Problematic as it was that the troop had royally pissed off the
Hokoni, Frank accentuated the positives of the trip. The Puurxan
were still on board with fighting the Hageshoni, the team got
through their first battle with a decisive victory and even
netted themselves a prisoner out of it. The demon henchman Troy
hadn't killed was left behind and, since the Hokoni weren't
playing nice, would make a nice interrogation subject and
bargaining chip down the road. Overall, Frank deemed it a
they arrived back at the compound, Reggie was ready to
celebrate. “Okay, you guys know the drill. Party at my place!”
chuckled, but said, “I appreciate the sentiment, Reggie, but I
think I'll field this one. I agree that you've earned a break,
though.” He turned to Lania, “Tell the staff to send their meals
to the temple.”
eyes grew wide, but she nodded. “Yes, sir. You must indeed be
proud of them.”
“Temple?” Meg asked. “Is that a euphemism for something?”
only grinned. “You'll see. We've got a lot of work ahead of us
and with a day like this, there's only one way to kick back.”
nodded. “Okay, party as his place... after party at my place!”
cheers of agreement, they dispersed to freshen up and change.
Between the dirt from the village and the sweat of the battle,
nobody was in a condition to enjoy each other's company.
Actually, Molly wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway, but she felt
inclined to appear. After directing traffic in her unit's room
to make sure everybody could change in private, she went back
downstairs and realized she had no idea where this 'temple' was.
Thankfully, Lania was in the kitchen, washing a few plates. She
was the only one in the kitchen, which surprised Molly as there
was supposed to be some big meal in store.
where is this temple?” Molly asked.
looked straight ahead, then sighed and dried her hands with a
towel. With a great deal of trepidation, she replied, “I suppose
I can lead you towards it. I wish he had directed you to it
probably did. I wasn't really listening.”
Puurxan led Molly through the compound, past several closed
doors. Along the way, Lania explained, “Frank does not permit
anyone from this world into his temple. He says it's a place for
deep spiritual reflection. To be invited so quickly is truly an
tried to count the number of things she found wrong with that,
but gave up. Still, she was now intrigued, especially when Lania
pointed to the door at the far end of the hallway. She refused
to go anywhere near it. Molly thanked her and slowly approached.
She grasped the door's handle, then thought better of it and
opened the door wide and smiled. “There you are!” she chirped,
shooing Molly in before shutting the door quickly. This was only
the entryway, with only a pile of shoes along the far door.
Molly didn't ask questions and took hers off before following
Cammy into the temple.
the altar immediately- a 48” high definition TV airing an NBA
Finals game. From how closely Kathryn was following it, it was
either live or no more than a day old. Renee and Meg (or more
likely Morgan, judging from the loud cheers) were also watching
intently. Elsewhere, Reggie and Troy were playing pool while
Blaine, Bryce, Crystal and Candace were throwing at a dartboard
on the wall.
stupid rec room,” Molly mumbled, simultaneously awed and
Make yourself at home,” Frank said, appearing suddenly next to
her, holding a large glass of rum and Coke. “And thank the MST
for recognizing the need for a room like this here. There's pot
roast on the table.”
grunted. “Well, this explains why our supply package included
season two of Mad Men.”
getting live TV takes considerable magic resources, so I usually
live on box sets. Tonight's a special reward... and it's game
him suspiciously. “Deep, spiritual reflection, Mr. Monroe?”
explaining all this to the locals.”
taking our shoes off part of the ruse?”
Lania can't come in to clean it, so I don't want to get the
rolled her eyes and walked away, fixing herself some dinner and
settling into a chair in the corner. She was in no mood for a
party and couldn't stand that everybody else apparently was. To
her, it was very upsetting day that didn't warrant celebration.
They had helped a demon faction convince a Puurxan tribe to go
to war needlessly. The Hokoni then turned on them, certain to do
so again before everything was over. To top it off, their battle
ended when Troy took another life.
understood that this kill was more justified than Marie's death.
She certainly wasn't going to give him grief about it,
especially in front of Frank. The problem was that Troy still
didn't shy away from it. He could have used something less
lethal to stop that demon, as Kathryn had done. Given how many
friends he had lost because of Marie, Molly was disappointed
that Troy still chose to go for the kill first, especially when
it was against Frank's orders.
found it encouraging that Renee and Kathryn still generally
avoided Troy. Unfortunately, that had far less impact now that
the team had tripled in size. While she agreed with Molly, Meg
and Troy had a certain Water Thruster camaraderie that prevented
her from hating him too much. Her three possessors didn't seem
to care. If Giles cared, he didn't show it. Besides, Molly had
surmised that Giles was incapable of hating anybody.
problem was Reggie. As Molly observed over the course of the
night, he and Troy were becoming friends quickly. She realized
that Reggie could easily fill the void Kurt had left behind,
much in the way Molly and Kathryn had drifted towards each
other. This was bad. At least Kurt had always been able to keep
Troy in line. Kurt also didn't have a cadre of hot girls at his
disposal. Losing Renee wasn't going to sting with the likes of
Candace and Cammy around.
smiles from the pool table continued as Frank joined them. As
disciplined and rigid as he could be when on the job, he had
always been capable of leaving his work at work and unwinding
with the best of them. Molly had to admit that off-duty, he was
fun to be around, even charming at times. Sure enough, there he
was joking along with Troy like nothing had ever happened. Years
of separation were erased in a day, with everything forgiven
instantly and silently.
Molly was, she almost wished she could let go if it as quickly
as Troy seemingly could. She could never be that friendly with
Frank. She had never received the kind of acclaim from him that
he was now heaping on Troy. Much as Frank favored her over Troy
growing up, everything seemed to reverse itself in an instant.
She forced herself to turn away from them.
Therefore, it startled her when Frank tapped her on the shoulder
minutes later. “Playing the wallflower as always, I see.”
didn't turn around. The last thing she needed was him
jostling her. “Didn't want to spoil your father-son bonding,”
she said, not hiding her acerbic tone.
didn't seem to catch it. “I appreciate that. But I don't want
you to think I've forgotten about you. You kept that shield up
just like I taught you. Good work”
hmm,” she mumbled.
wanted to thank you for everything.” Now Molly turned around.
This was new, and Frank had trouble fishing for the words
himself. “You know, one of the reasons I was so intent on
training you was because Ellen wouldn't let me work with Troy.”
He chuckled. “I guess in the end, it couldn't have worked out
better. I helped you reach your full potential, and in turn you
helped Troy reach his.”
face turned to horror as he smiled obliviously, “Seeing him in
action, I can tell you brought him up perfectly. Good work. I'm
really proud of both of you.”
patted her on the knee and went to pour himself another drink.
Molly stared blankly. She finally got credit for something- the
one thing she was desperate to avoid. She stepped out of the
room, preferring to have her meltdown in private.
had never intended to do right by Frank. Quite the opposite,
actually. If she did have any agenda in her role as Guardian, it
was borderline seditious. She was mostly ambivalent to the
successful development of her recruits, figuring that whoever
succeeded was going to no matter what she did. She was, however,
determined to make them distrust the MST. Whether that meant
conveying the organization's deceit or simply making the
experience as unhappy as possible, Molly did not want the unit
to feel like it belonged. Whether she was viewed as a victim of
the MST or part of the problem was irrelevant.
only ignored all the warning signs about the MST and overcame
the hurdles she threw at him, he did so without blinking. No
matter how backwards the organization could be, no matter how
sneaky Marlowe was and no matter how unforgivably they treated
Renee, in the end he seemed to desire nothing but a top post
with the company. No matter what Molly did to dissuade or deter
him, he seemed well on his way to achieving this.
staggered through the empty hallways of the compound, Molly
could only wonder how she had let all this happen. Troy had been
surrounded by good people with good heads. Kurt and Kathryn were
not only great influences, they were regular victims of MST
shenanigans. Without Frank in his life, Troy should have
followed their leads, sticking by his friends while maintaining
a healthy distrust of the organization. Failing that, Molly had
done her best to stick it to Frank and ensure that Troy was
unsuccessful in his MST pursuits. With Troy's ethically dubious
move leading to Frank praising both him and Molly, her failure
ended up in the living room area, face down on the couch. She
couldn't vent her frustrations the way she wanted. The only
alternative was running off, which was a very bad idea in a
foreign world at night. She was downright ashamed of the things
going through her head. She wanted out more than ever.
the times she had warned Kathryn about the pain of memory
recalibration, it now seemed like a tempting option. Sure it was
inexact, but there was nothing in her life that she absolutely
needed to remember. She had an advantage over Kathryn: Molly was
out of high school and could afford to forget everything and go
to college with a blank slate. She didn't have a life outside of
the MST, but that didn't mean she couldn't start. She might even
follow Kathryn's suggestion and give that whole boyfriend thing
what's wrong this time?” Giles startled her. She shuddered not
because he showed up, but what was on her mind when he did. She
wondered how he managed to time things to be as awkward as
you here?” Molly asked, head still buried in a cushion.
I hate basketball,” he replied. “But Kathryn and Renee are
occupied and it looked like you needed someone to talk to.”
you're qualified for the job. Do you have any idea what I've
We've heard quite a bit, and I kinda pieced together your
history with Frank.”
sighed. Talking about this with someone with second-hand
information was bound to be unproductive.
added, “You should really sit up before I make a comment about
how cute your butt looks when you're laying like that.”
tried to turn and deliver the glare, but he was
positioned well beyond her range of vision. That's what prompted
her to sit up more than anything. Molly still clutched a pillow
and was close to strangling it.
it seems you're mostly hung up on Troy.”
wondered how he could get back on topic so abruptly, but
answered, “You do know what he did, right?” The fact that she
wasn't sure made her doubt this conversation already.
He made a mistake. I think he knows that.”
doesn't though. That's the problem. To him, it doesn't matter
that he's lost Kathryn and Renee over it. Now both his father
and the MST are validating him.” She winced. “And apparently
validating me for training him that way.”
stared at him, eyes narrowed. He had only said one word and
while it frustrated and infuriated her, it made her think. Why
was she so pissed off about this?
up with an answer, but it took her a moment. “I hate the MST.
And I hate Frank. If it wasn't the sole purpose of my existence,
I'd quit tomorrow. But I'm assigned to train this unit, and I
had it in my mind to foster the biggest group of troublemakers
they'd ever seen. You can imagine how I feel when one of them is
not only excelling in their eyes, but destined to reinforce all
of the problems I have with them.”
perked, Giles replied, “Sole purpose of your existence? Who told
Molly hesitated. It wasn't what she expected him to follow up
on, and she wasn't happy about the answer. “Frank had always
said that I was destined for something big. For all the
meaningless crap we get stuck with like this mission, he thought
I was bound to have a say in something that really mattered.
That kind of thing has an impact on a nine year old.”
still believe him?”
looked down. “I have to. It's consumed my whole life since then.
Besides, there must be some validity to it if the Urayoni and
Hokoni were so interested in me.”
nodded, a smile growing. “I believe it. There's a lot of folks
following your career pretty closely... on both sides. It's no
secret that Meg's an admirer.” He turned away. His grin grew
slightly as he added, “Guess that's rubbed off on me a bit.”
turned back to Molly, her eyes were on him. They weren't harsh,
but she was staring him down with uncertainty. “You know, I
still can't tell whether or not you're hitting on me.”
his head. “Wasn't intending to.” She gave a curt nod and turned
away. “I was going to see how our date went first.”
later, they were on the road again. The wagon, bruised by the
Hokoni assault, had only received the most essential repairs.
The ride was bumpier now, with miniscule holes in the frame
making for a drafty interior. They were heading north on a cool
summer day and everybody wished they had brought jackets.
time, they were told to bring additional provisions. Unlike the
previous mission, Frank gave very few details about the
operation. The implication wasn't that this was something overly
secretive or dangerous, only that it was important that they be
in Endrell, and the city itself would answer why. Still, not
knowing made it a tense trip.
clear that all of this stemmed from Frank's interrogation of the
Hokoni captive the day before. The troop could only speculate on
his exact methods, but he came out of it convinced that they
needed to visit Endrell as soon as possible. Other than Frank,
nobody had seen the demon prisoner since their return to the
compound and there was no reason to believe the MST had any line
of communication with the Hokoni to discuss his release.
drew closer, Frank started to open up. “There are many
presumptions about how the Hokoni are building support in
Endrell. It's time we take a look at their tactics ourselves.”
“Doubting the intelligence already?” Meg asked, smirking.
stared forward, neither angry nor happy about the retort. “There
may be a few unknown variables we need to look into.”
whether anybody's listening. The Hageshoni have a far bigger
mark in Endrell, but sometimes people don't realize they're
are they?” Kathryn asked. “You've been here long enough. You
course they are. They're very cruel to the locals. Slave wages,
no freedom, unhealthy living conditions. It's terrible. Just a
question of whether anyone cares.”
wouldn't they? Sounds like it's ripe for an uprising.”
the logic, but...” Frank pointed out a porthole. “Well, see for
crowded around the portholes and could see the city in the
distance. And it was still in the distance, probably two miles
away. Still, a row of functioning smokestacks were in sight.
Closer to them, a tower of scaffolding surrounded what looked
like a coal plant under construction. That is, if they didn't
know any better.
I thought this place was medieval fantasy...” Renee said.
how it started,” Frank mumbled. “When you're in the business of
war factories, things get streamlined quickly. They've managed
to introduce centuries worth of industrial technology in about a
Uriel said the demons like this world because it was the best
setting for old school weapons,” Meg turned back to Frank. “He
said factories didn't get them right.”
factories don't. But the folks here remember what a good sword
feels like. Tell you what, the local blacksmith is a
factory owners make all the money, the government gets all the
weapons and the people starve?” Molly made it sound like a
pretty common scenario. She was looking away, barely paying
“Exactly,” Frank made it sound like the most dire thing in the
guessing the Hokoni are just going to progress things a little
further and introduce the concept of socialism.”
was taken aback. Then he grinned. “Now that's my girl. Did you
figure that out on your own? Took me forever to get that out of
like the most obvious tactic.” Molly turned to him. “Why haven't
we tried it?”
they're trying to start a people's revolution against an
well-armed militant government...” Meg's eyebrows flared.
“That'll end well.”
confused. “So... do we want them to succeed or not?”
doesn't matter because they won't,” Frank said. “Problem is, now
that the Hokoni know we're involved, we may be part of their
Troy leaned in. “They're going to make us out to be the bad guys
what we're here to find out. We're here to observe their
methods, see how successful they are, and make sure we're not
part of it.”
stopped the wagon at a stable on the outskirts of the city. Even
before they stepped out, the smell of factory smoke and garbage
overwhelmed them. The sights weren't any more encouraging. The
path into the city was a single cobblestone road that probably
wasn't always black. Despite the evolution of their industry,
the houses were still stuck in the past, many with thatched
roofs that didn't handle soot very well. Furthermore, it was the
middle of the afternoon and the place was silent.
“Everybody must be at work,” Frank said. “Let's get into town
and find somewhere to settle in before rush hour.”
Everybody set their bags in a circle on the street, where Giles
whisked them away to some dimensional portal. Frank didn't want
to create any impression that they were visiting. He directed
the group to act like they've been there before, that they knew
where they were going, and that nothing about this foreign city
from a bygone era was surprising. Renee was awful at this.
she darted her head around, wide-eyed, Kathryn turned to Molly.
“Is it me or is this sounding worse and worse?”
“Probably depends on the level of squalor. It's entirely
possible that this is like the
village and life here isn't half bad.” Molly stopped to let a
rat cross the street. “But I'm betting it's as advertised. And
in that case, I'm interested in seeing how this plays out, at
least from a societal aspect.”
nodded. “Yeah, it's like the Russian Revolution with demons and
magic and stuff.”
Straight-faced, Molly replied, “You're implying that the actual
Russian Revolution didn't involve demons and magic.”
raised an eyebrow. “Wow... so maybe that Anastasia cartoon was
historically accurate after all.”
up until the part where she lived through it.”
ended up at a tavern downtown. Troy had to peer through the
window to make sure it was open. Inside, he saw two patrons and
a bored bartender flirting with a waitress. It was the perfect
hole to duck into and assess the mood of the town as a whole.
there weren't other matters to attend to. Frank handed a small
sack of coins to Reggie. “You're in charge until I get back.
Split the group up and sit at separate tables. Stay there, talk
among your table, nurse your drinks and just listen for now. I'm
sure this place will fill up soon.”
get to drink?” Troy asked.
don't. You and Molly are coming with me to the inn. I want to
get that squared away first. There might be a few clues there
winked at them. “Have fun you two!”
Tavern stayed outside and argued about the table assignments.
Frank heard parts of it as he led Troy and Molly down the
sidewalk. He shook his head and said, “That would look far less
conspicuous with more than three guys in the group.”
am I going with you?” Troy asked.
made an arrangement with the innkeeper to be able to put entire
troops up if necessary. Problem is there's no guarantee if he'll
actually be working the desk... or if his staff can be trusted.
I don't want too many people knowing we're here.”
didn't answer the question,” Molly replied.
backup story is that I'm here with my kids and we all need
still didn't have to bring Troy. It's not like there's any
authenticity with me here.”
shrugged, tired of the conversation. “Better than nothing. We'll
say you look like your mother.”
never met my mother,” grumbled Molly.
didn't respond, but after a few seconds of silence, Troy cracked
a smiled and joked, “Are we there yet?” Again, Frank didn't
were pretty close anyway. The inn was only three blocks away. By
the time they reached it, workers were starting to fill the
streets. With just the three of them, Frank, Molly and Troy were
able to blend in just fine. Like everyone else, they kept their
head down and went about their business. All the same, Frank
waited until nobody was looking before entering the inn.
no mom and pop bed & breakfast. The floors were marble, gas
lamps lined the walls and a few patrons were sitting at a large
dining area. The front desk could have been confused for a
modern hotel's had it used computers instead of large bound
directed Molly and Troy to a bench in the lobby. “Wait here.”
They sat at extreme opposite ends of the bench and tried not to
make eye contact. “You know, you are pretending to be brother
and sister. Don't act like total strangers.”
and Troy blinked. Molly and Troy did not move. Frank shook his
head and went to the front desk.
there silently and did not make eye contact. They scanned the
lobby thoroughly, which was quite the bore as there was nobody
other than Frank and the concierge. Still, Troy got the
sensation that they weren't alone. He perked his head up and
looked over his shoulder. There was still a wall behind him.
someone's watching us,” he whispered.
scoffed and said, “And why would you be thinking that? Nobody
else is here.”
know. But after Claude stalking me for a year, I'm used to the
looked around again, listening carefully. For the entrance to
the fanciest inn in town, it was extremely quiet. It wasn't that
she heard anything, but she started to get that same feeling.
“It's crazy, but you may be right.”
heard it- the slightest of brushing sounds, like a shoe scuffing
the floor. She stood up instantly and said, “Come on.”
they approached a narrow hallway by the doors that led to the
dining room. They rounded a corner, but nobody was there. Molly
and Troy took two steps onto the rug in the hall and stopped.
it was just my imagination,” Molly mumbled.
felt like it did when Claude was tailing me,” Troy said, shaking
started to turn around when the rug underneath them jerked,
knocking them both to the floor. It pulled them down the
hallway, at least until Troy rolled off it and Molly used a
flight spell to levitate. They got to their feet and readied
jumped in front of a small enclave of the hallway that led to a
restroom. Ready as they were to fire on just about anything,
what they saw proved to be an exception.
in fact, Claude. He was just as confused as Molly and Troy.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he mumbled.
Troy snapped and fired an ice beam. With a slight leg shuffle
and little concern, Claude blocked it with a shield.
looked annoyed more than concerned. “Really? Is that how this is
going to be?”
orchestrate an attack on our school and kidnapped me and Renee,”
Molly said. “Nearly got us all killed.”
Scoffing, Claude replied, “Nearly? It was a bloodbath on our
end. Besides, I was merely following orders. I had no part in
putting any of you in danger. You can blame yourselves, the
Hageshoni or that Marlowe person for that.”
still taking you in...” Troy looked at Molly. “Right?”
kept staring at Claude. “That would be the logical course of
action. Going quietly?”
staggered back a little, up against the wall. “Well... I don't
want to fight you. Besides the fact that we've already
established that you can beat me, I'm not all that interested in
my job here.”
your job here?” Molly narrowed her eyes. “I didn't think the
Urayoni were involved in all this.”
not, hence my disinterest.” Claude's eyebrows raised.
“Meanwhile, I didn't think the MST was involved.”
shouldn't be.” Molly lowered her finger. “And to be honest, I'm
not all that engaged in this mission either.”
in that case, perhaps we should sit down and catch up.” Claude
grinned. “For old time's sake.”
stared back at him. He was still sneaky and probably had
something up his sleeve, but she was interested in what he had
to say. Claude was also right: she really didn't care about this
mission, so she wasn't worried about jeopardizing it.
her ponder the offer and grew concerned. “It might be a trap.”
be, but it sounds intriguing,” Molly replied. “Tell Frank we'll
be in the dining room chatting someone up. Make sure he stays
out of it.”
Frowning, Troy almost protested, but shook his head and
muttered, “Yes, Madam.”
couldn't help but snicker as he walked away. Now Claude frowned.
“I still don't understand how you can work with him.”
still despise him,” Molly said. “But I do appreciate irony.”
wasn't sure what was in the mugs the barmaid served her and
Claude. Without Yuki around, she'd have to trust that they
weren't poisoned. All the same, she ordered a third for Troy and
swapped for that one when it arrived.
“Clever,” Claude said. “But just as a gesture of trust...” He
took the mug that was originally Molly's and gave his to Troy.
of responding, Molly drank. It was some sort of milk-based
smoothie that was quite decent, although Molly couldn't identify
the fruit concoction and didn't want to think about which animal
the milk came from.
hindsight, perhaps we should have socialized more outside of
school,” Claude said after his own sip.
would imply that I considered you a friend,” Molly replied. “You
were an ally. Now you're an enemy... I think.”
should be able to get along better as enemies. Less pressure.”
had to concede that point and nodded. Troy arrived and sat down.
“Frank's upstairs figuring out the rooms and doing some
paperwork. If we're not back in twenty minutes, he's coming down
and blowing something up.” He breathed and took a drink. “Wow,
this is pretty good.”
that we're all accounted for, first order of business...” Molly
leaned in towards Claude. “What the hell are you doing here?”
sighed. “Well, the unfortunate thing about hasty getaways is
that you don't get to choose your company. Uriel's little envoy
pretty much laid waste to the keep and I was left scrambling to
escape with the rest of the Hageshoni.” Annoyed, he eyed Troy.
“Didn't even give us time to properly bury Marie.”
snickered. “You'd appreciate that Renee wanted nothing to do
with Troy after she found out about that. Might make you feel
staring at Troy, Claude said, “A little bit, yes.” Back to
Molly, he continued, “Anyway, I was stuck with the Hageshoni for
awhile. Since I was the only Urayoni left and my mission to
observe you was to run through our graduation, my superiors
completely forgot about me. When the Hageshoni heard rumors that
the Hokoni were trying to stir things up here, they sent me to
investigate.” He sighed again. “They reasoned that an Urayoni
would be more familiar with the kind of tactics the Hokoni would
use. Someone also heard this has something to do with Sho
killing Kendrick.” Shaking his head, he added, “I knew that was
going to cause problems.”
say something about that,” Molly said. “So what have you found
chuckled. “Sorry, Madam. Something tells me I shouldn't be
divulging secrets to the MST. I know you well enough to
recognize that no matter how disinterested you are in this
mission, you will carry it out loyally.”
looked away, frowning. “I don't know. This one's been testing
that. I am stuck working with Frank.”
if not...” Claude tilted his head towards Troy. “This one will.”
stared back. He had been irritated this whole time, but bore it
quietly. “You're lucky we aren't just arresting you now. We
could make you tell us.”
frown, Claude turned back to Molly. “If you really were
dissatisfied, I could suggest that we give both sides a miss and
eyebrows flared. “Tempting, but it would never work. It would
involve us trusting each other.”
“Precisely. Plus I understand Marie made a similar proposal and
it didn't go over very well.”
that off the table...” Molly paused. She had to think about what
came next. She really didn't want to acknowledge Troy's point
that they had every reason to arrest Claude and draw all the
information they wanted. She wasn't even sure if she was opposed
to the idea. But as unscrupulous as Frank and the Hokoni had
been thus far, she really wanted to keep things civil.
made his own suggestion. “Well, I gave you my story. May I ask
why you're here?”
Molly and Troy each replied flatly.
back in his chair, Claude stared at both of them. Then he
smiled. “I'm going to take that to mean you're here to overthrow
the Hageshoni as well.”
glaring at him, Molly scoffed. “Damn, I forgot that you were
smart. You don't show it very often.”
my cards close to the vest. Unfortunately, that's not something
I can simply withhold from the Hageshoni.”
said we were letting you report to the Hageshoni? Just because I
don't really care to arrest you doesn't mean we won't.”
frowned. “So I suppose I have to tell you what I know in order
to ensure my freedom?”
and don't tell the Hageshoni why we're here.” After she said
that, Troy went from staring at Claude to staring at Molly.
have to tell them I spotted you.” Claude looked down. “I suppose
I can leave our little chat out of the conversation, as well as
your motives. Is that fair?”
slight smile, Molly nodded. Troy interrupted, “Wait, we're
letting him go?! You actually believe him? After everything he
put us through?”
darting at Troy, Molly snapped back, “Consider it professional
courtesy. Plus I don't want the added chore of detaining him.
Besides, I already got my payback over the attack on the school
when I beat the tar out of him.”
Coughing, Claude said, “I'd like to think that was a fairly even
duel, but anyway... the Hokoni seem to be stirring the locals
into rebelling against the government. They have the elven
tribes on board and I'm told their big push to win over the
population here begins in earnest tomorrow. It's been mostly
rumors and idea planting until now.”
shook his head. “We already knew all that. We're letting you go
free for that?”
at Troy but ignoring him, Claude continued, “If your plan is to
let them thin out the Hageshoni and then make a move yourself,
it won't work.”
not?” Molly asked.
under the false impression that the Hageshoni would fight back
with tactics that involve thinning themselves out.”
time period? It's not like you can mow them down with machine
simply smiled. “Stick around long enough and I'm sure you'll see
what I mean. I'm not putting these guys past anything.”
what?” Troy asked. “You expect us to just give up and pull out?”
expect nothing. I don't have a horse in this race. I'm just
saying that I'd rather be working for the Hageshoni than anybody
planning to engage them. Any further questions or is that
more...” Molly said. The conversation until this point had been
tense, but her eyes suddenly softened. “What's your honest
opinion of what's going on in this world? I assume that as an
Urayoni you have a keen eye towards corruption in society. So
I'll ask you- is this place really as bad as it's made out to
It was a
thoughtful question, and Claude paused in order to give a
thoughtful response. “There's a certain beauty to barbarism,
don't you think? The rules may be harsh, and the punishment for
breaking them may be unforgiving, but at least these people know
what the rules are. And if they shut up and toil away, they'll
get by just fine. The Hageshoni rule here may be brutal, and it
is indeed absolute. But how many things in life can you say are
absolute? And how much easier would life be if more things
are you saying?” Troy asked.
they rule this place with an iron fist. Yes, it's an arduous
life for people and yes, woe befall any who cross the
Hageshoni's path. But isn't that the easiest kind of society to
figure out? When you think about it, it's the least corrupt
world you'll ever see.”
a moment for Molly to process, but then she nodded. “Yeah...
that sums it up well.” She looked back at Claude. “I wouldn't
mind trying to stay in touch in case our situations change, but
if not...” She extended a hand across the table. “...take care.
Far too many of my classmates have been dying lately.”
smiled and shook it. “You too, Madam. Good luck dealing with
Frank.” He stood up, went to the bar to pay for all three
drinks, nodded one more time at her and left.
left stewing. “We just ran into a demon that helped orchestrate
an attack on our school that kidnapped you, Renee and Yuki...
and you just let him go report us to the enemy.” He shook his
head. “You do realize that's treason, right?”
leaned back. She wasn't thinking about anything Claude had said.
Or anything he had done in the past. Or any of the proper
protocols for this kind of situation. She was just hoping she,
he and her teammates would get out of this in one piece. That
seemed more important to her than any mission.
“Probably,” she replied. “But right now I don't care.”
inn, the rest of the team obeyed all of Frank's instructions to
the letter. They entered as separate groups, sat at opposite
ends of the room and didn't look at each other much. Meg and
Giles treated the group dispersion like a complicated math
puzzle in order to make the groups look as authentic as
possible. For example, Reggie's girls entered first, chattering
away like lifelong girlfriends.
they were situated, the other two groups weren't as difficult,
although Kathryn wondered how she ended up with Meg, Giles and
Reggie. “You look the oldest,” Giles explained. “Rounds out the
but that just leaves Donovan, Renee and Yuki,” Kathryn said.
Giles just smiled. Kathryn turned around to catch Donovan,
Renee, Yuki taking their seats. Blaine and Bryce were with them.
in the high school group has their little sister tagging along,”
Meg, what are high school kids doing in a tavern?” Maple asked.
the food's good,” Giles replied.
shook her head. “At least we figured out the whole boy-girl
thing. How the hell are there only three guys on this team
excuse me...” said Morgan, arms folded.
said without Troy. Giles counts as a boy... at least he will
when he hooks up with Molly.” Kathryn turned to him. “How's that
going, by the way?”
Giles said, “I think he means you forgot him.”
Kathryn turned to Morgan, staring back sullenly. It took her a
second, but she shouted, “Wait, you mean...!”
grinned in amusement. “What, you never noticed that Morgan's a
boy? He is named Morgan.”
“Morgan's a girl's name too!” She took a moment to calm down.
Other patrons were already staring at her. “Jeez... so is it
mostly upside or downside?”
shook his head. “Once you get used to seeing Meg naked, it's all
say you had the hots for her!” Mindy exclaimed.
you're just happy you've got a nice rack now,” Morgan fired
blushed. “Do we have to talk about this in public?”
seriously...” Meg looked over at Reggie, who had been quietly
staring into the distance. It was as good a reason as any to
change the subject. “What's up, Reg? You're pretty quiet given
the direction of the conversation.”
turned only when he heard his name called, but he answered,
“Oh... well, yeah Mindy, I remember you being pretty flat.”
glared back before Mindy could. “I meant what are you staring
just keeping an eye on the girls.”
thought we weren't supposed to look at the other groups,”
Kathryn said. She had been fighting the urge to check on Renee
and Yuki this whole time.
grinned at Kathryn. “We were supposed to act natural, like we
always come here. If I came here all the time with you three,
I'd spend most of it staring at whichever table has all the
Meg and I not lookers enough for you?”
been told I have a nice rack,” Meg muttered.
cleared his throat and offered a defense of his fellow man. “I
think he means that as an excuse to see who's joined them at
them looked now and indeed, two young gentlemen had cozied up
next to Reggie's girls. They were certainly getting their groove
on, and the girls were at least pretending to be receptive.
didn't know any better, I'd say they were hitting on them,”
better get in on this then,” Reggie said, standing up.
shook her head. “Reggie, we're supposed to act like we don't
don't know them, so I'm going to hit on them.” Reggie flashed a
smile. “Who says lightning can't strike twice?”
left, Meg said, “This should be amusing.”
can watch them now,” Giles added.
strolled up to the table. The two gentlemen were dressed quite
well for the times, decked in brown blazers and ties. They
certainly weren't slaves to a factory, but weren't in such fine
attire to be elevated to a higher class. Reggie barely noticed
them, as he winked at Carmen and Crystal. Candace and Cammy had
their arms around the two men.
thought you girls looked familiar. My dreams, right?”
struggled not to laugh at the exceedingly bad pick-up line.
Carmen was faster to respond, “You have to be more specific.
We're dreamed about a lot.”
Reggie. Mind if I join you? Looks like there's still two
looked around the table. “I don't know. Two guys. Four girls.
I'm fine with that math.”
grinned. “All the more reason for me to get to know you better.”
He squeezed in next to one of the men. “They call me Reggie.
Other than beautiful, what are you all called?”
girls all got the hint and played along, introducing themselves
with tones ranging anywhere from disgust to 'skip the
formalities, let's make this happen.' The repulsed way Crystal
responded was the most important, as it kept the two men from
bailing. The one farthest from Reggie, still cozy with Candace,
decided to follow suit. “I'm Graham. He's Arthur. So what do you
do around here?”
smiled back. “Oh, the usual grind. Toiling away for the man.
Another day older and deeper in debt, you know?”
nodded. “I know exactly what you mean. We're in the same boat.
Seems like everybody in town is, doesn't it?”
that's just life,” Crystal said. “Why aren't our drinks here
actually been concerned about their order, they wouldn't have
noticed Arthur staring at Graham and the slightest of nods that
Arthur gave him. Instead, they all caught it, and on cue Graham
said, “You know a number of us are getting a little fed up with
this life. Thought that maybe we should do something about it.”
raised an eyebrow and shared a knowing look with Candace. “Like
what?” he asked.
replied, “Depends on how much support we have. We're staging a
little rally tomorrow evening in the town square. I encourage
you all to stop by.”
Reggie replied, “Well, I might just have to do that. Especially
if you lovely ladies will be there as well.”
“Wouldn't miss it,” Carmen answered.
Chuckling, Reggie said, “Well, I suppose I better get back to my
table..” He gestured at Meg, Giles and Kathryn, all staring back
at him. “Guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow.”
and Candace waved goodbye as Reggie returned triumphantly. He
sat down, smiled at Meg and said, “Did you miss me?”
recoiled a bit. “Keep it down. I took an eavesdropping potion.
Tomorrow evening, they said?”
might have to stop by.” Reggie nodded once at his girls, already
back to flirting up Graham and Arthur. “I think those girls
“Honestly, how the hell do you guys do it?”
grinned. “Yeah, our unit can't work in unison like that and four
of us are in one body.”
leaned back in his chair and stretched. “What can I say? I run a