Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 56: Exile

Session One

Regardless of how undesirable the field assignment was, having it rendered suddenly unnecessary was jarring and unexpected. So much that Molly quickly came to wish they had been called up. Then it would have been over with and the unit could more or less coast to the finish. Once they were out of the academy, each of them could go off on their own and not have to talk to each other anymore.

Now, not only did they have an impending field assignment, Molly had no idea when the MST would spring it on them. Anticipation is far more frustrating when the timetable is between a week and a year. She didn't know what she was supposed to look ahead to next.

The answer defaulted to high school graduation, which became an increasingly frightening concept as it neared. When he had to deal with it, Kurt was apprehensive as it signaled a turning point in his life as he stared into an uncertain future. Molly's future was pretty well decided and graduating was a formality. This was just as problematic. She was expected to walk with her fellow classmates (whom she didn't didn't know) and accept a diploma (which she didn't earn) in front of a crowd of people (whom hated her). With no access to her own security forces and no ramifications for any potential perpetrators, she struggled to suppress feelings of paranoia.

“Why don't you just skip the ceremony?” Kathryn asked over lunch. The ceremony was a week away.

“Not a chance. Mom would you kill you,” Renee replied.

Molly nodded. “Unfortunately, I would be overruled by parents in this circumstance. And Yuki insisted on following through with her pledge to disband the council ops.” Using the special ops as security had been her original plan, but became a casualty during Yuki's re-election campaign when her opponent revealed that they were still being funded. She didn't want to take chances, despite winning easily.

Kathryn frowned. “Would it help if we showed up to cheer you on?”

“I doubt I would hear you over the booing and death threats.”

“At least you made an impression!” Renee joked.

“Well, you might just have to put up with that,” Kathryn said. “If they're really out for blood, there's not a lot you can do about it. We'll be there to make sure nobody pulls anything.”

“I suppose,” Molly said with a sigh. “I just never thought about the prospect of being jeered out of the school. It's not an entertaining concept.”

“Bit late to get self-conscious, Molly. I mean you did spend three years oppressing everybody. Natural for them to want to get it out of their systems. You're better off taking it. Sticks and stones and all that.”


Kathryn cringed and looked aside. “Be ready for the sticks and stones though.”

Molly sat back, still staring at the table. “I suppose there is a hint of regret in this as well.”

Surprised, Kathryn replied, “Really? Thinking of apologizing for everything?”

With a repulsed shirk, Molly answered, “Hell no. I'm not sorry about how I ran my administration. But I do think I could have afforded myself a little more time to breathe and have a friend or two besides Kurt. It might have been productive to take at least a passing interest in what Claude did when he wasn't on duty.”

“You weren't even friends with Claude?! Good God.” Kathryn shook her head. “Half the kids here thought you two were dating.”

Molly narrowed her eyes, then said, “Yes, definitely not apologizing.” She leaned back. “But I have really enjoyed sitting here with you two, especially with no administrative duties. I have enough problems elsewhere to deal with all of that.”

Kathryn chuckled. “Well, high school's not supposed to be a picnic, even for us mortals. I got a term paper due next week. I should really start that one of these days.”

“Speak for yourself,” Renee replied, preening. “Finished mine yesterday.” She turned to Molly. “So what are you doing for your graduation party?”

“I'm having a graduation party?” Molly said blankly.

“You know Mom and Dad will pay for one. Hell, Dad and I are already starting to plan mine!”

Still unenthusiastic, Molly replied, “It would useless for me to have any input on it seeing as nobody would attend save you two and Yuki. Everybody else would be relatives and I refuse to be responsible for keeping them entertained.”

“Well, if you don't, Mom will take it over and it'll just be a stupid dinner party.”

“Fine by me. I have no interest in celebrating this.”

“Well we are!”

Kathryn grinned. “Yeah, we've got to do something. Give you a proper send-off.”

“Let it go.” Molly stood and picked up her tray. “I doubt there is anything you can do to actually make me feel comfortable with this, especially your suggestion of some sort of party.”

As she walked away, there was a moment of disappointed silence between Kathryn and Renee. It felt like a setback in the rehabilitation effort.

Then it felt like a challenge. With a sigh, Renee said, “You know what this means, right?”

Kathryn nodded. “Afraid so. Hoped it wouldn't have come to this.”

“So when do we strike?”

Eyes lighting up with evil delight, Kathryn replied, “Night before the ceremony. If we're going to do this, we're going all in.”

Renee smiled and steepled her fingers.


Session Two

Nothing had changed much for Troy, which meant several things. He was still on his own, still putting on a brave face and still acting like this was normal. He was also pretty much used to it by now, and if there were any lessons to be gained from it, he had forgotten them and moved on with life.

Not to say he wasn't bored as all hell. For the first few weeks, he just worked on more schoolwork, but that grew tiresome quickly, especially as the school year wound down and teachers either slowed the amount of homework or gave up completely.

By the end of May, Troy was almost exclusively perusing magical texts at lunch. Much of the time, they were books on demon studies or schools that Troy himself couldn't do. Thrusting was a fun, but ultimately simple class and Troy was interested at some of the neat stuff Weavers and Crafters were capable of. When the goal was killing time instead of serious education, he was defaulting to the flashier spells and concoctions over something he actually would be able to use.

This changed due to an unlikely source: his DVD collection. Troy was still a typical teenager and watched far more television and movies than typically recommended. As such, his bookshelf was at a critical overload and needed a massive re-imagining. Since he wasn't doing much on the weekends anymore, he had time for such a project.

Once he realized that the bookshelf had no room for actual books, he started to move the big clunky magic texts from the bottom rack. That was when he came across a smaller book on water-based Thrusting hiding between its mammoth brethren. It was from some of his more useful classes, the one that introduced ice magic, but Troy recalled that Professor Weatherstone didn't completely get through this book in the terms where it was applicable. An old, crushed Post-It note marked the last chapter they had reached in class. Troy flipped to it, remembered this lesson on creating rainbows (something he found incredibly impractical) and turned the page.

Long Distance Scalding... now this was more up his alley. He stuffed it in his bag and went back to work, forgetting about it until the following Monday at lunch when he was again in need of reading material.

He quickly realized the problem with reading Thrusting books at school: after ten minutes he was dying to try this out. It was the same concept as ice magic, only in reverse. Troy packed up and hiked around school looking for a suitable private place to shoot boiling water.

The search didn't take long as he noticed the dark room door unlatched. Since the room was pretty much condemned and unusable, even by Donovan's standards, Troy figured it was fair game to play around and perhaps destroy further.

It was indeed godawful inside, as nothing had been cleaned since the battle two months ago. That includes basic sweeping and dusting: the cobwebs made the room creepier than Donovan ever could have, especially as Troy needed a light spell to see anything. At least he could try out something he had recently read in a Weaving book, spreading the light through the entire room instead of concentrating it in an energy ball.

Using an air spell to clear away cobwebs and spilled candle wax, Troy made a small range on the floor. He started by freezing an orphaned book, encasing it in ice. Reading the instructions carefully, he reared back and let loose, drenching the ice in water that he hoped was hot enough.

It wasn't as instantaneous as he had hoped, but after a few seconds the ice started steaming. Slowly, and with a couple supplementary shots, he freed the book. He picked it up; it was a little warm and completely ruined by water damage. Good enough.

“What are you doing in my chamber?!” Troy jumped when he heard Donovan's boisterous voice behind him.

Taking a moment to calm down, Troy replied, “Jeez, I was just trying out a couple spells. It's not like you've been doing anything in here.” He wanted to ask if Donovan had some sort of alarm circle set up, but figured he didn't want the answer.

“Still, nobody may trespass.” Donovan noted the book Troy was holding. “And don't waste your time. The spells in that book are useless.”

Troy took a closer look at the book he had been experimenting on. It contained nursery rhymes and jump rope chants.

He held up his Thrusting textbook. “Working off something a little more professional, actually.”

Donovan narrowed his eyes. “Is that so?”

Troy lowered his head and tucked the book under his arm. “Yeah. I'll leave now if you want.”

Pressing his hand against Troy's shoulder, Donovan stopped him. “Not so fast. It occurs to me that we never had a proper rematch.”

“In what?”

“Magical combat. I will prove my superiority!”

Troy looked up at him, totally lost. Counting the times Donovan was possessed by a demon, they had fought twice. An impartial judge would say they had split the results. Not counting those, they have never fought at all. It was hard to see how a rematch was possible.

He shuffled past Donovan, quickly sidestepping around him and opening the door.

Donovan didn't turn. “So you acknowledge your weakness...”

“I'm not getting into anything. I'm just practicing, that's all.”

“Wouldn't you rather train against a live opponent?”

Troy stopped. Framed that way, there was more to think about. He shut the door and turned back. “Are you saying we should fight each other for practice?”

With a half-grin, Donovan replied, “You'll find the enemy is more resistant than a book.”

It earned an eye roll, but it was still intriguing. Just not foolproof. “What's the point if we can't actually hurt each other?”

“But we can! The young one is training too. She has been healing my victims.”

Troy wanted to question the part about victims, but figured the odds were good that he was referring to Blaine and Bryce.

“I suppose I'll give it a shot. Where did you want to try this?”

“My new lair.” His eyebrows flared. “Hop on.”

Knowing full well that this was usually a bad idea, Troy stepped on Donovan's foot. It wasn't like he was doing anything else over the lunch break.

Donovan whipped through his trigger and they found themselves in the student council bunker.

“Wait... this is your new lair?” Troy said.

“Donovan, you're back!” said Yuki. Bryce was sprawled out on her lap. “Just about done with Bryce. Can we try something with shrapnel some time? Oh, hi Troy!”


Session Three

There would be no security detail, no special arrangement and no way to avoid the ceremony any longer. With one night to go, Molly only grew more apprehensive. When the whole autocracy thing came together, she had never planned her escape. Not without her administrative powers. Not as a regular nobody in the graduating class. With no clue what was about to happen and no control over it, all she could do was stare down another sleepless night.

The worst part was that it wasn't even bedtime yet. It was only 9:30 and she was already staring blankly at the ceiling from her desk chair, dismayed at how much this was bothering her and how helpless she felt. She headed downstairs to make some tea and possibly a snack. If she was going to spend the night in misery, she figured she may as well make it as comfortable as possible.

Her parents barely noticed her come downstairs. Instead they struggled with a helium tank in the living room, trying to inflate the balloons for her party. As Renee had predicted, her mother had arranged a simple dinner with relatives, but the balloons were an unnecessary flourish that were apparently mandatory for such occasions.

She never made it to the kitchen, as the doorbell rang. “Could you get that?” asked her father, swearing as his balloon slipped off the nozzle.

On the other side of the door, Kathryn and Yuki were armed with duffels and sleeping bags. “Where should we put all this?” Yuki asked.

Molly stared back blankly. “W... what are you doing here?”

“Basement's all set up,” said Molly's father, not looking up.

Darting between the girls and her dad, Molly wondered if she was part of this conversation. Kathryn didn't help matters when she stepped in and asked, “Cool. Got anything to drink?”

“All downstairs,” Dad replied. Kathryn and Yuki nodded and went downstairs.

Following, and growing irritated, Molly continued to ask, “Would you care to explain why you're here? If you think you're getting away with a surprise party...”

Kathryn chuckled. “Deed's done, Molly. You look pretty surprised.”

The fun continued when they reached the basement and saw Renee in her pajamas hooking a DVD player to a television.

Molly narrowed her eyes. “A sleepover? Seriously?”

“Yeah, Molly's right,” Kathryn said to Renee. “You don't expect us to actually sleep, do you?”

Somehow Renee was defensive about this. “Maybe not, but I'm just trying to look the part. This is appropriate garb for the occasion.”

Still dour, Molly said, “If you expect this to turn into one of those pajama and pillow fight things, count me out.”

Kathryn nodded. “I'm with Molly. She's legally an adult. Times like this, you gotta ask yourself: what would Reggie do?”

Molly eyed Kathryn. “That's not any better.”

Renee gave up and teleported back to her room to change. Yuki paced around the room, admiring Renee's set-up. “It seemed like you were so worried about tomorrow that you weren't going to sleep anyway. So we figured we'd keep you company.”

As understandable and appreciable Molly found that, she was still dismayed. Sitting on the horribly upholstered couch, she said, “Have I really become that transparent?”

“No,” Kathryn replied. “We just started paying attention.”

“What if I end up falling asleep?”

Yuki pulled a couple vials out of her satchel. “Covered!”

Molly slumped over and grumbled, “I hate you all.”

Renee returned wearing an oversized t-shirt and shorts that were barely visible below said t-shirt. “I'm running with this, all right? Gotta keep things a little casual.”

“Wow, that was fast,” Yuki said. “You know a changing spell already?”

“No, I just put on the first thing that came to mind.” Renee turned to Molly. “There's a spell to change clothes instantly?”

“There's a spell for almost everything,” Molly said, not looking up. “Third year Weaving, if I recall.”

Renee's eyes perked. “Care to teach us?”

“I forgot how to do it. It's not exactly practical. As I recall, you have to have a set of clothes marked to summon or create the illusion that you're wearing something else.” She looked up. “Which is obviously problematic if somebody can resist illusion magic.”

Kathryn scratched her chin. “Either way, it means there's a spell to ditch clothes.”

Molly thought for a moment, then sighed and conceded, “I suppose that would be the initial component of both spells, yes. No sense creating the illusion you're wearing two things at once.”

“Weaver chicks must get all the guys.” Kathryn smiled at Molly and Renee. “Lucky for you two.”

Molly shook her head and turned away. Renee just went with it. “Wow, five minutes and we're already talking guys.”

“Does that mean the party's started?” Yuki asked.

“One problem,” Kathryn raised a finger. “There's no guys to dish on. Kinda already explored all our options at school.”

Renee raised her eyebrows. “Anyone at the academy?”

“Not really. Floodgates are open when we hit 18 though.”

“I said dish on, not sleep with.”

Kathryn ignored her. “Molly's 18,” she said thoughtfully.

They both turned to Molly and grinned. Molly shirked and sneered. “This isn't making me feel any more comfortable.”

“We're just having fun,” Renee said. “Providing necessary distractions, you know? Men are great for that sort of thing.”

Nodding, Kathryn added, “And I recall you still have one offer outstanding.”

“What's that?” Renee kneeled and inched closer to Kathryn, very much interested.

Ignoring Molly's teeth grinding, Kathryn said, “Giles did ask you out.”

Renee turned to Molly, both shocked and elated. “Giles asked you out?! Why was I not notified?”

“I assumed he was being facetious,” Molly muttered. “Solely the product of Kathryn and... whichever one of those four brought it up.”

It didn't subside Renee's grin. “I don't know, Giles doesn't seem the facetious type.”

“You should take him up on it. It's good practice either way,” said Kathryn.

Practice? Molly shuddered. “Are you trying to imply that I should date Giles, whom I have either complete disinterest or mild revulsion in, as some sort of training exercise?”

Yuki nodded. “I can see why he likes you.”

“Gotta start somewhere,” Kathryn said with a shrug. “And he's not that bad.”

“Well, I wouldn't go that far,” Renee said, dropping any hints of teasing. “You shouldn't go out with someone if you don't like him. What's the point in that?”

Kathryn snickered. Renee was instantly repulsed. “What? No?”

“Let's say I've made exceptions to that rule and leave it at that.” After another chuckle, Kathryn gestured to Yuki. “You know, for Yuki's sake.”

Before Yuki could respond, Renee persisted, “Well, I just hope you're not encouraging Molly to...” She thought for a moment, couldn't think of a polite term and ended up with something worse. “...engage in that kind of behavior.”

Eyes raised, Kathryn smirked back, not sure whether to be amused or offended. It ended up as a combination of the two. “That kind of behavior? What kind is that?”

Renee fished for an answer. She glanced at Molly, who stared at the ceiling, hands fidgeting. Fumbling, Renee said, “You know...”

With a suddenly straight face, Kathryn stared back. “Right, because we should only hook up with our one true loves. How'd that work out for you?”

Yuki, Renee and possibly time itself froze. Molly peeked at them, but continued to distance herself as much as she could.

After a long, pained breath, Renee said, “Maybe we should watch a movie or something. Anything you wanted to watch, Molly?”

“At this point, I will watch absolutely anything,” Molly mumbled.


Session Four

With the sudden tremor between herself and Kathryn, Renee shied away from any entertainment that was particularly interactive. She stuck mostly to movies and avoided the game cabinet. As dawn approached, when everybody was suffering from severe eyestrain and Yuki had exhausted her supply of liquid sleep-deprivation, Renee sucked it up and pulled one out, mostly to try Molly's hand at Settlers of Catan. Indeed, her sister cornered the lumber market and won handily.

Strangely, it was that game that provided Molly a fulfilling cap to the night. She enjoyed picking up a game for the first time and dominating it mercilessly. Molly did not miss her administrative responsibilities, but she did miss playing the bitch just because she was damn good at it. She knew this was the demeanor she needed to carry with her during the ceremony. One that suggested that even without power, she could make someone's life miserable.

“You enjoyed that far too much,” Kathryn said.

Molly nodded. “I did. I can't say I am opposed to needless cruelty.”

“Just remember that's what got you into this mess.”

“I think playing the part will get me out of it.” She grinned, tossing a stack of tokens to Renee.

Yuki looked down. “Just so you know, the student council can't do anything to help you. Too much political pressure.”

“They don't have to know that. The mere possibility will keep them in order.”

As they finished packing up, they heard a knock on the door. “Are you all up yet?” Mr. Pearson asked.

“Never went down!” Kathryn replied.

He opened the door and poked his head in. He seemed dismayed that there were no sleeping bags on the floor. “Molly, you do realize you have a graduation ceremony and a party to go to.”

“Neither should be that exhausting,” said Molly. She may not have agreed with that assessment the day before.

“Not exhausting so much as long. And frequently boring. And where dozing off is generally frowned upon.”

Molly turned to Yuki, who nodded in understanding.

Dad continued, “You should start getting ready. We're supposed to be there at ten. Are your friends going with you or do we have to take them home?”

“I need to get home,” Yuki raised a hand. “As council president, I'm supposed to give a speech. I still need to download one.”

Mr. Pearson nodded, then turned to Kathryn. “How about you?”

“They serve breakfast here?” Kathryn asked.

“That's the plan.”

She grinned. “I'll stick around.”


It wasn't until the ceremony actually started that Molly fully appreciated Yuki's transcript tweaking. At first, she was just happy to have a transcript at all, but as her graduating class marched into the gymnasium, she saw just how ideal her position was. She did not have to lead the way, nor was she stuck in the back among the mob of degenerates. Molly was the third to march in and was able to walk single-file, finding a chair among the academically elite. If there were any murmurs about her presence, they were drowned out by all the other murmurs in the crowd.

“Oh... hi, Molly,” said the girl next to her, apparently the class runner-up. She seemed to be nervous, and seeing Molly didn't help.

“Hello.” Molly nodded, still staring straight ahead.

“I, uh... hope there's no hard feelings. I wasn't expecting to finish second.”

“Not a problem. I'm trying to lay low anyway.”

“Yeah... me too.” Molly finally looked, noticing two hand-written sheets of notebook paper on the girl's lap. “Why would people care what I have to say? I'm not even valedictorian.”

“You are intellectually superior to everybody save one. You're earned your podium.”

She shuffled through her notes. “I really don't have much to say. Half of this is talking about how I really don't have much to say.”

All Molly did was let out a brief chortle. That was enough for the girl to turn back to Molly and say, “Well, what would you say?”

“I've had plenty of time to assert my opinion on this school. Thus, I have no interest in re-entering the spotlight.”

“That's why I'm curious. I mean, it's weird, you've been invisible all semester. Would you stick up for yourself? Would you apologize? I mean, you probably have some idea of the things people say about you. What do you say back?”

Molly sighed. She did not know this girl. She recognized her face from the hallways, but as she had never run afoul of the administration, Molly had no interest in her. Which was a little troubling, as the class salutatorian seemed to be a very decent individual, one of the many decent, studious kids that probably existed at L. B. Gould but never stood out much.

The question was troubling as well, as despite Molly saying that she had no interest in the spotlight, she had thought about it for the last several weeks. So she knew exactly what she would say to the student body had she another chance... and wire fencing in front of her to block any thrown objects.

“Quit letting people jerk you around,” she said. “Life isn't much fun when someone else is in charge of it.”

The girl pondered that for a moment silently. Molly cheated and looked at her.

Finally, she looked back and nodded. “Guess that's one way to put it. Last thing I would have expected but... yeah.”

“Something tells me that wouldn't go over well if I actually said that...”

The girl shook her head. “...not at all.” Then she crumpled up her sheets of paper. “But you're not the one going up there.”

Molly quickly tried to intervene. “Don't get any-”

“Welcome, graduates of L. B. Gould High School!” Yuki's not-so-boisterous voice silenced Molly, and the rest of the murmurs, as the ceremony officially began.

After a few words from the superintendent, still thoroughly emasculated from Molly's time in office, the school band and choir performed pieces. They drowned out Molly's efforts to stop the girl from changing her speech. To Molly, 'not having much to say' was far preferable than any words of wisdom that could find their way back to her.

There were no such nuggets in the speech Yuki downloaded or the subsequent valedictorian's speech which may as well have been. But Molly cringed when Yuki called the salutatorian to come up.

The girl stood, approached the podium, took a long look at the crowd and a deep breath. Then she tossed her prepared remarks into the band.

“You know, when they told me I was supposed to give a speech because my grades were second-best in the class, I looked at them like they were crazy. I mean, what was I supposed to say? 'We survived, good work, keep it up?' The whole thing seemed pretty stupid to me. I had some things written out, but it wasn't all that useful. You wouldn't remember any of it.”

She scanned the room. For all she knew, half the people in the room were dozing off already. “But I was told to say something, so I was just going to run with it and get it over with so we can get our diplomas and go home.” A few of the awake seniors nodded, but still wanted her to get to the point.

The salutatorian made it: “But as fate would have it, I ended up seated next to Molly Pearson.”

Every head in the room perked up at the name, except for Molly's. Hers fell.


Session Five

The moment Molly's name was mentioned, every ass clenched in its seat. Molly kept her head down, thankful the cap on her head was obstructing her face from the back. She didn't dare turn around. On stage, Yuki and the superintendent were clearly apprehensive, but the salutatorian continued.

“They told us not to bring all that business up, and I won't. I think we're a lot better off now.” She stole a glance at Yuki, who smiled back nervously. “But I was chatting with Molly before, and she was actually kinda nice.”

Molly shook her head in dismay. Even something as benign as 'kinda nice' would be taken as a shocking revelation by half the crowd and a white lie by the other half.

“And I asked her what she would say if she was in my shoes. Because I didn't have anything. And she said something that I really wasn't expecting, but the more I think about it, it's really the most important thing we can take away from all this.”

At this point, Molly was just hoping the girl would paraphrase, but was only sort of relieved when she did. “In high school, we're pretty much used to getting bossed around. And not just Molly, by teachers, coaches, our parents... there's not a whole lot of room to live our own lives. We get really used to being controlled by other people. Molly said that if she had one thing to pass on, it would be that we really need to quit that.

“We're adults now, but that doesn't mean other people aren't going to try to run our lives. And how happy we are in life is probably going to depend on how much we let them. If we don't try to go after what we want to go after and do the things that give us the most satisfaction, then, well... life's gonna suck. Say what you want about Molly, but she certainly did things her way.”

Until this point, Molly had been moderately comfortable with the speech, but that really hit her. The whole 'don't let people jerk you around' bit was directed towards herself as much as the rest of the class. She saw herself as another example, not the poster child for independence. Molly had to admit it was a different way of looking at things.

“So think about that as you begin your life. The things people expect of you only matter as much as you let them. You don't have to be tied down by what's normal or what someone else wants you to become. If you have an angle on a better way to reach your dreams, do it your own way. You may not succeed, but at least you won't regret a missed opportunity.”

She paused, long enough for a couple people to start a premature applause. But it was clear to most that she was only thinking, and she confirmed it when she said, “That's why... and I just came to this decision now, so my parents are going to pretty shocked... but that's why I'm not going to college next semester.”

Molly's mouth fell open. Now this was getting crazy. She gives one person a piece of half-wisdom and it leads to a potentially life-altering decision over the span of twenty minutes. She hoped the girl's parents weren't the hostile type.

“Look, I'm going to be in school for a long time. I've got plenty of time for that. So before I go back to drowning in books, I just want to work my butt off over the summer, take some time off and spend a couple weeks in Europe. You know, actually living for a change.” Molly sighed. It wasn't quitting law school to join the circus, but it was still a pretty drastic move.

“It's funny, this is something I had thought of doing for a long time now, and really wanted. But it just seemed weird not to go to school in the fall, so I never brought it up. If I hadn't talked to Molly I probably wouldn't have done it. So, regardless of what happened before...” She turned to Molly, who couldn't help but look back, no matter how unhappy she was about being singled out. “Thank you, Molly. Seriously.”

That was the weirdest feeling of all. The last thing Molly expected was to be thanked for something. She wasn't even sure what she had done. But the audience seemed interested and didn't react angrily to the statement, so she let it go and let the girl finish. “So after all that, Molly's last words were that life isn't much fun when someone else is running it. So that's what we need to take out of all this. Let's start having fun.”

As she stepped down, the applause seemed stronger than either of the earlier speeches. It wasn't deafening, but people at least listened to it without rioting. It was something. The girl sat down and sighed. “How'd I do?” she asked Molly.

“Better than I would have done,” Molly replied, facing straight ahead. “Were you serious about not going to college?”

“If I don't do it now, it won't happen for a while. Just had to convince myself.”

With the speeches out of the way, the procession followed. This was the part Molly dreaded the most. She could blend into the background for the rest of the ceremony, but not so much when her name was being read aloud and she had to cross the stage alone to pick up her hardware.

She didn't even have that girl to kill time with, as the order was alphabetical. Now she was stuck in line behind a boy named Parker that had earned himself a threatening Letter or two over four years.

Without turning back, he smirked. “I'm surprised you even showed up, Pearson. You know you can't do anything to us once I've got that diploma.”

This part she was prepared for. Molly glared a hole into his neck. He didn't even need to turn around to feel it. “You'd think that, wouldn't you?”

“W... what?”

“They don't actually hand out the diplomas. It's just a dummy for the show. The paper with your name on it comes later.” With the slightest hint of a grin, she added, “In theory.”

He turned around slightly, just enough to see her glower. “But wait, you don't have any power. You can't-”

“Don't assume too much, Mr. Parker.” She leaned slightly, enough to get a glimpse of Yuki, standing and watching the conveyor belt of students. Yuki saw Molly... and the bright smile on her face. Yuki smiled and waved back.

Parker saw all of this and faced forward again. He was also crying when he crossed the stage and picked up his psuedo-diploma.

Then Molly's name was announced. There was the usual din of polite applause, but far less than usual and only enough to prevent cricket-chirping silence. While some of the more popular students got big cheers when they passed through, there was no pop when she crossed the stage. She faced forward and marched quickly, hoping that was the worst of it.

Molly sighed when she took her certificate holder and continued along the trail. She could live with this. It was jarring when she heard two loud cheers from the audience. The silence from everybody else made this freak raving particularly noticeable. Molly couldn't help but look.

Sure enough, Renee and Kathryn were cheering like nutcases. Even Molly's parents looked a little embarrassed by the display. Everyone stared at them as if they were the only ones in on some sort of joke. Much as they sounded like rowdy sports fans at an otherwise serious ceremony, Molly knew they were sincere. Overcompensating perhaps, but Molly knew exactly what they were going for. No matter how unpopular she was leaving the school, at least she had a couple friends to help pick up the slack.

She chuckled to herself and while she couldn't say she wasn't worried about the rest of the event, she no longer cared.


Session Six

Things had escalated to the point where the battle had to be taken outside. The good old empty field served them well as it was mostly open, with a few strategic hiding places. Troy was using his cover carefully, as he knew Donovan had all sorts of tricks to clear the grass and expose him.

It came quickly, as a gust of energy that floored Troy in the chest. It didn't hurt, but it did blow the grass away and left him without a roost. He ran immediately, narrowly avoiding the first energy blast that came in. Subsequent attacks followed, and Troy managed to barely stay ahead of them, keeping one eye on his path forward and one eye on Donovan firing at him from the center of the field.

Troy started charging a spell as he continued to dodge bullets. He ran in an arc surrounding Donovan, hoping to try out a new trick. Donovan complied, standing in one place firing madly. When Troy had run a semi-circle, he fired, creating a tidal wave along his entire path. The huge wall of water headed straight at Donovan. Lest he get hit himself, Troy had to get out of the way and couldn't get a clear view as it collided.

At first, Troy wasn't sure if it did anything. Then he frowned as he heard a deep laugh from his right. Before Donovan could attack, Troy quickly turned and fired an ice bolt in that direction. Nobody was there.

Then he felt an energy ball strike him hard in the back, flooring him. Painful as it was, Troy merely winced and raised a hand.

“Wow, that was a good one!” Yuki said, rushing in and delivering an already-prepared potion to Troy.

Donovan snickered and said, “The day is mine.”

“Yeah, yeah...” Troy picked himself up with Yuki's help, brushing the grass off his shirt. “What was that? Did you throw your voice or something?”

“Now you can't even trust your ears.”

“You know you wouldn't need to do that if you didn't give yourself away whenever you teleport.”

“All a setup for this triumphant victory!” Donovan boasted. “The winning streak continues!”

“Yeah... two,” muttered Troy. “And that's only because you teleport all the time.”

“They usually disable that in real fights,” said Yuki. “Maybe we should get Bryce to put up a counter spell next time.”

Donovan threw his hands to his hips. “And impede my chances? Never!”

Troy shook his head. “Anyway, same time next Monday?” Despite school being out, he was in no mood to cease what had been very engaging and productive sparring matches.

“Sorry, Troy,” Yuki said. “Now that school's out, I'm heading back home for a couple weeks. We'll have to wait until I get back.”

“Nonsense! We can still-”

Troy interrupted Donovan, “Not without a healer. Those shots sting enough with one.” He turned to Yuki. “As long as we get one more in before we head back to Central.”

“Deal,” Yuki replied. “I gotta get going. Haven't started packing yet.”

Troy didn't waste any time hanging around Donovan, heading home himself as soon as Yuki ran off. He walked instead of teleporting, typical as Donovan tended to sour the whole concept of teleporting during their bouts.

In the weeks they had been sparring, Troy still won more often than he lost. But losing twice in a row was alarming. Donovan was closing the gap, and Troy couldn't figure out why. When they had first started, Troy dominated, losing only when he would get suckered into one of Donovan's traps. Even then, Donovan fell into his own just as often. Ability-wise, he wasn't a threat.

Now, Donovan seemed to be getting craftier, using Weaver parlor tricks to make up for his lack of variety in his attacks. As a Thruster, Troy was stronger offensively, but couldn't get as cute with his complimentary spells. It was the only weakness he could perceive but it bothered him, especially on days like this where he lost because of it.

What it all boiled down to was that Troy needed to keep working at it, especially the little things that didn't look at all flashy, but could help out in random situations. As soon as he got home, he ran to his room to see if there was anything he could put to practice.

At least he tried to. His mother was heading downstairs and intercepted him. “So what were you up to today?” she asked, trying to motion Troy back to the bottom of the steps so she could get through with a laundry basket.

“Sparring with Donovan and Yuki,” he replied, finally obliging. “Can't quit practicing just because school's out.” As soon as Ellen cleared a path, he flew upstairs.

“Actually, Troy...” She tried to stop him, but he was already gone.

Ellen didn't give up. After depositing her basket in the laundry room, she followed him up and knocked on his door. He allowed her in, but was too busy with a textbook to open the door. “What's up?” he asked, not looking up.

“Were you planning on doing this all summer?”

“I don't know. Maybe I'll take a break after I get back from Central. Why?”

“Well, you've been spending a lot of time reading in here. You don't seem to be going out much with Kathryn anymore.”

“We're, uh, not really hanging out right now.” Troy shifted his eyes. “Long story.”

“Hmm... I would think that after what happened to Kurt and Marie, you two would be sticking together even more.”

He looked straight back at her. “Yeah. So did I.”

“It's just odd that you're only hanging out with Donovan. I'm not too sure about that kid.”

“He's a wacko,” Troy said. “But he puts up a good fight.”

“Is that all you're looking for in friends these days?”

Troy didn't answer, instead returning to his textbook.

Ellen took a different route. “Well, if you've got free time this summer, I saw a few places that were hiring. I'm sure somebody would be okay with you leaving for a bit in July.”

Troy definitely didn't respond to that, so she persisted. “It's just that I don't want you to spend all summer in here. And you know I'm not making Golden Sun money anymore. It wouldn't hurt for you to save up a bit more.”

“I don't really have anything to spend it on,” Troy replied. “As you said, I'm not going out much.”

“Troy, I just-”

“Look, this is important to me.” He turned to her again. “This is an opportunity. I feel like I can really do something if I throw myself in it.” He was about to say something about his dad, but wasn't sure how well that would play.

He got his answer when Ellen sighed and said, “Yeah.” Walking away, she mumbled, “I've heard that one before.”





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