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.
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.
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
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
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
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?”
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
twitched. “Uh... yeah. I cleaned it up a little back there but
it's uh... still there. You might need stitches.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
here for the other one. I'm from the Midwest Self-enhancement
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
failed. “Miss Shizuka!” Uriel called out.
froze and turned to the two gentlemen at the door. Mr. Pearson's
mouth fell open. “What are you doing in my house?!”
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.”
forced his way past Mr. Pearson, who was still fixated on Yuki.
“Wait, who are you? Who said you could invite him in?”
Yuki replied, “I'm Yuki. I go to school with Molly and Renee.”
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.
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.
the carcasses,” Yuki said, with no humor attached.
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
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,”
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
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
“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.”
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
“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.”
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
“Then he got that one
last shot in to disable all of us so he could get away,” he
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
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
“Donovan, you say?”
Uriel scanned the bodies on the floor. “And where is Donovan
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
“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
“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?” 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
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
“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?”
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
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.
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.
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
know, Pearson, you could be a little more concerned. That guy
was trying to kill you,” she scolded.
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.
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
well. May have saved my life.”
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?”
revived him already. He went to the game.”
moaned. “God damn it! I'm going to miss the game because of
this! You happy now?”
kept her head down. “Kurt said he'd vouch for you.”
not the point. I was looking forward to this for a month! I
can't believe this.”
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?”
shook her head and answered, “No.”
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.”
narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you?”
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.”
Molly asked, suddenly taken aback.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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
starting to wish that was the case,” she said to Kathryn, before
returning to the couch and bracing herself for Yuki's next
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
men approached Kendrick. Kaz over-exaggerated a frown; his posse
followed suit. “What in God's name is this?” he said.
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.”
hell's that supposed to mean?”
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.”
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.
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.
was also frowning. “Damn... somebody kicked your ass.” He
dropped Kendrick back onto the stool. “Bastard didn't save us
stooge in red held Kendrick's arm up. “It's just a couple
scratches. We could break his arm or something.”
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?”
shook him off and went back to his drink. “If you must know-
yes. Just a minor setback to a recruitment drive.”
the hell are you recruiting around here?” asked the stooge in
ain't nothing in L. B. Gould.” Yellow looked at Kaz and Green.
took a drag from his cigarette and blew it at Kendrick. “Just a
unit of high school kids. Nothing crazy.”
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
late for that. MST nabbed them all last April,” Kaz said, taking
a glass of scotch from the bartender.
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.”
Hokoni? Exciting?” Red surveyed the tears on Kendrick's shirt.
“No wonder it didn't work.”
there aren't any MST agents in L. B. Gould. If there were, we'd
have to take care of him,” Kaz said.
Kendrick turned to Kaz. “You dolt, there wasn't-”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
“Ah... 'cause I don't
want to get in trouble with the force if they're looking for
“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
“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
“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.