be happy ruling others or leading her unit of magi. Troy had always penned her as someone incapable of joy. Now she was off her perch, out of power and generally shunned at school. Furthermore, her unit was splintered, staring into an ugly field assignment and frequently possessed by demons. Yet now she chooses to start smiling.

He couldn't hear exactly what was going on, but saw that Kathryn was talking. From her gesturing, it sounded bawdy. Molly confirmed it, momentarily recoiling in disgust. She didn't silence Kathryn, however, nor did she lose that smile. It was no worse than the way Marie had always reacted to anything licentious. Troy sensed that Kathryn's presence and Molly's sudden pleasant side were not a coincidence. When not mired in angst, Kathryn generally had that effect on anyone willing to accept it. But Kathryn had been mired in angst for the last two months, with no signs of recovery prior to this.

Troy knew it was a bad idea, but he had to see what was going on. He certainly had nothing better to do. He picked up his tray, dumped its contents in the garbage and took a long circle back that just so happened to pass by them.

He could feel the joy draining from their table as he approached. Molly instantly reverted to her former self, making Troy wonder if what he had seen from a distance was an illusion. Kathryn frowned at him and Renee stared up blankly.

Despite their reaction, he tried to sound friendly. “Hey, what's going on?”

Although he directed the question at Kathryn, Molly coldly replied, “Lunch.”

The response made it hard for him to fake nice, but he pressed on. “What are you talking about?”

“Girl stuff,” said Kathryn. Right girl, wrong tone. Such a blunt non-answer made it clear that Troy wasn't welcome.

Nodding slowly, he mumbled, “Oh... okay...” and walked away.

There was nothing else to do. He couldn't straighten things out with Kathryn in front of Renee and Molly. Things were far more complicated than he expected, which was both problematic and a little annoying. He'd have to hunt her down and talk later.

“Troy?” It was Renee. Wrong girl... better tone. She sounded concerned about something, but at least she chased after him.

As he led her outside, he asked, “What was all that about? When did Kathryn and Molly become such good friends? And since when has Molly ever been in a good mood?”

Renee shrugged. “Since she and Kathryn got to know each other a little better, I guess. It's good though. Molly needs someone else to talk to.”

“Kinda leaves me hanging though.” He shook his head, not wanting to go further. “I'll talk to her later. I suppose if Molly lightens up it would be all right to hang out.”

“I'm not so sure about that,” Renee mumbled.

Grumbling, Troy said, “Is she still bitter about us? She didn't look like it.”

“Troy, do you know when I first realized that I was in love with you?”

He spun around. They were outside now, and alone, but it was still a sudden question. One of those emotional turning point questions that he always found dubious.

Especially since the answer seemed obvious. Smirking a bit, he replied, “Well, I figured that whole rescuing the princess bit helped.”

Renee shook her head slowly, eyes to the ground. “It was when you turned me down. When you said you were staying with Marie.”

Troy blinked. That made no sense at all. She went on: “Now be honest. If there were no other factors and you just had to choose between her and me, you'd pick me, right? I mean before you knew who she was.”

It sounded like a trick question, but he nodded. That much was true.

“But when I wanted to take you away from her, you didn't let me. You stood by her. You couldn't stand to break her heart like that. That's when I thought you were real.”

Troy nodded. Good sentiments, until he realized it was past tense.

“Why did you kill her?” she asked suddenly. Troy shuddered. He should have seen it coming.

After a moment's thought, he replied, as neutrally as he could, “She was trying to stop me. I had to do my job. I had to save you.”

“All she wanted was for you to save both of us.”

He turned around and grunted, “It would have been impossible.”

“So was the idea of rescuing me in the first place. You did it anyway.” Raising her voice, she said, “Troy, you know what she did for me down there. And she knew that she would never be able to be with you. She just wanted to get out alive.”

“She wanted us to turn on the MST.”

Renee instantly replied, “Which you already did when you went down there. And if showing a little mercy to a friend would be treason, then we shouldn't be involved to begin with.”

Troy looked over his shoulder. He was surprised to be hearing this from her. Kathryn, maybe, but not Renee. “The MST is my life. I can't just leave it. What they did to you was awful, but it doesn't change the fact that my future is with them.”

“Just like your father?”


“Even after what he did to you?”

Troy paused. “It had to have been for a good reason.”

“He abandoned you. He abandoned Molly too and she's never forgiven him.”

“Not surprised.” He shifted his eyes. “Is that her excuse for being so bitter about everything?”

“Yes,” Renee replied. “He forced her into this, then left her with nothing.” She sighed. “Question is why you're not bitter about everything.”

“I'm just not.” Troy shrugged, turning and staring at her, trying not to show any contempt for the topic. “I adjusted, okay? I dealt with it. Kathryn helped me get through it. That's why I'm kinda pissed she's being so uptight about all this.”

At that moment, Renee felt her heart sink. “Uptight?!” she cried. “Marie was our friend! Don't have you have any feelings left for her at all?”

“She was a demon! She let the whole mess happen!”

“She had to! You can imagine what they'd do to her if she didn't! She didn't want to see us get hurt. And when she found out what they were going to do to me, she wanted to stop it. Didn't you consider the possibility that Marie meant what she said down there? That she wanted us out of the MST because she knew what they'd do to us? That she wanted to save us?” After stopping for a moment, her voice went soft. “You couldn't have tried to save her? Didn't you owe her that much?”

“I just wanted to save you,” he said.

“Just me?” Renee repeated. “Nobody else matters to you?”

Troy scoffed. “Well, until now, Kathryn...”

“Until now?”

“I don't know. Maybe if she stopped pretending that she could be friends with Molly.” Troy snickered. “I'm sure Molly would have torn through Marie.”

“I don't believe that's true,” said Renee solemnly. “Otherwise she never would have reacted like this. Marie hated Molly... but I don't think Molly ever hated Marie.”

“Molly hates everybody.”

“Also not true.” She shook her head. “I don't know why you'd believe that. She loves me. She may have loved Kurt too. And she has nothing but respect for Kathryn. In the end, the only one she really hates is you.”

Troy sneered, but Renee looked up. “And now I'm starting to see why.”

“It doesn't give her an excuse to-”

She didn't let him finish. “For years, she was mistreated by your dad. He left her desensitized, scared and alone. Only now is she starting to get some real friends that can pull her out of that.”

“Great, but-”

“She's starting to turn away from his influence.” Renee paused, took a breath, and stared into Troy's eyes, still distant. “You're starting to turn into him.”


“That's why she tried to keep us apart.” She looked down again. “And I think maybe she was right to do so.” Without facing him again, she turned around and walked back inside.

“Goodbye, Troy.”





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