time the reinforcements got there, it was too late. The demons
didn't actually leave until well after the cavalry had arrived,
but the MST agents took so long to hack the student council's
security system that it didn't matter. When they finally got the
elevator to take them to the basement, all they found was an
empty room littered with the assorted furnishings Claude and
Molly had thrown around in their battle. The Urayoni and the
Hageshoni had escaped with their prizes.
three students already gone and without knowing their captors'
motive, Uriel realized that leaving Troy, Kathryn and Donovan in
L. B. Gould was no longer an option. The remaining three needed
to be somewhere safe, which left only one choice.
“Central?” Troy said, astonished. “How do we get there? What
scoffed. “School? With Pearson gone, the place will surely
descend into chaos and anarchy. There will be no school.” He
glanced aside. “I wish I could see it.”
fall apart when she left last December.”
voice interrupted them. “Actually, Donovan's onto something.
We're thinking of attributing Molly's absence to a military coup
this time, so chaos isn't so far-fetched. You're better off in
heaved a sigh. “I don't suppose we get to pack first?”
like it's clear so go ahead and can swing by your house on the
way to the rendezvous point.”
silently went upstairs. Donovan grinned; he had other plans.
my things and return here. We leave tonight!”
minutes, more precisely,” Uriel added. Blaine disappeared.
again, Kathryn said, “Any chance of borrowing a minion to get my
glared back at her. She looked away, not wanting any of it.
“Bryce,” he called.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, then filled Bryce in on what to collect.
left, Ellen said, “You don't mind him going through your
leaned back. “It's Bryce. Who cares? Besides, after all that I
just want to get out of here.”
and the minions packed up, Uriel relayed information to Ellen.
With the group together, Ellen shooed them out the door with no
further explanation. Outside, two cars were idling on each side
of the driveway with their passenger-side doors open and a man
standing in front of them.
taking two cars?” Troy said.
hon, these are our escorts,” Ellen said, nodding to them while
leading the three students to her own car.
piled in the trunk and passengers loaded, Ellen pulled out. Troy
and Kathryn watched nervously as the escort in front pulled into
traffic. Ellen followed it, while the second car followed her.
This would have appeared far more impressive had the escort in
back not been an actual decades-old Ford Escort.
the precautions, they reached their destination, a park
downtown, without incident. A rescue helicopter waited for them.
Troy and Kathryn exited the car and pondered the red and white
markings on its side. Donovan didn't bother and retrieved his
we're riding Care Flight?” Troy asked, shouting over the rotor
handed him his bag and shouted back, “It's only painted to look
like Care Flight. It's a telecopter.”
no idea. That's just what Uriel said.”
“Whatever,” Kathryn mumbled, following Donovan on board.
their backs turned, Ellen sneaked in a hug for Troy. He smiled a
little, not shying away from his mother.
the noise behind them, she insisted on saying something. “Stay
out of trouble, okay? I'm sure you'll be back here in no time!”
sighed, but said nothing. Troy wasn't worried about himself.
knew that. “It's out of your hands!” she yelled. Quieter, she
added, “They'll do everything they can.” Troy didn't hear her,
but nodded anyway, not quite reassured but doubting that Ellen
could be any more optimistic without sounding false.
none of them had any clue about the likelihood of getting Molly,
Renee or Yuki back. Without Kurt around, their only channel to
the MST was Uriel, and all he said was to get to safety. Beyond
that, they were completely in the dark about what came next.
the helicopter (or telecopter, apparently), Troy took a helmet
from the pilot and threw his bag where Kathryn and Donovan had
dropped theirs. They were strapped into seats on opposite sides
of the vehicle, facing each other. Troy sat next to Kathryn and
figured out how to buckle the harness.
jolt shook all three of them and told them they were taking
flight. Kathryn stared at the floor, her hands trembling on her
lap. Troy reached over and patted them. She looked over at him
and made eye contact as a faint, sad smile appeared.
could feel themselves ascending. Normally, Troy and Kathryn
would have loved a ride like this. The circumstances, of course,
prevented either from being at all jovial about the ride. That
and the fact that there were no windows in the cabin. Which,
come to think of it, seemed odd.
telecopter reached its apparent apex, Troy leaned over to
Kathryn and said, “This is going to be a boring trip if we can't
see anything.” Kathryn nodded silently.
quickly, they fell. The telecopter seemed to bounce down, then
stabilize itself for a moment before dipping further. Troy and
Kathryn looked around nervously, but the harnesses prevented
them from seeing much more than Donovan riding it out
impatiently. They couldn't crane their necks enough to see if
the pilots were taking evasive action... or even if they were in
the cockpit at all.
another severe dip, Katrhyn shouted, “Is this supposed to be
happening?” Troy clutched her arm. This continued for several
minutes as both of them tried not to be the first to throw up.
trip was stable again. Troy and Kathryn readied themselves for
another turbulent drop, but two minutes passed without a single
jolt. Just as they felt brave enough to consider calming down,
they heard the cockpit door fly open. One of the pilots came
back and motioned for the three to unbuckle and get out.
about parachutes?” Troy cried.
for?” The pilot shouted back.
snickered and unbuckled himself. “Clearly you have forgotten our
powers of flight!” He stood up, took his bag and walked to the
door. Troy and Kathryn glanced at each other, took a deep breath
and followed him out.
telecopter was already on the ground- specifically the giant
Central Academy parking lot. Greeting them, Mr. Marlowe couldn't
help himself and smirked when he saw their faces.
the flight?” he said, annoyingly smug as always.
Kathryn and Donovan were happy to be safe at the Academy. They
weren't ready for Kiki providing the medical care. Healing
Kathryn involved a whip and an ivory dagger. They were even less
prepared for the lengthy debriefing process that followed. For
the next hour, the three were separated and forced to relive
their experiences for the official record. This meant explaining
every harrowing twist- Kamila's death, Kendrick's sacrifice and
Marie's alignment. At a time when they just wanted to get some
rest, it was an aggravating process.
they were honest. Even Donovan, although his usual flair on the
story made it a chore to discern truth from embellishment.
Kathryn's problem was the utter lack of sympathy from her
interrogator regarding her battle. He was more excited about all
the cool details, covertly trying to establish exact quantities
of shed blood and torn clothing. His only words of encouragement
to her were, “It's just a demon. Don't worry about it.”
story was less impressive but far more excruciating. First he
had to tell the story of how he lost Renee, then how he lost
Marie. He hadn't told Kathryn or his mother, and hated letting
some stranger with a clipboard be the first to find out. A part
of him even disliked incriminating Marie. He did, sucking it up
and giving a full report in spite of his misgivings. After all,
the more information the MST had about the incident, the better
prepared they were to act.
all three gave their statements, they were left in a holding
room for another half-hour. They said or did very little, each
continuing their fruitless attempt to figure out what the hell
was going on. Finally, the door opened and Mr. Marlowe walked
out. They stood up, eager to hear anything. Instead, he smiled
up?” Kathryn asked, barely containing her disdain for the
“Exciting stuff,” he said. “You should go to the library and
submit memories. You get extra credit for your history courses.”
were not amused.
snickered and continued, “Thanks for the info. We can start to
piece things together now. As a special reward, I'll even let
you stay in your own room instead of throwing you in Hall A like
we usually do.”
scoffed. Somehow that wasn't enticing her much. “Where are Yuki
and Renee?” she asked, bitter that it hadn't been answered yet.
Molly, you mean?”
going to happen to them?”
looked up, scratching his chin. “Well, that's not really my
department. Uriel's working on that. I'm not sure if he's made
contact with the Urayoni to negotiate their release.”
who?” Kathryn asked, narrowing an eye. “I thought we were
dealing with the Hageshuh... whatever. Those guys.”
according to Troy!” Marlowe replied, far too chipper. Kathryn
looked at Troy, who stared straight ahead and didn't acknowledge
her. “The Urayoni and Hageshoni have had an alliance for years,
so it's no surprise that the two were both in on this.”
to catch you guys off guard,” Troy muttered.
paused to dismiss the statement, then said, “Hey, this is a good
thing! The Urayoni are all about negotiating, so there's a very
okay chance we'll be able to get your team back!”
Kathryn eyed each other nervously. 'Very okay' was not what they
were hoping for.
that, Marlowe changed the subject. “Anyway, you're free to head
to your room. This place is your home for now. As long as you
don't leave the campus or do anything that would drain a
security deposit, you're free to wander.”
sighed. With those two restrictions, they were essentially
rather hit the dining hall first,” Troy said. “We kinda missed
“Actually, the dining hall's closed,” Marlowe replied, holding
out his arm. He rotated his wrist deliberately until a laminated
sheet of paper appeared. Marlowe handed it to Troy. It was a
short list of pizza places and casual restaurants. “You can
order from any of these fine establishments. Just follow the
instructions on the top. Since you're our guests, it's all on
but-” Troy started.
finished. “Great, let's go.”
She looked at him with her tired eyes. “Let's go.”
he took her hand and teleported to Hall D. Donovan glared at Mr.
Marlowe, but before the dean could ask why, Donovan was off too.
was quieter, darker and colder than usual. The lack of commotion
from surrounding rooms added to the prison feel. Before they
could let themselves dwell too much on this, Troy ordered pizzas
and Donovan turned on the TV. They watched the local news in
silence. The lead story was about a chemical fire in Edinburgh
that wiped out half an industrial park that injured a handful.
It didn't seem like such a big deal.
made quick work of dinner when it arrived. It was probably
average as far as restaurant pizza was concerned, but after
everything they went through it was a gourmet meal. Even though
they didn't say much to each other besides requests to pass
napkins or last slice arguments, it helped them recover a
little. At the very least, it helped delude them into thinking
everything was going to turn out all right. A mindless Adam
Sandler movie later that night helped keep them in denial a
illusion faded overnight. Trapped in their rooms, beds and
thoughts, there was nothing left to focus on besides the day's
events. They had no choice but to accept that this army had
really invaded the school and captured Molly, Renee and Yuki.
Troy had the additional burden of grasping Marie. Once his mind
had focused on it and come up empty, he knew he wouldn't be
getting much sleep.
after he went to bed, he heard a knock on the door. “Come in,”
Troy said, neither asking nor caring who it was. He lifted his
head briefly to see who had entered and set it back down when he
saw Kathryn in the tank top and shorts she called pajamas. “You
sat on the side of the bed. She didn't say a word.
pretend they'll get rescued and it'll all be okay,” he mumbled.
“Not working for me but maybe you'll fall asleep.”
sighed, drew back the bedsheet and slid in next to him, pulling
the covers close. “Doesn't matter,” she said.
turned slightly, surprised until she clarified, “Well, I mean of
course it matters but... is this really what you wanted? Are we
really better off being involved in all this?”
happens if we're not?” Troy asked. “Kurt and Molly and Yuki are
in it either way. Renee signs up for sure. Only difference is we
wouldn't know why they disappeared.”
must suck.” Kathryn turned on her side, facing Troy's back.
“Marie's been enough of a wreck already. How do we explain all
this to her?”
shivered. Kathryn couldn't tell if the idea or the air caused
it. Either way, she leaned in closer and clutched him. “I know,”
she said. “Can't imagine what's going on with her. It's like all
of her friends vanished. You better call her tomorrow.”
his head. “I don't have to,” he said, his voice cracking. Within
Kathryn's arms, he turned around and stared into her eyes. He
still trembled as he whispered, “She knows.”
you mean she knows?” Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “You better not
have told her. Then they'll just use her like they use your
he shook his head. Barely able to contain his voice, he gulped
and said, “Remember Marlowe said I ran into the Urayoni?”
she mumbled. But Troy closed his eyes and leaned into her chest.
All she could do was stare forward and try to picture it. She
on the roof keeping us from leaving,” he said. “She let me go,
but...” Kathryn held him tighter.
“Seriously?” She felt him nod. As much as she wanted details,
she kept quiet. It wasn't the time and she doubted he had any
answers. Right now, all they could do was lay there, lost in
thought and darkness, holding each other.
were all either of them had left.
had one major flaw, one that he was constantly having to account
for and demanded extra effort from him and his office to get
things done. Now, in the midst of such remarkable events, such a
huge deficiency was front and center and he was forced to raise
the white flag and acknowledge defeat. The enemy had conquered
Urayoni asked for a teleconference with me. I have no idea what
that is,” he admitted telepathically. He sat, alone, in a
Central Academy conference room. A projector flashed a blank
blue screen on the wall.
chuckled. “You never cease to amaze me. I'll be there in a
later, he appeared and turned on the PC under the table. “You
know some districts have entered the 21st century.”
“Negotiations this crucial should be done in person,” Uriel
insisted. “Failing that, notarized parchment.”
rolled his eyes and fiddled with the projector until the
computer's image appeared. “Did they give you any contact
this.” Uriel handed over a piece of notarized parchment. “Other
than the date and time, I can't make it out.”
session ID to log in.” Marlowe typed it into the computer. It
registered and loaded up a video window on the screen. As it
did, he said, “Mind if I sit in? I was listening in on the three
when they gave their reports. Maybe I can help.”
peered at the screen, uneasy. “Can they see you?”
the point of a teleconference.”
smiled at Uriel eagerly. Uriel tried to ignore it. As a student
liaison, Marlowe had no business working with diplomatic
negotiation. “Oh come on, Jonesy, this sounds like fun!”
never to call me 'Jonesy' again?” Uriel snapped.
sit somewhere out of the way and try not to say anything.”
sat back and preened. He liked this diplomatic negotiation
thing. As an image came into view, he stared back anxiously.
“You know I've never actually met a demon face-to-face before.”
rolled his eyes at him. “You're not missing anything. The
Urayoni are nasty, slimy scoundrels. They'll say anything to get
a leg up.”
not very nice,” said Claude, via the PC speakers above the
Uriel said, “My apologies...” Then he saw the kid on the screen
and frowned. “You're representing the Urayoni? Aren't you the
kid from Molly's office?”
name's Claude. Aren't you the strange old man that kept barging
into Molly's office?” Claude replied, unamused.
stared at each other and muttered, “That explains a lot.”
Marlowe exclaimed, snickering at himself when Uriel and Claude
looked at him strangely
huffed and said, “This is Alistair Marlowe, Dean of Student
Affairs. I am Uriel. First question- where are they?”
are perfectly fine in one of our realms.”
Uriel said, “Second question- what's stopping us from marching
in, killing all of you and rescuing them?”
leaned back, a little nervous. Given the mediocre security in L.
B. Gould, he wasn't expecting such a threat. Without flinching
too much, he replied, “For starters, you don't know which realm
tapped the keyboard. “Yes we do! I just traced your IP. Out of
the way, no MST presence... not a bad hiding place.”
not fair!” Claude shouted.
shrugged. “Don't look at me. I have no idea what he just said.”
matter. If anybody tries to invade, we'll kill the prisoners.”
wouldn't kill Molly,” said Uriel, glowering.
not. But Yuki and the other Pearson are expendable.”
Frowning, Uriel turned to Marlowe, who typed away at the
computer, ignorant of how dire the conversation had become.
Losing Yuki was out of the question. Given her family's
connections, Uriel would be out of a job.
he said, “Okay, let's pretend all that invading and killing
stuff never came up. What are your terms?”
um...” Claude fished around for a sheet of paper, somehow
surprised at the question. Uriel hid a smirk by turning to
Marlowe, who now seemed to be casually surfing the web and not
found his sheet, sat up and said, “Top of the list- Grimoire
“Absolutely not,” Uriel replied.
straight forward, Claude was at a loss for words. He checked the
list again. Obviously, top of the list was pretty significant.
“We might have a problem then,” he mumbled.
“Actually, that's negotiable,” Marlowe blurted, not looking up.
me?!” Uriel's face flushed and he turned to Marlowe angrily.
smiled at Uriel and gestured at the screen. “Little something
from the chancellor. Check it out.”
slid around the room to read a document on the screen, Marlowe
stood and faced Claude. He clasped his hands and smiled.
“Suppose that's pretty much the point of your little stunt?”
Bewildered, Claude looked through his list. “Uh... more or less.
We've got a few other requests, but the grimoire is a must.”
“Unbelievable,” Uriel mumbled, falling into the chair.
looked over his shoulder at Uriel's stunned face, then turned
back to Claude and smiled brightly.
that in mind, I'm curious... how many of the three girls can we
get with the grimoire alone?”
jaw dropped. “I... I was to believe this was an all-or-nothing
“Again... that's negotiable. Answer the question.”
through his list again, Claude grew frantic. “Uh... well, two I
guess. For all three, we would-”
fine,” Uriel said, standing up and joining Marlowe in front of
fine?” Claude repeated, clearly not fine with the whole thing.
“You would leave one of them here? And we still get the grimoire?
What's the catch?”
the matter of which two we get back,” Uriel said, heaving a
Depending on who does stay...” Marlowe smiled broadly. “...the
grimoire is actually an ideal ransom.”
Kathryn and Donovan weren't technically sequestered in their
room. The library was still open, the bookstore held abbreviated
operating hours and even in February the academy fields hosted
pickup games of football, soccer or any number of
poorly-conceived magic sports. They had every opportunity to
enjoy the campus without the academic hassles it was designed to
serve. It just didn't feel appropriate. The bright sun and
tolerable temperature made them feel worse about staying
indoors; they would have preferred a blizzard.
Troy nor Kathryn were sure if they'd slept that night. Both
assured each other that at some point in the night they were
asleep. Neither believed it. They didn't feel like it either.
Both ended up conking out on the couch around noon. Donovan
ignored them and continued to watch TV. If he was groggy, he
didn't show it.
he was the only one who heard the knock on the door. He lazily
called Blaine to answer it. When he saw who had walked in, he
jumped to his feet and glared the visitor.
Donovan shouted. “You dare face me again?!”
shrugged. “You still on about that one time last year? Man, my
lips are sealed. What happens in Reggie's room...” He grinned,
his eyes closing halfway. “...you know.” Then he looked to the
ceiling. “What did you do in there anyway?”
“Reggie?” Kathryn asked, leaning over the back of the couch,
still tired. “What are you doing here?” Troy stirred and sat up
saying hi.” Reggie smiled at her. “Heard you were up here and
it's my job to extend an invitation in case you need any, uh...”
His eyebrows flared. “Cheering up.”
sighed with dismay. “I'm sure we'll take you up on that
eventually, but we're not exactly in a party mood today.”
nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I heard what happened.” Then he
paused, blinked twice and added, “What happened?”
attacked, took our friends and my girlfriend's an Urayoni,” Troy
his head, Reggie fell into the chair before Donovan could get
back into it. “Aw no... you gotta date Yovoni, man. Their chicks
narrowed an eye, but was too tired to take offense. “I wasn't
going for freaky. She seemed perfectly normal.”
shrugged, ignoring Donovan's glare. “Suppose they can be.”
Troy spat. “I liked it better when they were all bastards like
Kendrick.” Now Donovan glared at Troy, but was again ignored.
knock came from the door. This time Troy got up to answer it,
pausing when he realized Blaine was still standing in front of
the door. Troy nodded to the minion, who opened the door to
Specifically, the delivery boy with a bag of sandwiches. He
stepped inside and gave the bag to Troy.
Giles!” Reggie said, waving at the boy.
jumped, startled. “Reggie? What are you doing here?”
hanging. You should stop by sometime when you're off duty. Bring
offended, he replied, “They're not my girlfriends. They're
interrupt the awkwardness, and the fact that he had no clue what
they were talking about, Troy said, “Hey wait... weren't you
delivering pizzas last night?” Indeed he was: Giles, with his
short stature, sandy brown hair and ugly red cap didn't look
like a college student. Troy remembered thinking about how young
the guy looked, despite knowing Giles was likely older than
way, Giles was just happy he didn't have to deal with Reggie.
“Yeah. Outside restaurants can't deliver on campus, so they
deliver to me. Then I deliver to you.”
nodded, then asked, “Are we supposed to tip you?”
Giles was confused. “A... tip?”
yeah, I know the school covers the bill but don't you want a
long have you been doing this?”
a year.” Giles scratched his neck. “It's never come up.”
knock on the door. Troy turned to Blaine, who again opened it,
not quite silent this time. “Feeling like a doorman today,” he
time, it was Uriel. One look at his stoic, all-business face and
Giles hurriedly stepped aside. “Uh, I'll get back to you on
Giles gone, Uriel entered. He held a briefcase. His composure
rubbed off on Troy, who frowned and asked, “What's the latest?”
to speak to Donovan,” Uriel said, walking past Troy.
Immediately, Reggie stood up and walked away. “Well, I'll let
you get on with your lunch meeting. Give me a buzz next time
you're on the first floor!”
raised an eyebrow at the departing Reggie. “I would really like
to know why he hasn't graduated yet, but we have more important
the briefcase on a table, opened it and handed the form inside
to Donovan. “Read, understand, and if you choose to, sign. By
law, I am forbidden to encourage you to sign it... no matter how
much it helps us get out of this mess.”
it do?” Troy asked, trying to peek over Donovan's shoulder.
story short- permanently forfeits Grimoire 17 and completes our
end of the bargain to the Urayoni.”
walked over, eyes widening. “And that's it? We give them that
stupid book and they'll give us Yuki and them?”
glanced away briefly, then turned back and nodded. “Something
like that. There's a couple other catches involved, but nothing
Donovan has to worry about.”
him in the back, Kathryn said, “Well hell, sign it!”
looked at Uriel and asked, “Can we encourage him?”
district commander shrugged. “For all I care, you can bash him
over the head with a chair until he listens. As long as I don't
interfere and he does it on his own accord.”
get my staff,” Kathryn said, heading into her room.
cowards!” Donovan shouted. “You expect me to sacrifice my
family's precious heirloom, the Tome of Vincent Wagner, because
you are too shameless to fight back!”
“Donovan!” Troy started to scold, but then he thought for a
second. He turned to Uriel. “Damn, he's got a point. Don't you
have, like, armies and stuff for this sort of thing?”
shrugged. “If I was allowed to make an argument, I would mention
that the moment we march in with an army, your friends are as
good as executed. But I can't. In spite of who actually
possesses it, Donovan is the book's legal guardian, and it's his
choice whether to do this the easy way or the hard way.”
fool chooses the easy way,” Donovan muttered.
a valid point,” Troy said. “Dammit, Donovan, why are you being
held her staff to the top of Troy's head. “Is this for him or
just saying... doesn't it seem like we're letting them win?”
care.” Kathryn kept the staff up there. “They took out Kurt,
then they caught us off guard and attacked us.” She pulled it
away and walked over to Donovan. “You two talk about marching in
like we're just starting the fight now. It's already started,
Troy! We've lost Kurt! They've lost Kamila! We keep doing this
and God knows who else we lose. If it means they won, then fine-
they win. As long as it's over with.”
Kathryn fell into a chair across the table, Uriel bit his lip
and looked away. Donovan narrowed his eyes and said, “What
assurance do I have that-”
“Donovan, just sign the damn thing!”
busy watching Kathryn, her eyes fixed on the pen in Donovan's
right hand. He looked at Donovan; surprisingly he was staring
back, silently looking for a second opinion. Silently, Troy gave
him a slow nod. Honestly, Troy wasn't sure he agreed with
Kathryn, but he didn't have the impassioned plea to counter
hers. He wasn't sure if he was really against the deal because
of honest reservations or if he had somehow mistaken Donovan's
rhetoric for a sincere argument with valid points.
it was the plea, everybody staring him down, or the staff
looming in Kathryn's hands, Donovan grumbled and signed the
you,” Uriel said, taking it back and returning it to his
briefcase. “We'll get everything else sorted out in the next
couple days.” He excused himself and walked out.
moved at first. Then Kathryn jumped up and grabbed the bag of
sandwiches that Troy had abandoned. Troy kept thinking about it
all. Yes, he had his doubts about the deal because of his own
hesitations. Yes, he had bought into what Donovan was saying,
whether legitimate or not. Yet there was a third reason he was
concerned: somehow Uriel's 'easy way' seemed far easier than it
should have been. That's what scared Troy the most.
rest of the day, Troy did whatever he could to get his mind off
the signing. Kathryn had done her best to reassure him that it
was a good thing, and he couldn't find a position to argue.
There were all sorts of rhetorical reasons to dislike the
agreement, but getting their friends back was all that mattered.
So he got out of the dorm and killed time any way he could.
lack of anything meaningful to do on campus, Troy resorted to a
simple walk. With the campus empty and quiet, he could admire
what little the academy had for aesthetics. Central had always
been known for its bland architecture, and Renee had always
complained about its uninteresting facades. Yet, alone like
this, Troy found it kind of nice. There were no surprises on the
walls, the paths went the right directions and every building
looked professional. Considering even his high school had a slew
of secret passages, it was comforting.
moment of ease was shattered when he heard a high-pitched male
voice crying behind him, “Hey! You!” Troy stopped and turned
around, half-expecting to be admonished for mistakenly thinking
he was the target. Instead, Giles was running up to him.
pausing to catch his breath, Giles looked up and smiled at Troy.
“I've figured it out!”
blinked. “Figured what out?”
am allowed to accept tips!” Giles grinned, apparently happy to
reveal such critical information. Troy blinked again.
explained, “As long as I report it to my manager, of course.
It's taxable income, I mean. Can't just take your money without
nodded along, wondering when he'd leave. Then Giles asked, “So
do you have it?”
tip.” Giles stared at Troy with his bright hazel eyes. He was
had happened in those few hours, Troy had completely dismissed
the incident. It came as a bit of a shock to him to be told he
owed someone money all of a sudden. “I don't have my wallet on
nodded along, completely understanding. “That's fine. You can
drop it off at my dorm. Hall A, room 124, got it?” Before Troy
could respond, Giles ran off. The young man stopped several
yards away to turn around and wave back at Troy, before
continuing his exit.
Troy had almost dismissed the incident until Kathryn asked him
if anything was going on. With nothing else on campus to speak
of and so perplexed by the whole thing, Troy relayed his story.
Kathryn stared back blankly, shaking her head.
Weird, isn't it?” Troy said, happy that Kathryn shared his
nodded back, then asked, “So when are you heading over there?”
Troy wasn't sure if he was going to head over there. Kathryn
made it sound like a sure thing.
raised an eyebrow at him. “You were going to pay him, right?
This guy's delivering everything we eat. We'd better stay on his
only going to give him a dollar or two.”
Don't take chances. I'm thinking Chinese tonight. That's risky
but again not wanting to make an episode out of it, Troy grabbed
his wallet and headed for the door. Needing to make one more
point, he asked, “What happens when he expects a tip tonight?”
him you're out of cash.”
he bills me?” he muttered, walking out.
took the long walk to Hall A and unfortunately remembered that
it was room 124. He knocked on the door and heard a woman's
voice on the other end cry, “Goddamn it, can't I get one moment
of peace?” Troy grumbled to himself; at some point he wondered
if it was even possible for Giles to make Chinese takeout any
door opened, he readied himself for the bitter, angry bitch that
was bound to be on the other side. Instead, it was a fairly
pretty young woman with long red hair and a calm demeanor. She
looked him up and down and asked, “You know you're the first guy
here that actually tipped that poor kid.”
Troy's surprise, that was the same voice that was bitching about
the interruption. Only passive, friendly and not at all angered
by the intrusion.
been told,” he muttered, holding up two dollars. “So where-”
money!” Suddenly, the passive, rational girl pounced on the
greenbacks, snatching them away from Troy.
rolled his eyes and said, “That's for Giles.” To his surprise,
the girl said it too, only back to acting like an annoyed bitch.
angrily returned it to Troy, “Christ, Mindy, it's not like
you've never seen cash before.”
the money back, Troy said, “So where is Giles? I'd rather give
this to him myself.”
looked down, sadly. Suddenly apologetic, she said, “I... I
understand completely. Some of us aren't very reliable.”
looked back up, suddenly level-headed. “Giles had to make a
quick run. I can give it to him when he gets back.”
I'd rather not,” Troy said.
yourself. Come on in.”
stepped back, letting Troy into the dorm. As he expected, it
looked identical to room 202. “Thanks, Mindy,” he mumbled.
darted his eyes back at her. “So who's Mindy?”
Mindy!” replied the same girl. Her eyes had suddenly widened and
were focused on the money again.
Troy could say anything, the girl angrily cried, “Don't even
think about it. I see the way you're looking at that cash.”
Defensive (and utterly confused), Troy said, “But I'm not-”
talking to you! I'm talking to Mindy!”
What's it to you?”
whats-her-name, Giles entered the room and asked, “Maple, are we
out of milk?”
turned around, surprised at Giles. Suddenly shy again, she
replied, “Oh, welcome back, Giles. I believe Meg finished it off
walked right past her when he spotted Troy. “Oh, hey! I see
you've met my roommates.”
“Roommates?” Troy looked around. He had only met one person.
Four personalities, but one person.
didn't catch your name though,” said the girl neutrally.
Troy.” He continued to look around for the other roommates. With
any luck, the room would be balanced and they'd have no
personality whatsoever. He'd get along better with them.
meet you, Troy. Can I get you something to drink?”
Immediately, she angrily muttered, “Just not milk.”
hell,” she told herself.
“Actually, I better get going,” Troy mumbled quickly, standing
up. He shoved the two dollars into Giles's palm and scurried out
of the room.
mad chuckle, Mindy said, “What a weirdo.”
conditions of demonic worlds tend to get a bad rap. The term
itself is a little misleading, suggesting that realms are either
created by or are responsible for the assorted factions. In
fact, the MST severely regulates and controls the creation of
all alternate worlds. Demons have only developed one world on
their own, and that was ages ago when a supremely powerful race
known as the Mynoni made one under everybody's noses. The MST
attacked it hard, conquered the world and all but vanquished the
Mynoni. So that one doesn't count.
most of the worlds out there were designed to be magic
battlefields to pull conflicts away from Earth. The rest are
senior projects that were so well-developed that they were
implemented in real life, often with an offer for the student to
write a series of corresponding fantasy novels. When we say
'demonic world,' we refer to those places that one of the
factions effectively won. Many are healthy, comfortable
environments with all sorts of noble imaginary creatures running
around. They are not all complete hellholes.
being said, the Urayoni world imprisoning Molly, Renee and Yuki
wasn't one of their nicer ones. Whoever designed it went with an
underground dungeon motif. Nothing resembling a daytime and a
not-quite-comprehensible geothermal luminance that kept the
rocky caverns lit without an apparent light source. At the
center of it all was an ancient stronghold- towering walls, a
courtyard and mazes of hallways going every direction. Truth be
told it was a trite and boring place, and wholly unbefitting the
Urayoni, who ran their primary operations out of another realm's
futuristic dystopia. They didn't use this world much, making it
a fitting hiding place for stashing away their stolen prizes.
Molly's cell was furnished nicely. Her corner of the medieval
prison included a sensible twin-sized bed, a private bathroom
and a bookshelf with a fair selection of Urayoni favorites.
There was also a negator somewhere inhibiting her magic, but she
hadn't been able to find it. She couldn't say her conditions
weren't humane, but she knew she couldn't speak for her sister
or Yuki. Molly couldn't see where either of them were held, and
spoiling her while torturing them sounded like something these
demons would do.
spent most of the hours reading from the library afforded to
her. Most of the books were studies in sociology, which she was
dismayed to find interesting. Molly took an interest in knowing
how a population operated and could be potentially manipulated.
It was a secret to her success in student council. Claude's too,
titles on the bookshelf were an uncomfortable reminder of her
similar interests to the Urayoni. The faction thought on the
same wavelength as she did, something she had never fully
realized until after their attempts to court her. When they had,
they included strong arguments about reshaping the world and the
ease of controlling it. She had turned them down because she
knew better, but their pitches resonated anyway. Was it just
coincidence that the one faction that had tried to lure her over
was the one that would have been the best fit?
say your higher ups are more unpredictable than we expected.”
She turned when she heard Claude enter the hallway outside. He
carried a green folder and waited for Molly to walk to the
cell's door before smiling. “Made things much easier, for better
or for worse.”
you mean?” Molly asked, sneering.
good time.” Claude shuffled his leg a little and a nearby chair
moved itself behind him. He sat down. “Is there anything else we
can do to make you more comfortable.”
are Renee and Yuki?”
fine,” Claude replied quickly. “Sorry we can't keep you
together, but each of your circumstances is different.”
narrowed her eyes. “How so?” As far as she was concerned, all
three of them had been kidnapped and imprisoned. Not much
apparently saw things differently. “I'm referring to your
relative value in bargaining and your value to us. It's why we
tried to get all six of you.” Clearly, she didn't like hearing
it in those terms and met him with a simple blank glare. “Take
Yuki for example. We don't have any use for her, but the MST
will pay dearly to get her back. She's an important bargaining
chip and nothing more. It would have been the opposite had we
gotten Donovan. Can't imagine they'd care about him much, but we
certainly have an interest in his assets.”
obviously speaking about his grimoire,” Molly said with a sigh.
course. I don't know if it alone would be worth all this
trouble, but it's certainly the highest prize on the list.”
Resisting the urge to chuckle, Molly said, “I had that thing in
my office for a whole semester. Why didn't you just take it
tried,” Claude replied calmly. “You hid it too well. No matter:
we're already assured of it.”
scoffed. “I suppose it's possible they'd give it to you in
exchange for us. But they'd need to pry it from Donovan. I
assure you he'd never hand it over.”
pondered whether that was good or bad, Claude smiled and
produced a form from the folder. Handing it to Molly, he said,
“You need to have more faith in your recruits. It's a done
Snatching the contract, Molly looked it over in disbelief.
Indeed, it very clearly called for the Urayoni to receive the
book and Donovan Dunmar very unclearly signed it. It crossed
Molly's mind that maybe Marlowe had magically altered a forged
signature again, but that seemed unlikely given how treasonous a
crime that would have been in this case. That and Donovan's
signature was far harder to duplicate than hers.
Improbable as Donovan's selfless act seemed, much of Molly's
shock came from the fact that the ordeal was over so quickly.
She had braced herself to be imprisoned for weeks, perhaps
months. With this agreement, it could amount to merely one
wasted weekend. Molly handed the form back to Claude, wondering
what the catch was. “So that's it? You get the book and we're
free to go?”
An MST envoy is arriving in a couple days to ensure the book's
transfer and collect you and Yuki.”
returned the form to the folder and looked back up at Molly. He
saw the stare. It wasn't her infamous glare, but rather
the emptiest of blank faces that startled him just as much.
Renee?” He couldn't tell if she was leading him on to verify
that she'd be included or asking why she wasn't. Knowing Molly,
the ambiguity was intentional.
turned away, immediately uneasy. “Well, Renee is necessary to
facilitate the book's transfer, of course.”
Her tone didn't change. If anything, it got louder.
how else...” Claude turned back. One look at Molly and his eyes
widened. Not because he feared her eyes. Because he was shocked
at what they revealed. “They didn't tell you, did they?”
eyes softened. 'They didn't tell you?' was possibly the
second-worst thing someone could say to you. The worst often
followed it. “Tell me what?”
looked down, suddenly solemn and humbled. “Madam, the reason we
can't get the grimoire without Renee is because currently the
grimoire is Renee.”
took a step back, almost falling over at the news. It seemed
impossible. How could Grimoire 17 possibly have ended up with
Shrugging, Claude pulled another sheet of paper from the folder.
“Caught me off guard too, but the negotiators told me that the
grimoire had been embedded into your sister two months ago.”
slowly sat on the bed to process all this. She had been so eager
to get rid of the book that she absent-mindedly trusted Mr.
Marlowe to put the thing in storage for her. At almost the exact
same time, Smittle had mentioned using a magical item to absorb
Renee's curse. She wanted both problems solved so much that she
accepted the MST's solutions with little thought.
Hesitant, Claude forced himself to continue. “Long story short,
in exchange for you and Yuki's safe return, the MST is granting
the Urayoni the right to retrieve it.”
shook her head slowly, forcing herself to recognize the possible
consequences. The MST was tentative about the original
operation; no way could Renee be considered safe doing the
reverse, especially in the hands of demonic surgeons. Even if
she survived that, wouldn't she have the vrockrompir curse right
back? If not, what would the Urayoni do to her after she was no
longer of any use to them? All these questions popped into her
head and Molly knew just one thing: the Magical Security
Taskforce must have considered it all and signed Renee over
the floor and in a soft voice, Claude said, “Funny... all these
years, I had always imagined that the reason you hated Frank
Monroe wasn't because he pulled you into this, but because he
ruined the offer for you to join the Urayoni.” He shrugged as
Molly turned his way. “Silly notion, I guess.”
magically returned his chair to its original position. Before
walking away, Claude turned to Molly again and said, “Although I
should mention that the offer is still open.” He nodded
deferentially and walked away, leaving Molly with far too much
to think about and plenty of free time to do so.