Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 57: Enriel

Session One

Cramming sixteen students into the small command center was impractical, even if there were only thirteen bodies. So Molly's printout instructed her to go to a more appropriate room for the briefing. She trudged down the hallway in search of the right room number as her unit followed. When she saw which room it was, she sighed.

“Figures,” she mumbled as they entered the makeshift courtroom for all their previous tribunals.

At least the tables had been shoved against the wall and replaced with enough seating for everybody. Meg and Reggie's units were already there. So was Yuki.

“About time you got here! I was starting to get worried,” she chirped.

Molly checked her watch: she was five minutes early. Not as punctual as she usually tried to be, but worrisome? “We hit road construction,” she replied. “When did you get here?”

“And how?” Renee asked eagerly.

Yuki answered Renee's question first: “Magic. And I've been here for an hour.”

The five new arrivals sat with Yuki, but Meg started chatting with Molly immediately.

Troy set his backpack down, giving himself a respite from lugging it through the administration building. It made him notice that Reggie and his girls had packed light. To be precise, only Candace had anything, and that was simply a small duffel bag.

He turned to Reggie. “I thought we were supposed to keep a change of clothes on us.” Reggie smiled and pointed at Candace's bag.

Renee smiled. “Oh I get it! Bag of holding?”

“What's a bag of holding?” Candace asked.

“Let's just say we packed light,” Reggie said. He also winked at Troy. “And that you might want to cheer for us having to camp overnight somewhere.”

“Reggie, I could hug you,” Kathryn muttered. “With you, I can survive this.”

Snorting in dismissive humor, Reggie said, “A hug? Cute.” Wrong as it was, it made Kathryn smile.

It didn't last long as Uriel and Marlowe entered the room through what had always been presented as the entrance to some judge's chamber. Apparently it wasn't.

“Wait, you're heading this up?” Molly asked, confused.

Dour, Uriel replied, “No, but some commanding officer needs to brief you.” He darted his head towards Marlowe. “Somebody believes he can drag me here from Cincinnati whenever he feels like it.”

Grinning, Marlowe shrugged, “The commander in charge of the operation is already stationed in Enriel and the bigwigs making the calls aren't here either. Normally this is a job for the chancellor, but he's at a golf retreat in Phoenix this week.”

“I was supposed to go to that,” Uriel mumbled.

“So he got you too, huh?” Kathryn replied. Marlowe covered his mouth and chuckled to himself.

Uriel flipped open a folder and raised his voice, not looking up at the troop in front of him. “Anyway, did the three guardians get the e-mail that was sent about the world you were assigned to?”

Molly and Meg nodded. Reggie said, “E-mail? You think I have a computer?”

“Wow, Uriel, you're finding common ground with everybody today,” Marlowe quipped.

Uriel shot Marlowe a nasty look, then handed a spare packet to Reggie. “Anyway, that has the basic information about Enriel and what to expect. You were all told what to bring. If you didn't... too late now.”

He then summarized the exact scenario: the Hageshoni had taken over Enriel a century ago and have been using it to produce time-appropriate weaponry for waging war in other medieval fantasy realms. Apparently broadswords and maces produced by modern war factories just didn't feel right. Taking this realm back would deal a serious blow to Hageshoni campaigns everywhere.

The Hokoni invasion appeared to be a short-sighted attempt at revenge over Kendrick's murder. They lashed out and did that sort of thing once in a while. On their own, they were doomed to failure. But they would at least get the Hageshoni to work up a sweat defending themselves. Once they whittle each other's armies down, the MST had a golden chance to swoop in and rid Enriel of both factions.

The assignment: scout ahead to provide MST generals a blow-by-blow of this invasion, including the power both sides have at their disposal. Furthermore, stir the local population against the invasion in an effort to counter the inevitable Hokoni propaganda campaign. Given the local disdain for the Hageshoni establishment, the MST will have an easier time gaining support when they invade.

Renee raised a hand. “Sounds um... pretty nasty.”

Meg shrugged. “Sounds like a typical field assignment. How much fighting will we have to do?”

“It should be minimal,” Uriel said, “We'll be pretending to keep the peace in this phase, so neither faction would be interested in fighting us.”

He looked at Marlowe, who nodded in response. That was enough to Uriel to turn back and add, “That being said, this is the Hageshoni and an agitated Hokoni faction we're talking about. So be on your toes.”

Morgan grinned. “What Meg meant was that we're eager to go kick some ass.”

Reggie cheered and leaned in for a high-five, but Meg left him hanging. “No, it really wasn't,” she replied.

“Good.” Uriel looked through his notes. “Looks like the transporter is a couple miles from our main base of operations. Unfortunately, you will have to get yourselves there the old-fashioned way. I'm supposed to give one of you a navigational aid that will lead you to our base.” He turned to Marlowe. “Please say you know something about that.”

Marlowe smiled. “I know better than to trust you with technology.” He held up a small circular device. “Who wants it?”

Renee and Donovan eagerly volunteered. Marlowe wisely chose Renee. Looking it over, she made the obvious parallel. “So I'm assuming this works like a GPS?”

“What's a GPS?” Uriel replied.

Marlowe replied better. “Precisely. It's powered by magic, of course, but the coordinates have already been entered. Just follow the reading and hope the terrain isn't rough.”

“And if there are mountains, you are free to fly over them,” Uriel replied. “Magic is more commonplace in this realm, so there is no need for hiding your powers or going into displacement.”

When Donovan grinned, Uriel added, “That being said, don't overdo it. Regardless of who is or isn't trying to attack you, we recommend a low profile whenever possible. Any other questions?”

Kathryn raised a hand. “How long will we be there?”

“Until the job is done or you are no longer useful. When you arrive at base, the residing commander will be in charge. He will be evaluating your performances. Just remember that you are there to complete the mission as a group, not to impress the judges.”

Uriel looked over the troop one more time. Some were anxious, some were bored and some were eager to get out there. Nobody had any questions... at least none that they thought he could help answer.

He nodded. “All right then. Let's go.”


Session Two

Back when they were sneaking off to the dimensional transporter to rescue Renee, it seemed to be in an ordinary dark hallway in the administrative building. Marching down that same hallway in full light and the academy's blessing, it appeared a bit more regal. Along its high ceilings and hung on fresh paint job were framed pictures of important people, places and times in Central Academy's history. What then seemed to be an odd layout now appeared to be a perfectly logical terminal.

“Everybody step on the platform and make sure all bags, straps and limbs are within the perimeter,” Uriel said, motioning for the troop to step on.

Chuckling, Morgan replied, “Not like we haven't done this before.”

Marlowe turned to Molly. “Reggie and Meg already know this, but while on assignment you are authorized to use telepathy to communicate to your unit, and back and forth between the other guardians.”

“What about us?” Renee asked.

“If you know how to do it, knock yourself out!”

Looking over a file, Uriel said, “When you arrive, there will be a brochure rack with maps to the area. If you don't already have information, I suggest you raid it. There is also a bathroom there. You should all use it, since you may not see another decent one for some time. Try not to be seen as you leave as we prefer to keep the location of the transporter and home base a secret. Changing the location of a dimensional transporter is a true pain.”

Marlowe nodded. “Yep, so lay low until you are a ways away, then use the navigator to get to base ASAP.”

They paused for about one second to allow for last-second questions. When they received none, Uriel nodded to the control room and the platform started glowing.

“At last, we go into the breach,” Donovan said. Mindy smiled and waved goodbye.

Walls of white light surrounded them for a few seconds. There was also a low humming that they felt more than heard. Given how complex the process was, interdimensional travel was awfully silent, and no more disorienting than routine teleportation. The light subsided, the platform dimmed and they found themselves on the other side.

At least this terminal was a good deal fancier than the one outside Lumine Keep. It was well-lit, especially for a world without electricity, and resembled a small Amtrak station. One serving smaller cities that didn't sell tickets at the window. The more savvy among the group, namely Molly, Renee, Giles and Reggie, found and rushed into the restrooms the moment they saw them. Yuki and Cammy raided the information table, but most took a seat and waited.

With her guardian using the facilities, Carmen stared at Donovan. She looked disappointed. He noticed eventually and completely misinterpreted. “You seem to be in awe of my presense.”

Shrugging, she replied, “I was hoping for a full reunion. You didn't bring the other two along.”

“Don't suppose you can drag them across dimensions, huh?” Meg said.

Donovan remained silent. Meg clicked her tongue. “Thought so.”

“Should have thought about that before we left,” Troy said. “We could always use a couple minions.”

“That's putting it lightly,” Kathryn said, scoffing. “I mean, how the heck are we supposed to rally the locals across an entire world?” She looked around and did a quick count. “There's what, thirteen of us?”

“Hey, check your math!” Morgan shouted.

“Yeah, you're forgetting a couple!” added Mindy.

Kathryn shook her head. “Fine, sixteen. But still!”

“Sir!” came the united call from Blaine and Bryce. Everybody turned to them. And Donovan.

He grinned at Meg, then Kathryn. “I believe the numbers are now in our favor,” he gloated.

Groaning, Kathryn said, “Okay, eighteen! You're missing my point!”

“Why did you call them now and not before?” Troy asked Donovan.

Donovan chuckled. “Why indeed...”

“Heh, Donovan playing for laughs again?” Giles sat down next to them. With him back, Troy rushed off to use the facilities. “Good to know we have someone keeping morale up.”

Kathryn snickered. “Heh. Morale. Funny.”

It took a while for all the girls to filter through the bathroom. Although Renee and Yuki were eager to get out there, Molly made everybody wait until everybody was done so everybody could stick together.

Not that it mattered as there was nothing but untouched wilderness when they opened the door. They were in a woodland area, with clumps of deciduous trees surrounding them, save for a narrow clearance that stretched in either direction. It was consistently ten yards wide, with only slight bumps here and there. To the left, it stretched down a hill and seemed to fork off several times. To the right it went uphill past their line of sight. The grass was neither groomed nor wild. It could have used a mowing, but despite the setting it looked like it had received one in the past.

“Well, at least we have a path,” Meg said.

Giles shook his head. “You'd think they'd make it look somewhat natural.”

“So... up the hill or down?” Troy asked.

“Oh, that's me, isn't it?” Renee fumbled with the navigator. It displayed a single blue dot in the upper-left of the circle. Pretending she knew what it meant, she pointed to her upper-left and proclaimed, “That way.”

She was pointing at a dark, impenetrable stretch of forest. Troy imagined lightning striking inside it.

“Okay then...” Meg stared at the trees and folded her arms. “Around, over or through?”

“Around,” said Maple.

“Over,” said Morgan.

“Through!” exclaimed Mindy.

Giles stared at them and said, “He said we had a couple miles to go. Let's follow the path as long as we can.”

“And stop arguing. It's freaking me out,” said Crystal.

Eager to conserve their energy and keep their sanity, Giles won. He and Molly led them down the path until they reached the bottom of the hill. As soon as Giles rounded the corner, he stopped and back up, tripping the whole procession in the process.

Cammy fell over Yuki, shouting, “Hey, down in fr-” until Molly cast a spell silencing her.

Giles pointed to Crystal, who got the hint immediately. She pulled out one of her mirrors, stepped over Yuki and Cammy and threw up an illusion wall to hide them.

No sooner had she put it up than two ugly monsters walked by. They were humanoid and walked on two legs, but their grotesque figures...

Actually, forget the description. Everybody recognized them as orcs and you would too.


Session Three

The pair of orcs stared straight at the group, certain they had heard something, but Crystal's illusion held and they shrugged it off and continued walking. Everybody shuffled into the woods for proper cover, prompting the orcs to turn around again. They shook their heads and marched along. If they had weapons, they were never unsheathed.

Once they believed they were out of earshot, the chatter began. “Why does every world we go to have to have orcs?” Crystal asked.

“It's pretty well established that MST terraformers are all giant Tolkien geeks,” Molly deadpanned.

“Heck, the world we hit last year had orcs... and that was basically steampunk,” Giles added.

“Enough talk,” Donovan said. “They're getting away!”

He stepped out of the brush and readied his trigger. Molly cast a spell tripping him into the grass.

“We're supposed to be laying low, remember?” Once she left the woods, everybody else followed.

“I don't know,” Morgan replied. “What do you think they were up to? Can't want them snooping around too much.”

“But how do we know they're bad guys?” Yuki asked.

Everybody stared at her blankly. Finally, Reggie answered, “They're... orcs.”

“But they're not demons,” Giles said. “We don't know who's allied with whom here.”

“But... they're orcs.”

Meg scratched her chin. “They didn't say anything about what do with hostile natives.”

Kathryn attempted to peer through the woods at the departing monsters. “They didn't look that hostile.”

“They're orcs!” shouted Morgan, immediately getting shushed.

Yes, the instructions were to lay low and not to engage demons. Unprovoked attacks on the natives should have been right out, but again- they were orcs.

Orcs are not uniform across every world. There are clear variances in their physical traits, habits, capacity for speech and ability to function in civilized society. It doesn't matter: the MST recognizes all orcs as hostile creatures that may be disposed without repercussion. Magi can (and often do) rack up a dozen hunting them under a flimsy self-defense argument. Normally such an injustice prompts an organization to fight for their recognition and protection... but they're orcs and no such movement has gained legs. Likewise, because they're orcs, there has been no noticeable population decrease in spite of what is essentially perpetual genocide.

Anyway, Morgan's shouting caught their attention and the orcs returned to investigate. The entire troop stared at the two orcs. The orcs jumped and ran like hell.

“Guess that solves that,” said Troy.

It would have if Donovan didn't chase after them, shouting, “You think you can escape?!”

They continued to run as Donovan charged an energy ball and fired at them. It hit one orc in the back, knocking him over. As it clutched its back, the second orc stopped and turned around.

By this time, Troy, Molly and Giles had caught up to Donovan. “What the hell are you doing?!” Molly shouted. The standing orc snarled at her as the fallen one got to its feet.

“Yeah, you don't know how strong they are,” Troy added.

Giles chimed in, “Actually, they're unarmed and very few worlds feature magic-wielding orcs, so his odds are pretty good.”

To prove his point, the orcs just stood there, snarling angrily at them. They seemed to recognize that engaging the group head on was a bad idea, but wanted to at least get their point across.

The volley came from behind, in the form of a giant rock that flew over Donovan's head and flattened the orc that had been, until now, untouched.

The other orc looked over the damage, stunned at the sight of his now unconscious companion. He turned back and got nary a snarl in before Donovan hit him with a second blast. This finished him off.

Giles sighed and turned around. “Morgan, was that really necessary?”

“Probably not,” Morgan said, chuckling. “Hell of a shot though!”

Renee and Kathryn arrived and looked over the orcs. Kathryn shook her head. “So, we just laid out two defenseless... things. What's next?”

Renee smiled. “Why, we loot their stuff of course!”

As Renee started sifting through the orcs' pockets, Kathryn turned back to Molly. “Doesn't anybody spot a problem with this?”

“What? They're orcs,” Molly replied.

“Besides, they might have neat stuff,” added Giles.

“Don't count on it,” said Yuki, far more certain that the statement implied. Everybody not looting turned to her. Hands on her hips, she explained, “Didn't you hear them? Before we knocked them out they were trying to tell us they were robbed!”

“She's right!” Renee stood up. “No bags, no weapons, pockets are empty.” She looked down at them. “Boy are they having a bad day.”

Even this earned them minimal sympathy. “Wait... you mean your Lucidrol works on orcs too?” Troy asked Yuki.

“Anything advanced enough to wear clothes,” Yuki replied. “They were trying to warn us about the bandits running through here.”

“Well, we're not hunting bandits,” Molly said, turning around and walking back toward the junction. “This way, I presume, Renee?”

Consulting the navigator quickly, Renee followed her sister. “Yeah, but is it safe to travel on the roads with bandits around? Especially if they can beat orcs.”

“We didn't have much difficulty beating them either. And we probably outnumber them.” Molly reached the junction and looked around. Her unit, Meg and Giles were behind her. Reggie, his girls and Donovan's minions were nowhere in sight.

“Wonderful,” Molly muttered.

“So much for outnumbering,” Meg said, clicking her tongue. “Wonder where they ran off to.”

“Oh, I think I know!” Mindy exclaimed, giggling.

Even Kathryn dismissed such indecency. “No... I don't think so. Blaine and Bryce are gone too.”

“Lucky them,” Troy replied.

“Actually...” Concerned, Renee cast a spell flattening a bit of brush and giving them a better look into the woods. They found Reggie up against the nearest tree.

They also found one of the bandits. It was a bipedal cat creature, the size of a small human, with dark fur, a simple tunic and a dirty brown bag over its shoulder that looked like it should have been (and likely originally was) with the orcs. Despite the mostly human posture, it had a tail, a distinctly feline face and paws armed with a set of sharp claws. One of them was pressed against Reggie's throat.


Session Four

To his credit, Reggie seemed pretty chill about the whole thing. He leaned against the tree, grimacing but not showing any signs of panic. His eyes were fixed on his assailant, but weren't wide, closed or otherwise frightened.

The cat thing took its eyes off Reggie just long enough to acknowledge that it had been discovered. Then it resumed screeching at Reggie. If the sound bore any resemblance to a cat, it was an extremely hostile one.

The spectators recoiled at the sound, then turned to Yuki. She answered, “We're being mugged. Do I need to spell it out?”

Donovan chortled. “So, do we take him out quickly or make him suffer?”

Before he could start up a spell, Giles stopped him. “Donovan, no!” Given the hostage situation, Giles was only the first to intervene. Only he added, “That's a female.” Amidst the confused looks, he explained, “Males don't gather in packs like this.”

None of this helped. Renee nervously looked around. “Packs?”

“She couldn't nab all the others on her own, could she?”

Actually, most of them had forgotten about the girls and the minions. Just as well, as Reggie was in the most visible danger and thus was their top concern.

The cat creature snarled again. Molly and Meg were quietly hatching an actual plan. “How's your accuracy?” Molly asked.

“Not bad, but just in case, can you get a shield that only protects Reggie?” Meg replied.

“No. But we can always heal him later.”

Meg nodded and readied a deluge of water. The creature wasn't paying too much attention as she seemed to know better than to take her eyes off Reggie for too long. A well-placed water blast would at least dislodge her long enough.

It never happened, however, as Troy screamed several yards away. While everybody was either planning or freaking out, Troy had taken flank directly behind the creature. Only now a second feline was all up in his face, swiping furiously at him. His shirt was already torn at the shoulder. Troy fired an ice spell, but she held up her arms and resisted it, looking merely uncomfortable and angrier until he cut it off. Then she tackled him.

Morgan launched a rock attack at them, not particularly concerned with whom it landed on. It bounced off the cat's head and while it struck Troy in the arm, it did the trick and separated the two. Troy bounced up and rejoined the group.

“Are... are you okay?” Maple asked as Troy clutched his arm.

“Fine.” Thankfully, it wasn't his casting arm. A second ice blast was enough to keep the pesky feline down.

“Excuse me!” Yuki shouted, drawing Troy's attention and an apologetic bow from Maple. She pointed at Reggie's captor, now standing behind him, arm wrapped around Reggie's neck, still with a claw to his throat. She was snarling again.

Yuki sighed and translated, “Do I really to explain that knocking out her friends is pissing her off even more?”

Nobody listened. Giles teleported in front of them. Despite the cat's unhappy reaction, Giles held up his hands peacefully. “Okay, just tell us calmly what you want us to do.”

It snarled back. In the unlikely event that it did understand, it didn't appreciate the intrusion. Not that it mattered because Giles was merely a distraction. Donovan appeared on the other side and fired a point blank shot into the cat's side. Giles smiled.

Reggie felt the side of his neck. The cat had drawn a little blood on her way down, but it didn't bother him. He rubbed it off and raised his hand for a high-five. “Good stuff!”

Giles accepted the high-five. Donovan just walked away and stood over the cat creature. She was wincing, so it was definitely a successful attack, but she was still very much conscious and very much pissed.

Hands on his hips, Donovan gloated, “You think you can pull a fast one on me? Fool!” It snarled back.

Kathryn stepped in, readying her staff. “I can mop this up.” She brought the staff down for a quick bop to the noggin, but the cat threw her hands up, grabbed the staff and tossed it over her head... with Kathryn going along for the ride. Kathryn landed hard on her back and suddenly she was the one wincing.

“Aw, damn...” she muttered, turning around quickly in case the cat was getting to her feet. She was, seemingly unharmed by Donovan's attack.

As Molly stood in front of Kathryn and the rest of the group surrounded the opponent, Giles said, “Oh, I get it...”

“Get what?!” Meg shouted back.

“Their magic is unfocused, spread throughout their bodies to amplify their power.”

Had the situation not required everyone's utmost attention, he would have gotten several blank stares. He still picked up on the silent confusion and summarized, “They use magic like Kathryn.”

“Wait... I use magic how?” Kathryn asked, still on the ground.

“Uh... guys? Troy hadn't surrounded the original yet, which was good as he was the first to spot the rest of the band sneaking out of the forest. There were three of them. Troy elevated the ground in front of them to create a wall. They jumped on top of it.

“And now they have the high ground...” Molly muttered.


Session Five

“Amateur,” Morgan muttered, charging up a supplement to Troy's wall. The wall grew taller and surrounded itself in stone. The feline bandits jumped off, sliding down the wall to the other side, landing a few yards in front of Troy and Morgan.

“Some good that did,” Troy said. The earth-based thruster simply smiled and tapped a palm again. The whole structure collapsed, forcing the bandits to leap out of the way to avoid being buried.

As Troy cleared away the resulting dust cloud, they pounced on him. This time Meg was there with a water blast that at least hindered them long enough for Troy to finish the job.

It was a useful distraction for the implied leader of the group. The moment everybody looked at the chaos, she jumped on Renee, striking her in the back. The claws didn't break through, but she still went down.

Donovan was the only one who never turned. “Perhaps one more!” he said as he fired. The feline slashed it away and leaped after him. Molly hit her in midair. Donovan added another as she was writhing on the ground.

“Two down,” Molly muttered, turning around to find the remaining three engaging Troy, Meg and Giles. Troy and Meg were holding them off fine. Giles... not so much.

Yuki stayed away from the front line, instead hovering over Kathryn. “So if magic feeds their physical attacks, would healing potions do anything?”

Molly shrugged. “You'd have to ask Giles.” At that moment, a sharp bat to the head knocked out Giles.

“This isn't going so well,” said Kathryn, slowly getting to her feet.

After Morgan hurled a giant rock at the enemy (and missed), Maple took over and turned to Yuki. “I know a potion that works on physical attacks. Once we're-”

“Look out!” shouted Yuki. Maple turned around as a cat tackled her to the ground and scratched the hell out of her cheek.

Troy kicked the monster away to prevent further damage, but Meg stayed down and inspected the blood on her cheek. Wincing, she said, “Maple, what did I say about taking over during battle?”

“I'm sorry!” Maple cried.

Donovan and Molly joined Troy trying to hold off the enemies, firing shots to keep them at bay, despite them being too quick to catch. One caught up to Molly, but a bruised Kathryn arrived to intercept. As she struggled to fight it, she was surprised that such a dainty creature rivaled her in strength.

At least it gave Molly a chance to breathe. “Reggie, if you're not hurt, a little support would be...” She turned around. “Reggie?” He had vanished again.

She heard something strong connect with somebody and turned back to the battle, but it was Troy landing an ice bolt, not that it did much. Still, he stepped back, reared his arm and shot a spell into the air.

“Don't know how strong this will be so you might want to get a shield up!” he shouted... just as it kicked in and a small rainstorm engulfed the battlefield.

“It's just rain. Don't... ah!” Molly put a shield up immediately as the first raindrops scalded her arms. “What the hell are you doing?!”


Indeed, the cats had felt it as they were howling in pain and cowering. Unfortunately, Donovan was too busy with his shield to attack them and Kathryn was affected just as much.

“Ow, dammit, Troy!” she shouted, huddling close to Donovan to borrow his shield. On the ground and still reeling, Meg really suffered as the rain irritated her injury. She went through some serious agony before Mindy could get a shield up.

The cat that was originally fighting Troy howled as well, but responded by charging forward and tackling Troy, knocking him down and killing the spell.

Molly was tempted to let her go crazy, but grumbled and used a spell to knock her off of Troy. Part of it may have gotten a piece of him too, but she didn't care. The cat creature snarled back and dove after Troy again.

That's when the fireball came in, a precise strike that hit the feline in the side. She rolled around, trying to extinguish her flaming fur. As soon as she did, she bolted. Two more fireballs came in, one hitting a second cat in the head and another narrowly missing a third. Regardless of how on fire they were at the moment, they all scurried off into the woods.

While Kathryn and Molly looked around for the source, Donovan raised his arms in triumph. “They should know better than to challenge us.”

Now that his shield was no longer up, Kathryn got the hell away from him. “Where did that come from? Was that Candace?”

“Which one was Candace again?” Molly asked.

“The hot one. I think she was the fire type.”

Troy clutched his head and got up. He wasn't scratched up too badly, but had a nasty headache. “The hell just happened?”

Molly looked away. “You damn near burned our faces off!”

“Ow... is it over?” Maple asked, cowering on the ground.

“Yes.” Molly looked around for the mysterious benefactor. “If you really have a potion that works on physical attacks, you might want to get started on it.”

“Dibs on the first one,” Meg replied. Maple nodded and limped off to start working on them.

That's when Molly spotted him. He was standing against a tree, arms folded and staring at her intensely. He had grown a thin beard and he wore his brown hair longer than she remembered. Although he was now undoubtedly in his forties, somehow he seemed even more handsome all these years later. Either way, she recognized him immediately as Frank Monroe.

Once their eyes met, he walked up to her. Molly gritted her teeth and tried not to make any sudden movements as he approached.


Session Six

“D... Dad?” Troy said, mouth agape. After seven years of nothing but birthday cards, there was his father in this completely random world, somehow in a position to rush in and save them from whatever those cat things were. Despite this, Frank wasn't looking back. He approached Molly, who steeled herself for whatever he was about to do.

He hugged her, holding her for a while but not showing much emotion in doing so. Molly was shaking, barely able to keep herself from losing it completely. Whether that meant bursting into tears or laying waste to the scene was anybody's guess.

“It's nice to see you again,” he said, releasing her but keeping his hands on her shoulders. She didn't look up.

He didn't notice as he was busy surveying the field. Sterner, he added, “Although I'm disappointed that you were having so much trouble with a few bandits. I expect better.”

Molly's head drooped. “Yessir,” she mumbled.

Sick of being ignored, Troy stepped closer. “Dad? Is that really you?” he asked, loud enough to get his attention. It worked, and Troy added, “What are you doing here?”

Frank stepped back and looked at Molly again. “You didn't tell your unit that I was going to be your field commander?”

Head still down, Molly hesitated, still shaking a bit. Then she replied, “I didn't think it was important.”

With a grin, Frank said, “Well, I suppose you're right about that.” He turned back to his son and explained, “I've been stationed here the last several years. I know I haven't been able to reach out much, but I've been keeping an eye on your progress. I like what I've been seeing so far. Good work.”

Despite everything, the compliment made Troy smile. He nodded back and said, “Thank you.”

Frank raised an eyebrow and added, “Just don't plan on sneaking off on any daring rescue. That's not happening on my watch.”

Again despite everything, Troy chuckled. “Right. Of course.” Kathryn scoffed at him and walked towards Molly.

Looking over the field, Frank folded his arms. “Where's everybody else? Did you get separated?”

“Oh, crap!” Kathryn exclaimed. “Reggie's girls are still gone!”

Molly frowned. “Reggie appears to have disappeared as well.” She was about to say something else, but a loud set of giggles emerged from the woods. Out stepped Reggie, with his hands around Candace and Cammy's shoulders. Carmen and Crystal followed, arms around Blaine and Bryce. They all seemed pretty happy.

“We have to get kidnapped more often!” Bryce said.

“The hell happened to you guys?” asked Meg, nursing Maple's healing potion.

“Five cat things got us from behind and dragged us into the woods,” Cammy said.

Crystal nodded. “Tied us up and everything. It was kinda hot.”

“Did you guys see where they went?” asked Candace, before scanning the cleaning and seeing Renee and Giles unconscious and assorted wounds on Kathryn and Troy. “Oh... never mind,” she added.

Reggie rubbed his neck and smiled at Molly. “Yeah, sorry I disappeared there. Kinda wanted to get my girls back. You know how it is.”

Molly narrowed her eyes and looked away, catching sight of Troy. “Not really,” she muttered.

“Unfortunately, they did get away with our overnight bag,” said Candace. “So we need to find that base before dark.”

“Not a problem,” Frank said. “Once everybody is revived and healed, we'll head back immediately.”

“Dude!” Reggie smiled and walked up to Frank. “Are you Frank Monroe?” The older man nodded curtly. Reggie shook his hand and motioned to his harem. “Awesome. I'm Reggie and these are my girls.”

Troy frowned at Reggie. “You knew my dad would be here too?”

Reggie turned to Troy. “Wait... he's your dad?”

Glaring back, Troy said, “The name Monroe's a pretty good hint.”

“You think I know your last name?” Reggie pointed to his girls again. “I don't even know their last names!”

Changing the subject, Cammy asked, “So, uh, what were those things anyway? They're pretty strong for a bunch of catgirls.”

“They're called Puurxan,” Frank said. “They don't use spells, but magic amplifies their bodies to give them surprising levels of strength and damage resistance.”

“Told you!” said Giles. It was the first time anyone could notice he was conscious. They ignored him anyway.

Frank continued, “They aren't all that aggressive. Don't judge the entire race by a few bandits. You'll get to know them.”

“Wait... we will?” Kathryn asked.

Chuckling to himself, Frank replied, “Yeah.”

Finally, Maple revived Renee, who sat up, shook the cobwebs out of her head and saw Frank. “Oh, hey, new person. Good guy, I assume?”

“Frank Monroe. I'm your field commander. If you can walk, let's get going.”

“Sounds like a plan to me!” Renee took a couple steps, then stopped. “Wait, did you say Frank Monroe?”

“Yes. And if Molly hasn't explained everything already, there's no sense doing it now.” He turned around and started marching. “Let's go.”

Everybody followed him. Some right away, but it took Molly a little longer to feel compelled to move.





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