Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 2

CHAPTER: 1

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 10: Ceasefire


Session One

There is something elegant about circle magic. The idea that one spell could be applied to everything within a clearly defined area carries such simplicity and heft. While technically an elective, Weavers in the MST almost always opted for a class dedicated to drawing on the ground and using it to make things explode.

As pretty as the art was, the limitations were great and advanced circles had little practical use. For starters, magi rarely got the chance to complete a circle in the middle of a battle, much less keep the enemy inside it. Also, the more powerful spells had less geometric tolerance and allowed very little eccentricity. Strong circle magic required very exact circles and drafting compasses of that size were hard to come by.

Molly never considered herself a circle specialist, but did recognize the need to know the basics. Her head still rang from Kendrick's beating, but she managed to instruct Yuki to draw a circle around her unconscious peers. Molly was left with the harder job of executing the teleportation spell to get them all away from the scene.

With the school grounds buzzing in anticipation of the upcoming football game, it was a bad place to touch down. Instead, Molly dropped the group in the basement of her house. The spell was as difficult as it would seem; Molly fainted onto the couch upon arrival.

Strong as Molly was magically, she had reached her breaking point. She was still sixteen and few girls her age could exert themselves as much as she had with no repercussions. Brute will power, always her trusted ally, kept her from falling asleep and stranding Yuki in someone else's basement with several bodies on the floor.

“Molly?” Yuki whimpered. Molly forced her eyes open. Yuki had taken no damage and had used magic only to generate that one potion. The girl's attentiveness sickened Molly. “Can I get you something?”

Then again, Yuki could always be put to service. “Get me an ice pack and some water,” Molly mumbled. Yuki affirmed and returned seconds later with the items. As Molly put the ice pack on her head, she noticed that her forehead was still bloody. Her head throbbed so much she hadn't noticed.

Pondering the blood on the ice pack, Molly said, “Is my head bleeding?”

Yuki twitched. “Uh... yeah. I cleaned it up a little back there but it's uh... still there. You might need stitches.”

Molly closed her eyes. “Go upstairs. There's a first aid kit in the bathroom.” “Uh... okay!” Yuki headed to the door, careful not to trip over Kathryn. Once at the stairs, she paused. She looked back at the sad state of the room's occupants. “Anything to help. Guess that's why I'm here.”

Placing the ice to her forehead, Molly didn't respond. She had to admit, however, that she was lucky to have Yuki on hand. Yuki and Kurt were both unnatural extras in the group, inserted by higher MST units for reasons good and bad. Yet their presence was tremendous, and had likely made the difference against Kendrick. Molly's head hurt enough already, so she tried not to think about this.

 

Uriel parked his Lexus in front of the Pearson residence and looked himself in the mirror. His black hair was still parted properly, yet he was troubled by the slight but inevitable five o'clock shadow across his face. He wasn't sure if he should continue wearing his tie or not. Uriel had dashed out of the office in a hurry to get here and therefore still wore his full business attire. He decided that he was technically still on the job, so the tie stayed.

He exited the car and meandered up to the front door. He would be lying if he said he actually liked his job. Despite his fancy title, high management position and healthy salary and benefits, he didn't really do whole lot. Most of the day was spent receiving reports from his subordinates, generating reports for the higher powers and advising underlings to follow their daily routines until further notice. Due to all the mundane work associated with his job, actual incidents that required his personal touch were nice changes of pace. The incident that drew Uriel to little L. B. Gould, Ohio was exciting indeed and Uriel happily rang the doorbell, determined to derive as much fun out of this as possible.

Molly's father answered and looked up at the stranger. Uriel was nice and tall- perfect for the image he was trying to convey. “I'm here to see your daughter,” he said, forming the slightest hint of a smile to scare daddy further.

From the leery look on Mr. Pearson's face, it was clear that Molly had inherited all of her wonderfully scary facial tics from her mother; her father's unsettled stare didn't frighten Uriel at all. “Did Renee meet you on the internet?” Mr. Pearson said.

“I'm here for the other one. I'm from the Midwest Self-enhancement Trust.”

“Oh... that camp,” Mr. Pearson sighed, but remained guarded. “Look, Molly's not home.”

“Actually...” Before Uriel could say otherwise, he found an easier way to get into the house. Yuki was sneaking past the foyer, trying to get to the stairs with a first aid kit without being noticed.

She failed. “Miss Shizuka!” Uriel called out.

Yuki froze and turned to the two gentlemen at the door. Mr. Pearson's mouth fell open. “What are you doing in my house?!”

Yuki ignored him and looked up at Uriel. “Are you from...?” Uriel smiled and pinched his earlobe- the secret salute. Yuki heaved a sigh and smiled. “Thank goodness. We're all downstairs.”

Uriel forced his way past Mr. Pearson, who was still fixated on Yuki. “Wait, who are you? Who said you could invite him in?”

Bowing, Yuki replied, “I'm Yuki. I go to school with Molly and Renee.”

“You?!” Papa Pearson was angry, but that didn't convey well. He naturally came across as a mature, non-threatening technology enthusiast. Raising his voice and becoming assertive was very difficult. He usually left that to his wife or eldest daughter.

At the bottom of the stairs, Yuki and Uriel heard him mumble, “What kind of school does Molly run?” and walk away. Yuki opened the door to the basement study and led Uriel inside.

“Mind the carcasses,” Yuki said, with no humor attached.

 

Session Two

Molly didn't seem to notice Uriel as he stood over her from a foot away. Her eyelids were closed and struggled to hold the bag of ice on her forehead. Groaning in defeat, she let the supporting arm fall into her lap. The gash on her forehead caught his attention. Normal policy was to let the guardian handle her own internal affairs while he dealt with the bigger picture, but clearly nothing was going to get accomplished with Molly in this condition.

Uriel set the fingers of his right hand on the back of his head and rubbed gently. Then he touched those fingers to the wound and held them until it vanished. As he cleaned the blood off both his fingers and Molly's forehead with the tissue from his front pocket, Molly stirred. Her face contorted and she swiped his hand away like a pesky housefly, then opened her eyes.

It took her a moment to register who he was, but once she was good and ready she angrily exclaimed, “What took you so long?”

With a dismissive chortle, Uriel replied, “I get all the way here from Cincinnati in one hour and you wonder what took me so long.”

“Sorry. It's been a rough day.” She sighed and felt her unblemished forehead. Only a few specks of dried blood remained, which she wiped off her fingers. “Did you heal that?”

“Yes, it looked quite bad on you. Right on the forehead... terrible place for a scar.” That got a little giggle out of Yuki, so he winked at her and added, “Although given the situation, it may be appropriate.”

“That's not funny,” Molly grumbled.

Yuki stepped forward and got a closer look at Uriel's handiwork. “Wow, you healed it just like that? I couldn't do it even with a potion. You must be pretty powerful.”

Not bothering to attempt modesty, Uriel replied, “Well, I am the district commander for this area. My name's Uriel.” He was never shy to boast about his impressive title, even if his district only included the mundane terrains of Kentucky, Ohio and the lower half of Michigan.

Sufficiently awed, Yuki bowed and noticed the first aid kit she was still holding. “Well, I guess we don't need this.”

“Um...” Molly pointed to the bodies littering the floor.

“Oh... right. I suppose I should, uh...”

“Start with Kurt and work your way down,” Molly ordered.

For a novice Crafter, this was a daunting task. Yuki tried to flush some sympathy into her eyes and aimed them at Uriel. “Sir, could you help me? I'm still in training.”

Uriel raised his eyebrows. “Depends. Can your grandfather get me a promotion?”

“Uh... probably not.”

“You're on your own, then,” he said, smiling.

Molly nodded at Yuki. “Go to work.”

As Yuki began generating a potion for Kurt, Molly returned both her attention and ire to Uriel. “So what do you plan on doing about all this?”

Uriel flexed his eyebrows. “Well, first...” He rubbed his fingers against the back of his head again to cast a spell. “I tell you to remember to get out of displacement once the battle's over.”

She snarled and shot back, “Sorry. But after nearly getting killed by a demon I'm a little tapped out.” Molly could hardly be held responsible, but staying in displacement was a terrible waste of energy akin to leaving a light or faucet on in an empty house. Displacing every local magi from regular space-time was convenient, but did create a few gaps in the timeline that grew wider the longer displacement lasted. Skilled flow masters could repair these gaps, but contracting one cost a fortune.

Uriel nodded. “So Kendrick wasn't bluffing after all.” He smiled, rather inappropriately. He and his staff had a wager going as to whether Kendrick planned on following through with his threat. As the loser, Uriel would have to buy pizza for the office on Monday.

“No... he apparently wasn't.” Molly's head fell back onto the top of the couch. “So explain how we were left completely unguarded and had to fend him off ourselves.”

Shrugging, Uriel replied, “It's not like this happens every day. It takes time to mobilize field agents, especially out here in the middle of nowhere. We can't just snap our fingers and have the national guard at your disposal.”

“Right, it's not like we can do magic or anything,” she huffed.

Uriel appreciated the irony and smiled. “All of our field agents in this district have other jobs to attend to, both in and out of the force. Getting them to drop what they're doing and rush to your aid is an expensive, time-consuming process. Not worth it for one demon. Besides, your group handled him in the end.” He looked over the remainder of the group, still very unresponsive. Uriel assumed they were alive, but now that he thought about it, he hadn't actually checked.

“If Kendrick was anywhere near as strong as we expected him to be, your group did a very nice job fending him off,” he continued. “Make sure to extend my congratulations when they come to.”

 

Session Three

Right about there, the first of Yuki's explosions went off. As Molly was done using magic for a few days, Uriel was stuck clearing the smoke. Instead of using his own powers, he simply turned on a fan. At any rate, Kurt was revived. Since all of his injuries had been caused by magic, Yuki's potion left him quite invigorated as well. He stretched his arms and took in his new surroundings. All he saw of note was Uriel.

“Wow, I knew this was bad, but it even got you over here, huh?”

Uriel took the comment in good humor. “It did. So perhaps you and Molly would like to explain what happened?”

“Well, first I saved Molly's life,” Kurt began, expecting a reaction from Molly that never came. He continued, summarizing his effort to hold Kendrick at bay as the new kids arrived. Kurt credited Kathryn for taking on Kendrick face-to-face, Troy for his surprise maneuvers, and Renee for that little irritant spell towards the end.

“Then he got that one last shot in to disable all of us so he could get away,” he concluded.

Uriel nodded. “So he did get away... that'll make things interesting for our investigators Monday.” Without elaborating, he turned to Molly. “Of course, do you have any idea what prompted this little fiasco? Very unlike a Hokoni to suddenly try to kill a bunch of kids.”

Molly shook her head. “He was pummeling Donovan when I arrived. I intervened and engaged him. He managed to best me in the end. That's all I know.”

“Donovan, you say?” Uriel scanned the bodies on the floor. “And where is Donovan anyway?”

That was when it occurred to Molly that she had only transported Kurt, Renee, Troy and Kathryn back. Donovan and his minions were presumably still knocked out back at the battleground. Molly was in too foul a mood to care. “Oops,” she said, making no further comment.

“We left him back there, didn't we?” Yuki said, already hard at work on Kathryn.

Eyes straight on the wall across from her, Molly said, “Like I said- oops.”

Kurt chuckled and stood up. “No big deal. I'll make sure they're still alive. I need to get to the game anyway.”

“After all that, you still want to play?!” Yuki cried.

“Sure!” Kurt rubbed Yuki's head. “That potion worked pretty well. It'll get my mind off this.”

“What about Kathryn?”

As Kurt approached the door, he looked down at Kathryn. Her primary injury was not magic-related. Unless Uriel felt more benevolent than usual, it wasn't going away. “I'll cover for her,” Kurt explained.

Uriel nodded sharply and smiled. “Well done, Mr. Sempman. Good luck tonight.”

Kurt did not reply. He sprinted up the stairs and out the door.

“Now there is a boy with his priorities in order.” Uriel chuckled and turned back to Molly. “What position does he play?”

Molly's eyes narrowed; Uriel knew she was not going to answer. “How do you plan on addressing this situation? Or are you just going to wait and see if he attacks us again?”

“Well, I suppose we have to do something. Although please keep this in perspective. Kurt may have said he saved your life, but I honestly doubt Kendrick was actually trying to kill you.”

Yuki looked up from her chemicals. “No, I heard him tell Kathryn that he wanted to kill Molly. Not the rest of us so much... just Molly.”

Uriel raised his eyebrows. “Really? Good ears.”

“Thank you!” she chirped before going back to work.

“Okay, I guess Kendrick really is trying to kill you. How about that?”

Molly sighed and wished she had the energy to better show her impatience. “How about you explain what you'll do to prevent him from succeeding?”

“Well, typically this is the part where I promise to assign a field agent here to guard against any further attacks.” Uriel side-stepped Troy and sat down in front of the computer. His main objective was avoiding eye contact with Molly as his next word was a drawn out, “But...”

“BUT?” she repeated, louder, just in case Uriel didn't understand how incredulous 'but' was in this situation.

Uriel shrugged. “That would require us to shift personnel around. There aren't many agents allocated to this district, so we have to be frugal with whomever we get.”

He dared to look into her eyes. What he saw wasn't the glare. She was too drained for the glare. Yet, the look that resulted was almost as effective. The usual vitriol in her eyes was gone, replaced with an ethanol-based substitute she was not made for- frustration. Uriel couldn't tell if she was going to launch into a furious tirade, nod in resigned acceptance or pass out onto the floor.

Even without succumbing to all the emotion over who tried to kill whom, Uriel knew he needed to do something to help Molly. His stock of magically-trained field agents, however, were all quite busy defending Kentucky, Ohio and the lower half of Michigan from evil. They were assigned to the urban centers that needed it, with only cursory glances at podunk, God-fearing rural cities like L. B. Gould. Relocating an agent just in case Kendrick returned was not a feasible expense. At least not on a permanent basis...

“I suppose I can afford to temporarily reassign an agent,” he offered. “That we should be able to manage.”

It satisfied Molly a little bit, but not enough. “How long is temporary?”

“Three months.”

“That's all?”

Uriel nodded. “Three months will get you into the next academy session. We can re-evaluate from there and see if something more permanent is necessary.” What he meant was that the new year meant a new budget. Reports of a renegade demon assaulting prized prospects would almost certainly lead to more funding for Uriel's district. That meant assigning a long-term agent to the area became more feasible... along with the possibility of central air conditioning in Uriel's office.

“If that's the best you can do,” Molly said, still unhappy. Fact is, it was the best Uriel could do. Three months was a long time for an agent to be away from his or her home turf, but Uriel knew a few agents bothersome enough to deserve temporary relocation to Hicksville. Besides, Uriel surmised that contrary to popular belief, Akron would not go completely to hell if left alone for three months.

With that agreement made and Molly in no condition to file a formal report, Uriel could do no further good and announced his exit. He commended the group again for their work, encouraged them to continue training independently, and escaped just before Yuki set off her next explosion.

Once the smoke cleared, anything Uriel had said was rendered momentarily irrelevant against the cry of agony. No longer could the magic battles, nifty circle spells or rousing talk of personnel allocation mask the fact that Kathryn had been stabbed in the leg with a sword.

 

Session Four

Molly slumped into the couch and clutched her head as Kathryn uttered every profanity imaginable. Having dealt with Uriel and now faced with this problem, Molly almost longed to be back on the battlefield with Kendrick. It wasn't that Molly didn't sympathize with Kathryn agonizing over a serious leg wound. Instead, she knew Kathryn was bound to take this out on somebody and Molly had a good guess whom it would be and how.

After running through her list of vulgarities twice, adding a few new ones in the process, Kathryn stopped yelling, clenched her teeth and fought back tears. The makeshift bandage Yuki had tied around it was useless. Yuki removed it and tried some healing and pain-relieving creams, both of the magic assortment and regular over-the-counter brands. Neither worked. The sword had penetrated a long way in, and even if Yuki could make the pain go away, it would be a long time before the leg would be in good working order. As someone who staked almost all of her reputation on athletic prowess, this was unacceptable to Kathryn.

“You know, Pearson, you could be a little more concerned. That guy was trying to kill you,” she scolded.

If Kathryn had bothered to look back, she would have seen Molly staring at the floor, unable to summon a rebuttal. “Thank you for stepping in,” Molly said quietly.

“That's it?!” Kathryn tried to stand on her healthy leg, but it wasn't happening. “That guy puts a hole in my leg and that's all you can say?”

“You did well. May have saved my life.”

“Don't think I did this for you, Pearson,” Kathryn shouted as Yuki tried to help her into a chair. “Kurt was in trouble and... hey, where is Kurt?”

“Yuki revived him already. He went to the game.”

Kathryn moaned. “God damn it! I'm going to miss the game because of this! You happy now?”

Molly kept her head down. “Kurt said he'd vouch for you.”

“That's not the point. I was looking forward to this for a month! I can't believe this.”

As Kathryn's head fell, Molly's rose. The two had different reasons to be upset, but Molly didn't approve of Kathryn's. “A demon just tried to kill me and managed to knock out all of us in the process. Don't you think there are more important things than a football game right now?”

Kathryn shook her head and answered, “No.”

“No?”

“I didn't agree to this so I could get away from real life. I agreed to it in spite of that. What's the point in living if you don't get to enjoy it? That game was important to me and he took that away. The only difference between this and him actually killing me is that I'll get another shot whenever this heals.” She looked up at Molly, lips curled into a snarl. “And I would have had that whether or not I jump in.”

Molly narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you?”

“Because I'm a nice person!” Kathryn cried angrily. She paused, collected herself, and in a more subdued tone said, “If I knew this would have happened, maybe I shouldn't have.”

“What?” Molly asked, suddenly taken aback.

“It may not be a big deal to you, but people were counting on me. I'm letting them down.” Kathryn started with a roar, but her voice faded into something more somber. “Teammates, the coach, everybody in the stands... they matter to me.”

Suddenly, Molly stood up and looked Kathryn in the eyes. This was no deathly glare, nor did it have the pent-up frustration she had with Uriel. Her wide eyes carried one thing Kathryn couldn't have expected- fear.

Looking down on Kathryn, Molly spoke with a hushed voice. “Listen, I can make sure your reputation suffers no ill consequences. We can invent any explanation for your injury and I have the power to convince the entire town that it is the truth. I am the student council president- whatever I say becomes law.”

Kathryn leaned back and cringed at this. She was about to reply when Molly pointed at her. The fear in Molly's eyes ignited and she was back to being furious, unquestionable Molly. “But you can not, under ANY circumstance, regret what you did today. If this happens again, and if you are again asked to step up and fight back, I need to be ABSOLUTELY certain that you will do the exact same thing next time. Hesitation is forbidden.”

“And what happens if I don't?” As threatening as it all sounded, Kathryn wasn't impressed. Molly was looking out for herself- not a big stretch. “And don't pull that good vs. evil junk because I really doubt that whatever all of us or some demon does means a whole lot. If we lose, they'd just throw some more kids into this, right?”

Molly's anger subsided and she looked away from Kathryn, focusing instead on Yuki's work on Renee. Admittedly, most of the magi in the MST were fairly interchangeable. Like any career, people came and left, with some staying for years to climb the ladder and others quietly fulfilling their basic obligations before shuttling off to another field. Then again, most of them were never assaulted during training. Officially, Molly's group of six was no more special than every other unit at Central. But now...

“I'm starting to wish that was the case,” she said to Kathryn, before returning to the couch and bracing herself for Yuki's next explosion.

 

Session Five

As MST agents tended to patrol urban areas for demonic activities, demons had to go into the country to find safe harbor. This suited the Zukoni just fine as one of their key operations was at the grassroots level. This demon faction had a sound primary mission: get people drunk. At the corporate level, the Zukoni ran a gigantic food conglomerate that produced several popular and tasty brands of solids, liquids, and nicotine-flavored gas. They also had a hand in illegal drug trafficking, but that was a separate branch and not something the corporation mentioned in its SEC filings.

In order to sell all these addictive, dangerous, fattening and fun consumables, the Zukoni worked at the bottom as well as the top. While they owned fast food joints across the country, they were fond of corner bars in selected locations. Located far from the city, or any tangible population for that matter, these joints were where they did their illicit work and made plans to take over the world. Most nights often ended with them getting drunk and forgetting said plans, so the MST considered the Zukoni one of the least-threatening factions. After all, the MST was also funded by drug sales (albeit legal ones) and even magi enjoy a good brew after a long day.

The danger, however, was that these outer locations were perfect sanctuaries for demons like Kendrick who needed to lay low and knew the code. Many bars had signs of specific beer brands hanging outside, but ones marked with a blue diamond represented a Zukoni hangout and a safe zone for any demon. The nearest such bar from L. B. Gould was situated on the corner of two county trunk highways in a county that less than ten percent of Ohioans could locate on a map.

Not that it was up Kendrick's alley, mind you. As far as taste was concerned, the Hokoni and Zukoni were complete opposites. Kendrick was hoping for a quaint little pub where he could have a pint of a nice German brau while nursing his injuries. This place only stocked brands that advertised during football commercials. The lighting was bad, the floor was dirty, and Kendrick ended up settling for just a swig of brandy fearing that more voluminous drinks would force him to favor the bathroom facilities at some point.

At least the service was tolerable. The waitress, in a nice scanty outfit, attempted to treat the injuries Kurt and Kathryn had given him. She was very concerned with the blood on his clothes, but Kendrick kindly reassured her that it was somebody else's.

“I see,” she said, not hiding her suspicion very well. After lazily treating whatever cuts and bruises he had, she pretended there was another patron to assist and left. In truth, she went to make a phone call.

Not only was the bar a safe location, it was also a good place for Kendrick to stew over his failure. Despite the damage he had managed on the trip, he had still crash landed. Kendrick wasn't even sure where he had gone wrong. His only legitimate threat was Molly, and he beat her one-on-one. Her recruits hadn't done any overwhelming magic, and Kurt was nowhere near as strong as Molly. He chalked it up to unfair tactics- sneak attacks and double-teaming that he had no answer for. After all, Hokoni were honorable and Kendrick refused to commend such techniques that interfered with his humble quest to kill somebody.

A group of four men entered the room, announcing their arrival by banging the screen door against the wall. Kendrick cast an uncaring eye at them and turned back to his drink without acknowledgment. Truthfully, he was suddenly unsettled.

Perhaps if they had worn biker gear or some gaudy amount of flannel, Kendrick wouldn't have been concerned. But these guys wore suits- hideously shiny, technicolor suits, all with bright blue ties. Three of the four were overweight, with the fourth making up for it by blowing a huge waft of cigarette smoke into the room upon entry.

This one, in the green suit, along with the fat guys in yellow and red, all looked at Kendrick. They smiled and deferred to their leader clad in platinum gray. His name was Kaz Pormoglio, owner of several Blue Diamond bars in the region and head of the local chapter of Zukoni demons. Despite his lofty title and snazzy dress, he always made himself available whenever scantily clad waitresses gave him a ring.

The four men approached Kendrick. Kaz over-exaggerated a frown; his posse followed suit. “What in God's name is this?” he said.

Kendrick looked up from his drink, but not at Kaz. After a deep breath, he replied, “Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.”

“The hell's that supposed to mean?”

But Kaz received no reply, not that he needed one. He kicked away the stool next to Kendrick and stood in its place. His fellow demons surrounded the Hokoni. Kaz wrinkled his oversized nose and said, “You've got Hokoni stench.”

“I'm ignoring your stench. Surely you can return the favor.” Kendrick thought he had muttered quietly enough, but sotto voce insults didn't work so well when the targets stood right next to him.

Kaz grabbed Kendrick and hoisted him up by the collar. Before he or his colleagues socked his mug, Kaz noticed that Kendrick didn't seem all that concerned. Kendrick's eyes were closed, but he didn't steel himself for a pummeling, instead wearing a frown of annoyed impatience. He also had a nasty bruise on his chin and various scratches and cuts across his body.

Now Kaz was also frowning. “Damn... somebody kicked your ass.” He dropped Kendrick back onto the stool. “Bastard didn't save us any.”

The stooge in red held Kendrick's arm up. “It's just a couple scratches. We could break his arm or something.”

“Nah, he wouldn't act like this over a couple scratches.” Kaz leaned in and looked Kendrick in the eye. “You were messing with the 'force, weren't you?”

Kendrick shook him off and went back to his drink. “If you must know- yes. Just a minor setback to a recruitment drive.”

“Where the hell are you recruiting around here?” asked the stooge in yellow.

“L. B. Gould.”

“There ain't nothing in L. B. Gould.” Yellow looked at Kaz and Green. “Is there?”

Green took a drag from his cigarette and blew it at Kendrick. “Just a unit of high school kids. Nothing crazy.”

Kendrick shook his head. “You have no idea, do you? Those kids are right under your noses and you don't see it. The Hokoni aren't the only faction that sees their potential- every single one of those children. What nobody else knows is that one is ripe for my taking.”

“Bit late for that. MST nabbed them all last April,” Kaz said, taking a glass of scotch from the bartender.

“My intention,” Kendrick said with a chuckle. “I had hoped that once the one saw how boring the MST was, he'd be more excited by what the Hokoni have to offer.”

“The Hokoni? Exciting?” Red surveyed the tears on Kendrick's shirt. “No wonder it didn't work.”

“But there aren't any MST agents in L. B. Gould. If there were, we'd have to take care of him,” Kaz said.

“Agent?” Kendrick turned to Kaz. “You dolt, there wasn't-”

He caught himself, but it was too late. Kendrick faced forward. This time he did steel himself. As smiles crept up on four surrounding Zukoni, Kendrick tried to ignore the inevitable laughter that would emerge once they realized that he had fallen to a pack of children.

Their hearty guffaws, all launched directly into his ear, were more painful than anything Kurt or Kathryn could have dished out. But with his magic energy drained and in need of some solace, Kendrick had no choice but to wait it out. He grumbled and motioned for the bartender to refill his drink.

 

Session Six

Kendrick was not sure if his condition had improved: instead of an unwelcome visitor in hostile territory, he was now a laughingstock. “There were nine of them! It was an ambush!” he pleaded. But it was no good. Deep down, he knew they were right. Losing to trainees, any number of trainees, was embarrassing.

“What did they do, blind you with a light ball?” Red joked.

“As I said, they have unimaginable potential. Their Guardian, Molly, could-”

Green had none of it. “I don't know, beating up a Hokoni ain't that hard,” he said, drawing even more laughter.

The waitress came by again and Kaz ordered hot wings and beers for both his stooges and Kendrick. Kaz patted Kendrick's shoulder and said, “I'm buying for him, he's had a rough day.” Don't mistake this for a gesture of kindness. Members of the Hokoni faction hated to be belittled, pitied or mocked and Kaz was doing all three. The possibility of getting Kendrick completely sloshed and throwing him to the dogs of the MST was conceivable as well. Also, Kendrick's shoulder was terribly sore and Kaz's patting severely aggravated it.

Minutes later, they were still laughing at him. The only difference was that Kendrick was both stewing and eating hot wings. “I am astounded that you don't take them more seriously. The Urayoni have been monitoring them for years. Which means the Hageshoni have them on their radar as well.”

Kaz scoffed. “Well if the Hageshoni know about it, they'll take care of 'em. Those nutjobs'll attack anybody.”

The Hageshoni were the second-most violent of the eight factions and dealt in war profiteering. The Urayoni were more shrewd and quietly influenced political arenas. The two factions had been in cahoots for several years and their alliance had been annoyingly successful. As a result, Kendrick hated them even more than the Zukoni. How two factions of such diverse philosophies could co-exist was beyond him, especially with four uncouth demons laughing, smoking, and spilling beer nearby.

“No, the Urayoni must be keeping them on a short leash. Besides, even the Hageshoni are smart enough not to blindly assault a student.”

“Like you did?” Red said, grinning.

Kendrick sighed. “They provoked me. The student I was targeting found it amusing to attack me with an empty energy ball. I showed him what the real thing feels like.”

“Guess he's not joining you then?” Yellow said.

“He's inexperienced. Someday he'll be begging to join us.” Kendrick narrowed his eyes and revisited his plan. As far as he was concerned, Donovan was still a fair target, one that would continue to be unsatisfied by the academy and infatuated with evil. Perhaps Kendrick just needed to retool his approach- more of a soft sell with attention to the fringe benefits. No more threatening to kill him.

First and foremost, however, Kendrick wanted the rest of them destroyed. Their unfair guerrilla techniques of ganging up on him were far out of line. His fellow Hokoni would sympathize, but he was unfortunately saddled with some classless rednecks who only saw a rival faction's representative lose to rookies.

“Hey, who's your supervisor?” Kaz asked.

“Classified,” Kendrick replied quickly.

“Ah... 'cause I don't want to get in trouble with the force if they're looking for you.”

“I'm only staying until I recover enough energy to return to headquarters.”

“Too long.” Kaz pulled out a cell phone- or rather, one of those combination cell phone/internet/PDA things that are all the rage. As much of a dump as the bar was, Kaz had nice stuff. He used the device to call up a number. “I can call Grandon Crostell. I met him at the convention last June. He's a big shot Hokoni, ain't he?”

Kendrick tensed up. Big shot Hokoni was an understatement. Grandon Crostell was a main office board room Hokoni with some extensive title incorporating words like 'executive,' 'head' and 'chief' quite flagrantly. “Somewhat,” Kendrick said nervously.

“Well, let me just give him a ring. I'll tell him how those teenagers kicked your ass and ask what we should do with you.”

“No!” Kendrick turned and threw his hand out. Thankfully, he had been prepared with a tried and true excuse: “They are denying all knowledge of my mission. You would just be wasting his time.”

Kaz pocketed the contraption and frowned. “Well, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.”

“I thought you always welcomed demons here.”

“Not if the MST's looking for them. Especially if they can't even beat a couple kids in a fight.”

Kendrick huffed, “I bet you couldn't beat them either.”

Kaz leaned into Kendrick's face. In a low, seething voice, he said, “What did you say?”

“I said, you probably wouldn't be able to beat them either,” Kendrick repeated, unfazed. “With or without your stooges.”

“You're begging for another beating, you know that?” said Red, equally offended.

“At this point, it doesn't matter. Those children have unimaginable potential, and I saw it first hand. After all, there must be some reason three factions are keeping close tabs on them.”

Kaz and his stooges shushed. Kendrick resisted the urge to smile. “In fact, I'd rather like to see how you Zukoni would stack up against them. With the numbers a little more even, it would be more interesting. And if you were to somehow eliminate them, it would do us all a favor. They're going to cause trouble for every faction if left unchecked. You can be sure of that.”

After a moment of pondering, Kaz said, “What's the wager?”

“My right to sanctuary. If your group can beat them, I am sufficiently humiliated and will leave immediately with no fight. Lose, and I can stay until I feel comfortable trekking back to my headquarters.”

“Losing side pays expenses?”

“Naturally.”

“Well... tempting as it sounds, I sure ain't sticking my neck out there for the MST to chop off.” Kendrick nodded in concession. Kaz was a pretty strong Zukoni figure in the region. There was no way he was going to get his hands dirty.

Thankfully, that's what stooges were for. “How about you boys?” Kaz said.

The stooge in yellow grinned. The stooge in red cracked his knuckles. The stooge in green nodded and blew more cigarette smoke into Kendrick's face. The game was on.


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