Magical Security Taskforce

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VOLUME: 4

CHAPTER: 4

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Chapter 30: Black Tag


Session One

Right away, Troy and Renee knew this was more than just your usual Donovan moment. Perhaps the insane look in his eyes or the evil mark on his forehead could have been written off, but the big dent in the floor close to where they had been standing was clear trouble. Now, not only was he scary, he was capable.

“Donovan, what are you doing?” Renee cried.

“Waiting to eliminate any of Molly's henchmen who assist in her insidious scheme. How ironic that my old nemesis Troy Monroe has betrayed himself and joined forces with her to defeat me.”

“What?!” Troy shouted, almost as offended by the accusation that he was working with Molly as he was confused by the whole thing.

“Yeah, Donovan, even if that were true that's not technically irony,” Renee added.

Donovan scoffed. “You deny it, yet here you are, about to defile my dark room with your purification ritual.”

“I have nothing to do with that!” Troy exclaimed.

“No matter... I've been waiting here for any of her legions to arrive and fall into my trap. Before I can vanquish my primary foe, I must first dispatch of her underlings!”

If you're wondering why Donovan didn't catch Yuki on her run that morning... he overslept. Merging with a demon is quite exhausting.

In any event, Donovan was through with small talk. He summoned a bolt of dark energy and snapped it at Troy. The charge was minimal and he released it faster than any attack he'd ever used before. Troy was caught off guard and it nailed him in the chest, knocking him back.

Fighting the pain, he ducked out of the way of a second blast, and good thing judging by the explosion Troy heard behind him. Troy tried to fight back with a water spell, but Donovan absorbed it as if it was, well, water.

“Don't pretend your paltry attacks are of any use,” mocked Donovan, firing another spell at Troy.

This time, Renee stepped in with a shield. “No sense attacking him, Troy. I'm sure Molly and Kurt will be here soon.”

“Right, right...” Troy cowered behind Renee as she deflected another shot.

Donovan sneered, holding his trigger in place for longer. As his dark energy grew between his palms, Renee held her shield up, ready whenever he was. With a primal scream, he fired at her, breaking the shield and slamming Renee back into Troy. They fell to the floor. Donovan followed by shooting a spell at the ceiling above them. A large panel crashed on top of them.

At first, there was no movement from underneath. Donovan took a cautious step forward. In order to make his own victory that much more glorious in his mind, he puffed up his enemy's strength as well. So he did not assume that a mere ceiling panel would be enough to destroy them.

Indeed it wasn't. Underneath, Troy and Renee were merely bruised a little and showered with what they hoped wasn't asbestos. They took a moment to gather their thoughts- not easy as they still didn't have a clue what was going on. Troy began to lift the panel up, but Renee gently set a hand on his arm. She took a deep breath, used her other arm to ready her trigger, and fired.

Combining a powerful gust of wind with a little bit of telekinesis she had picked up from her sister, Renee catapulted the entire panel towards Donovan. Donovan's eyes bulged for a moment at the sight, but reacted quickly with a spell. The panel shattered in front of him, with most of the pieces bouncing off his chest and falling harmlessly to the floor.

At least it gave Troy time to get to his feet. When he did, however, he was quite dismayed that Donovan was still approaching them. His demon-infused body seemingly unstoppable. Instead of using the direct approach then, Troy tried something else: he enchanted the floor.

It was a simple ice spell really, but it made the floor in front of Donovan nice and slick. Donovan didn't catch on. “You missed,” he said, just as he tripped. His legs gave way and suddenly he was on his back.

Renee wasted no time charging in, using a flight spell to go even faster. She canceled it once she arrived at Donovan and replaced it with a binding spell.

Feeling his legs succumb to the restraint, Donovan held his hands out, got in one more trigger and tried to fight it off. Renee responded, gasping but putting more energy into her magic binds, but Donovan overpowered her, destroying his invisible shackles with a force that knocked his would-be captor over.

He was not happy simply defeating the attempt. Eager to make Renee pay, he got to his knees and swung his hands around once more, this time driving his spell directly into her stomach. Sneering, he held them there, ignoring the black sparks flying and her agonizing shriek.

The pain was unbearable, worse than any she had ever imagined. It was incorporeal, not physical, starting at the impact point and spreading, growing exponentially more excruciating as it spread through her entire body. She thought she heard Troy screaming at some point in all this, but the pain dominated all other senses. Yet Donovan held firm, ignoring an ice bolt from Troy until the spell had been transmitted. Renee remained conscious throughout, feeling the demon energy destroying her from within but unable to fight back or shut down.

Donovan sensed the vrockrompir curse leave him completely and pulled back. Renee's wish was finally granted: she fell over, lifeless.

 

Session Two

Indeed Troy screamed as Donovan inflicted the curse on Renee. And Donovan did swat away an ice bolt. The sight of Renee in such agony horrified Troy, who wanted to swoop in and save her. But he couldn't. He was helpless to stop Donovan. Sometimes in stories like this, the hero taps some unexpected strength, somehow corralling the power necessary to save the girl. Real life isn't as convenient.

Once Renee was out, Donovan tossed her aside and stood up, turning his attention to Troy.

“What did you do to her?!” Troy exclaimed, trying to look at her while keeping his focus on Donovan. From his distance, he didn't see any signs of life.

“Her fate is sealed,” Donovan replied, grinning madly. “Pity I can't do the same to you.”

Troy stole even more glances at Renee, still trying to figure out just what fate that was. He knew better than to expect specifics from Donovan.

Donovan charged up a spell- a big one. “You I shall simply destroy.” And he fired.

“Donovan!” shouted Molly. Behind Donovan's back, she and Kurt were charging in. Problem was, Troy was the only one who reacted to the shout. Which meant he forgot to dodge the attack. It struck him in the chest and sent him flying backward.

Before Donovan could turn around, Kurt threw up rock walls to surround him. Donovan charged another attack and blew through them. In response, Kurt sent the creation tumbling down and used the individual pieces as artillery against Donovan. Three large pieces struck Donovan in the back, but he kept going.

Without taking his eyes off the approaching enemy, Kurt shouted, “Molly?” With no response, his eyes left Donovan and found Molly hunched over Renee.

“Renee? Renee?” Molly mumbled through gritted teeth, a hand on her sister's cheek. It was warm- hot, actually. So hot that Molly had to pull her hand away and focus instead on Renee's weak breathing. Besides a few scrapes from the ceiling panel, there was no physical damage but clearly she was in bad shape. All Molly could think about was the five minutes she waited because she'd assumed Donovan was just being a reckless moron again.

“Is she okay?” Troy asked, crawling in on his knees, clutching his stomach.

“What happened?” Molly spat, ignoring Troy's injury.

Troy shook his head. “I don't know! Renee tried a binding spell and he just hit her with something. I couldn't stop it.”

Molly turned to Donovan. He had Kurt shielding himself in a corner and seemed to notice Molly's eyes on him. Donovan glared back, then charged and fired a blast of energy at her. She put a shield up, watched it absorb the spell without blinking, then returned her attention to Renee.

“He's stronger,” she muttered, holding her finger out to maintain her shield, which deflected two more attack spells.

Troy winced, adding, “I'll say.” Molly looked at him, the visible flesh wound on his stomach and the thin trail of blood down the hallway. A snarl formed on her mouth.

“The hell are you doing?” she said, angrily. “That looks bad.”

“I gotta make sure she's okay!” he replied, almost as bitter.

Rather than appreciate his bout of heroism, she narrowed her eyes. “Why the hell are you here anyway? You have no business being here after hours.”

Before Troy came up with an adequate answer, Kurt shouted, “Hey, guys?! I'm worried about her too but one of you please give me a hand here!”

During Molly's interrogation, Kurt had generated a large stone wall to block Donovan's attacks. Just as Molly faced the action, Donovan blew the upper half away.

With an angry huff, Molly stood up, took two steps towards Donovan and fired off a warding spell. Donovan grunted, dropped to his knees and snarled at her. Molly snarled back as her fears were confirmed: only demonic beings reacted to that spell.

Now seething, Donovan fired his attack, which Molly expertly shielded. Undeterred, Donovan got off another spell. Molly kept her shield up until she saw him vanish. Quickly, she dropped the magic shield, started her trigger motion and turned around. Donovan reappeared behind her, just in time to receive a nasty bolt from the end of her finger, knocking him to the ground.

“Wherever you got this power, I'm not amused,” muttered Molly.

Donovan cast a flight spell, but only to get to his feet and retreat a few yards. He landed, still very much able to continue the battle. Molly furrowed her eyebrows.

Kurt, meanwhile, had dug himself out of the rubble and joined her. Immediately, his hand went up and he summoned a fireball for Donovan. It was a small flame, but ignited his shirt.

As Donovan tried to snuff out the measly little thing, Kurt mumbled, “Damn, I suck at fire spells.”

Molly nodded in agreement, but both her eyes and Kurt's widened as a wind gust came out of nowhere, fanning the paltry spark into something that consumed his entire outfit. They both turned to the source, but Troy did not acknowledge them, focusing instead on prolonging his spell.

Not that they cared; the fire and smoke took their toll and left Donovan incapacitated. Molly and Kurt walked up to him, Kurt threw his hand up, this time calling forth gushing water from under Donovan to not only put out the fire but also to combine with the wind spell and disorient him further.

A few seconds of this and Molly lashed her left hand out. Troy got the message and killed his spell. The water subsided and Donovan was drenched, scorched, dazed... but still standing defiantly. One more attack from Molly took care of that- down he went.

While Kurt caught his breath, then took care of the nagging earlobe that had been wiggling throughout, Molly spun around and went right back to checking on her sister, paying no heed to either Kurt or Troy.

“Don't you think we should bind...” Kurt began, but knew that there was no way he was coming between Molly and her sister this time.

 

Session Three

“Uh... what happened?” Yuki asked, quite thrown by the carnage in the hallway. Renee and Donovan were unconscious, Troy was bleeding badly and Kurt was having a telepathic chat with Uriel's office.

“You didn't notice the displacement?” Molly replied, still hovering over Renee.

“It was in front of the dark room so I just thought Mr. Silvestro was working on something. I'm just here for a spraying.”

Kurt pointed at her. “Well, while you're here, whip up a strong sleeping potion and something to heal Troy. In that order.”

Troy protested. “What do you mean, 'in that order?' This really hurts!” He winced, clutching his makeshift bandage- a roll of crepe paper.

“Suck it up, Troy, it's not life-threatening. I don't want Donovan waking up until we get to Central.”

“Central?” Molly looked up.

Kurt bent down across from her. “They say it could be any number of things. They want me to bring her and Donovan to Central to get a better look.”

“Very well, but I'm going too.”

Kurt nodded, expecting that. “That's fine, but we need to go now.”

“I'll be right back then. Drag that idiot over here and I'll prep a transport circle when I get back.” Molly stood and teleported away.

First, Kurt needed a deep breath. “Awesome,” he muttered. With Yuki concentrating on her potions, Troy was the only one left capable of conversation. And he was fighting off some intense pain. Not that Kurt cared: “Troy, you're gonna have to give me a hand once you get healed.”

Troy groaned. For someone with a major wound, he thought he was being a pretty good sport, having been basically ignored all this time. “Where the hell is Kathryn?”

“I've been wondering that too,” Kurt replied. “How you holding up?”

All Troy could do was glare back. Had it not been for the serious adrenaline rush he used to crawl over to Renee, he'd either be passed out or crying like a toddler with a paper cut. That high had long since worn off and took any potential for dramatics with it: now it was just him, the searing pain, and a line for Yuki's services.

Yuki, at least, was moving along at a decent pace. She completed the first potion and handed it to Kurt, who forced it down Donovan's gullet. To Kurt, it wasn't the biggest shocker in the world that Donovan would attack his classmates, but to actually turn himself over to a demon was alarming. For all of the troubles the factions have caused, and despite bearing no resemblance to the badass horned monsters of lore that Donovan would find appealing, he still went and did it. All for the sake of a book, a room and his misguided pride.

Kurt waited patiently for Yuki to heal Troy, but not for Troy to enjoy his regained health. Shoulders slumped, Troy joined Kurt and helped drag Donovan over to Renee. Once the job was done, Troy sat back down.

“Can I take a breather now?” he muttered.

“At least until Molly gets back. May need your help to load them into the car.”

Troy took a long look at Renee. She was still motionless, save for some very faint breathing. He felt compelled to take her hand, and did so after fighting off the knowledge that Molly was due back any moment. Her hand burned, but he squeezed it tighter. The pain grew worse and worse until he finally ripped it away.

Blowing on his hand to try to cool it, he still wanted to get closer to her. But clearly that was a bad idea, so all he could do is stare at her unhappily and try to grasp what had happened. Renee had been doing something so great for him. In an instant, she was reduced to playing victim to whatever Donovan had inflicted upon her. It made no sense.

“Why did he do this to her?” he mumbled. Framed that way, it made even less sense: Renee was the only one in the unit who even pretended to socialize with Donovan.

Kurt shook his head. He didn't even know what 'this' was, much less Donovan's motives. “I don't know. Best thing we can do is get to Central and let the brains figure it out. They'll handle this.” He didn't sound totally certain.

“Move it, Troy, unless you want to get blasted to Kurt's too,” Molly said, appearing suddenly. Troy sprang up in shock and turned around. She had appeared behind him, with a large luggage bag and a black briefcase in tow.

“Well unless you want to drag Donovan into my car, he does,” Kurt reminded her, somehow calm after her instant arrival. That changed once he realized which black briefcase it was. “Wait, are you bringing... that?

Molly nodded, setting it down and pulling out her magic marker to draw the circle. “I'm supposed to have it with me at all times. Plus I may accidentally leave it there. That would be convenient.”

Kurt snickered. “I'm more concerned about Donovan waking up in the car. I don't know if that sleeping potion will last long enough.”

“I'm making more!” Yuki shouted. That explained why she had been practically invisible the last ten minutes.

“Aren't field agents given a negator for situations like this?” Molly added.

“Oh yeah... hope I can find it,” Kurt said.

Molly completed the circle, capped her marker and said, “All aboard.” Kurt, Troy and Yuki stepped inside and Molly whisked them away to Kurt's apartment.

“Okay, ladies first,” Kurt mumbled, carefully clutching Renee under the shoulders.

Troy shrugged and went to grab her legs, saying, “So we're just going to strap her into the back seat?”

Molly coughed. “No, you're going to find Kurt's negator.” Troy rolled his eyes as Molly assumed his position.

“It should be in my desk drawer,” Kurt said, somewhat amused. As Troy did that, Molly and Kurt lifted Renee and walked her to the car, with Yuki opening doors and such.

The process of getting her into the car proved to be more difficult than assumed. Molly placed Renee's legs in carefully, but not with any degree of aim, leaving Kurt the difficult task of getting the rest of her inside, while adjusting her legs to offer some measure of modesty.

There was one major hitch: “Who the hell wears a skirt in November?” Kurt muttered. After buckling her in, he pulled out and accidentally bumped his head against the door frame. Rubbing it, he added, “Any objection to just throwing Donovan in the trunk?”

“That was my plan the whole time,” Molly replied, dryly.

That's exactly what they did- although Molly let Troy carry the second body. That too was an ordeal, but at least they didn't have to worry about modesty or positioning Donovan appropriately. They tossed him in and slammed the trunk shut. Molly and Kurt squeezed their luggage into the back, activated the negator and set it under the rear window.

“That should do it,” Kurt said.

“Then let's go. It'll be late enough by the time we get there.” Molly was already opening the passenger-side door.

“When will you guys be back?” Troy asked, standing on the sidewalk with Yuki.

Kurt locked his apartment door and ran back. “No idea. Probably depends on how severe it is. First glance...” He took a deep breath and looked at Renee. “Could be a while. Plus there's a bunch of procedural crap with Donovan we'll probably have to deal with.”

Molly coughed again, leading Kurt into the car and starting the ignition.

Troy stepped forward. “So what should I tell the kids at school if they ask where Renee is?”

Poking her head out, Molly glared back. Now she looked perturbed. “You don't associate with Renee so you would have no idea.” She ducked back in, slammed the door shut and nodded to Kurt to drive off before they could be interrupted again.

 

Session Four

Five hours, one refueling and an Arby's drive-thru later, Renee and Donovan arrived at Central Academy safely and securely... Renee the former, Donovan the latter. The procedure was actually very similar for both: they were strapped down and wheeled to the demonic studies facility, where both would get a full diagnosis and evaluation. The only real difference was that Donovan's treatment involved more shackles and less compassion.

Normally, all but one of the dorms were closed, but as it had been a trying day for Molly, nobody dared argue against her staying in room 202 of Hall D. Kurt, on the other hand, wasn't able to avoid confrontation quite as well.

“I called you three times! What the hell's going on?!” Kathryn shouted, forcing Kurt to pull the phone away from his ear until she stopped.

“Sorry, I was driving. It's been a rough day. Didn't you notice the displacement at school?”

“I'm not leaving right in the middle of practice. Coach would kill me!”

Kurt sighed. “Well, I could have used your help. Did you hear what happened?”

“Yeah. Troy actually answers his phone.” She paused. With more sympathy, she added, “Is she okay?”

“Don't know. Molly's still down there.”

For all the insisting Molly did on staying in the room, she only went in to drop off her bags and the grimoire before returning to the facility to be closer to Renee. Kurt remained in room 202, arguing that him staying there was more expedient. The real reason was that Molly's dorm had a TV.

“So where are you staying?” Kathryn asked, suddenly terse.

“Actually, you mind if I sleep in your bed?” Kurt said, smirking at the connotation in spite of the fact that she'd already slept in his many times.

“Yeah, go ahead. Nothing in there anyway,” Kathryn replied. Kurt poked his head into the room; not only was it empty, he wasn't sure which bed was Kathryn's and which was Yuki's.

Just then, Molly entered the room, quietly trudging to the couch with slumped shoulders. Kurt took one look at her and said to Kathryn, “Molly just got back. I'm gonna get going.”

“Wait, what?!” Kathryn shouted.

“Love you,” he blurted.

“No, wait, how come you're done talking to me just because she walks in?”

Angry as she sounded, Kurt was in no mood to argue. Flippantly, he said, “Talk to you later, Kat,” and disconnected.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered, pocketing the phone and walked over to the couch. “Donovan signs with a demon, hits Renee with something awful, and all Kathryn can think about is how I'm here with you.” He groaned. “She's jealous. Everything going on and she's...”

He stopped when he saw Molly failing to react. She sat slumped forward, staring blankly at the stand under the television. Her hands trembled slightly. Clearly she didn't care about his ranting.

“So how's she doing?” he asked, sitting next to her. A little closer to her than was professional, but by the time he noticed he didn't care.

“It was too late to do any major analysis. They made sure it was nothing immediately life-threatening and kept her sedated through the night. They'll look at her tomorrow.”

“You okay?” He only asked because she clearly wasn't. Kurt knew she wouldn't actually answer.

Molly shook her head. “I didn't think this could get any worse.”

“She'll be all right. They'll figure it out and fix her up. This will all get sorted out.”

She turned to him. Molly's eyes were heavy, strained and powerless. Her face was almost unrecognizable until she opened her mouth and said, “What are you basing that assumption on?”

Kurt looked away and tried to answer with something other than blind faith. Now logically, it was unlikely that Donovan could inflict Renee with something unknown to doctors, incurable and took more than a day to take effect. So her odds were probably good. But that was a lofty argument for a situation where most people would have been consoled with a simple hug and soft reassurances.

Molly, of course, wasn't most people. And the problem extended far beyond this one incident. Lofty expectations, years of training designed for students far older than her and enough demonic incidents to last a lifetime seemed to culminate in this one rare moment of defeat. Kurt was humbled simply being allowed to witness it. How was he supposed to come up with the proper response?

He sighed and went with the only one he could think of, wrong as he knew it was. Slowly, his arm reached for her opposite shoulder, delicately fitting his palm over it. Then he waited for the inevitable spurning. Maybe she'd summon up some anger, perhaps even the glare, that would snap her out of this.

She did nothing of the sort. Molly shuddered a bit at the touch, but didn't acknowledge it in any other way. She didn't even look at him. It was unexpected, but more importantly Kurt couldn't tell whether he was helping.

After a minute, he got his answer. Molly leaned in towards him, her head drifting slowly into his upper arm. She sighed. It wasn't a contented sigh nor an exasperated one. Just a quiet, tired exhaling that was simply neutral. If anything, it scared Kurt even further.

Despite everything he knew about her personality, she seemed comfortable with this. Worse yet, she needed this. Kurt knew it wasn't his responsibility to provide it, and it was very much out of line for him to do so. But if not him, then who? The frightening reality that he was the only thing separating Molly Pearson from desolate loneliness developed into something even more terrifying. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to wrap his other arm around her and hold her close until she was free of her torments.

A knock on the door startled him, waking him up from any thoughts of indiscretion. Jarring him further was Molly jumping to her feet instantly to answer it. She did not look at him, instead marching to the door with her usual expressionless stride. If anything, she was more stiff. Kurt himself got to his feet and followed her to the entrance. Past midnight, few visits were routine.

“Hey... 'sup?” said Reggie, with his usual half-eyed half smile. Molly slammed the door in his face.

“Was that Reggie?” Kurt opened it for him again. Indeed it was, and Reggie's smile grew.

“Oh... that's what's up,” he said, nodding.

This did bring out the glare from Molly, but Reggie simply recoiled a bit and maintained his groove. “Why the hell are you at my door at one in the morning when academy is not in session?” Molly asked.

“Oh, I'm always here. I heard someone walking upstairs and figured it was you guys. 202's always up to no good.”

To clarify, while year-round tenancy wasn't unheard of at Central, it was exceedingly rare and contingent on too many conditions to list. So it should have come as a surprise to Kurt. It didn't though: if Kurt could reside in Reggie's room, he wouldn't want to leave it either.

Molly didn't even give it that much thought. “I've had a very rough night,” she grumbled. “I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight, but I'd very much like to try.”

Reggie nodded. “Well, you know I've got the cure for rough nights...”

“Thought you'd never ask,” Kurt muttered. Reggie's room required no selling. But before he could step outside, he felt Molly's eyes burning a hole in the back of his head and turned to her. She was indeed staring back, but her eyes still lacked their usual punch. In a way, they were even more effective.

“Actually, this isn't really a good time,” Kurt said. Given the situation that brought them there to begin with, it really wasn't. Thing is, when he said it, Renee and Donovan were the last things on his mind.

 

Session Five

Molly spent most of the next day as close to Renee as she could manage. At first, this meant waiting outside the lab as assorted experts examined her sister. They'd walk by frequently and she'd demand an answer, but every time they'd shake their heads and cite an unwillingness to scare her until they came up with something conclusive. With few definite symptoms and a lot of curses and maladies to sort through, the process took a while.

It was about noon when they transported Renee to the clinic and let Molly see her. They cautioned Molly not to touch Renee pending some of the tests, but Molly wasn't the hand-holding type so it wasn't a concern. Renee was resting comfortably, and word was she was even on the verge of waking up. The only sign of trouble was a black oval that had developed on her forehead.

For all the hours spent waiting, all Molly could do was stare helplessly at her sister. She had no words, not that she would speak to someone who wasn't listening. Instead, the moment was for herself- a clarifying pause that told her just how bad their situations were.

Renee began to stir, so Molly stood and lingered at her sister's side. After a slow moan, Renee's eyes opened and started taking in the new surroundings. That included Molly, who despite everything wore a faint smile.

Which evaporated when Renee's first words were, “Is Troy okay?”

Molly needed a moment to let that slide before replying, “You're the one you should be worried about. Troy got off easy compared to you.”

“Am I at Central?” Now that she had time to process it, she recognized the clinic. After her encounter with Kiki, how could she forget?

“Yeah. They're trying to figure out what Donovan hit you with.”

Just then, Renee felt flustered. Uneasily, she asked, “Why? It it bad?”

“They don't know. How do you feel?”

“I think I have a bit of a fever. And I'm really thirsty. Maybe he just gave me the flu.” She smiled weakly, although she knew it wasn't that funny.

Molly sighed. “They'll figure it out. It's Donovan; I'm sure it's nothing dangerous.”

“It's the vrockrompir curse,” said Mr. Smittle, barging into the room and startling both sisters. Although he wasn't as filthy as usual, his boots still dragged a lot of caked mud onto the clinic floor.

“That sounds bad,” Renee mumbled, unsettled.

“It's just a name,” Molly replied. “Probably nothing serious.”

“No, it's bad,” Smittle said. “In fact, it's fatal.”

“What?!” Molly gasped, her face turning white in an instant. Her and Renee's hearts pounded as their unspoken fears were realized in one harsh blow.

Smittle wasn't moved. Scoffing, he added, “Well, not to her necessarily.”

Molly had so much she wanted to reply with, but decided it best to take a deep breath and calmly urge him to continue.

“Her boyfriend must have been fused with a vrockrompir demon. He gets its powers and its curse. If he doesn't transfer the curse in time, it kills him.”

“So you're saying he transferred it to Renee?” Molly asked.

Nodding, Smittle continued. “Yep. Same rules apply to her. Once she gets the curse, she has to transfer it to someone else or she dies.”

Molly turned to Renee, who stared back, just as fearful. “How much time does she get?”

“Sixty-six hours.”

Facing Smittle again, Molly narrowed her eyes. “Really? Sixty-six hours?” Even in a situation this dire, she couldn't help but notice the misplaced symbolism.

He shrugged. “Actually it's 69, but you try teaching that to a bunch of college kids.”

“I don't get it.”

“Sixty-nine is the name of a sexual position. The guy and the girl basically-”

“I don't care!” Molly shouted suddenly. Dismissing it and calming down, she said, “So she has to pass the curse to somebody?”

“Yeah, if she knows how to inflict demonic curses.”

Molly looked at Renee, still staring at Mr. Smittle, worried. That was a no.

“Because I won't teach her. Last time I showed a kid how to do that, the man ripped me a new one.”

“If she can't pass it on to somebody, what is she supposed to do?” asked Molly, no longer tolerating any changes of subject.

“Oh, the docs will figure something out. If you can't give the curse to somebody, they'll just embed something that'll absorb it. Sure, you'll have the soul of a dead monster in you, but at least you're alive.”

Renee blinked. “That's, um...”

“Not a very enticing option,” Molly concluded.

Smittle grunted. “Hell, in the old days, if anyone got it, he just passed it off to whoever he could get his hands on. Turned into a big game of hot potato. That's kinda illegal now. Stupid feds.”

“Are there any other options?”

Shrugging, Smittle shook his head. “Why are you worrying about it? Like I said, it's up to the doctors. Like they're gonna let her die. Besides, they got two days to come up with something.” He turned around and left without another word.

It left Molly sneering. All the fine doctors that are entrusted with saving Renee's life, and this was the guy representing them. Hardly seemed encouraging.

“Molly?” Renee said, weakly.

Molly turned around and stood at her sister's bedside. “Don't worry. I'll take care of it.”

Renee shook her head, forming a faint smile. “Worry about what? He said they'll figure something out. I'm sure they will.”

Peaceful as Renee seemed, it did nothing to reassure Molly. Smittle may have been right: no matter how she felt about the MST, they wouldn't simply let Renee die. But whatever the remedy was, she was determined to make sure it was in her sister's best interest.


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