Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 56: Traveling

Session One

Molly no longer questioned it when Marlowe called for her. Getting calls on her phone, calls on her ear and even calls to go to Indiana were pretty routine nowadays. It wasn't that she trusted him any more- quite the opposite actually. She just assumed he was up to something devious and didn't think on it much until she could find out what it was.

No matter how accustomed she was to Marlowe, getting summoned to Central was still a bitch. She drove through the countryside, dismayed at how she was getting used to this trip. It wasn't fun or at all remarkable, but naturally felt shorter the more it was taken. The more landmarks she recognized along the way, the worse she felt about such an excruciating drive becoming part of her.

Her companion wasn't helping. Donovan faced straight forward, motionless. If it weren't for his eyes being open, Molly would have assumed he was asleep. For all she knew, he still might have been.

She didn't find it all that odd that Marlowe had requested that he tag along. The circumstances behind his possession had never been addressed much in the two months since the incident. What she found odd was that this trip took two months to happen. Nothing was fresh in their memories, not that Donovan had any to begin with, and with only a month until the next academy session, what was the point in requesting a visit now?

Despite the familiarity with the drive, Molly was still bored by it. She resorted to small talk, hoping she would get something out of it. She could even handle being irritated at this point. “So how have your training bouts been going?”

Donovan snickered. “Excellent. I am starting to gain the upper hand in the struggle.”

“Really?” Shockingly, Molly found herself surprised and genuinely interested. While she had no patience for dealing with either Donovan or Troy, she fully condoned them beating each other up. Knocking heads with Yuki on healing duty was a really good idea that she was probably going to get credit for, and wished she could accept. The fact that it also involved inflicting pain on each other was a bonus.

“Indeed,” Donovan said. “He may have power, but he is no match for my wits.”

That was a very unusual way of putting it, but the numbers bore it out: Troy was immensely talented at unleashing raw water magic, while Donovan's lack of demon assistance made him rely on his skills as a Weaver. The fact that he was keeping pace with Troy was actually quite encouraging.

Central Academy was dead, as always. Molly was now more used to seeing it like this than the upbeat college atmosphere almost every other student was used to. No matter how much she preferred things quiet, this still felt like work. In spite of Donovan demanding they teleport, Molly insisted on walking. It gave her a chance to stretch her legs out, collect her thoughts and delay whatever Marlowe had in store for them.

They still arrived, however, and Marlowe greeted them warmly.

“Molly! Donovan! Glad you two could make it! Have a seat.” They did, wordlessly and not reciprocating the warm welcome.

“So what is it this time? It's a bit late to re-open the possession incident,” Molly asked.

Marlowe waved her off. “All in good time. How's life for the new graduate? Have you told your parents yet?”

With a bit of a shudder, Molly replied, “I'd prefer not to.” She wasn't sure if she feared them freaking out about it or them accepting it too readily. Either way it was bad.

“You shouldn't wait too long. They might start asking about your plans in life. College only buys you a few years.”

“I didn't drive five hours to see a guidance counselor. Why are we here?”

“Well, as you guessed, I did have a couple questions about the events leading up to Donovan's possession.” Marlowe turned to Donovan. “Now that you've had some time to recover and school's not in the way, it would be nice to clear some things up. Namely what exactly triggered the possession and if there was anything that came up in your discussion with the Hokoni figure you spoke with.

Donovan sneered. “He insulted us.”

“That I can believe. Anything particular?”

“He refused our assistance in his quest for vengeance because I refused to be his puppet.”

Marlowe leaned in. “Quest for vengeance? Did he say against whom?”

“He did. He was plotting a vendetta against the Hageshoni.”

With a wide grin, Marlowe continued. “Did he say why he wanted vengeance?”

Donovan moved closer, as if this was new information and not extensively documented: “It was one of them that eliminated Kendrick.”

Molly coughed. “Why does any of this matter to us? You could have asked us about this weeks ago instead of dragging-”

Holding a finger up to silence Molly, Marlowe continued, “Was this demon named Grandon Crostell?”

Donovan flared his nostrils. “You know him...”

“He's a top Hokoni official. Of course I know him!” Marlowe sat back, still grinning. “I'm sure Molly's heard of him too.”

He turned to Molly, who didn't flinch. “Name rings a bell. But again: what does this have to do with us? Whatever he and Donovan were discussing fell through. Not only that, but we already took out Sho.” She rolled her eyes and sighed; there was no getting around spinning it dramatically. “So, if we must use such terms, Kendrick has been avenged.”

Marlowe nodded, happy to see Molly playing along. “Indeed. But you guys took him out, not the Hokoni. And it was the Hageshoni as a whole who orchestrated the attack on your school. So they're not satisfied.”

“Makes sense, I guess, but now you're just speculating. And again... what the hell does this have to do with us?”

“It's not speculation, Molly.” Marlowe folded his hands. “Grandon Crostell is leading a Hokoni army in an attempt to conquer a Hageshoni realm.”

Donovan grunted, mumbling, “We should wipe them both out.”

“Excellent idea!” Marlowe boasted. “And to answer your question, Molly, that's your new field assignment!”


Session Two

At first, Molly was merely stunned at the sudden reveal of her unit's substitute field assignment. While she had considered the possibility, she had expected the trip to be primarily about Donovan. Announcing a field assignment could have been done over that Skype thing. She didn't freak out over the assignment itself, as it couldn't possibly be as immense as eliminating two demon armies at once. Then again, it was Marlowe so nothing was certain.

Marlowe led Molly and Donovan to the temporary command center. Donovan should have remembered it as the one Uriel had used to monitor the whole Urayoni thing, but he said nothing as they entered. Reggie and Meg were already inside.

“So, is this for reals this time?” Reggie said, leaning back in his chair.

“Sure is,” Marlowe said, seating down and gesturing for Molly and Donovan to do the same.

“Where's Giles?” Molly asked Meg.

“Work. Besides, this is Guardians only!” replied Mindy, ignoring the fact that she herself wasn't the guardian. “Why's Donovan here?”

“Enlightenment,” Marlowe answered. “He was the sole witness to the incident that seemed to spark this opportunity.”

“Opportunity?” Molly narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said something about stopping a Hokoni invasion.”

“Stopping? Not at all! This invasion could be our biggest break in years! We've been trying to regain control of Enriel since forever and we might be able to make a stab at it now.”

“How is a Hokoni invasion going to help us?” Meg asked.

“Simple: they thin out the Hageshoni to the point where we can swoop in and take over.”

Meg thought this out. “So in other words... we're not fighting the Hokoni...”

Maple finished the thought. “...we're fighting both the Hokoni and the Hageshoni?”

“Sweet!” Reggie shouted.

“It's not sweet!” Morgan shouted back. “But I wouldn't mind some payback.”

“Yeah, it was a Hokoni who got us all stuck with Meg,” Mindy added.

Molly held a hand up. “You're expecting us to go in, alone, and fight two armies on the assumption that they will thin each other out first?”

Marlowe chuckled. “This is a punishment, remember.” After the glare, he backed down. “Actually, by the time we get to that part, I understand we'll have plenty of troops ready to charge in and help do the dirty work. You'll be working with our commander there sowing the seeds, so to speak.”

“Please elaborate,” Donovan said. Despite his low voice he seemed to be interested, as if it were some underhanded deal.

“We've had a peacekeeping team in there for a long time. Too small to take on the Hageshoni controlling the world, but strong enough not to be taken lightly. The Hageshoni put up with them because they don't want to risk getting drawn into something bigger.”

“Well, if there's a team in there already and troops ready to be sent in at the right time... what are we for?” Meg asked.

“Usual prep stuff. Scouting, defending against anything hostile...” Marlowe thought for a moment and added, “The Hokoni are big on propaganda, so we may have to whip up some of our own to get support from the natives. If we send the big guns in now the demons will get antsy, but they wouldn't think anything of you guys. Wouldn't be the first time we've had field assignments in there.”

Maple nervously raised a hand. “Um, it still sounds like a big mission. Is there something about this place that we need to have?”

Marlowe shrugged. “Resource denial, probably. There's stuff in there the Hageshoni can use. We don't want them to. They can't all be holy crusades.”

“Well, sign me up,” Reggie said, rubbing his hands together. “When do we leave?”

“Monday.” Marlowe made sure to look away from Molly and whatever was on her face. “Sorry it's short notice, but this just came up and the commander there doesn't want things to go unchecked for too long.”

“That does pose a problem,” Molly said calmly. “Two of my students are not available.”

“I bet we can fix that.” Marlowe grinned. “Try me.”

“Yuki is with her family in Japan. She won't be back for-”

Marlowe pinched his ear before she even finished. “Get a hold of the Shizuka house in Japan. Tell them we need to kidnap Yuki next week.” With that bit of telepathy out of the way, he turned back to Molly. “That was an easy one. Her grandfather has a private telecopter. She could be here in an hour if we wanted.”

Suddenly feeling deterred, Molly hesitantly tried the second. “Kathryn is going to a basketball camp next week at Ohio State.” Marlowe raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, but Molly continued, “This has serious implications on her ability to attend college, so I would not want to pull her out of... it would be a detriment to morale.”

Marlowe opened his mouth, but paused. The stern look on Molly's face changed his approach. “Well, we were of course hoping she would come along.”

“Does it have to be our unit?”

“Yes. Not only was Donovan there when the first shot was fired, but all three of your units have experience fighting one or both of these factions. The commander in Enriel was very excited about having you.”

Molly didn't care. “What if she refuses?”

“Well, you still have five in your unit, so it remains a legitimate operation. Kathryn should be aware that this may impair her ability to graduate down the road.”

“Somehow I don't think she'll mind.”

“If she's comfortable with that, then I suppose we'll let her skip if she must.”

Molly nodded. That was going to be a fun chat.

“If there are no other questions, I'll let you get to packing! I'll e-mail you all the paperwork tomorrow.” With another grin, Marlowe walked out of the room.

Leaning back, Molly looked at Donovan, glaring idly at the door. They had been there a total of twenty-eight minutes and were already released to make the five hour return trip. She wondered if Donovan would mind if they stopped by that nice Greek restaurant on the way back.

Reggie snickered, “Man, knocking heads with two demon factions at once. Sounds like something I'd pick normally.”

“Just try not to slack off, okay?” said Meg. “I'd like to actually pass this one.”

“Eh, if we fail, I'm in school another year. Nothing bad happens.”

“Yeah, nothing bad ever happens on field assignments,” said Mindy. Somehow Molly and Reggie felt Meg and Morgan echoing her from the same body. Reggie snickered. Molly felt sick: not only was she staring at a lofty field assignment, the two units working with her had the most notorious winless streaks in the school.


Session Three

As always, the devil was in the details. Not that Molly was enthralled with the idea to begin with, but the e-mail with the assignment summary, list of preparations required and extensive waiver forms made it all that much worse. No matter how leery she was of Marlowe, she still continued to fall for his knack of making the most drastic actions and dire news seem like trivial matters.

It wasn't until she got home and actually read through everything that she realized just what they were up against. True, the troop would be merely (or perhaps allegedly) used in support only, but it was still a hostile world, soon to be wartorn, with few modern amenities. One of those old school medieval European places if she read the brochure right. The culture shock alone was scary enough.

Molly wasn't sure if her unit would adapt. She wasn't sure how well she'd fare either. Gripes from Renee about the lack of internet access were cute; lack of sanitized drinking water was another matter entirely. Her brief stay at the Urayoni compound was bad enough, and even they had indoor plumbing. The guide to Enriel neglected to mention having such a luxury.

She could tell immediately that this would be a stressful, aggravating process. For purposes of her own sanity, Molly quietly wished Kathryn could have come along. At least then they could bitch about it all together. Molly had come to appreciate having such a sounding board already, and knew she would miss it dearly.

“They have castles there? Like honest-to-God castle castles?” Renee said, reading through the pretty pdf provided by the Enriel Visitor's Center. It suckered Renee in pretty quickly. It was why Molly could only get so much from her sister. When they arrived and inevitably living not in an honest-to-God castle castle but some dirty cottage, Renee would certainly be providing her share of the stress.

“Apparently,” Molly replied. “Standard medieval fantasy setting by the looks of it.

Renee scrolled down and gushed at the picture of a majestic griffin flying past a waterfall. “Awesome...” Molly noticed some conflicting shadows: the griffin was superimposed over the backdrop. She could only wonder how the Enriel Visitor's Center had access to Photoshop.

“Molly?” her dad cried from downstairs. “Kathryn's here to see you!”

“Send her up!” Molly shouted back.

“You didn't tell me Kathryn was coming over,” Renee said, eyes still fixed on the screen.

“We have some things to discuss privately.”

Renee didn't get the message and was still reading through the brochure when Kathryn arrived. “Oh God, Kathryn, you've got to see this place,” she said.

“I'll pass. Not really up my alley.”

“Shame you might miss this. It looks awesome.”

Molly coughed to draw Renee's attention. “If you don't mind, Renee...”

“Mind what?”

“If you're trying to talk me into going, you might want to keep her around,” Kathryn muttered. “She's a good cheerleader.”

“Go away, Renee,” Molly said, harsher.

Frowning at Molly, Renee hopped off the desk chair and walked out. “You don't have to be mean about it,” she mumbled.

With her out of the way, Kathryn said, “So all this and you're still going to try to get me to go along?”

“Officially, yes,” Molly replied coldly, flipping to a different page on her computer. “As Guardian, I must caution that missing this may make it impossible for you to graduate the academy, and that the MST has little patience for dropouts.”

“Really, Molly? This act again?” Kathryn sat on the bed, folding her arms. “Yeah, I'm scared of that recalibration thing, but I don't want my future to be with those guys. This camp is my future. This is what I want. So don't try to pull anything.”

“Unofficially, I think you should do what you want,” Molly turned back to Kathryn. “Usually they don't budge with stuff like this. At least they gave you an opening if you want to skip this. Take it if you must.”

“If I must? Jeez, don't give me a guilt trip. You know how important this is to me.”

Molly nodded back curtly. “Right.” Sighing, she added, “I guess both of us have given far too much to the MST. Sad that either you or me get to be selfish this time.”

“Selfish?! I...” Kathryn stopped before she got too livid. She pieced it together. “You really want me to go, don't you?”

“I don't care what Marlowe or the brochures say, this is going to be a very trying trip. Having you around would make things far more tolerable. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't think twice about letting you skip it. You attending would be more for me than for them.”

Kathryn stared back for a long time. Molly could tell she was thinking about it. It was killing her, but she was thinking about it. It killed Molly too. This decision should have been easier, and Molly was going to feel bad no matter which way it went.

Finally, Kathryn shook her head and mumbled, “I can't.” She stood up. “I need to get my life in order and the farther I get from the MST, the better. I mean, it's silly that every time I go to Central they use a basketball camp as a cover story. Now they don't want me to go to one for real. I can't miss an actual basketball camp by saying I'm going to a fake one.”

Molly nodded and took a sheet off her printer. Scanning it, she said, “Looks like this fake one's in Spain.” She handed the sheet to Kathryn.

“Wonderful.” Kathryn took only the slightly glance at it before crumpling it up. “You're not pissed off, I hope?”

Shaking her head, Molly said, “More like jealous. At least you have the chance to skip this.” Chuckling to herself, she added, “And a reason to.”


Session Four

Kathryn returned home angry with herself. She knew she had made the correct decision and, in all honesty, it shouldn't have been a difficult decision at all. It was a no-brainer choosing her preferred career over whatever the MST called a field assignment. She was angry about how much it bothered her.

Now matter how much it had been dressed up, the assignment sounded rough. Both Kathryn and Molly saw it immediately. Originally, Kathryn scoffed at it, determined to play hooky no matter what. That changed when she realized that Molly had a similar reaction. Molly had to go through with it, stuck as the MST's pawn for some opportunistic land grab.

Between Donovan accepting a demon, Kurt's death, the Hageshoni attack, the student uprising and trying to survive high school after it, Molly had broken down. Kathryn saw that, and liked to think that she was providing at least a little support. It seemed that Molly was starting to lean on Kathryn more and more, and Kathryn was happy to be there. She was pretty broken down herself, after all.

She still hadn't expected that Molly would hope for Kathryn to tag along. Even as Molly discussed it with Marlowe in advance and had all the consequences laid out, clearly she was still wishing Kathryn would bite the bullet too. It made sense too, since much of the stress would probably be something she could laugh at, like the backwards world where they would be staying. She could certainly help with the mission itself, particularly whatever combat was involved, although Kathryn did not want to think about that. Those aside, the rest of it sounded like a situation best handled with humor, like several she had helped Troy survive.

Her years with Troy ultimately convinced Kathryn to skip. She had spent so long helping Troy through his problems, propelled by this nagging desire to help those who needed it. He had certainly needed it, but the more she learned about him, the less she felt he had deserved it. That shouldn't have had as much of an impact on whether or not to help Molly, but Kathryn had sacrificed far too much to blindly give more. She had to start getting her own life back in order, no matter how guilty she felt about it.

She wasn't used to putting herself before others. No matter how correct she was in securing her own future over risking it to provide moral support, Kathryn was still prioritizing herself. It just felt wrong.

The only solace she could take was that it was done. She didn't care what consequences it had with the MST. If this was grounds for future memory recalibration, she was starting to come around to the idea. As bad as Molly said it would be, at least she would be rid of it all. With her future to look forward to and Troy out of the picture, Kathryn could deal with the possibility of not remembering Kurt. Another selfish thought, she knew, but she would probably end up better off in the end.

If she was going to be selfish, Kathryn wanted to go all out. With any luck, she could commit herself at camp and not worry about how everybody was doing in Enriel. Basketball was one of the few things she could lose herself in, and she hoped this would be no exception. These camps had been used as her alibi for so long she looked forward to actually attending one, even if it wasn't actually in Spain.

Her cell phone rang, jarring her from her thoughts. She was happy for the distraction. This wasn't something she wanted to dwell on forever. “Hello?” she answered.

“Kathryn?” It was a man. The voice sounded familiar, but it took a moment to place. After she affirmed he said, “Jim Matson, The Ohio State University.” She was instantly hushed: this was the head coach for the women's basketball team. Knowing all the restrictions in place about coaches calling recruits, this call must have been important.

Still, she wanted to be answering to this guy in a year and she perked up quickly. “Hi, Coach!” Her enthusiasm was not artificial.

“All packed yet?”

“Um... not yet. Planning to start tomorrow.”

“Ah. Well, I just heard that you got chosen and wanted to say congratulations.”

Now she was just confused. Whatever being 'chosen' meant, this was the guy she wanted to choose her. “Pardon?” she asked.

“Sorry, I meant getting picked for Sevilla's overseas development program. Some pretty good players have come out of that. One of last year's picks is playing for Tennessee next season. It's a good sign.”

Kathryn gritted her teeth. Was the MST getting too far ahead of itself in covering its bases? Or was this a preemptive strike?

“Well... yeah, I guess but-”

The coach interrupted, “Shame you won't be at the camp next week, I was really hoping to see you in action. Tried to catch you this year. Heard you had a rough spring. Either way, they're pretty good about getting us tape. You're still high on our watch list.”

All Kathryn could do was stew silently. Much as she wanted to lash out and kill somebody, it wasn't about to be her ideal future coach.

“So yeah, good luck, we'll keep tabs on you and stay in touch. Make sure to stay out of trouble, turn down anyone offering you big piles of money. And for God's sake, stay away from tattoo parlors.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” she mumbled. And that was that.

She sat down on her bed, still trying to process what had just happened. In theory, none of her future aspirations were actually jeopardized. The coach seemed quite content with the development and was still interested in signing her. It was still a dirty move, no matter who was responsible.

Her phone rang again. Numb, she answered, “Yeah?”

It was Marlowe. “Get everything straightened out with the coach?”

Kathryn jumped up and snapped back, “How the hell did you get my number?!”

“Never mind that. Molly informed me of your little dilemma. Amazing how everybody underestimates our ability to sell absences. Really, your camp conflict was no trouble at all!”

Now she was livid. “I wanted to go to that!”

“Ah. Well, duty calls.”

“I could still skip this you know. Just because you got me out of the camp-”

Marlowe brushed that off effortlessly. “True, true, but what does that accomplish? Molly doesn't get your help, you don't get your camp and we don't cover your tracks.”

“Yeah right. Like you'd be able to prove I was playing in Spain over the summer.”

“A fudged website and a little video editing go a long way.” She could picture his mischievous grin through his voice. “Same thing happened with a freshman last year and it worked out great. I hear she's playing for Tennessee next season!”


Session Five

The logistics behind getting everybody to the launch point seemed simple on paper. Molly had assumed it was the same as driving the unit to a normal session at Central Academy. There were, however, complications when it came to inter-dimensional travel.

“What's the holdup? You can't just teleport everything like we always do?” Troy asked. He had his bags laid out on the sidewalk outside Molly's house.

Molly read a printout carefully and shook her head. “That's what I thought. Apparently the odds of getting both these bags and ourselves to the MST compound in Enriel in one night aren't so good.”

Renee immediately started scooping up as much as she could off the sidewalk. “Forget it, I'll carry it.” With too much in her arms, she tried to grab a trunk and dropped it all.

Troy took a step towards helping her, then stopped himself. “What do you mean?” he asked Molly. “They might screw up getting us there too?”

Molly continued reading. “The compound is near the transporter, but not directly on it. It's still a hike and apparently they would rather we have our bases covered in case we get... interrupted.”

Imposing as that sounded, Donovan nodded. “Ah... so we are to take a day's worth of provisions...”

“Something like that,” Molly replied. Donovan snapped his finger and Blaine got to work.

Troy nodded and opened one of his bags. Renee stared back, daunted. “Is it really that dangerous that they want us to expect something like that?”

“No. The other half of it is preparing for the possibility that the bags don't arrive on time. It's not as instantaneous due to customs.”

“What, they think we're going to smuggle stuff in?” Troy asked.

“I wouldn't put it past Reggie,” Molly muttered. “But it's probably more for our clothes. You never know with these worlds. Who's to say villagers won't take up torches and pitchforks at the sight of denim?”

“Denim?” Renee peeked in her bag. “Oh boy.”

“It was an example.” Molly leaned in to see into Renee's bag. “That's why other magi sift through it and decide what's not appropriate. Expect a few magical alterations.”

“Uh...” Troy held out his mp3 player. “If they freak out over clothes, I don't suppose they like modern technology either.”

Molly furrowed her brow and read through the sheet. Then she shrugged. “No, but you're not wearing it. Keep it to yourself and you're fine.” She pointed at it. “Better make sure it's charged though.”

Troy stared at it, then started digging through his bags. “I have a car charger. Would it be all right if I-”


He re-zipped everything and muttered, “Why'd I even ask?”

“See, I was good. I didn't take any of that stuff,” Renee boasted. “All I've got is my cell phone.” She held it out; it was a smartphone that played both music and games.

“Cell phones don't work in medieval fantasy worlds,” Molly stated, annoyed that this had to be pointed out to Renee. “That's why they advised us not to bring them.”

Renee sheepishly pocketed the phone, then picked up her 'day's worth of previsions.' It weighed a ton. “Well, I'm ready.”

“Yeah, let's go,” Troy added, shouldering his much lighter bag.

Molly didn't ask if Donovan was prepared. She activated the circle and sent everything off. Troy and Donovan didn't even watch their possessions leave the plane of existence. Instead they jumped in the van. Renee only watched in case it was the last she ever saw of her stuff.

Back in the driver's seat once again, Molly turned to her co-pilot. “Looks like we were supposed to keep a bag with us anyway.”

Kathryn clutched the duffel bag around her shoulder, still staring out the passenger-side window. “Great,” she mumbled. “Let's get going.”

Molly started the van and pulled out. Once in traffic, she said, “I don't like how it happened either, but if it makes you feel better I am glad you decided to come.”

Shaking her head, Kathryn replied, “You know that place in Spain I'm supposed to be going to? I checked their website and my name's on the roster. It's disgusting.”

“Try not to get upset about it, Kathryn,” Renee said, attempting to be reassuring. “Marlowe's screwed all of us over.”

“Speaking of which...” Donovan said, pausing dramatically. “Where is our healer?”

“She's meeting us there,” Molly replied. “I assume she's been briefed on everything.” As soon as she said it, she realized she probably shouldn't assume anything, especially when it came to informing a prominent magic family about its young scion's perilous mission abroad.

“Gonna be a long trip without her,” Troy mumbled.

“It's a long trip anyway,” Kathryn mumbled back.

That was the extent of the conversation for the next hour or so. It felt appropriate to Molly, who drove on silently as the four passengers tried to occupy themselves without creating a scene.





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