Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 61: Rallying Cry

Session One

“Goddammit!” Renee shouted, drawing a look of concern from Meg and Yuki, an eye roll from Molly and laughter from Kathryn.

“It's always you, isn't it?” Kathryn said, amused. Night had fallen and the girls were unpacking, preparing for the inevitable fight over who would end up sleeping on the floor. Frank had secured three rooms at the inn. Each room was only meant for four.

The designated room for the (non-Reggie) girls hadn't even gotten to that point. They were still sifting through the bags that had been teleported in.

“Giles did all the teleporting,” Molly said calmly. “If something's out of place, take it out on him... and let me watch.”

“It's not out of place,” Renee said, scanning her bags one last time. “It's missing completely. I'm missing a bag.”

“Oh, that's not bad,” Meg said. “It's probably in a different room. No need to freak out.”

“I know, I know... it's just the principal of it...” Renee mumbled, walking out.

Unfortunately, it was not in Reggie's room. That left the den of men. Now her desire to see that bag was tempered by her fear of the guys rifling through it. She knocked and held her breath.

“And what brings you to our lair?” Donovan asked, raising a suspicious eyebrow.

Renee raised her voice to make sure someone other than Donovan could hear her question. “Did you guys find an extra bag in there? I'm missing one.”

“Nothing in here,” Giles shouted back. “Did you check with Reggie?”

“Yes. Where else could it be?”

Giles squeezed past Donovan, still staring at Renee. “If it made the trip, it would have to be in one of our rooms.”

“Don't be too sure. I've had bad move-in days at the school.”

“Yes, but I'm only moving one set of bags to one location. I'm also competent. You're sure you brought it with?”

Renee fidgeted. “I always make sure I've got that one.”

Giles shrugged. “It probably got left on the wagon then. We can check tomorrow morning.”

Renee looked down and twiddled her thumbs. “Um... I kind of need it tonight.”

“What's in it?”

“Well, my toothbrush... among other things. Um... girl things.”

Giles frowned. “Hmm... things you currently need right now?”

She looked away, blushing. “M... maybe...”

He spun around and called, “Frank!”

Renee waited at the door while Giles explained her conundrum in far more descriptive detail than she would have preferred. His response was pretty simple: “You know where the wagon is, right? Go get it.”

“Where is the wagon?” Renee did not, in fact, know.

Frank frowned. “Okay, both of you go.”

Giles asked, “Is it safe?”

“Safe enough for someone who knows magic.”

Chuckling nervously, Giles replied, “Do you mean offensive spells? Because that's not really my thing.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Renee added.

“Troy!” Frank shouted. Troy had barely been paying attention, which meant one more description of the scenario. This time, Frank kept it blunt. Troy shuddered at the thought of Renee's problem, but agreed to tag along.

It wasn't as if Endrell was inherently dangerous at night. Gas lamps lit the streets and most of the people walking them were simply heading home after a night at the bar. The fact that there were people at all made the walk less tense than when they had arrived.

The only anxiety came from the lack of good conversation. Renee was still a little embarrassed about the whole trip and she and Troy had never really talked since the breakup. At the same time, she couldn't stand the silence.

“So, uh, I heard you and Molly saw Claude in town.”

Troy was startled that she had spoken to him, but didn't like the topic and slumped his shoulders. Sullen, he replied, “Yeah. Probably telling the Hageshoni all about us right now.”

“Yeah, I'm impressed you two were able to control yourselves like that. We probably wouldn't be able to stay at that inn if we tore up the dining room fighting him.”

“I guess,” he mumbled. “We still shouldn't have let him go.”

“Doesn't matter either way. I never cared for him much either, but I can see why Molly let him off.”

“Detaining him would be a pain,” Giles said. Troy and Renee looked over at him. He was several strides ahead and hadn't given any indication that he was listening in.

Renee gave him time to tune out again before asking Troy, “So how've you been?”

“Hmm?” He was a little surprised at the change in topic, and that anyone had bothered to ask given the recent silent treatment. He shrugged and answered, “Fine.”

She frowned. “Seriously? You're really okay with everything?”

“It is what it is.” Hands in his pockets, he kept walking, not facing her. “I'm a big boy. I'm not going to sit around and mope just because everyone I thought was my friend sides with Molly.”

“Don't say it like that.” Renee wasn't all that inclined to look at him either. “It's like you don't care why this happened. Or that Kathryn and I are happy about any of this. The whole thing devastated her.” She stopped. “Broke my heart too.”

Troy stopped as well, struggling not to look back at her. He didn't want her to see the sneer on his face. “Then why'd you do it?” Then he kept walking.

Renee had to hustle to follow. “That's why we did it, Troy,” she practically shouted. “Why do you have to be so cold about everything? You lost your best friend. You lost me. And you go on pretending there's nothing wrong.” She surpassed him and stepped in front of him, forcing herself into his eyes. “Molly may not think so, but I know that you care about this. You wouldn't have ignored the MST and gone after me if you didn't. But if you keep playing the good soldier and don't show that again, you're going to be just as ignored and isolated as Donovan.” She sighed, turned around and kept walking. “And at least he has minions.”

Troy watched her for a moment. It was a lot for him to process, and it took some time for him to decide not to. He called back, “At least I have my dad. All these years and I finally have his respect. That means a lot to me.”

Renee stopped walking, only to say, “Troy, my dad respects me too. I didn't have to kill anybody to earn it.”

Before she could continue, she heard an interested hum from Giles. He had stopped a few paces ahead, admiring something on the wall. Renee approached him, suddenly bashful. “Uh... sorry about that. I forgot you were with us.”

Giles shook his head, not turning away from the wall. Smiling, he said, “Oh, I wasn't paying attention. I don't care about your little spat. I was checking out this neat Soviet-style propaganda poster.”

Furrowing her eyebrows, Renee looked at it. 'Soviet-style' was underselling it: if not for the bold-faced instruction to appear at the next day's rally, it could have been ripped from a Moscow street sixty years ago.

“This is new...” Renee mumbled.


Session Two

Apparently, someone had been busy that night. Giles, Renee and Troy found several more posters on their way to the wagon and back. They were not all the same poster, but they all had the same thing- imagery of the hard-working masses and pleas to take a stand and fight for a better life. Given how they had found out about the rally through a stranger's whisper, such overt promotion of the event was alarming.

Giles was so impressed by the artwork that he wanted one as a souvenir. He also wanted to show it to Frank, but that was a secondary concern. Troy used a heat spell to loosen the bonding and Giles carefully took a poster off the wall. There were plenty more left.

The next morning at the inn, Frank was neither surprised nor impressed. “Of course they would put these up. They can't expect everybody in town to hear about this rally through word of mouth.”

“It's just odd that they're up now and weren't the first time we went through,” Giles said.

“Not really. The Hageshoni goons probably take them all down every morning. I bet everything you saw last night is gone now.”

Just as Giles was about to mention that they had yet to see one of these Hageshoni goons that were theoretically swarming the city, Donovan let out a slow chuckle from the window. “It would seem the goons are still asleep. The calls for revolution continue.”

Frank went to the window. Not only were posters still up, they covered every available surface along the street. Townspeople were looking at them, discussing them with companions as they walked to work.

“This is good though, right?” Troy asked. “I mean, we want them to revolt, don't we?”

“Yes,” Frank replied. “But the Hageshoni don't. Even if they were confident in their ability to stop this, they shouldn't be tolerating this much. Once the folks here realize they want freedom, they won't quit.”

“Again- not a bad thing.”

Donovan grinned. “The demons must have a good hand to not show their cards.”

“Exactly. But it doesn't help us figure out what we're dealing with.”

“Maybe I should do some investigating then,” Giles said. “You know, see if we can learn anything.”

Frank scratched his chin. “What about the rally?”

“Do all of us really need to be there? Is it even a good idea for all of us to be there?”

“That's true. Okay, you and Meg go out and see what you can dig up. Have her contact me with any details. When the rally starts, see what's going on elsewhere in town.” Frank handed the poster back to Giles and he went to get Meg.

Five minutes later, they were standing outside, Meg none too pleased about her unit volunteering for what she deemed unnecessary leg work.

Her unit was more into it. “All right!” Mindy shouted, pretending to smoke on a pipe. “The mystery of the red recruitment begins! What's our first step, Watson?”

Meg put her hand down and grumbled, “Why are we doing this again?”

“Because there's no reason why the Hageshoni would allow these posters to be here. Not only that, but there's something very strange about them,” Giles said.

“Yeah, they're pretty modern for this place,” Renee added. “I want my medieval fantasy back!”

Giles and Meg looked at Renee, standing behind them. She hadn't been there five seconds ago.

“The hell are you doing here?” Morgan asked.

“Molly told me to go with you guys. This sounded more fun anyway.”

“Yeah, it's a riot,” Meg deadpanned. “Why did she send you with us?”

Renee rubbed her neck. “Well, that rally could be swarming with both Hokoni and Hageshoni demons and both of them have gone after that grimoire that's in me.

She figured it was safest for me to stay away from it.” She smiled at Giles. “So where to first, Watson?”

“Mindy beat you to it,” Giles replied. “Why am I always Watson?”

“My suggestion would be to stake out a poster to see if anyone takes it down during the day,” Meg said. “Preferably a poster where we can watch from someplace comfortable... that serves alcohol. Maybe even that unidentifiable pink meat we had at headquarters. I'm kinda hungry.”

“I guess we can start with that, but I had something else in mind,” Giles said.

“Awesome. I'll buy,” Meg said, starting down the road in search of a bar.

They spent a good forty minutes wandering the town for a spot that fit all of Meg's criteria, passing two places because Meg didn't want to sit in the sun. They ended up passing the town square, an open clearing in front of a large, gated palace. A number of crates had been stacked in front of the gates to create a makeshift stage, half-covered with a purple cloth. Some kid sat on it, eating out of a lunch pail. It was clearly the site of the rally. Renee was just happy there wasn't a modern public address system installed.

Meg finally found a satisfactory spot and they ate lunch. Giles and Renee kept a close eye on the poster across the street while Meg sampled several selections from Endrell's area breweries. Morgan approved of all of them. Maple was more discerning.

“Head's up, we got orcs,” Giles said suddenly, pointing at the street. Renee looked over her shoulder and found two uniformed orcs marching down the street. They were bigger than the ones the troop had encountered on their first day. The orcs had a more rigid, disciplined stride to them, granted the first ones weren't exactly being observed on one of their good days.

“About time we saw some of that Hageshoni muscle,” Meg mumbled.

“How do you know they work with the Hageshoni?” Renee asked.

“Frank said so. Besides, check the riot gear.” They wore platemail and holstered clubs, but Meg was close enough.

“That, and they're orcs,” Morgan added. “Do we need to have that conversation again?”

“Well, they confirm my fears about the posters,” Giles said. Before Renee or Meg could ask for elaboration, Giles watched the orcs pass by the poster. One of them took a casual glance at it, but they carried on without paying it much regard.

“They don't care at all...” Renee mumbled.

“So they are over-confident,” Meg said. “Typical behavior for the Hageshoni. We still haven't learned anything new.”

“Actually, I have another theory.” Giles pulled out the poster he had stolen. “We need to read as many posters as we can, and hopefully find somebody putting them up, but doesn't this look off to you?”

“What do you mean? It's full of commie goodness. That's what the Hokoni are going for, right?”

“But look at the slogans. They all make good points about needing better wages and free speech and all that.”

“I'm not following.”

Giles shook his head. “Where are all the snarling orcs on these things? Where's the big fat businessman swimming in riches? All these posters make political arguments supporting the working class. There's nothing here demonizing the enemy or calling for a divine crusade against them.”

“It says to stop the oppressors right there,” Renee pointed.

“The Hokoni don't care about class warfare. They're more about convincing people that they're superior and they need to fight the bad guys.”

“Ah... I get you.” Meg had been taught all of this too, but like most students she had never paid much attention in her demonic studies classes.

“What's your point?” Mindy, on the other hand, missed all of that.

Giles sat back. “I don't think the Hokoni made these posters.”

“Oh! You should have said that to begin with.”

“But if they didn't make them, who did?” Maple asked.

“Well, this type of thing would be more consistent with the Urayoni,” Giles sighed. “But they aren't involved with this.”

It took only a second for him to realize it. He turned to Renee, who figured it out at the same time.

“Well, we know one that is,” Renee said.


Session Three

Meg didn't mention Claude explicitly when she reported to Frank, only summarizing the theory that the Hokoni weren't behind the posters and explaining that they were going to try to learn more. Frank didn't ask for elaboration, but the possibility raised several questions about the rally. The rest of the troop would still attend, but they'd be prepared for everything.

Frank received one more message. It confused him, but he passed it on to Molly anyway. “Meg asked me to tell you to call your sister.”

“Why?” Molly was hard at work playing cards with Kathryn and Yuki.

“I was hoping you'd know.” Frank turned around, not delving further. Molly shrugged and pinched her earlobe.

“Renee? You rang?”

“Hey sis! We needed to talk to you privately. We're assuming you don't want Frank finding out about Claude?”

“Preferably not. What's going on with Claude?”

“Well... uh... shoot, I wish I could put Giles on to explain the deal with the posters. He doesn't think the Hokoni made them. Basically, uh...”

“They're advocating class warfare instead of a righteous crusade,” Molly muttered. “Found that a bit curious myself. Dammit.”

“So you think that's bad too?”

“I don't really care. I'm just pissed Giles figured it out first. What does this have to do with Claude?”

“Well, he's Urayoni, right?”

Molly snickered, drawing looks from Kathryn and Yuki, who were waiting for her to play a card. “You think Claude might have had a hand in the posters?”

“Giles says it's closer to an Urayoni message.”

“True, but this is Claude we're talking about. He made my propaganda posters for three years. I know his work. Those are far beyond his ability.”

Yuki frowned. “Oh shoot, that reminds me. I need to make some for the next school year, don't I?”

“You know, some student councils don't use propaganda to influence school policy,” Kathryn mumbled.

“Yeah, but I got rid of Molly's secret police force. I can't do it that way.”

Molly shushed them as Renee said, “Well, he's our best lead so far. We're going to try finding him, or at least hunt for some other clues. Just wanted you to get the full story.”

“Thanks. Good luck.” Molly released her ear, turned to Kathryn and Yuki and said, “It's nothing.”

Kathryn and Yuki nodded and the game resumed.


However people had heard about the rally, it looked like the whole town did eventually hear about it. Not everybody turned out, of course. Molly estimated three or four hundred in the square. For a city of a couple thousand (also an estimate as the Hageshoni weren't prone to conducting a thorough census), that was a good crowd.

Everybody in the troop not sleuthing around was on duty. They also armed themselves as much as they could. While the uncertainty about either faction's plans had them nervous, they couldn't afford to look conspicuous or imposing to the crowd. Almost everybody wore thin armor under their clothes, save for Yuki (nothing in her size) and Donovan (not doing things 'the coward's way'). Yuki also crammed two smiters into her satchel, with Molly making two more retrievable via dimensional portal. Kathryn kept her staff, but faked a limp and leaned on it excessively.

The aim was to spread out throughout the square and pay close attention. With Reggie's unit having potential ins with the organizers, they stayed near the front, with Troy and Yuki nearby. Frank, Molly, Kathryn and Donovan patrolled the perimeter. Donovan interpreted 'patrol' as 'stand in the back and have the minions wander around.'

Up front, Reggie spotted Graham and Arthur, both dressed in the same formal attire the Hokoni wore for the Puurxan. They in turn spotted his girls. After weaving through a few people, the two groups met.

“You made it!” Graham smiled at Reggie, but frowned when he realized that Reggie was with the girls and had his arm around two of them. “Really, all four of them?”

Reggie winked back and said, “So what's on tap?”

Arthur turned to the stage and replied, “You'll find out right about now.”

The whole unit turned to see Grandon Crostell stand before a podium. He cleared his throat, put his hand to his chest, and started to speak. His voice boomed to the crowd as well as any PA system could. “My friends, thank you for coming. Being here is the first step to a freedom that you've never known. Being here means that you recognize that you are a victim. Being here means that you realize that you are not powerless. Look around and see all of the allies that are banding together. This is the day we begin the crusade.”

As soon as he started to speak, the murmurs hushed and eyes were on him. As he continued, those eyes opened. Nobody but a senior Hokoni could instill the kind of passion Grandon could with one speech. Everybody could feel the energy of the crowd rising, an energy that soon molded itself into anger. Reggie kept an eye on Graham, who glanced back, a smile creeping on his face.

Molly understood exactly what Giles meant by the posters being inconsistent with Hokoni ideals, but Grandon made the differences clear. There was no mention of the ruling class or the suffering workers. Grandon kept it simple: you're the good guys, they're the bad guys and you should stop being their slaves. It was simple, and it resonated strongly with the commoners of Endrell.

If he would have stopped there, it would have played into the MST's hands perfectly. It was exactly what they wanted. Unfortunately, as Frank feared, Grandon had more: “So who is it that is responsible for stopping these monsters? Who's supposed to stop these abuses? You may not think such an entity exists, that the rulers of this land have absolute power. Sadly, there is such a group. And for decades they have chosen to do nothing. As we ride through Enriel to gain supporters, they even attacked us, imprisoning one of my guards and brutally murdering another.”

Troy almost shouted something right there. Yuki set a hand on his arm to silence him. He glared at her, but held back, seething.

“What does it say that they would rather fight us than help us in our cause?”

A few shouts of “they're with them!” and “it's up to us!” rose up. Grandon only nodded.

As Troy tried to control his anger in the front, Kathryn was merely annoyed, and not even all that much. “That's not even close to what happened,” she mumbled to Molly.

Frank happened to be behind them. “This is what I was afraid of. I better tell Troy and Reggie to lay low. If Grandon spots them, it's bad.”

“How is it not bad already?” Kathryn asked, although Frank was already communicating.

“Because it fits into our plans either way,” Molly said. “For now, it doesn't matter who they're pissed at, so long as they're pissed.”

“What about later on?”

Frank had apparently finished quickly, because he said, “None of these fools will be around by the time we're fighting. Although it's still strange that the Hageshoni aren't here at all.”

Kathryn looked around. “Yeah... you'd think they'd at least have somebody here in case there's a riot.”

Molly held up a finger to silence her. “Do you hear something?”

Despite Grandon's booming voice and the multitude of sounds from the crowd, there was a clear, persistent low grinding noise coming from somewhere. The mass of locals must have heard it too. One by one, they shushed each other to hear it as it grew louder. This gave Frank, Molly and Kathryn a better idea what it was- a motor.

“The hell?” Kathryn darted her head around. “Where's that coming from?”

“Odd, it sounds like a plane.” Frank didn't believe himself, but looked up anyway.

It was indeed a plane, flying low overhead. It was brown, with several propellers on its nose and wings.

Kathryn recognized and admired it immediately. “Sweet, it's like an old World War II bomber.” Then she frowned and looked at Frank. “That's not sweet at all, is it?”

Frank had the pieces assembled. The posters not coming from the Hokoni suddenly made perfect sense. He pinched his earlobe and shouted. “Everybody get out now!” He released and grabbed Molly's shoulder, motioning for Kathryn to do the same. “Teleport us somewhere... anywhere.” Just as Molly did, Frank looked up in time to see the bomber drop its payload.


Session Four

Molly got them away in time, teleporting back to the hotel. It didn't matter where they ended up. She, Kathryn and Frank were safe and no matter where in the city they were, they would have heard the explosion. Horrified, Molly and Kathryn could only stare at the cloud that rose over the buildings. Frank folded his arms and frowned.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Frank mumbled. “It's a bit much though.”

Kathryn turned around, furious. “Bit much?! Those people were sitting ducks! We gotta go back and help them!” She heaved a few breaths and added, “The hell are they doing with bombers now?”

“Like I said, a bit much. Come on.”

There was something of an unwritten rule that conflicts in worlds based on a bygone era or outright fantasy should be resolved using the technology of that world. Introducing modern weapons was not only unsporting, it also had unforeseen societal consequences that have turned once-idyllic worlds into unusable wastelands. There was also the potential embarrassment of losing under these tactics, as in the infamous Zukoni campaign of the 1920s when they transported in a tank, only to see it run out of gas and destroyed by a tribe of natives wielding spears. At the same time, there was no convention between the MST and the demon factions enforcing this. As far as this world was concerned, the Hageshoni must have been unconcerned about accusations of dirty pool.

As they raced back, they started to hear the screams as the panicked crowd scrambled to protect themselves. At least it meant there were survivors. They also saw the smoke, and eventually reached the fire. The area of impact appeared to be a nearby building behind where they had been standing. The roof had been blown off and the rest of the structure was burning down rapidly. Still, it meant that if the Hageshoni had been targeting Grandon, or even the crowd, they had missed.

Not that this still wasn't a crisis. The force of the explosion had gotten part of the crowd and the fire had spread to the grass in the plaza. As Frank, Kathryn and Molly drew closer, they saw that six orcs, all with shields and full armor, blocked the street. They faced the crowd, fighting off anybody who attempted to leave the square.

“And there's the Hageshoni goons,” Frank said. “Right on time to keep the dissenters from scattering.”

Kathryn slapped her staff into her palm. “Guess it's time to open the cage.”

Frank held up a hand. “Hold on. I know you want to help, but we still can't give ourselves away to the enemy.”

She looked at him once, frowned, then charged ahead anyway. “Kathryn!” Frank tugged the collar of her shirt, throwing her to the ground. He stepped in front of her, suddenly intense. “When I say you do not interfere, you do not interfere. Is that understood?”

“You're just gonna let them all die in there?” Kathryn fired back, still on the ground. She turned to Molly for support.

Molly was neither surprised by Frank's outburst, nor ready to defy him. Which was useful as it let her stay rational. “Sir, I understand your point, but we do need to do something to help.”

Frank narrowed his eyes at Molly, but relented. Sort of. “Well, then let's take them out without them noticing.” With the orcs still facing the square, he turned around and looked up at the burning building. He gestured with his left hand and a large ball of flame rushed out of the blaze. One more gesture from Frank and it flew out and fell on the orcs. It looked natural enough, and it gave everybody trying to run off a little extra hustle.

Once they got back into the square, he again declared, “Remember, no magic.” Molly and Kathryn were barely listening. They were surveying the wreckage, trying not to throw up at the sight of several casualties on the ground and fiery patches of grass waiting to consume more. Considering the size of the crowd, the body count wasn't terrible, but the real tragedy was the number of injured people crying for help and trying to escape the fire... and the scattering of orcs patrolling within the square, knocking people out at the slightest provocation.

“What the hell are we supposed to do if we can't use magic or fight them off?” Molly grumbled.

They heard cheering from the masses in the corner and rushed towards it. If there was anything good going on in the square, it was a starting point. Instead, Frank became as nauseous as Molly or Kathryn. Donovan, Blaine and Bryce were firing spell after spell and going to town on the orcs.

They had a pretty good system, actually. The minions would take out an orc's shield and Donovan would deliver the finishing blow. Only about half of his attempts actually did anything, but one successful hit dropped the orc. They had apparently taken out three or four already, and the crowd loved it. Several cries of “our savior” and “bless you, brave wizard” arose.

“Follow me! For I will lead you to glory!” Donovan roared. The crowd roared back.

“Hey, no fair!” Kathryn said. She heard a grunting and turned around, intercepting an orc's attack with her staff. As she grappled with it, she shouted, “Hey, Frank! Secret's out now, so do you mind?”

Frank sighed and relented, muttering, “I suppose.” Kathryn shoved the orc forward, kneed it in the groin, and bashed it over the head with her staff, cracking its helmet. Probably its skull too. With more orcs approaching, Molly drew a circle on the ground and retrieved the smiters just as more orcs entered their range.


Session Five

The bomb had caught almost everybody in the crowd by surprise. Everybody had heard the plane and the square had quieted, but the concept of aircraft was foreign and few thought to look up. Nobody could have expected death from above.

Reggie and his girls had seen it, however, and they reacted quickly. He heard Frank's warning to evacuate and clamped onto Cammy in preparation, but she had other plans. She jumped forward, found Graham and Arthur and motioned for everybody to get behind her. Her shield kept them on their feet when the bomb impacted the building on the other side of the square.

As the smoke started to clear and the rally devolved into full chaos, Graham was stunned, first by the bomb. “Those monsters. How could...” Then he realized Cammy's talents. “Y... you know magic?”

“Yep,” she replied. “You mean you don't?”

He shirked back. “Of course not!”

Arthur glowered. “And if you're not in with Sir Crostell, that must mean you're-”

Crystal interrupted. “Trying to make sure our friends are all right.” She turned to Reggie. “Where are Yuki and Troy?”

Reggie looked across the stage and saw a mass of people scrambling, but a stone wall behind them. He pointed to it. “I can guess. Care to fetch 'em?”

Graham saw it too. “So Sir Crostell was right. You're those spies for that taskforce trying to stop us.”

“Eh, partial credit,” Reggie replied. “Now are you going to help us clean this up?”

“Absolutely not!” Graham pulled back. “We thank you for protecting us, but we will never align ourselves with you murderers.” He motioned to Arthur and they retreated toward the stage.

“Where are those two going?” Troy asked as he and Yuki arrived with Crystal.

“Better question would be where the big guy went,” Crystal said.

“He jumped off the stage as soon as he heard the plane,” Troy replied. “Almost like he knew what was coming.” He watched Graham and Arthur join several other similarly dressed men near the stage as they hastily packed up for a retreat.

“We can't let them get away,” Troy concluded.

“Yeah, but we can't just leave all these people here,” Yuki said, looking out over the suffering masses.

“Relax, guys, there's seven of us,” Reggie said, half-grinning. “Girls, stay and help out. Yuki? Troy? Come with me.”

“That works.” Troy turned to Yuki. “Better get those swords out.”

Yuki did, Reggie and Troy each took one and the chase began. As with the opposite side, orcs lined the streets, preventing an escape. At least until the Hokoni reached them. A few spells later and they weren't a problem. The chasing agents kept their distance, hiding behind whatever they could find and creating obstructions when there were no orange crates to be found.

They were still able to trail the Hokoni another block. Then two of them stopped abruptly and turned into an alleyway. Graham, Arthur, and the remaining two continued running down the street.

“Ah, crap,” Troy muttered. “Now what?”

“I'll keep an eye on the loverboys. You two take the other ones,” Reggie said.

Troy and Yuki nodded. As Reggie took off after Graham and Arthur, Troy and Yuki took flight, looking both ways as they crossed the street, of course.

They landed on a nearby rooftop overlooking the alley. It was on top of a two-story building and the Hokoni didn't hear them land. The demons just stood there, occasionally watching the street for authority figures and mumbling to themselves.

“Don't suppose you've got one of those eavesdropping potions ready,” Troy whispered.

Yuki handed him a vial and held up her own. “I planned ahead. Knew they'd probably come in handy today. Cheers!”

They imbibed and were soon able to hear the intense conversation about one of them having a sore calf muscle and the others stressing the importance of stretching out and being fit before protest rallies that may defy local authorities. Troy and Yuki struggled not to yawn.

A minute later, Grandon Crostell approached them from the dead end side. “Well, if this is how they are going to respond, we may have to re-assess our plans.”

“We will stand by this mission, no matter the cost,” replied one demon, transparently sycophantic.

“Of course we will. That's why we must redefine our parameters to keep success in our sights.”

Troy and Yuki looked at each other, each raising an eyebrow. How was he planning to conquer Enriel with corporate buzzwords?

“The new objective is to sow the seeds that could force this world to collapse on itself,” Grandon declared. “In that regard, tricking them into spreading propaganda against themselves and bombing their own people was a rousing start.”

“Excellent work, sir!” replied one cohort.

“Just as we planned!” replied the second.

Grandon grinned. “Yes, with the townspeople bound to be angry, they'll have their hands full keeping the peace. As soon as we give the elves and Puurxan their marching orders, we will declare victory and return to Earth.”

Troy couldn't believe what he was hearing. Grandon could delude his cronies into believing anything, but clearly the Hageshoni's aggressive response was prompting him to abandon the fight. The townspeople suffering in the square were still unhappy and ready to revolt, the Puurxan were still planning an attack and the Hokoni were going to dash off and leave them all to be slaughtered.

Without the Hokoni there to supply the initial effort, the MST's mission was as good as over as well. The MST wasn't going to be able to supply the force capable of stopping a Hageshoni that fought like this, and wouldn't be able to rally the locals given Grandon's slandering ten minutes ago. All that meant the demons would continue to abuse their power here, throw their weight around and remain a force in multiple worlds. All because Grandon suddenly didn't feel like playing anymore. It sickened Troy.

The Hokoni group seemed ready to disperse and Grandon's orders were absolute and signaled the end of their shop talk. Yuki tugged on Troy's sleeve to get the hell out of there. They stood up and turned away. Troy was ready to leave too, but couldn't just let Grandon leave like this. As Yuki started to walk away, Troy turned around and fired a beam of ice at Grandon's head.

One of Grandon's cohorts saw it and threw a shield up in time. All of them looked up.

“Troy, what the hell?!” Yuki shouted. Grandon did one better. He looked up, fired off his trigger and sent Troy flying off the roof and plummeting to the ground. He hovered briefly before crashing into the dirt, just before Grandon dropped him face down.

“See if anyone else is up there,” Grandon commanded. The other two demons flew up to the roof. Grandon waited for Troy to lift his head, then said, “You certainly have some gall, boy.”

Even if he didn't fall the whole way, Troy's body still ached from the collision with the ground. He was in no position to attack, but he could at least speak his mind. “More than I can say about you, quitting after one fight.”

“I may be proud, but I'm not foolish. If they insist on defending their territory in this matter, then we'll leave them to deal with their population themselves. This was hardly a strategic play to begin with, it was a matter of revenge.”

Troy didn't budge. “So do you feel like you got it?”

Grandon narrowed his eyes. “Hardly. But we created some headaches and forced them to clean up a delightful mess. That will have to suffice.”

As Troy forced himself to his knees, Grandon cracked a smile. “Thankfully, fate has granted us the chance to claim vengeance on our most recently casualty.”

With a swift motion of his right hand, Grandon's sword flew out of its sheath. He caught it with his left hand and pointed it squarely at Troy. Troy jumped to his feet instinctively, but that's where he froze as the Hokoni leader stared him in the eyes.

“Draw your sword, boy.”





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