always felt like a raw deal to Ellen Monroe. The sky was bright
and cloudless, creating a gorgeous outdoors that begged
frolicking. Out or in, the temperature was sweltering; her
workplace didn't have the greatest air circulation. The tiny fan
at her desk would have worked just as well outside. From the
window, she saw high school girls walk by in short skirts and
low-cut tank tops, eating ice cream because they had nothing
else to do. Ellen swore those girls were there just to remind
all the workers inside who really got to enjoy the summer. She
couldn't even live vicariously through her son, as Troy was at
the academy for his magic studies. She didn't get anything out
of his stories, yet she knew he was probably having a blast.
leaned back and met eyes with her next-cubicle neighbor.
“Teacher, can we have work outside today?” Her co-worker
of times like these when she wanted to be anywhere but the
office, Ellen generally liked her job. She worked at a call
center that handled customer service for businesses too lazy to
answer their own phones but not cheap enough to outsource to
India. Thankfully, the companies she was trained to serve were
those rare places that were committed to maintaining a degree of
quality and not pissing off or screwing over customers. So she
didn't have to put up with too much bitching. It wasn't
glamorous, but she took satisfaction in being able to not only
pull off the whole single working mother thing, but make it look
It was a
slow day for her, and like most slow days she spent it staring
out the window and crawling various news websites. She heard a
door swing open, so she quickly Alt-Tabbed to her dummy Word
document and turned to see who had entered. Ellen was not
expecting her boss: being the boss, he saw himself entitled to
enjoy the nice weather. But there he was, accompanied by a tall
gentleman wearing a business suit and a slimy grin.
not golfing?” Ellen said.
squirmed, glancing at the other man before looking at Ellen.
“Uh, I got in nine this morning. Just showing Mr. Silars here
Silars?” One look at this man made her uncomfortable. Everything
about him- his suit, his shoes, his face and his hair were
impeccably clean, even shiny. But that smirk of his told Ellen
everything. This was a corporate suit and he was after
on Silars' face extended another inch. “Darren Silars, one of
the vice-presidents of Golden Sun.”
smile had grown for a reason: no other introductions were
necessary. Of course Ellen had heard of Golden Sun. In fact, she
had three of their credit cards and used all of them more often
than she should have. This was a major financial institution
known the world over. But this wasn't a time to be starstruck.
None of the companies Ellen's employer worked with came close to
touching Golden Sun's magnitude. Silars was a shark in a lake of
guppies. Whatever his reason for being here, something bad was
bound to happen when he opened his jaws.
scanned the room and the sixteen answering stations. “So this is
what you call the main room?”
boss, absorbing the subtle insult, nodded. “Yes, this is the
main hub. Sixteen stations, some operating twenty-four hours. We
are expanding into a vacant office next door, but need some
funds to clear up before moving in.”
suppose that's where I come in?” Silars said. Ellen imagined the
shark settling in behind a perch and opening its mouth.
her boss was not surrendering easily. “We aren't begging for
help, Mr. Silars. The funds will clear up. But, since you
expressed an interest in working with us, anything you can do to
facilitate the process would be appreciated.”
with us? As in a client?” blurted Ellen. Sexy as it may be to
serve such a large business, it was terribly out of place for
both their mission statement and Golden Sun. She doubted Golden
Sun even had a domestic call center, regardless of how many
'accidents' resulted in lost payments, misrouted private
information or one or two extra zeros at the ends of invoices.
chuckled. “We are thinking of investing some capital into this
company. And yes, that could involve using your services.”
yes, if you'd like, we can go into my office to discuss the
details of that,” her boss interjected, gesturing towards a door
on the far end of the room. Nodding, Silars smugly led the way,
looking over the shoulders of each operator. As he passed Ellen,
the bad vibe surrounding him grew. She already thought he was
trouble, but suddenly her initial fears were wrong. He was much
more than trouble. Darren Silars seemed downright evil.
boss passed by, she tugged on his sleeve and whispered, “Is this
guy really investing with us?”
nodded gravely. “Not so much going to. More like already has.
Golden Sun now holds a substantial amount of equity in the
“Something like 51 percent.”
narrowed her eyes at Silars. He stopped, turned back to her and
the boss, and smiled once more. “That's not good, is it?” she
Not at all,” her boss replied.
The whole mess with
Golden Sun bothered Ellen. To her surprise, it continued to
bother her outside the office. Normally, any stress she
encountered melted over the right sandwich at the deli during
her lunch break. But she couldn't stop thinking about it. The
more she did, the less the pieces fit. What interest would a
successfully corrupt Manhattan corporation have with a humble
call center in small-town Ohio?
Ellen had to get this
off her mind and onto someone else's before she returned to the
office. That wasn't so easy: her girlfriends had jobs too and
probably wouldn't appreciate the intrusion. She only had one
trusty sounding board that was perennially unemployed.
Unfortunately for Troy,
he may not have had a job, but he was in the middle of a vital
class for water-based Thrusting at that moment. Worse yet, he
wasn't nearly popular enough for his peers to constantly call
him, so he never made the habit of turning his cell phone off
during classes. As a grand finale, this particular lecture hall
at Central had excellent acoustics. The entire room heard his
Rascal Flatts ringtone in concert-quality surround sound.
This, of course,
included Prof. Weatherstone. It must have been an important
class for her to be lecturing herself, and she didn't appreciate
the interruption. Troy fumbled for his phone to turn it off, but
she teleported in front of him before he could. She smiled, and
with a quick gesture the phone flew into her hands.
Her condescending face
flipped to one more pleasant as she took the call. “Hello?” Troy
cringed, imagining the response on the other end and hoping it
wasn't Marie. “This is Alicia. Troy's busy right now.” Another
pause. Of all the scenarios running through Troy's head, he
wasn't ready for this one: “Oh my God, Ellen! How long has it
Troy's eyes bulged, but
by this point he was resigned to the background. Weatherstone
returned to the front of the room, the entire class still giving
her full attention. Some continued to take notes. “Yes, I'm a
professor here now. Troy's in my class... yes, he's doing a
wonderful job.” Troy buried his head as a few classmates turned
to him and snickered.
Weatherstone sat on top
of her desk and crossed her legs. Every teacher listed students
answering their phones during class as a pet peeve, but she
seemed to have no problem interrupting her lecture to take a
call. She was tenured, of course. “How's Frank?” Somewhere in
the middle of the answer, she frowned. “Oh, that's too bad. He
was always committed to his work. I kept telling you that,
Embarrassing as it was,
Troy leaned in to listen to this. Somewhere in this chat there
might have been some hints about his father. Unfortunately, his
mother seemed to be venting to Weatherstone, and he couldn't
infer much from a bunch of nods and uh huhs.
“You should have stayed
in touch more. Troy would have made a great guardian.”
A guardian? Troy? He
never realized he was up for the position, and the shock of
hearing that made him forget he was leaning forward. Troy fell
backwards, slamming into the back of his chair. It stung.
“Oh, um... let me ask,”
Weatherstone continued. She looked at Troy. “You're under Molly
Pearson, right?” Troy nodded and rubbed his back as Weatherstone
relayed that to his mother.
One classmate leaned
towards Troy and whispered. “You're Pearson's recruit?”
“Yeah,” Troy muttered.
“She really as much of a
bitch as she seems?”
The kid sighed. “I am
sorry I ever made fun of you.”
Troy turned to him. The
boy was staring down at the table, shaking his head. “When were
you making fun of me?” Troy asked, confused.
“Behind your back.”
The head-shaking grew
faster. “Because I am a petty, insecure human being.”
While the kid went back
to his world of self-doubt, Troy continued to ponder the whole
Guardian thing. Having only known about the MST for a year, the
thought that he could have been Molly's equal was intriguing.
He would get the chance
to ask about it: after another five minutes of chatter between
old girlfriends, Weatherstone confiscated the phone until the
end of class.
“Sorry about that. Your
father and I were classmates. He brought Ellen along a couple
times. Really pissed off his roommates as I understand it. But
she and I were friends. Haven't seen them since their wedding
With that taking care of
any possible answers about Frank's current whereabouts, Troy
asked about the possibility of being a guardian.
“Well, sure, your Dad
was a mage. That's usually all it takes. I'd love to say we
don't discriminate based on that sort of thing, but somebody has
to show the new kids around.”
After a moment of
thought, and not long enough for Troy to get a word in, she
added, “Now Ellen doesn't practice, so there was no guarantee
you'd be any good at magic. Not that that precludes anybody from
being a guardian. It's a supervisory and instructional position.
But it's a headache to take kids with a real future and teach
them skills you don't have. Maybe Frank kept you out of the loop
until we could get a better read on your potential.”
Given how much Molly had
originally doubted his ability, Troy found this a perfectly
reasonable and logical explanation. He nodded in understanding.
It would have been a
fine way to end the conversation had Weatherstone not added,
very hesitantly, “Yes... hopefully that was the reason.”
If Troy wasn't so
horrible at reading non-verbal cues, he almost certainly would
have realized that there may have been other, less genuine,
No such interruption
awaited Kathryn in her classes. She would have loved one.
Instead, she struggled to pay attention to the TA's lecture on
temporal thrusting. He had been droning on for an hour now and
she still wasn't sure exactly what temporal thrusting was. She
didn't care; she'd never use it.
Kathryn had not deviated
much in her reasoning behind her enrollment at Central. She was
there to keep an eye on Troy and keep Molly honest. Besides
adding 'party with the college kids' to the list, she hadn't
accomplished much either. While she had technically learned the
same basics as everyone else, she wasn't comfortable with any of
them. To cast flight, she needed to hold her staff in the air,
which was terribly awkward. Her teleportation had also grown
rusty as her athletic sensibilities preferred walking to any
Molly and the academy
had noticed this, of course. Yet they insisted that the reason
for her lack of spellcasting ability was due to a focusing issue
or some other explanation Kathryn didn't understand. They never
admitted what Kathryn had always believed- that magic just
didn't suit her. In fact, her instructors went out of their way
to reassure Kathryn that her magical energy level was actually
higher than normal. Concurring, Molly adjusted Kathryn's
schedule to include several courses geared toward her situation.
Kathryn saw them as special ed classes and did not appreciate
Not that the general
classes she took were any better. This was a normal Thrusting
class and its only redeeming factor was its large class size.
That made it easier for Kathryn to catch up on her sleep.
She leaned back in her
chair and drifted off, her hand clutching the top of her staff.
As her head slumped down, the staff fell forward and clanged
against her desk. That would have made plenty of noise, but it
was drowned out by the cyclone that flew out of the staff and
into the back of the poor student in front of her. It knocked
him forward, smashing his nose and glasses against his desk.
Clutching his face, he
turned around. “The hell?!”
All the noise drew
Kathryn's eyes open. She blinked at the angry injured kid in
front of her. “What?”
Before he could attack
her, the TA intervened. “Okay, what's going on here?”
“She just attacked me!”
shouted the kid.
“Okay, don't sweat it.
You go to the clinic. I'll deal with this.”
He obeyed, begrudgingly:
the last time someone went to the clinic with a bloody nose,
Kiki's remedy involved a vice grip. Meanwhile, the TA turned to
Kathryn. “So why did you feel the need to bust him up? Not all
of us know how to fix broken glasses.”
“I do!” replied about a
Kathryn opened her mouth
to say something in defense, but the truth wasn't much better
than the allegation. Finally, she figured that the punishment
for dozing off wasn't as bad as deliberately attacking another
classmate. Still, she could try to manipulate the truth: “I
guess I lost control of it. Thing has a mind of its own.”
The TA grinned; Kathryn
wasn't sure if he had bought it. “Did it, now? Certainly you
must have put a lot of energy into it to get that kind of
reaction. Perfect! You can be the first to try temporal
A wave of his hand
compelled Kathryn down to the floor of the lecture hall.
Suddenly the large class size was a bad thing as its entire
composition stared down at Kathryn. Her eyes were on the TA, who
stood twenty feet away up one of the aisles.
“Now... I'm going to
shoot at you. Do everything I said in the lecture and slow the
projectile down. Ready?”
“No!” replied Kathryn.
It didn't matter. The TA
summoned a ball of stone and hurled it at Kathryn. For a moment,
Kathryn played along, trying to recall the steps to slow it down
to a harmless speed. But she had no idea where to start
conceiving the concept. In desperation, she whacked her staff at
Not only did she make
contact, she sent the stone straight back- a line drive right at
another classmate, likely faster than the TA's throw. Before she
could panic at the thought of injuring another bystander, the
student instinctively threw up a spell. The stone slowed down,
suddenly restrained by just the air around it. It still
continued on its path, but the student caught it easily with his
After sighing in relief,
the TA smiled. “Excellent! That was perfect... uh... what's your
With the TA occupied by
the new class hero, Kathryn trudged back to her chair. She
slumped down and wondered if she should dare let herself fall
The student next door
leaned in. “Good swing,” he said, half-jokingly. “You should
“I do. I should be
playing it right now,” she muttered.
He leaned in. “You know
who can cheer you up? Reggie.”
Kathryn looked up. Then
looked at this kid. Not only was this a college student,
something about him made her wonder which fraternity he was
“Are you inviting me?”
she asked, sickened at the thought.
He smirked, providing a
“How old are you?”
He backed away, suddenly
nervous about the encounter and scanning the room for witnesses.
Kathryn, meanwhile, sighed. After everything that had happened,
she was in a sour mood. She was still convinced that she wasn't
disposed to magic, and still couldn't convince the MST of that.
With another two weeks of this, she was going to need a lot of
“Sure, let's go,” she
told the guy.
in the third term at Central, the class schedules had diverged
enough to create days where Molly's recruits never saw each
other until late in the afternoon. Molly liked this very much as
it allowed her much more solitude in her office: one person in
the commons kept to themselves, but two or more usually created
favorite time this term was on Thursdays from 4:00 to 4:30. A
unique rift in the schedule allowed Molly a moment of downtime
before a 5:00 meeting, while coinciding with Renee's return from
her classes at four. With Yuki leaving for a 4:15 class and
Troy, Kathryn and Donovan not back until 4:30, Molly and her
sister could enjoy a moment alone with no distractions.
want some tea?” asked Renee from the kitchen.
thank you.” Molly managed a smile. Tea between sisters... how
incredibly girly, yet irresistibly appropriate, she thought.
Normally she preferred coffee.
gave her a cup and sat down. “My shields are getting better.”
that,” Molly replied, taking a sip. She had access to all of her
recruits' evaluations and checked them daily. Renee's had been
surprisingly average, so Molly noted any positive marks.
you, I wish this came as easy for me as it does for you.”
then you have other problems.” Molly stopped herself before she
elaborated. Given Renee's attention span, Molly wondered how
committed her sister would remain to magic knowing about the
again, perhaps Renee would figure it out herself. “What, like
paused, holding an uncertain stare at Renee before answering,
“The incident with the Zukoni last year wasn't the first time
I've been targeted. Be happy your biggest concern is your
shook her head. “But I want to help you. When we were battling
back then, you were great. But so was Troy and Kathryn. And Yuki
helped out and even Donovan tried to. What did I do... besides
accidentally knock out Bryce?”
hard frown, Molly looked away. She didn't want help from Troy or
Kathryn. She didn't want help from Renee either. She'd rather
none of them be involved at all, or at least see them acclimate
to the MST through normal means.
unfair for a mere recruit to be relied upon. It puts undue
pressure on you and changes your educational priorities in a way
that may not be best for the long term. Not everyone in the
academy is best suited for combat.” In Molly's estimation, the
lucky ones weren't.
any luck, Uriel will find us a decent field agent to scare away
the demons,” Molly added.
came from the front door. Molly was tempted to ignore it, but
Renee stood up and readied her arm. “Let me see if I can open
this. One... two...” She swiped her arm forward, but nothing
sighed. “Two things: one- you can't just will the door open when
there's a knob. Two- that door only opens when one of us grasps
the handle. Which in this case is you since you're already up.
lighthearted pout but no sincere protest, Renee opened the door
manually. She reeled back several steps as an overwhelming
sulfurous odor poured through the entrance. On the other side of
the door, Kurt tried to look as poised as he could with tattered
and soiled clothes, dirt all over his face and arms, and hair
blackened further with soot and ash.
time, no see,” he deadpanned.
God, you're filthy!” Renee shouted, already halfway to the
bathroom to get a towel.
um... can I sit down?” Both sisters nodded slowly. Molly, in
stunned silence, gestured to a chair. Kurt sat and wiped off his
face with the towel Renee provided. “Sorry if I get this chair
dirty,” he said.
shook her head. “Troy will clean it later. Where in the hell
remember which hell it was exactly. One of the ones the Zukoni
are making a play for.”
gasped. “The Zukoni?! Again?”
since I already dealt with them once, they figured it was a good
world to try me out on.”
would you get sent abroad?” Molly asked.
“Abroad?” Renee turned to Molly, unsure of the terminology.
clarified: “Another world. Since the MST and all the demon
factions have large armies, we've created a number of worlds to
do battle in to avoid fighting here.”
was doing some recon work for my internship,” Kurt said.
“Internship?” Renee looked Kurt up and down again, and wondered
if that towel would ever be reusable.
Kurt huffed. “Idea was to get me up to speed on my new position
with a two month trial by fire.” He scratched his head, sending
bits of ash out of his hair. “Or lava in my case.”
turned to Molly. “Jeez, did you have to do that to become a
eyes remained fixed on Kurt. “No. Kurt's been fully qualified as
a guardian for months. Which means he's doing something else.”
sadly, nodded and lowered his head. Already, Molly didn't like
where this was heading. “You want the bad news or the good
news?” he asked.
grumble, Molly replied, “Good news.”
raised his eyebrows, but didn't smile. “Good news is I'll be
back in town next week.”
it,” Molly spat, standing up and pacing the room.
that bad?” Renee asked Molly.
I'm your new field agent,” Kurt answered.
Renee was confused. “Why's that bad?” she repeated.
he's inexperienced. And his magic level's fine for his age, but
it won't scare anybody,” Molly replied angrily. “God, and Uriel
must not be too confident either if he sent you away for two
shrugged. “Marlowe didn't have anything else for me and no one
else was applying. They figured it was the easiest solution to
both our problems.”
good one though.” Molly marched up to him and leaned forward.
“Do you have any idea how much danger you're in?”
a dirty hand on her shoulder, Kurt stood up. “Considering I just
got back from Mordor, it sounds like a vacation.” After she
shirked off his hand, and started wiping the residue off her
shirt, Kurt smiled. “Besides, what kind of friend would I be if
I let you guys go at it alone?” He turned to Renee. “Can I use
being awed for a moment, Renee smiled and nodded. “Sure!”
Clutching the towel, Kurt walked to the bathroom. Before he
entered, he turned back to Molly and said, “Nice to see you
slumped into the couch and did not look back. Still, though with
a heavy voice, she managed to respond, “Yes.”
Molly left for her meeting, fretting about Kurt's new job,
Renee's biggest concern was the chair. Kurt hadn't been sitting
in it for five minutes, but that was enough to soot it up good.
Rather than wait for Troy to receive the cleaning order from
Molly, Renee was going to see to this herself. Problem was,
being a college-style dorm room, hardcore cleaning supplies were
an afterthought. There was nothing useful in the kitchen, and
even if there was anything in the bathroom, Kurt had annexed it
for his shower.
left one alternative, which Renee was far too eager to turn to-
her weaving textbook. As she went into her room to retrieve it
and find a relevant spell to try, Kathryn returned. Another dour
day of being treated like a remedial case and not presenting
much of an argument otherwise. She threw her staff and bag into
her room, grabbed a soda from the fridge and plopped down in the
chair, too irritated to notice the appearance and smell of it.
At least for the first second.
she moaned, popping back up and seeing what she had just sat in.
room, Renee warned, “Kathryn, don't sit in the...” She came out
and saw that it was too late. “Welcome back.”
frowned. “Was it Donovan or Yuki?”
“Neither.” Studying a page from her book, Renee stood in front
of the chair and cast a spell. If anything, the odor got even
worse as all the dirt rose out of the fabric and hovered in the
air. Consulting the book again, Renee declared, “And now we can
vacuum it. BRB.” And she teleported away.
Kathryn replied, to nobody. All of Renee's scurrying about,
yapping and casting spells had become silence, except for the
rushing water from the bathroom.
later, Renee walked through the front door. “And of course the
vacuum's checked out.” Apparently giving up, Renee returned the
book to her room and sat down on the couch.
in the shower?” Kathryn asked, joining Renee.
just giggled. “Oh yeah. You're going to be happy.”
Renee giggled again, so Kathryn sternly added, “Renee, I'm not
in the mood. This place is getting on my nerves.”
bathroom door opened and Kurt stepped out, shirtless and drying
his hair with a clean towel.
going to bother washing that shirt,” he said. “I'll borrow
something from Troy or buy a new one at the bookstore.”
almost jumped when she heard him, but froze at the sight. She
wasn't sure how long it would be until they'd meet again.
Initially, two months wasn't a long time at all, but he seemed
different to her, as if he had been gone much longer. She
couldn't pinpoint it though, as she never paid close enough
attention before to tell whether he had a new expression in his
eyes or a better toned chest. She was sure noticing both now.
Kathryn. Did Renee tell you the news?” Kurt approached them and,
with a half-shrug, sat in the dirty chair. He was careful not to
lean back, but looked down with some scrutiny. “Cleaning spell?”
vacuum's checked out,” Renee explained.
what's the big news?” Kathryn asked.
Kurt put it as plainly as he could. “There weren't any guardian
spots open, so Uriel hired me as your new field agent. I start
brought a smile to Kathryn's face at least. “Oh... that's
Renee grimaced, making Kathryn's smile vanish. “Isn't it?”
except for the part about me being grossly unqualified,
especially with the problems you've all had and Donovan's book
screaming 'come get me...' yeah, it's pretty sweet.”
pause, Kathryn nodded and forced that smile back. “Well, at
least you're back home. Troy'll be glad to hear it. He should be
sensed the obvious tension. She had heard from Molly how he had
said goodbye to Kathryn. Naturally, Renee didn't want to get in
their way and stood.
don't I run to the bookstore and pick you up a shirt? You don't
want to make the trip like that, do you?”
sounded far too hasty and Kurt saw through her. “Nah,” he said,
just as rushed. “If Troy's back soon, I'll steal something from
then I'll grab one off Donovan.”
the notion of Donovan committing an act of charity was desperate
enough to make Renee sit. She folded her hands on her lap and
continued to watch Kathryn try to hold eye contact with Kurt
rather than glance downward at his chest.
so where've you been?” Kathryn asked.
explained his 'internship' in a little more detail. He was sent
to the aptly-named Sulphur Mountain during a Zukoni attempt to
conquer it and make it an underground mountain base. His job was
to assist the MST's agents in gathering intelligence and
preventing the demons from doing the same. Besides the valuable
experience in that department, the job also led to several
battles that hardened his combat skills. Of course, Sulphur
Mountain was hardly a hospitable front, hence the mess he was in
when he left.
Kurt told it, both girls couldn't help but find it incredibly
brave and dashing- a heroic war story from some faraway land.
Even Kathryn, who didn't normally care for tales from faraway
lands, had a change of heart when it became a first person
so how long are you here for?” she asked, finding that smile
easier to generate again.
go today, but after all that I don't feel like driving all the
way back tonight. Unfortunately, since school's in session all
the rooms are full.” Kurt raised his eyebrows. He knew he
wouldn't have to ask out loud.
you're welcome to crash with us tonight,” Renee answered. “Right
eager smile on Renee's face made Kathryn uncomfortable. She knew
exactly what Renee was trying to accomplish. Problem was,
between her own frustrations over the last week and the need for
a pick-me-up, plus Kurt reentering her life, going through
everything he did, and sitting right there with no shirt on,
Kathryn really had to work to fight off the temptation.
faced the floor. “I'm not the one to ask.”
sighed. “Besides, I wouldn't mind getting one more night here.
If I am going to be an agent instead of a guardian, I won't be
back at Central much. I'll miss the place.” With a sad chuckle,
he added, “You know I never did get out to the FUP.”
turned her head, confused. “You mean not even for class?” The
chuckle Kurt let out this time straightened her out. “Oh...
never got out to uh... I see.” She chuckled a bit herself.
up, Kathryn raised an eyebrow. “Really? All this time you
never...?” She caught herself. Discussing it would certainly not
know,” Kurt replied, wistfully. “Not that I haven't thought
about it, but I guess I let too many chances get by.” By now,
Kathryn's head was lowered again. He turned to Renee. She
glanced at Kathryn, then back to him, all with a big smile on
her face. Renee winked once, and that was all Kurt needed.
you're interested,” Kurt said to Kathryn.
Renee's interest in the subject, once a direct offer was on the
table, she turned her head and blushed. Kathryn didn't move. She
tried poring over the ramifications of his offer and what it
would mean if she accepted or declined. She thought about Troy,
about her reputation, about whether Kurt was just trying to be
someone else for her to be with. Ultimately, the moment won out,
because regardless of all those things, the last two weeks left
her needing to be with someone, and intentional or not he had
stepped up as the preferred candidate.
the hell,” she said, more relenting than accepting. He stood,
approached her an extended a hand. With a sigh, she took it, and
with a raise of his hand he whisked them away.
left Renee in a silent uproar. “Ohmigod,” she squeaked.
Renee was still in shock
over the development. Considering the idea of pairing Kathryn
and Kurt and even playfully nudging it forward were great fun,
but actually watching them hook up (or at least agree in terms
to it) was practically scandalous. Besides, for all the
excitement, where did it leave her other than alone in the room
with smelly furniture? That was hardly fair.
The next peer to return
didn't encourage her- Donovan, clutching the briefcase with
Grimoire 17 as he had throughout the entire term. Halfway to his
room, without bothering to acknowledge Renee's presence, he
stopped and sniffed the air. His nose led him to the chair. By
now, her cleaning spell had worn off and the stains had embedded
in the fabric once more.
With just a brief glance
at Renee, he sniffed the chair closely, particularly curious
about the cushion. Donovan wiped the seat with his finger and
eyed the results closely, licking his digit with the tip of his
Sickened by the show,
Renee offered to explain. “Yeah, um... Kurt was in and-”
“Yeah, it was really bad
five minutes ago.”
“I haven't experienced
this particular style of brimstone. As if it was from another
Renee wasn't sure
whether to be impressed or annoyed at Donovan's display. She
elected to remain silent while he did his thing.
“I must examine this
“Sir?” Bryce replied.
“Take this to the lab.”
Bryce recoiled at the
sight and smell of the chair, but swung his crystal around. The
chair vanished. Before Renee could worry too much about it, she
saw it reappear in Donovan's room. He and his minion entered
'the lab' and swung the door shut.
“Please clean it when
you're done!” she shouted, doubting that Donovan heard it, and
certain he wouldn't obey. For a moment, she was tempted to join
him in analyzing the residuals Kurt had left. She never admitted
it, but she was curious about the foreign land he had been to,
and would have made for a nice bonding moment with Donovan that
didn't involve wyverns or hodags.
Wait, why was she
interested in bonding moments with Donovan? No one else was. In
fact, now that Renee thought about it, she was the only one who
honored Donovan's place in the group. Molly didn't seem to care
whether or not he did well in class, scolding him only when he
did something to directly inconvenience her or make her look
bad. Troy, Kathryn and Yuki ignored him whenever they could and
left the room when they couldn't.
Renee couldn't fathom
shunning Donovan like that, no matter how much he shunned
everyone else in return. During school, she had stopped by the
dark room a few times to partake in his faux-occult activities,
even after her MST education exposed most of them as pure
nonsense. She had also invited Donovan to the party for Kurt.
Clearly, she had an interest in making sure Donovan was included
in the group. But with no one else sharing that interest, she
questioned her motives for doing so. Could it possibly be that
she had an interest in him?
'Hell no,' she told
herself. The very thought was just a trick of the moment.
Besides, given the way Molly reacted when Renee went out with
Troy, even considering Donovan in that context was a bad idea.
Speaking of Troy, he was
the next to arrive, and looking for a place to sit down.
Specifically, he was looking for the mysteriously absent chair.
“It's out for cleaning,”
“Was it Donovan or
Yuki?” Troy had the same reaction as Kathryn.
“Kurt, actually,” she
said with a smile.
“He was here?” Troy
eagerly began to sit down on the couch, but caught himself and
looked over Renee's shoulder.
“Molly's gone.” Assured,
Troy sat down as Renee explained Kurt's new post.
Naturally, Troy was as
excited as Kathryn. All the deeper ramifications of Kurt's
position only seemed to affect him and Molly. To Troy, it was a
friend and mentor returned, and a field agent that the group
could actually get along with.
“So where'd he go?” he
“Oh, uh...” Renee
chuckled uncontrollably. “Kurt and Kathryn went to, uh...
celebrate. In the FUP.”
“Why would... oh, you
mean?” Biting down on her lips to contain her smile, Renee
nodded. Troy huffed. “I see.”
“Yeah, it was pretty
crazy. Hormones flying all over. I don't even think they took
a... um...” Renee's mouth was moving faster than her brain,
which realized that she didn't want to bring the subject up.
Eventually, she blurted, “Protection.”
Troy was looking away
and shook his head. “Doesn't matter, Kathryn's on the p...” He
too caught himself, and turned to Renee nervously. They both
looked away immediately.
“I hope that doesn't
bother you too much,” she stammered.
“I usually try not to
think about it.”
With a nod, Renee
replied, “I can see why.” Now that she was part of the whole
thing, she was as uncomfortable as Troy.
In the ensuing silence,
Troy thought about it anyway. He came to the conclusion that it
wasn't his decision. Whether he approved or not, they were going
to do whatever they needed to do. When not in Troy's presence,
he had nothing to do with it. Now if Kurt or Kathryn somehow
made Troy uncomfortable while he was around, then he'd just have
to let them have it. Until then, he was putting it out of his
“Guess I don't really
have any right to stop them,” he said, trying to convince
himself more than Renee. “Not my call anyway.”
Renee smiled, happy that
his resolution eased the tension and let her face him again.
“Yep. And you never know, maybe they'll work out.”
Troy raised his
eyebrows; he had never thought of that. “Yeah. Stranger things
“So yeah. Try not to
worry about it. Be happy for them.” She could tell he was coming
around; he nodded, mouth curling into a smile. This was the side
of Troy she liked- genuinely optimistic, but not stupidly so. He
wasn't going to be happy about Kurt and Kathryn's hookup until
he could justify accepting it.
“You know, it's nice we
can talk like this now,” Renee said, inching closer to him as
she inched away from the topic.
Troy chuckled. “Yeah.
Feels weird not to have Molly looking over us.”
“Yep. Seems like you've
grown up a bit since last year too.”
“Yeah, well... lot of
things are different now.” His smile remained, growing into
something more boastful.
“You just keep it up.”
The words came out slowly, and seemed to Renee to be more
profound than they actually were. This was still the same Troy
that had evaded her defenses once. Only now, whether by Kathryn,
Molly or the MST, he seemed to be more confident. As little as
she had gotten to talk to him over the last fifteen months, she
could see that he was on the right track.
What in all that
compelled her to give him a quick hug, she wasn't sure. But she
did, and he certainly did nothing to repel it. It did catch him
off guard, however.
Moments after she pulled
back, he said, “I, uh, suppose I should get to some homework.
Talk to you later.” Troy skittishly stood up and went into his
room. Obviously, she still had some effect on him.
Renee liked seeing that
from him as much as any degree of spirit or self-confidence.