With this trio suddenly
in the picture with the grimoire, Kendrick and Kurt paid no
attention to each other, despite being separated by just a yard.
Before a single word came out of the newcomers, they both knew
the situation had gone from bad to disastrous.
So the gleeful snicker
that came from the one actually holding the book- a short,
weaselly fellow with thin-rimmed glasses and a nervous twitch in
his eye, wasn't as potent. If anything, it was obligatory.
“Drop something?” said
the one with the stones. This guy was big, especially standing
next to Mr. Cedric, the bespectacled man. Had Bo not been in
line with Golden Sun, he may have had a career as a lineman for
The third, Mr. Winston,
remained silent. He was as tall as Bo, but as skinny as Mr.
Cedric. Unlike his two associates, he was not paying attention
to Kurt or Kendrick. He had his eye on Molly.
At this point, Kurt
realized that Molly was surprisingly inactive in the sudden
Not voluntarily, of
course. She was pounding angrily against the transparent, and
apparently impenetrable dome Mr. Winston had summoned around
her, Yuki and Donovan.
“Can't you blast out of
here?” Yuki asked.
“Looks solid. If it
doesn't work, it'll ricochet and kill us,” Molly grumbled.
Unlike Donovan's circle barriers, this dome was something
tangible, and likely difficult to crack open.
“But it's not like a
circle spell. We can just teleport out, right?”
Molly tried, but went
nowhere. Two more frustration-fueled attempts later, she gave up
and glared outside. This one was all up to Kurt and Kathryn.
And Kendrick, who didn't
take kindly to the intrusion. Few factions were fans of the
Chioni, given their sickening success in promoting consumer
greed to fuel their own. They, along with the Urayoni/Hageshoni
alliance, were undoubtedly top dogs at the moment, which
Kendrick couldn't stand. That and his faction owed them money.
Barging in on his
territory to steal what he had rightfully stolen was
unforgivable. Kendrick forced himself to his feet, charged up an
attack, and fired at Mr. Cedric. He didn't expect it to connect,
but he needed to see what he was dealing with.
Instead, the energy ball
seemed to phase through Mr. Cedric, passing through him and
colliding harmfully through a window across the street. Mr.
“Really?” he asked,
amused at his own boredom. “That was your response? Bo, please
dispatch the Hokoni so we can get on with this.” Bo threw
another stone at Kendrick.
Kendrick threw a shield
up, but Kurt did one better: he used a wind gust to direct it
back at the Chioni. But Mr. Winston saw that, and used a gust of
his own to knock the stone straight down... on top of Kathryn.
No, this was a good
thing. Tennis wasn't her favorite sport, but her overhead serve
was serviceable and her staff connected and sent it flying at
Bo. It hit him square in the chest, exploded... and barely
“Quit it,” he warned,
pitching a stone straight at her.
“No,” she replied,
defiant and ready to volley back. But Mr. Cedric was on top of
preventing that. Or rather, on the bottom. Kathryn felt her legs
give out and she fell over, in time to see Mr. Cedric fly back
into his original position with inhuman speed. Not in time,
though, to avoid direct contact with the exploding stone. It
struck her in the shoulder and just about burned it off.
When she wailed in pain,
Kurt broke off his staring contest with Mr. Winston, threw up a
stone barrier to protect himself and Kathryn, and tended to her.
As far as he was concerned, Kendrick was on his own.
Meanwhile, Molly saw all
of that and heard none of it. When not even a peep got through
the dome, much less a spell, she was left to assume that they
were in an air-tight bubble.
“There has to be a way
out of here!” Yuki pleaded. “It's a thrusting spell; it can't be
“Save your breath. I'm
thinking.” Molly's thought process wasn't helped seeing Kathryn
go down and Kurt quitting the offensive to help her. Still, she
knew something to try.
With her magic marker,
she dug a circle into the ground and activated the same spell
that had saved Renee from Red early in the Zukoni battle. The
circle ignored the dome and sailed unimpeded to Kurt and
Kathryn. Molly called it back, with them in tow.
The circle returned to
Molly. Its passengers, however, slammed into the dome wall.
After peeling himself off, Kurt yelled at Molly. Unable to hear
him, Molly shrugged and pointed over his shoulder in time for
him to block a sneak attack from Mr. Winston.
“Now we know it's not
completely magic proof,” Yuki said.
“But if that got
through, why can't we teleport?” Molly asked herself. She tried
again, to no avail. All three Chioni were occupied with Kurt or
Kendrick, so they weren't preventing anything. Desperate for
some hint, she looked around the dome. All she saw was Yuki and
Donovan, who maintained the same spellcasting pose as he did
when the battle with Kendrick had begun. When Molly ordered him
to cast an anti-teleportation spell.
She slapped him across
the head and yelled, “You can stop now!”
He set his arms at his
side. Yuki approached them and said, “How about one more try?”
Molly nodded, took
Yuki's hand and stepped on Donovan's foot, and successfully
teleported the three away.
Yuki sighed. “No
offense, Donovan, but you are kind of an idiot.”
“Kind of?” Molly
mumbled. She had taken them to the top of a nearby bluff, where
they could see everything without being spotted. Problem was,
Kurt and Kathryn couldn't find them either. She frowned as Kurt
darted his head around upon noticing her disappearing act.
Thankfully, he reached
for his Bloodberry, which gave away their location. He clutched
Kathryn and teleported up to join them.
“Damn. That didn't go
well at all,” he muttered.
checked Kathryn's shoulder. “That looked like a magic explosive.
I should be able to heal that.”
Watching as Kendrick
continued to shield himself from the onslaught of Chioni
attacks, Kurt sighed. “Hold on, we don't want to give away our
position. I know you're not the quietest Crafter around.”
But Yuki was already at
work. “Don't worry, I've been working on that. Reggie's drilled
it into me enough times, so we should be okay.”
Kurt had to look around
to make sure he wasn't the only one. Thankfully, Molly stared at
Yuki, just as disturbed.
“What?!” Yuki stared at
both of them frantically. “Don't pressure me, okay?”
“So when do we strike
back?” Donovan asked.
“That's not such a good
idea,” Kurt said. “These guys know what they're doing.”
Molly nodded. “Hired
help, most likely. Chioni specialize in Crafting. Not sure about
the one with the grenades, but the other two fight more like
Hageshoni or Urayoni. You'll get any demon to switch allegiance
if you pay them enough.”
Yet Donovan insisted.
“What matters is how we reclaim the tome.”
Unfortunately, he was
right. Kendrick was providing a stubborn distraction, but he
wouldn't last much longer against those three. Once he went
down, the grimoire would be gone.
“We need to keep
stalling them. Preferably without fighting. Wish we had an agent
here,” Molly said.
“Oh, dammit,” Kurt
sighed. “Suppose this is my job, isn't it?”
Molly turned to Kurt and
frowned. “Right... you are the agent here.” She shrugged. “Well,
go to work.”
“Molly! We can't just
throw Kurt in there alone!” Kathryn shouted.
Kurt held up a hand.
“No, Molly's right. Someone has to step in and I'm technically
the grown-up here.”
“They'll kill you!”
That was exactly what
Kurt was afraid of, until he surveyed the situation once more.
Behind the battling demons, cars drove by and he could see
oblivious people at work through the windows across the street.
Thanks to the displacement Molly had set up beforehand, they saw
nothing out of the ordinary. Molly could take it down whenever
she wanted to. Now seemed like a pretty good time.
Kurt got one more
teleportation in before Molly ended it. He landed across the
street and waited to make sure the demons would actually stop.
Two of them did: Mr. Cedric and Bo looked around, trying to
identify the party pooper. A momentary rush of cars ended any
chance of continuing the battle, although Mr. Cedric had to pull
Mr. Winston's arm away.
“Stop it! They lifted
the displacement,” Mr. Cedric said angrily.
Kendrick followed suit
by dropping his shield spell and catching his breath. His plan
was to wait until they stopped attacking, then run in and grab
the book, but he had been drained of all energy- physical and
This was Kurt's cue. He
looked both ways, crossed the street, and played authority
figure. “Okay, what's going on here, guys?”
“Why did you take down
the displacement?” Mr. Winston argued.
“Because we're not
fighting anymore. If you guys want to go at it, don't do it
downtown. Now tell me why I shouldn't have all four of you
booked for stealing a Class A artifact?”
Mr. Cedric smiled.
“Because you're physically incapable of it. Who are you,
Kurt stiffened up, but
pulled out his wallet. “Kurt Sempman. MST field agent for this
area.” He quickly flashed his driver's license... Uriel hadn't
given him his ID yet.
Dragging himself into
the conversation, Kendrick said, “You got promoted?
“It's too late for
sucking up, Kendrick. Once I get the book back from these guys,
Still, Kendrick eased up
next to Kurt and smiled. “Now now, Kurt, I'm on your side here.
Last thing I want to see is Grimoire 17 falling into the hands
of some mercenary Chioni.”
Mr. Winston took
offense. “Mercenary?! We were sent here by-” His legs gave way
before he could finish. Mr. Cedric rubbed his hands and glared
“Quit it,” Kurt said,
scolding Mr. Cedric for using magic, brief and unnoticeable as
it was. He wasn't planning on bringing it up, but since the
subject had been broached, he flew with it. “Look, I know you
guys are in line with Golden Sun.” He pointed at their suits.
“You're not exactly hiding it. You answering to Darren Silars or
someone else in town? Or does it go higher than that?”
“The buck stops with Mr.
Silars,” Mr. Cedric answered, helpfully enough to make Kurt
question its accuracy. Not that it was too crucial either way.
“Well, I for one would
like to speak with this Mr. Silars,” Kendrick said. “I would
like to lodge a complaint about your methods of thievery from a
fellow demon. Do you not have enough assets of your own?”
Mr. Winston grew an evil
smile. “Certainly. You two are welcome to come with us to see
Mr. Silars and discuss this matter.”
“I should hope so.”
“That way, we'll be out
of sight and can handle this the proper way.”
Just in case Kendrick
felt like declining, Bo clutched his shirt collar. Kendrick
tensed up, but maintained his composure. “Of course. But I warn
you not to underestimate Kurt and his friends.”
That's when Kurt
realized why Kendrick had more confidence: Kendrick was
expecting Kurt to lead another nine-mage assault on the Chioni,
complete with Troy, the minions, and every other trick they had
used before. Problem was, that was against every protocol in the
book. Kurt couldn't just conscript Molly's unit into this fight,
especially without knowing the full capabilities of a
grimoire-wielding Chioni. Furthermore, he had grown too attached
to make the call leading them all into battle. Kathryn had
already been injured once today.
“That's um... all
right.” Quickly trying to put on some sort of face-saving
assertion, he added, “But you can definitely expect a knock on
your door. We're not letting this go.”
As Kendrick's face
drifted into sheer panic, Mr. Cedric snickered. “Of course, of
course,” he said, dismissive. “We'll be waiting.”
Clutching the book
tighter, he strolled past Kurt, followed by his two associates
and a mortified Kendrick. “What happened to that bravado from
before?” Kendrick wailed.
Kurt folded his arms and
refused to look back at them. Ignoring Kendrick wasn't
difficult. The demon was only concerned about himself and Kurt
didn't care what the Chioni did to him. But the point stuck: was
Kurt's refusal to battle a sign of discretion, protecting
Molly's unit, or just plain cowardly? Either way, another failed
mission. Now he was zero for two.
“Excuse me, they're
leaving.” Molly had teleported in from somewhere. He didn't see
her, nor did anyone else apparently.
“They offered to settle
this at their office. I'm not dragging you all into that.”
Molly stepped in front
of him. “Why not?” she hissed.
“I don't have the
authority to get students involved,” he answered coldly.
“Well, I do.”
“We don't know what they
can do in there or what kind of numbers they have.” He looked up
at the top of the hill where Yuki and Kathryn were watching.
Even from a distance, he could see Donovan glaring back. “You
really want get everybody to follow them in?”
“We don't have a
choice,” Molly huffed. “You better not be doing this just to
Kurt stared back, angry.
He had to take offense to that. To do such a thing would be
irresponsible and unprofessional. Wasn't too far from the truth,
“I'm trying to protect
all of you! That's why I'm here.” He shook his head. “If you
really want to lead your unit into a demon stronghold, then you
call your sister yourself.”
He was expecting some
sort of retort, perhaps about how mentioning Renee was a cheap
shot, and completely different from him putting Kathryn at risk.
But he got nothing. Molly just stood there, staring at the
departing demons with sad resignation. For a moment, Kurt wanted
to say something else, perhaps to confirm that yes, he had
actually won an argument against Molly Pearson. He let the
thought go, however, and reached for his Bloodberry. This was
Uriel's problem now.
times, neither telepathic communication nor speakerphone
conference gets the message across. Uriel's official response to
the Chioni acquiring the grimoire was to call Kurt into his
office the next day. Knowing that this surely wasn't a good
thing, Kurt was upset and disappointed, but not that surprised.
What he found curious, though, was that Uriel summoned Molly as
didn't say much at first, but it was a boring two-hour drive to
Uriel's office in Cincinnati. Half the trip was through generic
farmland and at one point the radio picked up nothing but
country stations and lengthy diatribes on the state of Reds
baseball. So one of the two was bound to speak up eventually.
makes you feel better, you made the right decision,” Molly said
begrudgingly, staring out the side window.
Kurt's surprise, it did. “Thanks.”
just so angry that we were letting them go. Part of me wanted to
go after them... finish the job no matter the risk.”
smiled faintly. “That's, uh... him talking, isn't it?
She exhaled deeply. Molly didn't like acknowledging it, but
couldn't shy away from the plain truth. “He always did drill
that point home. Wrong as it may be.”
remember that technically, you're still a student. I have no
right to put you guys in danger like that.”
nodded. “I wasn't going to get anyone else involved if Kathryn
hadn't been...” She trailed off, for obvious reasons.
suppose anyone told you we started, uh...?” He trailed off too,
but for less obvious reasons: 'dating' may have been the proper
word, but it seemed far too genteel and inadequate to explain
what he and Kathryn were actually doing.
Molly replied, letting it die there.
know, she's kinda pissed that you're coming along with me.”
frowned. “Not surprising. She does not seem to trust me.”
Although that has nothing to do with magic.”
halfway up the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati, the MST's
district headquarters impressed visitors with its stature all
the way up to the moment they actually entered the office. At
the front desk, the art deco designs and intimidating elevation
disappeared and gave way to just another dull office with gray
cubicles, tan carpeting and sandy brick walls.
Sempman is here,” a receptionist told Uriel via intercom.
in,” Uriel told Kurt via telepathy.
office was crowded, with four desks separated by partition. None
of the desks had computers. The lone PC was against the wall,
where somebody was navigating various Windows 98 screens. The
user looked over his shoulder, saw Kurt and said, “Oh. Hey.”
Then he pulled his Minesweeper window back up and resumed
the other three workers were working at least: one filed
incident reports while the other was having a telepathic
conversation about some goings-on in Paducah, Kentucky. The
third was doing absolutely nothing and appeared to be having the
the workplace misery behind them, Kurt and Molly entered Uriel's
office, where he motioned for them to sit. Behind him was a
gorgeous view of the Ohio River and points beyond. Uriel
obstructed it with his chair.
read your report and I am very disappointed that you didn't
pursue the grimoire,” he began, firm but not angry. “Especially
with Kendrick going with them. You let all of them get away.”
his head, Kurt attempted to defend himself. “I was barely able
to hold off one or two of them. Trying to take on all three,
plus Silars, would be impossible. And it's against policy for me
to get Molly or her unit to help.”
can't request student assistance. I can. In fact, I'm going to.
You could have asked me for clearance.”
raised his head, then shook it. “I didn't have any time to
decide. There's no way I could have gotten a message and a
response in time. Besides, when I called in yesterday, they said
you were out.”
raised an eyebrow. “I've received telepathic messages on the
golf course before. I'm always on call... unless I'm putting.”
me,” Molly interjected. “Did you say you were going to make my
unit help recover the book?”
course.” Uriel shrugged. “It was entrusted to your student, your
student lost it. As long as it's still in L. B. Gould, you have
to get it back. We can't let the Chioni extract too much out of
don't know if it's still in L. B. Gould,” said Kurt.
Sun has a large processing center in Columbus. It's part of
Richard's regular beat. He'll let us know if he senses the
grimoire. Until then, we assume it's still at their local
office. I'm working on a way to give you some more concrete
reconnaissance, but until then, you're on your own.”
scoffed. “Kurt told you how strong their powers were. You think
Renee and Donovan can compete with that?”
you're clearly capable. And Santos and Monroe have proven to be
resilient in combat.”
clenched teeth she muttered, “You're putting us in danger.
Suddenly, you don't seem to value us much.” Molly hated having
to spell it out for people.
was unmoved. “No offense, but I value Grimoire 17 more. Best I
can tell, that book may be the only reason Donovan was chosen
for the academy in the first place. If your odds were zero, that
would be one thing, but I'd like to believe you have a good
made us drive 150 miles to tell us that?”
Suddenly, Uriel's eyes widened and he dug through a desk drawer.
“Oh! I almost forgot. Here...” He gave Molly a red ball,
seemingly made of cheap plastic. There was a large slit cut
through it, held together with a white release button.
you find yourself in the grimoire's presence, activate that and
throw it. Your victory will be assured.”
looked it over. It resembled a cheap Taiwanese toy. Rather than
ask what it did, she assumed that Uriel wasn't going to answer.
Otherwise, he would have been less vague than 'your victory will
be assured.' She threw it in her purse and forgot about it
before she and Kurt left the city.
didn't like receiving phone calls from numbers she didn't
recognize. Not because of paranoia or anything; half the time it
was a wrong number and another minute wasted. Yet she couldn't
resist answering, just in case Troy was stranded in another area
code and had left his cell phone at home. To date, that had not
Monroe?” She did not recognize the man's voice. Now came the
yes? Who is this?” she asked nervously.
name's Uriel, Magical Security Taskforce District Commander.”
grumbled. It may as well have been a wrong number. “Do you need
Troy's cell? Don't you guys have telepathy or something?”
no... I need to speak with you.”
you get this number?”
Uriel replied. Actually, it was listed as an emergency contact
number on Troy's enrollment form. He liked messing with
rolled her eyes. Her lunch break was supposed to be her hour to
get away from the zoo. “Whatever's going on with Troy, let his
Guardian take care of it. I don't like to pry into that kind of
“Unfortunately, Troy and Molly need your help. How much did Kurt
tell you about Golden Sun?”
closed her eyes. Ellen had been leery ever since Uriel
introduced himself. Now she was getting scared. “He said they
had ties to demons and might be after something, but-”
got it. And we need to get it back.”
she shouted, “I'm not stealing a-” She stopped for two reasons.
One- because everybody in the cafe heard her shout that. Two-
she either forgot or had never been told what the something was.
won't have to steal it,” Uriel said, with a chuckle Ellen found
very annoying. “We just need to make sure it's still there. If
we're going to launch a sortie, we would prefer to do it in the
remained silent. She at least had to hear him out. Disinterested
as she was, for her to be contacted she must have been capable
of helping and/or Uriel must have been desperate. Also, there
was a certain urgency in his voice. Whatever the artifact was,
the Golden Sun seemed capable of doing something evil with it.
And she didn't want that.
just need to snoop around a little and see if they have the
grimoire. Er...” He paused and dumbed it down. “The magic book.
Probably in Silars' office or something. Don't ask him about it.
Definitely don't try taking it. If you see it, just let us
she said, grim. That was something she could handle, but
corporate espionage wasn't her idea of a good career move.
sending two things to your phone. One's a beacon calibrated to
go off if it detects a level of magic comparable to the book. It
will sound like the most annoying text message alert you've ever
heard. Treat it as such if someone's around.”
She frowned. She had heard some nasty noises from cell phones in
the past, yet Uriel had said it with such confidence. “And
bore repeating. “A ringtone?”
for some reason, you find yourself in some sort of danger, put
the phone in an enclosed container- a bag or something, and play
the ringtone. Your prayers will be answered.”
didn't like how vague he was about the little ball, Ellen was
twice as nervous about the ringtone. But she had no intention of
putting herself in danger, so she shook it off. What she
couldn't shake off, she added: “Just a thought- if it is still
with Mr. Silars, you're not sending Troy and his friends after
it, are you?”
lengthy pause made her even more tense. His reply didn't help:
“Just as you said before- his Guardian will take care of it, and
you don't like to pry into this kind of thing.”
work, Ellen was fully prepared to investigate if the opportunity
presented itself. She hoped it wouldn't. Unfortunately it did,
foregoing the traditional knock and just barging through the
front door. She had seen Mr. Cedric, Mr. Winston and Bo the day
before, escorting a fourth man into Silars' office. In fact,
given their cold demeanors and general sliminess, she remembered
imagining all sorts of foul play they could have been involved
in. Today, no fourth man, but as they entered the office, Silars
cautiously scanned the room and told the staff not to bother
heard the door locking behind them, she knew this was her
chance. Ellen tiptoed (unnecessarily as nobody else was paying
attention) to the office, crouched and put her ear against the
wall. She heard very little of the conversation inside, but
luckily for you this is written in third-person omniscient:
they have an ATB and you failed to retrieve the dampering case.
Suddenly escape becomes more of a challenge,” Silars said,
pacing around the office with the grimoire under his arm.
told the agent in Columbus is watching things over there too,”
Mr. Cedric added.
turned his back to the three, instead facing the whiteboard on
the wall. “Frankly, from what you've said, I'd rather take my
chances against the agent here.”
were interrupted by a horribly irritating noise from the other
side of the wall. Imagine, if you will, a sped-up harpsichord
cover of Caramelldansen, condensed to three seconds and repeated
endlessly. Indeed, the most annoying text message alert any of
them had ever heard.
dry-erase marker, Silars drew a circle on the whiteboard. He
flipped through Grimoire 17 until he found the right spell, then
held both his palms against the circle to activate it. The wall
became transparent and revealed Ellen frantically shutting the
damn thing off and sheepishly looking at her fellow employees.
other phone jockeys returned to their posts, Ellen put her ear
back to the wall. It appeared deformed and flattened to Silars.
He glared at it, asking his cohorts, “What was the name of that
Cedric and Mr. Winston looked at each other, hoping the other
would remember. Instead, Bo answered, “Kurt Sempman.”
had heard it the day before, Silars couldn't place it. Suddenly,
it dawned on him. “He applied for a job here last week. Grossly
under-qualified.” Silars didn't show it, but he was relieved he
had dismissed Kurt from consideration. He sure hadn't suspected
that he had interviewed an MST agent. “But I also recall that he
seemed to know...”
opened the door and turned to Ellen. She jumped as he called her
my cell phone went nuts. I'll get back to work!” she said,
his head, smiling slyly. “Can I have a word with you?”
um... sure. Aren't you in a meeting?”
her in, he shut the door behind them. “I assure you my employees
Rather than reveal the
reason for calling her in right away, Silars paced around the
room a few times to make Ellen nervous. Boy, did it work. She
couldn't assume any particular reason for getting called in. The
spying, yes, but perhaps it was just for the hideous alert or
even being away from her post. He wasn't letting on,
deliberately circling before his assault, with the three other
men standing at attention behind him.
“Ellen?” he barked,
After a deep breath, she
replied, “Yes?” She reached into her purse to fetch her phone,
but stopped midway. Ellen had shut it off to silence Uriel's
beacon and feared turning it back on would start the shrieking
again. Even with it on, there was no way she could turn to the
'emergency ringtone' without being noticed.
Finally, he stood in
front of her and stared her down. “How do you know Kurt Sempman?”
She was expecting any
number of possible questions, but this wasn't one of them. Not
that it was out of bounds, in an 'enemy's friend equals enemy'
way. Unsure of the best way to respond, and too rattled to
consider her alternatives, Ellen went with honesty: “Oh, he's
friends with my son.”
“Really?” Silars raised
an eyebrow. “And why didn't you tell me? I could have gotten
your thoughts on him. Perhaps I might have found reason to hire
“I don't know him that
well,” she replied quickly. That answer came easier. “You were
chatting with him after the interview.”
“Um... just surprised he
was applying here.”
Silars stepped forward,
lifting his chin. “And why's that?”
Ellen tensed up more.
For one brief moment she felt secure, and answered without
putting enough thought into it. Not making the same mistake, she
was more deliberate. “This didn't seem like a job that he'd
enjoy. I thought he'd be going to school or find something
closer to his interests.”
blurted. “He likes tinkering with cars and stuff.” After a
pause, she decided to get Troy in the clear as well and added,
“That's how my son knows him.”
“Why were you
eavesdropping on us?” Silars asked, suddenly firm.
“I... how did you-?” she
said it before she could think not to. Silars smiled wickedly.
“What goes on in here is
very private, and you've been told that.”
“Look, my phone-”
“The phone went off when
you were right on the other side of this wall. You left your
Losing control of her
shields, she said, “Look, Kurt has nothing-”
“Thank you, Ellen,” he
interrupted. She had made the connection for him, and that was
all the proof he needed. With a kind, nauseating smile, he set a
hand on her shoulder. “I think you need a moment to calm down
before resuming your duties. Mr. Winston?”
Mr. Winston stepped
forward obediently. “Yes?”
“Please escort Ellen to
the break room.”
Ellen was no less
afraid, but all the more confused. Torture chamber, secret
basement prison, pits of hell she could have understood. But the
break room? Besides, the staff had been told it was closed today
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Winston
replied, chuckling. Without another word, he led her to the
break room. She was so perplexed by the development that she
didn't attempt escaping or activating Uriel's ringtone. Ellen
just went into the break room, which was not only intact, but
“What the-” she asked,
not noticing Mr. Winston slamming the door behind her.
She spun around and
turned the knob. It was locked. “Hey!” Forgiving as the break
room seemed compared to other options available to demons, being
locked inside was troubling. Ellen didn't even know the door had
a lock. If it did, she assumed it would have been on the inside.
Her repeating knocking went unanswered.
“You can forget about
it,” said a man on the other side of the room. “Even if they
could hear you, they won't let you out.”
Ellen turned around,
startled. First because she had a roommate. Second because
Kendrick had a lacerated arm, a black eye, and a limp in his
right leg. Third because in spite of his injuries, he was making
a pot of coffee as if nothing was wrong.
“Coffee or water?”
Kendrick said. “We have a fine selection of either.”
“Um... coffee. Two
creams.” Ellen nervously approached him. “Are you hurt?”
Kendrick casually eyed
his arm, then shrugged. “It won't get any worse.”
“Here...” Ellen took a
roll of paper towel and wrapped around his arm, held together
with two pieces of scotch tape.
“That will do nothing,”
“Now I don't have to
look at it.”
Relenting, he poured and
handed her a mug of coffee. “So what are you in for?”
As she took a generous
gulp, she debated how to answer. She assumed he was somehow
involved with all this, and recognized him as the fourth man
from the day before. But Uriel hadn't mentioned anyone else
involved, so she kept it generic.
“I was listening in on
one of their conversations. You?”
Kendrick shrugged. “I
had something they wanted. They took it from me.”
Suddenly, it made sense
to Ellen: Kendrick must have had the artifact before Silars'
three strongmen took it. But that meant... “Wait, how long have
you been in here?”
“About a day. I don't
know what time I came to.”
Her eyes widened. It had
nothing to do with the coffee. “They've had you locked up since
“Yes, and I've already
tried everything to get out. Nothing works,” he said, resigned.
Defiant, Ellen pulled
out her cell phone. “Good luck,” Kendrick said, mockingly.
She got none. Although
the phone turned on without that damn alert, she had no
reception. “No bars...” she mumbled. A water tower, and all the
cellular receptors atop it, was just a block away.
kneeled and opened cabinets below the counter. Inside were more
coffee grounds, more water bottles and half a box of saltines.
“...we do have provisions in here. We won't be starving.”
“Oh.” Ellen sat down.
When she woke up in the morning, she didn't plan on worrying
about whether or not she'd starve to death. “I guess that's
“No, it's not,” Kendrick
said, shutting the doors.
“No.” Kendrick sat on
the other end of the table and folded his arms. “It means
barring any more unwanted visitors, they won't have to check on
us any time soon.”
Molly had never been
concerned with keeping her subordinates up to speed. For Troy,
she didn't bother. He pieced most of it together, though, from
her uneasy silence on the drive home (or at least uneasier than
normal) to the displacement he had sensed while the others were
battling to Kurt pretty much getting him caught up the next day.
Kurt did just fine keeping people up to speed.
He was worried about the
situation, as he should have been. Ever since he returned from
the academy, his mother had been bitching about the new
management at her job. Associating Golden Sun with evil wasn't a
stretch; in fact, it felt right.
There was a small part
of him that was angry at being left out of the battle. Now that
several people that weren't Molly had told Troy that he could
have a good career in the MST, he took it to heart. Getting
involved by helping the local field agent would have been good
practice. Then Kathryn complained about her injury, treatable as
it was, and he was reminded that it was an actual fight and,
from all accounts, an unwinnable one.
Still, he was at peace.
He trusted that Uriel and Kurt would take care of the grimoire
situation; if they needed him to jump in and help, he'd get
involved then. Troy even saw a silver lining nobody else had:
the Chioni had the book, therefore Donovan didn't. Troy could
sleep well knowing that.
That night, he wasn't
asleep yet. Instead, he maintained his tranquility cuddling with
Marie on the couch as a movie played. The movie wasn't that
interesting: not enough explosions for Troy's tastes. In fact,
Marie only rented it because she thought the male lead was
'hot.' If anything, his lack of interest in the movie let him
invest his thoughts elsewhere, making him cognizant of how at
peace he was. Nestled next to a girl, career path in sight, no
magic book on Donovan: Troy needed moments like these to realize
how good he had it.
When the movie ended,
neither he nor Marie were in any hurry to move. It was too
perfect, and she seemed inclined to prolong it for a few extra
moments. For Troy, it was indeed too perfect. Something was out
of place, and once the credits started rolling he figured it
“My mom's not home yet,”
he said, a little perplexed.
Marie groaned. “Oh God,
you don't want to try again, do you?”
“No!” He blushed at the
thought. Surprisingly, that was one of the few things that did
not cross his mind. In hindsight, that too seemed abnormal.
He sat up and shook the
numbness out of his left arm. The more he thought about it, the
more he worried. Ellen wasn't a late night person, at least
without a note telling Troy he's on his own for dinner.
Chastising himself for
being paranoid, but unable to withstand it, Troy reached for the
phone. “I hate doing this...”
“She's probably just out
somewhere,” Marie said, standing up. “What time is it?”
“Ten to eleven. She's
usually asleep by now.”
Marie checked her watch.
“Already?! I have to get going. My mom is home and I'll
never hear the end of it if I'm not back by midnight.”
After getting a 'number
not available' message, Troy hung up. Maybe giving Marie a ride
home would get his mind off of it. But on the drive, he couldn't
think about anything else. His mother liked to know where he was
at all times. The reverse held true as well. That, combined with
a sinking intuition, made Troy worry.
As soon as he had
dropped off Marie, he made another call. He was sure to catch
flak for it, but he couldn't think of any reasonable
“What's up?” Kurt
Troy shook his head,
embarrassed that he was doing this, and afraid of Kurt's
response. “You know that gizmo you got from the MST? Can you
track people with it?”
A pause. “Who are you
Another pause. Troy
cringed and waited for the inevitable laughter. None came.
“I haven't seen her
since she left for work and her phone's turned off or
something,” he explained.
An extra-long pause. He
wondered if he had lost Kurt as well. Finally, rather than the
ridicule Troy expected, Kurt was dead serious. “Get over here as
soon as you can.”
wasn't over this time. Kurt shooed Troy through the door,
checking his Bloodberry the whole time. “I was afraid he'd try
“Uriel. This morning he
said he was working on a way to get some info on the Chioni. If
he stooped low enough, Ellen's an easy pick.”
“But she doesn't know
“But she does know about
the MST. It's not the first time they've tapped non-wielders to
do dirty work.”
Troy fell into a chair,
all sorts of bad possibilities running through his head. “So...
you think she got caught?”
“Maybe. What's her
Kurt tried calling her
again, but not even the magically-infused Bloodberry could get a
message through. He set the device on the counter and took a
“Man, I'm half-tempted
to go down there myself and-”
The Bloodberry rang,
interrupting him and his foolhardy plan. Kurt didn't recognize
the number, but answered it anyway.
He couldn't quite place
the voice. It sounded familiar. “Yeah?”
“Darren Silars from
Golden Sun. Sorry to call so late, but it's about the job.”
Kurt's face turned white
and he squeezed the phone hard enough to shatter it. He did not,
casually smug. “Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to be
a good fit with the company. Not quite enough experience. Oh,
and the whole thing with enticing my employees into espionage?
That's a no-no.”
“Where's Ellen? She's a
non-wielder and has no business being involved.”
“I agree. But it wasn't
my decision to get her involved, now was it?”
“It wasn't mine either,”
Kurt snapped back. “So where is she?”
“She's safe for now. We
won't harm her. We did stick her with that Hokoni, but I don't
think he'd do anything to her. Still, I wouldn't leave them for
too much longer.”
Kurt gritted his teeth,
damning Uriel for putting both him and Ellen in this position.
At this point, he probably should have contacted Uriel to make
him clean up the mess, but that wasn't feasible this late.
“Okay, so what do we need to do?”
He could sense the smile
on Silars' face. “Sacrifice all rights to Grimoire 17. The
Chioni owns the book in perpetuity.”
“That's all?” Kurt said,
despite knowing the MST would never agree.
“You know what? Since
we're doing the whole ransom thing, throw in a million dollars
in unmarked bills. Just for the hell of it. We'll even hand over
Kurt was about to
protest, but there was no point. Uriel wasn't going to acquiesce
to the first demand anyway, so there was no sense arguing about
the frivolity of the second.
Still, playing along
might draw some info. Keeping his rage in check, Kurt said, “So
where do we pick them up if we say yes?”
Silars laughed. “Right,
like the book's already signed over and you can swing by the ATM
to get the money. Knowing the MST, it's a process, I'm sure.
First get the papers signed, then we can hammer out the details.
We'll keep in touch.”
Kurt couldn't get
another word in before Silars disconnected. Setting the
Bloodberry on the counter, Kurt stoically walked across the room
and sat down in front of Troy.
“They've got her?” Troy
asked, in a hushed voice.
All Kurt could do was
“So what happens now?”
“Official policy is to
report to the district commander, tell him the situation and
what the Chioni's demands are. Uriel will say 'no chance in
hell' and we go from there.”
Troy blinked. He didn't
like that policy. “And leave Mom there all night?”
“At least. Uriel hasn't
exactly been on the ball with this situation.”
“There's nothing else we
Kurt stood up and
sighed. “I said that was the official policy.” He returned to
the counter and took his Bloodberry. “What we're actually
going to do is go after her ourselves.”
Troy nodded. He liked
that plan a lot more. Still... the sight of Kurt calling Molly
at eleven at night was a little unnerving. “Wait... right now?”