Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 63: Drums of War

Session One

For all of the talk about acting swiftly to take the fight to the Hageshoni, Frank wasted no time high-tailing it back to the MST compound. He stayed in Endrell long enough to establish a local headquarters for the revolt, but left Reggie in charge of it. Frank had more important things to do back at base, especially if he planned to run everything himself.

Endrell was a critical part of the revolution, but it was just one place. Frank had given himself the task of literally taking over the world. Such undertakings were complex affairs that required a big-picture approach.

First and foremost, however, he was due to check in with the MST. That could only be done in the fancy command center, the only place in the land of Enriel that had wi-fi.

It took a while for him to patch through. It usually did, but this delay seemed even longer this time around. Frank understood why right away when Uriel appeared on the other end, facing away from the camera.

“Hello?” Uriel asked. “Is this working?”

“I'm over here,” Frank replied. “Where's Miller?” This Miller guy was the superior officer Frank reported to. He will not be in this story.

Uriel found the screen and frowned. “On vacation. Everybody's on vacation. Him, the chancellor, most of the administrative staff, half the faculty...”

With a wry grin, Frank asked, “Then how did you answer this call?”

“Thank God for interns. I guess I'm supposed to receive your update or something.”

“Are you sure? Do you even have a mission briefing?”

Uriel held up a packet. “I had to give it to your students. Apparently being in Cincinnati qualifies me to fill in for everybody on campus. I was under the impression there wouldn't be any significant news for the first couple weeks anyway.”

“Well, there have been a few developments. Namely the Hokoni bailed after the Hageshoni bombed the town square in Endrell.”

Frank waited for Uriel to respond. He only nodded. Frank added, “You might want to flip through your packet to see why that's a big deal.”

Uriel shrugged and scanned a few pages of the packet. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked back up. “When you say 'bombed,' you mean...”

“They dropped a modern bomb from a plane. Killed a couple dozen or so. Sure scared the hell out of the locals.”

“That world isn't supposed to have that kind of technology.”

“It would seem that they aren't above cheating to protect their territory.”

“Huh.” Uriel shrugged. “So if the Hokoni aren't there to thin them out, that sort of shoots the operation to hell.”

“Don't think I'm just going to give up though.” Given that this was busy work for Uriel, he was taken aback by the determined look on Frank's face. “I've been here too long and between the Hokoni stirring the crowd up and this attack pissing them off, we can get a foothold.”

Uriel glanced at the briefing again. “Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but the mission wasn't to lead a revolt. It was to use the failed revolt as an opening for a professional strike.” He looked back up at Frank. “It's pretty implicit that a citizen's revolt isn't going to work. And I would hardly call the group you're stuck with professional.”

Frank glared back, then cleared his throat. “I will withhold comment on the conduct of the student troop for now.”

Uriel flashed a grin. “Now you know what I've had to deal with the last two years.”

“Don't get me wrong; I'm confident they can handle anything thrown their way.”

Nodding, Uriel finished the thought. “The issue is they'll either refuse to do it or they caused the problem to begin with. I've heard enough about Reggie and I know first hand what kind of ship Molly runs.”

“I haven't seen too many problems with Molly's unit yet. Kathryn has some authority issues and...” Uriel's laughter interrupted him. “What?”

“They all have authority issues. They've all made my life hell at some point. At least Kathryn's upfront about it.”

“What about Molly?”

Uriel stared back, bemused. “Seriously? If Molly had any interesting in shaping them up, they'd be shaped up.”

Frank frowned. “I hope you're not implying that Molly has some sort of subversive agenda.”

“And I hope you're not implying that Molly's still the scared little girl you found those years ago.”

Shaking his head, Frank changed the subject. “Just tell Miller what happened and that we'll soldier on despite of it.”

Uriel jotted down some notes on the briefing. “Will do, but I can't authorize letting you continue. If he gets this and shuts it down, those kids are coming back home.” He paused for a moment, then added, “I'm actually not sure what I should root for. Much as I enjoy having them out of my hair, the assignment suddenly sounds pretty suicidal.”

“Yeah, well I'll take care of that. Although if you could have the guys check for any plane-sized transfers coming in and shut down the Hageshoni's modern weapon imports, it would help.”

Uriel heaved a sigh. “What? You can't do that either?” Frank asked.

“No, I can... I was hoping I wouldn't get stuck with more work.”


Session Two

The bombing incident hadn't even been properly christened before Enriel was destined to get bloody again. For a few days, the most heated debate was between local historians who preferred to call the attack the Fourth Endrell Massacre (it wasn't the first time the Hageshoni had to lay down the law in spectacular fashion) and the bards and priests who preferred to call it the Day of Dragonfire. The city was so consumed with this argument that it barely noticed the impending skirmishes to the south and west.

When the Hageshoni first took over Endrell and the city became more industrialized, the elf population, which had once dominated the city, dwindled. Some couldn't stand the new oppressors, some hated the modern direction Endrell had taken, while some were getting sick from all the mercury polluting the water supply. Over the years, most of them had relocated to the forests of the west. The Hageshoni government's only issue with this was the impact on the lumber industry due to the heavy number of trees chopped down to create these new habitats. The elves were so insulted by these demons accusing them of lacking environmental consciousness and sustainable growth that they maintained a bitter grudge against the Hageshoni for centuries.

They were easy prey for the Hokoni and the demons used a false rumor of an attack to mobilize them and send them on the warpath. Frank was all set to take a field trip to watch them get decimated live, but the Puurxan launched their attack at the same time. The Hokoni had clearly coordinated that too, and Frank was pleased that even if they were going to bail, their final gesture was designed for maximum impact.

Still, keeping tabs on both fronts was a logistical nightmare. The end result sent Meg and Giles to monitor the elves and Molly's unit, with the exception of Donovan, to the Puurxan.

“This is going to suck, isn't it?” Kathryn said. The brigade of Puurxan marched along the plains in the distance, specks in the distance from her hilltop vantage point.

“Probably,” Molly said. “I have no idea where they're marching, but reports are the Hageshoni are set to meet them around here. Based on numbers alone, it's going to be ugly.”

“Isn't there anything we can do?” Yuki said, worried about the prospect of watching hundreds of cat people get slaughtered.

“We're free to try to influence the battle as long as we don't draw attention to ourselves or engage the enemy directly. Basic pot shots aren't worth the risk of being spotted.”

Kathryn frowned. “That makes me pretty useless, huh?”

“Pretty much. This would be one for the Weavers.” Molly paused. “At least it would be if I knew anything that worked on such a large scale.”

“What about defensive magic?” Renee asked.

“I don't know how effective it would be. Depends on if the Hageshoni use magic or weaponry. They seem to lean on the latter here.”

Renee thought some more. “Ooh, how about Haste or Slow?”

Molly narrowed her eyes. Two years in the MST and Renee was still using magic terminology picked up from video games. Even so, it was worth consideration. “Being cat creatures, there isn't anything to be gained making them faster. Slowing down the enemy would emphasize their speed advantage, but I can only do that with circles.”

“We'll just need a lot of circles then.” Renee smiled. “Why don't I sweep across the field and place circles where they'll have to cross?”

“We don't know where they're going to cross.”

“Uh, Molly...” Yuki pointed into the distance. A full army of orcs marched along the plain toward the Puurxan army, outnumbering them three to one. They were both armored and armed with clubs and swords. A row of burly Hageshoni demons followed them, unarmed. The regiment spanned across most of the field. To answer Molly's question, they were crossing pretty much everywhere.

Molly didn't need that explained to her. Despite the humbling presence, Renee's idea was sound. Thanks to Grimoire 17, she could generate circles automatically and quickly with little more than a swipe of her arm. It was a good idea, but Molly wasn't big on Renee crossing the path of a thousand rampaging orcs.

For that matter, neither was Renee, but she was still up for it. With a slight hint of nerves, she said, “Well, uh, if I pick the right spot, I should get all the way through in time.”

“I don't like 'should,'” Molly replied. “As fast as you can generate the circle, you'd still have to run across that entire clearing without them seeing you. That's a long distance, and it's not like anyone mows that grass.”

“What if Troy flew overhead while I rode along and covered the ground?”

“Wh-what?” Troy had been tuned out of the conversation, instead watching the marching kitty cats with a blank stare. He was surprised to be nominated for a support role.

When he turned to Renee, he caught sight of the horde of bad guys that they would be passing in front of. “Whoa, whoa, you really think...” Then he stopped and shook his head. “Wait, whatever, Molly's not going to go for anything like that.”

To his surprise, Molly replied, “Normally that would be true, but it's the best plan we've got and, like I said before, Thrusters aren't going to be that useful. So you're it.”

Now Troy protested louder. “There's no way I can fly that far without them spotting me. It's not like I can fly any faster than I can run.”

Molly merely cracked a smile. “Cute...” She turned to her sister. “Renee, cast Haste on Troy.”

“Roger!” Renee fired her trigger at Troy. It had no noticeable effect until Troy tried shaking his head and the momentum almost knocked him over.

“This is insane. Are you guys trying to get me killed again?” His words came out faster and at a higher pitch. Renee and Kathryn struggled not to laugh.

Even Molly was amused. “I've never actually seen a speed boosting spell in person. But it's clearly effective. Go to work.”

Renee walked up to Troy and stood with her back right next to him. With what passed for a heavy sigh (that sounded more like a quick huff), Troy put his left arm around Renee's waist and fired off his trigger. They shot ten feet into the air before Troy got control and dove forward down the hill.

Troy was surprised at how quickly he got used to flying at this speed, descending to a point where Renee could work her magic. She brushed the ground with one hand, putting up with the slaps from the grass and weeds they flew through. Ripples of light spread through the ground, subsiding after a few feet.

It was not a loud process, so they could hear the marching horde get louder and louder. Troy didn't dare turn his head, knowing it would likely lead them off course, but the louder the stomping got, the less he could ignore it. He had lost all sense of space and had no idea how far he had gotten or how far he had left to go. Renee was oblivious, far too focused on her mission. He was alone and disoriented, and all it took was a war cry to throw his concentration, sending him and Renee crashing to the ground.

The orcs charged ahead.


Session Three

Without missing a beat, Troy grabbed Renee and ran to the far end of the clearing, laying low enough for the tall grass to partially conceal them. They dove behind bushes as the first row of orcs began to arrive behind them. Troy raised the earth as best he could to provide more cover without arousing suspicion, then sat behind it and caught his breath.

“Are you okay?” Renee asked him before he had the chance to ask her.

“Yeah,” he answered, breathless. “That got too close. I wonder if we can teleport back from here.”

He turned to Renee. She was peeking over the bushes to watch the orcs. To his surprise, she was smiling.

“Sweet, it's working!” Indeed, the rows of orcs marched at a consistent speed, which suddenly slowed down as they passed the line of circles that Renee had planted. The closest columns, the ones that crossed where Troy had crashed, kept going at full speed. The first rows of orcs didn't seem to notice. The trailing demons did, but weren't about to break rank to do anything about it.

“Well, mostly working,” Troy muttered. He didn't like that the ones traveling full speed were closest to them.

“Nah, that's even better,” Renee said. “Screws their formation up.”

The slowed orcs meant they didn't get much farther than Troy and Renee's hiding place before the Puurxan arrived. There was no sounding of horns or additional charges or shouts. Just a bunch of cat people slamming into the line of orcs. The orcs were slow to react and the front lines of Puurxan slashed their way through en route to the back lines. The whole thing collapsed into a chaotic mess within seconds.

The additional speed advantage did help the Puurxan, at least. Some of the more spry ones were able to leap into the throng, slash a neck, bounce into the air and slash a few more before being nailed by a lucky polearm. It was not going to turn the tide, however, as most were only able to take out one or two orcs before going down. Some, particularly those facing the full speed orcs, fell without a single kill.

Renee and Troy had hidden behind the bushes when the lines first clashed. By the time Renee dared to take another peek, both ranks had dwindled by at least a third. The Puurxan were taking more orcs down with them, but the numbers advantage was still overwhelming.

She tried to put a positive spin on it. “Well, we're still hanging in there... kinda.”

That's when the spellcasters in the back got involved. They hadn't done much other than take out the occasional Puurxan who had penetrated the lines far enough. Now, even as the two armies blended together, they rained fireballs towards the middle of their opponent's ranks. Nobody in the target area was able to move and a mass of Puurxan (along with a handful of orcs) were incinerated.

The sight horrified Renee and must have had a similar effect on the rest of the Puurxan army. The act slowed them down almost as much as Renee's spell had stalled the orcs. Even with no more interference from the Hageshoni magi, the result was no longer in doubt.

This momentum swing got attention from the other observers. “Why haven't you teleported back here yet?” Molly asked Renee via telepathy.

“What? Now? They're all going to die!” Renee pleaded.

“They were all going to die from the beginning. Didn't we make that clear? Your spell worked well enough but you need to get out of there before they spot you.”

“But... I want to try one more thing.”

She heard Molly grumble, but her sister's reply was, “Fine, but make it good.”

“For the record, I'm with Molly,” Troy said, adding, “What did she say?”

“Imma try something...” Renee mumbled, not answering the question.

Before Troy could protest, Renee crawled around the perimeter of the bushes. At the edge, she had a clear shot at the battlefield and began to charge up a spell. It wasn't long before she was spotted. Four orcs split off from the battle and charged at her. Renee's eyes were closed and she didn't notice.

“Renee!” Troy shouted.

She opened her eyes just long enough to recognize the threat. Closing them again, she shouted back, “Cover me!”

Troy crept closer. The four orcs were spaced out, but all would be converging on Renee in a matter of seconds. Renee didn't seem to care, focused on whatever spell she was charging up. He fumbled for the right spell, but everything capable of taking out all four of them at once would have immediately drawn the attention of the rest of the group. He clutched at his smiter, but he was sickened even holding it after what happened last time it had been used. Besides, orcs were not demons and it wouldn't have worked anyway.

That's when he registered that in the span of that entire thought process, the 'matter of seconds' had almost elapsed and the orcs were closer than ever. He hadn't realized that he had froze that much. Troy had time for one move, and he did it without wasting any more time deliberating. He ran towards Renee, grabbed her, closed his eyes and teleported away just as the orcs raised their swords at her.

Troy opened his eyes in time to see Renee fire her spell. In front of them, Molly, Kathryn and Yuki were all struck with an intense electrical shock and fell to the ground in pain. Renee ceased the spell the moment she saw who it had hit.

“Ow, damn! I didn't need to feel that again!” Kathryn shouted.

Just as Troy caught his breath following the harrowing escape, Renee shoved him to the ground. “What the hell?! Why did you pull us out of there?”

Troy say up. “What, you think I could just take out four orcs bearing down on you without the rest noticing? Do you really think you could have saved them?”

“Was that shocking spell your plan?” Molly asked, trying to fix a stubborn patch of hair standing up on her head. When Renee nodded, Molly said, “You do realize that would have hit the Puurxan just as hard as the orcs, right?”

Renee looked away. “Well... yeah. But they seem to resist magic better than the orcs. I was thinking they'd get up from it faster and be able to retreat or something.

Molly blinked twice. “Hmm... that's true. Okay, that might have worked.”

She scanned the battle once more. The Puurxan were decimated. Whoever was still alive probably wouldn't be for long and the orcs were already going into 'mutilate the bodies' mode. Molly turned away. “Let's go,” she muttered.

Molly turned her back to the battlefield, walking away without another look. Kathryn and Yuki were fixated on it, not budging until Molly repeated herself. They followed, still stealing glances back at the massacre they had just watched.


Session Four

The ride back to base was quiet at first. While they had done exactly what was expected of them and Lord knows how one-sided it would have been without Renee's interference, it was a demoralizing sight. Early reports from Meg were that the elves fared about the same, making little more than a dent against the hordes before being overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

It gave all of them time to think, which led to the first move. Renee patted Troy on the shoulder. “Sorry I snapped at you back there,” she mumbled.

He shook his head. “It's okay. That whole thing sucked.”

“Better safe than sorry, I guess. I just... wanted to make a difference.” She looked at him. “At least you're still looking out for me.”

Troy didn't respond at first. By now, he had come up with a couple different ways he could have cleared out the orcs threatening Renee without alerting the rest of the throng. They weren't immediately obvious, but they would have worked and would have allowed Renee to do her thing. He couldn't deny that he had locked up under pressure.

Molly and Kathryn sat in the other corner, the guardian silent as she watched Troy and Renee. Kathryn was quiet as well, but didn't want to be and, having given Molly some alone time with her thoughts, fixed that.

“So just so we're clear here... Renee was trying something completely crazy that could have gotten her killed.”

“Yes,” Molly replied, no emotion in her voice.

“But if she had done it, it might have helped us out.”

“Yes, in theory.”

“But Troy stopped her from doing it.”


“And we ended up eating a thousand volts of electricity because of it.”

“Don't remind me.”
“And so we weren't able to stop those cat folks from getting wiped.”


Kathryn sighed. “Why aren't you reaming anybody out? Failing this hard should be pretty ripe for your fury. Aren't you pissed off at all?”

“Of course.” Molly shook her head. “But what good does it do getting on Troy or Renee? I can't even say either of them screwed up.”

“My hair's still frizzled. Safe to say one of them screwed up.”

“But which one? The one trying to make a difference in the battle or the one making sure she stayed alive?”

Kathryn paused, then turned away. “You're not really going to start going easy on Troy just because he nearly got his ass killed, are you?”

Molly let out a short chuckle. “I might be. He does appear to be a little bothered by it all. I'm in no mood to kick him while he's down.”

“Even when it affects the mission?”

“You know full well that I don't really care about the mission. I do care about Renee, and if it made Troy a little more hesitant about doing something stupid and more careful about making sure all of us are safe, then I'm not going to chew him out for it.”

Kathryn shook her head. “I hope so. But I can't get past it, you know. I still can't forgive him.”

“It must be different for me. What he did to Marie... I know it was a shock to you and Renee, but I knew he was capable of it this whole time. It's always been in the back of my mind. I was more disappointed than surprised.”

“Why does that matter now? It's not like you calling it makes him a better person.”

“Because deep down, I want to be wrong.” Molly kept watching Troy, still contemplating his actions during the battle. “I would like nothing more than for him to realize that there's more to this than winning fights against demons. That it's all secondary next to living a good life and not being a dick to the people that care about you.”

“Okay, see that's what I don't get about you.” Kathryn turned to Molly. “You say all that stuff about friends and your life being more important... but what the hell are you doing? I know you don't have a life, and I don't think you had any friends either until Kurt and I came along.”

Molly looked down. “Somebody still has to do the dirty work. Best leave it to those who are destined for that existence.”

“Dammit, you need to quit with the destiny thing. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. You're an adult now. You don't need to follow Frank around like a little girl anymore.”

“You're right. But that would imply that I wasn't as necessary as everybody believes. After all this time, I don't know if I could handle that. Part of me wants to see this through, just to make sure this wasn't all a waste of time.”

Kathryn clicked her tongue. “You really think all this crap is worth it just to make sure you're as special as you think?”

“It has to be.” Molly stared straight ahead, struggling not to doubt herself. “If we get to the end and it turns out I'm just another cog in the works and all that talk of me having a major impact ends up being nothing more than Frank being overdramatic... I don't know if I could handle that. I don't know what I'd do.”

Slapping Molly's knee, Kathryn replied, “Well, if nothing else, if you are gonna lay off Troy, at least you've got Frank to be pissed off at.”

Molly nodded. “Yes... that will never change.”


Session Five

With Grandon and the Hokoni skipping town in a hurry, Reggie found that the operation they had established to sew seeds of rebellion in Endrell were easy to seize and use for his mission- sewing seeds of rebellion in Endrell. After the show his unit and Donovan had put on during the bombing, they had no trouble picking up where the Hokoni had left off. Leasing office spacing and hiring administrative workers rarely made or broke a political movement, but these were good hassles to avoid.

While Meg and Molly's units were stuck bearing witness to assorted fantasy races being decimated by orcs, Reggie, Reggie's girls, Donovan and Donovan's minions got to be rock stars in Endrell. Thanks to them, the Hageshoni bombing wasn't so much a show of might and intimidation as it was a dick move that royally pissed off a population. Not only did they retain the ranks the Hokoni had already swayed, they picked up a whole new crop of recruits whose eyes had been opened.

Managing them all while trying to keep their spirits high before using them for whatever Frank wanted to do was the challenge. Reggie's task was to keep people engaged in smaller subversive acts in order to build to something bigger. There were no other details, which was a problem. While Molly could have probably taken over the city in a week, Reggie's arsenal of rebellious tactics consisted solely of stuff he remembered from watching Fight Club.

Damned if he didn't use them, however, especially with many of his dissidents working in factories. Weapons producers were introducing or allowing flaws in the swords and axes that were going to orcs, while smuggling some good ones for themselves. An entire shift of steel workers reported sick for three days, shutting down their plant in that span. Most importantly, the taverns were filled with discussion about how awful things were getting with the Hageshoni in charge.

The Hageshoni were aware of all of this, of course. Crystal had plenty of concealment charms that kept the operation's home base secure from major attacks, but the local law enforcement were constantly on the lookout for dubious activities and would occasionally stumble upon their location. Reggie had that part covered.

Two officers wandered in on this articular afternoon, three days after the Puurxan and elven battles. Reggie had made sure that word of these massacres had reached the townspeople and those that weren't totally racist were livid about such atrocities. He left out the details of who started it.

“What exactly goes on here?” one officer asked Candace at the front desk. Reggie wasn't entirely sure when in history the front desk receptionist came about, but it was necessary to keep out the riff-raff and worth whatever suspicions it may have aroused.

Plus Candace was really good at it. “We do social work here, sir,” she answered, not looking up from the difficult task of filing her nails.

“Social work? What's that?” the second asked.

“You know, helping out the disadvantaged. People who have fallen through the cracks of the system and need a little boost.”

The officers stepped forward, frowning. The first one asked, “You saying people are having problems with the current system? Because we've heard reports that-”

Candace generated a giant fireball and planted it under their noses. The smoke knocked them backwards. The first officer's head collided with the wall, knocking him out. The second wasn't as lucky: he stayed conscious and therefore got the full brunt of her fireball.

By the time Cammy and Crystal came in to retrieve them, Candace was back to her nails. “You know, one of these days you should wait until we find out what they've heard,” Cammy said.

Candace scoffed. “Please, I don't have time for that.” After pausing to blow on her nails, she added, “All this filing!”

Cammy and Crystal continued the process, dragging them back to the “receiving room.” Crystal stuck a lit cigarette into each of their mouths. The contents inside didn't quite wipe their memories, but it did create the illusion that rather than experiencing what they did, they walked into the office, saw nothing unusual, and felt the sudden compulsion to leave the city for a smoke break. The circle was already in place for Cammy to whisk both officers out of the city.

With those gentlemen of the picture, Candace arrived with two more in tow. “Hey, got a couple more here. Think you can take care of them?”

“Already?” Crystal asked, taking two more cigarettes off the shelf. But Candace was already gone. Instead, Graham and Arthur were in the hallway and conscious.

“Cigarette? Why yes, I'll have one,” Arthur said.

Crystal looked down at them. “Um... you don't want these. Or maybe you do.” Given their previous allegiance to the Hokoni, she wasn't sure what Candace meant by 'take care of them.'

“I'm confused,” Cammy added.

“As are we,” Graham said. “After Sir Crostell went into hiding, we had heard that this place was taking over the revolution. We thought we would pledge our services, but we didn't expect to find you ladies here.”

“But aren't you Hokoni demons?” Crystal asked.

Graham and Arthur were taken aback. “Demons? What do you mean? If anybody should be called demons it is you witches,” said Graham.

“What did you call us?!” Cammy shouted.

Crystal replied, “No, no, he said witches.”

Cammy calmed down right away. “Oh. I guess that's close enough.”

“Why are you so freaked out about us knowing magic?” Crystal asked. “I mean Grandon and his folks do too.”

She got a pair of blank stares. “You mean he never used magic in front of you guys?” They shook their heads. “And he convinced you that because we do, we're the bad guys?” They nodded. “Even though he skipped town while we're trying to keep this rebellion afloat?”

“The fact that you have the ability to help us but chose not to all this time is quite damning.”

“You saw what we're dealing with.” Reggie was now in the hallway, joining the conversation as if he had always been a part of it. “We needed a groundswell of folks like you guys before we stood a chance.” He put his arms around each of their shoulders. “Now we can start cooking.”

He led them down the hall into another office. On the door, a placard read “Reggie's Room,” listed in professional typeset lettering.


Session Six

Molly was overjoyed that Frank was late to the meeting in the command center. It gave her a chance to commiserate with Meg for the first time since witnessing their respective battles.

“Wow, your sister's gutsy,” said Meg. “Morgan and I just generated a bunch of natural defenses for the elves. The orcs were expecting to fight in a forest. They weren't expecting the giant moat in front of a hill with bushes for the elves to use for cover. That sure slowed them down.”

“It didn't stop them though?” Molly asked, already knowing the answer.

“Well, it turns out the orcs use crossbows too. And one of them had a torch. And those particular bushes the elves were using burn really well.”

“This time of year is also very conducive for forest fires,” Maple added.

“Yeah, that too,” Meg replied. “I was so busy keeping that from spreading that I kinda missed the rest of the battle. You'll have to ask Giles for the blow-by-blow.”

“Well, after having to watch all that, I don't see what we could possibly do that's worse,” Molly said. She and Meg looked at each other and paused. Then they turned to the door, waiting for Frank to show up and give them something worse.

He missed his cue by twenty seconds. Frank went to the front of the room, pinching his earlobe the whole while as he manipulated one of the workstations. The map on the giant monitor was replaced by an image of Reggie in a Fonzie pose.

“Ay!” said Reggie. “Can't imagine you girls having more fun than me.”

Morgan frowned. “I don't know. Ever see an elf's head on a pike?”

“Couple times. But they deserved it.”

Frank cut the chatter quickly. “How is the operation going in Endrell?”

“Awesome! People are talking, people are thinking, lotsa civil disobedience all over the place.”

“Good. What are your numbers looking like?”

Reggie paused. “Numbers?”

“How many have pledged their support?”

“Oh, was I supposed to be keeping track?”

Groaning, Frank replied, “That was the idea. Do we have enough support to launch a successful operation?”

“Well, what kind of operation are we talking about?”

“Now that the population is stirred up, the Hageshoni's armies are thinned out and they are no longer able to import weapons, we can make a play for the city. If we can get control of Endrell, we can take over the city's factories. That achieves our main objective, and would allow our main wave to sweep through the rest of the world.”

“Ah, okay. Yeah, no clue if we're ready for that.”

Frank frowned. “Well, we have a narrow window of opportunity. It'll be a while before we can throw another wave of forest creatures at the problem.”

“Excuse me, sir,” Molly said. “If Reggie is having success with more subversive tactics, why not let that play out? If the locals are working on bringing down the system from the inside, isn't that more likely to succeed than an outright attack? If we're trying to stop weapons productions, organize and fund a labor strike at their factory.”

Reggie grinned. “Damn, I knew you should have had this job.”

From somewhere on Reggie's side, Donovan shouted. “Nonsense! We must attack the establishment at once!”

Reggie chuckled to himself as Donovan stood in front of him. The command center got a great view of his torso and his arms on his hips, his head well out of frame.

“Donovan, this is supposed to be between guardians only,” Frank said, not amused.

“Yeah! Get out of here!” Mindy shouted.

Donovan levitated and floated off camera. Reggie made sure he was well out of view, then sat back down. “Sorry about that. Anyway, yeah, a strike sounds a lot better!”

Frank shook his head. “That might work in the short term, but it won't stop them permanently. That's the ultimate goal.”

While he was no longer seen, Donovan was still heard. “That's but a diversion! While the masses draw the attention, we attack!”

“God, Reggie, don't you know a silencing spell?” Meg moaned. “Just-”

Then Morgan interrupted, “Wait, I like that idea.”

Even though it was the room's biggest idiot that made the suggestion and the room's biggest lunkhead endorsing it, everybody paused to consider it.

Except Frank, who didn't care for the sudden silence. “Meg, please you get your unit under control?”

“Hold on, he's right,” Meg said. “Donovan's on to something. There's no way we can take the city by marching a bunch of villagers against the Hageshoni guards. But if there's a big protest drawing their police force's attention, we might be able to storm city hall ourselves.”

“Funny how taking city hall just automatically legitimizes any government coup,” Reggie said.

“Place is built like a fortress,” Frank said. “If we can sneak in there, clean house and set up some ATBs, it goes a long way toward running the city.”

“If the place is built like a fortress, how do we get in?” Molly asked.

“Built like a fortress is different than serving as one. We can walk in through the front door like we're on normal business, then fight off the guards and depose the general from there.”

Molly frowned. “Please say the final attack plan will be a little more nuanced than that.”

“Of course, of course. But once that succeeds, it locks down well enough to stave off the Hageshoni counter-attack. They'll surely throw their full might into that, so let's hope the earlier battles weakened them a bit.”

“But what about the protesters? What happens to them if we're holed up inside and they're out there with the whole Hageshoni army?”

That argument silenced Frank. If a protest draws out the police force and allowed this crack team of magi to take over city hall, the police force would likely have no patience with the protesters in the aftermath.

Finally, Frank shrugged. “That part we'll just have to play by ear.”





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